Saturday, September 18, 2004

I had no idea

What a strange little law.

Probably a way to make sure that Dixiecrat votes didn't bleed over into REAL liberal votes for the Presidency, in the 1960's and '70's. (Law was passed in 1967). Still...I had no idea.

Jay Hamilton is one of K. Grease's favorite people. Fair-minded, and extremely handsome, for a liberal. He also has this working paper, on the press. Fascinating.

Florida Joke: What Blows, and Isn't a Hurricane?

Heeeee's baaaaaaaack! Back on the ballot in Florida, to go along with key battleground states Oregon, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Maine. (Some of those are in court, but...)

It's your Uncle Ralphie, the one who only shows up late to family gatherings to complain about the food, and then stiffs you for the bill. Later, he tells people they didn't miss anything, because it was poorly organized, and probably run by corporations.

Good on ya, Ralph Nader! You're a great American! George Bush says you are either with him or against him, and I think we all know now which side you are on!

But I don't think I'll be buying his book. I find I don't have time to read fiction much anymore.

Rumor? Pretty cool, if true.

I just made up a joke; let's see if it catches on in Florida: What do Democrats think is the difference between Ralph Nader and a hurricane? Answer: One of them blows, and does lots of damage. The other one involves weather. (A picture: note the Kerry sign at bottom right. Was this caused by hurricane, or Nader?)(Nod to MAG)

(More Nader jokes, if you need a laugh, or can't stop crying)

A Democratic Nadir.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Talk Like a Pirate Day

I almost forgot about "Talk Like a Pirate" day. Even Glenn Reynolds is into it.

A suggestion for a new keyboard, if you also want to blog like a pirate.

Getting started.

Remember: THIS SUNDAY, September 19, is TLAP Day.

(Nod to ARPGang, in a coldly courteous way)

Cone Punk'd

Ed Cone thinks he's Ashton Kutcher.

He "punk'd" me, on his WORD UP blog.

Compared me to Vladimir Putin. Not favorably. Do you see the resemblance?

Seriously: Ed, I'm callin' you out. Admit it, you big wuss: YOU don't believe in democracy, either. No one does. When someone says "democracy" they often mean some mishmash of good government and broad participation. All the rest of the time, they mean:

"If everyone in the world were as smart as I am, and as well-informed, then they would agree with me. The only possible basis for disagreement with my views is ignorance, or immorality. Therefore, REAL democracy is actually a DICTATORSHIP OF ME."

The U.S. is a republic; it has never been a democracy. That's the only reason we have survived this long.

I think you people need more Mencken. So, since it's Friday, here's a double shot of Henry Louis:

"Democracy is a form of worship. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses."

"Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule—and both commonly succeed, and are right."

The Man in the Moon

I was on "On Point" last night, on NPR, talking Electoral College. (again).

Two other guests:
John Harwood, WSJ reporter and Duke alum
Alan Natapoff, CRS Research Scientist at MIT.

Harwood was great; funny and well-informed. I don't just mean he knew more than I do; that's easy. He knows more than almost anyone. Excerpt from his Sept. 13 piece in the WSJ:

The Electoral College was designed by the Founding Fathers to place a buffer between popular sentiment and the selection of a chief executive. It awards each state the number of electoral votes that corresponds to its number of seats in the House of Representatives plus two more, the latter an effort to augment the power of small states the way the composition of the U.S. Senate does.

By requiring presidential aspirants to achieve a majority of electoral votes awarded by states, the founders believed, they would force candidates to amass a broad coalition and thus stitch together the young nation.

The 2000 election, which gave George W. Bush an electoral majority even as Americans cast more ballots for Al Gore, revived the off-and- on drive to scrap the Electoral College as antiquated in favor of direct election by the popular vote.

Even before the Bush-Gore battle, polls had repeatedly shown that a majority of Americans favor scrapping the Electoral College in favor of popular-vote elections. But because that would require a federal constitutional amendment, a dauntingly difficult prospect, calls to do so from the likes of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton so far have gone nowhere.

Natapoff...well, at one point I used the old Tom Schwartz line about elections, saying that believing votes matter more under the Electoral College system was like saying that a tall man is more likely than a short man to bump his noggin on the moon.

Natapoff's response? He reminded us all that he worked on outer space, and then claimed that this made him arbiter of metaphors using the moon. And my use was outlawed by MIT's Moon Man. A truly surreal moment.

