Thursday, November 20, 2008

Save Our Salmon - Beat a Bureaucrat

We have one party rule,the market is in the tank (again), Obama promises massive new spending and debt, and the Bears lost to the Packers last Sunday. My "Blue Monday" is turning into clinical depression. I need a break from politics and the economy. Lets talk about fish.

The image above was on the front page of the Chronicle today, headlining this story:
Most state native game fish face extinction
Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
"Most of California's native salmon, steelhead and trout species face extinction by the end of the century unless the state acts quickly to provide adequate freshwater and habitat, according to a study released Wednesday by the state's leading salmon expert. Twenty of 31 species of the prized fishes are in sharp decline, including the Sacramento River winter run of chinook salmon, the Sierra's California golden trout and coastal coho, according to the study by Peter Moyle, a nationally known UC Davis professor of conservation biology... In the 316-page study, Moyle calculated the survival chances into the next decades of 12 kinds of salmon, 11 kinds of trout, eight kinds of steelhead and one species of white fish."
The referenced study was commissioned by California Trout, Inc. - a conservation and advocacy group founded by a group of trout fisherman. I've always felt the the most effective environmentalists are the hunters and fishermen and women hell-bent on ensuring that their prey of choice is abundant. As an enthusiastic (if mostly incompetent) "catch and cook" trout fisherman, I include myself in that class (I promise to graduate to 'Catch & Release' if I ever - you know - actually start catching trout on a fly line).

Last spring I wrote a post about the causes and ramifications of the collapse of the salmon population, when the state took the extraordinary step of completely closing the salmon fishery for the season. In that post I applied the oft-used metaphor of the canary in the coal mine to the salmon in the watershed. The California Trout web site makes the point more succinctly in their essay Trout 101:
"Trout are an "indicator species:" when trout disappear from a lake or river, that watershed is in trouble. When our streams and rivers slow down, dry out or heat up, trout are the first to feel it. When trout they die off in an area, they leave critical gaps in the ecosystem that cannot be filled by other species."
It is really pretty simple. For trout and salmon to survive, you need clean, healthy, fast flowing rivers. If you prefer to live in a world (or state) where trout and salmon are plentiful (or even exist), you have to look upstream. You have to get landowners, farmers, grape growers, foresters, road builders and electric utilities to cooperate and stop damaging the rivers where trout and salmon live and breed. Most important, you need politicians to understand that a river and environment where trout and salmon thrive is more important than diverting below market-rate government subsidized water to industrial agricultural interests. Even if they give the politicians a lot of campaign contributions.

The full study is linked below, as well as a shorter more accessible brief:

SOS: California's Native Fish Crisis (Summary - (pdf)
SOS: Final Main Report (316 pages) (pdf)

I've just started working through them. These reports are intended as a wake up call for the public. They can also be used as bludgeons to beat federal, state and local politicians, bureaucrats and utilities into behaving in a way that ensures there will be healthy salmon and trout that I can find, kill and eat. Ensuring that the beatings are applied to politicians with appropriate force and frequency will take money and resources. Send California Trout a few bucks. Help bludgeon a bureaucrat.

If the salmon are lost smash the state

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday Miscellany - Special Bear Market Blues Edition

The blog has been a bit neglected over over the last week or so. I have been mesmerized by the continuing economic train wreck and stock market derailment happening right before my eyes. When I could tear myself from CNBC, I found a few items from around the sphere you might enjoy find informative:

ITEM - Chicken Little was right.
This video is getting a lot of play around the blogosphere. If you have not seen it, or ever wondered why no one saw this financial crisis coming, it is well worth a few minutes of your time. It is not that no one saw it coming. It is just that no one listened when Peter Schiff patiently explained that the sky was falling over these last three years (Hat tip to Justin at Donklephant):

Peter Schiff is a regular contributor to CNBC and Fox Business News, was a financial adviser to Ron Paul's presidential campaign, and is President of Euro-Pacific Capital. In case you were thinking, "Gee, It is too bad that no one was listening to him..." well, it is not too late. We can listen to him now. From his most recent economic commentary:
"With the Big Three auto makers now in a plainly visible death spiral, the automotive bailout debate is kicking into overdrive. The disagreement hinges on whether a bailout is necessary to support an important industry or whether the unprofitable dinosaurs of the past should be allowed to fail as America focuses on an information-age, service sector, and alternative energy future. As usual, both sides have it wrong. The government should let the Big Three fail not because we no longer need an auto industry, but because we desperately do. What we do not need is the bloated, inefficient auto industry that we have today. By allowing the Big Three to fail, their capacity will be turned over to new owners who will be able to acquire the means of production at fire sale prices and hire workers at globally competitive wages. The result will be a more efficient auto industry making cars that people around the world actually want to buy at prices they can afford. Such auto makers could conceivably be profitable and could become the cornerstone of a manufacturing renaissance in the United States. In contrast, Ford, Chrysler and GM are never ending money pits that threaten to swallow a good deal of our economy."

