Your Early Vote Could Make the Difference

Did you vote early?  Have you ever?  Could you vote early?  32 states allow “unexcused” in-person voting prior to an election.  Though all states have some provision for absentee voting, the laws vary widely from state to state on early convenience voting.  Massachusetts does not permit it at all.   I’ll have to get up at the crack of dawn to vote so as not to be late for work.  Wyoming permits early voting 45 days prior to an election; Nebraska 35 days before; Arizona 26; Illinois 22 and Texas 17.  Arkansas voters can cast a ballot 15 days before an election.   At least for national elections, why not have a federal law permitting early voting in all states say 30 days prior to a Presidential election?

And speaking of voting early, the experience seems to be a mixed bag for folks.  People have waited in line for 8 hours to cast a vote.  One elderly lady fainted after standing in the hot sun for hours.  This is not how I picture early voting.   CNN reports that of the 6 million votes cast early where party affiliation could be determined, Democrats outnumber Repbulicans 58% to 42%.  Over 23 million have cast an early vote in person or mailed in an absentee ballot.  The Wall Street Journal reports that people remain determined to vote early despite the waits, voting machine mishaps and general confusion.  For example, DC voters waiting in line to vote were reminded, much to the chagrin of some, that they would be required to provide an excuse for voting early.

On the other hand, many voters are too skeptical to vote early fearing their vote would be lost or simply not counted.  In a recent article in The New York Times, this sentiment is strongly felt among black voters in Florida.  Larone Wesley said, “they’re going to throw out votes…I’m so afraid for my friend Obama…there ain’t no way they’re going to let him make it.”

An analysis of early voting reported in the Orlando Sentinel revealed that turnout among young voters in Florida has been low.  If young supporters don’t turn out on election day, Obama could be in trouble.  I hope Obama supporters do not become overconfident or too busy to vote.  The race is much too close.  As reported in Florida Today, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll shows McCain with a 49-45 advantage among early voters in Florida.   As I’ve posted before, despite Obama’s overall lead in the polls, he could still lose.  Obama supporters out there please vote!  Vote early if you can.  Your vote could make the difference.

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Bring Back the Datsun B210

800px-Datsun210Remember back in the summer before the economic meltdown when gas prices were at 4.00 per gallon?  I sure do.  This summer I spent a fortune on gasoline driving my daughter around to visit college campuses in the Northeast.  And I drive a fuel efficient car, the Nissan Sentra – about 35 MPG highway.  Hit rewind and let’s go back twenty seven years.  My sister’s first car was a 1981 Datsun/Nissan 210 that got 47 MPG highway; a car more fuel efficient than a 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid!

I was surprised to learn that a gallon of gas in 1981 cost on the average 1.378.  By the way, there is an excellent data set from the Energy Information Administration on historical gas prices dating back to January of 1980.  So, 1.378 sounds cheap, right?  Not so.  Adjusted for inflation this is equivalent to 3.143 per gallon.  By comparison the cost of a gallon of gas is a bargain today at 2.505, 1.960 if you happen to live in Kansas City.   I don’t.

So why were cars so fuel efficient back in the 70’s and early 80’s?  To understand, we have to examine a bit of history.  In the 70’s, OPEC oil production and exports to the US fell sharply.  The Oil Embargo of 1973 caused gasoline rationing, long lines at the pump and severe price spikes.  In late 1973 through 1974, the stock market crashed.  The Dow Jones declined 45% in one of the worst bear markets in history.  Sound familiar?  The 1979 energy crisis hit the U.S. after the Shah of Iran was deposed during the Iranian Revolution.  Iranian oil production dramatically decreased as did exports to the US.  And the following year, war broke out between Iran and Iraq further interrupting the flow of oil to the West.

Then as now, our leaders warned that we were too dependent on foreign oil.  As a result, in 1974 Congress passed the 55 mph federal speed limit, which also yielded some environmental benefits.  This law was amended in 1987 to permit higher limits on rural roads and in 1996 repealed altogether.  Prior to 1974, most states had maximum speed limits between 70-75 miles per hour.

In 1975, Congress enacted legislation that required the big automakers to conform to fuel efficiency standards.  During this period, Japanese cars flooded the U.S. market with small, affordable fuel efficient offerings like my sister’s Datsun by Nissan 210.  She bought the manual version without even knowing how to drive a stick because it was $500 cheaper.   Other notable subcompact cars included the venerable VW Beetle (which had been around since the 60’s) the once omnipresent (and explosive) Ford Pinto, the Dodge Colt, the Honda Civic, The Toyota Corolla, and The VW Rabbit.

