Friday, May 27, 2011

Magnetism and Winning the Presidency in 2012

Here's the thing about presidential elections....

The conventional political wisdom says you win by attracting the votes of the moderates.  So, the GOP political strategists figure fielding moderate candidates is a winning strategy - hence John McCain's lackluster run in 2008.

It is true that the undecided middle tips the scale in elections. Whoever wins the middle, wins the election. Parties think that the closer you get to the middle, the more likely you are to win the middle.  Tain't necessarily so, though. Look at the presidential races of the past three decades that were predicated on that political strategy.
  •  Gerald Ford vs. Jimmy Carter: Ford's tepid moderate-Republicanism failed to convince moderates to drift his way. Instead they voted for Carter because Carter was, at least, promising to be different from the same-old/same-old Washington politics that Ford represented (though that difference proved disastrous for the country).
  • Reagan vs. Carter AND Reagan vs. Mondale:  Reagan was a fiery right-winger set against two clear leftists.  The moderate middle drifted to the right (a direction that, given a clear choice, they tend to drift anyway.
  • Bush/Dukakis: Bush managed to win the presidency once because of the magnetism he carried over from his ex-boss, Ronald Reagan. It didn't work when he wishy-washied on taxes. It wasn't the faithful that threw him under the bus either. It was the middle, who gravitated toward the candidate with more personality.
  • Clinton/Bush and Clinton/Dole: Both times, Clinton, who pandered to the center was up against two opponents who both tried to emulate him. With no clear choice, the center went with the sexier candidate. Bush #1 betrayed conservatives and lost his way. Dole promised more Washington political same old/same old,  Clinton seemed more powerful, so the votes in the middle drifted his way.
  • Bush/Gore and Bush/Kerry:  These two battles really confused the Republican Party. Bush squeaked one by Al Gore, but unconvincingly.  People were sick of the Clinton squabbles, but because both candidates courted the middle, it was a crap shoot which, thank God, Bush won.  Bush won the 2004 race because Kerry was clearly a liberal and Bush had shown he had the stones to fight a war that most Americans believed we needed to fight. Bush's moderate fiscal policies cost him a decisive victory over Kerry, though. The GOP brain trust thought they had a winning strategy and that they could continue to win by trying, not to attract moderates, but by being moderates. It was a strategy to have dire consequences in the next election.
  • Obama/McCain: This is the race that most clearly demonstrates the "magnetism" principle. Obama was clearly a socialist/progressive liberal.  McCain was a moderate, compromiser. The politicoes truly believe McCain would win because he would attract moderates and the conservatives would vote for him because there was "nothing better". What happened was the moderates drifted toward the more well-defined candidate and the conservatives didn't show up to vote for somebody they didn't like just because they had no other choice. 
Think of moderates as iron filings scattered between two magnets. Whichever side has the stronger magnet will draw more of the iron filings toward itself.  By fielding wishy washy candidates like McCain, you field a weaker "magnet", so more of the iron filings in the middle are drawn toward the stronger magnet who seems to have some ideas the moderates can get behind. Republicans lost, not because the Dems had a better strategy or better media support or because more people "understood" Obama's message better. The middle of the roaders voted for Obama because he appeared to have a stronger more coherent message than did McCain.  No one could tell what it was, exactly the McCain stood for.  He appeared to not even have support from his own party.  So, why would moderates, who need someone to put strong ideas into their heads, be drawn to someone like themselves, who hasn't anything attractive to offer? 

There seems to be a new strategy coming out of the Republican country clubs -- ditch the Tea Party. They are messing up our strategy and that's why we lost elections in Nevada and New York. They didn't support our strategy so we had candidates that were unacceptable to moderates. The Tea Party, they maintain, is too polarizing and won't attract moderates. They mess up our strategy (as though politics was entirely a game of manipulation of stupid voters by smart politicians). Karl Rove is supposed to be this great political strategist, for instance. So what did Rove actually accomplish?  Two squeaker wins that, while we always get a buzz out of watching the Ohio returns come in, were not decisive and only set up the 2008 debacle.

The point the political generals seem to miss is that you don't attract movement among the non-aligned by being non-aligned yourself.

