Friday, February 29, 2008

Political climate change forecast for March 4th 2008

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on February 28th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Today I want to discuss the weather forecast for next Tuesday March 4th in the states of Texas and Ohio as well as Vermont and Rhode Island. The month of February started out stormy due to the collision of a strengthening Obama warm front with an entrenched but rapidly weakening Clinton cold air mass, but ended with spring like conditions across much of the US brought about by the powerful Obama warm front.
This collision of the Obama warm front with highs averaging in the 60s and the chilly Clinton air mass with highs only in the 30s to 40s, led to a lot of stormy weather from coast to coast across the United States in early February, with the weakening Clinton cold air mass withstanding the push from the warm Obama front along a line stretching from Massachusetts through New York and New Jersey, down into Tennessee and across the south-western states of Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona before it reached the Pacific coast in California.
But the rapidly strengthening Obama warm front pushed through the bitter Clinton high pressure system along the entire length of the Atlantic coast following a line from Maine to Connecticut, then down through the Chesapeake Bay peninsula area of Delaware, Maryland, Washington DC and Virginia before moving south and west across the states of Georgia and Alabama and then finally across the state of Louisiana.
This strong Obama warm front also pushed aside the fading Clinton high pressure system’s nippy air mass across the entire mid-west from Illinois through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah and back across the upper mid-west from Washington State on the Pacific coast through Idaho, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as the northernmost state of Alaska and the most southern and western state of Hawaii.
These two opposing warm and cold fronts will be colliding in Texas and in Ohio (a state that 200 years ago was part of Virginia) as well as across the northeast in Vermont and Rhode Island where the once dominant Clinton cold air mass has weakened in recent weeks. Now the question is; will spring also come early to the rest of these north-eastern states along with Ohio in the mid-west and Texas in the southwest thanks to the onslaught of the Obama warm front?
Most veteran forecasters are extremely hesitant to make anything beyond the most tepid predictions about what is likely to happen on March 4th if they are willing to make any predictions at all. Their hesitancy to make predictions about these colliding air masses in Texas and Ohio is due to several factors.
The biggest single factor has been the strength of the Clinton cold air mass which has dominated the United States political climate for the better part of the past 16 years. It appeared to be a strong as ever for almost the entire year in 2007 until it finally started to show signs of weakening at the very end of the year in Iowa, right in the middle of the country. While all of these veteran forecasters will readily acknowledge that the Clinton cold front has weakened dramatically across the entire country since the beginning of 2008, they still have a healthy respect for the long standing history of dominance over the political climate this Clinton cold air mass has shown through the years.
Another factor which gives these veteran forecasters cause for pause is the fact that almost all of them failed to predict the sudden strengthening of the Obama warm front. They had all observed this relatively weak low pressure system circulating on the national forecast map throughout 2007 but they had not detected any appreciable strengthening of the system throughout the year. This led most forecasters to predict that this Obama low pressure system would never gain enough strength to dislodge the massive Clinton high pressure ridge before summer and its August convention season.
There are several other factors that have added to the unpredictability of forecasting the weather on March 4th. The first of these has been the influence of tropical waves which originated in the African continent hundreds of years ago and which appear to be strengthening the intensity of the Obama low pressure system. Countering this development has been the movement of another high pressure ridge into the south-western part of the United States from Mexico. This ridge of high pressure appears to be combining with the Clinton high pressure system and reinforcing the strength of the Clinton cold air mass.
The other difference between these two high and low pressure systems (which also helps to explain the long standing dominance of the Clinton system) is the fact that the Clinton high pressure system’s cold air mass is actually a combination of two strong high pressure ridges. This is a marked contrast with the Obama low pressure system’s single warm front which makes its rapid strengthening over the past two months both unpredictable and also quite remarkable under the circumstances. Given all of the aforementioned factors, I think the reader can now understand why so many weather experts are hesitant to make a weather prediction for March 4th much less provide a forecast for the weeks and months that follow.
I am no expert when it comes to predicting political climate change. However, I will make a forecast for March 4th as well as for the weeks and months that follow into summer (which ends with the convention season at the end of August).
I predict that the Obama low pressure system and its attendant warm front will continue to gain strength and will dislodge the Clinton high pressure system and its cold air mass from Texas and Vermont and will show surprising strength in Rhode Island and Ohio. While the waning Clinton high pressure system may still hold its position in Ohio and or Rhode Island, I foresee it continuing to weaken over the course of the spring. We’ll see how accurate I am next week.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My newspaper editor's idea not mine

