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Willisms

« October 2007 | WILLisms.com | December 2007 »

Democratic Debate Scorecard.

Viva Las Vegas

Last night, the Democrats, minus Mike Gravel (who is still running, believe it or not), took the stage in Las Vegas, Nevada to debate who is the most socialist, pro-union, anti-war, anti-Bush, pro-tax hike, anti-trade, pro-abortion candidate of the lot.

And they all won. Or lost, depending on how you look at it.

Actually, though, there were very real differences in the candidates. Some did really terribly bad, while others did just sort of terribly bad. To put these relative performances into perspective, imagine that the candidates, while some did better than others, are all at the very bottom of the wrong end of a typical bell curve. Some were just awful enough to crack the bottom 2%, while others were bad enough to make the bottom .1%.

Imagine it something like this:

democratbellcurve.gif

First, let's take the two major frontrunner types, Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Hillary Clinton was allegedly on the ropes after the last debate, where she simultaneously took several different positions on driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. She recovered completely on this issue and essentially "won" this debate, assuming the only two candidates who mattered were Clinton and Obama.

Barack Obama was asked the very same question that tripped Hillary Clinton up last time, and he muttered and fumbled and equivocated almost as badly as Clinton did before. He missed several softball lobs he could have knocked out of the park. Overall, Obama came across as favoring huge tax increases, favoring holding hands with enemy leaders, and favoring ethereal concepts over actual American security. Obama may be well-groomed and articulate, as Joe Biden might say, but he needs a great deal more political seasoning before he will be ready for the big stage.

Again, if this debate was between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, which it was, Obama certainly did not gain any ground, and Clinton did not lose any.

toptierdemsclintonobama.gif

The entire middle tier of candidates, meanwhile, is comprised of John Edwards. The middle tier is not always such a terrible place to be, especially at this point in the game. Sometimes, when the top tier candidates destroy each other, or falter on their own, the middle tier candidates become "Plan B." John Kerry, the very definition of mediocre, became the Democrats' nominee after candidates in front of him, including Howard Dean in an infamous way, imploded.

That's not going to happen this time. There aren't enough top tier candidates to destroy each other. There aren't enough middle tier candidates to come to the rescue. John Edwards must, deep down, realize he is making no traction whatsoever, so he has shifted gears in a big way; his current attack dog strategy is not very flattering, however, and he is suffering for it. At one point, after Campbell Brown asked Hillary a softball question about politics being an all-boys club, Wolf Blitzer gave the others a chance to respond. The appropriate response would have been to wait for the next question. John Edwards seized the moment, however, and-- although he was not saying anything inherently mean-spirited-- was met with boos from the audience. How dare he attack a woman, essentially, was the statement there.

midtieredwards.gif

John Edwards is only second tier because of the name recognition he has left over from 2004. Otherwise, he'd be bottom tier.

Speaking of bottom tier, Governor Richardson has been the biggest bust of the entire campaign. He should be pulling in far more votes than he is based on his Governorship (why so few Governors this year?) and his Ambassadorship and so on, but he is just terrible. It's pretty clear that he has earned his reputation as a candidate seeking the VP slot more than anything else.

Meanwhile, Dennis Kucinich was the biggest winner before the debate. Yes, he won bigtime when Alaskan has-been Mike Gravel was omitted from the debate lineup. Kucinich once again became the lone candidate who is truly off the deep end. Cuckoo.

Meanwhile, the two white-haired, white-skinned, old, male, Northeastern Senators performed the best in the debate, but the best is still not enough. It might not even be enough to move into a VP slot. Joe Biden has learned from earlier debates that he is most popular when he is not filibustering. He now seems resigned to the fact that he is not gaining in the polls, not raking in the funds, and not really being taken seriously as a candidate, which has made him more relaxed and jovial on stage. It is funny that all the other candidates point to him with great regularity in agreement, as if he is the arbiter of appropriate policy, yet he will forever be known as the guy who goes on weekend morning political talk shows and yammers on pedantically.

