Sunday, October 28, 2012

Baseball's Over: 2012 Edition

Caption: San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro hits a bloop single off Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Phil Coke to drive in the winning run in the final game of the 2012 World Series.

Image credit: Screenshot of Major League Baseball/Fox Sports broadcast by Cujo359.

Somehow, it seems appropriate that a bloop single from a Giants player who is having his best season at age 36 is an appropriate way to close out this series. Marco Scutaro drove in Ryan Theriot, who was playing the role of designated hitter for the National League team, in the top of the tenth inning. Then relief pitcher Sergio Romo, who had to take over the role of closer when Brian Wilson was injured, retired the top of the Detroit Tigers' batting order to preserve the win.

There are a lot of sports "experts" who are probably wondering, as this guy did, how they could have gotten this series so wrong. Most all of them picked Detroit to win in a walk. That the Giants won instead should prove, if any proof is needed, that there's usually something these guys forget about. In this case, they seem to have forgotten that a team that is as scrappy as this year's Giants proved to be tend to play above expectations. This time was no exception. Plus, as some of the Fox commentators noted tonight, the Giants clearly have one of the best pitching staffs in the league.

Even though it was a sweep, only the first game was a lopsided win. I don't think the Tigers have anything to be ashamed of. The thing to remember about this game is that teams often match up in ways that don't make sense. How a team's batters are able to deal with another team's pitchers, and their defensive strategy, can be a hit or miss thing. When guys like Marco Scutaro and Gregor Blanco end up being two of the most valuable players in the postseason, it's pretty clear that in a series of just a few games anything can happen.

It was an entertaining Series, perhaps because I didn't have a favorite this time. Until recently at least, neither of these teams had been appearing in their respective pennant races. On that score alone, it was more interesting than usual. But excellent play and close games made it a good one.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Progressive Idiocy: A Sin Of The Past

Over at Other Words, former George McGovern campaign worker Steve Cobble wrote this about the experience of working for McGovern's losing presidential campaign the other day:
Image credit: From original article

I learned a few hard lessons about electoral politics that day. Being decent, humane, smart, caring, and brave was not enough.

Being a decorated war hero who flew 35 bomber missions against Nazi Germany didn't stop the Nixon Republicans from labeling McGovern unpatriotic. Caring enough about working men and women to write his history Ph.D. thesis about the 1914 Ludlow coal strike and massacre was not enough to keep AFL-CIO head George Meany from double-crossing McGovern when he became the nominee. Telling the truth about the immorality of the Vietnam War and the crookedness of the Nixon Administration did not convince nearly enough voters to win.

To paraphrase Jack Nicholson, America couldn’t handle the truth in 1972. Nor since, given that we still have an empire stretching across the globe.

Remembering George McGovern and Old-School Campaign Tools

Sound familiar? It should. I wrote something similar a few days ago when I learned of McGovern's death. I hadn't mentioned a couple things that Cobble does here, though. The first is his Ph.D. thesis, which to me is just an indication of where McGovern's real concerns lay. He was one of those folks who, despite being very successful, never forgot that there are plenty of people who are less fortunate through no fault of their own. It's interesting, but mainly in a historical sense. It might be enlightening to consider how few of today's congressmen have such an academic background, or have done anything else in their lives that might indicate they have some understanding of what it's like to be a working stiff here in America.

The other thing is about George Meaney, and this point is something that is definitely relevant to our situation today. I'll let Wikipedia explain what Cobble meant there:

Meany opposed the anti-war candidacy of U. S. Senator George McGovern for the Presidency against incumbent Richard Nixon in 1972, despite McGovern's generally pro-labor voting record in Congress. He also declined to endorse Nixon. On Face the Nation in September 1972, Meany criticized McGovern's statements that the U.S. should respect other peoples' rights to choose communism, because there had never been a country that had voted for communism; he accused McGovern of being "an apologist for the Communist world".[21] Following Nixon's landslide defeat of McGovern, Meany said that the American people had "overwhelmingly repudiated neo-isolationism" in foreign policy. Meany pointed out that the American voters split their votes by voting for Democrats in Congress.[22] According to Meany, class resentment was a major reason that Nixon won 49 states against McGovern, despite the dislike of the Vietnam War by a majority of American voters.

