Monday, August 15, 2011

Politics: Picking Presidents

I think people select presidents for some combination of the following three reasons: inspirational leadership, agreement on policy and demonstrated experience.

With the advent of 24/7 media, the inspirational leadership element is probably the most crucial. You might agree with someone on policy and they might have a terrific resume but if they come across as dull they will have a very hard time getting nominated or elected.

The agreement on policy part reflects itself on two levels of the process. In the general election, probably 33% of the people will vote for a Democrat because they are life-long Democrats and 33% of the people will vote for a Republican because they are life-long Republicans. That is a simple reflection of policy preferences.

The other level where policy preferences show up is among the activists in the nomination process. In the GOP, there are probably three major groups: the economic libertarians, the social conservatives and the national defense hawks. The Democrats would have the same three types: New Deal/Great Society (FDR and LBJ ushered in many new government programs), the social activists (pro-abortion, anti-gun, environmentalists, etc) and the anti-war doves.

Finally, people look at experience. But in truth, the other two factors often trump considerations of experience. Let's look at the presidents in my lifetime.

On the thin side of experience:
Obama - elected while first term senator
Bush 43 - elected while second term governor
Carter - elected after one term as governor

Some experience:
Clinton - served multiple terms as a governor of a small state
Reagan - two terms as governor of a large state
Kennedy - second term senator and three term house member

Much experience:
Bush 41 - VP and many other roles in government
Ford - VP and 24 years in House
Nixon - VP, one term senator, three term house member
LBJ - VP and 12 years in Senate and 12 years in House

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Non-Profit of the Month: August 2011 - Union Station Homeless Services

There is a story told by Jesus about Lazarus and the Rich Man. In the pointed story, the Rich Man did nothing to help Lazarus, the poor man who begged for help at the Rich Man's gate.

In Jesus time and in today, the question remains: how can one help the poor? Doing nothing is not an option. If we take the words of Jesus seriously, doing nothing is one road to hell fire of judgement.

I've been told, if one gives money directly to someone on the street, it is likely they will use that money for drugs or alcohol. Thus, in the desire to help them, we may be enabling them to hurt themselves further.

As such, I have decided to give to reputable organizations that helps the poor in practical ways like Union Station in Pasadena.

In the final analysis, the issues of poverty and homelessness often involve many factors and it takes compassionate professionals and highly committed volunteers to effectively offer help. Organizations like Union Station do that and so I hope you will consider supporting them or other groups like them who have a track record of making a difference.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Politics: Debt deal near?

They say it should be soon later today.

Politics is "the art of the possible" and this was probably about all that could be done.

The White House wanted the problem pushed past the November 2012 elections.

The Democrats wanted to minimize the chances of spending cuts.

The Republicans wanted to minimize the chances of raising taxes.

And so you get "the deal."

In the House, some Tea Party Republicans will vote no because it doesn't do enough and some Left Democrats will vote no because it does too much. Look for a strange mix of Democrats and Republicans voting yes and no.

How about this for a guess?
170 Republican
100 Democrat
70 Republican
93 Democrat

UPDATE: In a heart warming moment, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords cast her vote for the deal in her return to the House as she continues her recovery since being shot in January.

In the Senate, I would anticipate passage with some dissent also. My guess:
40 Democrat
39 Republican
13 Democrat
8 Republican

UPDATE: The final vote was 74-26. Democrat support was a bit stronger than I expected with 46 votes and GOP support was weaker with 28. In the end, it passed with apparently little drama.

On substance, the deal just doesn't do all that much. It gets the government past the immediate debt limit problem but doesn't solve the debt problem itself.

$2.5 trillion is a dent in the problem.

The current debt is about $14.5 trillion but the really big number is the future unfunded liabilities in the bottom right of the debt clock. They estimate it to be $115 trillion!

I've seen other estimates but if the $115 trillion is overstated by a factor of two, the problem is still $57.5 trillion.