What if the Republicans win the US Senate?

October 19th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by Lindsay Addie

With the polls predicting that the Republicans (GOP) will take control of the Senate but without a super majority (win 60 seats or more), what are the scenarios for US federal politics post the mid-term elections? The Economist has published an opinion piece speculating on the possible strategies (registration required).

Currently Barack Obama can rely on the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with his obstructionist leadership style to jettison proposals by the House of Representatives and shutdown debate in the Senate. But if his party loses the Senate then Obama will have to either veto or sign every bill the GOP led Congress passes. There are two potential scenarios according to The Economist.

Pessimists sigh that the parties are too polarised to agree on anything. Plenty of Republicans think Mr Obama is a menace whom patriots must thwart and resist. Many Democrats believe there is no point in trying to cut deals with Republicans. Instead, they want Mr Obama to spend his last two years in office ignoring Congress and using executive orders and federal regulations to pursue progressive goals, such as curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, shielding illegal migrants from deportation (and even closing the Guantánamo Bay prison for terrorist suspects, if press reports are true).

What this means is no significant legislation gets passed before the 2016 presidential election.

Optimists retort that once Republicans control both arms of Congress, they cannot just snarl from the sidelines. Unless they show they have a positive agenda, they risk a drubbing in 2016. And if Mr Obama wants a legacy, he will have to work with them. Some of the bigwigs interviewed for this article believe that several constructive, growth-friendly policies already enjoy enough bipartisan support to pass in the Senate.

I agree that the GOP have been too negative. The conservative wing of the Republican Party tend to be ultra pessimists when it comes to working with Obama. They simply don’t want to say anything good about his presidency which does them no credit.

Hardliners have essentially given up on working with Mr Obama—unless he surrenders completely and lets them dismantle Obamacare. Some urge their party to ignore its own pragmatic wing and channel the voters’ rage instead. Michael Needham, the chief executive of Heritage Action, a conservative campaign outfit, denies that the 2013 shutdown hurt Republicans, insisting that it sparked a valuable debate about Obamacare.

Surely Republican presidential candidates will want to be seen as positive agents of change in a post 2014 Washington DC? So what are the issues at stake and the possible scenarios for Republicans if the GOP takes control of the Senate?

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Source: The Economist

Co-operation – Mitt Romney and his 2012 running mate Paul Ryan have suggested the GOP 1) pass some bills through the Congress that Obama may well sign but 2) also send some bills that cover populist policies such as the Keystone XL pipeline that Obama may veto. This is very much a two pronged strategy balancing attempting to govern by passing legislation but also trying putting the heat on Obama. Re the Keystone pipeline, if Obama for example vetoed it he could be accused of not supporting job creation.

Budget – Shutting down the government again isn’t going to help the GOP with the 2016 elections on the horizon. Obama and the Democrats would then probably hold the whip hand if the Republicans play hard ball by making them appear negative. They could though attempt to work with Obama on some modest taxation reform for example. Also the GOP will almost certainly pass Paul Ryan’s budget plan through Congress. Politically a good reason to pass a budget would be to put a bullet point on Harry Reid’s obstructionism. Also the debt ceiling is going to have to be raised again if defaults are to be avoided, so there will have to be horse trading between Congress and Obama.

Energy – The Keystone pipeline has already been mentioned. But Republicans are against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their plans to reduce the carbon footprint. Republican Governors have also expressed their concerns and if pessimists inside the GOP hold sway then a Republican led Congress could step in and take action on the EPA’s spending. No real room for deal making between GOP and Democrats in regards to the EPA it seems.

Trade – With the lobby groups being powerful the pessimistic scenario may well rule. To add to this pessimism there are lots of Democrats who oppose giving Obama deal making authority. There is a full rundown of the politics of this issue here (registration required).

Immigration – The Republicans want significant reform of border security, visa tracking systems, employment verification and much more. This is already a hot topic with many so if Obama is perceived as to be too liberal/progressive on this one some the GOP will probably go ape and want to turn immigration into an even bigger 2016 election issue. Especially those who want to be the GOP presidential nominee.

Conclusion

So if the Senate changes hands then this means that the Republicans will control the purse strings and attempt to rein in federal spending and the bureaucracy. But on the other hand Obama and the White House will still be in charge of foreign policy and defence. He will also still have significant influence on how regulations are implemented. A key player in all this may well be Mitch McConnell who looks like becoming the Senate Majority Leader if the Republicans win the Senate. Is he willing to reach across the aisle and work with moderate Senate Democrats or will he be negative and obstructionist like Harry Reid? It is fashionable amongst Republicans to blame the gridlock all on Obama but the they are also part of the problem.

Barack Obama will have to decide what does he want his legacy to be? With his approval rating falling this will certainly be a pressing issue for him. His legacy would be enhanced were he to provide leadership and reach out to Republicans and attempt to heal old wounds. It that happens the GOP needs to be ready with a positive response.