ITEM: About that debt swallowing our economy...
The next time you see pundits arguing for massive new federal spending and borrowing to stimulate the economy, and justifying it on the basis that government debt is still less (as a percentage of GDP) than it was under FDR, consider this graph. Hayman Advisors calls it "the most frightening chart we have seen...
"... is one that compares total credit market debt to U.S. GDP. The average of this ratio over the last 100 years has been around 155%. The ration peaked first heading into the Great Depression at 260% (after then falling back to 130%) but has now risen to an unprecedented 350%."
Lance at QandO quotes Henry Blodgett's explanation:
"From the early 1920s through 1985, the average level of debt-to-GDP in this country was 155%. The highest peak in history (until the recent debt boom) was in the early 1930s, when debt-to-GDP soared to 260% of GDP. In the 1930s, the ratio then cratered to 130%, and it remained close to that level for another half century.In 1985, we started to borrow, and last year, when we got finished borrowing, we had borrowed 350% of GDP. To get back to that 155%, we need to get rid of more than $25 trillion of debt... The banks have written off $650 billion so far. So we suppose that's a start."
Think again about what Peter Schiff was saying about the debt that led to this crisis. Look again at that chart. Consider the solutions being pushed through Congress to stimulate the economy, bail out the big three auto makers, and subsidize keeping people in their homes. We have a problem that was created by too much government spending and lax monetary policy encouraging easy credit that precipitated too much debt, with a market distorted by the catalyst of massive government intervention to meet the social goals of permitting unqualified borrowers buy homes they cannot afford. And the solution being promoted? More government spending, loose monetary policy to provide easier debt, and much more market distortion from massive government intervention to meet social goals of propping up failed companies and keeping unqualified borrowers in homes they cannot afford. This strikes me as - what is the technical term? - batshit insane.

ITEM: The President-elect inspires confidence.
Steve Kroft conducted a great interview with the new first family on 60 Minutes last night. Obama and Michelle come across as genuine, warm, intelligent and confidence inspiring. It made you feel like the country really made the right choice. Well, it did until the President-elect said this:
Kroft: "Where is all the money going to come from to do all of these things? And is there a point where just going to the Treasury Department and printing more of it ceases to be an option?" Mr. Obama: "Well, look, I think what’s interesting about the time that we’re in right now is that you actually have a consensus among conservative Republican-leaning economists and liberal left-leaning economists. And the consensus is this: that we have to do whatever it takes to get this economy moving again, that we’re gonna have to spend money now to stimulate the economy. And that we shouldn’t worry about the deficit next year or even the year after. That short term, the most important thing is that we avoid a deepening recession."
Well Mr. President, you might consider whether it is prudent to continue digging furiously, when we are already deep in a hole over our head. But I guess it is best not to think about that right now. After all, it won't be us, but our children and grandchildren that be repaying China for the money we are continuing to borrow to fund all this new spending.

  Item: Corporate Welfare and outsourced government monopoly is not the same as a Free Market