Chris Dodd, meanwhile, of all the candidates on stage, gives the most succinct, fulfilling answers, and seems to understand that protecting America is the number one duty of the President, yet he still is going nowhere with the base of the Democratic Party. If I were forced to pick one of the Democrats, it would probably be Senator Dodd.

bottomtierdemocrats.gif

The "winner" of the debate would have to be Senator Clinton. She reestablished herself as the front runner of the pack, steadying her waffling and refusing to pander to the far left on the war. While her performance in the debate was good for about third place, behind Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, they are irrelevant and thus she is the winner by default.

Senator Obama, while not nearly as disappointing as Governor Richardson, just fails to deliver, again and again. It looked briefly like Obama might benefit indirectly from John Edwards' anti-Hillary laser beam. Unfortunately for Obama, Hillary seems to have deflected the attacks back onto John Edwards. Indeed, Edwards is only damaging himself at this point, and he is not really helping Barack Obama.

Pretty soon, Obama will need to step up to the range and take his own aim at the leader, Senator Clinton, because the potential attack surrogates will not be around much longer, and most of them-- save, perhaps, Dennis Kucinich-- won't dare resist the Hillary Clinton machine.

Posted by Will Franklin · 16 November 2007 01:09 PM · Comments (4)

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 462 -- Worldwide Tax Trends.

Wrong Way On A One Way Track-

The world, looking to the American economic juggernaut for guidance, is becoming more like us with each passing day. Some countries have even become more like the United States than-- well-- the United States itself.

Take the past 15 years or so of tax policy changes in the OECD, for example. Art Laffer has the data (.pdf):

lafferoecd30.gif

What this tells us is that "the world" (the part we compete against, at any rate) is dropping its tax rates in most major categories in order to become more competitive. In some categories, the OECD average is actually lower than the United States average. Ruh, roh. It seems fairly obvious that we had better watch these changes closely and be prepared to act to keep our country's various competitive tax advantages intact.

Oops. We just recently put Charlie Rangel in charge of taxes, so not only are we not poised to become more competitive, we're poised to help our competitors. For example, as Kevin Hassett calculated:

barelybetterthanfrance.gif
Since Rangel's tax hikes are focused on the rich, and the AMT is scheduled to draw ever more revenue from the middle class in federal budget estimates, the rate increases necessary to maintain current revenue levels are enormous. Rangel adds a 4.6 percent "surtax" on adjusted gross incomes above $500,000 in the first year of the law. This gives voters the impression that we are simply lifting the current top rate of 35 percent to the good old Clinton rate of 39.6 percent. But in 2011, when the Bush tax cuts expire, the surtax sticks, lifting the federal rate to 44.2 percent. Rangel also grabs revenue from the rich by phasing out exemptions and deductions. Add in the Medicare tax, and average state and local taxes, and the combined marginal income tax rate goes to 52 percent. As the accompanying chart illustrates, that would make our top marginal rate the second highest among the ten largest OECD economies, right below France.

Sorry, Charlie, but that's just the wrong direction for America.

Additionally, odds are, under Rangel's plan, after a brief flurry of higher tax revenues, we'll actually lose tax revenue over the medium-to-long term, leading to additional tax hikes in the future. More importantly, we'll see lower economic growth relative to what we've seen in recent years, lower economic growth relative to other countries, and a lower future standard of living. Knowingly harming America's future median and mean standards of living for the sake of greater "equality" is anything but virtuous.

And it's anything but a recipe for political success. One can only hope that all the various disgruntled members of the Republican coalition who sat out or defected in 2006 get wise to what is at stake here.

-------------------------------------

Previous Trivia Tidbit: Inequality.

Posted by Will Franklin · 15 November 2007 04:55 PM · Comments (2)

Recommendation of the Week: Part I.

recommendationoftheweek.gif

A new feature here at WILLisms.com: the recommendation of the week.

This week: BEST CHAIN BURGER.

I am not a huge burger guy. From a young age, when I'd go to a fast food joint or some other restaurant specializing in hamburgers, I would typically get the chicken strips or nuggets or sandwich. It's not that I am anti-burger, it's just that most of them are pretty bad, with their bland beef, rubbery toppings, watery condiments, and flimsy buns.

There are plenty of people who will only patronize their local mom-and-pop burger joint. That's great. I am sort of one of those people. There are a lot of fantastic local hamburgers out there, so why not try them out.

