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Barack H. Obama’s Legacy, Part 5

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In closing out Mr. Obama’s domestic agenda, we come to the state of the national debt. The national debt had been growing for many years, but it reached and surpassed a critical point during Mr. Obama’s tenure.  It is true that President’s are not directly responsible for the nation’s debt (because only Congress can authorize a budget), but Presidents can use their influence to restrain the worst instincts of Congress.  Mr. Obama did nothing but encourage Congress’ reckless spending.  Figure 1 shows the nation’s GDP, total national debt, and ratio of GDP to debt for the years 1929 to 2016 in current-year dollars.  The ratio of GDP to debt is an important indicator of the nation’s liabilities compared to its total economic activity; higher is better.  These figures are not exactly in alignment, since the debt figures are for fiscal years, and the GDP values are for calendar years.  The general trend is accurate.

Figure 1: GDP, National Debt, and GDP-to-Debt Ratio, 1929 – 2016

Figure 2 shows the ratio of debt to GDP for the same interval. When Hoover entered office in 1929, the nation’s finances were in excellent shape, as the GDP-to-debt ratio was over six.  Then came the Great Depression, which nitwit Hoover made worse with his bad policies.  The GDP-to-debt declined drastically in the early 1930’s.  It was left to the even bigger nitwit Roosevelt to extend the depression to 1940 with his even worse policies, although the GDP-to-debt remained fairly static around 2.5 from 1934 to 1940.    It was not until Hitler rescued Roosevelt by starting World War II that the American economy came back to life.  The downside in financial terms is that the expansion of production was paid for by adding it onto the debt.. The GDP to debt ratio reached its all-time low in 1946 (0.82), just after the enormous debts accumulated during World War II.  From the Truman to Nixon administrations, the debt increased, but GDP increased faster, and the GDP to debt ratio steadily improved, reaching 3.16 in 1974.  It remained fairly steady until the halfway through Reagan’s first term; it then began a long slow protracted decline until halfway through the Clinton administration.  It improved a bit from there until about 2007, the second-last year of Bush Jr. administration, and then resumed its steady decline until sinking below 1.0 in 2014.  It is interesting to observe that one can draw a straight line from 1994 to 2011 and end up in the same place. It has continued a slight decline since 2014.

Many economists consider a GDP-to-debt ratio to be an accurate indicator of high risk. It is comparable to a household with debt equal to an entire year’s income.  In the long run, it is unsustainable.

So the U. S. financial condition is now about where it was in 1947.  But there is a big difference between the federal government obligations in 1947, wherein it began a long period of improvement, and now.  In 1947, there was no Medicare, no Medicaid, no Obamacare with its subsidies, no extensive social spending, no pervasive meddling bureaucracy to be paid, and Social Security was only a small item in the budget.  Mr. Obama was content to let the financial condition deteriorate without making some sort of attempt to get back on a sound financial footing.  We can only hope that Mr. Trump will not make the same mistake.

Figure 2: GDP-to-Debt Ratio, 1929-2016

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Review of the 2016 Election, Part 3: Polling

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All the major polling organizations were pretty certain the Mrs. Clinton would easily defeat Mr. Trump for the Presidency.   How did it happen that these organizations, with a long history of reasonably accurate predictions and sophisticated techniques, got it wrong this time?  It seems a variety of forces were at work.

First, Mr. Trump did not pursue a traditional campaign.  Rather than coordinate and consolidate support among the traditional Republican operatives and organizations, he preferred to take his populist message directly to the public, mostly by “social media”.  This reduced the ability of the media outlets from filtering his message in favor of their candidate, Mrs. Clinton.  Secondly, the public in general had had enough of “politics as usual”; after the slow recovery during the past eight years, and believing that the nation was fundamentally on the wrong path, the voters were receptive to a candidate who offered a change from Mr. Obama’s policies.  But how did this affect the accuracy of polling?  It affected it because the polling organizations relied on past formulas and past assumptions; unable or unwilling to treat Mr. Trump as a viable candidate with a message appealing to voters in general.

One thing to remember about polling: it is not entirely random.  The polling organizations do not make phone calls to voters by dialing a random series of seven digits within each of the U. S. area codes, and asking questions of any voter who answers.  Every phone call made by a polling organization is made to a person whose characteristics are already known: age, race, sex, economic background, political preferences and religious affiliations.  The more sophisticated organizations probably also know even more: what clubs the target belongs to, what newspapers and magazines they read, and how much they give to charities and political actions committees.  Each potential respondent is grouped in with other like respondents, and in accordance with “identity politics”, a certain number of each targeted group is randomly polled in order to gauge that particular group’s opinions.  In that sense, each respondent is chosen randomly; but the choice of which groups to poll, and how to weight them, is not random at all.

