The Grandpa Gazette

Location: Fairfax, Virginia, United States

Friday, July 12, 2013

And God Created Sex

Let's clear up some confusion. God created sex. Unless you believe that Adam and Eve, two young fully-formed stark naked humans spent their entire time naming the plants and animals, then it's pretty clear that they were having a really good time. But God did not create marriage. There is no record of Gabriel or any of the other angels coming down and performing a ceremony: "By the power invested in me by the Garden of Eden, I now pronounce you man and wife." So Adam and Eve were - ahem! - living in sin, which means the Catholics were wrong about pride being the Original Sin. Unless, of course, you accept that sex between two consenting adults - and boy, were they ever consenting - is not a sin at all. It's true that in Genesis 3:16-17 God speaks of "your husband" and "your wife," but it's hard to see this as anything other than nomenclature. Adam is more precise when he speaks in Genesis 3:12 of "the woman whom You gave to be with me." Then there is this mysterious passage (which I bet you never heard read from the pulpit) in Genesis 6:1-4: "When people began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose...the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown." Whoever the "sons of God" were, it's clear that their "wives" were simply women whom God gave to be with them. So "marriage" is a ritual invented by the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin to stabilize and regulate society. It's a legal construct, but hardly a holy or sacred one.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

U. S. Foreign Service: The Next 50 Years

I joined the Foreign Service 55 years ago, and I retired from it 16 years ago. While that clearly disqualifies me from speaking about today’s Service, perhaps I am no less qualified than anyone else to talk about the next 50 years.
The future, of course, is unknowable. Fifty-five years ago, no one could have foreseen the degree to which instant electronic communication, in the form of computers and cell phones, has changed the environment in which we operate today. Yet there was probably more basis for predicting that, at least among the scientifically and technologically inclined, than there was for predicting the complete and utter disappearance of the Soviet bloc that so dominated world politics in 1956.
That said, there are some trends that may perhaps give us some clue about the world in which newly-minted Foreign Service members today will serve their careers.
My first observation, and the most obvious – I promise I will be more provocative later on -- is that the United States is no longer one of two superpowers, as it was when I joined the Service, or even the sole superpower that it seemed briefly to be after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I see that becoming even truer over the next 50 years. We may remain the world’s single strongest military and economic power, but we will no longer be overwhelmingly the strongest.
What is more, we can no longer afford to be. Although politicians will continue to blather about the United States being the greatest country on earth, that will be an increasingly qualitative rather than quantitative claim. I believe the United States has reached the limit of its ability to project and exercise power internationally. We have for many years neglected our infrastructure and our environment and the need for cleaner, cheaper energy, and paid for our international adventures by borrowing. My sense is that the willingness of the American people to put up with this inversion of priorities has reached its limits.
Am I suggesting that the Foreign Service will fade into irrelevance as Fortress America turns away from the rest of the world? Not at all. Regardless of which party is in power and what policies the U.S. government adopts, we are inextricably involved with the world, and will become much more so over the next half-century. That’s driven both by technology and by the nature of the issues.

A Shrinking World
Technology will continue to shrink the world in ways we can only speculate on today. Conversations via Skype, or its descendants, with friends and business partners and Foreign Service colleagues will certainly become the normal, everyday means of communication. National stock markets are already international in content; it’s but a step to being able to invest in any company, anywhere.
This means, as is patent in any news report today, that the health of every major country’s economy is intertwined with the health of our own. Reporting on and negotiating and advancing those economic relationships will be as much a major part of diplomatic work 50 years from now as it is today.
Moreover, the issues facing the world’s leaders will require more and more international cooperation. Who builds wind farms and oil wells in whose oceans. Whose greenhouse gases diminish the quality of whose air – and contribute to the loss of whose seacoast. Who regulates, and who protects, the Internet. How to divide a limited bandwidth for a steadily increasing traffic of international communications and entertainment – unless, of course, technology finds a way to make it infinite.
Another issue I think will be around for a long time to come is human rights. Some of my colleagues from my generation were not at all comfortable with “interfering in the internal affairs of other countries,” and some saw it as a peculiarly Latin American or Soviet bloc issue. But now human rights are a recognized part of the international agenda, and there’s no shortage of cases requiring international cooperation and leadership – leadership the United States is uniquely qualified to provide.