So is it time to go back to a federally mandated 55 mph speed limit?  According to one website, drive55.org, during the period the 55 mph speed limit was in effect from 1974-1986, our dependence on foreign declined sharply to 28%.  Today, according to the same source, our dependence on foreign oil is up to 60%.   Obviously there are other factors involved including failed energy polices, increased consumer demand, relatively stable gasoline prices over a period of time and the SUV craze.

So why can’t automakers engineer fuel efficient cars like those of the 70’s and early 80’s?  One reason suggested by several posters on the web log Metafilter is that today’s cars are heavier.  Cars weigh more because of safety standards like airbags, fortified frames, anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control systems, and other optional equipment.   Another reason is that until recently, there hadn’t been much demand for fuel efficient cars.  The SUV reigned supreme.  Now, as we move toward a greener future, hybrid vehicles are starting to catch on but still represent only a tiny fraction of total automobile sales.

In conclusion, I have this to say to our next President: 55 MPH; 50 MPG.

And Nissan, enough with the Sentra and Versa – bring back the Datsun B210!

Who is McCain, Reagan?

In a recent interview in the Washington Times, McCain had this to say about the Bush years: “spending, the conduct of the war in Iraq for years, growth in the size of government, larger than any time since the Great Society, laying a $10 trillion debt on future generations of America, owing $500 billion to China, obviously, failure to both enforce and modernize the [financial] regulatory agencies that were designed for the 1930s and certainly not for the 21st century, failure to address the issue of climate change seriously.”

McCain is frantically trying to distance himself from Bush the younger. Keep in mind that he would like to be compared to Ronald Reagan.

Lets examine some of McCain’s comments:

“laying a 10 trillion debt on future generations of Americans” – It was John McCain’s hero, Ronald Reagan who laid the foundation for the Republican tradition of massive deficit spending.  Zfacts.com has a short analysis of the National Debt that illustrates the point.  Earlier in the campaign, when asked how he planned to balance the budget, McCain said he would follow the example of Reagan, leaving out the small detail that the federal deficit tripled under Reagan.

In an detailed analysis of the US National Debt, Steve McGourty demonstrates that when Reagan took office, the percentage of debt relative to GDP was at 33%.  In his 8 years as President, he managed to grow the debt to 51.9% of GDP, a 64% increase.  Since 1989, the only period during which the debt decreased occurred under the Clinton administration.  By the time Clinton left office, debt as a percentage of GDP dropped 10%.

…”growth in the size of Government (under Bush has been) larger than any time since the Great Society.”  What he didn’t say was that revenue during the Johnson years exceeded spending.  As McGourty shows, all Democratic Administrations from Johnson forward took in more in revenue than they spent.  The reverse is true for all the Republican administrations since 1969.  Under Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II spending exceeded revenue.  McCain should be citing the Great Society, or the Clinton administration as a model for responsible fiscal policies.

On the point of  “failure to both enforce and modernize the [financial] regulatory agencies that were designed for the 1930s and certainly not for the 21st century” remember that McCain has been against regulatory policies his entire career, even saying he is “fundamentally a deregulator.”  But now, amid turmoil, McCain turns to regulation.

And finally, he bashed Bush for “failure to address the issue of climate change seriously.”  What has McCain done for climate change?  His first order of business was to select a running mate who believes the human impact on global warming is overstated.  In an article on Bloomberg.com Edward Chen points out that McCain has made global warming a priority, but his voting record on environmental issues has been abysmal – voting for pro-environment legislation only 25% of the time.  He favors reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 65%.  For the record, Barack Obama’s plan calls for reducing emissions by 80%.  Which plan takes a more serious approach to global warming?

McCain is no Bush – ok, I’ll give him that, even though his voting record suggests otherwise.  But he wants to be compared to Ronald Reagan, so here is what we could expect were McCain to fashion his policies after his hero: massive defense and deficit spending; a ballooning national debt; a dismissive approach to environmental concerns – a la Sarah Palin – see Reagan on the Environment; more deregulation and questionable foreign policy dealings – remember the Iran-Contra affair?

Who is McCain?

Medved Warns of Voter Backlash

Larry King asked conservative talk show host Michael Medved if McCain could pull off a victory.  His answer might surprise you.  He said that because Obama is outspending and saturating the market with campaign ads, there could be a public backlash.   Does Medved have a point?  Do you feel like there’s a bit of piling on going on with the recent endorsements of Obama from Scott McClelland and General Colin Powell that could work in McCain’s favor with undecided voters?  Do voters think this way?  Is there really anyway to know?  Or is this a desperate and coy ploy to create public sympathy to persuade the Obama camp to pull back?