Go back to the magnet metaphor.  Political ideas are like magnets. Conservative or Liberal/Socialist/Progressive, these ideas attract voters one way or another. Those who are liberal or conservative true believers are part of the magnets.  Then, there is a phenomenon in any population you care to name. There is a middle ground group that floats without hardly any detectable charge. They are drawn back and forth across the table, drawn towards whichever charge is strongest. They vote one time for Reagan, another time for Obama. They vote whichever way sounds the most exciting.  I've heard them in voting booths pulling the lever for the "cutest" candidate or the one that "sounds better". You don't win these voters by being exactly like them.  Iron filings do not attract other iron filings unless you first magnetize them.

So don't blame the failures of the Republican Party on the Tea Party. The Tea Party is the RESULT of the failings of the Republican Party. Lose the Tea Party and you lose part of the magnetism of Republican ideas. Lose the Tea Party and you only have yourselves to blame when you watch those moderate votes sucked up by the left.

Tom King

Sunday, May 22, 2011

To Drill or Not to Drill - Why Aren't They Drilling?

Somewhere in the Pentagon, enshrined in some little folder somewhere you can bet there is a security assessment that lays out a long list of reasons why we ought not to drill the vast oil reserves under our own soil. For a long time, presidents, Democrat or Republican have discouraged drilling homeland oil reserves. We have grown steadily more dependent on foreign oil sources. 

President Bush always said, presidents make decisions based on information that most Americans do not know and that events, themselves, limit what decisions any president makes.  You'll notice, for instance, that President Obama hasn't pushed forward some of his more radical foreign policy pronouncements since his election, drawing criticism from his own supporters for failing to deliver on promises like the one he made to shut down Gitmo, for instance.

I can think of a couple of things which might slow a president's desires to tap U.S. homeland oil reserves. Just guessing, but perhaps that little folder could lay out the threat assessment something like this.
  1. The world's population is growing rapidly. 
  2. Nuclear weapons continue to proliferate.
  3. Foreign oil reserves will inevitably run out some day.  When that happens, third world countries will fall into chaos. Some of those possess nukes.
  4. When that happens, someone will have to step up to provide police and relief support.  It is likely that the only country with the military muscle to do that is the United States.
  5. In order for the U.S. to maintain some semblance of order worldwide, it will need energy and part of that energy plan will absolutely include oil as one of its elements. 
  6. Therefore, the United States needs to hold onto large oil reserves that can be tapped once the rest of the world runs out.
Americans, themselves, would probably rather be energy independent and have lower gas prices than think long term about keeping the rest of the world from going up in flames.  The generals who create such strategic plans know that part of those flames could be nuclear unless someone takes decisive action..

Personally, I think our country's leaders both Democrat and Republican are working roughly toward the same thing so far as our military, energy and foreign policy is concerned. I think the military-industrial complex is planning to use up the energy reserves of the rest of the world first before we tap our own. When that happens, our government wants to be the last one in an oil-starved world standing on an underground lake of crude. That would put us in the catbird seat and let's face it - that's exactly where governments want to be. Besides it could be argued that such a course would be in the best interest of the American people.

I'm not betting we'll get the go-ahead to drill for oil in our own oil fields until we've sucked up the last drop left out there in the rest of the world.  I'm not the first to predict that. I'm just not sure the motivation is entirely about greedy oil profits.

Personally, I think Jesus will come before that.  Let's face it, it's a stupid idea to exploit our fellow man in that way. It would be nice if we had an honest president who would make decisions because they are right and not because they are expedient, but then president's aren't allowed to make decisions based on guesses about when Christ is coming. 

The upshot is, I don't think attempts to pass legislation to open up drilling in US oil reserves will be successful any time soon whoever's in power. When such legislation does pass, it will likely signal the beginning of very bad times ahead in the world.

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Who's a Strategic Asset?

“Let no one draw any wrong conclusions. Any attack against Pakistan’s strategic assets whether overt or covert will find a matching response,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani told the Pakistani National Assembly in a policy statement in response to the US military operation in Abbottabad, May 2 that killed Osama Bin Laden. 

So, the Pakistani foreign minister threatens military action against anyone who "goes after" Pakistani strategic assets.  So let me get this straight - is he saying Osama bin Laden was one of Pakistan's strategic assets?

Well isn't that special?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Fees and the Cashless Society - Signs of the End?