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Obama Appoints a New Czar

October 18th, 2014 at 3:54 pm by Lindsay Addie

Today Barack Obama appointed a ‘czar’ to oversee the Ebola ‘crisis’ in the USA. His name is Ron Klain who is in fact a long time Democrat operative who has previously worked with Al Gore (remember him?) and Joe Biden. Ron Fournier from the National Journal makes 14 comments about Obama’s foray into czarist politics. My favourites are:

1. We shouldn’t need an Ebola czar.

2. We already put somebody in charge of corralling federal bureaucracies and coordinating local responses to national emergencies. His name is Barack Obama.

3. He has a chief of staff, the nation’s chief operating officer, Denis McDonough; a homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco; a national security adviser, Susan Rice; a director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and a Cabinet full of secretaries.

Fournier is right about not needing an Ebola czar but Obama is a big government guy as are many others in Washington DC.

11. The choice makes sense if Obama’s main concern is a) the incompetence of his team, or; b) midterm politics. My strong hunch is it’s “b”. The Obama White House is not self-aware. It is nakedly political. The uneven response to Ebola threatens to be a toxic issue for Democrats, and the president is under pressure from his party’s desperate candidates to do something.

Charles Krauthammer on Fox News earlier today stated that White House reason for choosing Klain was ‘messaging’. That also strongly implies that the choice is political. Also how much is Klain’s salary going to be to do ‘messaging’?

12. Klain will report to Rice and Monaco. That makes no sense. Even if you think a czar is needed, and believe that the czar should be a Democratic operative steeped in White House politics, this reporting structure is a mistake. He should report directly to Obama.

13. Klain can’t be a disruptively productive force without autonomy. I have to ask: How many senior White House officials, including the president, have ever created an organization chart? Anybody with a rudimentary understanding of management would know that you don’t untangle a chain of command by injecting a new figure haphazardly into it. The answer is to put somebody atop it. Which brings me back to my first sentence, and the real problem here.

None of this is really all that surprising and is typical of the Obama White House. This is all just good old big US government progressive politics at work. Create more bureaucracy and make it look like you’re actually taking positive action.

14. We shouldn’t need an Ebola czar. The president needs to do his job better.

Cannot disagree with this either. Unfortunately Obama comes across as somewhat indecisive when big decisions have to be made. That is one the biggest problems he has.

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Bill O’Reilly interviews Leon Panetta

October 9th, 2014 at 11:43 am by Lindsay Addie

Yesterday on Foxnews Bill O’Reilly interviewed former US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta. Now let me say I find O’Reilly anything from annoying to showing great intelligence. In this interview he asks some hard questions and is excellent.

Panetta’s comments on Obama are fascinating including those criticising the Obama administration for intelligence and policy failures. He also hints that Obama is indecisive and needs to improve his decision making. Panetta comes across as a man of great insight and straight shooter who also chooses his words carefully. Panetta also adds the Obama is an intelligent man.

Panetta is of course getting flogged by the Democrats for releasing his book right in the middle of the mid-term elections!

 

 

 

 

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Dowd lashes Obama

August 30th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Maureen Dowd writes in the NY Times:

As he has grown weary of Washington, Barack Obama has shed parts of his presidency, like drying petals falling off a rose.

He left the explaining and selling of his signature health care legislation to Bill Clinton. He outsourced Congress to Rahm Emanuel in the first term, and now doesn’t bother to source it at all. He left schmoozing, as well as a spiraling Iraq, to Joe Biden. Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, comes across as more than a messagemeister. As the president floats in the empyrean, Rhodes seems to make foreign policy even as he’s spinning it.

But the one thing it was impossible to imagine, back in the giddy days of the 2009 inauguration, as Americans basked in their open-mindedness and pluralism, was that the first African-American president would outsource race.

He saved his candidacy in 2008 after the “pastor disaster” with Jeremiah Wright by giving a daring speech asserting that racial reconciliation could never be achieved until racial anger, on both sides, was acknowledged. Half black, half white, a son of Kansas and Africa, he searchingly and sensitively explored America’s ebony-ivory divide.

He dealt boldly and candidly with race in his memoirs, “Dreams From My Father.” “In many parts of the South,” he wrote, “my father could have been strung up from a tree for merely looking at my mother the wrong way; in the most sophisticated of Northern cities, the hostile stares, the whispers, might have driven a woman in my mother’s predicament into a back-alley abortion — or at the very least to a distant convent that could arrange for adoption. Their very image together would have been considered lurid and perverse.”

Now the professor in the Oval Office has spurned a crucial teachable moment.

He dispatched Eric Holder to Ferguson, and deputized Al Sharpton, detaching himself at the very moment when he could have helped move the country forward on an issue close to his heart. It’s another perverse reflection of his ambivalent relationship to power.

He was willing to lasso the moon when his candidacy was on the line, so why not do the same at a pivotal moment for his presidency and race relations? Instead, he anoints a self-promoting TV pundit with an incendiary record as “the White House’s civil rights leader of choice,” asThe Times put it, vaulting Sharpton into “the country’s most prominent voice on race relations.” It seems oddly retrogressive to make Sharpton the official go-between with Ferguson’s black community, given that his history has been one of fomenting racial divides, while Obama’s has been one of soothing them.

Dowd is one of the most prominent liberal writers at the NY Times. When she is savaging Obama, you know things are bad for him.