This was the newspaper staff's idea to insert the Obama for President banner into my weekly column, not mine. Too bad I'm the only one eligible to vote in the election.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

2 part column on the number 1 issue in the US Presidential election

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on February 14th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Ok now that Super Tuesday is behind us where do I stand as regards the respective Republican and Democratic US Presidential candidates? On the Republican side I hope that Senator John McCain will emerge as the Republican nominee even though I disagree with him strongly on several issues, most notably the war in Iraq.
While I often disagree with the editorial board of the New York Times, the following statement neatly summarizes my thinking about Senator McCain. “Senator John McCain of Arizona is the only Republican who promises to end the George Bush style of governing from and on behalf of a small, angry fringe. With a record of working across the aisle to develop sound bipartisan legislation, he would offer a choice to a broader range of Americans than the rest of the Republican field.”
On the Democratic side I hope and believe that a majority of Democratic and independent voters will see through the Clinton campaign machine’s attacks on Senator Obama and the obvious distortions of his statements and positions on various issues (by the two-headed Billary machine) that characterizes the Clinton presidential campaign.
The New York Times editorial board even makes a note of these divisive and highly partisan Bush-Rove Republican campaign tactics in their editorial endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination saying that “we urge Mrs. Clinton to take the lead in changing the tone of the campaign. It is not good for the country, the Democratic Party or for Mrs. Clinton, who is often tagged as divisive, in part because of bitter feeling(s) about her husband’s administration and the(ir) so-called permanent (presidential) campaign. (Indeed, Bill Clinton’s overheated comments are feeding those resentments, and could do long-term damage to her candidacy if he continues this way.)”
The New York Times published a letter from President John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline which I will now quote; “Over the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.”
But rather than dwell on Presidential candidate endorsements, today I would like to begin discussing where the 5 remaining candidates stand after Super Tuesday’s primaries and then begin discussing what I believe the major election year issues will be for the US presidential candidates.
On the Republican side McCain now has a large lead in delegates but lost several southern states to Huckabee and several western states to Romney. Conservatives pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter continue to attack McCain and their conservative followers in the south and west continue to split their votes against McCain between his two remaining opponents. Huckabee has no chance to win the nomination but I think he remains in the race hoping to end up as McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate. Time will tell if this ploy works, but I think it just might.
On the Democratic side Billary won in 8 states including big states like New York and California but Obama emerged with only 10 fewer delegates overall thanks to strong wins in 14 other states including America’s bellwether state of Missouri. Billary still has strong support from white women and Latinos but Obama has cut Billary’s margin among Hispanic voters down to a two to one advantage and garners more votes from white men in addition to his overwhelming advantage among younger voters. Obama will erase most or all of Billary’s slim 76 delegate lead by capturing all of the remaining 10 states voting during the month of February. This lead is due Billary’s support from 211 UNELECTED Super-delegates (Democratic political establishment leaders) because Obama has actually won 7 more ELECTED delegates in the 26 states that have voted so far in 2008.
As for the major election issues the number one issue is NOT the war in Iraq. While the war in Iraq is still an issue for the US electorate it is not the only example of gross incompetence on the part of the Bush administration and the President’s Republican allies in Congress. Have you ever heard the phrase “IT’S THE ECONOMY STUPID”? A long recession now looms for America thanks largely to President Bush and Republican Congress members’ complete repudiation of Republican economic and fiscal responsibility values. But I expect Republicans will attempt to blame the Democratic majority for the economic downturn and claim credit for quick action on Bush’s economic stimulus package which I believe is useful, but flawed and simply not enough.
That is my assessment as well as the view of a number of respected economists on the $150 billion emergency spending plan agreed to by President Bush and Congressional leaders in a bid to stimulate consumer spending in the US economy. Given that a lot of Americans are so deeply in debt, (due to the consumer spending boom of the last 16 years spanning the terms of both Clinton and Bush administrations) many of these consumers won’t use this money to buy new goods and services.
Since the tax rebate checks won’t reach consumers until this summer at the earliest, they won’t be able to spend the money until the end of the third or during the fourth quarter of 2008. By that time I expect a change in consumer psychology and attitudes will have already taken hold and a combination of fear and economic insecurity will lead them to save this money or use it to pay off debts rather than spend it.
I strongly believe the so-called prosperity of the past 16 years was a mirage. But before agreeing to a compromise with Democrats on tax rebates for middle and lower income workers, Bush was still promoting tax cuts for businesses instead of rebates, arguing this would coax companies to expand. Most economists question that assumption, asserting that if consumers lack money to spend, then businesses will stand pat or cut back and fire people, (whatever their tax rate) further deepening and prolonging any recession. Desmond Lachman, a respected economist at the American Enterprise Institute said; “Breaks in taxes for corporations are unlikely to make a difference. There’s waste in it.” Next week I will conclude my discussion about the number one issue in the upcoming US presidential election.