The Limits of Power
So there will always be work for the Foreign Service. But one thing I will predict: it will not be an “expeditionary” Service. The United States has done its share of nation-building following military conflicts; some of it was very successful (Germany, Japan), some of it much less so. But the idea that provincial civilian-military teams are some sort of new norm for the Service is simply nonsense. Look at Egypt, Libya or Syria, if you want to see the limits of American power in 2011. Look at Burma or Tibet. Or, in our hemisphere, look at Venezuela or Cuba.
I’m not saying that we have not, or cannot, influence events. As David Remnick has written, “a calculated modesty can augment a nation’s true influence.” We have wielded great influence, and will continue to do so throughout the next 50 years, because of our continued significant (but not monopolistic) power and, I hope, because of our continued moral leadership.
I happen to think that the United States on the whole did pretty well as the world’s policeman – with the painful exceptions of Vietnam and Iraq -- during the 60 years or so that there was no one else around willing or able to fill that role. But staying on in that job would require both a continued acquiescence on the part of other major countries and a continued willingness on the part of the American people to pay the very considerable cost in money and lives. I see both of those as steadily diminishing over the next 50 years.
But there will be no decrease in the number of crises around the world where foreign intervention is needed -- whether humanitarian, as in the Horn of Africa, or economic, as in Greece, or even military.
So who, or what, gradually replaces the U.S. as the Lone Ranger? Multinational cooperation, as in Libya. In 2061 we may – may -- still be primus inter pares, leading the organization of international efforts, contributing substantially to their funding, negotiating the objectives and terms of the intervention. But multinational agreement will not just be decorative icing on the cake. It will be the cake.
What does this mean for the Foreign Service? It means that those who seek international organization experience will have a leg up. The number of alphabet soup international agencies today may be mind-boggling, but they are going to increase exponentially over the next 50 years. Regional organizations such as the African Union will grow stronger and acquire increased responsibilities. And the United States will need to be represented at virtually every single one, in one way or another. Our diplomats will need technical specializations more than ever: financial, economic, scientific, and in areas one can’t even imagine today.
Does that mean the Foreign Service generalist is going the way of the despatch and the airgram? (If those are unfamiliar terms, please consult your nearest doddering retiree.) Yes and no. In the sense of officers with good judgment, good people skills and the ability to lead and manage, no, those will always be needed. The old adage about not putting a scientist at the head of a scientific institution is still true. But in the sense of officers who try to make up with charm alone for their lack of area, language and technical skills: yes, I see little future for them.

Islamic Studies
One critical area of specialization that will be required in the years ahead is Islamic studies. It doesn’t require much of a crystal ball to see that a largely stagnant part of the world is waking up and changing before our eyes – but into what exactly? What is clear is that there are 1.6 billion Muslims who are going to play a much more important part in world politics than they have in the last 50 years, and that we as a country and as a Service know very little about them.
This is partly because as Americans, we are not very comfortable talking about religion, or relating to people as adherents of a religion. Our Constitution forbids the establishment of any religion, and so we ignore it in the workplace. Some of the predominantly Muslim countries may in time become secular states – or they may not. We can continue to focus on the Middle East as an area and Arabic as a language, and we need more specialists in both. But I would like to see the National Foreign Affairs Training Center create a course in Islamic studies that every officer would be required to take – even Latin Americanists like myself. (The population at my last Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau post was 9-percent Muslim, and my wife and I were the guests of honor at a Muslim wedding.)
Which brings us to terrorism. The major security threat to the United States, and specifically to our embassies and diplomats abroad, is non-state sponsored terrorism, and I think that will be true as far as I can see into the future. (No, I do not think China is going to attack its best customer and largest debtor, although there are certainly some challenging times ahead as it becomes a democracy and our major economic competitor.) Although last summer’s slaughter in Norway proved that Muslim-haters can also be terrorists, for the time being most terrorist threats are related to the U.S. military presence in Muslim countries, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to the number and influence of extreme fundamentalists in Islam. All of these factors may diminish over time. The first certainly will; the others I make no predictions about. But in the meantime, we will have to deal with terrorism, and not just as a security threat.
If that undermines our ability to influence events in a major part of the world, just as that area is throwing off old structures and systems and creating new ones, then it is a political threat, as well. Knowing more about the culture and religion that the terrorists are coming from, and perverting, will help us deal with both kinds of threats.
Much as I regret and deplore the concrete bunkers that house our embassies and the security precautions that limit our ability to move around and meet people, I don’t see those going away over the next 50 years. It’s a dangerous world and getting more so, not least because technology has put us so much more in each other’s faces. But that doesn’t mean that we have to build enormous fortresses in countries of second or third-rate importance to the United States and people them with huge support and security staffs.

Who Needs Offices?
In fact, I believe we will finally begin to reverse the unfortunate decision, made decades ago, that the most powerful country in the world must have an embassy almost everywhere, in almost every sovereign country. Once we can bring ourselves psychologically to abandon that idea, there will be fewer bunkers to build. Officers can be more mobile, operating out of hotel rooms and other temporary quarters.
After all, who needs an office anymore? Officers can write their reports on their Googleberries and Podphones and tablets and one of these days will send “telegrams” (as they are quaintly called) from them too. Reports will include photographs and videos of riots and ceremonies and even interviews. The U.S. government will, of course, continue to lag years behind the private sector, but it’s just slow; it will get there eventually.
If I had been thrust into the Foreign Service of 2011 when I was first sworn in, I would have found it wondrous strange. I’m sure that any of today’s officers who suddenly found themselves in 2061 would find it just as strange an institution: wondrous in its technological marvels; discouraging, perhaps, in the persistence of unresolved problems and issues; and, I hope, reassuring in the continuity of this country as a beacon of hope and leadership -- even from a position of relatively diminished power.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Palin' by Comparison

As several of you have asked for my thoughts on the mid-term elections (well, OK, one of you), I have been trying to think of something I can say that would be any different from what you read every day. I don’t know that I’ve found it, but here goes.

Three distinct groups are snapping at the Democrats’ heels. The first of course is the Republican base, the yellow-dog Republicans, who are somewhere around 30 percent of the electorate. They are fired-up and ready to go this year, but that’s absolutely normal for the party out of power.