Among the most annoying assertions to found in a blogosphere chock-full of mindless claims, are pundits and bloggers declaring that the current economic clusterfork is an example of the failure of free markets. Roderick Long takes this nonsense head-on in the lead essay for this month's excellent series at Cato Unbound: In "Corporations vs the Markets - or -Whip Conflation Now" Long takes Conservatives, Liberals and Libertarians to task for the sloppy linguistic conflation of big business, corporate welfare, and "private-public partnerships" with a free market. Of the three, I find his indictment of Republicans and the Right most damning:
"If libertarians’ left-wing opponents have conflated free markets with pro-business intervention, libertarians’ right-wing opponents have done all they can to foster precisely this confusion; for there is a widespread tendency for conservatives to cloak corporatist policies in free-market rhetoric. This is how conservative politicians in their presumptuous Adam Smith neckties have managed to get themselves perceived—perhaps have even managed to perceive themselves—as proponents of tax cuts, spending cuts, and unhampered competition despite endlessly raising taxes, raising spending, and promoting “government-business partnerships.” Consider the conservative virtue-term “privatization,” which has two distinct, indeed opposed, meanings. On the one hand, it can mean returning some service or industry from the monopolistic government sector to the competitive private sector—getting government out of it; this would be the libertarian meaning. On the other hand, it can mean “contracting out,” i.e., granting to some private firm a monopoly privilege in the provision some service previously provided by government directly. There is nothing free-market about privatization in this latter sense, since the monopoly power is merely transferred from one set of hands to another; this is corporatism, or pro-business intervention, not laissez-faire. (To be sure, there may be competition in the bidding for such monopoly contracts, but competition to establish a legal monopoly is no more genuine market competition than voting—one last time—to establish a dictator is genuine democracy.) Of these two meanings, the corporatist meaning may actually be older, dating back to fascist economic policies in Nazi Germany; but it was the libertarian meaning that was primarily intended when the term (coined independently, as the reverse of “nationalization”) first achieved widespread usage in recent decades. Yet conservatives have largely co-opted the term, turning it once again toward the corporatist sense."
It is only when the term "free market" is severed from any historical definition or conventional meaning that the current economic crisis can be explained as a government rescue of a "free market" failure. To solve a "free market" problem that was created by too much government spending, too much government debt, too much easy government sponsored credit, and a market distorted by massive government intervention (along with a large helping of corporate criminal fraud that slipped through the regulatory framework) we are now given to understand that we need to increase government spending, government debt, and create more market distortions with more government intervention. Yeah, that should work. I feel better already. 

 ITEM - Carnivalingus
Some recent collections of high quality blogging punditry which I have neglected to highlight:
UPDATED: Fixed typos, added links

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

2010 & 2012 Election Prologue - The Road Back

2010 Senate Races

After a short two year hiatus, we once again have One Party Rule in Washington D.C. Based on historical precedent, we can expect an increasing growth rate for government spending, increasing growth rate in the size and scope of government, constitutional checks & balance undermined, inadequate oversight and a consequent increase in abuse of power and corruption. Arguably, we can also expect to get embroiled in another war. This last seems unlikely with Obama, but... There does seem to be a real appetite from the left for some kind of U.S. intervention in Darfur. And if there is another Rawanda-like genocide somewhere in Africa or Eastern Europe, what will we do? What will Obama do? Tough call.

But on the other hand, we have "Hope" along with our One Party Rule. So, I guess everything will be ok. It is my sincere hope that the Obama administration will be able to avoid these historical pitfalls and prove to be an exception to the One Party Rule. Why not? His campaign and election has shattered historical precedent every step of the way. Reason enough to hope.

But just in case, lets take a realistic look at the prospects for restoring divided government in the next two cycles.

A few days after the 2006 mid-term election I wrote a post looking ahead to the presidential election just completed. In that post - "2008 Election Prologue - Check your assumptions" - I made the easy prediction that the Democrats would expand their majorities in Congress, and further concluded:
"We will need a Republican President in 2008 to maintain a divided government state. Fortunately we have some great Republican candidates. Hagel, Giuliani, and McCain would all make great presidents, and all are a significant improvement from what we have today."
I did not predict a Republican would win, but that electing a Republican President was the only path to continuing divided government.While I got the partisan political environment correct, the voters disagreed with me about McCain as a candidate for president. So it goes.

The predictions were based on nothing more than structural factors in the congressional elections and historical precedent. We'll take the same approach looking forward to the next two elections, and assess the likelihood of reestablishing divided government in pursuit of the expected benefits that go with it. As we did in '06, we'll first explicitly spell out the premises/assumptions, and on that foundation we will build the DWSUWF positions and recommendations for the 2010 and 2012 elections.

NOTE: - You may want to skip this post. It is what I call a "reference post" (more reference posts in the left sidebar). I don't want to have to repeat this analysis over and over in future posts, so I'll keep it here, update it, and link to it as needed over the next two years.


