On universal healthcare (read)

01 April 2009

I want you to think, for a moment, about the quality of care you get from Medicare and Medicaid. Sorry, didn’t mean to depress you. Imagine now that these systems, along with various state level support for healthcare, had about 14% more money. Yay, that sounds good, right? Currently about 44% of all health dollars are spent by the taxpayer. I am asking you to imagine what it would be like if that were 50%. Except that, and this is the stretch, I want you to imagine that that 50% is actually the only money being spent on healthcare. Imagine that Medicare and Medicaid, with this small lift in their budgets, had to pay for not half the medical procedures in the US, but all of them. Welcome to the NHS.

The Sharia solution to sub-prime (read)

04 March 2009

There was a widely available form of consumer credit called “rent-to-own” which, though still available, has been much less common since, roughly, the 1970s. For the previous hundred years or so it had been a very common form of installment plan purchasing. Rent-to-own began with a court case in England which effectively legalized the contract, which then spread throughout the countries using Anglo-Saxon Common Law. Quite simply you rented the product, paying a slightly higher rent, and when the cost of purchase plus interest had been paid off, you became owner of the product. In the court case the product was a piano – a very substantial, but important, purchase, for a family in Victorian England. Such contracts became common for other major purchases such as furniture, cars and, from the 1950s onwards, consumer goods such as TVs and washing machines.

Bankruptcy isn’t bad (read)

24 December 2008

Let us imagine that you are a great admirer of the Plattsburgh State Art Museum. Let us imagine that the Museum is in grave financial straits and that the University is planning to close it. You would be unlikely to be concerned that some new purchaser will make a big pile of the artworks and incinerate them. That would be crazy. It is possible, if the collection were bought by a museum elsewhere in the country that the collection would be lost to Plattsburgh. If it were bought by a private collector, it could be lost to public view. But it would not be lost altogether. The art would continue to exist.

Above the law (read)

Dateline 19 March 2008

It is rather gratifying when someone who seems to believe that the law is whatever he wants it to be on any given day discovers that this is not so.

Just a week ago Eliot Spitzer was expected to lead New York’s Democrats into legislative elections next fall and capture the State Senate – the last bastion of Republican power. By the time you read this, he will be out of office and his political enemies will be fighting over his corpse.

Time to show us your team, Senator (read)

Dateline: 12 March 2008

The Republican race is officially over. Maverick Congressman Ron Paul has not yet conceded, but he has just won his primary to return to Congress, so even he knows it’s over.

The Democrats will be fighting for months to come. Senator Clinton will win Pennsylvania and Senator Obama will win North Carolina. Both will claim to have won the popular vote overall. She will remind voters that he is inexperienced and untried. Her surrogates will whisper that there are still too many people who will not vote for a Black candidate. He will smile sweetly and speak of her volatility and poor judgment. He will stop short of mentioning ‘hormones’ or ‘hot flashes’. We will hear all the arguments about why Florida and Michigan should be disenfranchised and the alternative reasons why they should not.

Health and safety at war (read)

Dateline 05 March 2008

What is this obsession with seeking to find health and safety where it doesn’t belong? Risks cannot be reduced to zero.

In the Vietnam War America lost 60,000 troops with 97% of the bodies accounted for. An astonishing record, for the time, and amounting to only 6% of those killed. So far in the Iraq conflict fewer than 4,000 American military personnel have been killed. In Iraq, America is fighting using an all volunteer military, whereas many casualties in Vietnam were conscripts. Granted, the Vietnam conflict lasted 16 years, though the most violent period with high American engagement was nearer ten years. The Iraq conflict will pass its fifth anniversary this month. In other words, the average annual total in Vietnam was some 50% higher than the five year total for Iraq.

The battle for the independents (read)

Dateline: 27 February 2008

There are more registered Democrats than Republicans. The gap is nowhere near as big as in the 1970s and 80s, when Republicans nonetheless carried four of the five presidential elections, and by big margins every time, but the gap is real. Not only that, with an unpopular president at the head of the Party and a presidential candidate who is distrusted by a large portion of the base, the GOP is feeling less than enthusiastic. After losing two knife-edge presidential polls and then, finally, recapturing Congress the Democrats are upbeat. The Party will make history by nominating either a woman or an African American for President. It seems like a good year to be a Democrat.

Count every vote . . . er . . . at least, we think so (read)

Dateline: 20 February 2008

Count every vote, is what Democrats shouted in Florida. Of course, what they meant was, keep looking for extra votes, but only in the counties where we are ahead. Allegations flew that Republicans were “disenfranchising” people, especially African Americans. No, said the Supreme Court, you can’t change the rules after the vote has taken place.

You will be hearing all these arguments again this summer, and even the most swivel-eyed of conspiracy theorists will not be blaming George Bush or Karl Rove. No Republicans will be involved.

One race is over (read)

Dateline: 13 February 2008

Just a few weeks ago it looked likely that the Republican race for the White House was going all the way to the Convention. John McCain won nine states on super-Tuesday – but four of them were states where Rudy Giuliani had looked like a winner until he lost in Florida. If four credible candidates had won states this race would be a marathon. Instead John McCain now has a lead that is virtually unchallengeable. He has only one serious opponent and it is much the weakest of his original rivals – Mike Huckabee. Indeed, by the time you read this, Huckabee might well have conceded.

The joy of conspiracy (read)

Dateline: 06 February 2008

Did Lyndon Johnson conspire with the CIA to have JFK assassinated? Have governments been keeping knowledge of aliens secret? Did George W Bush (and/or the Jews) have prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks? The answers to these questions would clearly be no, no, and no.

We can dismiss them one at a time, of course. The Oliver Stone theory about Lyndon Johnson killing JFK in order to prolong America’s involvement in Vietnam falls flat. Kennedy was the real hawk of the administration and committed to defending Vietnam. One of the reasons Johnson did not dare back down is that he feared Bobby Kennedy would denounce him for betraying JFK’s anti-communist legacy. That Bobby ultimately denounced him for supporting Vietnam (absurdly claiming that his brother would have withdrawn) merely shows Bobby’s opportunism.