Second is the Tea Partiers. By this I mean not people like Sarah Palin, who is a lifelong Republican party activist, but rather those who have never been active much or at all in party politics, but who are frightened and worried about their personal financial situation and that of the country, after the most severe recession since the 1930’s. It can’t be emphasized enough that this is a very unusual recession, one in which unemployment is high (and therefore the threat of unemployment hangs over the heads of many who are employed), the stock market is at best treading water, and, most importantly, five million mortgages are, as the bankers quaintly say, “non-compliant.” Millions of others are paying the mortgage on houses that are worth less than they owe, and others are worried about how they would pay if they lost their jobs – knowing that selling the house is often not an option. This group understands very little about politics, government or economics, but they know when the country’s in trouble, and the only way they see to fix it is to throw the rascals out. The number of people in this category who are active and vocal – going to Tea Party rallies and so forth -- is probably quite small, but a lot more will vote.

The third group is big and medium-sized businessmen. Admittedly many of these fit into my first group, and some others into the second group, but I list them separately because I am struck by the particular vehemence they are showing this year. The US Chamber of Commerce seems to be convinced that Armageddon will occur unless Obama is stopped in his tracks. This to me is much more bizarre than the Tea Partiers. Paulson, Geithner and Bernanke saved the big banks (with two exceptions) and the big companies like AIG and General Motors. (It’s true that some people in this group say the companies should have been allowed to fail, but I refuse to believe that any significant number of them would in fact have permitted that to happen were they in power.) Of course FDR saved the capitalist system too, and got no gratitude for it from those he saved, but what on earth has Obama done to get these super-rich fatcats so riled? What wave of government intervention are they talking about? From my perspective, it’s mostly been intervention in favor of the big banks and corporations.

In any event, the combination of these three, and especially the energy (and money) they are demonstrating, is bad news for the Democrats. They will lose the House – 538 predicts a net gain of 49 seats for the Republicans, from 179 to 228; Larry Sabato predicts a gain of 47. The CW is that the Democrats will hold on to the Senate; 538 gives them 52 seats, Sabato 50 or 51. But several Senate races are very close (Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington, Colorado, Illinois, West Virginia) and the Senate could clearly go either way. And if the Senate is narrowly divided, will Joe Lieberman – unpopular in Connecticut and facing defeat or retirement in 2014, continue to vote with the Democrats? Governors are a similar story. 538 predicts an increase in Republican governors from 24 to 30, Sabato predicts 32.

And what does this mean? Contrary to what many Tea Partiers seem to think, it won’t mean change. It means gridlock. Whatever passes the House, or both houses, will be vetoed if Obama can’t accept it. So “Obamacare” won’t be repealed, immigration won’t be reformed, climate change will continue to be ignored. The Bush tax cuts will probably be extended, because Obama won’t want to veto that bill. Attempts will be made to cut some government programs, but it will mostly be symbolic (NPR) because the Republicans can’t agree on what to cut and know better than to cut popular programs. The unpleasant part is that the next two years will be filled with bitter partisan rancor, few if any efforts putting country above party, and jockeying for 2012.

Is Obama’s re-election endangered? Much depends on how he handles the next two years. He has not shown himself particularly skilled at the politics of governance (as distinct from the implementation of governance). Much also depends on the economy; it will be better, but how much better? But the Republicans have a big problem: who do they run? It’s one thing to put up a know-nothing in the 19th district of Alabama who doesn’t believe anything his high school taught, it’s another to ask the country to vote for a Palin or Angle or O’Donnell or Miller or Perry or Rubio. Romney remains their most presentable candidate, but I don’t think he can possibly win the nomination.

I like to say in these pieces that’s it’s all very interesting, because I’m a political junkie and I do find it interesting – usually. This time I just find it utterly discouraging.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

'Twas a Famous Victory: A Campaign Diary

November 7, 2008:

I had hoped to have the final electoral vote by now, but Missouri is still too close to call. In addition, the Times is still showing Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District – which has one electoral vote – as too close to call. However, CNN has called it for McCain, which makes it Obama 364, McCain 163, with 11 undecided (Missouri). McCain is leading in Missouri by 5,859 votes, so for our purposes, let’s say it goes to McCain, which makes it 364-174.

CNN reports this for the popular vote:

Obama 65,089,510 53.2%
McCain 57,167,197 46.8%

This does not include the third-party vote, which was one percent of the total in 2004. If we assume a similar figure for 2008, then the percentages become Obama 52.7, McCain 46.8, others 1.0, and the total vote would rise to 123.5 million.

This was of course the highest popular vote for any presidential candidate, ever. It was the highest percentage of the popular vote for any candidate since 1988, and the highest for any Democratic candidate since 1964. Only Clinton, LBJ, FDR and Wilson won more electoral votes for the Democratic Party in the last 100 years.

Also worthy of note is that this was not a record turnout, despite everything you have heard to the contrary. The total vote in 2004 was 122,295,645, so this year’s vote was only 1.2 million more. Turnout was good in 2004, 60.7% of the population 18 and older, the best since 1968 when 18-year-olds could not vote. This year the population 18 and older is estimated by the Census Bureau at 222.3 million, which indicates a turnout of only 55.6%, substantially less than in 2004 but on a par with 1992 and prior election years. Even if one accepts Larry Sabato’s estimate of 212 million people eligible to vote, cited in an earlier Update – an estimate presumably discounting some 10 million non-citizens and other ineligibles – the turnout was only 58.3%, well short of 2004. Given record turnouts among young voters and black voters, it would appear that a number of potential McCain voters simply stayed home.