Wikipedia: George Meany: 1972 Presidential Election

Meany wasn't one of those modern labor leaders who seem to be mostly interested in making their own lives better, rather than the people they're supposed to represent. He led a fight against corruption in labor unions, and was born into a blue collar family. He understood the working class, because he came from it. Still, Meany couldn't get past his own hangups about "communism", in quotes because he, like many Americans, had a view of the subject that was more based on prejudice than actual knowledge, to support the presidential candidate who would have made sure organized labor was protected. Instead, he helped lumber us with four more years of Nixon, which meant four more years of Vietnam, four more years of the Southern Strategy, and the beginning of the decline of organized labor in America. All because of an issue that wasn't relevant to organized labor.

Which, I think, is the lesson here. When Meany became a big political player, he forgot what was really important. The guy from the blue collar labor union background set the stage for the decline of organized labor. He did that, because he obsessed about winning a war against communism that couldn't be won. That war fell harder on the working class, his people, than it did on the rich or the upper middle class. If you don't believe that, consider that George W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, and Mitt Romney all found something better to do than risk serving in Vietnam. While Bill Clinton stayed opposed to the war, the others supported it. Kids from the working class, though, were far less likely to have a route to Canada, a college deferment, or a relative who could get them a posting to the National Guard. Yet Meany ignored all this, in the name of combating something that was, at best, a theoretical consideration for the people he represented.

This sin of Meany's, what Cobble refers to as a betrayal of McGovern and the Democrats of that time, might not have been enough to ensure Nixon's victory in 1972. Meany's endorsement might not have been enough to give McGovern the White House, but to the members of his unions he was one of them, and his feelings would have been persuasive to some. It certainly made McGovern's showing worse. That showing helped to engender the changes that it would eventually occur in the Democratic Party. That party quickly turned its back on labor and liberalism generally, and eventually learned that it could do pretty much whatever it wants without losing labor's support.

In short, Meany was another progressive who forgot what was really important, once he became important. It's a tale we've seen many times since.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

There's Pride, And Then There's ...

Image credit: Cujo359

I saw this little gem in a burger joint in Federal Way, WA today. Sometimes the brazen approach works, but I'm not sure I'll be going back to this place again...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Depressions Past And Present

Taylor Marsh had this to say about last night's "debate" on foreign policy between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney:
The biggest casualty of this election is that we never had a real discussion about the wars we fight, beyond political party talking points made to make the man running for office the commander in chief hero when he’s not.

Wounded Vet: “The Mitt Romney I Know Cares Deeply About People Who Are Struggling”

She's right, of course, it’s a lot to do with many of us not seeing any difference that matters between these two. I think there’s another reason, though, why this election seems so utterly tragic, and almost pointless. That reason is best explained by this Real Clear Politics link. I'll summarize with this screenshot of that page:

Image credit: Screenshot of RCP poll page by Cujo359

We think the country is going in the wrong direction by a pretty hefty margin, and that margin has been getting generally larger since 2009. At one time during President Obama's first term, it was as bad as it had been after the crash. It looks like right now some folks are living in hopes that something will change thanks to the election. I beg to differ, but that's another subject.

I’m old enough to have had relatives and teachers who lived through the Great Depression. One of the most profound impressions I have of that era is that President Roosevelt gave the country reason to hope that things were going to get better. He gave people reason to think that there was someone in their national capital who gave a crap about how they were doing. The New Deal was started in 100 days. People could feel like there was hope, because there were people in DC who were willing to move heaven and earth to make them better.

Image credit: Parody by Cujo359 (See NOTE)

Contrast that with now, when there’s never a lack of excuses for why things can’t be done. The Republicans Are Obstructionists. We Can’t Change Things Overnight. Blah, blah, blah. There are also no lack of people, most of whom are doing just fine, thank you, who are happy to reinforce those lame excuses.

