Sunday, March 29, 2009

Republicans Need Pro-Life Consistency

Since the emergence of politically active Evangelicals in the late 1970s, the Republican Party has presented itself as the pro-life/anti-abortion political party. For the past thirty years, a pro-life stance has been essential for Republican candidates. So much so that Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, both of whom previously held pro-choice positions, were forced to morph themselves into pro-life candidates as they entered the 2008 Republican presidential primaries. The Republican Party, however, is not truly pro-life.

Pro-life advocates argue that life begins at conception and that abortion brings that life to an unnatural end. They argue that the inherent and intrinsic value of human life requires state protection for those who cannot speak for themselves. The fact that the value of human life is “inherent” means the value of life does not arise from the age, wealth, status or character of the human – not even the character of one accused of a capital crime.

Most Republican candidates and elected officials support imposition of the death penalty for heinous crimes such as murder, rape, and arson. Thirty-five states agree with them, arguing that defendants convicted of those charges have forfeited the right to live or that the punishment acts as a deterrent to future crime. Many Republican candidates who voice support for an end to abortion adamantly support the death penalty. And therein lies the contradiction that robs the pro-life argument of power. If life is inherently valuable, then the right to live is one of those inalienable rights we hold dear and, being inalienable, it is a right which no one can surrender – willingly or unwillingly.

In truth, most Republican politicians are not interested in ending abortion. They merely want to campaign on the issue, using it to raise money and motivate their voter base. If they were interested in ending abortion they would actually use their elected positions to do something about it. Republicans have held a majority in Congress for most of the last 30 years, yet unfettered access to abortion on demand remains the law of the land. Conservatives hold a majority on the U. S. Supreme Court, too. Yet all of the justices support the Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.

A consistent, authentic pro-life position would argue not only for the life of the unborn but for the life of the elderly, the infirmed, and those accused of crimes for which they face the death penalty. That the accused are currently left out of the right-to-life equation belies the political nature of the Republican Party’s pro-life position. It’s not about life, it’s about getting candidates elected to office.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Census 2010 - Republicans a Permanent Minority

While potential Republican candidates jockey for media exposure and position themselves for the 2012 election cycle, the real battle for the future of the Republican Party is being waged without them. That battle isn’t in Iowa or New Hampshire. And it’s not in the studios of cable news networks. The battle for the future of the Republican Party is taking shape in the Department of Commerce and in the halls of Congress. No, the battle is not over the Stimulus Bill or the Bailout Bill. The real battle is over the Federal Census.

By the terms of our Constitution, seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned among the states based on the Federal Census. Districts for those House seats are periodically redrawn by state legislatures using Census data to ensure equal representation. All of that will be determined in the second half of the Obama Administration's current term using 2010 Census data. But more is at stake than mere House seats.

Over the past thirty years, political strategists have become adept at using election law to position their candidates in an advantageous posture. One of their favorite techniques for presidential campaigns involves the timing of state party primaries. Candidates with real political muscle can get primary dates moved to their advantage. Bill Clinton did it in 1992. Hillary tried it. Others have as well. To adjust those election dates, the candidate’s party must have control of the given state’s legislature. The coming reapportionment and redistricting will help make that possible. But I think a more critical strategy may be in play.

The Supreme Court has ruled that only a nose-count method will pass Constitutional review for the Federal Census. Statistical modeling is not allowed for counts used to apportion House seats. But the Census Bureau still uses statistical modeling to check the accuracy of their nose count. Accuracy of that count is determined by comparing the modeling results to the actual count to check for an under-count or over-count. Based on that information, the Census Bureau can send Census Takers back to re-canvass areas thought to have produced an erroneous nose-count. I say all of that to suggest there’s room for error. The counting method isn’t air tight. It has slack.

In the slack between total accuracy and approximation, the Party in power has the latitude to adjust not only district lines but perhaps even the ability to adjust the apportionment numbers for House seats. It all depends on the manner in which the counting is done.

