Kansas Independent Could Be Wild Card in Senate (Or Not, We’ll See)

AAccording to Huffington Post polling, there’s a 79% chance the GOP takes control of the U.S. Senate today (and The Washington Post contends there’s a whopping 98% chance). No surprise it’s likely to happen if you’ve been following along.

But, perhaps most interesting, is that HuffPo also calculates a 9% chance that Greg Orman, an independent in an extremely tight race against Republican three-term Senator Pat Roberts, could determine which party rules based on where he decides to caucus (should he win his race).

Read this Politico piece to find out why Republicans think he’ll actually caucus with Democrats, and what that could mean going forward. (And this may shock you, but Vice President Biden reportedly let the ol’ cat out of the bag on this matter earlier today.)

At any rate, Orman’s campaign is making for interesting theater during this mid-term election season.

Debate Breakdown: Romney Comes Out Swinging

The hype and lead-up to Wednesday night’s presidential debate was substantial. As a rather moderate voter, I was quite eager to see how it would play out. Most pundits — and pretty much all post-debate polls — contend Mitt Romney was the winner, largely due to his aggressiveness and President Obama’s perceived lack of energy and unwillingness to challenge some of Romney’s assertions. I’d have to agree with that analysis. Here’s the breakdown from The Washington Post. (Note: The next two debates will be Oct. 16 and Oct. 22, while the vice presidential debate is slated for Oct. 11.)

The weak economy has long been Obama’s biggest obstacle to reelection. On Wednesday, he argued that, although the country faces problems, it has begun to “fight our way back” because of his policies and the resilience of the American people.

“Over the last 30 months, we’ve seen 5 million jobs in the private sector created. The auto industry has come roaring back. And housing has begun to rise. But we all know that we’ve still got a lot of work to do. And so the question here tonight is not where we’ve been but where we’re going.”

But Romney said the status quo “is not going to cut it” for struggling families. “Under the president’s policies, middle-income Americans have been buried. They’re just being crushed. Middle-income Americans have seen their income come down by $4,300. This is a tax in and of itself. I’ll call it the economy tax. It’s been crushing.”

Romney clearly came to the debate determined to change his image as someone who cares little for ordinary Americans, a view that was heightened by his dismissive comments about the roughly 47 percent of Americans who pay no income taxes.

Throughout much of the early part of the debate, he sought to portray himself as a protector of the middle class, not the wealthy. He said that he would not raise taxes on middle-class families and that he would not reduce the share of taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans.

Obama, however, said that Romney’s tax plan would do just that. He said his rival favors a $5 trillion tax cut and argued that eliminating loopholes and deductions for the wealthiest Americans would not provide enough revenue to avoid deepening the deficit. He said Romney would either have to cut into middle-class benefits or reduce spending on vital programs.

“The magnitude of the tax cuts that you’re talking about, Governor, would end up resulting in severe hardship for people but, more importantly, would not help us grow,” the president said.

Romney repeatedly has declined to specify what loopholes and deductions he would eliminate and passed up opportunities to do so again Wednesday. But he said Obama had mischaracterized his tax plan, saying that it does not include a $5 trillion cut.

“Let me repeat what I said,” Romney said. “I’m not in favor of a $5 trillion tax cut. That’s not my plan. My plan is not to put in place any tax cut that will add to the deficit.”

Watergate Reporters Reflect on Audacity of Nixon

How awful were Richard Nixon’s actions as President? Apparently, he was bad enough to unify Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward on the same joint byline for the first time in 36 years. In this piece for The Washington Post, America’s most famous journalistic duo reflects on Nixon’s dubious legacy.

Also, get tickets now for our Annual Awards Dinner on November 1 to hear more from Woodward and Bernstein, who will be on hand to discuss the 40th anniversary of Watergate — and I’ll be interviewing the two for our September/October edition of BizVoice, as well. For now, here’s an excerpt from the aforementioned Washington Post article, but read the entire story for their list of five reasons why Nixon was worse than we thought.

