Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Too long to go through all that"?

In an interview with Fox News that aired this morning, Paul Ryan stated, when asked about how the numbers add up for Romney's tax plan (discussed previously), "it would take me too long to go through all that".  He then goes on to repeat the same lame promises about cutting everyone's taxes without the government's revenues going down at all.

"It would take me too long to go through all that."

Luckily for Mr. Ryan, we aren't limited to a world where the only way to get your plan out there is to go on a Sunday morning talk show and condense it down to a 25 minute interview, or sum it up in a 90 second debate answer.  We live in a world where this sort of thing is possible:

That goes on for 10 hours.

If technology can somehow figure out a way to beam 10 hours worth such brilliance into my home, surely it must be possible for Mr. Ryan to show us the math.

But he can't.  Because the math can't work.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Wishful thinking on poll bias

Conservatives, perhaps hoping to keep the base involved despite polls showing a growing Obama lead, are claiming that polls are systematically biased in how they choose their samples.  They say the pollsters are counting too many Democratic voters, so of course their numbers will show an Obama lead.  Party identification numbers which differ from similar numbers last time around are the source of the erzatz margin.  A site called removes the supposed bias by assuming a return to '08 party identification proportions.

This is not at all standard practice for polling.  While they correct for things like age, gender and ethnicity, they make no effort to correct for party identification, allowing the interviewees themselves to determine the mix.  Nate Silver at takes a look at the performance of polls in past elections and finds that this practice has historically resulted in predictions without partisan bias.

Friday, September 28, 2012


Some interesting reads from today:

-Democrats can probably think of this as the best-case scenario.  "The Republican Party will massacre each other after Mitt Romney loses."
-It's probably not a good idea to tell the world that, if your husband is elected President, you would be concerned for his "mental well-being".
-A history of Romney's statements on his own health care reform.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Brutally effective ad

The Obama campaign released this ad today, juxtaposing Romney's words regarding the 47% with examples of the actual 47%, including low-wage workers, families and veterans.  It ends with the most damning portion of the speech, where he writes off nearly half the country "And so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."  This sentiment distinguishes Romney's statement from Obama's "cling to guns or religion" controversy in 2008.  Obama acknowledges in the speech that "our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives."  Despite the clumsy sociological claim Obama makes, he accepts the duty to convince those who might disagree with him, whereas Romney throws up his hands and gives up on tens of millions of us who have done nothing wrong besides being poor.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Who agrees with Romney on health care?

After years of bashing Obamacare and minimizing his involvement with health reform in Massachusetts, Romney presented his success at insuring 100% of children in Massachusetts as evidence of his empathy.  While emphasizing his past achievement might help blunt the attacks over his 47% comments, it also emphasizes the amazingly narrow path he has to walk on health care.  He has to pretty much admit that most of the elements of Obamacare are good, as most are similar to Romneycare, but follow that up with a federalism argument for why Obamacare itself is actually bad.  So he'll turn off most conservatives with his support for mandates at the state level, but lose most liberals with his opposition to Obamacare.

Romney's forced into this position given his record as governor.  He is the single worst Republican in the history of the party to attack Obama on health care.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Meaningless tax release

The Romney campaign released info on the effective tax rate he paid in each of the last 20 years.  Here's a letter written by his accountants, PricewaterhouseCoopers, which states that Romney always paid at least 13.66 percent of his Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) in personal income taxes.  They also state that he has paid an "average" effective rate of 20.2% for those years, though that average is found by just adding up the percent paid in each year and dividing by 20.  They don't, however, give any info regarding the actual AGI amounts or how much was actually paid in taxes.

We know that Romney has a huge IRA in which he's sheltered tens of millions of dollars.  IRA contributions are not included in the AGI.  So whatever games he played to hide lots/most of his money in his IRA would not show up in his AGI and hence not show up in his effective tax rate.  For example could have made $10 million in a year, hidden $9 million in his IRA, paid 20% of the remaining million in taxes, and claimed to have paid a 20% rate, even though it was actually 2%.