GOP Primary: a surfeit of talent (read)

Dateline 30 January 2008

While the Democrats have the weakest field of any party, possibly ever, the Republicans’ biggest problem is a surfeit of talent. Rudy Giuliani is the outstanding leader of his generation. Mitt Romney is an expert in turning around failing organizations: in business, government and the voluntary sector. John McCain has served longer in the Senate than the Democrats’ frontrunners combined, and has a record of getting legislation passed – something curiously absent among the Democrats.

Democratic primary: vote Bill Richardson (read)

Dateline: 23 January 2008

The case for Bill Richardson can be summed up in two words: quality counts.

The Democrats this year face an embarrassing choice. Even in 1984, when they knew their candidate would be trounced, a stronger field stepped forward. It is difficult to think of any time when any party has been so ill-served.

Assessing the field (read)

Dateline: 16 January 2008

At the time of writing there have been three contests for the Republican presidential nomination. By the time you read this there will have been four, so you have me at an advantage. So far each state has been won by a different candidate, but that trend cannot continue indefinitely, and almost certainly will not hold for Michigan, which votes on 15 January. It will probably be won by either the winner of Wyoming (Mitt Romney) or the winner of New Hampshire (John McCain).

The murder of Benazir Bhutto (read)

Dateline: 09 January 2008

The Bush administration is now at odds with the government of General Musharraf in Pakistan. Musharraf’s security services claim that Benazir Bhutto, the murdered opposition leader was killed by a suicide bomber – the blast knocked her against the car she had been traveling in and broke her neck. Bhutto’s party, the Pakistani Peoples’ Party (PPP), believes she was shot in the neck and US intelligence services have information which tends to confirm that.

The year in review (read)

Dateline: 02 January 2008

At this time of year it is traditional to either make predictions for the coming year or review the year just gone. You are not going to get any predictions. By the time most of you read this, the results of the Iowa caucuses will be known – which they are not at the time of writing. It would be excessively foolish of me to make predictions in these circumstances. I could predict a stellar year for someone who has just quit national politics – as Dick Gephardt did after Iowa four years ago.

An Iowa primer (read)

Dateline: 26 December 2008

Iowa chooses losers. Iowa usually eliminates one or more of the candidates, thinning the field for future states. It is a knockout round.

In the Republican field the early states, especially Iowa on 03 January and New Hampshire on 08 January, will help decide who goes on to challenge Rudy Giuliani. On the Democrat side they will help decide who – if anyone – goes on to challenge Hillary Clinton. Iowa’s vote is just a week away, so here is the Common Sense tip sheet.

Mike Huckabee is not a conservative (read)

Dateline 12 December 2007

If, as I argued last week, the Republicans now have five leading candidates, it is plainly time to assess the latest recruit to the top tier, Mike Huckabee.

Common Sense argued in July that either Huckabee or Senator Sam Brownback could make the leap into the front of the pack, but it is not something I believed would actually come to pass.

The Republican race moves into meltdown (read)

Dateline: 05 December 2007

It has been understood for some time that the Republican race is far more open than the Democrats’. It is possibly the most open race in a governing party ever. But it has also been understood that there have been two frontrunners for most of this year, with the rest of the pack trailing.

Citibank is seeking a new CEO. (read)

Dateline; 28 November 2007

The bank should appoint Margaret L Wolff to the role. Ms Wolff is undoubtedly an intelligent woman. Of course, intelligence alone is not a qualification to run an organization as large and complex as Citibank. She is a partner with a leading New York law firm. And, though this is undoubtedly a challenging and responsible job, it is difficult to see that it has much in common with running Citibank. Ms Wolff’s principal qualification is something different. She is married to former CEO Chuck Prince. And, of course, that is how we judge married career women in today’s world – as an adjunct to their husband’s careers.

Gordon Brown is in trouble (read)

Dateline 21 November 2007

There is no doubt that British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is in trouble.

After ten years as Chancellor (Treasury Secretary) and effectively (but not formally) Tony Blair’s Deputy, he finally took over the top job in June. To refresh the government he cleared out some of Blair’s top allies and moved almost every surviving cabinet minister to a new post. It worked. The government looked new for a while. He managed to look appropriately serious in the face of natural disasters such as summer floods and farm animal disease scares. He was popular. Speculation about an early election reached fever pitch.

Six weeks out, Iowa remains hard to call (read)

Dateline: 14 November 2007

In six weeks the people of Iowa – or rather a small percentage of them – will begin the process of selecting the next US President. Technically, of course, they will merely begin the process of choosing two candidates for the presidency, but the chances of the next president being someone other than the Republican or Democratic candidate seem extremely remote.

Musharraf’s second coup (read)

Dateline: 07 November 2007

When Pervez Musharraf came to power in a military coup in 1999 it was warily welcomed in the west. Military coups are not, in general (no pun intended) a good thing. But Pakistan under Nawaz Sharif was corrupt and chaotic. Also Musharraf did not seem likely to bring back the Islamic fundamentalism of General Zia ul Haq, the previous military dictator from the 1980s.

So it proved. Musharraf struggled to lead Pakistan in an increasingly secular and pro-western direction. His government has been more secular than Sharif’s, himself only a moderate Islamist.

Does Obama expect to lose? (read)

Dateline: 31 October 2007

How to account for the behavior of Barack Obama? He used to wear a lapel pin of the American flag. He stopped doing so. When challenged he said there are different ways of showing patriotism. Well, yes, but why was a way of showing patriotism that he found appropriate a few months ago suddenly inappropriate today? He wouldn’t say. He pointedly adopted a relaxed stance and glanced nonchalantly around during the national anthem. Behind him were clearly visible Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson and John Edwards. All were standing to attention, right hands over their hearts. This is a man who has, in the past, eschewed class warfare and looked for optimism and unifying themes. What is he up to?

I suspect the real question concerns what he is not doing. He is not running for president.

A star rising in the South (read)

Dateline: 24 October 2007

Just occasionally you catch a glimpse of a rising star.

In 1956 John F Kennedy put his name forward to be Adlai Stevenson’s running mate. He didn’t quite make it. Some of his advisors – including, by some accounts, his father – thought this was a narrow escape. They, rightly, had Stevenson pegged as a loser and didn’t want JFK linked to him.

The Nobel Committee got it wrong (read)

Dateline: 17 October 2007

So, the inventor of the internet wins a Nobel peace prize. Not a bad call. A very good one in fact. Except that Al Gore never did invent the internet, he just made few speeches in Congress about it. And he won the prize for a rather bad film with quite a few inconvenient untruths in it.