Take Back the Right

Wisdom! C.J. Maloney's rant. Marvellous.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Democracy is Overrated

The electorate is very poorly informed about most political matters. Grass roots politics is dead, killed by silly and wrong-headed "reforms."

Few adult citizens can name a Senator from their state. Fewer can name a representative. Almost no one can name even one Supreme Court justice.

This matters two ways:
1. It means that we cannot use elections to control corruption or bad actions of elected officials. We don't even know their names! Interest groups and backroom deals are more powerful, unless voters become aroused over some issue temporarily.
2. It means that the standard "majority = morality" argument doesn't hold for legislation. Generally, we want to argue that the reason you have to accept legislation you disagree with is that we obey the majority will. But since only a fraction of voters turn out (55% is a good year for Presidential races, and all others are smaller), that means that only perhaps 1/4, or less, of registered voters voted for even a popular President. What kind of mandate is this? Worse, even those voters who did vote probably could not tell their candidate's positions on more than two issues. Yet the President makes decisions in our name on dozens of policies. The speaker of the House got a majority of the vote in one district in one state. That might be 75,000 voters. How can the Speaker of the House claim a "democratic" mandate for all 250 million of us?

There are two countervailing factors, which mean things might not be so bad.

1. The media may be able to keep us informed. But people aren't going to switch from "Survivor: Atlantic City!" to the news unless the scandal involves sex or ...well, frankly, sex is the only thing we'll pay attention to.

2. Parties can discipline candidates by withholding campaign funds, and by allocating volunteers to (re)election efforts. But parties are very weak in the U.S., especially after McCain-Feingold cut out a source of "soft money" contributions to parties, and then doubled the limits on hard money, so that incumbents are even more independent.

Is my perspective "antidemocratic"? Sure: Democracy is overrated. In fact, "Democracy" is best translated "mob rule," in its original Greek form. The common people are simply not qualified, or interested, enough to be in in charge. Consider Plato's view of "democracy":
"Democracy is precisely the constitution out of which tyranny comes; from extreme liberty, it seems, comes a slavery most complete and most cruel...When a democratic city gets worthless butlers presiding over its wine, and has drunk too deep of liberty's heady draught, then, I think, if the rulers are not very obliging and won't provide plenty of liberty, it calls them blackguards and oligarchs and chastises them...and any who obey the rulers they trample in the dust as willing slaves and not worth a jot." Plato, THE REPUBLIC, Book IV, 560A-564A
What to do? I would advocate two things, as solutions:
A. Give a test, like a drivers' license test, before you get your registration card. 20 questions, basic civics stuff, but you would have to show you know what political choices, and "road signs" mean.
B. Reduce the scope of government powers, cut the domain of collective choice. We have criminalized too many behaviors, federalized too many local choices. Government is too important in our lives, and we have no control over it.
To finish, one more quote, my favorite:
"It [is impossible] to separate the democratic idea from the
theory that there is a mystical merit, an esoteric and
ineradicable rectitude, in the man at the bottom of the
scale—that inferiority, by some strange magic, becomes
superiority—nay, the superiority of superiorities. What
baffles statesmen is to be solved by the people, instantly
and by a sort of seraphic intuition. This notion . . . originated
in the poetic fancy of gentlemen on the upper levels—
sentimentalists who, observing to their distress that
the ass was overladen, proposed to reform transportation
by putting him in the cart." (H.L. Mencken, from Notes on
Democracy, 1926)

(Nod to JM for the title)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Are You Blue?

Got to give the Blue team some props. Great picture of Repub-Wanna-B-Guv Ballentine.

The look on his face, the taxi ad for a strip club, anonymous woman in the back seat...This looks like Dan Quayle on a golf-n-babes weekend. Remember wife Marilyn's spirited defense of Danny? He couldn't have had an affair, because "anybody who knows Dan Quayle knows he would rather play golf than have sex."

What this goes to show you is that, when you think staff people and handlers are paranoid, in fact they are just worried about stuff like this. I hate myself for laughing at the picture, and Ballentine didn't do anything wrong...but it's great.

John Lott and NYT's Pillar of Snide

Damn, Betsy! You go.

She goes after the NYT treatment of the Lott-Hassett study. In particular, she points to the con-FISK-ication by Donald Luskin.

Full disclosure of my own: John Lott is a friend, for two decades.

God is a Republican, Santa Claus is a Democrat

Or is it the Yankees and the Red Sox, respectively?

Ben McGrath takes his shot at this idea.

But see an earlier version, by Frederic Frommer.

Or my own take.