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Americans say Obama worst President since WWII

July 4th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

ABC News reports:

President Obama is considered to be the worst president since World War II, narrowly beating out George W. Bush, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Obama was the choice of 33 percent of those polled for the selection of worst president, the largest percentage of any of the 12 presidents since 1945 when the war ended.

The poll asked people to name both the best and worst presidents. The results are quite interesting.

Best Presidents

  • Overall 35% Reagan, 18% Clinton, 15% JFK, 8% Obama, 55 Eisenhower
  • Republicans – 66% Reagan, 6% George HW Bush, 6% JFK – Reagan is the undisputed Republican hero
  • Democrats – 34% Clinton, 18% JFK, 18% Obama, 6% Reagan, 6% Johnson – no one stand out candidate but Clinton well ahead
  • Independents – 36% Reagan, 17% JFK, 16% Clinton, 8% Eisenhower, 6% Truman, 4% George HW Bush, 2% Obama – Obama not rated by independents

Worst Presidents

  • Overall 33% Obama, 28% George W Bush, 13% Nixon, 85 Carter
  • Republicans – 63% Obama, 14% Carter, 5% Nixon, 5% George W Bush – Obama probably suffers a bit from being the incumbent. I’d rate Carter as far worse.
  • Democrats – 54% George W Bush, 20% Nixon, 6% Reagan, 4% Obama
  • Independents – 36% Obama, 23% Bush, 14% Nixon, 9% Carter

 

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Obama and Key

June 22nd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins reports:

For 30 missing minutes in Barack Obama’s diary, the United States president and John Key did something unexpected.

They strolled the White House South Lawn, checked out the president’s putting green, had a squiz at Obama’s back office and First Lady Michelle Obama’s famous veggie garden, and part of the White House the family use.

The unscheduled timeout followed a 50-minute working session to discuss issues including trade – and whether a deal can be done on the Trans-Pacific Partnership – the South China Sea dispute, climate change, North Korea and Iraq.

Key’s second meeting with Obama at the Oval Office was supposed to wrap up at the end of that session. But the two leaders went for a walk instead.

“It was cool,” said Key.

Key and Obama have clearly established a rapport. They are roughly the same age, share a passion for golf and both have a bolt-hole in Hawaii where they escape with family. Last Christmas, the pair spent a day on the golf course with Key’s son Max while holidaying in Hawaii. Obama name-checked Max to the world’s media after yesterday’s meeting.

Key expects his relationship with Obama to endure beyond political life

Key has shown an extraordinary ability to forge strong personal relationships with many world leaders.  And relationships do matter, and help.

Incidentally the mention of Max was that he had a longer drive than both Obama and his father, according to Obama!

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Trading Private Bergdahl

June 6th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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Mad Magazine are the latest to pile into Obama on his trade of an American POW for five Taliban held at Gitmo. Bergdahl appears to be a deserter, and while this doesn’t mean you don’t try and recover him, it does suggest the five to one trade was far too high. Even Democrats are now attacking Obama on this.

James Taranto at the WSJ writes:

“If I’ve lost Neuman, I’ve lost Middle America.” That’s how we imagine President Obama reacting to being scathed by MAD magazine. The Usual Gang of Idiots tweeted a parody poster yesterday for “Barack Obama’s Unfortunate New Movie,” titled “Trading Private Bergdahl.” The tag line: “They got five Taliban leaders. We got one deserting weasel. The mission is a disaster.” Obama is depicted as the lead actor, with the Taliban quintet in supporting roles. The picture is rated “NC” for “No Congressional Approval.”

How in the world did an administration known for political competence, if for no other kind, manage to pull off such a public-relations disaster? The answer is that the left has a very large blind spot when it comes to military culture.

There’s been speculation that the White House intended the Bergdahl release as a distraction from the Veterans Administration scandal. Certainly it has served as such a diversion, not to mention a reminder to be careful what you wish for.

Adding to Obama’s woes is that there is a law saying the President must notify Congress 30 days before the release of any prisoner from Gitmo. Obama ignored the law, as he indicated he might do when signing the law.  This is not uncommon – but the heads of the relevant congressional committees were not even given a heads up in advance – and they are very peeved.

Obama is in his final term. This will however reduce his ability to get much done in the last two and a half years of his term. It also gives the Republicans another weapon for the mid-terms.

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Mr Key goes to Washington

May 20th, 2014 at 8:22 am by David Farrar

The PM has announced:

Prime Minister John Key has welcomed an invitation to meet the President of the United States during his upcoming visit to the US.

The White House has announced President Obama will meet the Prime Minister in Washington DC on Friday, 20 June.

“The invitation underlines the very close relationship between the United States and New Zealand,” Mr Key says.

“I look forward to meeting with President Obama.  We are likely to discuss the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, to take stock of our bilateral relationship, and to exchange views on current regional and international issues,” he says.

The Prime Minister is travelling to the United States from June 16 to 20.

While in Washington DC, the Prime Minister will also meet with a range of senior administration figures, Congressional representatives and business leaders. 

The Prime Minister will also undertake a full programme in New York in support of New Zealand’s bid to win a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2015-16.

This is no surprise, yet still welcome.

A diplomat commented to me a couple of months ago how extraordinary it is that the New Zealand Prime Minister is the national leader that has probably spent the most time in the last 12 months with both the President of the United States, but also the President of China.