Assumption 1) The Divided Government hypothesis holds true to form.
We had divided government for two years. As outlined in this recent post, we can can document that divided government did indeed begin to incrementally undo some of the damage of One Party Rule along with accruing benefits consistent with historical divided government precedent. One possible fly in the ointment - while 2007 spending growth was indeed restrained, it is yet To Be Determined what the final spending tally will be after we include 2008 spending with bailouts and stimulus packages included. I expect the final conclusion may depend on whether the bailouts are characterized as spending or "investments" as some have suggested. I'll update the blog with a final assessment of our painfully short exercise in divided government in a future post.
Assumption 2) The "100 year precedent" holds for the House of Representatives.
I first learned of the "100 year precedent" from a Ken Fisher analysis predicting election results in 2006.
"A basic rule of politics and a little-known fact: The Senate changes hands so much more easily than the House that in 100 years the House has never changed hands unless the Senate has, too. Since the Seventeenth Amendment allowed for direct election of Senators in 1913, the House majority has never changed hands without the Senate also doing so... For the Democrats to win the House they must win the Senate..."
Fisher used this precedent to predict that Republicans would continue to hold majorities in both house of Congress in 2006, since they had a structural advantage in the Senate races. Here is the interesting part. His prediction was completely wrong, but the 100 year precedent held up! Instead of neither the House or Senate changing majorities as Fisher predicted, both the House and the Senate changed majorities in 2006.

Why is it so difficult to change majorities in the House? Partially because voters tend to like and re-elect their own representative, even if they have a very low regard for Congress as a whole. Approval ratings for Congress were worse than for Bush, but the overwhelming majority of representatives were re-elected. The fact that both parties conspire to gerrymander districts to the advantage of incumbents is another big factor making it difficult to unseat incumbents in the House of Representatives.
After the 2008 election, with 8 seats still undecided, the Democrats picked up an additional 20 seats and will have a crushing 81+ seat majority in the House. Given the difficulty of changing majorities in the House, there is almost no likelihood of Republicans retaking the majority before 2014 and probably longer (even with strong political winds at their back the Democrats only picked up about 20 seats in'08 - do the math).

That leaves the Senate as the only determinant of whether divided government can be restored in 2010. In 2012, either re-taking the Senate or the presidency are possibilities for Republicans. The presidential race will be completely determined by Obama's performance in the first term, and is unknowable now. So, looking forward to 2012, we will also focus on the Senate.

Looking Back

In 2006, the Republicans had a small structural advantage in the Senate races, since 18 Democratic seats were contested as opposed to only 15 Republicans. Nevertheless the Democrats held all of their seats and took six seats from the Republicans and a narrow majority.

In 2008, the Democrats had a huge structural advantage. There were 35 Senate seats contested in 2008 (33 regular and two special elections). Of these, 23 were held by Republicans and 12 by Democrats. Simple numbers - the Republicans had a lot more at risk, and were playing defense. The Democrats had many more opportunities to take seats than Republicans. Big advantage for Democrats. Assuming that the 3 seats that are still undetermined will fall 2-Republican 1-Democrat, the final results will be an 7 seat pickup for the Democrats and a 58 - 42 majority in the Senate.

Looking Forward

In 2010 The Democrats will again have a structural advantage. 34 Senate seats will be contested. Of these, 19 are held by Republicans and 15 are held by Democrats. This is comparable to the advantage that the Republicans held in 2006. It seems highly unlikely that the Republicans will be able to duplicate the feat that the Democrats pulled off in 2006. To retake the Senate, the Republicans would have to hold all their seats, and take more than half of the Democratic seats up for re-election. Obama and the Democrats would have to screw-up on a scale of how the Republicans screwed up in 2000-2006. They would have to pile up a record of corruption and incompetence in two years comparable to what the Republicans did in six. I wouldn't say it is impossible, but it does seem very unlikely. The best the Republicans can expect in 2010 is to either hold serve, not lose any more seats, not lose the filibuster, or pick up a couple of seats and narrow the Democratic Majority.

In 2012 the Republicans will finally have a huge structural advantage in the Senate elections. Of the 33 seats contested, 24 are held by Democrats and 9 by Republican. From this distance, the Republican seats look safe, and after four years of One Party Rule by Democrats, the electorate may be ready for some changes. If the Republicans can pick up two seats in 2010, they will only need to take six of the 24 Democratic seats to regain the majority. As mentioned before, it is probable that the Democrats will retain a majority in the House of Representative, although by then it will have narrowed.

Conclusion / Predictions
  • We will have One Party Rule under the Democrats for at least four years.
  • The next opportunity to restore divided government will be in 2012.
  • The Republicans will have two ways to get there, so I will go out on a limb and make the prediction that divided government will be restored in 2012, either through the Republicans winning the presidency or (more likely) a majority in the Senate. If the latter, we will be in the interesting situation that we have a divided congress, and regardless of which party wins the presidency - a divided government. That's a good thing.
  • No telling what shape the country will be in by then.