Ron Paul’s flawed campaign (read)

Dateline: 10 October 2007

Which presidential candidate has the most enthusiastic supporters? That would be Ron Paul, Republican Congressman from Texas. He has run for President before. In 1988 he quit the House and the GOP to run as the candidate of the Libertarian Party. He came third with 0.47% of the popular vote.

Newt’s not running (read)

Dateline: 03 October 2007

So, Newt Gingrich is not running for President. This is no particular surprise, and this columnist did not expect that he would. The recent speculation in the media – and the announcement that he would not run – were both designed to maximize coverage for his American Solutions policy conference.

Does it matter that he is not running? And will he throw his support behind any of the candidates?

Shoot the messenger (read)

Dateline: 19 September 2007

Democrats and their operatives outside Congress have discovered a solution to “a real big problem”. The problem is the one I wrote about a few weeks ago. It is the ‘problem’ of increased democracy, security and human rights in Iraq. It is the ‘problem’ of America making small, but real, progress in the War on Terror. The solution is a mixture of denial and personal attacks on the messenger.

Denial, because they simply deny the facts on the ground. The war is going badly as viewed from the offices of The New York Times. If the view from Iraq is different then Iraqis, and others who are actually in Iraq, must be wrong.

Where America trails Europe (read)

Dateline: 12 September 2007

Your columnist is a frequent traveler to the United States and is writing this column from Washington DC. His wife is a US citizen, though they are both resident in the UK. It is a constantly entertaining game to make lists of things which work better in the UK and things which are better in the US. There may even be a discernable pattern.

The biggest thing which Americans do better than the British (or indeed anyone else) is customer service. Many of the other things are sub-categories of this: for example shoes. British shoes are sold without width fittings, other than for children. As though all adults have feet of the same width! A major exception to the rule of better customer service is airports. Common Sense has commented in detail on this in the past, but recent experience at Dulles has reinforced this. But then, what would we expect? London’s main airports are privately owned. Federal law requires all American airports to be government owned. One function of an airport is as shopping mall with a captive customer base. Would your local shopping mall be better run by the US Post Office?

Plattsburgh seen from abroad (read)

Dateline: 05 September 1814

First, my enormous thanks to the owners and editor of Lake Champlain Weekly for allowing me, an enemy national, to write this column at a time of war between our countries. This respect for freedom of speech is part of our shared Anglo-American heritage, which your country, to its great credit, has written into its Constitution. As my regular readers will know, I am a great admirer of America, and though your country is less than 40 years old, I am sure it has a great future ahead of it.

The candidate from central casting (read)

Dateline 29 August 2007

He’s been called the candidate from central casting. Time’s Joe Klein called him “the most perfect iteration I've seen of the television-era candidate” – and Klein wrote a fictionalized version of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign.

It is certainly true that Mitt Romney looks and sounds like a President in a way that no other candidate has since at least Clinton, and possibly Reagan. His résumé is replete with executive success. He was a brilliant investment fund manager and the President of the Marriot Hotel chain. He rescued the Salt Lake City Olympics from bankruptcy and scandal. As governor of Massachusetts he worked with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature to find a workable healthcare solution.

Leaders lead (read)

Dateline 22 August 2007

The separation of powers is right at the heart of the US Constitution. It was developed for several reasons. One is the basic one of checks and balances with which everyone is familiar, but there is another. Talent is not generalizable. Just because someone is good at one thing it does not mean they would be good at a different job.

The American electorate understands this instinctively. In the whole of US history just three serving members of Congress – House and Senate combined – have been elected to the Presidency. Presidents are much more likely to be drawn from the ranks of state governors. The only Washington job from which someone has a better than even chance of being elected President is . . . President. It is more often than not that Presidents get re-elected, but, while Vice-Presidents and Senators are good at becoming candidates, they are bad at winning elections.

The news from Iraq worsens (read)

Dateline: 15 August 2007

As the news from Iraq worsens, panic starts to set in.

A major paper conducts a poll which shows a dramatic shift of opinion. The shift is so big that the paper doesn’t publish the results and commissions a new poll instead. When the new poll confirms the results they publish, but bury the story on an inside page and describe the shift as “modest”.

Attacking your allies: it’s just not done (read)

Dateline: 07 August 2007

Britain’s new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, recently made his first visit to the US since assuming power. I want you to imagine that a candidate for President said that we all know there are terrorists in London and “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and Gordon Brown won’t act, we will.”

What did the Governor know and when did he know it? (read)

Dateline: 01 August 2007

If Karl Rove, the President’s campaign and communications advisor had been exposed as misusing government resources to blacken the name of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, I think we could guarantee blanket negative coverage of this by the mainstream media. In fact we have had the bizarre spectacle of more than two years standing in which ridiculous non-entities like Joseph Wilson have been given huge coverage in their campaign against Rove. Wilson wanted to see Rove “removed from the White House in chains” over a leak involving Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame.

The battle for Africa (read)

Datelin: 25 July 2007

It is a little over 200 years since Malthus predicted that the world was on the point of running out of food. Population grows geometrically, he pointed out, but food production just arithmetically. Starvation and poverty were around the corner.

When Malthus developed his theories the world was home to just under one billion people. Today it is more than six billion, and they are better fed, better clothed and better housed than ever before. Malthus was more comprehensively wrong than almost anyone else in history, and yet he still has his admirers today.

Room for one more? (read)

Dateline: 18 July 2007

At the beginning of the year the GOP had a ‘big three’ group of presidential contenders: John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. McCain and Giuliani dominated the polls, but Romney was putting together a very professional campaign under the radar and looked poised to strike. The only discussion about an outsider joining this group focused on Newt Gingrich.

Fundraising – the second quarter stats are in (read)

Dateline: 11 July 2007

Figures for second quarter fundraising by the various presidential candidates are now in. There are a number of key stories below the headline figures and, as usual, good news for some and bad for others.

Obama: In the first quarter Obama narrowly trailed Clinton. This time he beat her by a handy $5 million. But it gets better. Nearly all of Obama’s money is for the primaries. Some of Clinton’s is for the general, and cannot be legally spent on her primary campaign. On that measure Obama won the first quarter too, and in the second quarter he outperformed Clinton and Edwards combined.