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The comedian in chief

May 5th, 2014 at 8:20 am by David Farrar

President Obama in self-deprecating mode at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

I think it is a great tradition that the most powerful politician in the world takes part in what is effectively an annual roast at his expense. Can’t imagine it happening in Russia!

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A very weird editorial

January 6th, 2014 at 8:48 am by David Farrar

Today’s Dom Post editorial is very weird. It links the Obama-Key round of golf to the US-NZ thaw in military exercises and that the US is trying to limit China’s influence in the Pacific. It goes on to warn about getting too chummy with the US.

It is one of the more bizarre editorials of recent times. First of all it ignores the fact that Obama is well known for not using golf as a diplomatic tool. Only 5% or so of his games have been with elected officials, half of them with Joe Biden. He played a round of golf with Key, because they get on well and were both in Hawaii. To try and make this all about China is frankly weird and off the planet.

Even worse, they seem to be suggesting that the game of golf was a bad thing, because it might offend China. Jesus Christ. Seriously? I can only presume the normal editorial writer is on holiday, and this one was written by a 17 year old intern.

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Obama’s Golfing Partners

January 5th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Time has an interesting infographic showing who Obama’s normal golfing partners are.

 

 

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Golfing partners

January 3rd, 2014 at 1:24 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

United States President Barack Obama has rounded up a new golf partner: Prime Minister John Key.

The two leaders teed off on a sunny and breezy morning at a course at a military base on Oahu, the Hawaiian island where Obama is renting a vacation home. Key owns a home in Hawaii.

The golf outing put Key in rarified company. Obama is an avid golfer, but prefers to limit his playing partners to a close circle of friends and advisers. Among those who have also scored invitations to play with Obama in the past are former President Bill Clinton and House Speaker John Boehner.

Rounding out the foursome on Thursday (Friday NZ time) were Max Key, the prime minister’s teenage son, and Marvin Nicholson, Obama’s personal aide.

According to one site, Obama has only played golf with another politician nine times of of 145 games (and five of those were Joe Biden). The fact he has asked John Key to join him for golf, is a sign of a significant personal friendship, rather than it being a political act. You host other leaders at the White House when they visit, you don’t play golf with them on holiday.

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Credit: The Obama Diary site

A nice photo of Max Key with President Obama. He has got tall! Most of the time it sucks having your Dad as the Prime Minister, but I guess sometimes it is pretty cool :-)

It is worth reflecting that Key is exceptionally good at establishing personal relationships with other leaders.He has done it with Harper and Cameron who are also from the centre-right but also with Gillard and Obama, who are not. I also understand he has an excellent rapport with the Queen, as evidenced by the rare invite to Balmoral.

My theory is that Key isn’t fazed by anyone, and so when he meets people like the US President, or the Queen, he treats them much the same way as he treats everyone else – with some humour and as a person, not a position.

Some people got really excited that a junior sub-editor at the New York Daily News didn’t know who John Key was, when captioning a photo from the Mandela funeral. Well I guess if you have to choose between being known by a junior sub-editor, or the US President, I know which one I’d want :-)

Anyway, we’re all waiting for the real news – what were the scores, and who won? :-)

UPDATE: I understand that Obama and Key Sr played on the same team, and beat Key Jr and Nicholson.

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The liar in chief?

December 17th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

It’s time for our annual round-up of the biggest Pinocchios of the year. This was not a presidential election year, so in some ways the subjects that needed to be fact checked were more substantive. In reviewing The Fact Checker’s more than 200 columns in the past year, we found an interesting evolution from statistics about gun violence to claims about President Obama’s health-care law. Our general rule of thumb held: the more complex a subject is, the more tempted politicians are to make misleading claims.

President Obama ended up with three of the most misleading claims of the year. But, despite the urging of some readers, his statement that “I didn’t set a red line” on Syria is not among them. We had looked closely at that claim and had determined that, in context, it was a bungled talking point, so that statement actually earned no rating.

Not a prize the President would want to win – most porkies.

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Obama struggling

November 16th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post writes:

President Obama’s just-completed press conference was arguably worse than the Obamacare rollout. Alternately confessing, apologizing and blame shifting, he inadvertently made the case against his own executive skills, Obamacare and big government in general.

His announced fix is aimed at remedying the mass cancellation of individually-purchased insurance plans by letting insurance companies re-offer non-compliant policies. This makes clear that contrary to the statements from Jay Carney and Valerie Jarrett, Obamacare and not the insurers were the cause of the cancellations. Obama let slip that this is one big blame-shifting exercise when he announced that no one would be able to say Obamacare caused them to lose insurance. It is of course false because it is unlikely all the canceled policies can be restored.

Obama is losing Democrats in Congress who fear for their seats because of this. Several of them are signing up to Republican bills to change the law. If they pass, will Obama veto them?

Rather ironic that the Republicans fought so hard to defend Obamacare. Their best strategy would have been to step aside and watch it fall apart :-)

Rubin quotes some lines from the press conference:

“We fumbled the rollout on this health-care law.”

“I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans.”

“It is a complex process.”

“I was not informed directly [How about indirectly?!] that the Web site would not be working. . . . I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity, a week before the Web site opens, if I thought that it wasn’t going to work.”