As Sen. Sam Ervin completed his 20-year Senate career in 1974 and issued his final report as chairman of the Senate Watergate committee, he posed the question: “What was Watergate?”

Countless answers have been offered in the 40 years since June 17, 1972, when a team of burglars wearing business suits and rubber gloves was arrested at 2:30 a.m. at the headquarters of the Democratic Party in the Watergate office building in Washington. Four days afterward, the Nixon White House offered its answer: “Certain elements may try to stretch this beyond what it was,” press secretary Ronald Ziegler scoffed, dismissing the incident as a “third-rate burglary.”

History proved that it was anything but. Two years later, Richard Nixon would become the first and only U.S. president to resign, his role in the criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice — the Watergate coverup — definitively established.

Another answer has since persisted, often unchallenged: the notion that the coverup was worse than the crime. This idea minimizes the scale and reach of Nixon’s criminal actions.

Ervin’s answer to his own question hints at the magnitude of Watergate: “To destroy, insofar as the presidential election of 1972 was concerned, the integrity of the process by which the President of the United States is nominated and elected.” Yet Watergate was far more than that. At its most virulent, Watergate was a brazen and daring assault, led by Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law.

Today, much more than when we first covered this story as young Washington Post reporters, an abundant record provides unambiguous answers and evidence about Watergate and its meaning. This record has expanded continuously over the decades with the transcription of hundreds of hours of Nixon’s secret tapes, adding detail and context to the hearings in the Senate and House of Representatives; the trials and guilty pleas of some 40 Nixon aides and associates who went to jail; and the memoirs of Nixon and his deputies. Such documentation makes it possible to trace the president’s personal dominance over a massive campaign of political espionage, sabotage and other illegal activities against his real or perceived opponents.

In the course of his five-and-a-half-year presidency, beginning in 1969, Nixon launched and managed five successive and overlapping wars — against the anti-Vietnam War movement, the news media, the Democrats, the justice system and, finally, against history itself. All reflected a mind-set and a pattern of behavior that were uniquely and pervasively Nixon’s: a willingness to disregard the law for political advantage, and a quest for dirt and secrets about his opponents as an organizing principle of his presidency.

Long before the Watergate break-in, gumshoeing, burglary, wiretapping and political sabotage had become a way of life in the Nixon White House.

Forbes on Mega Millions and Lottery Strategies

Apparently — and this may shock you — you really can’t guarantee a win in the upcoming Mega Millions lottery drawing (with the jackpot at about $640 million at the time of this posting). While it seems that one could technically have the money to do it, the time and resources would render it impossible. Although, it seems optimal lottery strategy has paid dividends in the past. Forbes writes:

Over at the Washington Post, Brad Plumer looks into the question of whether a wealthy person could guarantee himself a win by buying every possible ticket in the Mega Millions lottery, and discovers that the answer is no:

Of course, another strategy would simply be to buy up every single ticket combination. That would cost $176 million. But you’d be guaranteed to win about $293 million after taxes. Good deal, right? But there’s one big hitch: “First, if it takes five seconds to fill out each card, you’d need almost 28 years just to mark the bubbles on the game tickets. You’d also use up the national supply of special lottery paper and lottery-machine printing ink well before all your tickets could be printed out.” (Also, if just one other person picked the winning number, you’d end up losing $30 million all told.)

It’s true that you can’t guarantee a win in this Mega Millions game, because it’s too likely that you’ll have to split the jackpot. If 300 million tickets sell, the average jackpot winner ends up with only 48 percent of the jackpot. If 600 million sell, you’ll only get 28 percent on average.

But it is not true, as a general proposition, that a lottery can never be cornered. In 1992, an Australian investor syndicate succeeded in cornering the Virginia Lottery. At the time, the odds of hitting that lottery were about 1 in 7 million, and the jackpot had grown to $27 million dollars. The Australians bought about 5 million tickets (logistics prevented them from buying every combination) and won the jackpot.