Without seeing the actual numbers/returns, we can't really know anything real about Romney's tax history.  His new "release" doesn't actually tell us much at all.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Romney's Medicare Trojan Horse

Romney's plan to overhaul Medicare involves offering premium supports to help seniors buy insurance on a government-run exchange.  The value of the premium support (or voucher, if you prefer) would be equal to the second-lowest premium of all the plans in the exchange, one of which is traditional Medicare.  This sort of formulation would inevitably result in the true end of Medicare.

Romney's website states that all the plans "must offer coverage at least comparable to what Medicare provides today."  That leaves plenty of wiggle room for companies to come up with plans that undercut Medicare unfairly, such as by offering gym memberships to attract younger, less-sick seniors, which happened with Medicare Advantage plans.  Of course, given that anything resembling true regulation is anathema to the Republican Party, it's also likely that "comparable" will result in truly "less".  Telling people exactly what has to be in the plan is definitely right out.  Insurance companies could even attempt to game the system by offering two plans with lower premiums sold at a loss.  By pulling the cost of the government subsidy further and further down over time, traditional Medicare will be destroyed.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Voters deserve more debate, details

One of the areas where the Romney campaign has been most specific is military spending, with Romney promising to spend at least 4% of GDP on defense.  A Romney victory would open the door to a $2 trillion increase in defense spending versus Obama's proposal.

Romney's plan to convert Medicaid to a block grant program would save (or, "save") something like $1.26 trillion.

Whatever the actual details of Romney's proposals wind up being, it's safe to say that the outcome of the election will determine how trillions of dollars are spent.  As previously discussed, a trillion dollars is a hell of a lot of money.

Then there are the significant non-economic issues that will likely be determined in November, like the winner getting the right to make the (likely) Supreme Court nomination which will decide Roe v Wade.

In light of the stakes, how is it at all acceptable for the candidates to hold events for a few thousand supporters where they give the same stupid stump speech over and over again, when they could be appearing on national TV before tens of millions having their views tested by the media and each  other?  It would be one thing if the candidates were actively engaging their relatively small audiences at these events, as some sort of expression of direct voter involvement.  But for the crowd, it's mostly a lot of standing around waiting for the candidate to give his spiel.

Why do candidates want to campaign this way, anyway?  They exhaust themselves and create traffic jams all over the country to give safe, boring speeches  to small crowds of diehards.  A candidate with nothing to lose (like Romney) could embark a 21st century version of a Front porch campaign, constantly reaching millions of voters a day in interviews and televised speeches which can originate from anywhere in the world.

Of course, such wide distribution would preclude repeating the same material over and over again, as viewers would stop tuning in and networks would move on.  They would lose the safety and comfort of a canned stump speech.  It would be a risky move, but the huge amount of free media, not to mention good will from voters who become more informed/involved, might make it worthwhile.

Trillions and trillions

Let's assume a year's worth of someone's labor is worth $50k.  50 years of work is $2.5 million.  A billion dollars is 400 lifetimes of work.  A trillion dollars is 400,000 lifetimes of work. That's comparable to the population of Summit County.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Random facts that may only interest me

Today, Romney appeared at a rally in Las Vegas attended by 2,000 supporters.  Obama appeared at a rally with 12,000.  63.2 million watched the second debate between Obama and McCain in '08.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

We are all (ok, almost all) redistributionists

Obama's been getting some heat, including from the Romney campaign, over comments he made in 1998 in which he said "I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody’s got a shot."  It turns out that the very next words out of his mouth after that were "[h]ow do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities."

The entire quote might not have the Marxist ring to it that the right wing was hoping for, and it makes them look bad that it was selectively edited.  But the most important aspect of the story is the dishonest of the attack, since Romney's platform is heavily redistributional, as well.  On his website, he expresses support for Medicaid block grants to the states, a "Medicare" benefit, Social Security, tax preferences for certain people/industries, and lots of other things that involve taking money from one group and giving it to someone else.