The evolving Vice-Presidency (read)

Dateline: 04 July 2007

What exactly, does a Vice-President do? The original version of the Constitution gave the job to the runner up in the Presidential election. The post attracted heavyweight leaders: Adams and Jefferson. But this proved unworkable. Jefferson was both Vice-President and leader of the opposition. And giving Electors two votes lead to the Jefferson-Burr tie in the 1800 election.

The problem with Al Gore (read)

Dateline: 27 June 2007

Each of the two parties has a ‘big three’ of Presidential candidates; one outsider challenging; and a wild card who may enter the race. For the Republicans the wild card is Newt Gingrich, whom Common Sense discussed last year. For the Democrats it is former Vice-President, Al Gore.

Gore, if selected, would be the first major party candidate since Richard Nixon to get a second chance at the presidency. They have other things in common. They were rather wooden senators selected as running mates by charismatic candidates. Both served two terms as Vice-President and lost narrow – and controversial –elections to the presidency. Both may have won the popular vote while losing in the Electoral College.

The effect of third parties (read)

Dateline: 20 June 2007

In the Twentieth Century, third party candidates were a major feature in just three presidential elections: 1912, 1968 and 1992. Of those three occasions, only one – 1912 – genuinely affected the outcome of the election. It enabled Democrat, Woodrow Wilson to win during a period otherwise dominated by the Republicans.

Enter, stage right (read)

Dateline: 13 June 2007

For about a year, bloggers and the commentariat have been talking about the ‘big three’ in the Republican primary campaign: Giuliani, McCain and Romney. By now people are getting bored with this field, and the weaknesses of the three have been explored endlessly. Understandably, some have been calling for a new candidate to enter the field, and it looks as though those calls have been answered.

The only question that remains is this: is Fred Thompson just a temporary blip in the polls, as a response to big-three-fatigue, or will he stay the course as a leading contender.

On the rights of small countries (read)

Dateline 06 June 2007

Imagine you live in a small country of 1.3 million people – the same as Maine or New Hampshire. Imagine that next door (to the east) is a country 100 times larger. Further south and west, another country some 60 times your size. Almost 300 years ago, your country was conquered by your eastern neighbor, though it had previously been under the control of a maritime country lying to your west. There followed over 200 years of occupation. Between the end of the first world war and the beginning of the second your country was independent. This was followed by another 50 years of brutal occupation.

France: old or new? (read)

Dateline 30 May 2007

It was Donald Rumsfeld who divided Europe into “old Europe” and “new Europe”. Old Europe means the hardcore of countries which comprise the European Union. Of those, France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg were hardline opponents of the Iraq war. New Europe incorporated the swathe of ex-communist countries which entered the European Union in 2005 and 2007. Where Britain, and Spain – longstanding EU nations which joined the Iraq War Coalition – or Italy and Holland, founder members which did the same, fit on this analysis is unclear.

The long goodbye (read)

Dateline: 11 May 2007

Tony Blair is to resign in June. After ten years in office he is not only the only living person to have led his Labour Party to victory in a general election, he is the only Labour leader ever to achieve three consecutive victories. First elected at only 44, he seems to combine for his party the characteristics of JFK and FDR. Except for one thing: his party doesn't really like him very much.

John Edwards – almost there (read)

Dateline: 04 May 2007

John Edwards has always been part of the pack of contenders for 2008, but has never broken out of the pack. Most were predicting, after his decent performance in 2004, that he would be running second to Hillary Clinton. Second place in the primary polls is not a bad place to be. The front-runner experiences all sorts of pressures, and critics tend to rally round whomever looks best placed to challenge. That might be particularly true with a front-runner such as Hillary Clinton, with famously high negatives.

If I could travel in time (read)

Dateline: 27 April 2007

It would be to August 1991. I would want a word in the ear of one of the century's most important politicians.

Boris Yeltsin was at the height of his powers, both politically and personally. The Soviet Union was still intact, just. Yeltsin was its only elected politician. He was drinking, not to excess, and the heart operation was in the future.

Facts about fundraising (read)

Dateline 20 April 2007

One measure the commentariat applies to electoral campaigns is fundraising. It gives us real numbers to look at. This far out from the 2008 primaries, polls mostly measure name recognition so another measure is useful.

Fundraising, has a clear weakness – it is not a particularly good predictor of electoral success. Several big fundraisers have flopped in the actual primary votes, including John Connally (1980), Phil Gramm (1996) and Howard Dean (2004). Other candidates with large personal fortunes that made fundraising unnecessary – such as Ted Kennedy (1980), Steve Forbes (1996 and 2000) – also crashed. John Kerry, who falls into the same category, won his primaries but went on to lose the general.

On the firing of attorneys (read)

Dateline 13 April 2007

2007 is not, of course, the first time that a President of one party has faced a Congress controlled by the other. It was actually the post-war norm. Jimmy Carter is the only President since Lyndon Johnson to serve his entire term with Congress controlled by his own party.

So what is the UN for? (read)

Dateline 06 April 2007

British Foreign Secretaries like to boast that the country ‘punches above its weight’ in matters of foreign affairs. Britain sits at the intersection of some powerful international organizations. My country is one of the largest, and wealthiest, members of the European Union with a permanent (veto-wielding) seat on the UN Security Council. It is the spiritual home of the 53-member Commonwealth of Nations. Britain has a global influence that far exceeds what might be expected of so small a country.

Making your child’s choices (read)

Dateline 28 March 2007

What should your child have for breakfast this morning? Why not phone Eliot Spitzer and ask him? After all, Eliot knows your child better than you do, right? Eliot knows your child’s tastes and nutritional needs. Eliot knows all about your child’s allergies.

Or maybe, just maybe, Eliot doesn’t. Maybe Eliot doesn’t know your child at all, and cannot make complex judgements about every individual child in the state.

Eeyore vs Tigger (read)

Dateline: 21 March 2007

Eeyore’s home is called “Eeyore’s gloomy place” and his favorite food is thistles – though he doesn’t like thistles very much.

Tigger, of course, is much more upbeat. It is well established that bouncing is what tiggers do best.