That’s the difference I see. Roosevelt gave us hope, and Obama gave us hopey-changey (AKA Sucks Less). Roosevelt told the rich and powerful who didn’t like his programs to get lost. Obama sucks up to them. Roosevelt would have won a fifth term handily had he lived long enough to run in 1948. Obama’s hanging on by his fingernails, hoping for all that extra post-presidency cash another term will bring.

It’s hard to underestimate the smarts of the average American voter, but this is one of those times when I think their behavior pretty accurately reflects the choice before us.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Another Cost Of War: All The Riverbends

I used to think that it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.

Wikiquotes: Babylon 5 - (Marcus Cole)

A little over five years ago, I wrote this about the blog of a young woman from Iraq:

For those who don't know who Riverbend is, join the club. I know of her, but like most people who read her blog Baghdad Burning, I wouldn't know her if she was standing right next to me. That might be her picture on that book cover. Then again, it might not be for all I know. Nevertheless, like many of her readers, I felt some relief when I read this at Juan Cole's site[.]

Riverbend Has Left Iraq

It has now been five years since her last post in her blog, when she wrote this:

Syria is a beautiful country- at least I think it is. I say “I think” because while I perceive it to be beautiful, I sometimes wonder if I mistake safety, security and normalcy for ‘beauty’. In so many ways, Damascus is like Baghdad before the war- bustling streets, occasional traffic jams, markets seemingly always full of shoppers… And in so many ways it’s different. The buildings are higher, the streets are generally narrower and there’s a mountain, Qasiyoun, that looms in the distance.

Bloggers Without Borders

As I noted at the time, Syria was the most popular destination for Iraqi refugees. At one time, there were millions of them there.

Riverbend's last post went on to say that she was in Damascus, at least briefly. Where she ended up, and what happened to her, is a mystery as far as I can tell, because nothing has appeared from Riverbend since. She might be dead, in hiding, or just not interested in communicating with the rest of the world - given the information we have, it could be any of those. Either way, she's a casualty. Her life was changed in terrible ways by our invasion of Iraq.

Salam Pax, another Iraqi blogger who wrote at his eponymous blog, remained in Iraq as late as 2009. In March of that year, he wrote this, referring to an AP article entitled "It’s Fear That Keeps Baghdad’s Peace":

I know AP has numbers to back these claims up and, hey, just look at us. My aunts and uncles, four Shia families, and us we haven’t dared go back to our homes in the west of Baghdad, now declared Sunni. The first time we went to visit since 2005 was last month and it was depressing. So few of the old neighbours are still there and it feels so much less vibrant than the inner Baghdad neighbourhoods..

The Fear

He wrote that he was initially offended by the title, but eventually decided that it was largely true.

So maybe Riverbend and her family were right to leave Iraq for Syria. Unfortunately, now Syria is creating its own refugee problem, because it is involved in a civil war that has dragged on for a year and a half, and looks to drag on a good deal longer:

Up to 335,000 Syrian refugees have registered with the United Nations, ten times more than in March, but the real figure could be as high as 500,000, a U.N. refugee agency official said on Tuesday.

The UNHCR said last month that up to 700,000 refugees may flee the violence in Syria by the end of the year, four times higher than its June prediction.

Most of those fleeing are taking refuge in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Up to 335,000 people have fled Syria violence - UNHCR

One potential refugee destination is noticeably absent: Iraq. Five years later, things are not yet safe enough in Iraq for people to flee there from a war zone.

Which brings us to the opening quote from Babylon 5. We, the United States and a few allies, invaded Iraq for no good reason. The people of Iraq hadn't attacked us, nor had its government. Yet we invaded the country, turned it upside down and shook it until it broke apart, then left the pieces on the ground to fix themselves. Estimates vary widely, but anywhere from a couple of hundred thousand to a couple of million Iraqis died in the aftermath of that war. We created more than four million refugees, many of whom have tales as tragic as Riverbend's. And for what?