There are two kinds of political polls: a) the ones intended to show the public that a particular position taken by a candidate is supported by a majority of voters; and b) the ones taken for the purpose of testing how well a certain message or position is received.  The first type may be considered “fixed”: the outcome is determined beforehand, and the polling organization chooses which of the aforementioned groups favor it, then randomly poll a sample among those groups to imply widespread support.  No one believes a poll with 100% favoring anything, so of course the poll is designed to obtain a reasonably believable number of dissenting views.  A typical example is the “debate” on man-made climate change: the pool of respondents is largely limited to those groups known to favor restrictions on industry.  Surprise, surprise, surprise: the general public (so they can now claim) believes that mankind is a virus and is responsible for changing the climate in negative ways.  Never mind that the climate has been changing every day for the past five billion years.

The first type is good old-fashioned deceptive advertising; the second type of polling is actually more dangerous.  The polls taken to test the politicians messaging is not intended to gauge public sentiment: its real goal is to help the politician evaluate and fine-tune their message.  This includes uncovering the best way to camouflage their true position such that the voter is conned into voting for a candidate or initiative that is the opposite of what he actually prefers.  These polls are not fixed: they are the way that pollsters help politicians tailor their lies to maximize the benefit for every dollar of advertising spent.

In regard to the 2016 election, the polling organizations failed on both categories of polls.  In the first type, they relied on previous history on how to weight the groups that they polled.  It is also possible that they ignored certain groups that were in fact favorably disposed to Mr. Trump’s message. They failed also on the second type of polling because Mr. Trump was immune to it: he did most of his own messaging without focus groups or elegant filtering.  The fact that he was successful in doing so should have informed the polling organizations that no amount of fine tuning by the other Republicans (in the primaries) or by Mrs. Clinton (in the general) would matter when the voting public preferred someone who simply said what he thought.  The change in style was too radical for the polling organizations to develop a suitable countermeasure.  Rest assured however, these mistakes will not be repeated.  The polling organizations are hard at work to refine their methods such they can react to future candidates like Mr. Trump.

I actually was targeted on 4 Nov 2016 as to my preferences for President.  Of course, I likely was chosen as described above, not purely at random.  Before the nice lady could proceed to ask her questions, I interrupted and told her that polls were fixed, and I would not be a part of it.  I told her to make up whatever answer would help her obtain the desired result.  Then I hung up on her.  I truly believe that no responsible voter should ever respond to an opinion poll.  Let them find out on Election Day.

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Review of the 2016 Election, Part 2: The Democrats

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As usual, the presidential candidates offered up by the Democratic Party represent the highest levels of incompetence, corruption, and the brand of divorced-from-reality idealism that only an experienced Democratic officeholder can deliver.

First we were offered former Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley.  He was previously a member of the Baltimore City Council (1991 – 1997), then the Mayor of  Baltimore (1999 – 2007), and then Governor of Maryland (2007 – 2015)  He is an advocate of the usual assortment of destructive initiatives: a) general amnesty for all illegal aliens, including in-state tuition; b)  gun control; c) same-sex marriage; d) opposition to capital punishment, and e) higher taxes and more taxpayer money wasted.  In other words, the typical Democrat: a naive dreamer with no solutions.

Next we were offered Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  Mr. Sanders boasts about being a Socialist, and of course, always votes with the Democrats in the Senate.  Mr. Sanders is unique among Democrats because of his honesty in pointing out the dishonesty of Mrs. Clinton.  Mr. Sanders is a true believer in socialism.  Here is a guy who actually believes that the Russian people were better off under Lenin and Stalin than under the Tsars; that the Germans were better off under Hitler than under the Weimar Republic; that the Chinese were better off under Mao than under the previous warlord system; that the Cuban people are better off under the Castro brothers than their predecessors; and that the Italians were better off under Mussolini than his predecessors.  He complained loudly, with some justification, that the Democratic primaries were rigged in favor of Mrs. Clinton.  His support came mostly from academics and the impressionable college students who have not yet experienced reality.  He claims, as do all socialists, that he can provide everyone with a free utopia at the expense of the greedy rich people, but as usual, never explained exactly how that would work.  We don’t know if he is dumb enough to believe that man can create paradise on earth, or if he is smart enough to dodge the issue.

Then there was the traditional establishment favorite, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. She tried to take the middle ground on every issue.  She believes socialism is the better economic system, but will tolerate crony capitalism so long as she gets a cut of the take.  She believes in the free and fair democratic process, so long as she was allowed to use her power and contacts to corner the market on the Democratic superdelegates, virtually assuring her nomination unless she were to lose two-thirds of the primaries in the respective states.  She believes in public service, so long as no one complains about her proven record of selling her office as Secretary of State, and laundering the money through the Clinton Foundation.  She believes that only government officials can be trusted, although she herself is a known prolific liar, especially about her mishandling of classified information on her non-secure personal electronics while Secretary of State.  She also has a proven record of incompetence while holding that office.  She engineered the overthrow of Ghaddafi in Libya, resulting in that nation becoming an al-Qaeda influenced failed state.  She failed to understand the rise of ISIS.  She failed to understand the dynamics of the Syrian civil war.  Like Mr. Obama, she believed that there was a middle way in the Middle East, a concept disproved by history.