Addendum - 2010 & 2012 Senate Races

Year - 2010 15 – Dems 19 – Rep
State ↓ Incumbent ↓ Party ↓
Arkansas Blanche Lincoln Democratic
California Barbara Boxer Democratic
Colorado Ken Salazar Democratic
Connecticut Chris Dodd Democratic
Hawaii Daniel Inouye Democratic
Illinois Barack Obama Democratic
Indiana Evan Bayh Democratic
Maryland Barbara Mikulski Democratic
Nevada Harry Reid Democratic
New York Chuck Schumer Democratic
North Dakota Byron Dorgan Democratic
Oregon Ron Wyden Democratic
Vermont Patrick Leahy Democratic
Washington Patty Murray Democratic
Wisconsin Russ Feingold Democratic
Alabama Richard Shelby Republican
Alaska Lisa Murkowski Republican
Arizona John McCain Republican
Florida Mel Martinez Republican
Georgia Johnny Isakson Republican
Idaho Mike Crapo Republican
Iowa Chuck Grassley Republican
Kansas Sam Brownback * Republican
Kentucky Jim Bunning Republican
Louisiana David Vitter Republican
Missouri Kit Bond Republican
New Hampshire Judd Gregg Republican
North Carolina Richard Burr Republican
Ohio George Voinovich Republican
Oklahoma Tom Coburn Republican
Pennsylvania Arlen Specter Republican
South Carolina Jim DeMint Republican
South Dakota John Thune Republican
Utah Robert Bennett Republican

2012 Dem – 24 Rep - 9
State ↓ Incumbent ↓ Party ↓
California Dianne Feinstein Democratic
Delaware Tom Carper Democratic
Florida Bill Nelson Democratic
Hawaii Daniel Akaka Democratic
Maryland Ben Cardin Democratic
Massachusetts Ted Kennedy Democratic
Michigan Debbie Stabenow Democratic
Minnesota Amy Klobuchar Democratic
Missouri Claire McCaskill Democratic
Montana Jon Tester Democratic
Nebraska Ben Nelson Democratic
New Jersey Bob Menendez Democratic
New Mexico Jeff Bingaman Democratic
New York Hillary Rodham Clinton Democratic
North Dakota Kent Conrad Democratic
Ohio Sherrod Brown Democratic
Pennsylvania Bob Casey, Jr. Democratic
Rhode Island Sheldon Whitehouse Democratic
Virginia Jim Webb Democratic
Washington Maria Cantwell Democratic
West Virginia Robert Byrd Democratic
Wisconsin Herb Kohl Democratic
Vermont Bernie Sanders Independent
Connecticut Joe Lieberman Independent Democrat
Arizona Jon Kyl Republican
Indiana Dick Lugar Republican
Maine Olympia Snowe Republican
Mississippi Roger Wicker Republican
Nevada John Ensign Republican
Tennessee Bob Corker Republican
Texas Kay Bailey Hutchison Republican
Utah Orrin Hatch Republican
Wyoming John Barrasso Republican

UPDATED: Fixed links, corrected typos, edited for clarity.

UPDATED 06-August-09: 2010 Senate Scenario revised and updated in a new post - 2010 Senate Race Redux.
UPDATED 31-August-10: 2010 Senate Race prediction revised and updated in a new post - Ten in Ten.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

President Barack Obama - Let the healing begin.

Congratulations to Barack Obama, the Democrats, and David Axelrod. It was a brilliant campaign, well executed, and a historic result in which all Americans can take pride. The story of Barack Obama is indeed a story that could not be written in any other country in the world.

Obama's victory speech was thoughtful, stirring and conciliatory:
"Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long... while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress... And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn-- I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president too."
I was inspired by the sentiment. This morning, in a spirit of reconciliation and unity, I turned my browser to the biggest and most influential Democratic bloggers and thinkers, in order to better understand how Obama and the Democrats will reach across the divide, listen the values of those who did not vote for him, and unify the country.

Meteor Blades - Daily Kos
"...healing cannot occur unless the crimes that have brought our nation to such a ruinous condition - morally, economically and politically - are investigated thoroughly and a proper penalty imposed. Most importantly, the bent machinery that allowed, nay encouraged, those crimes must be rebuilt with safeguards so that they never occur again. That's not vengeance. It's justice."
Thanks MB, truly a pitch-perfect follow up to Markos Moulitsas Zúniga's warm and embracing message of change and hope for a new post-partisan America:
"...we have an imperative to take advantage of a historic opportunity to break the conservative movement's backs and crush their spirits."
I learned that unity is certainly possible, if only the 48% who did not vote for Barack Obama accepts the mandate delivered by the 52% who did.