Counting that produces an undercount in rural Republican states, for instance, in Louisiana, Alabama or Mississippi – or in New York and Ohio where the Democrat margin is not in jeopardy – might actually produce an over-count in other states. Say, for instance, North Carolina, Florida, or Nevada. Redistricting for those new seats might mean that districts could be realigned to give the Democrats a majority of all the districts in each of those states.

Those three states – North Carolina, Florida, and Nevada – voted Republican in 2004 but switched to Democrat in 2008. By reapportioning seats to those states and realigning districts there, the Democrats could solidify their hold on those states. So much so that they would remain in Democrat hands for the foreseeable future, not only for district elections but for national elections as well.

That kind of power shift could put the Republican Party in the minority, permanently.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Voter Registration No Longer Effective Campaign Tool

In preparation for the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns, Republican strategists pursued voter registration with a vengeance. Much to the dismay of the Democrat Party, registration efforts proved overwhelmingly successful for the Republicans. With increased voter counts in strategic locations, they were able to shift vote totals in key states, handing the presidency to George W. Bush in both of those elections. Now, that tactic may have run its course.

During the 2008 election cycle, an interesting phenomenon occurred here in Alabama. In several municipal elections, and later in several counties during the presidential election, more votes were cast than the Federal Census predicted for the total number of voters. Being a native Alabamian, my first thought was, “They voted the graveyard.” Alabama, like many southern states, has a reputation for election-night shenanigans. But as I pushed the thought a little further, I came to a different conclusion.

Beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the 1980s, Democrats pursued voter registration as a way of increasing their voter base. The two Clinton campaigns emphasized it as well. Republicans took that effort to new heights with the George Bush campaigns. Then, with Barack Obama’s candidacy, Democrats went even further, hiring, encouraging, and facilitating the use of outside agencies and organizations in a massive effort to identify and register as many new voters as possible. Because of this prolonged emphasis from both parties, I think voter registration has invaded the margin of error for the Federal Census. Voter registration has reached so deep that the total number of registered voters in many local wards and precincts is a more accurate reflection of the local population count than the Federal Census.

That means, for many areas in the country, voter registration has reached its maximum potential for influencing the outcome of an election. In the future, both parties will be forced to develop new tactics and strategies for shifting electoral advantages.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Will AIG Debacle Result in Criminal Prosecutions?

Tell me the difference between the Madoff scheme and AIG. I don't think there is one.

According to the allegations, Madoff took money from investors in exchange for an obligation to invest that money and pay them a return. He met that obligation, part of the time, by using money from new investors to pay his obligations to older clients. This process, apparently, was repeated many times over until the plunging stock market of 2008-2009 drove up demands for liquidity beyond what he could meet and brought the scheme to an end.

AIG, according to reports, sold credit default swaps guaranteeing the liquidity of mortgages that had been bundled and sold as securities to investment funds, banks, and other financial institutions. Apparently this worked in much the same way as insuring a municipal bond offering increases the marketability of an issue. If news reports are true, AIG sold far more in credit default obligations than the company held in assets available to cover the total risk. This practice created income for AIG but amounted to a gamble, betting the company against the income "float" that the risk would never imperil the life of the corporation. This position posed no problem until the collapsing real estate market caught up with the scheme. As mortgage default rates rose, AIG's obligations on the default guarantees rose as well, pushing the company to the brink of disaster.

Just as Madoff's alleged practices threatened his investors equity, so also AIG's practices impinged upon the financial condition of both their investors and those who purchased the mortgage-backed securities for which AIG guaranteed against default losses. Madoff's scheme fell apart when falling asset values brought greater demand for liquidation from clients. AIG's scheme fell apart when rising defaults drove up claims for redemption on the default guarantees. Both were extended on obligations far beyond their ability to pay. Both were meeting former obligations with later arriving capital - Madoff before the situation was discovered, AIG after.

Madoff is going to jail for what he did. If his conduct deserves punishment, why isn't he sharing a cell with someone from AIG?