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Avengers: Age of Ultron: Movie Review



Marvels Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon, is the third largest worldwide grossing movie of all-time, reaping in over $1.5 billion.  As such, it was a no brainer to bring in the Marvels team for a second go around.

The problem facing Whedon and the producers of this sequel is the problem always faced by Hollywood with action sequels:  “What’s bigger and badder?” What threat to humanity could invoke more emotion and anxiety?

In our first movie, do recall, aliens invade Earth in order to subjugate all of mankind, only to be stopped after the absolute destruction of Manhattan.

So how do you possible elevate the game?

Whedon chooses to try to go small first.  The movie largely begins by going back to the characters themselves, each with their own lives and goals.  Joss Whedon does try to make this a more intimate get together, although that was likely always impossible in a film like this.

Whedon never seems to take himself too seriously, and that ultimately lets the viewer ‘go with the flow’ with sometimes silly, occasionally outrageous plot lines.  The scene with the Avengers playing with Thor’s hammer is a perfect example.

What’s fascinating is how Whedon uses Hawkeye and Black Widow, our most ‘human’ Avengers, to play prominent roles, in many ways as the viewers’ surrogate participants among their ‘God-like’ partners. In many ways, Whedon uses their experiences as a window into how average, normal humans would react to this war among the erstwhile immortals that rule over us.

In a sense, the destruction and the reality of humanity teetering on the verge of planetary apocalypse is almost a backdrop to the characters themselves.  Literally any ‘end of the world’ scenario would work here…because that ultimately isn’t really even the focus of the movie.

That said, the big new bad guy is Ultron…an artificial robotic lifeform (voiced by the impeccable James Spader) who Tony Stark initially envisions as a protector for the planet. That plan does not go so well…as Ultron gains a newfound hatred for the species that created him. Spader brings a level of charm (dare I say, a level of humanity?) to the character that makes him seem somewhat more foreboding than a robotic voice would do.

The movie ultimately does pay off, but in a sense…we have been here, done that.  The actions scenes are fantastic, as you would come to expect in any Marvel movie.  But at this point, is there any action that could ‘wow’ us anymore?

This doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing. It simply means no new ground is broken here, there is nothing we haven’t seen before.  Whedon has said he wanted to make Age of Ultron a shorter, more intimate film than his first Avengers movie. In that, he failed completely; in many ways, this is a louder, less personal film, largely because of the necessities of commercialism and the need to expand the ever growing Marvel Universe.

But that said, intimate is not what comic books are about. They are about action scene to action scene, about global threats and heroes at the edge of their limits. This movie does certainly deliver on that.

There are scenes that will initiate nerdgasms (especially the introduction of Vision to the series, but that discussion I’ll leave for another day), but for the average viewers, this is your usual, summertime romp.  Not evolutionary, but still a blast. It does sets up the future Civil War plot line nicely, and I can’t wait for the potential of an all out war among heroes, with Spiderman joining the fray.

For the comic book devotee and science fiction fan, however, this is just another episode in one of the great gifts Hollywood has presented us in the modern golden age of science fiction of the past two decades. Enjoy it while it lasts.




The Silly, Unintellectual ‘Religious Freedom’ Debate


There are few public policy disagreements that show the poor level of intellectual discourse in America as well as the recent uproar over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has demonstrated.

In the past week, innumerable disingenuous, dishonest arguments about the intent, character, and goals of RFRAs has come from all sides, largely amounting to no real advancement of the debate.  We have, however, successfully called each other bigots, Nazis, Brownshirts, and other names, all the while not truly discussing what is a real, and rather fascinating, debate about how a free society deals with disparate belief systems in the public sphere.

I am no legal expert, so I will leave the intricacies of the various state and Federal statutes to those that are much more knowledgeable.  I think we have seen some excellent articles from Josh Blackmon (who has several great posts, including those notably on his blog and in the National Review), Eugene Volokh, Jonathan Adler, Gabriel Malor, and many, many others.  I will happily defer to them on the myriad of legal issues involved with these cases.

However, where the debate has failed miserably is in the philosophical discussion of what human interaction means in America, and what is required of us in a free, equitable society.

What is missing from this debate is understanding that free association in a free society not only allows for equal access to all, but allow for individuals to opt out of participation when they so choose. And opting out of public issues, when you are an individual, is wholly within the sphere of freedom in a diverse society.

I think the major confusion comes from whether you think a person is acting in the ‘public’ arena or not when they interact in some form of commerce. When we get down to the complaints from social conservatives on religious freedom, versus complaints from progressives on complaints about discrimination, this is where the conflict arises.

First, let me say that a ‘public’ entity should be open to all. Some libertarians disagree with this, but I believe this is where the line should be drawn.  Absolutist libertarians believe all free association should be voluntary.  I sympathize with that belief philosophically, but in all practical terms such a system could not exist in America as it exists today.

A ‘public’ entity is one that has entered into a virtual social contract with the community to provide goods and services to everyone in that community. One does not get a permit to open a restaurant in any city in America to only serve people they deem fit based on arbitrary criteria.  The same goes for gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. On the other hand, if an entity wishes to be private, that is their choice too; but then they will be treated as such, with the more limited government interventions that go along with that type of business.

The question then becomes, what is ‘public’?  Clearly, any business that accepts ‘walk-in’ customers, in my humble opinion, should be considered, as my list above shows. Additionally, any service deemed ‘emergent’ must be included: that includes medical care facilities, car repair shops, ambulance service, etc. I find very few people willing to allow restaurants to pick and choose which customers it is willing to serve based on race, culture, creed, or sexual orientation. And nobody wants to restrict access to services in case of any type of emergency.

If we establish that truly open public entities do have to meet a much higher burden, then what controversy is left?

The more troublesome question for many may be, what is deemed ‘private’?  Here in lies the battlefront of the culture wars. If you are an independent professional, such as a photographer…should you be forced to travel to, participate in, and perform duties at a gay wedding? Or for any wedding, for that matter? Or any religious ceremony?

How about a web designer?  Should a Jewish web designer be obligated to do websites for antisemitic groups? Or, even, right-wing extremist Christian or Muslim groups? Under the construct logically built by many progressives, that is precisely the standard they would apply.

There are going to be gray areas in any legal construct, and this one is certainly no exception. What do we do about a bakery, who has a public store, but also does private catering? I think the question answers itself: the bakery as a public entity cannot discriminate on these issues; but the catering business, which is not public and is an ‘At Will’ commercial entity, should be able to.

To presume that government retains the power to force an individual into such a scenario is very troublesome.  We can come up with all sorts of absurd scenarios: an African-American singer at a KKK rally; a gay designed at a party held by Westboro church; a Muslim waiter at a pig roast.

Of course, those are uses of absurdity to prove the point.  We in our society try to allow as much personal choice as possible, whenever possible. But what if that choice appears discriminatory to one of the participants? Is that personally legally bound to serve the other, because of their hurt feelings, or general belief that they are being hurt based on the choice of that other person?

The other question we must all face is, how much burden to we place on each party?  My driving intent is to place as little burden on each party as possible in order to allow them to follow their own personal choices.  A gas station that limits access to certain individuals could potentially place an enormous burden on a gay couple running out of fuel. On the other hand, if a wedding photographer refuses to perform at a wedding…is the burden to find another photographer so great as to require government force to impose that will on that individual?  That does not seem reasonable; and when such a case arose last year, more than 80% of Americans (with supermajorities of both Republicans and Democrats) believed that was a step too far.