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on February 21st in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week I began a discussion of my views about the number one issue in the upcoming election which is the US economy. For the past 16 years, American consumers have increased their overall spending every single quarter, which is almost twice as long as any previous streak. Now I’m afraid it is time for the payback. Martin Feldstein, the dean of Republican economists, says he thinks that the economy “could slip into a recession and that the recession could be a long, deep, severe one.” In the South Carolina Democratic presidential debate, Barack Obama made the same argument: “We could be sliding into an extraordinary recession,” he said.
Feldstein and Obama see the economic reality the US is facing, a reality that the other Republican and Democratic candidates or members of Congress don’t want to acknowledge much less address because doing the right thing to address America’s long festering economic shortcomings will be painful for everyone. But I and others in both parties contend that continuing to propose partisan half measure solutions, in an attempt to win elections or re-election, only postpones and increases the length and intensity of the painful measures America will eventually have to take to address its economic ills.
Ever hear the phrase “NO PAIN, NO GAIN”? There is a reason why this phrase has become a cliché in our language. That’s because whether we want to acknowledge it or not, there is a whole lot of truth in it. Unfortunately only Senator McCain on the Republican side and Senator Obama on the Democratic side appear to have the good sense, judgement and insight to realize that it is time to “face the music” and stop telling Americans what they want to hear (so they can get themselves elected to positions of power) and start telling them the harsh but honest truth so they can begin fixing things.
For many Americans a psychological barrier has already been broken and where you can see it is in the actions and sentiments of people who don’t live pay check to pay check. People with lots of disposable income, good jobs and money from investments in cities from New York to San Francisco are cutting back on their dry cleaning and hair salon expenses even though they are not actually being pinched financially.