“With respect to the pledge I made that if you like your plan you can keep it. . . that there is no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate.”

“The federal government does a lot of things really well. One of those things it does not do well is information technology procurement.”

“What we are also discovering is insurance is complicated to buy.”

Rubin continues:

Obama’s answers were long, rambling and at times hard to understand. What is clear is there is no arguing Obamacare can’t be touched or that this administration knows what it is doing. It was a remarkable confession about his own and the federal government’s ineptness, a virtual ad against big government — especially ones dependent on IT procurement. In admitting this was about shifting blame to insurers, he made crystal clear that his conduct is and has been about damage control, not permanently fixing an unworkable bill. He certainly gave satisfaction to Republicans who have been making many of these arguments all along. And it will no doubt convince Democrats to run as fast and as far as they can from this hapless president.

The deadline for the website to be working is now 30 November. If they fumble again, it will just get worse.

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The rise of Christie and fall of Obama

November 7th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Yahoo reports:

When President Obama first ran for the White House in 2008, it was with the promise to turn the page on the presidency of George W. Bush. But for all their political differences, it turns out the American public pretty much view the two men in the same light, according to new polling data.

In the first week of November in the fifth year of their presidencies, Obama and Bush have nearly identical approval numbers, according to the latest Gallup polling.

In fact, Bush comes out one point ahead, 40 percent to 39 percent, respectively.

The Gallup daily tracking poll for November 5th 2013 puts Obama’s approval at 39 percent, with 53 percent disapproving of his job performance.

By comparison, polling for the first week of November in 2005 had Bush’s approval at 40 percent, with 55 percent disapproving of his job performance.

The health reforms are turning into a major issue for Obama – not just the fact the central website is so defective, but that he promised no one would lose their current policies or plans – and many people are. It is emerging that the White House was informed that they were over-promising, but they did so anyway.

Meanwhile Chris Christie has been re-elected Governor of New Jersey in a landslide. It is important to note that New Jersey is a state that normally votes heavily Democrat, and has done so since 1992. Obama won it by 18%.

Christie appeals to non-Republicans but his actual policies are mainstream Republican – he is pro-life and anti gay marriage. Unions and others spent $35 million mainly trying to defeat him. The education unions alone spent $12 million against him. this is in a state of under nine million people.

The NY Times reports:

 In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by over 700,000, Mr. Christie won a majority of the votes of women and Hispanics and made impressive inroads among younger voters and blacks — groups that Republicans nationally have struggled to attract.

The governor prevailed despite holding positions contrary to those of many New Jersey voters on several key issues, including same-sex marriage, abortion rights and the minimum wage, and despite an economic recovery that has trailed the rest of the country.

He attracted a broad coalition by campaigning as a straight-talking, even swaggering, leader who could reach across the aisle to solve problems.

He is possibly the only Republican who can beat Hillary Clinton, and would be an absolute contrast to her. The exit poll numbers for him are fascinating.

  • Won female vote by 19% (and up against a female candidate)
  • Won the Hispanic vote by 6%
  • Got 21% of Black voters (most GOP people get 5% or so)
  • 32% of Democrats voted for him
  • Won Independents by 34%
  • Won low income households by 5%
  • Won moderates by 24%, conservatives by 73% and lose liberals by 36%

Christie’s biggest challenge will be willing the primary, not the general election.

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How the world has changed

September 28th, 2013 at 1:38 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Breaking a third-of-a-century diplomatic freeze, President Barack Obama and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have spoken by telephone and agreed to work toward resolving their deep dispute over Tehran’s nuclear efforts.

Rouhani, who earlier in the day called the United States a “great” nation, reached out to arrange the 15-minute call. The last direct conversation between the leaders of the two countries was in 1979 before the Iranian Revolution toppled the pro-US shah and brought Islamic militants to power.

Obama said the long break “underscores the deep mistrust between our countries, but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that difficult history.”

“While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward, and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution,” Obama told reporters at the White House. Iran’s nuclear program has been a major concern not only to the United States but to other Middle Eastern nations especially Israel and to the world at large.

Rouhani, at a news conference in New York, linked the US and Iran as “great nations,” a remarkable reversal from the anti-American rhetoric of his predecessors, and he expressed hope that at the very least the two governments could stop the escalation of tensions.

It’s only a phone call, but it is a very encouraging sign that Iran sees benefits in rejoining the mainstream.

What is remarkable is not just the phone call between the two Presidents, but the fact that news of it broke on Twitter – from the Iranian President. We do live in a very different world to 1979!

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The Obama campaign and data

April 4th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Political Marketing Group asked me to do an article for their March newsletter. There might be some wider interest in it, so I thought I would blog it here also:

Barack Obama was re-elected for a number of reasons including the quality of the candidates, their policies and their records. But one of the reasons was also the quality of their campaigns, and the Obama’s campaign use of big data to bring a new level of sophistication to political marketing.

The days of campaigns being about getting the best coverage on the 6 pm news every night are well and truly over. By 6 pm, many people already know how the campaign has gone for candidates. The buzz on Twitter has often made it clear how the day’s happenings will be reported.