Another Republican pundit on Larry King this evening said that in order for McCain to win, he need only win all the Red States Bush the younger won in 2004.   And if that is the strategy, as Larry King pointed out,  then all Obama need do is hold the Blue States and win one Red.  With optimism, Medved suggested McCain has a shot at winning Minnesota and Pennsylvania.   I don’t know, Obama has a 12 point lead in a poll of polls in both states.

McCain 278 – Obama 260

Based on national polling averages, Obama has about a 6% lead over McCain.  However, I believe the race is much closer.  If you think Obama has this election wrapped up, you had better think again.  I just put together a frightening scenario that would put McCain over 270 electoral votes.  This is based on the possibility of McCain winning in states where Obama has a slight lead.  This plausible projection has McCain sweeping the South and taking chunks of the Midwest and West.   Here’s how it could play out:  McCain wins TX, FL, GA, NC, VA, MO, TN, AL, LA, KY, SC, AR, OK, KS, MS, WV and NH, NE, IN, OH, CO, ND, SD, AZ, NV, UT, ID, WY, MT and AK = 278 electoral votes.

Obama:  HI, CA, WA, OR, NM, NY, NJ, ME, VT, MA, RI, CT, DE, DC, MD, IL, IA, MN, WI, PA, MI = 260

States in bold are too close to call (5% or less).  In the underlined states, VA, MO, NC, NV, CO, and NH, Obama leads, but I give McCain the win to illustrate what could happen if Obama supporters don’t turn out on election day.

Recognize too that the Libertarian candidate Bob Barr and the Independant Ralph Nader could play the role of spoiler, just as Nader did in 2000, with 97,000 votes in Florida, helping GW Bush defeat Gore.  And going back, let’s not forget the impact of  Ross Perot who received substantial support in 1992 (5%) and in 1996 (8%) helping Clinton gain and maintain the Presidency.  If you support Obama, VOTE.  Don’t let polling numbers lull you into a false sense of security!

Comments welcome.

McCain a Hoot at Alfred E. Smith Fundraiser

John McCain lost all three debates, but won the latest prize for best after dinner humor at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, an annual charity roast put on by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York.  The event raised an estimated 4 million to benefit needy children.  As guest speakers, McCain and Obama had the crowd rolling in laughter as they poked fun at themselves, each other, the media and the Clintons.  If I’m being honest, and I am, McCain had the superior script.  He was actually funny, very funny and he’s not known for telling a good joke.  I wonder who wrote this material?  As for Obama, well, comedy may not be his calling, but he had some good lines too.

Here are some of the highlights from McCain’s address:

  • McCain fired his senior advisers (actually that might not be a bad idea) and hired Joe the Plumber to take over his campaign.
  • Joe the Plumber signed a contract to work on all 7 of McCain’s homes.
  • In a room full of Democrats, he welcomed his only supporter, Hillary Clinton.
  • ACORN was helping to serve the underserved: “second graders, the deceased, Disney characters…”
  • In introducing Barak Obama, he said, “you are about to witness the funniest performance in history.”

Obama had some good lines too:

  • He reassured us he was not born in a manger;
  • But disclosed he was born on Krypton and sent here to save the planet.
  • If his father had known he would some day run for president, he would have given him a different middle name.
  • Barak is Swahili for “that one.”

Scroll down on Larry King with Bill Maher for the Candidates’ Remarks

Obama Completes Sweep in 3rd Debate

Bill Bennett, former secretary and partisan CNN contributor said the Hofstra debate was by far the best of the three.  I disagree.  I do agree with Bennett that McCain was on the offensive most of the night, but don’t think it was his best debate.  His performance was uneven.  He didn’t appear very presidential on TV.  He looked angry and annoyed most of the night.  His aggressive, condescending tone couldn’t have won over many .  Obama remained composed throughout, smiling as opposed to grimacing when McCain landed a low blow.  Overall, Obama played excellent defense keeping McCain off the scoreboard.

They started off with statements about the economy.  McCain mentioned his plan to fix the housing mess.  Obama discussed his tax cuts for the middle class and sent a word of caution on McCain’s relief plan for homeowners:  “it could be a giveaway to banks if we pay full price for the mortgages that are now worth a lot less”.