Let me make two points, both more political than philosophical. I think conservatives need to come to terms with the fact that homosexuals do have a lot of right to complain about how they have been treated.  Additionally, many conservatives never came to their aid, when their rights were clearly being diminished. The fact that they have trouble trusting conservatives in general is not unreasonable. Conservatives must make an attempt to bridge this distrust.

However, the progressives that have led this fight have been quite illogical in their response. These same people who do not like arbitrary refusal of service based on moral beliefs are the same people who applaud when a musician refuses to allow Republicans fair use of their music during campaigns. Every four years, we hear about how Republicans struggle to find music they can use, because…the music industry is discriminating against conservatives.

The day progressives demands musicians should require all politicians be allowed to use their music as is deemed reasonable under the law…I will believe they really believe what they are saying.  I am anxiously waiting for the moment Miley Cyrus’s music is used by a pro-life, social conservative Republican..and she demands that her work product not be used because of her moral stands.  The schadenfraude would be tremendous.  Of course, considering the quality of her music, I likely will be waiting a long time for such an occurrence.

Like any personal freedom in a public society, the discussion of the protections of religious freedoms when it involves free association of individuals and interaction of citizens with the public is a difficult on, especially upon first glance.  But if we are willing to contemplate the practical realities involved, and try to defer to individual choice as much as possible, solutions do start to emerge. The greatest failure of our political process today is its failure to bring about such sensible discourse; the debate over Indiana’s RFRA is just the latest, but not the last, of these types of ludicrous discussions.



The Path To Free Market Health Care: Philip Klein’s ‘Overcoming Obamacare’

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Conservatives have been mesmerized by the discussion of how we find a way to roll back the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature legislation.  The number of pages written on the subject must be in the millions.

And despite that, Philip Klein‘s book, Overcoming Obamacare, does a better job than almost any of its predecessors to succinctly and aptly describe the hurdles conservatives face in reaching that goal.  Even in the week since the book was published, many have written about their opinions about Klein’s view of the landscape.  Just to give some perspective, I point you to my favorite reads on the subject from Mark Hemingway, Aaron Carroll, Veronique de Rugy, and Ezra Klein.  I believe it is well worth a read for health policy experts, politicians, and average citizens that want to get their heads around the very complicated and important subject.  And frankly, at $2.99 on Amazon for the Kindle version, it is readily accessible to everyone.

Klein begins the book by providing a nice synopsis of the evolution of the ACA, what Democrats intended to achieve from the beginning, and the multitude of compromises they made to get the complicated ‘Rube Goldberg’ (Paul Krugman’s words, not mine or Klein’s) system passed in order to achieve their long-term goal: single payer health care.

But where Klein’s book excels, and takes us past previous Obamacare books, is his breakdown of where the conservative attempts for pushing back the ACA’s government over extended regulations and restrictions stand.  He concisely breaks down these political camps between the Reform School, Replace School, and the Restart School.

The Reform School proposes to roll back many of the taxes and regulations of the ACA, while not fully repealing the law wholesale.  It’s biggest and most vocal proponent has been Avik Roy, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and Editor of the opinion page at Forbes.  Roy has published an extensive, specific plan called ‘Transcending Healthcare‘, which lays out specifically how he would transform the current health care exchanges into a more free market system, reduce federal regulation and taxation, all the while providing more choice to American consumers, reducing the overall taxpayer costs in health care, while also covering more citizens than is currently expected to be covered under Obamacare.

As Klein notes, the harshest critics of the Reform School largely lie within the Replace School.  The question ultimately lies upon how much you believe Obamacare can truly be repealed. Those that believe the entire law can be repealed, without any or little political cost, prefer repeal. Those, like Roy, who see complete repeal as unlikely because of the millions of people who would lose health care insurance under such a strategy, feel that a different path is necessary.

The Replace School, on the other hand, firmly believes that the entire Affordable Care Act can and should be repealed; and then, if that occurs, put in place a true conservative vision of free market health care.  Led by such commentators as James Capretta of the American Entreprise Institute and Yuval Levin of the National Review, this group largely believes that we cannot reform the current system until the damage of Obamacare is remove.  Capretta has written extensively on the subject, and has submitted his own extensive plan on the subject.

The most extensive proposal in this school, however, is by the Republican Senatorial triumvirate of Tom Coburn, Orrin Hatch, and Robert Burr. The Burr-Coburn-Hatch proposal would have completely repealed the Affordable Care Act, and replace it. This plan would have dramatically decreased federal regulations on states, allowing them far more leniency in developing their own regulations, while covering slightly more individuals than Obamacare while spending less money.

The final school Klein outlines is the Restart School.  This school is most famously identified with Sen. Ted Cruz, although I would argue its biggest true propoents are Rep. Paul Ryan and Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Jindal, for one, has submitted the America Next proposal for health care reform.  It was far more radical in its approach than the other plans listed here, largely because of its radical reform of the employer based system.  As such, it requires the end of the Affordable Care Act, which is largely built on the employer mandate and the presumption that most Americans will continue to receive health care through their employers.  It also in many ways requires the end of the employer sponsored insurance system that has been the foundation of health care in the U.S. since the 1940s.  Therefore, it is hard to envision such a plan not to cause widespread disruption and anxiety.

As Klein admits, there are many whose positions overlap these three broad ‘schools’.  However, I think Klein does a great service to conservatives by simplifying where the current conservative positions stand.

By providing a ‘gestalt’ view of conservatism’s health care positions, Klein allows many who don’t follow the specifics and intricacies of the health care reform debate to start to build a ‘ mental construct’ of how to approach the entire issue. I have found that those that are politically savvy but not necessarily knowledgeable about health care find this entire debate off-putting. In fact, I found this to be a common symptom of how Congressmen and Senators approach the issue; it is easier for them to use platitudes and generalities in their responses to health care reform, instead of truly understanding the cost and benefits of each strategy to reform the system.

I also think that for many, we have gone through an evolution on this.  Four years ago, I would have definitely placed myself in the ‘Restart School’.  I fundamentally didn’t believe that Obamacare could be adequately reformed, and therefore, only a complete overhaul was appropriate.

However, I personally believe that we crossed the Rubicon with the defeat of Mitt Romney in 2012.  Once the exchanges and Medicaid expansion occurred in full force, we had lost the short-term window for a full repeal.

As of 2015, the landscape is far different than it was in 2012.  Millions, in one manner or another, and for better or worse, have been insured under the Obamacare system, largely with subsidies and direct benefits from the government. It is possible to roll back these measures, but once started, that rollback will have to be incremental to be truly politically viable.

Klein’s book is a short, succinct tome that everyone truly interested in understanding the strategies necessary for conservatives to return health care to a free market model should read and try to assimilate into their own thinking process.  I think it is now essential reading for all conservative politicos and Republican politicians, along with items such as Avik Roy’s health plan and Tom Coburn’s extensive writings on the subject.  Conservatives need to, in short order, decide on a reasonable political strategy forward, while also balancing the most cost efficient, free market approach to health care that we can possibly pass into law.  As such, Philip Klein’s submission to this literature is a worthy addition.