Now for my predictions: I had predicted 52.3 for Obama, so I underestimated him by four-tenths of a point. I gave him 349 electoral votes; he apparently will have 364. I gave him Missouri, but I didn’t give him North Carolina or Indiana. My consolation is that all three were decided by very narrow margins and could have gone either way.

Oh, did I forget to mention? Fantastic, incredible, unbelievable election!

October 28, 2008:

The latest Gallup tracking poll is a bit of a surprise: 49-47 among "traditional" voters, that is, those who are traditionally likely to vote. This is the first time Obama has been under 50 % since October 18, and the first time he has had only a two-point lead since October 17. According to the "expanded" definition of likely voters - that is, those who say they are likely to vote, which indicates a higher turnout among groups traditionally less likely to vote (minorities, young people) - the Gallup tracker is at 51-44. Among all registered voters, likely or not, the tracker is 50-43.

The Washington Post tracking poll published this morning is 52-45 among "likely" voters, as the Post defines them.

Despite this apparent narrowing, every major electoral map now gives a clear victory to Obama: 286-163 in the Times, 286-163 in MSNBC, 306-157 in RealClear Politics, 306-142 in, 318-171 in Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, and 349-189 in Chris Cillizza's map in the Post. This means that even if McCain wins every single "tossup" state, he would still lose. Moreover, Intrade bettors have Obama at 87.8 and McCain at 12.2, odds of seven to one. Their electoral map, based on betting, gives Obama 364 and McCain 174.

As we are now one week away from the election, I will now make my own predictions: popular vote, 52.3% for Obama, 46.7% for McCain. That would be the best performance by a Democratic candidate since incumbent LBJ in 1964, but I believe it's likely given all the circumstances.

For the electoral vote, I did my guesstimates and found myself exactly where Cillizza is: 349-189. Both of us give Indiana to McCain and Virginia, Florida and Ohio to Obama; if the economy is the overwhelming issue, how can Florida and Ohio not vote Democratic? The hardest calls are the three states virtually on an east-west line with each other - Nevada, Missouri and North Carolina. Obama is ahead by 4 points in Nevada polls; the other two are much closer. In the end, I just cannot see redneck North Carolina going for Obama, even with that heavy Afro-American turnout. Missouri, on the other hand, I think could surprise (those 100,000 people at the arch...). However, I freely admit it could be the other way around.

And, of course, there is the fact that 19 of the last 25 presidential elections, going back 104 years, were won by the taller candidate (there were three ties and three exceptions to the rule, notably 2004). Seventeen of the last 25 were won by the heavier, more well-nourished candidate (one tie, 7 exceptions, the most recent 1976). Barack is ahead by 6 and a half inches and 15 pounds. If you think that's just silly, remember we're talking about political behavior and think again.

Finally, here are some interesting words from Larry Sabato, professor of political science at the University of Virginia:

"We've been monitoring early voting in states such as North Carolina, Georgia, Nevada, and Colorado and it is abundantly clear that registered Democrats are turning out at extraordinary rates, at least so far, and Republicans are not. Take the Tar Heel State, for example. Already 629,296 people have voted early, well above the pace of 2004. Democrats are over 56% of the 2008 total, compared to just 45% in 2004. African-Americans are about 30% of the early vote total, compared to only 17% in 2004. (Our thanks to Crystal Ball contributor Justin Sizemore for this data.) True enough, registered Democrats could be voting for McCain, and if you are a Republican and want to whistle past the graveyard, feel free to believe that. Also true: Late votes count just as much as early votes, but the early voting disparity between the parties in many states is another indication of the "enthusiasm gap" favoring Democrats--a phenomenon we have observed and written about here at the Crystal Ball since the start of the nominating season in early January.

"In the nation as a whole, there are approximately 212 million people who are age 18 and over, a universe that constitutes "potential voters" in the presidential election. It is looking increasingly likely that a massive turnout is occurring, with voting already underway in some form almost everywhere. In 2000 we saw 105.4 million people vote in the Bush-Gore contest, a mere 51.2% of the potential electorate. By 2004, when Bush faced off against John Kerry, the turnout soared to 122.3 million, about 60% of the potential voters. This year we will be surprised if turnout isn't between 135 million and 140 million out of the 212 million universe of voters. A turnout like this, representing two-thirds of the electorate, would even exceed that of 1960, when 63% of adult Americans voted (age 21 and up, at that time). The 1960 turnout represented the modern high water mark for voter turnout."

And if you haven't voted early, don't forget to vote next Tuesday.

October 15, 2008:

Well, there's not much point in rehashing the polls - you've all seen them. I will simply note that the latest Gallup tracking poll gives Obama 50%, McCain 43, undecided 7. Obama hasn't had less than 50%, nor less than a 7-point lead, since October 3. On this same date four years ago, Bush was leading Kerry 52 to 44.

The New York Times shows Obama leading in states with 264 electoral votes, McCain in 185, the rest tossups. It shows Nevada, Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida as tossups. Real Clear Politics gives Obama 286 to 158. It now shows Colorado and Virginia as leaning to Obama, and adds Indiana, Missouri, and West Virginia to the tossups. gives Obama 320, McCain 155. It adds North Dakota to the tossups and gives Florida to Obama.