McCain brought up Joe the Plumber.  Poor Joe can’t buy his business because of Obama’s tax plan.  I say if Joe buys that business and rakes in more than 300,000 a year, he can afford to pay higher taxes – he should be in a higher tax bracket; it’s only fair.  McCain talks about spreading the wealth – taking Joes’s money and spreading it out.  Come on.  It’s not like Obama has plans to nationalize Joe’s plumbing company, or require Joe to do pro-bono plumbing, although that would be a good idea.  Give Joe some tax credits to provide discounted plumbing for a non-profit organization.

There were some frustrating moments.  Bill Schieffer mentioned the negative tone of the campaigns and brought up Bill Ayers to which McCain responded that “we need to know the full extent of that relationship”.  Obama then explained that relationship saying that Ayers engaged in despicable acts when Obama was a child and that he (Obama) has since “roundly” denounced those acts.  They served together on a diverse “Republican leaning” school reform board founded by Reagan UK ambassador, Walter Annenberg. The board membership included two University Presidents.  Obama said that Bill Ayers has not been a part of his campaign and “will not advise me in the White House”.  After Obama’s disclosure, McCain again said “…the details need to be known (about the relationship)…”  Wake up John, he just told you.   McCain’s ACORN allegation did not stick.  First, ACORN is a respectable organization and there should be no shame in association.  The doings of a handful of rogue voter registration workers should not disgrace the entire organization.  Second, Obama’s staff did not hire ACORN to do any voter registration.  They hired an organization to canvass for Obama and this organization subcontracted out some of the work to ACORN to canvass for Obama, not to register voters.  That Obama is somehow responsible for doctored voter registration cards is ludicrous.

McCain and Obama continue to disappoint me on education.  Both are for Charter Schools that create a free market approach to education.  Education is not a business.  McCain supports vouchers, which the government issues to families who wish to send their kids to a private school.  I say let the private schools issue scholarships.  The government should not be in the business of subsidizing a private school education.  Rather, the government should be investing heavily in the neediest schools.  Vouchers and Charters simply drain resources away from public schools.  And sadly the kids and their teachers will be blamed for high dropout rates and low test scores. Instead of no child left behind, the law should be renamed all children left behind.

When Bob Schieffer asked if Palin is qualified to be president, why didn’t Obama just say no?  He had to go on about how capable she is and how she’s energized the base.   And McCain’s endorsement of Palin was even less enthusiastic talking about her as if she were going to be first lady, not the VP.  “…she’s a role model….a reformer through and through…and I’m proud of her”.

McCain continues to promote the building of 45 nuclear power plants over the next 20 years, which sounds reasonable until the costs are factored – 6 to 8 billion each and up to 6 years to build just one, and don’t forget the delays and cost overruns.  With McCain’s spending freeze, how can we expand nuclear and invest in renewable energy projects.  I wonder if Joe the Plumber has any expertise in nuclear; maybe he could do the job on the cheap with his new company.

Obama:  A for a solid defense and and a clear closing statement.

McCain:  C for an offense that scored few points.

For more details, read the 3rd Debate Transcript

Who do you think won the debate?

Leaf Peeping in NH

My wife and I are headed back up to the Hills of New Hampshire. We were last there during the 2008 Presidential season. I’ll be curious to see whether NH has turned a shade of red in the last 4 years and whether the leaves have too! Currently, Obama leads by an average of 6 points pre-debate and I wonder if the signage reflects that enthusiasm for the President, who carried the state in 2008. I’ll post new pics and a campaign update later this weekend. Peace!  – Ribbie 10/6/2012

We took our annual Fall Foliage Trip to the White Mountains yesterday.  Creatures of habit, we took 93 North to Route 89 exiting at Warner, NH for breakfast.  After breakfast we headed back up 93 to Route 112 and the Kancamagus Scenic Highway in the White Mountains.  What a gorgeous day; crisp air, sunny, with beautiful colors all around.   This year, as in years past around this time, the colors, though bright, were slightly past peek in the higher elevations.  The greatest variety of vibrant colors could be seen on the drive up 93 through Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire.