If Obama were running against Ron Paul or Gary Johnson (or, you know, running against Gary Johnson in a way where he had to engage Johnson at all), perhaps there could be a real debate about the government's role here.  But Romney talks like a libertarian while his policies are clearly not.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Why would Romney think this is a good idea?

At an event this evening on Univision, Romney referenced "the 100 percent" four times, as in "My campaign is about the 100 percent of America."

What could he possibly be thinking?  This phrasing, awkward on its own, would prompt someone not familiar with the "47%" controversy to look into the situation.  They would of course soon find the tape where he declares his intention to not worry about a near-majority of us.  Those already aware of the tape are reminded of Romney's true feelings every time he says "100 percent".

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The hits keep on coming

More video from the secretly-taped Romney fundraiser, discussed yesterday.  Here, Romney shares his belief that peace between the Palestinians and Israelis because "the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish."  He goes on to talk about practical problems involved with a Palestinian state, such as borders between the West Bank, Syria and Jordan.  Unfortunately, the West Bank does not border Syria at all.  That's Syria up there in the northeastern corner.

Were Romney elected, his would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Given his demonstrable lack of knowledge of the situation, as well as his belief that peace is impossible due to the flaws of one side, he would be utterly incapable of brokering any sort of peace arrangement.

Just one more element of perhaps the worst week for a major party nominee in  recent history.

Monday, September 17, 2012

It gets worse

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
While one might think the above simplistic moralizing was spoken by some right-wing fanatic on public access, its source is in fact the Republican nominee for president, speaking months ago to $50,000+ donors.  It betrays Romney's apparent dichotomous view straight out of Atlas Shrugged of a virtuous productive class which is preyed upon by freeloaders.  And one can declare oneself productive if only they can find the wherewithal to vote Republican.

Romney continues, in reference to the same 47% of the country who are lazy Obama voters, saying "[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

This is a horrifying statement in a few different ways.  Romney is stating that a near-majority of the nation are destined to never produce anything or even care for themselves.  It ignores any degree of social mobility or changing circumstances; the portion of the population that doesn't pay income taxes is in fact constantly shifting.  Romney also betrays his apparent view that these people aren't worth worrying about, and he doesn't intend to even try to convince them to get off their lazy, poor duffs and do something with their lives.  If he really thinks many of us won't take care of ourselves no matter what, it lends a more sinister tone to his proposals to devastate spending on social programs.  If he doesn't think it will stimulate people to support themselves, what does he think will happen to them?

The rest of the video clips are worth watching, too.  Romney includes such gems as claiming that he would have be doing better in the campaign if his father had been ethnically Mexican instead of just being born there.  He discusses his theory that Obama only won because of the potency of his advertising, and that merely the news of Romney's election will help the economy, even before he gets into office and does anything.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Circular firing squad starts

Here's a fairly long article based on interviews with Romney staffers, advisers and friends, which portrays a quite dysfunctional campaign.  Romney is reported to have "allowed seven distinct power centers to flourish inside his campaign."  It is revealed that Romney's convention speech was totally scrapped and rewritten in the 8 days before it was given, which likely contributed to the omission of mention of the war in Afghanistan.

But more important is that the internal story is being reported now.  This is not the sort of thing that should come out 7 weeks before the election, when people inside the campaigns are typically still dreaming of cushy appointments in the halls of power.  One doesn't run to spill the beans to a reporter if a post-win government job is still a possibility, so it seems at least some of Romney's staff have moved on to the cover-your-own-ass phase of things.  The author of the story, Mike Allen, is Politico's chief political reporter and is very well-respected inside the Beltway.  He is one of the more trustworthy reporters in Washington, so I'm sure his sources are legit.

The Romney campaign is at a critical juncture.  It needs to stay enough in the race that a good debate or two can get them in the lead.  After the week they just had, with conservatives attacking the candidate at the start, fumbling an opportunity with the Libya situation, and now signs his campaign is deserting him, he could find himself praying for a miracle.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Beware the jobs report

Obama's been doing very well in the polls recently, pushing his odds of winning, according to Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, over 75%.  But there's still a long way to go til November, and lots of outside events that might change the outcome.  Between now and then, there are two more job reports due, including one the Friday before Election Day.  If there's bad news in that last report, it could swing the election.  Here's a graph of the last year of jobs growth, which illustrates why Democrats shouldn't count their chickens just yet.