People in New York are not that different from people in other US cities. In other parts of the country people are buying less expensive bread and skipping dessert when they go out for dinner. Business economists get nervous whenever consumers start pulling back. They know this pruning of daily expenses has a domino effect, setting off a chain of events that actually contributes to an economic slide and more fear. Consumer psychologists say that increased fear then leads to further belt tightening, deepening the economic slide and increasing fear in a seemingly endless cycle that feeds on itself.
Indeed, for the first time in many years retail sales in the US were down over the holidays, leading economists to debate whether the country could experience a rare decline in personal consumption, a sure sign of a recession that has already begun. The respected Pew Research Center says its polling shows that consumer confidence has plunged and that consumer satisfaction with the economy is now at a 15-year low.
But this is not why I believe the US is facing a prolonged and deep recession which will last for at least four or five years. The reason why this will be a very nasty recession is because the US housing market is only in the early stages of a downward spiral. Florida serves as a prime example of what is and will continue to be a looming financial disaster for many middle class US homeowners for the foreseeable future.
In the Fort Myers area of southwest Florida, the local News-Press regularly advertises auctions of homes built to sell for $250,000 with minimum bids of $50,000 and small condos are offered with opening bids of $25,000. $250,000 houses are now selling for $100,000, (when they sell at all) and most of the properties that are selling are “short” sales, where the debt and closing costs exceed the sales value of the house.
The consumer spending which buoyed the US economy for the last 16 years was (and still is) dependent on Americans feeling optimistic about the value of their assets. For most Americans their homes are their primary assets and these homes have and will continue to lose value for the next couple of years. When the decline in home values eventually slows and prices stabilize, this will be followed by at least a couple more years of stagnant prices before the market value of homes in the US begins to climb again.
When home values do eventually start to rise again, it will take another year or two for consumers to adjust psychologically and begin to spend more freely on consumer goods and household durables like furniture and appliances. If you do the math, 2 years for home prices to stop dropping + 2 years for home prices to stabilize + 1 or 2 more years for consumers to become optimistic about the underlying value of their primary asset = 5 to 6 years of economic recession in the US.
In an increasing globalized world economy it is foolish to think that the EU and Asian economies will not be adversely impacted by this prolonged slump in the US economy. It is also foolish to think that governments or central banks can do anything more than cushion the fall or mitigate some of the worst consequences. One of the unfortunate realities of free market economics and capitalism is that long periods of growth and prosperity are always followed by periods of contraction which, although shorter in duration, can be quite painful for a large number of citizens.
Whoever is elected as the next US President will be confronted with paying the bill for many years of deficit spending and financial mismanagement on the part of the current Bush administration and the failure of Congress and both the Bush and Clinton administrations to effectively confront the rising costs of the US entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare over the past 16 years.
The solutions to these and many other problems such as universal healthcare and global warming will require bi-partisan solutions which have been few and far between in American politics over the past 16 years. A continuation of the partisan politics which dominated the Bush and Clinton administrations for the last 16 years is not the answer.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Barack Obama as a world leader

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on February 7th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