There were a handful of key differences between the Virginia situation and Mega Millions. The most important is that there was not a similar frenzy over the jackpot: even though playing the lottery had become a positive-expectation endeavor, there was not a similar rush to buy tickets, so the Australians could feel better about their odds of winning the jackpot alone.

The Australians also figured out the logistics of buying tons of lottery tickets. Plumer talks about how you would never have the time to fill out all the Scantron forms you would need to buy every lotto combination. But the Australians didn’t have to fill out any Scantron forms—they paid retailers to sell them blocks of lottery tickets in bulk. At least one retailer closed its lottery terminal to the public in order to constantly produce tickets for the syndicate.

Even so, the Australians only managed to purchase five million lottery tickets. And after their win, Virginia and some other states instituted rules to make it more difficult to buy lottery tickets in bulk. So, their feat would be difficult to replicate.

Virginia isn’t the only place where a lottery game has reached positive expectation. When I was in college, the jackpot on Mass Millions (then the big jackpot game of the Massachusetts Lottery) reached over $42 million, with win odds of about 1 in 13 million. This is because nobody hit the jackpot for nearly two years. Yet, there was very little attention focused on the huge jackpot—probably because lotto players were drawn to Mega Millions, which featured bigger jackpots with much longer odds of winning.

During this time, I bought a few Mass Millions tickets, and if I hadn’t been a capital-constrained college student, I probably would have bought more. But why didn’t somebody with lots of cash come in and do what happened in Virginia? The answer is probably that logistics made it too difficult to buy the 13 million tickets you would have needed to guarantee a win.

Buying 176 million tickets to guarantee a Mega Millions win would be even more difficult, and you would have less time to do it, since the game is drawn twice a week, unlike most states’ once-weekly big jackpot games.

So, cornering a positive-expectation lottery is difficult, and it probably will never be possible with Mega Millions. But with state-level games, if you have a few tens of millions of dollars to throw around and are in a place with the right rules about ticket sales, you might find an occasional opportunity.

Veterans Day Facts and Figures

Chances are there is a military veteran in your family or you know one. Today, as I was reflecting on the tremendous sacrifices these men and women have made for all of us, I decided to learn more about the holiday itself, which was first called Armistice Day.

I came across a Washington Post article that offers some background and traditions as well as some powerful numbers on veterans, courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • In 1954, the holiday became known as Veterans Day when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation making it so in order to honor veterans of all U.S. wars.

  • In 1921, the United States laid to rest the remains of a World War I American soldier — his name “known but to God” – in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on a hillside overlooking Washington, D.C. It became known as the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” and was meant to symbolize reverence for the American veteran. Today it is known as the “Tomb of the Unknowns.”

  • At the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery, at 11 a.m. each Nov. 11, a color guard composed of members of each of the military branches renders honors to America’s war dead. The U.S. president or a representative places a wreath at the tomb and a bugler sounds taps.

Veterans
21.8 million – The number of military veterans in the United States in 2010.
1.6 million –The number of female veterans in 2010.
2.4 million – The number of black veterans in 2010.
9 million – The number of veterans 65 and older in 2010. At the other end of the age spectrum, 1.7 million were younger than 35.

When They Served
7.6 million – Number of Vietnam-era veterans in 2010. Thirty-five percent of all living veterans served during this time (1964-1975). In addition, 4.8 million served during the Gulf War (representing service from Aug. 2, 1990, to present); 2.1 million in World War II (1941-1945); 2.6 million in the Korean War (1950-1953); and 5.5 million in peacetime only.

49,500 – Number of living veterans in 2010 who served during the Vietnam era and both Gulf War eras and no other period. Other living veterans in 2010 who served during three wars:

  • 54,000 served during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam era.

 

Living veterans in 2010 who served during two wars and no other period:

  • 837,000 served during both Gulf War eras.

  • 211,000 served during both the Korean War and the Vietnam era.

  • 147,000 served during both World War II and the Korean War.