A friend complained that his bank practically forced him to go cashless and now charges him fees for the "convenience" (mostly theirs). Well, I got to looking at what I pay out in fees - not to the government, but to the companies I buy things and services from. It's bad enough to be taxed by the government, but when we tax each other almost as heavily, I think it's a very bad sign.

Have you ever stopped to take stock of how many hidden fees you are paying. Your cell phone bill alone will give you a stroke and don't even get me started on the electric bill.  Every time you turn around someone is charging you a little something extra just for trying to do what it is you need to do.

The French have a word for it - "lagniappe". It means "a little something extra".  Nowadays, it's being redefined as a little extra thing you give your customers, but don't kid yourself. The concept didn't start out as a treat for customers. At least that's not the way it was understood in the Cajun parishes of south Louisiana.  If you wanted to build something, buy real estate or do virtually anything in that part of the country that involved the County Judge or the local government, especially anything that required a license or building permit or certification, you knew that part of the fees you would pay was the "lagniappe" - the little something extra you left on the judge's desk or slipped the county clerk (sometimes you gave it to both). The lagniappe was simply a polite way of describing bribes and graft. You could fight it all you wanted, but it all boiled down to no lagniappe / no permit.

South Louisiana isn't the only place where this is going on today.  There is a whole class of inividuals out there who make their living collecting extra charges and fees - someone for virtually everything you do. Want to file your taxes, better pay a CPA to look over them.  Want to buy a house, better pay a lawyer to look over the papers.  Want to file your incorporation papers, give your lawyer several thousand dollars and he'll pull some paperwork out of a drawer. Actually, these days he'll likely tell his secretary to type your name onto a computer and it will spit out the paperwork you need. Go to the hospital and they'll charge you the same fee whether they give you pure oxygen or just pump ordinary air into your courp tent. The medical industry makes a science out of charging inscrutable fees for things you can't pronounce, much less understand what they are. There's a fee for everything these days. These fee-charging people remind me of sharks circling the edges of a pod of whales and slipping in to nip off hunks of blubber whenever they take a notion, hoping the big fat fellas don't miss it too much.

These fees are a pernicious form of taxation. Here we have, not the government taxing us, but us taxing each other. We've got private businesses like banks, hospitals, utility companies and, heaven help us, even retail business adding charge after charge to our bills.  Charges like credit card fees are common enough, but stores now charge restocking fees if you return something because it doesn't fit.  In other words, you pay them to put whatever you returned back on the shelf.

To add insult to injury, we're being pressed more and more to convert to credit and debit cards, automatic payments and automatic bank transfers - features of the so called cashless society. What's good about that for the fee sharks is that the fees are deducted out of sight. Unless you're one of those folks who love to wade through pages of account statements, the fee collecters count on your not noticing the $2 account maintenance stimulation fee that pays to keep the staff coffee pot in latte and espresso mix.

It's bad enough when the government taxes us, but when we start taxing each other it's the end of the world.

Just slap a 666 on my forehead and call me Beastie boy!

Next thing you know we'll have little kids with lemonade stands charging us an "ice replacement fee", "a cup recycling charge" and an automatic 15% gratuity for parties of more than 2 people.



Monday, May 2, 2011

Should We Fear Bin Laden as a Martyr?

There has been a lot of hand wringing since last night's announcement that Navy Seals had stamped "Paid" to Osama Bin Laden's account in a daring raid on his palatial million dollar home in Pakistan. Many pundits fear a wave of righteous outrage from Muslims and a wave of violence against us. After all, we well remember our own outrage and anger following the martyrdom of 3,000 Americans on 9/11.  The question is, will this unite the Muslim world against us.

T.E. Lawrence (yes, THAT Lawrence), in his book "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom", Lawrence points out that the Arab culture, indeed that of most of the middle-east is a tribal culture centered around strong-man leaders. Americans do not always appreciate how that dynamic works in the Middle-East. We often project our own values and beliefs upon the cultures of Persia and Arabia and Asia. It has, in the past, led to grave mistakes in dealing with those nations at whose base those cultures inform diplomatic and military behavior.  We are not alone in misjudging other cultures. They also fail to understand us because they see America through the prism of their own culture.

