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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Politics and Neurons

Sunday, September 27, 2015
Politics and Neurons

From the Ames Tribune
Posted September 26, 2015
Steffen Schmidt: Neurons and politics
By Steffen Schmidt

A neuron is “… an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information through electrical and chemical signals.”

When we analyze political behavior we inevitable veer into the notion that people select from among alternatives and make conscious, self-aware, rational choices.

A recent MIT study instead suggest that, “We are creatures of habit, nearly mindlessly executing routine after routine. Some habits we feel good about; others, less so. Habits are … thought to be driven by reward-seeking mechanisms that are built into the brain. This study is the first to show that cost considerations are wired into the learning of habits.”

In other words people subconsciously take actions that they believe are cost effective.

We can argue that politics, like neurons, is also an “excitable process” that transmits information.

Just observe the 2016 race to the White House and you will at the very least see the “excitable” part.

Politicians and the media rest on the premise that voters are well informed, knowledgeable, smart/intelligent, analytical, responsible citizens and comparative in their choices of candidates or political parties.

I won’t trot out all the evidence that these may be rebuttable presumptions, in other words, assumptions that are taken to be correct unless someone comes forward to contest them and prove otherwise.

Example: “Innocent until proven guilty.”

There is lots of research that people are not well informed about most of the very complex economic, social, moral, and foreign policy issues facing the America.

In fact, a large percentage of people cannot point to where they live when shown a map of the United States.

Research shows that a substantial number of voters select candidates by their name.

In some places, if your name is Kennedy people will vote for you just for the name. On the other hand, in other parts of the nation, that name is the kiss of death, regardless of the candidate’s position on issues.

If we are indeed creatures of habit on many day-to-day activities as the MIT research demonstrates, we should consider the possibility that people also choose their candidates for president by responding to the firing of neurons.

In fact, when people are interviewed in focus groups or at political events they often say they support a candidate because he is “strong,” “seems like a good leader,” or “looks presidential.” One woman at the Iowa State Fair said, “I just like Trump.”

While the mainstream media rarely talks about it, some candidates just don’t look presidential by some generic, often subliminal, and probably “patterned” standard.

Think of the 2016 contenders. Do any of them seem not presidential?

We have a long way to go in the field of biopolitics which is associated with the work of Michel Foucault and his seminal lecture series at the Coll├Ęge de France from 1970-84. Another new and cutting edge area of research is “Biological Political Science” as well as studies of genes and politics, which is also called “genopolitics.”

John R. Hibbing, the Foundation Regents Professor of Political Science and Psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln argues that, “Biology, not genetics alone, is the key and it is now possible to measure politically relevant biological predispositions with physiological, endocrinological, cognitive, and neuroscience techniques.”

I realize I’m stretching the credulity of many of you reading this, but please keep an open mind. Political scientists are pushing the envelope on understanding political behavior. Hibbing’s essay, “Why biology belongs in the study of politics” in the Washington Post is well worth a read.

What is the take away? Politics is not all that meets the eye. Some political behavior is hidden down in the neurons.

How else to explain the Donald Trump phenomenon?

Steffen Schmidt is a professor of political science at Iowa State University

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Poor Carly Fiorina -

Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina says she rose from being a secretary to a business woman at Lucent Technologies and then CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP).

My students listened to her here in Iowa and they thought she came from a very poor family and maybe even a single mother!
BUT, her dad was well educated, successful, and wealthy. His name was Joseph Tyree Sneed, III. He was professor at Cornell Law School from 1957 to 1962, Stanford Law School from 1962 to 1971, Duke University School of Law from 1971 to 1973, where he was Dean. Then he was a Republican U.S. Deputy Attorney General and a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for nearly 35 years. 

She was actually born with a silver spoon in her mouth. 

In her first corporate job at Lucent things went very badly as the following observation by Rattner suggests. 
"Soon after she left, Lucent veered off a cliff, and while she was never the chief executive, part of the company’s collapse stemmed from overly aggressive sales and loans to financially shaky customers made under her supervision."
Steven Rattner has written,
"Investors were so down on her that H.P.’s shares jumped by almost 7 percent on the day of her firing. And in ensuing years, she appeared on several “worst C.E.O.” lists, including those of CBS News and USA Today.
In 2009, Portfolio magazine ranked her the 19th worst C.E.O. of all time and described her as a “consummate self-promoter” who was “busy pontificating on the lecture circuit and posing for magazine covers while her company floundered.”

And most voters have never heard this. Donald Trump's criticism of her was diminished by his snarky comment about her face. 

Rattner continues, "She banked $21 million in severance payments as part of the more than $100 million in compensation she received during what one critic called her “destructive reign of terror” (which included pushing for H.P. to acquire five corporate jets.)"

Almost no one from her corporate life comes to her defense. She has not had a full-time private sector job since 2005. The buzz is that no one wants to hire her. 