October 4, 2008:

The conservative business newsletter Kiplinger reported yesterday:
"With a month to go, Barack Obama is widening his lead over John McCain. There is still plenty of time for McCain to reverse the contest’s direction. But he needs a big event...a sudden national security crisis, for example, or an Obama change the dynamics of what has become a steep uphill fight.

"The financial crisis is helping Obama. A majority of voters say Democrats
would do better at handling the economy. They also tie McCain to Bush,
whom many blame for failing to prevent the crisis. In addition, economic concerns push foreign policy, McCain’s strongest suit and Obama’s weakest, to a back burner. Also hurting McCain: Lingering doubts over running mate Sarah Palin, although her solid debate performance reassured many worried Republicans.

"Obama has moved ahead in key swing states. His lead in Mich. is so large
that McCain has pulled his television ads and effectively conceded the state. Obama also has small but perceptible leads in Wis., Iowa, Colo. and N.M. And he’s gaining ground in Ohio, Fla. and Minn., although we still rate those states as toss-ups. Some normally Republican states...Va., Ind. and N.C., for example...are also in the toss-up category, forcing McCain to defend a lot more territory. Obama leads in states with 259 electoral votes, 11 short of the 270 needed for victory. And that’s with 116 electoral votes up for grabs in nine toss-up states." reported yesterday:
"Here's a wrap-up of the four major national tracking polls for today (Oct. 3):

• Gallup: Obama 49%, McCain 42%, with a ±2% margin of error.

• Rasmussen: Obama 51%, McCain 44%, with a ±2% margin of error.

• Hotline/Diageo: Obama 48%, McCain 42%, with a ±3.2% margin of error.

• Research 2000: Obama 51%, McCain 40%, with a ±3% margin of error.

"Adding these polls together and weighting them by sample sizes, Obama is ahead 49.9%-42.5%." That's a margin of 7.4 points.'s average of the polls also shows a 7-point margin; Real Clear Politics gives Obama a 5.7 point margin. The Gallup tracking poll published October 4 shows Barack Obama (50%) over John McCain (42%), an 8-point margin. "Obama has held a statistically significant lead for eight consecutive days."

Intrade has Obama at 67.8, McCain at 32.4, which is the lowest McCain has been since mid-July. That's 2 to 1 odds in favor of Obama.

The New York Times gives Obama 260 electoral votes to 200 for McCain, with 78 as tossups: NV, CO, OH, VA, NH, and FL. Real Clear Politics gives Obama 264 and adds MO and NC to the tossup states. Pollster gives Obama 250 and calls NH and MN tossups, states that RCP says lean to Obama.

September 14, 2008:

The race continues to be a statistical dead heat, with the difference that McCain is now slightly ahead in most polls. Here are the three polls taken nationwide between Sept. 11 and 13:
Gallup 2,787 regd voters M 47 O 45
Daily Kos 1,100 likely voters 45 47
Diageo 904 regd voters 45 43
Average 45.7 45.0 undecided/DK/other 9.3%

We were at 11% undecided a month ago, so not many of them have made up their minds.

We are clearly beyond any bounce from either convention, but some polls indicate that the GOP is enjoying a Palin bounce, a shift among white women voters due to the inclusion of a (very) white woman on the Republican ticket. gives Obama 238 EV to 224 for McCain and 76 tossup. Real Clear Politics says it is 207 - 227 - 104. Difference is that Pollster has PA and MN leaning Democratic and Montana as a tossup, whereas RCP has the first two as tossups and MT as leaning Republican. Both agree that MI and NM are now tossups.

Intrade bettors now have McCain ahead, 52.4 to 47.5, which is the equivalent of 1.1 to one in favor of McCain. Obama's price has fallen sharply since the beginning of September.

September 5, 2008:

Well, the long dark week is over. What I find most striking and remarkable is that this convention was almost totally devoid of any discussion of policy. (Not that we weren't warned - Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, told reporters on Wed. that "it's not about issues.") The second most remarkable thing is that he's campaigning to reform and change a Washington in which his own party controls the presidency and for 6 of the last 8 years the Congress as well.

What do we know about McCain's policies?

1. He is for offshore drilling ("Drill, baby, drill!") and simultaneous exploitation of all forms of energy from coal to nuclear to wind - and to hell with the environment.
2. He is against abortion ("culture of life")
3. He wants judges who won't legislate (except to outlaw the right to choose, of course).
4. He wants "reform" - whatever he means by that - and "change" - he used that word 10 times; Obama used it 15 times in his acceptance speech.

Other than that, zip. Zilch. Nada, as Fred T. said. I know far more about what Obama will do on any given issue - how his mind works and how he would approach a problem - than I do about what McCain would do. He was honest, sincere, decent - and opaque.

In fact, I'm sure thoughtful Republicans are privately worried as well - what would this guy actually DO as President? Would he in fact appoint judges like Scalia and Thomas? Probably, but who knows? If he runs across somebody who appeals to his maverick, outside the box streak, he's likely to appoint them. What kind of energy development would he give priority to? Who knows? How would he prevent earmarks - veto every bill sent to him? How would he work with a heavily Democratic Congress?