But I've got to go on record here, regarding the best hamburger chain in the country. I know there are a lot of In-N-Out fans on the West Coast, and a lot of Sonic fans in the middle of the country, and a lot of Whataburger fans in Texas, while others might prefer Burger King, McDonald's, Carl's Jr., Wendy's, White Castle, Krystal, Hardee's, Fatburger, or any number of other chains. Some people might say Culver's, with its butter burger, is the best chain, or maybe Fuddrucker's, but now we're starting to venture into sit-down restaurant territory and out of fast food.

My vote goes to a place called Five Guys Famous Burgers & Fries.

Here is the entire Five Guys menu:

fiveguysmenu.gif

Essentially, you enter the place and grab a handful or two of peanuts and start shelling and eating them. Step up and order. Grab a seat. Eat some more peanuts.

These made-to-order burgers are fantastic, plain and simple. And large, and relatively inexpensive. The ingredients are all fresh and genuine and high in quality (they use 80/20 beef). If you aren't a big eater, get the "little" version of the burger of your choice. The regular size is two patties, while the "little" is just one, always on a bun the Five Guys bake themselves. If you like bacon on your burger but are worried it might be floppy and weak, have no fear. Five Guys' bacon is crisp, like it ought to be. Choose your toppings. Note that the jalapeño peppers are fresh, not pickled. Five Guys is essentially the only place in Washington, DC to get any fresh jalapeños. All the extras are free of charge.

Get the fries. Either kind. They bring in real Idaho potatoes (and even display which part of Idaho-- or sometimes Washington state-- they came from), cut them fresh in the store and fry them in peanut oil. Note that you can probably split a small order between two people, or a large order among three. These are what french fries should taste like. Fresh, never frozen. Real, not processed. Just really good.

Although the food is made after you order it, it doesn't take forever. It still qualifies as fast food.

To the Five Guys guys, I humbly extend the following business plan for your perusal:

fiveguysmap.gif

That's it. That's the entire business plan. Expand into other parts of the country, especially Austin, Texas. As far as I know, major expansion is already in the works. Assuming franchisees around the country can successfully replicate the Five Guys formula, you will succeed.

There may be better burger joints out there, or better burgers, or better fast food places, but Five Guys is everything a chain burger joint should be. It is really the only thing I miss about the Washington, DC area.

Note: I am not being compensated for these recommendations. I just think they might be useful to WILLisms.com readers. I always welcome your alternative suggestions, as well.

Posted by Will Franklin · 15 November 2007 01:28 PM · Comments (9)

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 461 -- Inequality Fleets, Moots & Peeves.

Way More Confusing Than It Ought To Be-

If you have read one of the three+ million copies of Eats, Shoots & Leaves in circulation today-- or even if you haven't-- you probably understand that punctuation can vastly change the meaning of an otherwise basic sentence.

As the title of the book suggests, punctuation can cause a panda to walk into a bar, eat a sandwich, shoot up the place with a shotgun, and leave; or it can simply declare that a panda eats bamboo shoots and leaves. All with punctuation, using the same words.

When people talk about "inequality" today in the context of American politics, it often seems like people are using the same words but meaning vastly different things. As high school debate judges like to say, "it's like ships passing in the night."

We hear people talk about "the rich" and "the middle class" and "the poor" all the time, without any adequate definitions to guide us. The populists and class warfare hawks (like John Edwards) thrive on the fact that many people conceptualize "rich" and "poor" as fixed positions over time.

In the real world, those positions change with regularity. On the Forbes 400 list, for example, there are sources of wealth listed that did not even exist a decade or two ago. 270 of the 400 (67.5%) are classified as entirely self-made, while 74 (18.5%) inherited their fortunes. 56 (14%) inherited some of it, but made some of it on their own. The top of the Forbes 400 list is not populated exclusively by Rockefellers and Carnegies and other old wealth.

Similarly, people at the very bottom of wealth and income levels in America do not remain there forever, either.

Yesterday, the Treasury Department (as reported by The Wall Street Journal) released an exhaustive study on income mobility (.pdf).

The WSJ piece gives the report a fantastic summary, including this graph:

incomeinequalitybogus.gif
One of the notable, and reassuring, findings is that nearly 58% of filers who were in the poorest income group in 1996 had moved into a higher income category by 2005. Nearly 25% jumped into the middle or upper-middle income groups, and 5.3% made it all the way to the highest quintile.