Yes, it was President Bush's fault that he had people tortured so that he could make the bogus case for the war in Iraq. But it's not his fault that will happen again, nor is it his fault that our government is still committing war crimes. It's the fault of the current occupant. Yet I'm told that I simply have to vote for this guy, that it's the mature thing to do.

As Marcus Cole pointed out, the universe, or at least our little corner of it, is a cold and uncaring place. We're a product of that universe, and we Americans have clearly learned to fit right into it.

Afterword: I'd like to thank One Fly for reminding me about this in a comment yesterday. I'd intended to write something, but had pretty much forgotten about it. He has some thoughts on this as well, as you might imagine. And he's right - the war against Iraq was a crime against humanity, a crime we have steadfastly refused to admit to, let alone address, as a people. Even as progressives, the record is pretty sorry. To them, it appears that if a Democratic President does something, it must be legal, including covering for another administration's war crimes.

UPDATE (Apr. 14, 2013): Riverbend has posted an update to her blog, Baghdad Burning. Apparently, she and her family have been refugees ever since her last post in 2007.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

George McGovern, Liberal Hero

Caption: Senator George McGovern during his run for President, June 30, 1972.

Image credit: Warren K. Leffler/Wikimedia Commons

George McGovern, whose presidential run in 1972 may have been the beginning of the end of liberalism in America, died yesterday:

He was an outspoken critic of one war, but a hero in another. He was a leading Democrat who came from Republican roots. He was a politician who cared more about being on the right side of an issue than on the popular side. George Stanley McGovern -- a staunch liberal who served South Dakota in the U.S. Senate and House for more than two decades and who ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic Party nominee for president in 1972 -- died Sunday at the age of 90, his family said.

George McGovern, an unabashed liberal voice, is dead

One of the things that is interesting is that many of the articles that I've read today about him use the word "dead", or the verb "died", to describe his passing. Too many times, people use words like "passed away" when describing someone's death, but not for George McGovern. I think that's appropriate, because if there was one thing George McGovern knew how to do, it was speak the truth plainly.

Maybe the greatest example of that was his speech in the Senate in 1970, during the Vietnam War, as described by Wikipedia:

During the floor debate McGovern criticized his colleagues opposing the [McGovern-Hatfield Amendment]:

Every Senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land—young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.

The Senate reacted in startled, stunned silence, and some faces showed anger and fury;[100] when one member told McGovern he had been personally offended by the speech, McGovern said, "That's what I meant to do."

Wikipedia: George McGovern

Some famous people's lives have taught me things. Frederick Douglass taught me about oppression and dealing with the powerful. George McGovern, by telling us uncomfortable truths and being pilloried for it, taught me something else that's equally important. He taught me that many people, when confronted with an uncomfortable truth that is clearly supported by the facts, or a comforting lie that isn't supported at all, will usually choose to believe the latter. As Taylor Marsh put it today:

The other part of this truth is McGovern also represented the ... inability of good men in the Democratic Party to market the principles and policies on which they stood.

It doesn’t matter if you’re right. You have to be able to sell it.

George McGovern Told the Truth About Nixon and Still Lost

Why should you have to sell the truth? It was certainly clear by 1970 that Vietnam was a disaster, and a disaster that was not only costing us lives and money, but was endangering our security as well. The Army was being asked to do the impossible, and like all armies in such situations, was having discipline problems. We had real enemies, both in Eastern Europe and Asia, who were more than happy to watch us expend our blood there.

Yet McGovern failed to "sell" us on this basic truth. Unfortunately, another thing he taught me was that it's a whole lot less important to understand the truth than it is to sell one's opinion. McGovern was a bona fide war hero, yet people like Nixon, who managed to avoid combat during the same war McGovern fought in, and Nixon's minions, many of whom also managed to avoided combat, got away with calling him and other congressmen who opposed the war "apostles of retreat and defeat". But leaving Vietnam would have meant admitting McGovern and other critics were right, and far too many Americans would have none of that.

McGovern could have used his war record as a bludgeon against Nixon and the other cowards and lunatics of the time, but he chose not to. As he put it:

I think it was a political error, but I always felt kind of foolish talking about my war record—what a hero I was. How do you do that? ... [I]t was not in my nature to turn the campaign into a constant exercise in self-congratulatory autobiography.