In other words, the appeal of last night's speech was, "elect me. Trust me. I will play it by ear, do whatever strikes me as the right thing to do, because my gut feelings are honest and patriotic. I have a better character than that other guy, decent as he may be. My character has been tested and proven" - although not my policies.

August 28, 2008:

As promised, I'm now moving to an every-two-weeks update.

The seven most recent nationwide polls (2 each by Gallup and Rasmussen and one each by CNN, Zogby, and Diageo), all completed between August 23 and 27, average 46.0 for Obama, 44.6 for McCain, with 9.4% other/undecided/don't know. This represents a further shrinking of Obama's lead from 2.6 points to 1.4 points. Of course these polls were only partially affected by the Democratic convention. In two weeks we'll see whether there is any of the supposedly traditional bounce.

Intrade, as of this morning, is giving Obama 59.7 to 41.1 for McCain, odds of 1.45 to one. They of course misguessed Obama's choice of veep, but the bettors seem more convinced than ever that McCain will pick Romney - he's up to 61.2 this morning.'s electoral map now shows Obama with 260 votes (down from 284), 214 "strong" and 46 "leaning" his way. It gives McCain 176 and 102 as toss-ups. gives Obama 228, McCain 185, and 125 as toss-ups. Principal difference is that RCP rates Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico as toss-ups, while Pollster has those three leaning to Obama.

For those of you who are skeptical of national polls, you will be pleased to know that Obama's campaign managers agree with you. Read an interview at

It's going to be an interesting couple of months.

August 12, 2008:

The presidential race has tightened further over the last month. The ten most recent nationwide polls (3 by Rasmussen, 3 by Gallup, and one each by Time, AP, CBS, and Zogby), all conducted between July 31 and August 9, average 45.8 for Obama, 43.2 for McCain, 11 percent undecided/DK. Obama's margin has therefore shrunk by one percentage point from a month earlier. As noted earlier, his lead is within the margin of error for these polls.

Obama's lead at Intrade has also shrunk: it is now 60.3 to 36.9 for McCain, odds of 1.6 to one. Intrade prices Sen. Bayh's chances of being the VP nominee at 35, Gov. Kaine at 18. They give Romney 33, Pawlenty 24.5. (Personally, I strongly doubt bettors' ability to guess VP choices, given that the mind of one man will make the decision in each case.) has a map showing how states are likely to cast their electoral votes on the basis of current state-by-state polling. It shows 224 votes in "strong" Obama states, and 60 in "leaning" Obama states, for a total of 284. (270, you will recall, is the number needed to win.) This total does not include any of the "tossup" states such as Virginia, Colorado, Indiana or Florida.

July 13, 2008:

Greetings from your friendly neighborhood election observer. The race has tightened somewhat over the last month. The five most recent nationwide polls (one by Newsweek, two by Rasmussen, and two by Gallup), all conducted during the first 10 days of July, show Obama with an average of 46.6%, McCain 43%, and undecided/DK 10.4%. That means Obama's margin over McCain has shrunk from 4.6 points a month ago (see below) to 3.6 points today, which is right around the margin of error.

On the other hand, Obama's margin at Intrade has grown. He is now being quoted at 65.2 to 31.3 for McCain, odds of better than two to one. This is a margin of 33.9 points, compared to 26.5 a month ago.

June 13, 2008:

One of my periodic updates. The average of five nationwide polls taken between June 2 and 10 show McCain at 41.6%, Obama at 46.2%, and undecided at 10.6%. It may be my faulty memory, but that seems like an unusually low number of undecideds this early in the race.

Over at Intrade, the bettors are offering 61.0 on Obama to win, and 34.5 on McCain. Obama has been over $50 since early May (just think, in early February you could have bought Obama futures at $20!). McCain hit $40 in mid-March and peaked at about 42 in late May. That New Orleans speech must have tanked his futures.


Friday, September 05, 2008

Johnny, We Hardly Know Ye


Well, the long dark week is over. What I find most striking and remarkable is that this convention was almost totally devoid of any discussion of policy. (Not that we weren't warned - Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, told reporters on Wed. that "it's not about issues.") The second most remarkable thing is that he's campaigning to reform and change a Washington in which his own party controls the presidency and for 6 of the last 8 years the Congress as well.

What do we know about McCain's policies?

1. He is for offshore drilling ("Drill, baby, drill!") and simultaneous exploitation of all forms of energy from coal to nuclear to wind - and to hell with the environment.
2. He is against abortion ("culture of life")
3. He wants judges who won't legislate (except to outlaw the right to choose, of course).
4. He wants "reform" - whatever he means by that - and "change" - he used that word 10 times; Obama used it 15 times in his acceptance speech.

Other than that, zip. Zilch. Nada, as Rudy said. I know far more about what Obama will do on any given issue - how his mind works and how he would approach a problem - than I do about what McCain would do. He was honest, sincere, decent - and opaque.

In fact, I'm sure thoughtful Republicans are privately worried as well - what would this guy actually DO as President? Would he in fact appoint judges like Scalia and Thomas? Probably, but who knows? If he runs across somebody who appeals to his maverick, outside the box streak, he's likely to appoint them. What kind of energy development would he give priority to? Who knows? How would he prevent earmarks - veto every bill sent to him? How would he work with a heavily Democratic Congress?