  •  

Republicans Slow to Endorse This Year

I’m sure you’re as baffled as I am as to why GOP Congressmen aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to endorse the likes of Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum (sarcasm intended). But here’s an interesting article from The Washington Post about how things are unfolding a little more slowly on that front for 2012:

Across the country, most Republicans haven’t committed fully to any of the party’s presidential candidates. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 69 percent on the GOP side said there was still a chance they could change their minds about their choice.

In Washington, an elite focus group of 289 Republicans was even more indecisive.

That group consists of the GOP members of the House and Senate, of whom just 60 — or 21 percent — have publicly endorsed a presidential candidate, according to a list maintained by the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

The lawns of Iowa and New Hampshire are still covered mostly with leaves, not snow, so lawmakers have some time left to choose a side. But the endorsement pace has been much slower than it was during the last election cycle.

Across the country, most Republicans haven’t committed fully to any of the party’s presidential candidates. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 69 percent on the GOP side said there was still a chance they could change their minds about their choice.

In Washington, an elite focus group of 289 Republicans was even more indecisive.

As of Nov. 9, 2007, 107 Hill Republicans — 43 percent of the total then serving — had offered their endorsements to a White House contender, according to a Roll Call tally at the time.

The current list includes 36 endorsements for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, 14 for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, six for ex-House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), three for Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) and one for businessman Herman Cain. That total does not include Paul himself, although his preference appears clear. The same is true for Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.).

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. and ex-senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) have yet to receive any Capitol Hill endorsements.

Four years ago, Romney led the way with a similar number, 33, followed by Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) with 29, ex-New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani with 24 and former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) with 21.

U.S. House: Technology, Tight Budgets Terminate Page Program

I’m not sure what’s more surprising: the U.S. House of Representatives cutting the more than 200-year-old page program or the fact that the words “joint statement issued” are in the same sentence as the words “House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).”

Okay, that last part was a little dig at the lack of cooperation between our major political parties as witnessed during the recent debt ceiling debacle. It’s a bit of a shock to see Congressional leaders agree on anything nowadays.

But, back to the main issue: The Washington Post is reporting that with a cost of about $5 million per year and technological advances coming in to take the place of many of the duties of the typical House page, the program will be shuttered, at the advice of two consulting firms working with Congress.

High school juniors are hired for a semester and paid about $1,804 a month with a 35% room-and-board fee deducted. Page duties include running errands for House members, delivering correspondence to lawmakers and answering phones in the cloakrooms off the House floor.

The problem is that technology (documents and notes are now delivered electronically and smartphones and text messaging have largely replaced the need for pages to answer phones) has increased to the point where pages are no longer necessary for the House to run smoothly.

While it is a shame to think that students who might never have a chance to see the American political machine up close will no longer have that opportunity – if the program is largely unnecessary and costing $5 million per year, it does make sense in this tight fiscal time to shut it down.

There are still ways for young people to be involved in the political system. Indiana, like most states, has an in-state page program working with the state legislature. Most Congressional leaders also hire college interns to work in their offices and the U.S. Senate will continue its page program.

One commenter on the Post’s story says, “This is shockingly sensible, even if it is a little sad.”

That’s a great way to sum it up.

It seems that to get out of this fiscal trouble, more programs which are good in theory and beneficial to those involved (such as the page program), will be sacrificed. And now there’s just that minor task of cutting several trillion dollars from the rest of the budget.

Bummed Out on Your Beach Getaway?

It was hot – and I mean hot – the last time I visited Virginia. It was summer 2005 and we were spending the week with family friends. Just before dinner one evening, I decided to check my office voice-mail messages. And then … my cell phone died. I decided then and there to leave work behind during excursions.

Vacations have never been the same since – and that’s a good thing!

Devoting my attention 100% to just having fun enriches my experiences and helps me re-charge, which ultimately enhances my work when I return. 

A recent blog in The Washington Post about “vacation blues,” however, poses the question of how beneficial vacations truly are. Here’s an excerpt:

Turns out a Netherlands study found that many people have trouble relaxing during the early periods of their vacation. And for some, the vacation doesn’t make them any happier than people who don’t go away, reports Marta Zaraska, a Canadian freelance journalist and novelist who lives in France.