The Obama campaign used data to divide voters into three categories. Those who were not worth pursuing who were left alone, those who were moderate supporters who might donate if asked and those who were strong supporters who might become activists.

They used research to survey millions of voters so they could sort them into the three categories. The research was a mixture of postal surveys, phoning and visiting. This data was supplemented by social media data and advertising.

An interactive Facebook video would depict to individuals how the President’s policies would help them and their friends. But the real purpose of the video was to get their permission to siphon off data about all their friends so they could be matched to their state voting records.

Having collected so much data on voters, the Obama campaign then used it to personalise online advertisements and messages. Their data told them the most appealing celebrity for middle-aged women on the East Coast was Sarah-Jessica Parker so they used her to appeal for their votes.

Having done badly in 2010 due to low turnout, Obama’s campaign focused on identifying those who voted for him in 2008 and ensuring they voted again. Every voter in the country was assigned two scores. One being their likelihood to vote and one being the probability they would vote for Obama. They then calculated for each individual precinct who were the likely people who voted Obama in 2008 and worked on making sure they voted in 2012.

They also used data to test their messages. Up to ten different varieties of an e-mail solicitation would be sent out to a test group. The communication that achieved the highest response or donation rate was then used for the entire population. Almost every single message and communication was tested scientifically. It didn’t matter so much what the creative director though of the communication. What mattered was measuring what impact it had.

Advertising has been the traditional channel for persuasion in political campaigns.  It still remains an important element, especially as they can impact media coverage also. But the lessons from the 2012 United States presidential campaign are that advertising alone is most definitely no longer enough. Data, social media and electronic communications are the weapons now used in a 21st century campaign, and political parties and candidates that fail to use them will struggle to achieve the result they want.

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Did you know Obama has a food taster?

March 26th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Snopes reports that President Obama (and other Presidents) have a food taster.

It seems that even on Capitol Hill, he can’t eat food without a taster checking it out first. During a lunch with Senate Republicans he couldn’t eat lunch as his taster was not present.

I guess I can understand the use of a taster when say travelling overseas. But it seems silly to require one at things like a private lunch with Senators.

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The drone filibuster

March 9th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Jeffrey Tucker writes at Not PC:

Twitter began by calling it “libertarian porn” — the longest and most sustained attack on the State leviathan from the U.S. Senate floor in modern history. But then it became more. And more. It went on for 13 hours. It was about halfway through when the junior senator leaned over to an aide and whispered: “Can I get a candy bar?” 

He deserved it. Before the end of the night, the significance of what he was doing was being described as “epic.” What began as a surprise political move became a bipartisan cry against all the evils of our times, which somehow all come down to the egregious power of the executive state and its omnipotent power over our lives and property. It became political theatre unlike any we’ve seen in many years. The target: all terrible things. 

In short, it was a beautiful day on Capitol Hill. 

It all came courtesy of Senator Randall Paul, the man who has brought truth, excitement, fun, and the appearance of real-life morality back to the Senate. …

Senator Paul’s action began just before noon. He started by standing alone against the nomination of John Brennan for the head of the CIA. This Brennan guy is the top advocate of the drone program and the White House’s super-creepy claim of the right to kill American citizens on American soil using unmanned aircraft.

Sen. Paul seemed to break the taboo. He finally said it: This winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is asserting the right to kill citizens right here, without any recourse to courts or law or anything related to the dead letter called the Constitution. …

Again, his one question: Why won’t the president say that he won’t kill non-combatants with drones on American soil? The White House pretended none of this was happening. …

Just before noon yesterday, Rand Paul stood alone. Then others joined him. Still others. Rand talked and talked. He went on and on. The online crowd began to grow. And grow. The tweets grew and grew. Facebook went nuts. It went on all day. The Senate chamber filled up by the evening. The fracas became frenzy and then became a mania. Hashtag #StandWithRand became the Internet meme of the night.

The drone debate has been fascinating. Obama has used drones to kill hundreds or thousands of targets (and collateral casualties) in Pakistan and other countries. Most Americans support the use of drones (83% in February 2012). The opposition has been a few muted liberals. I suspect if Bush had been carrying out the same numbers, there would have been massive protests.

I personally have no problem with using technology to kill people at war with you. However in one recent case a drone was used to kill a US citizen and for some that was a significant step – maybe one too far.

Now wars are no longer between states, but between states and loose groups of militias or terrorists, I think drone strikes are a sensible way to fight such wars. There are some risks of course – namely that it becomes “too easy” to kill – an issue some US Generals have said is why drone use should be limited.

But wars are basically against foreigners. Should a war power be used against a citizen of your own country born in this case in the United States?

The argument in this case is he was based in Yemen and actively advocating attacks on the US by Muslims living there. And if you look at his history, you can see why he was seen as a danger. But it means the line has gone from killing foreign combatants to killing US citizens overseas.

And then that raised the question – what if a US citizen is in the United States and thought to be a terrorist. Can the President add his name to the list and send a drone in to kill him? If US citizens can now be killed by drones – does it matter where they live?

To my mind, it does. If they are in the US then you can arrest them and should try to do so (if they surrender peacefully). It is impractical to think you can fly into Yemen and try and arrest someone in the middle of the mountains.