Paul Krugman - "Mandate"
"In this election, Obama proudly stood up for progressive values and the superiority of progressive policies; John McCain, in return, denounced him as a socialist, a redistributor. And the American people rendered their verdict."
Chris Bower - Open Left
"...this is the progressive movement's mandate. A mandate to end the war. A mandate for universal health care. A mandate to solve the financial crisis even if it means nationalization and harsh measures against Wall Street. A mandate to repair the environment. A mandate to restore the middle class. A mandate for a truly free and open media. This is our mandate."
Think Progress - "A Progressive Mandate"
"A mandate for progressive change exists. In a memo released today, the Center for American Progress Action Fund writes, “Obama ran on the most progressive platform of any presidential candidate in at least 15 years, including a promise of universal health care coverage, a dramatic transformation to a low-carbon economy, and a historic investment in education.”
John Judis - "America the Liberal"
".... If, on the other hand, Obama and the Democrats take the advice of official Washington and go slow--adopting incremental reforms, appeasing adversaries that have lost their clout--they could end up prolonging the downturn and discrediting themselves... That's not the kind of change that America needs or wants"
Jim Vandehei - "A New World Order"
"Democrats have the capital in a headlock, holding more power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue than they have had for at least 32 years (Carter) and, more realistically, 44 years (Johnson). Obama seems ready to press this advantage. The best early clue of his ambitions: he wants sharp-elbowed Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel to run his White House."
Glen Greenwald - Salon
" The most important aspect of this Tuesday's election is to finalize their humiliating repudiation and to bury them for what they've done."
Big Tent Democrat - Talk Left
"The new Democratic majority is a progressive electorate. It wants Democratic and progressive change. The notion of a "Center Right" Beltway Agenda is not what they want. Democrats must respect this. If they choose to instead adopt a Broderite agenda, they will be voted out of office..."
Matthew Yglesias - "The Mandate"
"People want Obama to implement his agenda, and his agenda is a progressive one — cutting carbon emissions, expanding access to health insurance and early childhood education, making the tax code more progressive, and spreading the wealth around building broad-based prosperity."
It is going to tough, but I firmly believe that Barack Obama will indeed unify the left with the far left, pull in the moderate left, and be the President that speaks clearly for the entire sweeping 52% mandate they represent.

Finally I'd like to extend congratulations to my moderate, centrist, libertarian, and conservative blogging brethren who embraced Obama's rhetoric of change and hope.

You got it!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Just Vote Divided.

Over the last two and one half years this blog has consistently and frequently made the case for divided government. On the eve of the midterm election in 2006, I wrote a post with the same title, summarizing the case for divided government and calling on voters to vote for Democratic Senators and Representatives to break the back of the disastrous One Party Rule under the Republicans. At the time, the election looked close but there was reason for optimism. The Foley scandal was the straw that broke the camel's back and the electorate finally rejected six years of bad governance and rampant corruption.

Divided government is not a cure-all, but the fact is - our divided government state since 2007 has begun to reverse the damage of the 2001-2006 One Party Rule. Six years of abusive single party control is not going to be undone by 20 months of divided government. Yet, as a direct consequence of electing a divided government in 2006, we have a new Secretary of Defense, a new Attorney General, a marginal improvement in both the Patriot Act and FISA vs. the Bush/Cheney versions, a great deal more oversight revealing many of the abuses of the six years of single party control, a revised strategy in Iraq resulting in an improved security situation, and a reduction in the rate of spending growth in 2007. These improvements, though marginal, are not insignificant. It is the nature of divided government that improvements will be incremental and that is exactly what we have seen thus far.

The absurdity of handing all the levers of power to the Democrats as a cure for the abuses we saw as a result of handing all the levers of power to the Republican should be obvious on its face. Particularly when you consider the Democrats will likely have bigger majorities than the Republicans had combined with a "Cheney enhanced" executive office and a partisan 97% toe-the-party-line Democratic voting record president in Obama. Quite possibly this will be the greatest concentration of power in one man and one party in the US federal government in the lifetime of anyone reading this blog. You gotta really have the partisan blinders on to believe that Democrats can be trusted with the “ring of power” just because they are Democrats.

