Presidential Candidates

It’s a little sad that the 2008 Presidential campaign is already kicking into gear – with the first primaries still a year away.

But, NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday had a surprisingly entertaining interview with former Senators Bob Kerrey (D-NE) and Alan Simpson (R-WY) about the race. In this interview, they voice opinions that perhaps the most likely candidates to win their parties’ nominations are:

This seems like a plausible list to me, although of course a lot can change in a year.

The interesting thing here is how many candidates are sitting or former Senators, especially among the Democrats. But in my lifetime, being a sitting Senator has been the kiss of death for a Presidential candidate. Look how far back we have to go to find a sitting Senator who was elected to the Presidency:

In that span, many Senators and former Senators have won their party’s nomination and then gone down to defeat:

So does this mean we can look forward to a President Giuliani or President Romney? Well…

Closing the Collapse Gap

Interesting article: Closing the Collapse Gap. It works from the premise that the US economy is likely to collapse in the not-too-distant future, and compares how well prepared the US is for such a collapse with how well prepared the Soviet Union was. (Summary: The US doesn’t do as well as the Soviets on that score.)

It’s a chilling read, and seems a plausible line of reasoning if the economy does collapse. (I know nothing more about the author or web site than that, but I don’t think the author needs any particular credibility to judge the plausibility of his presentation.)

I will admit that I basically have my head stuck in the sand when it comes to the prospect of the US collapsing (economically, politically, or otherwise). I don’t think a collapse is imminent, but I think it’s likely that sometime in the next hundred years the US will have to change or die. If nothing else, I think a hundred-year horizon should see us to the end of accessible oil reserves, and that will force some sort of fundamental change. Living as I am at the top of the world consumption curve (and if working at a major high-tech company isn’t the top of the consumption curve, then I don’t know what is), I realize that I personally am not well-prepared for such a collapse. That’s probably a big part of why I don’t like to think about it. 🙂

I think one of the take-away points of the article is the value of do-it-yourself knowhow. That’s one thing I cling to in the software biz: Acquiring the tools to do certain useful things myself if I need to, because convenient software packages can obsolesce before you know it. (This is one of the great things about Mac OS X: It has all the UNIXy scripting tools I’m used to using for my DIY projects.) Obviously in a collapsing economy, self-sufficiency is a prime virtue, and I agree with the author that American urban and suburban culture doesn’t contain much of the DIY nature.

Okay, back to burying my head in the sand…

Now What?

Everyone’s wondering (well, in the liberal American thoughtspace), “Now that the Democrats have control of both the House and the Senate, what do we do next?” Meaning, of course, what do the Congressional Democrats do with the big mess the Repugnicans have handed them?
And by “What next?”, I think people mean “What to do about Bush’s adventures in Iraq?”

The problem here, I think, is that the Democrats’ answer to this is: We wouldn’t have gone in there in the first place. Going into Iraq was a stupid move, made out of stupidity and greed and ignorance, and which has exposed the country to far more danger than Iraq ever posed before we went in there.

Which, unfortunately, doesn’t solve the problem, because we are there, and pulling out without first stabilizing the government is just going to leave Iraq to turn into a breeding ground for really serious problems, because the nation basically consists of (at least) three factions who don’t really want to coexist peacefully.

The Repugnicans have been accusing the Democrats of not having a plan for stabilizing Iraq and finishing our jobs there. Which is ironic since the Repugnicans certainly don’t have such a plan, and have spent the past four years proving that they don’t have a plan. The Bushies’ plan, as far as I can tell, involved going in, extracting as much value as possible for their friends, and leaving the political mess for someone else to clean up.

But, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the Democrats have a plan, either. And I have yet to hear anything which sounds remotely like a real plan from the Democrats which will accomplish the goals of getting the US out of Iraq without leaving it a complete disaster area. All the post-election chatter seems to discuss vaguaries like “The American people voted for change, and by god we’re going to give it to them.” But “change” doesn’t mean “progress”, and to me it sounds like “we don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’ll come up with something.”

I’ve written about all this before, and it’s dismaying to feel like I need to write about it again, that nothing’s changed in three months. But it’s such a bloody disaster, and it’s not at all clear to me that the Democrats have any idea what to do about it. Never mind that it’s not really Congress’ job to deal with it, it’s the job of the Executive branch and the military. And, as I said above, I don’t think the Bushies are really interested in dealing with the problem.
Aargh.

Anyway, hopefully at least we’ll get some subpoenas and hearings so that some of the administration’s backroom machinations will come to light.

On Voting

The comic strip Dullard, er, I mean, Mallard Fillmore, is at it again, trying to convince people not to vote.

Now, while I don’t agree with this, I don’t go the other way either. Indeed, I hate it when someone says something like “If you don’t vote then you have no right to complain,” which in one pithy comment helps set the cause of free speech back 250 years. This attitude isn’t helpful, either. While I believe people should vote, I also feel people have the right not to vote, while still having the right to complain about the outcome.