2014 Musings….


Some random thoughts on the year that has passed…

  • Personally, an excellent year, on all fronts.
  • For the country…not so great.  At the very least, it was troubling to watch a country attack its men on the thin blue line, instead of working with the police force to make reforms to better us all.  It was disturbing to watch many supposedly intelligent people on the left fall into the trap of believing emotions before facts.  And most troubling, it is worrisome that our leaders, especially the President of the United States, appears not to have any type of learning curve, as he proposes to make his old mistakes all over again.
  • 2014 was a horrible, no good, terrible year for liberalism, and as a corollary, President Obama and Democrats.  More and more of their views of the world, as is, was discredited.
  • On foreign policy, ISIS proved Obama’s view of the Middle East was incorrect from the beginning; and he appears to be ready to repeat the same mistake in Afghanistan.
  • On the economy, we continue in our relatively stagnant path.  You know things are bad when Democrats are celebrating sub-3% GDP growth; things are better, but that is a poor barometer when millions remain out of work and out of the workforce all together.
  • On many basic issues (police use of force stories, Keystone pipeline, voter ID/intimidation, minimum wage) liberals continue to hide from basic facts and reality, to the detriment of all.
  • The biggest success story for Democrats was Obamacare; and even that comes with caveats.  The easy part of the program, delivering relatively free Medicaid benefits to millions of poor, is largely over.  On the other hand, they are largely failing on making the exchanges more affordable for the middle class.  Premiums are not increasing (a trend that has been going on now since 2004, before Obamacare was even a dream) but that doesn’t mean the pricing pressures have gone away.  In fact, there is some evidence it is getting worse.
  • Republicans had a very decent year.  They had no major detrimental scandals, for the most part.  They carried out their plan for the midterm election, and brought it successfully to fruition, even though they were outspent in many cases.  The increased majority in the House, and the retaking of the Senate, was a major coup, and all honest assessments will admit they did pretty much as well as they possibly could have.
  • I didn’t bother to do a movie review this year…because I saw so few movies.  I will say that I loved Guardians of the Galaxy and the Winter Soldier.  The X-Men movie, as well as the Hunger Games sequel were solid.  Other than that, not many movies impressed me much this year.
  • On the TV front, we continue to see the golden age of geekdom.  Whether it is the Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Agents of Shield, Arrow, The Flash…you are living in the golden age of science fiction and fantasy. Enjoy it.
  • For 2015, I doubt politically we will achieve much.  I think the GOP is going to propose (and likely pass) a fair amount of decent legislation; Obama will simply obstruct. I think Obamacare will muddle along, with many of the same problems, and a host of new ones (especially the IRS rules that are impending).  On foreign affairs, things will get worse with ISIS, because Obama isn’t serious about confronting them; Iran will come a year closer to the bomb; and our other enemies will largely ignore the US.
  • Economically, I do believe we are improving.  But that improvement will continue to be asymmetrically targeted to the 1%.  The rich and upper middle class are continue to do quite well, as stocks and real estate surge and rebound.  The rest of the country, sadly, will continue to lag.  Obama’s policies will continue to widen the wealth gap, as it has done since the beginning of his presidency.
  • On the sports front, looking very much forward to watching how Jim Harbaugh leads the Michigan Wolverine football team.
  • 2014 was a mundane year for movies; the same cannot be said for 2015.  Avengers: Age of Ultron, the final Hunger Games, Fantastic Four, Jurassic World, James Bond’s SPECTRE, Terminator: Genisys, Ant-man, Minions, Mission: Impossible V, Ex-Machina, Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out, Mad Max: Fury Road, Disney’s Tomorrowland…a fantastic list, all culminating in the king of them all, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  My kid is giggling in glee for a movie that won’t come out for a year; that should tell you all you need to know.
  • 2015 looks to be a banner year on many fronts.  I wish all of you the best of luck in the coming year.

Fall Of The Berlin Wall…And Our March Toward Progress



25 years ago today, November 9, 1989, marks one of the most monumental, pivotal moments of modern history.

After more than four decades of seclusion from the Western World, with a literal concrete wall separating them from freedom, economic hope, as well as often their own families, the people of East Berlin were freed from their virtual imprisonment from the totalitarian excesses of the Soviet Empire.

Today, many view this as obvious, almost fated occurrence in the world’s march toward progress and freedom.

That is a modern delusion that ill-suits not only the facts, but does a disservice into understanding the sacrifice and effort that the great undertaking of undermining the ‘Evil Empire’ of the Soviet Union cost the Western World, especially the United States of America.

Modern liberals, such as President Barack Obama, have a faith-like belief that the world will continually improve, that freedom naturally expands and grows, that economic freedom is the natural evolution of humanity’s existence on this planet.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

In the 20th century, we saw at least two great, existential threats to the progress of freedom in the globe:  Nazism and Communism.

The first took the death of 60-80 million people, or approximately 2.5% of the entire population of the planet.  In dollars and cents, the war cost the United States approximately $7 trillion…or half of our current gross domestic product. Worldwide, that cost shoots to almost $25 trillion…which would be 1/3 of the entire GDP of the entire race of Homo sapiens.

As for the Cold War, the costs are far less obviously, but no less consequential.  The rise of the Soviet State led to the worldwide threat of global thermonuclear war.  The brush fire conflicts that erupted around the globe, including in places like Korea, Vietnam, Angola, and elsewhere had to one degree or another their origins in the struggle of democracy versus communism.

It is very easy in hindsight to think that the results of either World War II or the Cold War was utterly expected and predicted.  But the facts and history tell us otherwise.  There were many moments during the history of both conflicts when the march toward of freedom could have chosen a different path, with far different results.

In both, however, it was the unending, fearless leadership of moral men, standing up for what was right and what was worth fighting for, that made the difference.  Obviously in World War II, those men were primarily Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

During the Cold War, almost every U.S. President made this argument, and should be lauded for it.  But no two names were more meaningful than John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

For Kennedy, his moment in the crucible came in October 1962, as the Russians planned to deploy missiles to the nearby island of Cuba. Many members of Kennedy’s own party wanted him to stand down, and avoid any conflict.  But Kennedy understood a basic tenet of foreign policy: if you give into thugs, they will continue to demand more and more.  So instead, Kennedy established the blockade of Cuba…and the events unfolded as the success story we know today.

In 1961, Kennedy has little options to halt the Communists from erecting the Berlin Wall.  In June of 1963, he went to Berlin, and made claim to the mantle of freedom:

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was “civis Romanus sum.” Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

“There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the communist world. … Let them come to Berlin!”

“Lass’ sie nach Berlin kommen! [Let them come to Berlin!]”

What we see with Kennedy is an understanding that actions and words are important in defending your beliefs.  If you do not back up your lofty words with strong, forceful actions, those around the world that oppose you have no reason to believe in your word.

President Ronald Reagan in many ways was JFK’s successor in this regard.  He used forceful, sometimes scary language to describe the Soviet Union.  He did not mince words, calling them adversaries or whatnot; he called them the enemy, and stood steadfast behind that belief.

Ronald Reagan speaks in front of Brandenburg Gate


On June 12, 1987, in front of the Brandenburg Gates that had become the symbolic heart of the Berlin Wall conflict, Reagan spoke words that JFK would have thought unthinkable to state in Berlin a generation earlier:

Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guard towers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same–still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow-men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar. …

…And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.

Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Today, this speech seems such an obvious, integral part of what modern America is, and what modern democracy is based on.  But at the time, many worldwide leaders were critical of Reagan’s harsh tone; and some Democrats in America thought it was bellicose and incendiary.

To this day, there is debate of the true effects of the speech on both the Communist Party’s transition that would occur in the months to come (The Soviet Union would be dissolved on December 26, 1991, only 25 months later). But the symbolic importance of the moment, especially considering the Berlin Wall fell 2 years after the speech and the Soviet Union only 2 years after that, cannot be overstated.  Fundamentally, even the Fall of the Berlin wall was, in a sense, only a symbolic gesture on the world’s path to ridding us of the tyranny of communism.

The lessons learned from the Cold War could be profound for our modern conflicts, but our current leadership seems unwilling or unable to accept the lessons at hand. The demise of Communism was never a certainty, never a fate we were promised by some higher power or by some vague form of manifest destiny.  It took political leaders, from both American political parties, from all ends of the modern Western political spectrum, to slowly, steadily, and methodically push back against the forces of oppression that the Warsaw Pact represented.

Today, we face a similar existential threat in Radical Islam, Islamofascism, or whatever term you see most fit. But we still have not learned the lessons of the past.  We must hold fast to the belief that freedom and democracy, above all else, is the way forward.  We must believe that although we don’t want to impose, in any fashion, our belief system in others, we should not deny that our system has been far superior to these alternatives around the globe.

Our leadership today seems unwilling to accept this type of moral superiority.  They refuse to truly grasp the mantle of freedom the way that Kennedy, Reagan, and so many others across the globe did.  And they don’t understand that without such true belief in our system, we can never be victorious over the forces of violence, oppression, and hatred that confronts today.

So, we should celebrate the momentous symbolic achievement of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.  We should accept the great victory that it was over the oppressive communist threat.  But hopefully, some will also learn the larger lessons we should derive from that.


Final 2014 Midterm Election Predictions

The final Fix Senate rankings are here    The Washington Post

With a little under a week to go before Election Day, it is time to make last-minute predictions once again.

You can see my earlier predictions from January here, and from October here.

Overall, the trends have moved slightly, but not significantly, toward Republicans.  The generic poll numbers have not significantly moved, but the enthusiasm gap steadily has increased, as the GOP is relatively excited to come out and voice their displeasure at the polls.


I didn’t spend a lot of time on the Governor’s races in my previous post, and won’t do so here either, other than to make quick predictions on a few key races.  In the races not mentioned, I expect the incumbent/heavily favored to win.

Alaska: Walker (I), in close race.

Colorado:  Hickenlooper (D) anb Beauprez are going neck-and-neck; I was ready to call it for Hickenlooper a few days ago, but right now…I wouldn’t bet a nickel on either side.  True tossup. Guess?  Republicans pull it out.

Connecticut: Polls are tied; my gut says Foley (R) ousts Gov. Malloy.

Florida:  I have no idea; really.  I would not be surpised to see a recount.

Georgia: Deal (R), but less than 50%, so heads to runoff.

Illinois: Polling all over the place; low confidence, but I think Rauner (R) pulls it out.

Kansas:  Another true tossup; gut tells me Brownback (R) wins, though deserves to lose.

Maine: LePage (R), by the skin of his teeth.

Massachusetts:  Baker (R); a stunning turn of events.

Michigan:  Snyder (R)

New Hampshire:  Hassan (D), in a race closer than predicted.

Rhode Island: Fung (R) has run a great race, but I predict he loses to Raimondo.

Wisconsin: Walker (R), but closer than predicted.



In my earlier post, I predicted a gain of 5-8 House seats.  The polls have shifted recently, with several Democrat incumbents now in tough races, as both parties rush to pour money into these districts.  That is good news overall for Republicans, who could steal a few seats that were considered safe by Democrats, including several in the completely blue region of the North East.  Polls in states like New York are showing GOP surges late…that is a sign of good things.

PREDICTION:  Gain of 8-12 House seats, up from 5-8 earlier this month.


All the real fun is still with the Senate.

The Senate prediction models (538, NY Times Upshot, Washington PostRealclearpolitics, Huffington Post, Wang,Larry Sabato, and the new AoSHQDD) have slightly moved toward Republicans in the past month, including Dr. Wang’s site, which had heavily favored Democrats last go around.

The short term shift of polls toward Democrats died a quick death, with most of the polls trending toward the GOP over the past several weeks.  In that last week before election day, we have seen several polling units show last-minute surges for Republicans. That has solidified some of the ratings changes below:


Arkansas has trended GOP over the past several months, and Tom Cotton should be considered the heavy favorite.  This race looks very close to being over.

RATING:  Likely GOP.


This race is sitting with a razor-thin margin.  Kay Hagan has had a lead for months, but that has been slowly, but steadily, narrowing.  Several polls show the race tightening or even at the moment.  If momentum matters, Tillis will pull it out.  As it were, I still have to give a light edge to Hagan, based on her long-term lead.  One caveat though: Hagan has polled consistently in the low 40s for the entire campaign; in the RealClearPolitics average, no incumbent has ever won re-election with a rating below 45% going into election day. Hagan will try to become the first.

RATING: Slight Democrat lean.


This race is likely heading for a runoff in December.  Cassidy is trailing slightly in the three-way race for next week, but in head-to-head with Sen. Landrieu, shows a solid lead.  He is likely to win the race in December.

RATING: Likely GOP in runoff.

4.  Alaska

Alaska is notoriously hard to poll, because of its sparse population.  But there has been some decent polling there in recent weeks, and the news is not good for Democrats.  Dan Sullivan has opened a small, but persistent, lead over Democrat Senator Mark Begich.


5. Iowa

Iowa was considered the ‘firewall’ for Senate Democrats’ hopes to hold the Senate, along with Colorado (see below). Bruce Braley was a unanimous choice as a strong candidate to hold the seat.  However, conservative Joni Ernst has run a strong campaign, attacking Braley on both policy and personal issues.  Surprisingly, Ernst appears to have the tiniest amount of momentum at this point.

This is another race that a late GOP surge makes me a believer.


6.  Colorado.

Along with Iowa, this was considered the Democrat firewall to hold the Senate.  Cory Gardner has disrupted that strategy.  Gardner is a solid candidate, who has run a clean campaign against incumbent Sen. Mark Udall. Udall has led for most of the year, but recently Gardner has taken a slight, but consistent, lead.  Udall has had several hiccups of late, but he still has a lot of money and a strong ground game.

Like Iowa, we are seeing a GOP surge late…and that should take Gardner over the top.


7.  New Hampshire

Honestly…I did not think we would be talking about New Hampshire at this point.  Sen.  Jeanne Shaheen is a relatively popular Senator, with no major scandals.  Fmr. Sen. Scott Brown is a relative usurper, moving from Massachusetts just earlier this year. But key issues, including foreign policy, have made this race competitive. Shaheen still holds a steady lead though, and I presume she will pull it out.

RATING:  Leans Democrat.