How Romney blew it

John Podhoretz had a couple articles out this week assailing the media over its coverage of Mitt Romney's September 11th statement attacking the Obama administration for a controversial statement from the Cairo embassy.  His main thesis is that the media have collectively decided that it is illegitimate for Mitt Romney to have questioned the "apology" approach to foreign policy.  While such a response from the media would be terrible for our democracy, it's just not at all the case here.

The critical flaw in Podhoretz's argument is found in the New York Post piece, where he wrote:

First were the uninhibitedly liberal media, starting with the Web site Talking Points Memo, which called Romney a liar for attacking the statement because he should’ve known about the timing of its release. 
How that made Romney a “liar” when no one else knew, either, and when the White House evidently thought it needed to run in the other direction, is far from clear.
First off, Romney absolutely should have known the timing of the release.  Here is a conservative blog post dated 4:58pm on September 11th, which puts it 2-5 hours ahead of Romney's statement, depending on time zone.  The blogger knew that:
The Embassy apparently was trying to head off a backlash as Egyptian Muslims reacted angrily to a U.S.-produced film that critics say is insulting to the Prophet Muhammad. The embassy released a statement of appeasement, and was rewarded later in the day by a rampaging mob which stormed the embassy, tearing down its flag.
Emphasis mine.

I've honestly never heard of before the last few days, but they're linked to in the NBC News timeline of events, they're #1,338 in U.S. traffic among all websites according to, and I'd come across another article of theirs being highly ranked in a google search for "cairo embassy tweets", so I assume it's a fairly major website.  They surmised the not-too-complex correct temporal relationship of the embassy statement and the attack on the embassy hours before the man who would be President.  If the Romney campaign wanted to confirm the timeline before making bold pronouncements based on their faulty understanding of the events, they could have asked the Cairo embassy, or checked their twitter page, which said "this morning's condemnation (issued before protests began) still stands.  As does condemnation of unjustified breach of the Embassy."  This tweet was about 4 hours before Romney's statement.

But let's accept Podhoretz's premise, that neither Romney nor anyone else knew the correct timeline at the point the statement was issued.  So no one knew when the statement was made relative to the attack.  We then have a situation where a major party nominee just made up out of whole cloth that the statement was in response to the attacks.  How is that not lying, exactly?

Podhoretz doesn't understand that the problem with Romney's statement is not the content of his position, but the demonstrably false evidence on which he bases the statement.  It would have been fine if he put out a reasoned argument for non-involvement by the government in religious affairs, or a pointed critique of Obama's supposed "lead from behind" strategy.  But he instead put out a crassly political, factually incorrect statement which only served to make him look incredibly unpresidential.

It's understandable that a Republican like Podhoretz would want to move the battleground away from the topic of his candidate's demonstrable flaws to one where Romney can be portrayed as being unfairly attacked by the mean ol' lame-stream media.  But it's just not the case here.  Here are the first several Talking Points Memo articles on the subject, and I don't see a darn thing condemning Romney for bringing up a foreign policy critique.  I read a lot of "uninhibitedly liberal media", and I don't recall much of anything along the lines Podhoretz claims.

There's just no getting around the fact that Romney put out a political statement in the middle of a crisis based on demonstrably false information.  It is this fact that damages his standing to be Commander-in-Chief, not that he wants to discuss how best to deal with the crisis.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Full post after midnight.  Working on a critique of these two articles by John Podhoretz.  Give 'em a read and check back later.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

I don't know what we're yelling about

I think Mitt Romney (at least 2010 Mitt Romney) and I can agree on a few things vis-a-vis the whole Terry Jones movie/riot/assassination/political-fallout situation:

1.  Terry Jones has an absolute right to release any video or other form of speech he wants without interference from the United States government.
2.  Doing so in the current environment puts Americans' lives at risk, most of whom are not Terry Jones.
3.  It is a fundamental agreement we make with each other as Americans, in the form of the 1st Amendment, that #2 does not invalidate #1