The candidates who are not (read)

Dateline: 14 February 2007

What do you call someone who has been in the Senate as long as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama combined? What do you call someone who has as much experience in a governor’s mansion as Bill Richardson and Mark Warner combined – more, in fact, than George W Bush? What do you call someone who has won statewide five times in a state otherwise very inhospitable to his party and holds the record for the largest margin of victory by any member of his party in that state?

Flashbulb memory (read)

Dateline: 07 February 2007

They say that everyone can remember what they were doing when they first heard of the Kennedy assassination. They say it a lot, though it is probably not true.

“Flashbulb” memory is an intriguing phenomenon. John Kerry talked about a memory of being in Cambodia being “seared, seared, into his brain”. It didn’t happen. He talked about being ordered there by Richard Nixon – though Lyndon Johnson was President at the time. He talked about hearing the news of Martin Luther King’s assassination in Vietnam, though if so he heard the news many months after King’s funeral.

Repealing the XVIIth (read)

Dateline: 28 February 2007

The XVIth, XVIIth, and XVIIIth amendments to the Constitution, passed between 1913 and 1919, greatly expanded the power of the federal government with respect to the states. The XVIIIth, prohibition, has been repealed. The others deserve separate examination and this column is dedicated to deconstructing the XVIIth.

The pros and cons of a famous name (read)

Dateline: 21 February 2007

Let’s look at a presidential candidate who isn’t running. A two-term governor with a record of cutting taxes and introducing school choice, he took a state which the Democrats had held for almost two centuries and captured the governor’s mansion and legislature for the Republicans. He remains popular in the second largest of the states that twice voted Bush. So why isn’t he running? Because of his name: Jeb Bush.

The rise and rise and Mitt Romney (read)

Dateline: 31 January 2007

If you were devising a candidate for a presidential run, what would you throw into the mix? Executive experience, obviously, so probably a governor. But not a policy wonk or professional politician: someone with private sector experience as well. A proven ability to win in territory inhospitable to your party would be a good thing. Ties to some of the early voting primary states and key swing states would be useful. Strong ties to tight regions like the Mid-West and interior West, where there are many swing states, would certainly help. Family connections have proved useful in the past. Oh, and good hair!

The maverick who can (read)

Dateline 24 January 2007

In what is shaping up to be a fascinating election year, no candidate divides the commentariat and blogosphere as sharply as Rudy Giuliani.

Opinions vary from those who regard him as the hot favorite to those who say he will be crushed in the primaries, and could not, in any case win the general. On the whole I am in the camp that says he would be a formidable candidate in the general election. His proven ability to win over independents and Democrats more than counters the lukewarm feelings of the base. A Republican who pulled in an extra 5% in the North East and upper MidWest would pull in five states (and more than sixty electoral votes) that went for Kerry, as well as securing three otherwise doubtful states that narrowly voted for Bush. Slipping by 5% in the Bible Belt would cost the Republicans nothing, as the GOP margins in those states are huge.

Obama Rising (read)

Dateline 17 January 2007

In a matter of months, since speculation first began late last year, Barack Obama has established himself as one of the three front-runners for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008. It is a remarkable achievement for a man less than halfway through his first term as a US Senator.

Anthony Blair, you have the right to remain silent . . . (read)

Dateline 10 January 2007

"Anthony Blair, you have the right to remain silent, but it may harm your defence if you fail to mention now something you later seek to rely on in court. Anything you do say will be written down and given in evidence." Actually, it wasn’t quite like that. Tony Blair was questioned by the police, but not under caution. We are thus to assume that he was questioned as a possible witness to a crime and not as a suspect. He is, nonetheless, the first British Prime Minister in the 250-year history of the office to be questioned as part of a criminal investigation.

An obituary for Gerald Ford (read)

Dateline: 03 January 2007

Michigan is the eighth largest state and sits at the heart of the tightest swing region. It is the Mid West that chooses presidents. Just as a Republican would find it hard to win without Ohio, a Democrat who cannot carry Michigan would be struggling to find a majority in the Electoral College.

A preview of 2008 (read)

Dateline: 13 December 2006

What will America seek in a candidate? Being closely related to a previous president is a big boost in the fundraising stakes. But it could be a handicap when the primaries are over. There is something that feels not quite right about following a sequence of Bush-Clinton-Bush with another Clinton or another Bush. Jeb Bush, the outgoing governor of Florida, recognizes this and has declared that he will not run. But he is known to be politically ambitious and motivated. Always more political than his elder brother, he was the one his parents expected to see in the White House. If he ever wants to run, the chance of fighting Hillary Clinton for the post must be tempting. Why not take on the one candidate who could not accuse him of running on his family’s name?

Round up of 2006 - The losers (read)

The biggest loser of 2006 was, undoubtedly, the President. George W Bush had, as Presidents always do, a mixed year. An Iraqi court sentencing Saddam to death was an undoubted triumph, and in the long term may be seen as the most significant event of the year, but in terms of its immediate implications it was swamped by the Republican losses in November. It is a long time since a party has faced only losses in the mid-term elections. Republicans did not take a single governorship, House seat, or Senate seat that they did not hold the day before the election. It is not even clear that any American party has ever faced losses on this scale without any countervailing gains.

Round up of 2006 – the winners (read)

In a year the Democrats gained the House and Senate and took a majority of the governorships for the first time since 1994, most of the winners are Democrats. The losers – the focus of next week’s roundup – are dominated by Republicans.

What to get for the person who has everything: a goat (read)

Dateline 06 December 2006

As we turn our attention to buying presents for friends and relatives the age-old problem arises. Everyone except John Kerry’s wife knows at least one person who is richer than they are. How do you buy a present for someone who has everything they might want, except for a handful of things that are out of your price range?

The meaning of Thanksgiving (read)

Dateline: 29 November 2006

The conflict has been there since the beginning of America’s first colonies, and it rages still. It is why Massachusetts, Virginia and Pennsylvania are called ‘commonwealths’ not states and it is why people across America have resorted to legislative initiative to tame executives and judiciaries that are out of control. It is a fight for a freedom more fundamental than those guaranteed by the Bill of Rights: the right of people to the fruits of their labor. The ultimate guarantee of individual freedom and sovereignty: property.

The fights for Congressional Leadership (read)

Dateline: 22 November 2006

As expected, the new Minority Leader in the Senate is to be Mitch McConnell, a right wing master of Senate procedure who was number two to Bill Frist. Frist, of course, retired from the Senate to pursue Presidential ambitions. The Republican Whip will be Trent Lott, the GOP’s former Senate Leader, who defeated Lamar Alexander for the role by one vote.