8.  Michigan

Of all the races for the GOP, this is by far the most disappointing.  I openly advocated for Terri Lynn Land, but she has run a horrendous campaign, where her messaging has been off, her campaigning has been lackadaisical, and she has allowed herself to become mired in silly controversies time and again.   Unlike every other Republican on this list, she has actually outspent her opponent, to little or no avail. Gary Peters is not a good candidate, but in a blue state, you don’t have to be a good Democrat candidate to beat a mediocre Republican.

RATING:  Solid Democrat.

9.  Kansas

This is a race nobody can honestly predict.  All the fundamentals should mean Sen. Pat Roberts wins re-election.  The polls are not great in this race, but like Sean Trende has said on Twitter, until I see solid evidence, you have to bet on Roberts.

The GOP has ridden to Roberts’ rescue in the last few weeks. And former Sen. Bob Dole pulled out all the stops.  My guess is, by the skin of their teeth, that will be enough.

RATING:  Leans Republican.

10. Georgia

Georgia wasn’t listed in my last prediction…because I never seriously considered it in play.  However, just to show the flux in polling, a surge for Nunn gave her a tiny lead during the interim.  Perdue’s polling appears to have rebounded, and he seems to have a small lead.  This race looks like it is going to a runoff, but once there, Perdue will very likely comfortably win. However, Perdue has surged enough in recent days, he is achingly close to avoiding a runoff all together by reaching the 50% mark.

RATING: Leans Republican.

PREDICTION: I think the last two weeks have slightly shifted the electorate.  Where as some races were true tossups at that time, like Iowa and Colorado, those races now appear to be leaning Republican, if not out right over.  For example, the Des Moines Register poll, often considered the premier poll in the state of Iowa, gives Joni Ernst a outside-the-margin-of-error lead of 7 points, and calls the race over.  That would have been an unthinkable claim at the beginning of the month.

I think Republicans are going to be very, very disappointed in races in New Hampshire and North Carolina.  In New Hampshire, Scott Brown has run an excellent insurgent campaign, very much like this win in 2010 in Massachusetts.  However, the GOP was a little late in coming to his aid, and he will probably lose by a point or two.

In North Carolina, Thom Tillis had run a terrible campaign through out the summer.  He disastrously remained in the North Carolina state legislature, which not only gave him bad press, but allowed Kay Hagan to pound him on the campaign trail for months.  Tillis has done a nice job in recent weeks, both on the trail and in the debates.  I think he is going to fall just short though.

When all is said and done, I predict the GOP takes 8 seats, to get to a 53 seat majority in the United States Senate.


In recent days, a lot of political pundits are already setting up the ‘expectations’ game for both political parties.  The Washington Post said the GOP will need a ‘reality check’ after winning.  Nate Cohn in the New York Times is that the success in the midterms tells us little about the electorate for 2016.

In general, that is true.  The midterm elections really have no significant bearing on what will happen in a Presidential elections.  We have to look no further than 1986 Democrat Party victory, after which George H.W. Bush shellacked Michael Dukakis; or 2010, when the GOP had a wave election, only to be overcome by Barack Obama once again in 2012.

Victories this year, mostly in states favorable to the GOP, doesn’t really prognosticate for future victories.

This comes with a couple caveats however.  Note how far the GOP has come since just JANUARY. See my predictions from January here, which aligned nicely with those of other pundits throughout the blogosphere. Democrats expected to hold both Colorado and Iowa, with Ken Buck thought to be the expected candidate in the former, and nobody giving Joni Ernst a chance in the latter.  New Hampshire was not supposed to really be in play.  North Carolina was the one race where Democrats can be happy with their plans.

In short, pundits are moving the bar greatly in these last few weeks. Simply put, virtually nobody predicted the GOP would take both Iowa and Colorado, both blue-leaning states in the era of Obama. And many, if not most, prognosticators thought Democrats would gain seats in the House, or at worst, stay even; instead, the Democrats are guaranteed to lose House seats, and some of those seats may be in relatively ‘safe’ Democrat districts.

The repercussions for 2016 and beyond simply cannot be predicted right now.  But the short answer is this: the GOP looks like it is doing their job: elevating their ground game, recruiting strong candidates, and then running relatively err0r-free campagins.  The Democrats, on the other hand, tried to depend on past victories in the ground game, recruited some poor to terrible candidates, and have run campaigns full of gaffes and mistakes.

Whether this is a true ‘wave’ election is a matter of opinion.  But there is no doubt, this is going to be a solid victory for Republicans, who now have to look forward both on policy and 2016 to make this election matter.


Our Silly National Conversation On Ebola


I have been pretty active discussing our national response to the Ebola threat over the past month on various social media outlets, but have refrained largely from writing a more extensive explanation of my thought processes here.  There were two good reasons for that: one, I didn’t think I had anything unique to add; and two, because people were largely being rational about the discussion, after the debate was over.

This last week, however, the Ebola discussion has entered a new level of silliness.

I guess it was to be expected, with the midterm elections approaching, but the political partisanship now permeating the Ebola debate hit a new peak this week.

This largely started with the events of last weekend. On Friday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Democrat and Republican respectively, decided that it was time to respond to the Ebola threat.  This was instigated by the discovery of a Ebola infected physician living in Manhattan, who had been traveling around the city with little or no supervision.

In response, Cuomo and Christie instituted a universal quarantine for all health care workers who had come in contact with the Ebola virus in West Africa.

The reaction was swift and loud, both in the media, medical and in political circles.  The White House, with personal telephone calls from President Barack Obama, lobbied Gov. Cuomo to reverse his policy.

This left Chris Christie holding the bag on Sunday morning, just as he was on numerous Sunday talk shows defending his bipartisan joint position.

The media, as it is wont to do, made Christie out to be the villain. This was compounded by the story of Kaci Hickox, who had the unfortunate bad luck to be the first person apprehended under the new policy. She was quickly quarantined in an unheated tent at a New Jersey academic center.  Hickox proceeded to make her case on social media, and successfully convinced people who the policy was ill-conceived.

Now, during this entire episode, I was on social media criticizing the quarantine as well (for reasons I will describe below).  However, the events of this week would just show how silly the conversation has become.

On Wednesday, the Defense Department announced that all military personnel serving in West Africa on Obama’s Ebola mission…would be quarantined for 21 days upon their return to the United States.

The point of this is not to attack the President or the Governors.  It is to show how non-scientific the discussion has become.  If we were basing this discussion on the best science medicine has to offer, neither quarantine makes much sense.

Note that the Obama Administration’s quarantine decision has no scientific support either; but there was virtual silence from the media on this.  In fact, some liberal commentators tried to argue that Obama’s policy somehow was scientifically superior to Christie’s…for reasons reasons I cannot fathom.

Instead of simply admitting that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the Obama Administration made a blatant, political decision similar to governors in Republican and Democrat states such as New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, and recently California, people were trying to cover up the decision under some vague blanket of ‘science’.

See Obama’s own explanation of the difference:

“Well, the [U.S.] military is in a different situation, obviously, because they are, first of all, not treating patients,” the president said. “Second of all, they are not there voluntarily, it’s part of their mission that has been assigned to them by their commanders and, ultimately by me, the commander-in-chief.

“We don’t expect to have similar rules for our military and as we do for our civilians. They are already, by definition, if they’re in the military, under more circumscribed conditions,” he added.