However, there is not, so far as I'm aware, a constitutional protection from the government refuting or opposing your freely-spoken expression.   If I say that Queen Elizabeth is actually a dude, and London asks the American Embassy if that is the official position of the American government, of course our ambassador should be allowed to answer the question.  Similarly, if the Egyptian people are angry at the US government and its Embassy over Jones' film, the Embassy is fulfilling its duty under Article 3 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (.pdf) of "representing the sending state in the receiving state" and "promoting friendly relations between the sending state and the receiving state" by making clear that the content of the film does not represent American values, even if allowing its existence/distribution is a founding principle.

The statement from the Embassy clumsily tried to make that distinction, condemning the film while also reinforcing Jones' "universal right of free speech".  The statement took an unnecessary shot at Jones and his partners, calling them "misguided", and mentioning the 9/11/01 attacks didn't really contribute anything.  It would have been much better if the author, who was explicitly told by the State Department to not release the statement but did anyway, would have deleted those parts and included a little more about why we weren't presenting the mob with Jones' head on a platter.  But of course it's proper to condemn the attacks on the host country's religion.

Sen Rob Portman (R-OH) is the worst surrogate ever

One of my senators, Rob Portman, was interviewed on CBS's morning show today, and it was a horrendous appearence.  The topic of discussion was Romney's much-maligned statement, discussed yesterday, regarding the attacks in Egypt and Libya.

To remind everyone, here's Romney's statement from Tuesday night.
"I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi.  It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
Portman's interview was remarkable for the utter lack of knowledge of the situation he was brought on to discuss.  He states "Well, first, the statement was made the night before we knew about the deaths of those four brave Americans in Libya.  So, it was in relationship not to what happened in Libya but, of course, what happened in Egypt".

You'll note that Romney's statement clearly mentions Libya and one of the deaths.

Portman is also ignorant of the timeline, claiming that the Cairo embassy's statement, which as discussed yesterday happened several hours before either attack, came after the attack.  When pressed by the interviwer, he admitted "No, I was not aware it was issued before there were any attacks."

Well where the fuck were you all day yesterday, Senator, when the entire political universe was discussing the timeline of events?

Portman was on the program to talk about this issue, and he lacked the basic facts necessary to have anything approximating a decent discussion.  Awful.

Another post pending later on regarding the substance of Romney's position.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Romney at his most unpresidential

(Info for this post is based on the timeline of events provided by NBC News regarding the killing of the J. Christopher Stevens, US Ambassador to Libya and three others during protests over an anti-Islam film produced by Koran-burning Florida pastor Terry Jones, though it seems the attack may have been planned and not the result of an out-of-control mob)

Last night, while the fate of Ambassador Stevens was still unknown, and at a point where neither Obama nor anyone else within 5,000 miles of him had commented on a still-active, evolving, life-or-death situation in Benghazi, Mitt Romney released a statement saying:
I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.
Looking at the NBC News timeline, it's clear that, on multiple levels, Romney had no idea what he was talking about and was instead talking out his ass in the midst of an international crisis.

The claim that the administration's first response was to sympathize with the attackers is apparently based on a statement released by the Cairo embassy Tuesday morning, about six hours before the Cairo embassy was breached.  The statement read:
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
Now, we can argue over whether the statement by the embassy was justified (tomorrow's topic!), but the statement which might be construed as sympathizing with the Egyptians or Libyans. which got Romney so fired up he had to release his statement on 9/11, preceded the attacks, which makes it pretty tough to classify it as the administration's "first response" to the attacks.  Obama/Washington had nothing to say until after Romney's statement was e-mailed, so let's accept Romney's premise that workers in a surrounded embassy in Egypt know the President's thoughts on everything.  What was the embassy's first communication after the attack?  A tweet that read "2) Of course we condemn breaches of our compound, we're the ones actually living through this.".  So in fact the first response of the Obama administration, literally, was to condemn the attack in Egypt, and it was before the attack in Libya even happened.