The election and its aftermath (read)

Dateline 15 November 2006

The results are in. All that remains is the post-mortem. Everyone will offer simplistic answers. Some Democrats – mostly bloggers - will claim it is a mandate to impeach the President. Most will claim that it was principally about the Iraq War. While this was certainly a factor, there is no evidence that it was the major factor.

Waiting for Eliot (read)

Dateline 08 November 2006

Barring the most astonishing electoral upset in history, Eliot Spitzer will, by the time you read this, be governor-elect of New York. History will come to view him as one of the most damaging figures in the history of the state. It is difficult to imagine that he will, as governor, do anything to counter the damage he has already done to American business, or even that he would wish to do so. As governor, he will probably continue to make things much worse.

New York endorsements (read)

Dateline: 01 November 2006

The election takes place next Tuesday, except, of course, for those of you who have already voted. It is time for Common Sense to make its endorsements. Few of the elections are likely to be close, and my endorsements will not change the outcome, but it would be remiss of this column to let such important elections pass without engaging in this longstanding media tradition. Particularly when it is certain that the state will elect a new governor and possible that control of Congress will change.

Two elections this November (read)

Dateline: 25 October 2006

I want you to imagine a country facing an upcoming election. Let’s see if we can guess who will win.

 Economic growth for the first half of 2006 was over 4% at an annualized rate.

 Taxes have been regularly cut since 2001.

The Arabs of the north (read)

Dateline: 18 October 2006

It is inconvenient that some of the world’s largest oil reserves are in unstable regions populated by some people and governments who wish America harm. The result is, among other things, a $60 price tag on a barrel of oil and consequent $3 a gallon for gas. The oil price is now down 25% on recent highs, and gas is, slowly, following it downward.

But what of the long-term? What will the uncertain future of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq mean for the price of filling your tank?

Mark Foley – the wider implications (read)

Dateline: 11 October 2006

The resignation of Mark Foley has a number of serious implications, which are worth exploring, but first, Foley himself.

Mark Foley was one of the many gay people who was neither ‘out’ nor ‘in’. He did not declare his sexuality on his website. But it was no secret from those who knew him socially and he did not lead a double life with a wife and family living back in his district.

The most exciting Senate races this November II (read)

Dateline: 04 October 2006

Democrat vs Democrat

Connecticut sees primary victor, Ned Lamont, facing off against the loser, and former Veep candidate, Joe Lieberman. Lamont is against the war, and seems to have solidified his lead among Democrats, but in the general election independents and Republicans can vote too, so Lieberman retains a small lead. Confusingly, the Republican candidate is against the war, probably why his support is in single figures. Democrats did not want this fight, as it puts Democrat divisions on national security at the top of the news, but now they are stuck with it. Tossup.

The most exciting Senate races this November I (read)

Dateline: 27 September 2006

Democrat targets

The President’s approval ratings remain low and generic polls (“which party would you be most likely to vote for?”) give an edge to the Democrats, though perhaps by less than in the summer. So the seats most likely to change hands are ones the Democrats are targeting.

Deserving winners and losers (read)

Dateline 20 September 2006

In less than two months time America will elect the last Congress of George W Bush’s Presidency, and more than half the states – including New York – will elect a governor. New York is one of the states with an open gubernatorial election, so even if the result was in doubt we could still be sure the state was getting a new governor.

Putting Plame to bed (read)

Dateline: 13 September 2006

We can now, almost, put one of the most convoluted and irrelevant ‘scandals’ of recent years to bed. We now know who ‘outed’ Valerie Plame. Unfortunately, we have also learned things which put special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in an even more unfavorable light.

The nuclear option (read)

Dateline 8 September 2006

The Battle of Plattsburgh was one of the decisive engagements of War of 1812 – the last time that my country and yours were in action against each other. Indeed, Americans have fought Americans more recently than they have fought the British.

Today there are few countries more closely allied than the UK and USA. Our troops are in action alongside each other in Afghanistan and Iraq. Perhaps soon in Syria or Iran.

Eight missing years (read)

Dateline: 30 August 2006

In 1998, Bill Clinton was President and his wife was the unemployed member of the family. It was the year she coined the phrase ‘vast right wing conspiracy’. Paula Jones accused the President of sexual harassment and we heard of Monica Lewinsky for the first time. Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House. Sonny Bono and Lloyd Bridges died; the Spice Girls were the biggest band in the world, though Geri (Ginger Spice) quit part way through the year. Yahoo! and AltaVista were the major internet search engines, though in California a couple of Stanford doctoral students founded Google.

GOP troubles: Judge Taylor to the rescue (read)

Dateline: 23 August 2006

A judge appointed by President Carter has decided to hand November’s Congressional elections to the Republicans. What an odd thing for her to do.

By tortured reasoning Judge Anna Diggs Taylor has arrived at a judgement which she knows cannot possibly stand, because it flies in the face of a previous ruling by the Supreme Court. But as a result she has put to the very top of the political agenda an issue on which Republicans have margins over the Democrats of up to two to one.

Bloomberg for President (read)

Dateline: 16 August 2006

Mike Bloomberg is a popular mayor in a city the size of a state. It has more than twice the population of the state which Bill Clinton governed when he ran for the Presidency. A lifelong Democrat he switched to the Republicans in 2001, reportedly to avoid the crowded field in the mayoral primary. He is not beholden to any party or special interest. He funds his own campaigns and outspends his opponents by five or ten to one, without accepting a cent from lobbyists or the taxpayer.

Death and tyranny (read)

Dateline: 09 August 2006

By the time you read this, Fidel Castro may be dead. In fact at the time of writing he may be dead. With totalitarian dictators it is often difficult to tell. General Francisco Franco, Josip Broz Tito, and an endless succession of Soviet leaders all hung around with what were officially described as minor ailments while subordinates jockeyed for their positions.

We may not be able to establish easily or reliably whether Castro is dead or alive, but we can be pretty firm on one thing: he is or was a monstrously evil man.

The problem of gerrymandering (read)

The principle of democracy is that electors get to choose their representatives. The principle of gerrymandering is that representatives get to choose their electors. This can lead to some absurd distortions. It is designed to do so.