Of those in the second lowest income quintile, nearly 50% moved into the middle quintile or higher, and only 17% moved down. This is a stunning show of upward mobility, meaning that more than half of all lower-income Americans in 1996 had moved up the income scale in only 10 years.

Also encouraging is the fact that the after-inflation median income of all tax filers increased by an impressive 24% over the same period. Two of every three workers had a real income gain -- which contradicts the Huckabee-Edwards-Lou Dobbs spin about stagnant incomes.

....

The Treasury study found that those tax filers who were in the poorest income quintile in 1996 saw a near doubling of their incomes (90.5%) over the subsequent decade. Those in the highest quintile, on the other hand, saw only modest income gains (10%). The nearby table tells the story, which is that the poorer an individual or household was in 1996 the greater the percentage income gain after 10 years.

Only one income group experienced an absolute decline in real income -- the richest 1% in 1996. Those households lost 25.8% of their income. Moreover, more than half (57.4%) of the richest 1% in 1996 had dropped to a lower income group by 2005.

Other significant findings include (.pdf):

• About 55 percent of taxpayers moved to a different income quintile within 10 years.

....

• The composition of the very top income groups changes dramatically over time. Less than half (40 percent or 43 percent depending on the measure) of those in the top 1 percent in 1996 were still in the top 1 percent in 2005. Only about 25 percent of the individuals in the
top 1/100th percent in 1996 remained in the top 1/100th percent in 2005.

Even more impressive is the increase in mean (rather than median) income of the lowest quintile (.pdf):

income19962005.gif

Appropriately, this 232.5% increase indicates that, while the median income of the lowest quintile almost doubled (the median part indicating widespread improvement), the impressive gains in the mean show that some in the lower quintile (like the ones who made it all the way to the top 1%) far outperformed others. Inequality in action.

You simply do not see these kinds of numbers in many countries, especially those with rigid pro-union labor laws and punishingly high taxes. Yet, many of those countries are moving toward flatter, lower taxes, while Democrats in America want to move us backward toward a frightening and stifling era of economic policy. As it should be noted any time equality is cited as a aspirational goal of public policy, let's pause here and recall that the heydays of income equality in America were the 1930s and 1970s.

Do we really want to emulate the policies of the 1930s and/or 1970s, the two worst decades for the economy in the 20th century, in order to achieve a greater level of equality? Yuck.

Nevertheless, people in both parties use inequality as a cheap-but-effective rhetorical tool. John Edwards talks about how two Americas exist, and how we need to fix the problem through income redistribution. Hillary Clinton talks about outrageous profits of certain industries, and how we need to "take" them to fund other endeavors. Mike Huckabee talks about how the most successful people in America earn a few hundred times more than entry level workers, and how that is "just not right." Lou Dobbs, Duncan Hunter, and others blame illegal immigration for stagnant incomes of lower and middle income workers, nevermind that incomes, especially when you account for benefits like health insurance and pensions, are just not stagnant.

No wonder so many people are confused by the whole concept of equality (and inequality). Fortunately, my intuition tells me that most Americans "get" that when The Declaration of Independence declares "that all men are created equal," it doesn't guarantee Soviet-style equality of outcomes. America does guarantee, as John Adams wrote to Patrick Henry a month and a day before the drafting of The Declaration, equality under the law: "The decree is gone forth, and it cannot be recalled, that a more equal liberty than has prevailed in other parts of the earth must be established in America."

Equal liberty. In other words, the equal treatment, under the law, of all citizens, from the government. The equal opportunity to fail, middle out, or succeed.

Sticking it to successful people-- via graduated and progressive income taxes, for example-- seems inherently antithetical to the very concept of America.

Because incomes and wealth are always changing, inequality is fleeting. The fact that "the poor" and "the rich" are not the same people after ten years essentially makes inequality moot as a problem -- or symptom of a problem-- that needs attention. The constant harping on inequality in the political arena, meanwhile, will probably remain a peeve of reasonable people as long as populists need an easy backup plan to fall back on when nothing else is working.

Based on actual analysis of actual data, inequality fleets, moots, and peeves.

-------------------------------------

Previous Trivia Tidbit: Media Bias.

Posted by Will Franklin · 14 November 2007 04:19 PM · Comments (2)