In other words, the appeal of last night's speech was, "elect me. Trust me. I will play it by ear, do whatever strikes me as the right thing to do, because my gut feelings are honest and patriotic. I have a better character than that other guy, decent as he may be. My character has been tested and proven" - although not my policies.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

After Iowa

January 4, 2008

1. Yesterday morning, January 3, Intrade, the site where people bet (or invest, if you prefer) on the candidates, was selling Obama to win Iowa at $70 and Clinton at $24, or, to put it another way, those willing to put their money up were betting almost 3 to 1 for Obama. They were selling Huckabee at $60 and Romney at $36, or 1.7 to 1 on Huckabee. So the bettors are pretty smart people.

Yesterday Intrade was giving Clinton 64 to eventually win the Democratic nomination versus 30.5 for Obama. TODAY it is 54 to 43, still giving Clinton the edge, but a dramatic narrowing of the odds.

Yesterday the betting on the eventual winner of the GOP nomination was McCain 27, Giuliani 22.5, Romney 21, and Huckabee 12. TODAY it is McCain 31.5, Giuliani 29.0, Huckabee 16.1, Romney 15.5. In other words, Romney down by 26 percent --in a single day! -- to the benefit of all three of the others. How could Iowa help the chances for Rudy, who came in sixth, behind Ron Paul? The unsentimental bettors still have doubts about McCain's viability over the long haul, as well as, obviously, Romney's. Rudy is the beneficiary of that.

Of course the New Hampshire results on Tuesday will have another dramatic effect on the betting. As of TODAY, Intrade is giving 65 to Obama, 40 to Clinton and 72 to McCain, 24 to Romney. If the bettors are as smart in NH as they were in Iowa, then I would expect them to wipe Romney out of the betting on Wednesday. Huckabee will probably tread water (unless he surprises in NH) until the bettors see how he does in SC. As for the Dems, a loss in NH would obviously bruise Hillary, but not necessarily end her chances. Long way to go.

2. One indication of that is that the delegate count is much closer than the vote percentages. Iowa awarded 16 delegates to the Democratic National Convention to Obama, 15 to Clinton, and 14 to Edwards. Huckabee won 17, Romney 12, and all the others 8. It's still a very close race.

3. The opinion polls, moreover, still give Hillary the edge in NH, 35 to 24 for Obama and 17 for Edwards. They are giving McCain 32, Romney 28, Giuliani 11, Huckabee 9. It will be interesting to see how Iowa affects the NH polls, although the time is so short that the effect may be greater on the voters than it would appear from last-minute polls.

4. The most obvious point about the Iowa results is that voters are desperate for new faces, new ideas, somebody to break the inaction and deadlock and drift they see in national affairs. The other point worth noting is that so much is written and spoken in the media about organization, and O, C and Romney all had superb (and expensive) organizations in Iowa. But not much is written about mobilization, the ability of candidates to mobilize voters, or, to use a cornier word, inspire them. O and H demonstrated that ability, and both gave - in very different ways - great victory speeches. Hillary also gave a great speech last night, showing courage, determination, competence, all those things she has been showing. But inspiring? Rousing to enthusiasm? Not so much.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Why We'll Have to Wait for a Woman President

Grandpa Gazette No. 5 March 2007

The women in my family will hate me for saying this, but I don’t think Hillary is going to make it. Of course it’s silly to make any kind of prediction this far in advance, and I vividly remember what a sure thing Howard Dean seemed to be, up until the first voters got a chance to have their say. But I’m going to go out on the limb anyway. My reasons:
--She doesn’t seem to have that kind of relaxed, easy connection with an audience that successful politicians have. It always looks as if she’s trying too hard.
--She’s had three years since John Kerry to get her story straight on Iraq, and she doesn’t have it. It looks like she’s going to be stumbling through the next year trying to explain her position on the war.
--She has tried to escape it, but she will continue to be seen as a polarizing figure – even by those who are sympathetic to her politics and to her husband. They will feel that voting for her runs a risk of further polarization in a country that everyone thinks needs deep healing.
--Prejudice in this country runs deeper against women, in positions of power and leadership, than it does against blacks. At least partly for this reason, she is and will continue to be an unrelenting target of jokes, cartoons, and snide remarks, in a way no one would dare against an African-American.

Which kind of tips my hand, doesn’t it? The fact is, whatever her handicaps, Hillary would have been unbeatable for the Democratic nomination if Obama hadn’t entered the race. No one else had the money, the name recognition, the star power. Veteran politicians must be used to it, but it still must be hard – to have it all appear to be within your grasp and then something totally unexpected snatches it away.

Obama seems to enjoy politics, in a way that Kerry, Gore and Hillary don’t. Fred Hiatt wrote in The Washington Post, “Maybe it was just an unlucky shot, but a photograph from Selma appeared to capture it…a band of politicians and civil rights leaders linking arms…, with Bill Clinton on one side looking over at Barack Obama on the other, each grinning and apparently having the time of his life, and Hillary between them, apparently grimly determined to walk on.” Of course Obama could stumble, a la Dean or Muskie or Hart – Muskie seems the most likely parallel, if there were going to be one – but I’m not certain that Clinton would be the beneficiary. The voters might then turn to one of the other candidates. Edwards of course is a strong contender, although I think weakened, not strengthened, by voters’ concern about his wife’s health. Richardson is a fresh face to most people, well-financed, and no vote on Iraq to explain.