Let us look at a few examples. First, let us dispose of one. A few weeks ago the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Texas Democrats against a mid-decade redistricting in that state. The argument was partly that redistricting should not take place mid-decade, that it ‘disenfranchised’ minority voters, but mostly that it cost the Democrats six seats they felt entitled to hold. It provoked what Washington Post blogger Chris Cillizza called ‘a spin war of massive proportions’. It was controversial, but it was not, in any meaningful sense of the word, gerrymandering. In fact it was de-gerrymandering.

Islam and Israel (read)

The state of Israel is almost sixty years old. It has been in a formal state of war every day since then. Formal states of war often exist when there is no actual fighting. But in the case of Israel, there has been a permanent fighting war too. Some periods have been quieter than others. Many have been quieter than the past week. None has been without bloodshed.

Why has the violence flared up now? What is different about July 2006 that did not also apply in June 2006, or even the summer of 2005.

The question of Newt (read)

Eight years ago there were obvious front-runners for the Presidency: George W Bush and Al Gore. Today, the battle in both parties is far more open. I have already looked at the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and John McCain . It is time to look at the most interesting candidate in either party: Newt Gingrich.

Gay marriage: a matter for debate (read)

The New York Court of Appeals has generously decided that it is up to legislative (and democratic) processes to decide whether gay marriage shall be recognized in New York State.

This may seem obvious. If you want to change the law, there are procedures for doing this: public debates; you may watch the state legislature debate the matter either on TV or from the public gallery. You may read accounts of the deliberations in the media or in the verbatim record. If you do not like the position your state legislator takes, you may vote them out of office.

To whom does race matter? (read)

Does race really matter in American politics? And if so, to whom? For some time there has been a disconnect between the party that wins most of the black votes (the Democrats) and the party that promotes black individuals into powerful positions (the Republicans).

Who are the most influential African Americans today? Clarence Thomas and Condoleeza Rice are the first names that spring to mind. Of course, that is partly because there is currently a Republican administration. But, in eight years, did Bill Clinton make cabinet appointments of the stature of Rice or Colin Powell?

Of RINOs and DINOs (read)

Two US Senators face serious primary challenges this year. Neither is guaranteed victory. They are Lincoln Chafee (R, RI) and Joe Lieberman (D, CT). Except that a great many people would change the party names to RINO and DINO. That’s Republican/Democrat In Name Only.

The truth about federal pay rates (read)

How do you think the pay of federal workers compares with workers in the private sector? If you ask this question around you get a wide variety of answers. Government unions claim that government workers are underpaid – but then, union officials are paid to say that. Others agree that government workers are not highly paid, but suggest that the work is light, so overall it is a good deal. Another school of thought is that wages in government service are not high, but government workers more than make up for this with high benefits, such as health insurance and pension contributions. Government critics take another view – that the jobs are well paid and there are generous fringe benefits.

The end of Zarqawi (read)

Ali, Mohammed, & Omar Fadhil, of the Iraqi blog Iraq The Model.

It is difficult not to be caught up in the moment. It rivals the tearing down of Saddam’s statue or the arrest of Saddam himself. This is not the end of the violence in Iraq. But, step by incremental step, the Iraqi people are taking control of their own country.

Time to fix reception (read)

There is a disconcerting habit in business to regard the reception desk as an unimportant part of the business offering. If a receptionist is ill or you need to hire a new one, just send to the nearest temp agency. And yet, every person who walks in your door meets the receptionist first. If the post is combined – as it usually is in all but the largest organizations – with switchboard operator, nearly everyone who makes unsolicited contact with your business contacts the receptionist first.

Does the internet need regulating? (read)

Let’s start with the obvious. We would all welcome a method of dealing with spam. We would like to eliminate child pornography. We wish al Qaeda did not have access to e-mail, and preferably not even to carrier pigeon. Drug smugglers, people traffickers, fraudsters . . . all use the internet, and we wish they would stop.

But those campaigning for regulation are falling into the oldest trap in politics. The logic goes like this. We must do something. This is something. So we must do this.

The charmed life of the Kennedys (read)

Dateline: 10 May 2006

It’s three AM. You are driving your Ford Mustang convertible without any lights. You crash into a police barrier. It sounds like you are in trouble, but it gets worse.

You stagger out of the car – perhaps this is not surprising, after the crash. But some accounts say your eyes were red and you smelled of alcohol. You offer what can only be described as a ridiculous explanation. You are rushing, you say, to an engagement at work. But in reality your place of work closed hours ago. It’s only a few weeks since your last auto accident. Uh oh!

Are there limits to growth? (read)

Dateline 03 May 2006

When writing recently about India, I pointed out that economic growth in the country is around 6% per annum, almost double the usual rate for the US and around treble what is common in continental Europe. Poorer countries often grow faster than richer ones. It closes the international gap. Indeed when the US was first industrializing, its growth rate too was much higher.

Time to reshuffle the pack (read)

Dateline 26 April 2006

At the time of writing, John Snow is still the US Treasury Secretary, which makes it a little difficult to tell the overall direction of the President’s cabinet reshuffle. New faces at the Office of Management and Budget and as Chief of Staff are important, but not exactly high profile.

Challenges facing the Democrats (read)

Dateline 19 April 2006

There seems to be a growing consensus that the Democrats are on course for major gains in November’s mid-term elections. Commentators and opinion pollsters are both pretty clear on this.

Clear trends in Iraqi violence (read)

Dateline 12 April 2006

It’s a disaster. The predictions have proved hopelessly inaccurate. The figures are explicit and show clear trends. That these figures have remained hidden from the American people is a disgrace. It really is time those who have deceived people about Iraq for all this time took responsibility for this mess and resigned.

A path through the immigration maze (read)

Dateline 05 April 2006

“America is a nation of immigrants. It makes no sense for the country to turn its back on its history, and everything that has made it the foremost power in the world”. Discuss.

“America is a nation of laws. As a country, the resolve to punish law breakers and reward the law abiding remains essential”. Discuss.

The year of the women? (read)

Dateline: 29 March 2006

If Democrats have their way, the New York Times assures us, the 2006 elections will be the revenge of the Mommy Party. Certainly the Democrats are running high profile women candidates in a series of winnable Congressional seats. It may help them take control of the House.