We had breakfast at the Foot Hills of Warner Country Breakfast and Lunch Restaurant.  We ordered up a couple of platters of pancakes, which were as advertised – the size of a platter.  Served one per platter, my thick buttermilk pancake was spongy and slightly dry, but with a few dollups of butter and a liberal pouring of maple syrup, I could not complain.  My wife shared with our daughter a blueberry flapjack, which was better than mine and considerably less spongy.  If you can believe it, we had leftovers!  After breakfast, we walked around the Fall Foliage Festival for about an hour.  I went to the book sale at the library and bought a used copy of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy for .50 and a box set of Beethoven’s 9 Symphonies conducted by Arturo Toscanini for 2.00.   The lps are in excellent condition and even in Mono sound fantastic.  I’m in the process of converting the vinyl to MP3s.

A couple of interesting notes:  there were as many bikers as cars on 112.  And in Warner where we stopped off for breakfast, McCain-Palin signs littered the landscape.  We counted only two Obama-Biden signs.  The same was true in most of the towns we passed throughout the NH countryside.   Polling numbers show Obama leading in NH, but McCain apparently has a base of support in rural towns.  I shouldn’t be too surprised – at least until recently, NH voters have favored the Republican presidential candidate voting in greater numbers for a Democrat only 4 times since 1952:  Johnson in 1964; Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and Kerry in 2004.

Candidates’ Views on Nuclear Power

McCain and Obama support nuclear energy as part of an overall strategy to reduce US dependence on foreign oil.  McCain hopes to greatly expand the use of nuclear power, by building 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030.  By contrast, Obama is more cautious about the role of nuclear.  In a post on TreeHugger.com, Obama is reported to have said that “before an expansion of nuclear power is considered, key issues must be addressed including security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage and proliferation. ”

Neither candidate has mentioned the enormous costs involved in building a new power plant or refurbishing an old one.  Well, one did, but he’s no longer in the race, John Edwards who rejects nuclear as not being economically viable.  “We haven’t built a nuclear power plant in this country in decades.  There’s a reason for that.  The reason is that it is extremely costly.  It takes an enormous amount of time to get one planned, developed and built.”

According to an article in the NY Times, Nuclear Endorsements Differ in Detail, the cost of building just one plant is estimated at 6-8 billion.  The construction time could take 4-6 years conservatively.  Utility companies would have to receive some sweeteners (not Aspartame) from the government to take on a new nuclear project.

Is nuclear the answer?  I don’t know.  I am not as concerned with the safety issues as I am the cost factors.  We do need to build more plants, there’s no question.  The US currently has 104 nuclear plants operating in 31 states.  Every state should have at least one.  45 new ones?  No.

Currently only about 7% of the energy consumption in the US is met by renewable sources, and mostly from hydroelectric and biomass.  Therefore, we do need to invest billions in new technology like wind and solar.  Wind could produce up to 20% of electricity in the US by 2030, for example.  It’s clean.  The only problem is getting a wind turbine built and installed might take as long as it would take to build a nuclear power plant.  The US does not have an established manufacturing base to supply parts for a large scale wind project.  Current orders for turbines are delayed.  See a recent article in the Boston Globe Projects in the Wind.

What is the answer?  All of the above, but more importantly “my friends” we need to take drastic steps to lighten our own carbon footprints to become less dependent on fossil fuels.  As Americans, we are 5% of the population and consume 26% of the world’s energy.  That’s embarrassing and frankly unjust given that worldwide 2 billion live without electricity. We need a new mantra, (sorry Sarah) –  instead of “Drill Baby Drill” how about “Walk Baby Walk” or “Bike, Baby Bike” or “Bus Baby Bus” provided those buses are CNG fueled.  If you must drive, buy a hybrid, or a fuel efficient vehicle – buy a Honda Fit.  Don’t travel so much if you can avoid it.  Take day trips instead of long distance vacations, if you take any vacation at all.  Use Zipcar.  Recycle, if you don’t already.  Take short showers.  Install low flow shower heads and aerators at your home or apartment.  Mow the lawn with an electric mower, or solar mower (I like the sound of that) but I’m not sure they exist.  Turn off the lights.  Turn your computers off students – yes it matters.  Be good to the environment.  This is how we can all put Country First!

McCain Favors Red Sox

If you need more proof that the Republican camp is divided, Foon Rhee in the Boston Globe reported that the Red Sox are McCain’s “sentimental favorite” to win the World Series.  Campaigning in Jacksonville just 3 days before the ACLS between the Sox and the Rays, Sarah Palin had this to say:  “How about those Tampa Bay Rays?…you know…that tells me that the people in this area know a little something about turning an underdog into a victor…” Good line, but it appears that the underdog Rays are having a difficult time with the “sentimental favorite” Red Sox losing game 1 2-0, just as the Republicans are having a difficult time turning a “maverick” into a victor.