Here are some arguments to try to encourage people to vote:

  1. Voting helps keep politicans more honest. I think nothing would frighten the politicians more than if voter turnout went up by 50%. Especially if a lot of disaffected fringe voters who don’t support either major party were to show up.
  2. Going to vote is fun! Well, I think so, anyway. But then, voting for me just involves a plasant 10-minute walk to my polling place and (usually) a short wait in line. Your mileage may vary.
  3. You might be able to shake up the system! If you hate the major party candidates, go vote for some minor party candidate. They might not win, but you might help their party establish a footing in your area. If everyone who doesn’t like their major party candidates went to vote for a minor party candidate, that would be pretty neat. It would certainly make politics more interesting, which given the shape their in probably wouldn’t be a bad thing.
  4. You can send a message. I hate referenda, propositions, ballot initiatives, or whatever they’re called in your state. I tend to vote against them because I feel they’re an abdication of responsibility by the government. I vote for representatives to act, not to send things back to me to vote on later. Occasionally I vote for one, but the bar is set very high. I want to vote against the others to help send the message that ballot initiatives suck and I work against them just on principle. (You could make the same argument about bond measures, with the additional factor that bond measures are a way of sidestepping the tax system.)
  5. If you didn’t know who your Congresscritter was until election season, maybe the problem doesn’t lie on your end. Maybe it’s time to elect someone who will be a little more, um, useful.

While I would be happy to see the Democrats take control of Congress by Wednesday, I would be even happier if voter turnout vastly exceeded the expectations of the politicians, media and analysts. That would be really, really cool.

Destroying Poker

Although I haven’t often written about it, I’ve been playing poker recreationally for the last 9 months. I’m not very good, and I stick to low-limit hold ’em poker games in the local casinos and in Vegas, but for the most part I have fun. (Losing $90 in 90 minutes at a $3-6 table would be the “not so much fun” part. On the other hand, I’ve won that much in 2 hours, too, so like I said, mostly fun.)

Anyway, I started playing poker because I wanted to have a game to play in Vegas in which I wasn’t playing against the house, with the odds de facto stacked against me.

One of my plans for this month was to investigate playing poker on-line. For instance, Poker On a Mac is a pretty nifty resource for those of us who own Macs and don’t want to install Windows on them. My plan was to play in some no limit hold ’em tournaments, since the casinos around here only seem to offer fixed limit and spread-limit games, which aren’t really the same.

It looks like I won’t get a chance, though, since the Republicans passed a bill making it illegal to transfer money to on-line gambling sites from most bank or credit card accounts. Actually, weasels that they are, they didn’t pass a separate bill but attached it as an amendment to the Port Security Bill at the 11th hour. The bill – which I think was regarded as one of those “must-pass” pieces of legislation, on to which some legislators love to try to tack unrelated amendments such as this – passed by a 98-0 vote in the Senate.

(The House passed its own bill regarding on-line poker. It passed 317-93.)

Many think that it’s likely that this bill will destroy the on-line poker industry in the United States – even the Motley Fool thinks so – and I’m inclined to agree. One blogger thinks that the on-line poker companies simply flubbed the ball when lobbying Congress.

Another blogger makes some grim predictions about the future of poker in the US. I can’t argue with his reasoning. One implication of his predictions is worth spelling out, since it affects the little casual players like me directly: It’s going to become a lot harder to play poker on-line. And that means that even if there are a few on-line sites which decide to risk the penalties of Federal law, the barriers for players to figure out how to get their money to those sites to play will be too high for most people (the casual or curious players), because they just won’t care enough to make the effort.

I wonder whether this will spill over into card rooms, too. With fewer members of the general public playing on-line, I could see card rooms lose popularity, and possibly increasing their rakes to make more money. The competition there would become stiffer, which in turn could dissuade new players from coming in to play, because the learning curve relative to the average player would become that much steeper.

And then there’s the elephant in the room: Poker at the big casinos is (I’m told) just not as profitable as slot machines. So a general decline in the popularity of poker could cause many of those shiny new card rooms at big casinos to downsize or go away entirely. Which means more players forced to play in less savory joints, which further dissuades the casual player from showing up.

The end result of this legislation is that it’s going to effectively destroy an industry and ruin a fun experience for hundreds of thousands of Americans in the name of… what? Helping those few gambling addicts who aren’t so addicted that they wouldn’t care whether they’re violating the law when they gamble anyway? (The correlation between the on-line gambling bill and Prohibition seems obvious, and I’m not the only one to think of it.)

For myself personally, the law means I’m probably not going to play on-line poker. Even though the players aren’t being targeted by the law, do I really want to take that risk? Moreover, do I want to go through the hassle of trying to get money to and from whichever sites remain active in the US? Not so much. I’ll still play in card rooms from time to time, but I missed my opportunity to get in a bunch of relatively inexpensive practice at no-limit hold ’em.

It’s too bad.

On the other hand, I’m trying to console myself that I really ought to be working on my writing rather than playing poker.