Mrs. Clinton was able to secure the Democratic nomination by intrigue and manipulation.  In the general election, she lost to Mr. Trump, not because he was a good candidate, but she was so bad.  She routinely insulted the voters, she assumed the office belonged to her as the queen-in-waiting, and she failed to address the economic issues that (ironically) gave her husband the Presidency in 1992.

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Review of the 2016 Election, Part 1: The Republicans

PDF ->>  reviewofthe2016electionpart1republicans

We have witnessed a political revolution with the election of businessman Donald J. Trump in favor of former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton as the nation’s next President.  The lessons learned in this election may be important in future ones.  This review will address four areas of importance: a) the candidates; b) the polling; c) the mainstream media; and d) the public sentiments likely twenty years from now.

The Republicans fielded a total of seventeen candidates, fourteen of whom (all but Mr. Trump, retired pediatric surgeon Dr. Ben Carson, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Ms. Carly Fiorina) were professional politicians.  Many of those professionals had a good track record as either U. S. Senators or governors.  The professionals were: Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida; Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey; Senator Ted Cruz of Texas; James Gilmore, former Governor of Virginia; Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; John Kasich, Governor of Ohio; Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana;  Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas; George Pataki, former Governor of New York; Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky; Rick Perry, former Governor of Texas; Senator Marco Rubio of Florida; Rick Santorum, former Senator from Pennsylvania; and Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin.  Of these seventeen, five (Graham, Jindal, Pataki, Perry, and Walker) withdrew before the primaries got started.  Eight of the remaining twelve did not have a real chance: Santorum and Huckabee have views on abortion that are not widely shared by the electorate, including many Republicans; Gilmore’s successes were too far in the past to be remembered; Bush and Christie are indistinguishable from a typical Democrat; Carson and Fiorina had neither the connections nor the money; and Paul’s views are ahead of his time, more libertarian than the typical Republican voter.  Therefore, had this been a conventional election, the nomination would most likely have gone to Marco Rubio, John Kasich, or Ted Cruz.

But this was the year that the average working guy responded to a consistent message from the outsider Donald Trump: the nation is on the wrong track under Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton would only continue it; the trade deals made over the past twenty years were detrimental to the average working guy; the federal government has undermined the nation with lax immigration enforcement; certain agencies of the federal government (Department of Justice, FBI, IRS, and ATF) have become politicized and have knowingly and willfully undermined both the notion of equal justice and the rights of the people; and the weak foreign policy of Mr. Obama has served to embolden the worst of the Islamic terrorists.

Mr. Trump’s great advantage is that he is even less politically correct than the average person; he is media-savvy, having starred in a TV show; was willing to discuss any issue and make any appearance on TV and radio.  He connected in a way with average people that the others found difficult.  Although he frequently insensitive and abrasive, he was able to connect with the public in a way that the media could not control.  He won the Republican nomination, not because he was such a sterling candidate, but because there were too many people in the field, and thus 30 to 35% of the popular vote in a Republican primary was enough to give him that state’s votes for the nomination.  Which brings us to the first lesson of this election: politicians will nearly always do what is best for themselves and their quest for power.  Here is the example.

The Republican Party establishment generally expected that Mr. Trump’s candidacy would implode of its own excesses.  But after a few early primaries, where it became evident that Mr. Trump’s message was resonating, the major forces in the party turned on Mr. Trump, attempting to portray him as too far outside the mainstream to be viable.  Furthermore, he would be dangerous to the Party if nominated and subsequently lost to the Democrat, and would be dangerous to the nation if actually elected President.  If they truly believed that, why didn’t the major candidates get together and do what would have been best for both the party and the nation, namely, choose from among themselves one or two that could put up a real fight against Trump, and deprive him of the nomination?  Mr. Trump probably could not have prevailed against one or two focused candidates.  But no such thing ever happened: they all stayed in until mathematically eliminated, providing Mr. Trump with a narrow victory at the nominating convention.  So either the Republican establishment was lying, or the politicians once again did what was best for their own quest for power rather than the nation.  Mr. Trump won both the nomination and the general election, and is now the de facto head of the Republican Party.  Maybe the Republicans are the stupid party after all.  It is worse than that.  The other candidates embarrassed Mr. Trump into signing an agreement which all the others had signed, pledging to support the nominee in the general election, whoever it was.  But once Mr. Trump won the nomination, only four of the main twelve (Carson, Christie, Huckabee, and Paul) gave anything more than the most tepid endorsement.  Now the establishment portion of the Republican Party is led by the person they claimed to have feared the most.  The professionals were simply out-maneuvered at every turn by Mr. Trump, a political outsider (albeit one with name recognition), but one who had the message that the professionals should have had.

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