But the Obama administration when asked by Rand Paul would not rule out using drones in the US. The Attorney-General said:

Mr Holder stressed in his letter that the prospect of a president considering the assassination of an American citizen on US soil was “entirely hypothetical” and “unlikely to occur”.

Yet “it is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorise the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” he wrote.

Appearing in front the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, Mr Holder reiterated that “the government has no intention to carry out any drone strikes in the United States”.

That response is what led to Rand Paul to do his filibuster of the CIA nomination. And it worked. After 13 hours the Obama Administration then clarified:

“It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.”

So the filibuster is over. But the issue of the limits of drone strikes is now mainstream, and occurred not due to any Democrats but the libertarian Republican Senator from Kentucky.

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Sworn in twice

January 20th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Tomorrow Barack Obama gets sworn in for a second term as President of the United States.

43 men have served as President of the United States. Of the 43:

  • Elected twice, served full terms – 12 (including Obama)
  • Elected once, defeated – 8
  • Elected once, died in office – 5
  • Succeeded to office, retired – 4
  • Elected once, retired – 4
  • Succeeded to office, re-elected – 4
  • Elected twice, died in office – 2
  • Elected, defeated, elected – 1
  • Elected four times, died in office – 1
  • Elected twice, resigned – 1
  • Succeeded to office, defeated – 1

Worth noting that many of those who retired after one term, wanted to stand again but failed to gain their party’s nomination. However some were genuine retirements.

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Obama’s gun crackdown

January 17th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

US President Barack Obama is proposing a new assault weapons ban and mandatory background checks for all gun buyers in a bid to channel national outrage over the Newtown school massacre into the biggest gun-control push in generations.

Personally I have no problem with either of those measures. You don’t need assault weapons for legitimate purposes such as hunting, target practice or even self-defence.

Obama’s plan calls on Congress to renew the prohibition on assault weapons sales that expired in 2004, a requirement for criminal background checks on all gun purchases, including closing a loophole for gun show sales, and a new federal gun trafficking law – long sought by big-city mayors to keep out-of-state guns off their streets.

He also announced 23 steps he intended to take immediately without congressional approval. These include improvements in the existing system for background checks, lifting the ban on federal research into gun violence, putting more counsellors and “resource officers” in schools, and improved access to mental health services.

Again, none of this looks bad to me. However I would note that I doubt any of these measures would have prevented any of the recent mass shootings.

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The US relationship

December 17th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald quotes US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell:

“We fully understand that New Zealand is not looking to go backward to re-create a relationship of the past,” he said, “but to re-create a strong, multi-faceted, multi-dimensional relationship for the 21st century.

“This is pretty much the model of how we want to do business. I think we have about as close a relationship as two countries can have now.”

And he credited the personal regard President Barack Obama had for Prime Minister John Key for the improvement.

“I see President Obama regularly in meetings and I see the leaders that he is attracted to and he has to deal with a huge number of people.

“The truth is there are three or four leaders in Asia that he [strongly] respects and kind of listens to when they talk.

“It’s Prime Minister Lee in Singapore, it’s Prime Minister Najib in Malaysia, SBY (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) in Indonesia, Lee Myung-bak in South Korea but Prime Minister Key is in that list.”

A long way removed from when the previous Prime Minister had to do a written apology to the US President for her comments!

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Key on Burma and East Asia Summit

November 24th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

An interesting interview with John Key by Audrey Young. Some extracts:

Who first suggested you visit Burma?

My trusty foreign policy adviser [Ben King] and it worked because of location – it is close to Cambodia – and because we as a Government genuinely do believe that the Myanmar [Burma] Government is making progress. I don’t think we are naive to that progress. We understand it is not all perfect. It’s a long way from perfection, but fairly much every country is recognising them now and taking sanctions off them and trying to encourage them. The other EAS leaders have been very strong in their personal views to me. Certainly [President Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyono of Indonesia and [Prime Minister] Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore have been very much of the view that [Burmese President] Thein Sein is quite genuine in his progress. …

You said in a press briefing with President Thein Sein that New Zealanders were passionate about human rights.

I care about people’s human rights and, as a country, we have a very proud record indeed. But I’m also realistic about what we can do … we can raise those issues with leaders and we can talk about those issues, and we do that. Moral persuasion over a period of time makes a difference, but we shouldn’t be naive to think that just because we raise it in a meeting it will make all those problems go away. It won’t and it doesn’t.

Can you have real democracy in Burma and still keep the ban on motorbikes?

You could if the voters had the chance to vote out the Government that had such a policy. But apparently the genesis of the ban was that one of the generals’ sons was killed on one so they just got rid of them.

Amazing. The madness of absolute power.

Do you think he’ll visit New Zealand as President?

My foreign policy adviser keeps reminding me to ask. I am not so confident. I hope so and he will probably come to Australia and he has obviously been before. He might. He really wants to. But the problem is that there just aren’t areas of disagreement. There’s obviously the anti-nuclear issue but that has been put behind us long ago. In a world that is so intense for him with so little … I know he personally wants to.

Ironically, you’re more likely to get a US visit if there is a dispute to help smooth over!

Was it a good trip?