(The title, btw, comes from PJ O'Rourke. You will laugh. Unless you are some liberal or something. Then you will say, in this as in all things in your life, "THAT's not funny!" As in, "How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?" Answer: "That's not funny.")

Outsourcing Resources

Since the reaction to my earlier post on outsourcing was so nice (no, my head won't fit there, though God knows I've tried), I thought I would share some resources.
For you haters....
For you lovers....
Both amazing sites. Both funny, because they aren't kidding.

Being against outsourcing is like being against gravity: fine, you get to be against it, but what in the world do you think you can do about immutable market forces? People who say they are against using price signals to direct resources to their highest valued use remind me of H.L. Mencken's line:

This notion . . . originated in the poetic fancy of gentlemen on the upper levels—sentimentalists who, observing to their distress that the ass was overladen, proposed to reform transportation by putting him in the cart.

Mencken was talking about democracy, but...

A question: If you are against outsourcing, does that mean you make your own shoes in your garage?

Monday, September 13, 2004

Be on your Guard

Ed Cone notes that he was going to write about the CBS "GuardPapersGate" thing, but Dave Winer had pretty much nailed it. Guess that goes double for me, having to cite someone who recognized that someone else had already done the job.

But I do have some questions:

1. Does anyone seriously doubt that Bush did in fact bail on his commitments, both when he was supposed to be in Alabama and later when he was supposed to connect with the Guard in Boston? Anyone? Why the heck do we care that these particular documents appear to have been forged? (Frankly, Peter Duncan pounded the snot of those guys at CBS. There is really nothing left to say, except sing the HEYHEYHEY: GOODBYE! song to Dan R).

2. Does anyone else wonder if a Republican sympathizer / free-lancer came up with this to discredit both CBS (for being goofs) and Kerry (for not doing anything other than being alive, but appearing to benefit from CBS's using the documents to attack Bush)? I mean, the things are so clearly fake. The IBM ball change, the perfect spacing on the superscript. If the Democrats had actually done this, they would have used a typewriter. They may be dumb enough to nominate Kerry, but they aren't stupid.

(UPDATE: Michael Totten had pretty much the same reaction, but earlier than mine. Nod to CL, just for being CL. And his use of the razor does have much to recommend it.)

(UPDATE AGAIN: Angryouser and angryouser...Nod to Dale)

High Colorado

Colorado is considering changing over to a proportional system for its Electoral College votes. (Did you know that the CO state song is "Where the Columbines Grow"? Now you do.)

There are lots of ways to reform. Proportional is a nice compromise, because it retains the essential character of the EC system, but eliminates a huge flaw.

My own thoughts, more generally:

Should we get rid of the anachronistic Electoral College? Absolutely not. But we should change it from winner-take-all to a proportional system. Colorado's contemplation of a proportional system is an important first step.

The Electoral College served three functions, in the minds of the framers of the U.S. Constitution:

· First, the Electoral College keeps the electorate from acting on wild impulses, and voting for demagogues. At first, many states used the state legislatures to choose electors, so there was no pretense, or even argument for, the popular selection of the president.

· Second, the Electoral College ensures that the small states get a voice in the presidential election. Votes from citizens in small states such as Montana or Maine count twice as much, or more, than votes from citizens in states like California or New York. Consequently, candidates have good reasons to pay attention to small states, instead of just campaigning in a few large states.

· Third, the Electoral College prevents large majorities in just a few states from determining the outcome of the election. Consequently, candidates must seek broad support from many states, rather than deep support from just a few heavily populated areas.

The three examples of past 'anomalies' in the Electoral College, in 1824 (Jackson-Adams), 1876 (Tilden-Hayes), and 1888 (Cleveland-Harrison), are each actually strong evidence for how well it works.

The 2000 election was a different matter. The system is not well suited for handling ties. The real problem is the 'winner take all' nature of the Electoral College votes, for most states (Nebraska switched in 1996, and Maine in 1972, to a more proportional system based on Congressional districts). Colorado would be the first state to go to a purely proportional system, but other states should follow their lead as soon as possible, for the health of our electoral system.

Right now, there are four states that are virtual ties, according to the polls: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Maine. Except for Florida, these are relatively small states, and the Electoral College system serves them well by giving them disproportionate power, compared to their population. The problem is that the winner-take-all system distorts this closeness.

Disadvantages of the winner-take-all system:
1. Too much rides on a few votes. Alternative systems, including the congressional district system of Nebraska and Maine, or a truly proportional system such as that contemplated by Colorado, would eliminate the incentives for recounting close votes. In 2000, each candidate would have gotten half the Electoral College votes in Florida (13 or 14), instead of one candidate getting all 27.