Senate squabble (read)

Dateline: 22 March 2006

A respected Senator places a motion before the Senate. Immediately, dark forces conspire to ensure this motion shall never be voted on. It is not that anyone expects the resolution to pass, but so dangerous is it, that people should not even be obliged to take a position one way or the other. Preferably, it should not even be discussed.

Guantanamo: the news that’s not fit to print (read)

This article was first published in March 2006. Among the things that have not changed since then are that Kofi Anan and other critics of Guantanamo have still not been there and that the media still give more credence to their views than to those of people who have.

The importance of India (read)

Dateline 08 March 2006

There will come a time when, for both good and ill, India is America’s most important trading partner. The trade paranoids, who currently rail against China and in the 80s attacked Japan, will see India as the overriding enemy. Businesspeople will see India as their greatest opportunity and their greatest rival.

Free speech and free trade (read)

Dateline 24 February 2006

Some cartoons are printed in Denmark which many millions find offensive. People riot in Europe and the Middle East. The Syrian government participates in an attack on the Danish embassy – technically Danish territory, and therefore an act of war against the NATO alliance, including the USA.

Should Cheney resign? (read)

Dateline: 17 February 2006

Hands up everyone who thinks Dick Cheney should resign because he injured a fellow hunter. Hands up if you think he should resign because he didn’t tell the media about the accident for 24 hours.

How might John Mcain mobilize Republican voters? (read)

John McCain is already a hero. He needs an agenda that will appeal to Republicans and independents in equal measure.

Boehner's election (read)

Dateline: 08 February 2006

To understand one important element of the recent House leadership election, it is necessary to understand what an earmark is.

An earmark is a special clause inserted in bill – often a totally unrelated, but popular bill, such as support for Navy widows – that sets aside funds for specific purposes. The earmark is usually inserted by a powerful Congressman. Usually the money goes to a company or other organization in the Congressman’s district.

Two elections (read)

Canada elects Conservatives, and America's Republicans have the chance to do the same

Conspiracy theories are everywhere (read)

Could Karl Rove be behind talk of impeaching Bush?

Where are America’s friends? (read)

Where are America's friends today?

Double standards in the media (read)

How can powers which Bill Clinton exercised without controversy suddenly be impeachable ofences?

One soul at a time (read)

You can change the world and change your life as well

Good news and bad news (read)

Good news from Baghdad and bad news from Hong Kong

Ups and downs in 2005 (read)

As the year draws to a close, it is traditional to consider who is up and who is down

A clever politician (read)

As Hillary Clinton moves to the center media commentators call it clever positioning . . . I am not so sure

The ties that bind (read)

Cricket may bore most people, but as long as it excites the Indian sub-continent there is hope for peace

The end of uncertainty (read)

Uncertainty is a key part of life. Do we know how to live without it?

Technology is freedom (read)

New technology is always greeted with suspicion, but always enhances our lives

Race in America (read)

Things are changing in America. It is time to recognize it.

Civilization is coming home (read)

Civilization is returning to the world's oldest country

Common Sense updates (read)

Recently three stories that we have been following in Common Sense have come to something of a climax. So this week’s column, unusually, has three diverse subject areas.

Syria: a time to choose (read)

Syria needs to choose to join the fight against terror or be engulfed by it.

Regime change and self defence (read)

The case for regime change falls within self-defence - provided it is done without cowardice

The case for William Weld (read)

If it is, as I argued here critically important that New Yorkers reject Eliot Spitzer in next year’s gubernatorial election, then it is equally critical that Republicans find a credible and electable candidate.

Justice and the plea bargain (read)

In September 2005 I wrote this piece about Eliot Spitzer. Now the man is just days from election as governor of New York.

New York State will next year vote in an election in which a deeply ambitious politician will lay down a marker for the Presidency. No, not Hillary Clinton, Eliot Spitzer.

When the wind blows (read)

Who has shown leadership in the afermath of Katrina?

Cindy Sheehan and the Tipping Point (read)

Could Cindy Sheehan's campaign for a second meeting with the President mark a turning point in the American debate about Iraq? I hope not. It would show a terrible weakness in the quality of American public debate if it did.

The second iron lady? (read)

Is Angela Merkel Europe’s second iron lady? Here are some questions and answers that may help to clarify.

What is going on in Ohio? (read)

The famously decisive state of the 2004 elections could turn out to be a key battleground in 2006 and 2008, so the answer potentially affects all Americans.

Paris in August (read)

To an Anglo-Saxon, Paris is a mass of contradictions

The lineup for 2008 (read)

The editor comes late to the debate on the 2008 race

Wilson lied, but his wife won’t die (read)

Ambassador Joe Wilson is the only person in the Valerie Plame kerfuffle who has definitively lied. His wife is the only person guilty of professional misconduct. So why are there calls for Karl Rove to resign?

Is there life on other planets? (read)

Can we calculate the odds of life on other planets?

Whatever happened to the backyard inventor? (read)

From Wells to the 1950s science fiction was dominated by the idea of the inventor who would fly to the Moon

Terror in London (read)

The day after terror attacks on London, I try to add some perspective

The truth in the Downing Street Memos (read)

If you read the whole memo, it vindicates Bush

Be careful what you wish for (read)

Conservative critics of the Supreme Court have long been hoping for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement. They may begin to regret that.

Taxpayers have rights too (read)

Could a taxpayers' bill of rights come to New York?

The Price of the Iowa caucuses (read)

Common Sense looks at the law of comparative advantage

Political conjunctions (read)

The real division in politics is one of grammar

Cutting through the fog on stem cell research (read)

Politicians don't seem to have any right answers on stem cell research - but there is no shortage of wrong or stupid ones.

Is there a case for electoral reform? (read)

A Common Sense look at America's electoral system

Michael Jackson’s trial (read)

If Jackson were not a celebrity, would a case this feeble have even reached the courts?

How to solve poverty (read)

Politicians on the left think they have the solution to poverty. But all they have are more problems.

The case for school choice (read)

A Common Sense look at education reform

I am safe enough, thank you. I don’t need to be any safer. (read)

A Common Sense look at the safety-Nazis

Of pyramids and pension scams (read)

Common Sense looks at reform of Social Security

Parliament Dissolved (read)

The first article in my series COMMON SENSE published in the Lake Champlain Weekly, New York.

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