Thursday, May 08, 2008

Gas Tax Holiday: the $30 bribe

Okay, so you've been hearing the plans from Senators Clinton and McCain about how they want to suspend federal gas taxes during the summer, because that's when gas prices tend to go up. This is supposed to help Americans who are hard-hit by rising gas prices, which are approaching $4.00 a gallon right now. This is supposed to ease our lives. Barack Obama has called this a gimmick, and rightly so. There are many reasons as to why this "Gas Tax Holiday" should immediately appear to be only so much gas, and you don't even need a degree in macroeconomics to understand them (but I'm sure it wouldn't hurt.) —It's a small slice of pie. The federal portion of the gas tax in the United States is 18¢ per gallon. Assuming you drive the same distance that the average American drives in a summer, this should net you about $30.00 by August. Wow! That's almost one whole free tank of gas! Why doesn't the government just write all of us $30.00 checks every three months and get the economy humming again? —Upkeep. The gas tax nets the government about $10 billion a year, and this money is earmarked for road and bridge maintenance. If the roads are in lousier shape, this will be harder on our cars. Collapsing bridges will be harder still. —Supply and demand. A lower price increases demand, which means that if gas is cheaper, people will use more of it, thus shrinking supplies and driving the price up. 18¢ isn't enough to make that much of a difference, admittedly, but it pulls the essential Jenga block out from the bottom of this already flimsy argument. —What the market will bear. Petroleum companies, understanding what markets do, will just raise the price by 18¢, eliminating any benefit that this "Gas Tax Holiday" might bring about. That will just mean bigger profits for petroleum companies. And Hillary Clinton's "windfall profits" tax on petroleum companies, while a good idea by itself, wouldn't make up the difference here. Remember that something like much more than half of all petroleum is pumped out of the ground by government-owned petroleum companies—foreign governments. This would punish American companies while rewarding foreign governments—all while starving America's infrastructure! Brilliant! It's all too rare to hear a politician speak plainly and rationally in the face of feel-good proposals that only serve the would-be elected official who proposes them. It does my heart good to see Barack Obama shouting this one down. The government can keep my thirty bucks this summer and go fix a bridge.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Indiana and North Carolina results

Okay, so the results are in:

North Carolina: Obama 56 (45 delegates), Clinton 42 (37 delegates) Indiana: Clinton 51 (32 delegates), Obama 49 (29 delegates)

It looked for a little bit like Obama might pull it off in Indiana, but in the end he fell about 20,000 votes short. Still, he came a lot closer in Indiana than a lot of people (including myself) thought he would. North Carolina was a clear win.

So where does this leave us in the pledged delegate count? Well, Obama has a net gain of... five. Five more pledged delegates than before, and a gain in the popular vote of about 211,000. If any superdelegates are going to switch after tonight, I haven't heard yet. But I'd be damned surprised if we didn't see a number of them declare for Obama after last night's primaries.

Currently, including superdelegates, Obama has 1,841.5 delegates, while Clinton has 1,700. That means Obama still needs 183 delegates in order to lock this thing up, while Clinton needs 324.5. 404 pledged delegates remain, 270.5 superdelegates remain.

It's over, Hillary. Accept it. Resign resign resign

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Clinton's Götterdämmerung

The media talking heads are saying Clinton is more or less over. This chirade of her primary campaign might be over now, and the real campaign might start soon. But there's still something nagging me that this thing's going to go on until May 20. Of course, if Clinton backs out tonight or tomorrow, I think the result would be about the same. Both candidates could save face, and the general campaign would get off the ground two weeks earlier, which would help a lot.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Indiana still too close to call

Nearly all of the remaining votes are in Lake County—the area including and surrounding Gary. Some 220,000 votes are yet to be counted, with Clinton leading currently by about 40,000. Since Gary is the Chicago area, Obama is expected to have an advantage there. If Clinton wins, it'll likely be by less than the 4% lead she currently has.

This is the beginning of the end, hopefully. Clinton, I suspect, might just want to go out on a high note. She's expected to win West Virginia big next Tuesday, and then win Kentucky big on May 20. Obama is expected to win Oregon big on May 20, so that might be the best time for Clinton to announce her concession. Of course, she also might continue to rend the party in two by prolonging the primaries unnecessarily, flogging Jeremiah Wright against Barack Obama the way Al Gore flogged Willie Horton against Michael Dukakis in 1988. (Remember that? Maybe you thought it was the George H.W. Bush campaign that dug up the Willie Horton garbage, but it was actually the Democratic presidential contender, Senator Al Gore Jr. of Tennessee. But we'll never learn, will we?)

Indiana could go either way, but effectively it's a flop for Hillary Clinton.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Out for a couple days

Okay, folks, I'm not going to be around until Monday night. My wife and I are taking a weekend trip up the coast to a small inn. The Kennebunkport Inn, in fact, which looks really nice. I realize the irony of me of all people vising the town where the Bush family has had its family compound for decades, but it's really nice up there, so I guess a few bad apples don't really spoil the whole bunch.

As of this writing, they're still counting the votes from the Guam caucuses. Barack Obama is leading by 6%, I believe, so we'll see where its eight delegates wind up going. Go Barack!

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Another DNC chair backs Obama

Former Democratic National Committe Chairman (and superdelegate) Paul Kirk is endorsing Barack Obama for president today. This news comes on the heels of former DNC Chairman Joe Andrew shifting his allegence from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama just yesterday, in the interest of bringing the Democrats' internecene fracas to a close sooner than later.

It's significant that these former DNC chairs have endorsed Obama. They represent the Democrats' old guard. They would naturally back Senator Clinton, who's pretty old-guardy herself, being the wife of the president who gave a lot of these people their jobs. It would be understandable, then, that the superdelegates who hail from the corridors of Democratic power would be reluctant to turn their backs on their old boss by supporting anyone but the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.

The scorecard of DNC chiefs' endorsements still slightly favors Clinton, but you'd think she could have closed the deal among party elites by now. Many of the DNC chiefs endorsed Clinton a long time ago, when they apparently figured Clinton had this thing wrapped up. Observe:

DNC chairs endorsing Clinton
Debra DeLee (2/13/2008)
Donald Fowler (12/19/2007)
Steve Grossman (6/11/2007)
Terry McAuliffe (1/20/2007)
Charles Manatt (12/7/2007)
Ed Rendell (1/24/2008)

DNC chairs endorsing Obama
David Wilhelm (2/13/2008)
Christopher Dodd (2/26/2008)
Joe Andrew (5/1/2008)
Paul Kirk (5/2/2008)

DNC chairs still uncommitted
Roy Romer
Howard Dean

Of course it makes sense that Howard Dean hasn't endorsed anyone yet, since he's the current chairman of the DNC. He has an obligation to try to stay above the fray, and likely won't endorse anyone until Clinton drops out or the Denver convention is held—whichever happens first.

Paul Kirk's endorsement does send a signal to superdelegates that it's okay to endorse Obama without upsetting the party establishment, and Joe Andrew's quitting the Clinton camp to endorse Obama sends a still stronger such signal. The enduring concern is that since Hillary Clinton can't possibly win the nomination this year (barring any unforeseen tragedy,) her persistent campaign is only serves to turn people off the Democratic ticket, thus setting Barack Obama up for a loss in November—and perhaps setting Clinton up for another presidential run in 2012. It's encouraging that the Democratic establishment is finally starting to recognize that one of its own is doing major damage to the party right now. Hopefully they'll be able to take enough action before it's too late.

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