Our mood tends to be lowest through the first 10 percent of a holiday, one researcher found.

Another researcher says vacationers might be having trouble enjoying themselves because of “leisure sickness,” which is the inability to relax and adapt to the pace of life outside work.

Zaraska writes that other research shows that “even if we do enjoy our holiday, the moment we return to our home sweet home, the good mood starts to evaporate. Two weeks later, almost all the benefits of a vacation are gone.”

I actually disagree with much of the blog. When I traveled to Florida for a few days (not even a full week) earlier this summer, I was downright giddy at the airport, on the flight and throughout my entire trip. What’s not to love about splashing in the ocean, marveling at palm trees and delicious cuisine?

The part of the blog I do agree with is that it’s sort of a letdown when you get home because that vacation you’ve been anticipating – sometimes for several months – is now over. My cure when those vacation blues strike? Start planning the next one.

What do you think?

Congress Uses over 25% of Communication for Taunting

I was sent this article and at first thought it was from The Onion. It seems a fairly in-depth study found that Congress spends a significant amount of its communication efforts simply goading one another. The Washington Post has the depressing story: 

To come up with this insight, King and two graduate students analyzed 64,033 press releases sent out by all U.S. senators from 2005 to 2007. They used a computer program to sort them into different categories, based on their content.

Three of their categories were well known to political scientists. Over the years, they have come up with a Grand Unified Theory of Congressmen, which holds that there are three primary ways a legislator expresses him- or herself.

The first is credit-claiming. That involves a legislator trumpeting his own role in securing a bridge or a dam or some other thing voters want. “ ‘The government did this thing. It’s because of me,’ ” King explained.

The second is position-taking. This is the thing that “Schoolhouse Rock” and civics classes teach you is the point of congressional speechifying. “ ‘I’m at this point on the ideological continuum,’ ” King said.

The third traditional category is “advertising.” It might be recognizing some hometown team or dignitary, a nonpartisan effort to get one’s name out there. “ ‘Look at me! I’m a member of Congress!’ ” King said.

But, he said, some news releases he and his team studied didn’t fit neatly into the three traditional categories.

“They’re a different thing. To say that the only thing members of Congress do is advertising, credit-claiming or position-taking, that’s not right,” King said. “Because sometimes, they just stand up there and taunt the other side.”

Now, it’s not earth-shaking news that legislators like to insult each other. But what King did is quantify how much they do it: more than a quarter of the time. He found taunting was most common in members whose districts were “safe” — strongly held by their party.

Nation’s Capital Says “Not So Fast” on Reimbursing Residents for Solar Panels

"Yaaaaaaa. About that…."

Government programs that incentivize citizens for responsible and eco-friendly behavior can certainly be beneficial at times. However, this tale from Washington, D.C. shows what happens to well-intentioned residents when the government doesn’t follow through. The Washington Post dishes the disappointing news:

It isn’t easy going green, and it may also prove costly.

Dozens of District residents who installed solar panels on their homes under a government grant program promoting renewable energy have been told they will not be reimbursed thousands of dollars as promised because the funds were diverted to help close a citywide budget gap.

In all, the city has reneged on a commitment of about $700,000 to 51 residents, according to the D.C. Department of the Environment. The agency has pledged to try to find money in next year’s budget, its director, Christophe Tulou, said.

"It just doesn’t seem fair to go through a process with them and have them make investments in solar panels under the assumption they would be reimbursed," Tulou acknowledged. "It’s really sad we are having these economic woes when we are."

The abrupt suspension of the city’s Renewable Energy Incentive Plan, an annual $2 million fund that was supposed to last through fiscal 2012, threatens to dampen budding enthusiasm for clean energy among homeowners. The program has helped 315 people install solar panels, with another 417 on a waiting list that has been closed by city officials.

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who is leading the push for a sustainable energy utility to encourage green energy in the District, said officials are scouring the environment agency’s budget in hopes of finding reimbursement money for the 51 homeowners this year.

But, she said, "I would think people would take a cautious approach" to future installations.