If anything, this is an argument against the quarantining of soldiers, and in favor of quarantining of civilians.  Our returning civilians are far more likely to have come in contact with Ebola patients than the military personnel.  Once they return, the military personnel largely would be living on base, and could easily be sequestered and watched, unlike civilians.  As for ‘voluntary’…isn’t our entire military a voluntary force?

Simply put, Obama’s explanation doesn’t meet the smell test.  He is not making a rational, medically sound decision here; his making a blatant, politically based one, no different from Govs. Christie and Cuomo did.  Furthermore, the media focus on Christie shows a blatant bias, when Democrat governors in many states, including Minnesota and California, have done exactly the same, without any of the same level of scrutiny.

So, medically speaking, why doesn’t  a quarantine make sense? There have been several excellent articles on this subject that are linked here.   But here is a brief synopsis.  Simply put, quarantine is useful in diseases that are highly virulent, airborne, spread quickly, are infectious even when patients are not necessarily symptomatic, and have a high mortality rate.   Other than the last, Ebola does not fit with any of these criteria.  Ebola is virulent, but only upon contact with fluids.  It is infectious usually only upon the arrival of symptoms.  It does have a high mortality rate if not treated, but recent successful treatment in the U.S. makes some experts wonder if early and aggressive hydration and treatment can greatly reduce the 50% mortality rate we have seen in Africa.

However, I and others have been critical of the Centers for Disease Control and others in their approach to handling this outbreak.  There are many proactive policies short of quarantine that could have been put in place much earlier that would not only have medically made sense, but also would have increased the public’s faith in the government’s ability to confront the disease.

For example, as early as August I suggested a regimen where the CDC would closely monitor all individuals who had been to afflicted countries in west Africa, as well as any other individuals who had come in contact with Ebola infected patients.  The CDC finally accepted such a regimen last week, where they recommend twice daily monitoring by local public health officials.  Their guidelines also suggest strict restrictions to travel and other public exposure, which would have greatly limited the public’s distrust that built after the stories about the nurse traveling on a commercial airliner to Cleveland, as well as the more recent story of the physician in New York City.

Frankly, however, these criticisms are minor.  I believe Dr. Tom Frieden and the CDC have almost totally been correct in their medical advice.  It is only in their handling  of public relations and instructions to the public where I have been highly critical.   Recent CDC adjustments to earlier vague and ill-advised recommendations make me believe they are on the right track, and recent public polls reaffirm that these changes have helped rebuild the trust with the public that was lost earlier.

I do think the administration, as well as both political parties, would serve the country well by avoiding politicizing any of these issues, but that is probably wishful thinking.  I would rather not discuss the President, or any Governors, when discussing what the proper handling of these public health issues should be.

I also think that those that discuss these issues should hold all public officials to the same standard.  If quarantine doesn’t make sense for civilians, there is no scientific or medical reason to institute one for military personnel.  Having two standards, regardless for the rationalizations given, further confuses the public, and to most laymen, makes them think that politicians are willing to expose the public to a double standard only because of political considerations, instead of a consistent medical standard based on the best evidence available.

Additionally, if we could move past the politics, there are many serious issue regarding the Federal and State powers in regards to quarantines that is worthy of discussion.  Who retains what power to quarantine?  When is the reasonable time to enforce that power?  If medical science is uncertain about the virulence or threat of a disease, does that give the state-wide latitude in the power it wields?  What recourse and judicial oversight should exist?  And should there be a uniform standard nationwide?  These are all legitimate arguments we should be having, but instead, we have entered a political silly season on the subject.  Fear mongering and hyperbole largely preclude us from having these serious conversations.

This is some what a repeat of the entire discussion surrounding travel bans.  I have stated that a complete travel ban is counterproductive and inefficient.  At the same time, I think a partial travel ban (or if you prefer another term, travel restrictions) could prove useful to limiting the spread of disease, and also allowing us to track civilians that have the potential to spread the disease better. There is a reasonable middle ground to be had here.

One final point that I have been thinking extensively about: in many ways, we are lucky that this major test of our public health system came with the Ebola virus, and not some of the alternatives.  As a slow-moving, non-airborne virus that apparently can be treated with supportive treatment alone, the public health system was able to make mistakes and not suffer huge consequences for it.  The same would not be true of a potential airborne, virulent, deadly virus, which could quickly move through certain populations before hospitals and health care workers could find the proper footing to react to the crisis.  This is not some fictional, ‘Hollywood’ scenario either.  Every few decades or so, the world is confronted with pandemics that stretch the ability of governments to react.  It was true with the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, and was true many times before, going all the way to the Black Death of the plague in Europe.

Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Homeland Security, and others should learn their lesson here: when new, potentially dangerous infections reach our shores, public health officials should react quickly and forcefully to stomp out the threat.  In the case of Ebola, the CDC was for weeks reacting to events rather than proactively getting ahead of events.  Instead of taking decisive action, even if those actions were over-cautious in nature, we left ourselves open to creating wider epidemic, while at same time sowing distrust in the general public.  Ebola is not a threat that had the potential to spread in that manner, but the next new disease might.  The lessons we learn today should be implemented to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

And that is a rational, scientific, medically relevant discussion the nation really should have.





Election Predictions, October 2014 Edition

2014 Senate   AoSHQ Decision Desk

I have personally avoided writing too much about the 2014 election cycle for a simple reason:  there hasn’t been much to say.

One can go back and read what I wrote in January, and little has changed.  Structurally, this is an election that favors the GOP, with battles being fought on friendly territory.  GOP should, by any reasonable measure, pick up enough seats to take the Senate.  Democrats are facing headwinds because Barack Obama is not popular, and Obamacare still lacked any traction among the populace.  And the GOP was nominating higher quality candidates than in past cycles.

I think most of this remains true.

What has changed? Well, Obamacare is slightly less of an issue today than 9 months ago.  Some liberals have argued that the issue has completely shifted.  I don’t believe that is the case.  What I do believe is that the issue is ‘baked in'; meaning that those people who have made up their minds on the issue have already picked which side they support.  Obamacare issue ads are unlikely to move the electorate at this point.

The bigger issue has been the plummeting of faith in the presidency of Barack Obama.  His approval numbers are around 40%, which is similar to George W. Bush’s numbers in late 2006.  On issues as wide-ranging as the economy, immigration, and foreign policy, Republicans are now favored over Democrats. That is a shift even when compared to earlier this year.

One common refrain has been, “Why haven’t we seen a GOP wave yet then?”.  It is a legitimate question, which actually has legitimate answers.  In 2010, the wave only really began in late September.  Likely, most people simply aren’t paying attention until then.  Furthermore, unlike past years, the number of seats that can potentially switch is much smaller, especially when talking about the House.  Simply put, even if there was a wave, it is hard to move immovable objects.

So where are we, with little more than a month to election day?


Not going to spend a ton of time on this, but worth a few comments.

In my home state of Ohio, Gov. John Kasich is going to shellack the Democrats by approximately 20 points.  A remarkable recovery for a man who was hovering below 50% approval just a year ago.

Wisconsin should once again be close, but Gov. Scott Walker again holds a consistent small lead over his Democrat challenger. This election looks a lot like the last two races, where Walker looks to be in trouble, but pulls it out in the end.