Come Home America (see NOTE 1)

He taught me that there are no points in American politics for being modest.

The sad irony of George McGovern's political fortunes is that he was actually the kind of politician we Americans say we want to vote for - an honest politician who will tell the truth, however unpleasant, and try to make his country a better place. Instead, America chose to vote for a liar who clearly wasn't interested in ending a war he had already been elected to end. It's a habit we still haven't gotten over decades later.

NOTE 1: While the Wikipedia mentions an article at the American Conservative by Bill Kauffman, that link no longer works. I remember McGovern saying this, though, so I'll forgo searching for the new location of the article.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saturday Entertainment: Volunteers

It's one of those songs that define the 1960s, and I love this video:
There's what was good and bad about the '60s there, the protests, the war, the Moon walks. I'm not sure where the VW Bus fits in, but it could probably be either.

What strikes me as I watch it is that the people in those photos, the teenagers and young adults at least, are now the leaders. Back in those days, they protested useless wars, pollution, racism, and poverty. Now some of that same generation, in turn, are sending our kids into useless wars, and letting the polluters, the financiers, and pretty much anyone else with a big campaign contribution bleed us dry. Many more are happy to tell us that we should shut up and accept what's done, because that's the best we can do. Just like our parents did.

It's as though every generation needs to be reminded of how things were when they were young. (h/t Taylor Marsh)

Friday, October 5, 2012

September Employment Numbers

Caption: Employment to population ratio (EPOP) for Americans over 25 who have a college degree. It's been going down for everyone else, too. (See UPDATE 3 below for other charts.)

Image credit: Created from Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data by Cujo359

Just a quick word on the September unemployment numbers, because I'm sure that more informed opinion will be along soon. As the Wall Street Journal noted:

The nation's unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since January 2009, suggesting job growth picked up over the summer and shifting questions in the presidential race about which candidate can best fix the nation's ailing economy.

The unemployment rate slid to 7.8% in September, falling below 8% for the first time since President Barack Obama's inauguration, the Labor Department said Friday. Employers added a seasonally adjusted 114,000 jobs last month, a tepid pace that was countered by the fact that figures for previous months were boosted above initial estimates. Those figures reflected that the nation added 181,000 jobs in July and 142,000 jobs in August, showing that job growth in the third quarter was far higher than in the spring.

Unemployment Rate Falls to 7.8%

In contrast to what Jack Welch thinks, there's reason to think that the numbers aren't cooked. In the Bureau Of Labor Statistics report (PDF), there's this explanation:

In September, the number of job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs decreased by 468,000 to 6.5 million. (See table A-11.)

BLS:The Employment Situation — September 2012

That's most of the rise in employment (863k) this month. The Employment to Population ratio (EPOP) was also lower, so this isn't about people falling off the "actively looking for work" wagon. It's a real decrease in the number of people who are unemployed. As the report says, though, it's bucking a trend:

Total employment rose by 873,000 in September, following 3 months of little change. The employment-population ratio increased by 0.4 percentage point to 58.7 percent, after edging down in the prior 2 months. The overall trend in the employment-population ratio for this year has been flat.

BLS:The Employment Situation — September 2012

On the negative side, there was a decrease in manufacturing employment of 16k. Going from memory, I believe that's a number as big as the largest monthly gain in manufacturing since President Obama took office. According to the BLS report, there has been essentially no change in manufacturing employment since April. That's not good for long term economic health. Nor is the rise in those who are working part-time for economic reasons (600k increase).

It looks to me like this is an aberration. The summer has lasted longer than expected. It seems possible that companies are holding onto workers they'd have normally let go a bit longer. I don't understand the economy well enough to say if this is the case, but it's almost certainly that some large employers, or some industries, have put off laying people off for a while longer. I'm sure that real economists with real economic data can come up with the real explanation later. Maybe this is the beginning of a trend toward fewer layoffs, but that's not what it is at the moment. At the moment, it's a one month blip.