So we face a similar decision in 2008 as we did on 2006, but I am not as optimistic about the outcome. The divided government swing vote is real but small. It can determine the outcome of an election if the election is close, as it was in 2006. Although the Democrats have already conclusively demonstrated that they have the potential to be every bit as corrupt as the Republicans and fully embrace big money politics as aggressively as Republicans, they have not yet had enough time or power to fulfill that corruption potential . Without any effective partisan oversight, we will certainly see Democratic Party corruption come into full flower by 2010.

There are positive signs. In this election cycle we have seen more stories, articles and posts on divided government than ever before. Consideration of divided government vs. one party rule is now part of the conscious voting decision for many voters. This is a solid foundation to build on for the 2010 midterms. But this year, the financial market crisis has swamped all other considerations, and what should have been a close election, is likely a rout. When voters are gripped by fear, whether it is fear of terrorism (2002), fear of gay marriage (Ohio in 2004), or fear of economic collapse (2008), few other considerations will come to the fore. That said, DWSUWF will nevertheless soldier on, and yet again reprise the rationale to Just Vote Divided.

In a nutshell , the rationale for a voting divided is a heuristic based on voting for objectives.

If you believe that the Federal government should be limited in scope, provide for common defense, fight fewer wars, protect and respect individual rights, spend and tax in a fiscally responsible manner, provide effective oversight of elected and appointed representatives, legislate carefully and slowly, pass only laws that are tempered in the fire of partisan debate, and act in a manner that reinforces and not undermine the checks, balances, and separation of powers enshrined in the constitution, Then you should vote for divided government. You should vote for divided government because scholars, political scientists, economists, historians, and constitutional lawyers have documented as historical fact, that a divided government state supports exactly those objectives while one party rule does not. It is that simple.

As a side benefit, if you consider yourself (as I do) among the 12% minority of true centrist, moderate and/or small "l" libertarian leaning independents floating in a vast ocean of partisans, this voting heuristic can serve as a organizing principle to potentially provide our historically impotent voting block some actual political clout.

I've learned that many who express sympathy for the concept in general will still find a "yeah but" but when it comes to a real vote, even when shown the historical evidence that clearly supports the objectives they claim as their own. Understandable. After all, objective historical evidence that proves a clear path to achieving the objective of better governance, cannot hold a candle to the emotional payoff of - you know - voting for someone because they are younger, or older, or male, or female, or the same race, or not the same race, or the same party, or just because it would be way cool to vote for the first African-American President regardless of his inexperience and voting record, or because he gives a speech that sends a shiver up your leg. Whatever. For those voters, I cannot help you. You have your reasons. Good on you. But there is nothing for you in this blog - have a good life, enjoy your One Party Rule while you've got it.

OTOH, if you are looking for a rational objective basis for your vote, welcome aboard.

Over the life of the blog, I have burned a lot of electrons rebutting the arguments against voting for divided government. To save a little time, I thought I'd preemptively post the three top objections to voting for McCain and divided government in 2008.

Objection: The issue of ending the war overrides all other issues - including maintaining a divided government.

I actually agreed with this until early this year. After the midterms, I was advocating for Hagel, (and later Paul) to win the GOP nomination exactly because I felt that ending the war took priority over - well - everything. In fact, in January ‘07, I wrote a post and created a YouTube video entitled “It’s the war, stupid.” where I tried to identify who made the right call and who made the wrong call on the war in 2002. Interestingly, on the Dem side, I created a graphic that showed Obama and Biden as the ones who were on the right side of that decision.

However, events in Iraq have overtaken the campaign and rendered this issue moot. Yes Obama was right and McCain was wrong in 2002. But McCain was right and Obama was wrong on the surge in 2006. It is a wash on the war judgment question. And as a direct consequence of the surge, Maliki and Iraq have stood up and we are going to stand down. A date has been set, and by 2011 we will have a significantly reduced presence in Iraq, regardless of who is president.

Our military leadership wants a draw down in Iraq, because we need to rebuild our forces and reinforce Afghanistan. The majority of Americans want out, because we cannot afford to maintain this level of military presence in Iraq. And now the Iraqi government want us out by the end of 2010, because they want their country back. It is inevitable that we will be mostly out of a combat role in Iraq in this 2010 time frame.

Thanks to Maliki, there is no practical difference on what our military posture will look like in Iraq by the end of 2010 regardless of who is president. In fact, it is very possible that we will be able to draw down faster with McCain as president, as his credibility as a warrior will restrain the objections from the right, while Obama would have to try and steamroll those objections.