Good job, Mitt.

Then there's the little matter of Romney's statement, the entirety of which is above, makes no mention of condolences for the family of the (as far as he knew at the time) one American who had been killed.  A matter of decorum and not strictly important, to be sure, but still.

Romney also implies the statements of the Cairo embassy were in response to the Libyan attacks, which means he thinks the Americans at the consulate in Libya was in communication with Cairo discussing administration policy, instead of literally running for their lives.

It would be one thing if Romney were making tough, critical statements when he had all the facts in hand.  But he was demonstrably wrong in several ways in just two sentences.  He didn't let that, or that it was still 9/11, which the campaigns had observed with a temporary cease-fire, stop him from firing off a strictly political statement about an ongoing crisis.  Perhaps he wanted get the statement out in time for the late local news.  Whatever his motivation, I can't fathom being so factually wrong about such a serious issue, and being so sure of yourself that you'd send out such a statement two hours before the 9/11 truce ends.

EDIT: After posting, found this gem from Romney in 2010: “Burning the Quran is wrong on every level.  It puts troops in danger, and it violates a founding principle of our republic.

So, uh, what is he even criticizing the embassy's statement for, exactly?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Conservatives calling out Romney for lack of substance

Romney's been getting killed in the polls. is now projecting around an 80% chance of an Obama victory.  Several prominent conservatives in the media have been attacking Romney in the last day for failing to propose specific policies.  They seem to be under the delusion that doing so would help him electorally, but regardless, it's nice that my pressing Romney for specifics is picking up steam.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Unfair criticism of Ryan

Despite all the partisan posturing over the debt ceiling, a majority of Congress and the President managed to agree to a plan which included things one side or the other didn't like.  Among these were painful automatic spending cuts which would take effect if the "supercommittee" was unable to agree to other cuts.  To encourage Democrats on the supercommittee, some of the automatic cuts were to domestic discretionary spending.  To keep Republicans at the table, there were massive cuts to the military.  Both sides, in what is just about the best we can do in terms of evidence of cooperation, voted for what they knew to be an imperfect bill.

Fast-forward to an interview Paul Ryan gave CBS today.  He was attacked for having voted for the defense cuts and essentially called a hypocrite for attacking Obama over those same cuts.  But to be fair to Ryan, he never really wanted the defense cuts in the first place.  He only agreed to them as part of a compromise.  He should still have the right to speak out about the parts of the bill he doesn't like.

Of course, the Romney/Ryan campaign's position on military spending IS utterly indefensible, adopting their party's military Keynesianism by attacking defense spending cuts saying the cuts will cost jobs.  If they agree military spending creates jobs, there's no earthly reason to believe that other government spending, such as the stimulus or Obama's proposed Jobs Act, doesn't create jobs too.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Voter choice and polarization

Mitt Romney is desperately trying to make the election a referendum on the economy.  Whenever possible, he is refusing to give any details about his plans, choosing instead to focus on poor current conditions.  He and his running mate today both refused to answer direct questions about which tax deductions they would eliminate to pay for their promised income tax rate cuts.  They can (maybe) get away with this because, thanks to our voting system, there are only two options perceived as viable, so all one side has to do is damage the other side so badly that they win by default.  Republicans have dedicated the last 4 years to this purpose.

If we were to switch to a system which encourages multiple parties, this destructive, all-negative strategy would be impossible.  Devoting one's resources to tearing down one opponent doesn't work when there are more than one alternative available.  In a theoretical race between Romney, Obama and Candidate X, Romney could spend all the time he likes tearing down Obama, but he would then have to be specific about why he's better than Candidate X.  With even more parties, negative campaigning becomes less and less effective and presenting one's own vision becomes the only real option.

Duverger's Law and Cognitive Dissonance

Duverger's Law states that a plurality voting system (like ours, with one vote per voter, most votes wins) greatly encourages two overwhelmingly dominant parties, resulting from, for example, Libertarians and pinko commies like me voting for more-electable candidates even though other candidates better represent our views.