However it goes, the campaign will be vicious, even if the Republicans nominate someone decent. (Yes, Virginia, there are….) People like Cheney and Rove will be desperate to win the kind of vindication that a Republican victory would give them, and the Swift Boat Veterans will reemerge under whatever name seems most effective, whether the Republican candidate encourages them or not. In this respect it doesn’t make any difference who the Democrats nominate. The purveyors of smut will invent any story necessary to smear whomever.

And the Republican candidate? Darned if I know. My gut tells me that McCain, like Hillary, is not going to make it, primarily because of the war, which I think already is turning off Republican primary voters and will turn off even more by next January and February. His age will also be a handicap. Giuliani is a phenomenon, and I’m not ready to write him off despite his obvious negatives with GOP voters. But if they decide a flawed hero isn’t good enough, then who? Brownback is obviously unelectable, even to primary voters. Romney? Maybe, although I just cannot imagine the evangelicals voting for a Mormon, whom they regard as non-Christian. (Falwell’s and Dodson’s worst nightmare? An electoral choice between a Mormon and a “Muslim.”) Hagel, Thompson, Gingrich – non-starters. And if none of these, then who?

Decline and Fall of the American Empire?

History repeats itself, we are told, and all empires have eventually fallen, decayed, disintegrated or been conquered. So therefore, we must assume, will the American. A loose hegemony may be more sustainable than a rigid imperial structure, but there is no reason to suppose that it will be sustainable forever. So are we close to 410 AD and the arrival of the Visigoths in Rome? Or to the period after WWII when Britain voluntarily gave up almost all its colonies?

Not yet, I think, although there are some disturbing signs and portents (that is, disturbing if you enjoy being on top – those on the bottom may have a different view). The problem remains what it has been since the Fall of the Wall – that no one else wants the job. That’s my answer to the question, “Why does America have to police the world?” Somebody has to step up and deal with the nasty situations like Afghanistan, Darfur, Rwanda. A number of countries will contribute men or money, but only if someone else takes the lead. (Remember that case where the French were willing to supply the largest number of troops to some peacekeeping operation or another, but adamantly refused to be in charge of it!)

Most Americans are still not comfortable in that role, despite the enormously greater involvement we have with the rest of the world compared with 50 years ago. That’s a major part of the problem – we keep wanting the world to go away and leave us alone. (Compare to the British sense of entitlement and pride in running the world.) In consequence our leaders, Democrats and Republics alike, are forced to engage in foreign affairs behind our backs, half-concealing what they are up to.

So we don’t do it well, at least not lately. Clinton, in so many ways the quintessential American, reflected the national ambivalence toward world power. Bush is an extraordinary case (in so many ways) of a convert – someone with no apparent interest at all in the world who became after 9/11 an internationalist of the worst sort, a true Ugly American. He and his cohorts fundamentally misunderstand what policing the world means. A policeman doesn’t reform the neighborhood, turn everyone into saints – he tidies up the mess, tries to keep the streets reasonably safe. He’s under no illusion that there is ever an end to his job, a day when he can say crime is over and done with.

This incompetence in global law enforcement is wearing the world’s patience thin. So they may eventually look around for a replacement, or, more likely, a replacement will gradually push its way forward. (China? Stranger things have happened.) But for now, there’s no one else around who wants to wear the uniform. So the world waits impatiently for 2008 and hopes we do a better job of picking our leaders then we did in 2000 and 2004. Of course, if we really are so monumentally stupid as to attack Iran – then the Visigoths will be at the gate.


The big news in my part of the world is that in late January WGMS-FM, which has been one of Washington’s classical music stations for decades – I listened to it when I came here in 1955 – dropped its classical format and became something called (I’m not making this up) “George 104.” I had heard this was going to happen, and felt twice betrayed, since WETA-FM, the public radio station, had switched from classical to all-news two years ago. Which meant getting in-depth analysis of the mayoral race in Kuala Lumpur and the public sanitation crisis in Nairobi, but no music. This left me with only one classical station, WBJC-FM in Baltimore, and that gets scratchy in some parts of the Virginia suburbs. In other words the Washington-Baltimore area went from three classical stations, probably more than other city in the country, to one. Imagine my surprise when I returned to the area in March to find that WETA had dropped its all-news format and gone back to classical, leaving the news junkies feeling betrayed. But I’m happy, and that’s all that counts.

Otherwise, not much to report. While on vacation I read Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which managed to be hilariously funny one moment and depressingly sad the next, mostly because it was about a married couple in their seventies with three children who reminded me all too much of us.

Best thing currently on TV is the most unlikely program, “Friday Night Lights.” Never thought I would enjoy a TV series about high school football, even after enjoying the movie of the same name. Kyle Chandler is wonderful as the coach, all the acting is first rate, the story line is absorbing, and it’s one of the few serious programs on TV.

You may recall that about the time they issued two movies about Truman Capote, they made two about 19th century European magicians. If you are one of those who, like myself, went to see “The Prestige” because The Washington Post swore it was the better of the two, and found it, as I did, incoherent nonsense, then you may be relieved to hear that I finally rented “The Illusionist,” with Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti and enjoyed it immensely. Great period drama, great mystery story, fun movie.