On the whole, this is another lackluster report in what has been a lackluster year. Nothing about that will change. The Obama supporters will yell about how great that jump in employment is, and the Romney supporters, like Jack Welch, will tell us it's a conspiracy, and the rest of us will look around us and realize that things are pretty much like they have been lately, which isn't good.

So I suppose it all depends on your point of view.

UPDATE: No sooner do I publish this than Hugh comes out with his usual thorough analysis of this month's BLS data. He notes the higher involuntary part-time worker numbers, too. There's no real explanation of the anomaly there, though there's plenty to think about.

UPDATE 2: And there's a great analysis of why the BLS numbers never "add up" by New York Times economics reporter Catharine Rampell. The Cliff’s Notes version is that the BLS stats have a margin of error (MOE) of 100k on the employer side, and 400k on the employee side. That’s roughly 0.1 percent and 0.3 percent of the current workforce, respectively. They seasonally adjust the numbers to show how things are typically for a particular time of year. Plus, our economy changes over time. All that means the numbers aren’t going to add up exactly.

In other words, it's economics, not baseball.

Taylor Marsh has been calling the cast of mostly Republican characters who have been talking about the BLS numbers as being some sort of conspiracy "Job Truthers". This is an argument down on that level, I'm sad to say. When it comes to anything coming out of the Obama Administration's mouths, no one's more justifiably skeptical than I am. Still, this is how things are done, how they've been done, and that hasn't changed since Bush The Elder was in office, at least. They measure things as they measure them, and as Hugh, Ms. Rampell, and I (among many people) have all noted, you just have to realize that this is a measurement based on some guesswork, and note the possible inaccuracies. Simply calling them the product of a particular administration's propaganda machine without looking at the record is nonsense.

UPDATE 3: I finally got over my fear of spreadsheets and created my own chart of the employment to population ratio (EPOP) for American workers over 25 by education level. As you can see, it's getting worse for everyone:

Image credit: Chart by Cujo359 from BLS data using Libre Office

It's also plain that things are not going as badly for college graduates as they are for others. When you hear from folks in various news organizations that things are getting better, keep that in mind. High school graduates have seen a particularly large drop, and those with less than a high school education were not doing well previous to 2002.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Well, That's Over With

Caption: Most Phillies highlights this year came courtesy of the Phillie Phanatic.

Image credit: Screenshot of this Major League Baseball video by Cujo359

A year after winning a club record 102 games, this year's Philadelphia Phillies barely managed to break even:

The Phillies finished 81-81, snapping their run of nine consecutive winning seasons. It is a minor accomplishment they finished .500, considering they stood 14 games under .500 on July 13 and traded Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino before the July 31 Trade Deadline.

But finishing .500 is just a very small consolation prize for a team that had won five consecutive National League East championships and will miss the postseason for the first time since 2006, making way for the younger and immensely talented Nationals.

Phils finish up at .500 after loss to Nats in finale

The Washington Nationals are probably the only good news in those paragraphs. The erstwhile Montreal Expos moved to our nation's capital a few years ago. They look to be a much better representative than the generally dreadful Washington Senators of a generation ago. At 98-64, they have one of the better records in baseball this year.

The Phillies, on the other hand, might best be exemplified by the fortunes of star pitcher Cliff Lee, one of the few bright spots of the Phillies' last World Series appearance. This year, despite being one of the top starters in Earned Run Average (ERA) and Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP), and having pitched the entire season, he ended up with a 6-9 record. Lack of run support, bad bullpen performances, and fielding miscues all led to his lack of wins. After all, losing nine games in a full season isn't bad for a starter.

Losing their two best power hitters - Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, not to mention their two best left-handed batters, for most of the season was a tough break, but the rest of the lineup hit worse than normal, with the exception of Carlos Ruiz. Utley and Howard are back, but the lineup needs more help. Starting pitcher Roy Halladay wasn't himself this season, and it showed. It would help if they were better at fielding, too.

So, maybe next year.