For the great number of us who feel more passionately about one issue or another, our system forces them into one or the other party, which has lots of other views which our votes support.   Pro-life voters are pressured to support waterboarding and corporate tax cuts, while supporters of unions vote for Obamacare and gun control.

With only two choices, a fair degree of cognitive dissonance might arise.  A voter who on their own would hold one position or another might find themselves conflicted after years of voting for candidates who hold the other position.  To avoid the cognitive dissonance, they might begin to soften/change their views.  In a system with multiple parties (or a system where the voting system doesn't so strongly discourage multiple parties), voters are more free to think for themselves.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

My dream candidate, apparently

I took this online questionnaire thingy to identify the candidate I most agree with on the issues.  It seems that Green Party candidate Jill Stein is the one for me.  But unfortunately, thanks to our voting system and Duverger's Law, I'll wind up voting for Obama and the system will fail to accurately record my true policy preferences.

More on Duverger's Law, and how the two-party system is a tremendously destructive force in our democracy, tomorrow.  Er, later today.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Post will be late

Looks like I have to give refunds again.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Don't judge me

You might remember Gabby Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman shot in the head in Tuscon last year.  Here's her first post-shooting interview, with Diane Sawyer:

This was the last time I'd heard Giffords speak.  Tonight, she led the Pledge at the convention:

Well, to be honest, I wept like an infant.

Now, I have enough political cynicism and medical knowledge to accept the possibility that there are complex neurologic reasons she might be more successful at this kind of recitation than with spontaneous language, but darn it, it's inspiring how well she's doing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ratings as sign of apocalypse

These are the ratings for the news outlets on the first nights of the two conventions.  The 10 o'clock hour of these conventions is a series of speeches without interruption, so there's no real reason to watch one channel or another.  But the ratings for the cable news networks reflect the significant changes in the makeup of the people watching the events, with massive swings away from Fox News after the RNC and toward MSNBC and CNN.  This reflects the huge numbers of people who only ever hear one side of the story.  It's probably pretty easy for those millions of people to think of the other party as a caricature.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Barney Frank sums it up

Tonight at the convention, Frank told CNN:
[L]ook at the contrast. George Bush came to us on the Democratic side in late '08 and said, we're in a crisis, we need your help -- and we gave it to him, very openly, very fully. Then Obama comes in to try to deal with the terrible situation he inherited from bush and the republican media went into full partisan attack. [Senate Republican Leader] Mitch McConnell announcing his number one goal was to defeat the president
I continue to hold out hope that voters will punish Republicans for their intransigence.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Romney predicts sky blue

Romney has been promising that if he's elected, the US will create 12 million jobs during his first term.  Sounds impressive, until one considers that 12 million jobs is about what one would expect regardless of who's President.

It's tempting to write this off as Romney trying to score some cheap points and maybe help his possible re-election chances if he "delivers" the expected result.  But Romney is depending on "faster economic growth" to make his tax plan work without raising taxes on the middle class.  If his predictions don't actually forecast faster job growth, how likely is it that growth will make up the shortfalls in his tax plan?  

Sunday, September 2, 2012


Paul Krugman has taken to referring to the Republican plan to replace Medicare with vouchers as "Vouchercare", arguing that the premium supports are fundamentally different from the current program.  Today, Joe Biden started using the term himself.

I think it would be more appropriate to refer to it as "vouchercare", to reflect the fact that the vouchers aren't big enough.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

What's Mitt's plan for Afghanistan?

2,109 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan, including 245 just this year.  Yet Mitt Romney didn't have anything to say about it in the biggest speech of his life.  Not one word.  Obama called him out on it today.

It's an impossible situation for Romney.  Obama's position is that we should carry out a gradual withdrawal finishing by the end of 2014.  What can Romney say in response?  He of course can't agree with Obama.  He can't say we'll be there more or less forever like McCain proposed for Iraq without alienating a huge majority of Americans ready for the war to end.  And he can't advocate leaving immediately without losing a chunk of his base.  So what does he do but hope to avoid the subject of a war involving the country he hopes to lead?