The Florida race between Gov. Rick Scott and Fmr. Gov. Charlie Crist has been back and forth all cycle.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if a few thousand votes makes the difference in the end.

Sam Brownback is in serious trouble in Kansas, though he is within the margin of error. If he can convince enough Republicans to give him another chance, he could pull it off. My guess right now is that he loses.

Martha Coakley is once again running a poor campaign in Massachusetts, and her GOP challenger Charlie Baker is taking advantage.  Coakley probably leads, but not by much.  Could be a photo finish.

Gov. Nathan Deal has struggled in Georgia against Democrat Carter, and the polls have shown it. My guess is Deal pulls it out in the end with a last-minute conservative surge helping pull him to the finish line.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has led virtually the entire way against Democrat Mark Schauer, even in the blue state.  That bodes well for Snyder.

Illinois has been a lot of fun to watch.  Gov. Pat Quinn is under investigation for multiple offenses, not to mention corruption charges.  Illinois has one of the worst records economically over the past four years, and the state is still under a mountain of debt.  Even still, Republican has struggled to pull ahead consistently.  This is a tough race to call, another true tossup.

PREDICTION: If forced to, would predict Democrats to pick up 2-3 Governors seats overall, with the at-risk GOP seats most likely PA, ME, and KS. If interested in each individual race, Larry Sabato‘s run down is excellent.


Easiest prediction:  The GOP will hold the House of Representatives.

Considering the generic ballot, and the structural realities, it is frankly impossible for Republicans to have a huge wave.  Why is that?  Because we are basically in a scenario where we are living with the previous wave, the 2010 midterm election.  That election basically showed what a realistic high water mark is for the GOP. In 2012, the GOP lost 8 House seats.  The most likely result is the GOP wins 5-8 seats in this cycle, basically reaching the high water 2010 mark again.

PREDICTION:  Gain of 5-8 House seats.


All the real fun is with the Senate.

The Senate prediction models (538, NY Times Upshot, Washington PostRealclearpolitics, Huffington Post, Wang, Larry Sabato, and the new AoSHQDD) have been all over the board.  I think one take away?  If you see a model having huge swings, it is best to ignore it until right before the election, because its predictive value is very, very low.

In the middle of September, there appeared to be a suddens shift toward the Democrats, with several models showing the likelihood of Democrats holding the chamber to be better than even. That lasted for about 48 hours.  The reality is nothing fundamentally changed, but poll variables were shifting the dynamics.

Models such as those by Professor Wang deviated widely, which led 538’s Nate Silver to take pot shots at him. For example, on September 25th, Wang’s model had Begich as a 99% favorite in Alaska. The next day, it gave him a 23% chance.  Such deviations are signs of a poor model.

In any case, the larger issue is nothing has really changed that much, but there have been some state by state variability.  Here are the races I think that are most important.  Please note that I am no longer even discussing Montana, West Virginia, and South Dakota, which are likely locks for the GOP.  I also think Kentucky and Georgia have basically trended away from the Democrats.  Barring any ‘black swan’ even, Republicans should hold those seats.  Same with longshot seats in Virginia and Oregon, where Democrats have largely locked up re-election.

The remaining?


Arkansas is a state the GOP must win to take the Senate.  Tom Cotton has run an up and down campaign against Senator Mark Pryor.  Pryor, on the other hand, has not run a perfect re-election campaign.  One steady truth though: Cotton has held a small but significant lead against Pryor since early summer, currently leading by 3.6 points.



This is a race that is pretty unique, because it has trended away from the GOP.  Sen. Kay Hagan has run a brilliant campaign, largely focused not on her record but the education record of opponent Thom Tillis.  That, along with her significant monetary advantage has allowed her strategy to prove successful.  Hagan has opened up a significant 3.5% lead since early September.  However, unlike other races, like Arkansas, that lead has only been for a few weeks, so is less certain.  But it is significant, and right now Ms. Hagan has the edge.

RATING: Leans Democrat.


Of course because of this state’s strange election rules, it is highly likely this goes to a run off in December, barring a single candidate getting 50% in November, which is highly unlikely.  But in any case, Republican Bill Cassidy has had a solid, steady lead or incumbent Mary Landrieu.  The lead is 5.1% today, and has been similar for months.


4.  Alaska

Alaska is notoriously hard to poll, because of its sparse population.  But there has been some decent polling there in recent weeks, and the news is not good for Democrats.  Dan Sullivan has opened a small, but persistent, lead over Democrat Senator Mark Begich.


5. Iowa

Iowa was considered the ‘firewall’ for Senate Democrats’ hopes to hold the Senate, along with Colorado (see below). Bruce Braley was a unanimous choice as a strong candidate to hold the seat.  However, conservative Joni Ernst has run a strong campaign, attacking Braley on both policy and personal issues.  Surprisingly, Ernst appears to have the tiniest amount of momentum at this point.  Still too close to call.

RATING: Tossup.

6.  Colorado.

Along with Iowa, this was considered the Democrat firewall to hold the Senate.  Cory Gardner has disrupted that strategy.  Gardner is a solid candidate, who has run a clean campaign against incumbent Sen. Mark Udall. Udall has led for most of the year, but recently Gardner has taken a slight lead.  Udall has had several hiccups of late, but he still has a lot of money and a strong ground game. This will grind out until election day.

RATING:  Tossup.

7.  New Hampshire

Honestly…I did not think we would be talking about New Hampshire at this point.  Sen.  Jeanne Shaheen is a relatively popular Senator, with no major scandals.  Fmr. Sen. Scott Brown is a relative usurper, moving from Massachusetts just earlier this year. But key issues, including foreign policy, have made this race competitive. Shaheen still holds a steady lead though, and I presume she will pull it out.

RATING:  Likely Democrat.

8.  Michigan

Of all the races for the GOP, this is by far the most disappointing.  I openly advocated for Terri Lynn Land, but she has run a horrendous campaign, where her messaging has been off, her campaigning has been lackadaisical, and she has allowed herself to become mired in silly controversies time and again.   Unlike every other Republican on this list, she has actually outspent her opponent, to little or no avail. Gary Peters is not a good candidate, but in a blue state, you don’t have to be a good Democrat candidate to beat a mediocre Republican.

RATING:  Likely Democrat.

9.  Kansas

This is a race nobody can honestly predict.  All the fundamentals should mean Sen. Pat Roberts wins re-election.  Independent (Democrat?) Greg Orman leads in several polls, but hasn’t been challenged at all.  Now, I guess the GOP could fail miserably and not call Orman out to task…but even I find that difficult to believe.  The polls are not great in this race, but like Sean Trende has said on Twitter, until I see solid evidence, you have to bet on Roberts.

RATING:  Likely Republican (with little or no evidence to prove either way).

PREDICTION: The Senate is still too close to call, as every prognosticator has suggested.  Charlie Cook this week suggested Republicans have a 60% chance of taking the Senate majority…and I believe that is the most forceful prediction I have seen recently.  The Senate is on a razor’s edge.

Right now, I think Republicans have a significant edge in KY and GA, as I stated above.  I think they lead by a small amount in AR and LA.  I think that Begich is in trouble in AK as well.

If Roberts holds in Kansas, that would give the Senate to the Republicans.  If not, it gives you a 50/50 tie, and gives Biden the Senate for Democrats with the VP tiebreaker.