The results of the “Super Tuesday” primary will already be in by the time you read this column, so this week I will discuss some other important distinctions between Barack Obama and the other candidates, which involves the role the next American President can and should play as a world leader.
Since Mr. Obama’s speaks on these subjects so eloquently I will quote him directly; “If, as president, I travel to a poor country to talk to leaders there, they will know I have a grandmother in a small village in (Kenya) Africa without running water, devastated by malaria and AIDS, What that allows me to do is talk honestly not only about our need to help them, but about poor countries’ obligation to help themselves. There are cousins of mine in Kenya who can’t get a job without paying an exorbitant bribe to some midlevel functionary. I can talk about that.”
In discussing pseudo-religious Islamic political violence and terrorism Obama notes that; “I have lived in (Indonesia) the most populous Muslim country in the world, had relatives who practiced Islam. I am a Christian, but I can say I understand your worldview, although I may not agree with how Islam has evolved. I can speak forcefully about the need for Muslim countries to reconcile themselves to modernity in ways they have failed to do.”
Now I ask you to consider for a moment, what other US Republican or Democratic Presidential candidate, or European leader for that matter, can travel around the world and talk like this to the political leaders of countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America?
I see some interesting parallels between Senator Obama’s upbringings as an only child from a broken home who was shuttled from one place to another while he was growing up and the Western targets chosen by al Qaeda for their pseudo-religious political terrorism attacks. I might also note that none of the other Republican or Democratic presidential candidates come from such backgrounds, nor have any of them been as honest and forthcoming about their past use and abuse of alcohol and drugs as Senator Obama has been.
But thus far, four members of the Clinton campaign have been found to have attempted to use or twist public information Senator Obama has provided regarding his upbringings and teenage transgressions to cast doubts about his fitness to be President. I find such elitist, holier-than-thou attitudes on the part of Mrs. Clinton’s state and national campaign staffers extremely disturbing and a harbinger of what Obama can expect from the Republicans should he win the Democratic nomination for President. Such veiled attacks, which Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly disavowed any knowledge of, nonetheless point to why I and many other Americans view Hillary and her supporters as a divisive rather than unifying force in US national politics.
As for the parallels I see between al Qaeda’s Western targets and Senator Obama’s background here are a few interesting facts for you to contemplate. Al Qaeda attacked the US Embassy in Kenya, American and other Western tourists in Bali, Indonesia, the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon and White House in Washington D.C. (although the hijackers were unsuccessful crashing into the White House because resistance from the plane’s passengers brought the jet down before it reached the White House).
Senator Barack Obama’s father was a native of Kenya. The senator spent four years of his youth going to school and living with his mother, her second husband and his step-grandfather (who was a practicing Muslim) in Indonesia. Barack Obama lived and went to college in New York, currently works as A US Senator in Washington D.C. and aspires to one day live in the White House. I don’t find these parallels strange so much as I think they could serve as a source of strength for Mr. Obama if he is elected President later this year.
Regarding the need for the US to finally take action and effectively deal with issues involving global warming and climate change Senator Obama says; “As gas prices keep rising, the Middle East grows ever more unstable, and the ice caps continue to melt, we face a now-or-never, once-in-a-generation opportunity to set this country on a different course. Such a course is not only possible, it’s already being pursued in other places around the world. Countries like Japan are creating jobs and slowing oil consumption by churning out and buying millions of fuel-efficient cars. Brazil, a nation that once relied on foreign countries to import 80% of its crude oil, will now be entirely self-sufficient in a few years thanks to its investment in (clean) biofuels. So why can’t we do this? The answer is, with the right leadership, we can.”
Barack Obama has also taken a progressive stance regarding the divisive issue of immigration reform. He supports attempts by Democrats to strike some sort of compromise with sympathetic Republicans such as Senator John McCain on new legislation to more effectively deal with this problem, despite opposition from right wing Republican TV and radio talk show hosts who are stirring up opposition to immigration reforms among Republicans as well as independent voters.
These conservative demagogues conveniently choose to ignore the reality that;
1) These illegal immigrants are not going to just pack up and go home.
2) The US has neither the border security and law enforcement manpower nor the capacity in its judicial system to arrest and deport more than a few thousand of these illegal immigrants each year.
3) Many businesses and industries depend on ‘illegals’ to fill jobs that legal US citizens don’t want and would be forced out of business without them.
4) Illegal immigrants contribute more in taxes than they take in the form of government benefits for food stamps, health care and schooling.
While it is only a small step towards immigration reform, allowing states to issue drivers licences to illegal immigrants will nonetheless allow them to report crimes against themselves and other legal US citizens, while Congress debates how to develop immigration reforms that realistically deal with this problem.

Senator Obama also scores points for this summary of Mrs. Clinton’s Senate voting record and her propensity for “thinking that the only way to look tough on national security is by talking and acting and voting like George Bush Republicans. When I am this party’s nominee, my opponent will not be able to say that I voted for the war in Iraq, or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran, or that I supported Bush-Cheney policies of not talking to leaders we don’t like. I don’t want to see more American lives put at risk because no one had the judgment or the courage to stand up against a misguided war before we sent our troops in to fight.”

I’m sorry, but Hillary Clinton’s argument that she is more “ready” to assume the US Presidency than Mr. Obama (simply because she has more experience in Congress than he has), just doesn’t cut it with me. The US President controls the most powerful armed forces in the world which means the President’s judgement, insight and wisdom are all much more important in a crisis than any amount of legislative experience. We are not talking about passing legislation here. We are talking about when, where, why and how to use the United States awesome military capabilities. By her actions in support of President Bush, Hillary Clinton has shown that she doesn’t have the requisite judgement, insight or wisdom that Barack Obama has. So on that note I believe I will now rest my case for Barack Obama as the next US President.