Japan made that mistake in WWII. They assumed (being a strong-man culture) that because Americans loved peace that we were cowards and that a hard knock would discourage us and lead us to capitulate. Hitler arrogantly assumed (as a strong man in a strong man culture) assumed we would join the strong side or at the very least stay out of it. Only Admiral Yamamoto, who understood Americans better than his colleagues, realized the mistake Japan had made when he said, "We have wakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."  Bin Laden really thought that 9/11 would cause America to flee the Middle-East in terror of his self-proclaimed holy war. Imagine his shock when he was rousted out of his cave!

We continually confuse our enemies by our ferocity in battle and by our magnanimity in the aftermath toward our defeated foes. America responds to the martyrdom of our own with stubborn, fierce and overwhelming force. Next to the kind of all-out war America wages when it is angered, jihad is an anemic temper tantrum!

When a middle-eastern strong man is brought down, his followers tend to fade into the woodwork until another strong man comes along. Osama Bin Laden was a figurehead, yes, but as long as he remained alive, ordering attacks, however insignificant, against America, he was a unifying figure. His ignominious death will weaken Al-Quaeda.

Someone compared Al-Quaeda to a Hydra, the mythical multi-headed beast of Greek mythology that would sprout two heads for every one you cut off.  This is not a perfect analogy. In strong man cultures, the lopping off the primary head does result in the rise of others, however, it also sets off a struggle for pre-eminence among the heads, often resulting in one head biting off the other.  The best way to combat such a system is to keep lopping off the primary head, leaving the little heads to fight among themselves for position.  This spreads confusion and chaos among the followers who tend to follow the man even more than the cause, however, loudly they proclaim their loyalty to the cause. Lopping off the primary head is a very effective technique for fighting strong-man cultures. There will inevitably be a power struggle in Al-Quaeda for pre-eminence. If we go after the next strong man, we will soon have the new strong man in hiding and reduced in effectiveness. At the same time the strong man will bet afraid to let another become too powerful lest that lieutenant replace the strong man.

With American armies or even governments, the followers will continue to come after you with or without the leader because in American culture, it is the cause that is pre-eminent and not the leader. In times of peace we may fight ad nauseum among ourselves, but make us angry, attack us and give us a cause to focus on, and we come after you relentlessly.

We are a very different people from those with whom we contend in the Middle-East. When we kill a hated enemy, we prepare his body for burial according to his religious beliefs and bury him in Muslim fashion with respect.  When they kill our people, they hang their bodies from bridges. When our soldiers mistreat prisoners, they are prosecuted. When their mistreat prisoners, it is posted on the Internet.  We are an honorable people. Our enemies sense of honor is very different. We see it with Al-Quaeda. We saw it with how the Japanese behaved toward prisoners in WWII.  Both cultures have a highly developed sense of honor, but it is very different from ours. We must take it into account.

Bin Laden's "martyrdom", while it may inspire some short term reaction among Bin Laden's admirers, it will more likely dishearten them than anything. An Arab writer in Newsweek almost ten years ago, suggested that if America wanted to win friends in the Middle-East, it needed to win.  Winning is the only thing Arabs respect. Conciliation and concession are inevitably seen as week.

The extermination of Osama Bin Laden is a big one in the "W" column for the U.S.. If we move from strength to strength we win friends. Remember that in the wake of the U.S. defeat of Saddam Hussein, hundreds of Iraqi newborn boys were named George Bush. The instinct to revere strength is instinctive in that culture.

If President Obama continues his strong posture in the Middle-East in the wake of Bin Laden's elemination, even if he only does it to win re-election, that will be a good thing. It may buy us time to win friends there. It may open a window for Christians in that region to win a brief respite. Who knows?

I think mainstream Arabs and Persians will see Osama Bin Laden, not so much as a martyr, but as a loser, grown weak and hiding in his million dollar mansion, caught lounging in his waterbed by the relentless special operations forces of the United States of America.

While it is inappropriate for a Christian to rejoice in the death of any man, we may rejoice that we have silenced the voice that ordered so many half starved Arab boys and girls to strap explosives around their thin waists and to blow themselves up in peaceful marketplaces, killing people who never did them any harm. An evil is gone from the world. Other evil men will rise to take his place, that is certain, but America is watching and the Joint Special Operations Command stands ready.


Tom King
 Tyler, TX