Net net. As a voter I get my cake and eat it too. I can vote to limit the concentration of single party power in Washington, and get also get a quicker (or at least equivalent) draw down in Iraq by supporting McCain. It’s all good.

Objection: I am concerned about McCain selecting conservative judges to the Supreme Court, and that consideration overrides all other issues - including maintaining a divided government.

To maintain this view, one must pretend that the large Democratic majority in the Senate does not exist and will have nothing to say about confirming a McCain appointment. It is a simplistic view that completely ignores John McCain's moderate record in the Senate with judicial appointments of both parties. John McCain led the "Gang of 14" bipartisan moderates in the Senate against George Bush,earning him the enmity of his own party to preserve the filibuster in the Senate for the minority Democratic party on judicial picks. He did so at the risk of his presidential ambitions, and for no other reason than because it was the right thing to do for the country. And - oh yeah - to force the GOP's hand on more moderate judicial selections. One wonders where we will find such a strong voice for moderation in the Democratic Party that is willing to buck their own party establishment. I don't see it.

Objection: We don’t need a government divided between Democrats and Republicans, because the Democrats are divided all by themselves.

Amusingly, I heard the same thing from Republicans arguing against divided government in 2006. Only then they were saying that the real problem was the RINO’s in congress who should be counted as Dems. So they were divided all by themselves. Complete nonsense of course.

This is simply a question of definition.

As outlined above, a large part of the appeal of voting for divided government is the large body of historical research and analysis by political scientists and economists showing a compelling correlation between divided government and consequential outcomes that I consider positive. We unequivocally get more of the objectives I seek when the federal government is divided than when it is controlled by a single party. So - it makes sense to vote that way. Hence my obsession and my blog.

Here is the rub - All of this scholarship is based on a specific definition of Divided Government: One party controls the White House and another party has a majority in one or both houses of Congress. Obviously, advocating a voting strategy based on that research will have no validity or foundation if a different definition is used other than the definition on which the research is based. Both Republicans and Democrats will argue (depending on election) that their respective parties are so ideologically mixed, that they constitute a divided government, even if they have secured single party control of the federal government. This argument completely misses the point. It is an attempt to avoid the consequences of a rational argument by changing a politically inconvenient definition.

If one would like to see these objectives advanced, based on this scholarship, then one must use the same definition of divided government on which the scholarship is based. If there is any research showing the consequences on spending growth and federal governance when we have a divided government defined as a mixed cabinet, or an ideologically split single party, then there is something to talk about. I am unaware of any such research. Until I see it, I’ll stick with this definition.

Objection: The Republicans had six years of single party rule and must be punished for their abuse and corruption. We need to give the Democrats a comparable period of One Party Rule to undo the damage done by the Republicans.

This is a prescription for a federal government that is continuously careening from one extreme to another. We are a highly polarized partisan electorate. Yes, we had our left leg of civil liberties amputated below the knee by six years of Republican one party rule. But installing Democrat one party rule is more likely to amputate our right leg of economic freedom than it is to replace the left.

There are not enough centrists or moderates in either party because there are not enough centrists or moderates in the electorate. The only way to get moderation out of our Federal Government is by ensuring that both parties have a seat at the table and a share in power. This is the genius of the founders that enshrined argument and conflict in the Constitution. A concept best summarized by James Madison in Fedarlist #51 when he said "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition..." A concept that is completely undermined by One Party Rule.

That said, I agree that the Republican Party deserves to continue to be punished in 2008 and I am voting for my Democratic representative in Congress - Nancy Pelosi. If by some miracle McCain were to pull this out, I would consider him to be a one term caretaker president, useful only to reign in the Democrats and give us time to figure out whether there is anything left to salvage in the GOP. There is no historical precedent for a successful third party presidential run except in the role of spoiler. However, there is a precedent for a new opposition party successfully displacing an established major party that has disemboweled itself (Lincoln's Republicans replacing the Whigs). Perhaps this will be an opportunity to replace the GOP. Perhaps.

But as it stands now, we are all on board a hell-bound train rocketing down the rails toward One Party Democratic Rule, with Barack Obama sitting in the expanded unitary executive chair designed by Dick Cheney, complemented by increased Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature and a real possibly of a 60 vote filibuster-proof plurality in the Senate. God help us. The only slim hope that the Democrats will not have time to do as much damage in two years of single party control as it took the Republicans to do in six.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, I dearly hope it is all over for the current incarnation of the Republican Party itself. But I do wonder what Alien-like creature of hell will erupt through the GOP chest cavity as it convulses in its final death throes.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.