However, even if Roberts loses, there is a better than coin flips chance that Republicans take either CO or IA.  I think both are literal tossups, and there is at least a 50% chance of taking one of those seats for the GOP.  I also don’t believe NC is lost to the Republicans yet, though I would bet on Hagan if forced to at this point.

What it comes down to is, the worst case scenario for the GOP is a pickup of 5 seats, meaning they fall short of taking the majority because of Joe Biden.  The best case scenario is a 8 seat pick up.

In short…I basically agree with the prognosticators.  Whether Nate Silver, Huffington Post, Charlie Cook…they give the GOP a slightly better than 50% chance of taking the Senate.  I have said this actually since January, and nothing has fundamentally changed.  Or to simplify matters, presuming my assumptions above, Republicans would need to win 2 of the four races in IA, CO, AK and Kansas.  If I were the GOP, I would be relatively happy with that coin flip.


9/11…Never Forget









My Slow Personal Betrayal Of The Public Education System


This is a very personal story for me, something I don’t often do, but I do think it is instructive for the larger policy debate we are having over education.

Education has long been one of my personal interests.  It must be a family thing, as my sister also has long been enthusiastically involved in different educational ventures.  This eventually led her into becoming a teacher, and later an administrator of a charter school.  Both my sister and I have been involved in starting charities involving advancing educational opportunities.  We have also promoted education overseas, predominantly in India.

I have always believed that a strong public education system is essential to the survival of a democracy.  A democracy without intelligent, thoughtful individuals is more of a dictatorship than a representative government.

The first time I can recall ever having this debate was when I was in the 8th grade.  Our family had recently moved from Ohio to the suburbs of Detroit.  We lived in what was at the time one of the best school districts in the state of Michigan. Yet, my parents seriously considered (at what would have been great financial sacrifice to them) placing me at the Country Day School, one of the elite private schools in Michigan. I refused.

Now, most would think that was because I didn’t want to leave my friends, my classmates, etc.  Actually, that was not the case. As a new student to the area…I had very few friends.  I had, fundamentally, no real emotional connection to anyone. However, even at that age, I understood some of the advantages that public school could potentially provide, even though private school had its own advantages.

My recent transition from a hard-core public school advocate to one looking for wider options happened in a time span of less than a year, and largely occurred because it had a direct effect on my family.  My son was in second grade this past year.  He is a smart, enthusiastic boy (if I do say so myself).  He is very strong in math, and reads a fair amount for his age.  Overall, he was ahead of his class for most of the year.

The breaking point for us was…Common Core.

Now, my reaction to Common Core was not in any way similar to that of many activists you see around the country. Here is the irony: in general, I SUPPORT national standards in education.  I generally supported them with No Child Left Behind, and more recently with Common Core.  I will admit I had issues with both (especially the ham-handedness of both programs in relation to local decision-making), but I have long believed a general national standard could prove to be helpful.

However, as is often the case, these things sound better in theory than in practice. Full Common Core implementation has not occurred in my local district yet, but the pain is already apparent. My son would bring homework that made little or no sense. Many of you have seen such examples on Twitter and blogs all over the internet, as parents struggled to explain these worksheets, and sometimes even had answering the problems themselves. Some of these were intended to be ‘logic problem solving’ endeavors, but actually amounted more to Sphinx-like trick question that nobody could understand. My son, who was quite advanced in math, struggled mightily. Not only did he struggle..at times, he actually regressed.

As a parent, I faced a similar conundrum as my own parents did: at what point do you opt out of the public school system?

The more I delved into my own personal concerns regarding these issues, the more I realized I wasn’t alone.  A recent study showed that states with more aggressive testing standards and more recent implementation of national standards also demonstrated parents that expressed more negative attitudes about their children’s schools and about government in general than public-school parents in states with less extensive testing policies

In general, parents in the United States support public education, but they also resist centralized control of that same system.  A centralized standards system disempowers local districts, teachers, and ultimately, the parents themselves…which echoes much of my own fears and feelings on the subject.

The lack of evidence on which Common Core was actually based on should worry anyone interested in improving public education.  An article in the American Journal of Education last fall shows that the development phase of Common Core centered mostly on identifying the problems in the American education system…and far less time in developing solutions to those problems.  Many of the solutions actually do not appear to be based on data at all, but more on the anecdotal evidence of certain powerful voices in policy debate.  That is quite apparent in the real world interaction that many have seen with the program so far.

Additionally, some of the core beliefs in Common Core appear to not be based necessarily on any scientifically based result at all.  One key example is the virtual dismissal of the role of rote memorization in understanding and confronting complex problems.  Memorization has long been one of the central tenets of education overseas, especially in Asian countries (which many point to for their high test scores these days).   Our educators, for several decades, have moved away from such teaching, fearing that such forced memorization hinders the child’s overall ability to understand complexities of the real world.

However, several studies have shown rote memorization is a vital part of a student learning how to solve complex calculations. In effect, as young math students memorize basic math, their brains slowly start to utilize what their memories already know, and allow them to ‘adapt’ to the more complex nature of the newer, more complex math problems they face.  Common core doesn’t totally ban memorization as a tool, but it largely dismisses the usefulness in learning.  Defenders of Common Core argue that memorization can still be used in their system, but if you look at materials publised by the Department of Education and others, almost none of them use memorization as a major tool.  This appears to be based on shaky science at best.

People who favor centralized standards are well-meaning, but dismiss those with feelings such as mine as ‘fear’ or ‘based on hyperpartisanship.  My conclusion of this was nothing of the sort.  In fact, I would argue my decision was far more evidence based than their claims.  In this decision, I was faced with actual, real life results from the educational progress (or lack thereof) my son made before and after the introduction of Common Core materials.  And once introduced, not only did those materials regress my son’s educational standing…but his emotional well-being as well.

That is what I define as a conclusive behavioral test failure.

I still have a lot of respect for my school district, and the teachers at my son’s school.  They were friendly, approachable, and really understood our complaints.  In fact, at least one teacher secretly admitted that the Common Core material they had been provided by the state was problematic at best. The simple reality is, they had little or no flexibility to deal with my issues.

The more I learn about the real world implementation of Common Core, versus the high-minded philosophy behind it…the more I oppose the program. Centralized standards are still a goal I fully support, because providing a universal basic goal for education, and more important, achieving those goals, should be an important metric to achieve.  However, Common Core, for all its good intent, is unlikely to achieve anything of the sort, because it simply ignores the reality of the real world in lieu of bureaucratic declarations.  Maybe it can overcome its original mistakes, adapt and change direction, but in all honesty how many large Federal programs are ever able to achieve that?

More and more parents that have and do maintain choices in education will use those avenues to give their child better outcomes.  On the other hand, those left behind will have to figure out how to struggle through Common Core’s complicated maze of questionable Federal recommendations. We are once again left with the long existing problem in education: the haves versus the have nots.

My family is one of the lucky ones.  I have the financial means to make choices others cannot.  And thus, last week my son started at an elite private school.  So far, we are ecstatic, and my son has adjusted well.  I am sure he will excel given time.  However, I am still left with regret and guilt that I abandoned a public education system that I have so long tried to be an advocate of.  It is unfortunate, but like so many others around the country, I have now had to face the reality of what our public education system is, not how I wish it to be; and I have found it to be lacking.




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