Meanwhile, congratulations to the Washington Nationals, and to Detroit's Miguel Cabrera for winning that rarest of batting titles, the Triple Crown.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

On Third Parties

One thing that long time readers here may have noticed is my tendency to take online tests. I suppose there's a deep-seated psychological need that this habit serves, and most times I wouldn't recommend readers indulge in it themselves. There are occasional exceptions, however, because the results are interesting beyond the score.

Plus, in the case of this test, there are no right or wrong answers. At least, there are no right and wrong answers for the test takers. In this case, it's the test makers who we should be evaluating.

The test is at a site called ISideWith, and its purpose is to help a voter evaluate which parties and candidates he sides with most on a variety of issues. In my case, I think the results for the presidential race are instructive:

[click on the image to enlarge]
Image credit: Screenshot of ISideWith results for Cujo359 by Cujo359.

Of course some of the questions are rather simplistic ("Should the U.S. continue to support Israel? (Yes/No)"), but the result doesn't differ too much from my own perception, at least if you evaluate Barack Obama on the the basis of what he's said, rather than what he's actually done as President. In the latter case, which is the one I think is relevant, he'd be down in Virgil Goode/Mitch Romney territory. Looking at the results page for Obama's positions versus mine, I see there are at least four questions where the survey assumed agreement, but where there is actually none. On the issues we supposedly disagree on, one was due to a mistake on my part (I think), because the survey thinks I'm "pro-life" (perhaps it is possible for a test taker to give the wrong answer), and one where the "disagreement" is one of a small degree - I think that in addition to automatic weapons, there should be more requirement for gun owners to demonstrate competence with their weapons and mental stability before they're allowed to carry them or keep them in their homes.

Still, the result shows why I'm voting third party this year. Even the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, with whom I disagree profoundly on economic policy, manages to be more palatable on paper than the President does. He's way more palatable than Romney is, once again on paper.

And let's assume for a moment that I agree with Barack Obama's actual positions on issues more than, say, Virgil Goode's or Mitt Romney's, as measured and toted up by an online test. Does that really mean that his policy on civil liberties and domestic surveillance, which is abysmal, is somehow better than Romney's? Not a chance. There are some fundamentals in American government, and when a President fails at them for reasons that run counter to what progressives believe, then progressives should be among the ones making him pay with his job. That's good politics, despite what you may read in some hysterical quarters (see NOTE). From my perspective, his policies on civil liberties and economics are almost indistinguishable from Romney's, and those are about the two most important issues right now from my perspective.

In short, weighting matters.

This is why voting third party isn't a wasted vote. If none of the major party candidates agree with me as much as nearly all of the third party candidates, then some serious political realignment is in order. That's not going to happen by voting the same people into office who have been screwing up all along.

NOTE 1: That link leads to a takedown of that hysterical argument, not the argument itself. I think it's better to reward people who write intelligent things with links and the resulting page hits, rather than rewarding the fools they're trying to counteract.

A More Interesting Debate

Image credit: Vast Left Wing Conspiracy

There's something rather interesting happening regarding the presidential debates tomorrow that I feel I should pass along. Democracy Now! will be holding a sort of electronic alternative debate for progressive candidates the same evening:

As President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney square off in the first presidential debate in Denver on October 3, Democracy Now! will broadcast live from Denver with a special expanded presidential debate from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. ET. We will air the debate, pausing after questions to include equal time responses from two presidential contenders who were shut out of the official debate: Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party.

Third Party Candidates to Join in Real Time on Democracy Now!’s Live Coverage of First Pres. Debate

While it's a bit disappointing that Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate for President, will not be part of the debate, it's still more likely to be interesting than the pat nonsense the major party candidates will be spouting. Stein and Anderson have principles, and are running to make them known. I'd rather listen to that. That's why I'm disappointed that Johnson won't be there. I'd rather listen to a principled discussion of issues, even if that includes someone with whom I disagree.

If you feel that way, check out the Democracy Now! website for a link to the feed. Since it's billed as being part of their debate coverage, my guess is that it will be part of their regular stream program.

(h/t Joyce Arnold for pointing this out.)