2. In practical terms, makes the small states less relevant, even with the weighting scheme that makes them count more than they otherwise would. If candidates only got half the Electoral College votes in the close, large states, they would have to campaign in other states also.

3. Raises questions of fraud, and the integrity of the electoral system. If just a few thousand votes can swing an entire state's Electoral College votes, then this sensitivity makes people suspicious about every county and even every precinct.

In short, the vote weighting procedures and the majority provisions of the Electoral College are working well. The problem is the winner-take-all aspect. Reform the EC, rather than getting rid of it.

(Best academic article on this: Rabinowitz and MacDonald. You'll need a JSTOR connection....also in hardcopy at library, of course: "The Power of the States in U.S. Presidential Elections" George Rabinowitz; Stuart Elaine MacDonald, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 80, No. 1. (Mar., 1986), pp. 65-87.)

Best example of non-political scientist reinventing the wheel, though with some flat spots and imperfections: Alan Natapoff (no web site!), of MIT. Article. For the obvious problem with Natapoff's view, see here, for example.


Mr. Gore appears to perceive himself as taking a role in a morality play.

Gore said that Bush's expression of faith "the American version of the same fundamentalist impulse that we see in Saudi Arabia, in Kashmir, in religions around the world: Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim", in the New Yorker. (Check the picture).

This week? Polls and stuff, and of course Kitty Kelley...

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Thing 1, Thing 2, and Thing 3

Yogi Berra said, "In baseball, nobody knows nothin'."

He might as well have been talking about the Electoral College.

Three things, and a very nice article.

Thing 1: Why is Bush leading in Ohio? It doesn't make sense. Are the polls wrong? Or is Kerry?

Thing 2: Key states, as I've said before, that few others are talking about: Colorado and Nevada.

Thing 3: I don't see how Kerry can win in North Carolina. (FOLLOWUP: For a contrary view, see this. I still don't buy it, though. Repubs do 4-6 points better on election day than they did in the polls in NC. When K. Grease predicted Elizabeth Dole would win by 8-10 points in 2002, people scoffed, SCOFFED I tell you, because the polls showed it much closer as election day approached. But she won by 9%. For an explanation of why, you might check this "Republicans cheat" thread. Believing the other side cheats is much more comfortable than thinking that people might disagree with you.)

Current EC map. Kerry leading, but tenuous. Florida not awarded in this map, and Pennsylvania in the Kerry column.

Nice article: Today's WaPo. An excerpt....

The Massachusetts senator spent much of the summer trying to expand the number of battleground states with television advertising and campaign trips to places such as Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana and Virginia. But in the past week, Kerry dramatically scaled back the number of states in which he is running ads. Democratic strategists privately acknowledge that only a significant change in the overall race will put some of the states Kerry sought to make competitive back into play. Democratic hopes for victory in Missouri have diminished sharply, as well.

Tad Devine, a senior Kerry-Edwards strategist, said the shift in advertising dollars marked a decision to ensure that Kerry can campaign fully in all of the truly competitive states in the final weeks. "We did not want to be in the situation that the Democratic nominee was in four years ago of having to choose between Ohio and Florida," he said. "That choice will not have to be made this time. We have the resources to compete in those states and many, many more."

Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney campaign, called the shift by Kerry an acknowledgement that the Democratic ticket's earlier goal of expanding the electoral map had failed. "They've basically decided they're competing in 14 states and sort of ceded, for all intents and purposes, states they were in at the beginning of the year and spent a lot of money in," he said.

For much of the year, the campaigns have described the presidential race as largely confined to 20 or 21 states, which is where Bush and Kerry were running television ads and campaigning personally. But since Labor Day, the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee have scaled back to 16 states total, with several considered long shots within Democratic circles.

"There's nothing particularly surprising in the provisional choices they've made," said Jim Jordan, a former Kerry campaign manager now working for America Coming Together, an independent Democratic group. "Some of these states, whatever all of our hopes were several months ago, are just hard for the Democrats at the presidential level."

An examination of state polls and interviews with strategists in the two campaigns and the parties suggests that, with less than two months before the election, the 10 most competitive states are, in order of electoral vote strength, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, West Virginia and New Hampshire.

Eleven states are the remaining battlegrounds from earlier in the year. Of those, seven lean toward Bush: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia. Four tilt toward Kerry: Maine, Michigan, Oregon and Washington.