Then there is the latest information about her support for and contributions to the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and other liberal Democrats well narrated by Jeffrey Lord a former Reagan White House political director - See more at:
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director, - See more at:
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director, - See more at:

Surprisingly the media has handled her with silk gloves. When she's interviewed or stories are written about her the details of this sketchy record and also the allegations about her personality are not mentioned. 

That's quite a disservice to Iowa and American voters.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What happened to Scott Walker?

Press Release, Not embargoed. For  release Sept 23, 2015, 6:00 am Central Time

Iowa State University political science professor Steffen Schmidt, who leads a first-of-its kind free online course about the Iowa Caucuses, breaks down the factors that led the early favorite in Iowa to end his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has suddenly dropped out of the GOP race to the White House.


First and most important he “peaked” too early and in a deceptive venue. It was the first political event of the 2012 race to the nomination. Sponsored by Iowa Fourth District Republican Congressman Steve King and Citizens United, the Iowa Freedom Forum was held on January 24 in Des Moines. In front of a select crowd of conservative Republicans 23 Republican notables and most of the presidential contenders at the time got lots of national buzz. At the end of the day pundits and many Republican politicians declared Walker the winner.

BUT, it was a deceptively “friendly” crowd, he had not been tested in any national event, and no one questioned his very narrow experience in The Badger State.

Second, he has been inconsistent in his positions on issues. Waffling, flip flopping, and weaseling on issues is not a very strong selling point. His most egregious uncertainty about issues was on “birthright citizenship.” Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." He flipped, flopped, and flipped again on whether children born to those in the US illegally would be covered by this principle. In reality the US Supreme Court has never ruled on whether children of illegal residents in the US are entitled to this principle.

Third, he took a fateful trip to London to sell Wisconsin cheese. Problem is he got asked if he believes in evolution and he TOTALLY punted on that. He should have said, “NO, God created the heavens and Earth in six days and rested on the seventh. If you don’t like my answer you can shove it!” So he did not gain foreign policy experience on that trip he just got dissed.

Fourth, he was "invisible" in the two GOP debates. Everyone said that the few minutes of time he had evaporated and he seemed to shrink back into the wallpaper. There was also the question of energy. He had even less than Jeb Bush.

Fifth, I asked my students in a focus group what word came to mind when they see Walker in one of his many interviews on cable. The most frequent answer was "Goofy." The second was “Walmarter.” That is not a great concept! I was surprised because earlier Gov. Walker was seen as a nice Midwesterner.

Sixth, I talked to several GOP operatives, most of them former students of mine. Their answer was that many Republicans and conservatives had parents or grandparents who were union members in the meat packing plants in Iowa. They made good salaries and were able to raise a family, buy a home, take vacations. When the unions were busted wages plunged and mostly immigrants were hired. They DO NOT LIKE Walker's union bashing, which is, of course, his “brand” as governor of Wisconsin.  By the way, his implosion was also a bad hit to the Koch brothers political organization which had heavily backed him.

Walker’s supporters claim that it’s all Donald Trump’s fault. That seems unlikely because Walker went from top of the heap to last in a spilt second. Why didn’t he go from top to second, third or fourth? See analysis above.

When he quit the race he said it showed leadership. “Today, I believe that I am being called to lead by helping to clear the field so that a positive conservative message can rise to the top of the field. With this in mind, I will suspend my campaign immediately.”

I guess that’s “leading from behind.”

Enrollment is still open for Iowa State's online course about the Iowa Caucuses. Visit to learn more and enroll.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Flood of Refugees: Again.

A massive wave of refugees is streaming into Europe, desperately fleeing war and brutality in Syria and other countries. There is a big debate about what to do, how to stop this, what the consequences will be for Germany and other nations.

On the Statue of Liberty there is a plaque which reads "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Often people in the US did not live up to the Statue Of Liberty's "Emma Lazarus' sonnet, New Colossus, which she wrote for a fundraiser auction to raise money for the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty now sits." 

They hated the Italians. 

They hated the Irish. 

They hated the Puerto Rican's.

"They" were all coming in, changing the culture, and "overwhelming" our nation. There was great fear of the massive wave of immigrants each time the wave crested.

We should remember that everyone running for president in 2015-16 came from somewhere else a few generations back willingly or enslaved. Their ancestors were greeted with as little enthusiasm as some of the European nations are expressing today. Yet, they became so successful they are fishing for the most powerful position on Earth (besides the Pope!) President of the United States.

Let's not forget that over 12 million people were processed at the immigration station on Ellis Island alone. And there were many other points of entry for different immigrant wave to the US.

Most of those immigrants made America FABULOUS! We wouldn't have blue jeans without Levy Strauss, helicopters without Igor Sikorsky, abstract expressionism Willem de Kooning the Dutch-born American painter, Albert Einstein, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Henry Kissinger, Eddie Van Halen who is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time. I could go on but you get the point.

If the Europeans can figure out a way to welcome and integrate the new wave into their societies they too can reap huge benefits from such courageous people. In today's world almost no one is living where they are natives. Humans like birds are a constantly moving species. we need smart and bold policies to deal with that fact and make those movements come out well. 