I reckon really good. The thing about EAS is we got everything we wanted. We got the President saying let’s try and get a deal by the end of 2013. We said to him ‘do you want us to say this in the press because [if] you do, it will be reported and we’ll be held to account on it?’ and he said yes, absolutely. That doesn’t mean we’ll get a deal. There’s a lot of scepticism from those that aren’t involved in TPP. But he’s really serious about it. He thinks there aren’t that many levels for him to pull. It’s hard. They’ve got very low interest rates, they’re printing money, they’ve got big fiscal deficits. What things can he do to stimulate the economy? That’s one of them. It might fail but it won’t fail by want of trying.

My reading of this is the US needs the TPP more than NZ does. This doesn’t mean NZ should be unreasonable and try to screw the US over in negotiations. But it does mean that the NZ position on issues such as the proposed IP chapter shouldn’t be traded away.

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Caption Contest

November 21st, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Enjoy – captions below. Normal rules.

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Obama and Romney

November 5th, 2012 at 2:52 pm by David Farrar

Not that I get a vote, but for the record if I was in the US, I would be voting Romney. Before I explain why, I want to touch on the record of both men.

Barack Obama

As President Barack Obama has performed pretty much as well as I expected – he had a total of two years experience as a junior senator before he started campaigning for President. It is no surprise at all with such a lack of experience, that he has failed to meet expectations of so many of his supporters.

That lack of experience is one of the reasons I said I preferred Hillary Clinton over Obama in 2008, and I note polls show she would win easily against Romney.

Now this isn’t to say that Obama has been a bad President, more somewhat lackluster.

On foreign policy, I think Obama has been fine. He saw the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq successfully (albeit on the timetable agreed to by Bush).  The surge in Afghanistan was the right strategy, and while (like Iraq) the country they will leave behind is imperfect – it will be a lot better than it was.

Obama’s intervention in Libya to protect civilians with a no fly zone, basically worked. Of course the later death of his Ambassador is a potential scandal that may claim some scalps.

And of course one has to give him credit for Osama bin Laden’s death. It was a high risk mission that could have destroyed his presidency if it ended up a shambles.  He trusted his military commanders and the special forces and his confidence was rewarded.

His decision to use a drone to kill to Anwar al-Aulaqi, a US citizen in Yemen, was controversial. It is the first ever extrajudicial execution of a US citizen ordered by a President.

With domestic policy the silly don’t ask, don’t tell policy ended and the world didn’t end. But he had done almost nothing sensible on immigration reform, and the health reform was in fact little more than requiring poor people to have private health insurance. he doesn’t have a very strong domestic legacy.  One many issues he has lets the polls decide for him. In 1996 he was for same-sex marriage. In 1998 he was undecided. In 2004 he was against same-sex marriage. In 2012 he was back to being for same-sex marriage.

On the economy, this is where he has failed, and in fact his policies are a danger to the US and world economy. The US deficit and debt must be reined in, and Obama’s policies of massively increasing spending are reckless. The Budget Control Act merely slows the rate of growth of debt, not reverses it. Federal spending is projected to continue to grow faster than the economy grows, and this is impossible to maintain. The US public debt grew by $1.9 trillion (think $6,300 per capita) in 2009 and $1.7 trillion in 2010.

So overall I think Obama has done pretty well on foreign policy, been average at best on domestic policy and bad on economic policy.

Mitt Romney

I thought Mitt Romney was a good Governor of Massachusetts, and he has a successful private sector career.

As Governor he passed health care legislation (not that different to Obama care), eliminated the state budget deficit and was pro-choice. Worth noting Romney got elected Governor by a 5% margin, despite every poll showing him behind the Democrat candidate.

As Governor he made many non-partisan appointments, and he also reduced the size of the state bureaucracy. He closed tax loopholes also. On the education side he funded the top 25% of high school students with tuition-free scholarships to public universities or colleges.

So I liked Governor Romney. Candidate Romney was a different case. He flip-flopped on so many issues.

He want from getting rid of ethanol subsidies, to supporting them in 2008 and then in 2012 against them. He went from supporting a cap and trade on carbon emissions to opposing them. he introduced individual health mandates, and then attacked Obama for them.

He did not support the Bush tax cuts, but now campaigns to keep them. His position on abortion has changed radically, as it has on stem cells.

For these reasons Romney was not my preferred candidate for the Republicans in 2008 or 2012. All politicians modify their positions to some degree. Obama certainly has. But Romney’s changes have been so many and dramatic you wonder what he really believes.

Obama v Romney

As I said I don’t think Obama has been a terrible President. For someone with just two years in the Senate (before near full-time campaigning) he has performed as about the level you’d expect. He’s made some good calls in quite a few areas. He’s failed to show leadership in quite a few also.

However his fiscal policy is dangerous and wrong. It is vital the US gets onto a path out of deficit. The deficit is massive. To break things down the US spends $121,000 a second. Of that $121,000 it borrows $52,000. This is so far living beyond the means, it is not funny.

Romney is a flip-flopper, and has said some silly things. but he does have a good proven record on financial management – both in government and the private sector. For that reason I would vote Romney. I seriously worry about the US economy with another four years of massive and growing deficits.

If Obama does get re-elected, his second-term performance on the economy will I believe form a large part of how history judges him.

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