See my column about Stefan Schmidt, my closes cousin and his life saving work rescuing drowning refugees in the Mediterranean.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Who is right about economy?

Reprinted from the Cedar Rapids Gazette
 SEPTEMBER 4, 2015 | 3:37 PM

by Steffen Schmidt

NOTE from author:  Let me share with you the several vicious and ignorant e mails I received from people who disagreed with me. I get that a lot when I write columns for the Cedar rapids Gazette, Des Moines Register, Ames Tribune, Carroll Daily Times Herald and other newspapers. Some of them are so threatening that law enforcement has actually advised me to have a permit and carry my own protection. Wow! We are living in a bilious and divided country. That's largely the fault of politicians and the brutal talk show radio.

MarketWatch reported this week that, “The U.S. economy looks much more vigorous in the second quarter than previously thought, as a report released Thursday showed businesses got off the sidelines and spent some money.” Economic growth was at 3.7 percent annual pace in the second quarter.

The Wall Street Journal reported, “The U.S. labor market continued its long march back from the recession with steady job gains in July.”

Cattle Network reported this week that, “The U.S. average retail price for regular gasoline decreased eight cents from the previous week to $2.64 per gallon on August 24, 2015, down 82 cents from the same time last year.” More importantly for farming and transportation, “diesel fuel decreased five cents from last week to $2.56 per gallon, down $1.26 per gallon from the same time a year ago.”

Nasdaq summarized the U.S. economy this way. “The latest U.S. numbers stand in stark contrast to much of the rest of the world, where growth has been dampened. Other recent readings suggest the U.S. economy is positioned to weather turbulence from overseas. Business investment in July posted its strongest gain in a year, jobless claims have held near 15-year lows through August, the housing market is by some measures back to pre-recession levels, and consumer confidence this month rose to its highest level since the start of the year.”

How many Americans are aware of all this good news?

The answer is almost none.


Because we are headed for a presidential election. Most of the candidates especially the Republicans, and most certainly Donald Trump, are terrorizing Americans with dire gloom and doom about the United States. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has said that the future of the U.S. is between the government and the private sector and government is bad.

The truth is that the federal government, state and local governments in partnership with the private sector have done a great job over the past eight years.

Low interest rates by the Federal Reserve made possible the recovery of the housing industry. Yet some want to shut down the Federal Reserve.

Smart energy policies as well as a surge in wind and solar power have made the United States energy self-sufficient as well as a net exporter of energy. Of course, low energy prices are a mixed blessing. Consumers and energy intensive industries such as trucking, farming, and airlines have greatly benefitted. Energy companies and countries highly dependent on energy exports (Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, Iraq, Nigeria) are suffering and may become destabilized.

Some say we should be celebrating the success in bringing back the U.S. economy for which Democrats and Republicans can take credit we are spreading gloom and doom. They argue that attacks on Mexico, China and other trading partners by politicians are alarming because a return to protectionism in trade is a 100 percent guarantee for a serious recession or a depression.

But there are others with dark and pessimistic views about America none more than Robert Wiedemer the “Darth Vader” of economic forecasting. “In a recent interview for his book Aftershock, Wiedemer says, “The data is clear, 50 percent unemployment, a 90 percent stock market drop, and 100 percent annual inflation ... starting as soon as next year” according to Newsmax. No doubt the national debt, federal deficits, Social Security and Medicare solvency are troubling and persistent problems that need courageous attention.

Are you confused and wondering who’s right?

Therein lies the problem because even economists disagree.

In this upcoming election voters will need to decide whether they should dump the George W. Bush and Obama policies (that’s 16 years of consistency) or whether the nation should “stay the course” and we should not “rock the boat.”

It’s not an easy decision and all the shouting is not helping.

• Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University. Comments:

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Friday, September 04, 2015

Donald Grump!

Best Sesame Street episode featuring the next President of the United States Donald Grump!

Do you remember this?

Thanks Susan for sharing this. "I guess Trump has always been this way" one of my followers wrote!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Iowa, China, and Scott Walker

Dear Gov Walker. You've said the US shouldn't receive China's President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping. Did you know that he is a GREAT friend of Iowa and  

Did you know that the Governor's office has big pictures of Xi, of Iowa- China relations, and a trove of Chinese gifts to Iowa? Your comments about "dissing" Xi and his visit to the United States doesn't seem like the smartest move if you want to do well in the Iowa caucuses. 

By the way, doesn't Wisconsin to do want to do more business with China? Have those farm and industry executives in the Cheese States (that's what we call it down here in the Hawkeye State) not taken you, Governor Walker, to the woodshed on disrespecting China? I'm surprised.

And Donald Trump, YOU need to be very careful because the United States and China are now joined at the hip economically.  Do you know how many billions the Chinese have invested in govt bonds and in companies.? Do you know how many Chinese students are studying at American universities including Iowa State and the University of Iowa.? The answer is astonishingly high so we want China to succeed because their prosperity and ours are tightly interconnected. 

Trashing China may feel good and get some voter juices flowing but it's not a winning proposition for America or for November 2016.

Xi Jinping and Terry Branstad