Monday, November 21, 2011

The Third Party Spoiler Argument

Every four years, progressives are urged to line up behind a Democratic candidate that may share some (but not all) of their ideals, because the Republican alternative is far worse. Naturally, these progressives are also urged not to vote for a progressive third party candidate that may align with most of their policy priorities, based on the "boogieman argument" that Ralph Nader spoiled the 2000 election for Al Gore (who wound up beating Bush by half a million votes, but lost the electoral count). I bothered to look at the state vote totals for the 2000 election again recently. Out of every state where Bush won the popular vote, there are only three where Gore would have won if he got some (and, in two cases, most) of Nader's votes: Iowa (2 electoral votes), New Hampshire (4 electoral votes) and most importantly Florida (25 electoral votes), where a few hundred Nader votes would have theoretically pushed Gore over the top for a nationwide electoral vote lead.

There are a few problems with this theory: (1) The Republicans are accused of widespread voter fraud in Florida in 2000, so it presumes the votes would ever be fairly counted in Gore's favor (2) It assumes that people who voted for Nader would ever vote for Gore, rather than stay home (or write in Nader or some third party's name). Considering all the accusations that flew around about voter irregularities, point number one is quite serious (plenty of Dems still argue that not only did the Supreme Court rob Gore, but there were loads of sheisty ballot fraud going on throughout Florida). Point two is just as significant: Gore got 49% of the vote in Florida and it's entirely possible that the votes he got are all that he could get (he was never considered the most charismatic candidate). Out of a population of 15 million total, roughly six million people voted in 2000. Assuming that some votes were lost to fraud, faulty machines, prior felony records leading to disenfranchisement, or lack of interest in politics generally, it's just as likely that the Nader voters might either stay at home or register a write-in protest vote as vote for Gore.

Did anyone ever bother to actually dig up an exit poll of 2000 election Nader voters in Florida to ask? Probably not. The New York Times ran a story that for some peculiar reason cited an exit poll of California Nader voters that said roughly half of them would have voted for Gore had Nader not been on the ballot (Gore won California handily). The writer in that same article acknowledges the veracity of a New Hampshire exit poll of Nader voters (cited therein by Nader) that indicated roughly half of them would have thrown their support behind Bush had Nader not been on the ballot. Surely someone did an exit poll on the 97,000 Nader voters in Florida, but The Times seemingly didn't bother to unearth it. Perhaps it's easier to just keep the Nader spoiler meme going than try to actually drum up empirical data.

side note 1: No one that I have been able to uncover has asked how many votes Buchanan siphoned from Bush on the right (and how he still beat Gore in the states where he did, despite the presence on Buchanan campaigning to the right of him).

side note 2: A blog entry that does not cite traditional sources claims that half of the registered Democratic voters in Florida did not vote at all, which would seem to indicate that Gore's real problem was his GOTV effort.

side note 3: Not enough Democratic pundits have criticized the Gore campaign decision to only seek recounts in certain counties instead of statewide. The crux of the US Supreme Court victory for Bush was that this selective re-counting violated his 14th Amendment rights, whereas seeking a statewide recount would not have been vulnerable to such an argument.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A False Pro-1% Argument

So, I ran into someone on Twitter who posted this video of CEO Peter Schiff confronting pro-99% demonstrators at Occupy Wall Street. The only problem is, Schiff is holding (and hogging) the mic the whole time, often taking it away from people as they are in the middle of salient points, not addressing valid points yelled off-camera, and failing to account for any nuance in tax policy or the criticism of government complicity with corporate interests articulated by the pro-99% demonstrators.

Schiff fails to include several key points in his analysis:

(1) Earned income is not the sole basis for determining the final tax any individual ends up paying when his or her return is completed (any debate about the fairness of the tax code has to center around "effective tax rate", the percentage of income one winds up paying when income comes from various streams (sales of stock, dividend income, rental income, etc) and after various deductions have been taken (too many to list here). This is the crux of billionaire Warren Buffett's argument that he should pay a higher *effective* tax rate than his secretary, which he currently does not. Seeing Schiff blow off Buffett, who is clearly a more successful investor than Schiff, as if Buffett's opinion on this key economic matter is invalid, is both comical and sad.

(2) Any argument that a change in tax policy will affect job creation immediately fails when one looks at the job creation rate and the rate of entrepreneurial growth during times of higher tax rates for millionaires. If the tax rate was the sole determiner of economic incentive, every post-1913 American industrialist in the 20th Century would have sought their fortunes in some other country after the income tax was first established. Instead, the five decades after the income tax was established saw more expansion of American corporate wealth than the prior 137 years combined (even with the Great Depression in the middle of it!). The economic environment in this country: infrastructure (roads, fire, police), transparency (banking regulation, securities regulation), rule of law and availability of capital are unparalleled virtually anywhere else in the world. Changing the tax code alone will never cause any of this growth to grind to a halt and arguably won't affect any future entrepreneurial growth at all, in light of the entrepreneurial growth we experienced during the five decades following the ratification of the 16th Amendment (the foundation of the income tax as we understand it). The marginal tax rate for a single person earning over $550,000 in 1971 was 70%! If this didn't discourage future entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (who were old enough to remember that rate) from dreaming of being successful businessmen, what rate could?

I could spend the better part of a decade deconstructing Schiff's points, but I think I have gone far enough.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sacrilege? Why Black Voters Should Support A Primary Challenge to Obama

I left the following comment in response to an entry published on the Angry Black Lady blog disparaging the proposed third party challenge that Cornel West and Ralph Nader are organizing against Barack Obama in 2012.

You have to factor in history when you have these discussions. Hillary Clinton was polling around 70% with black people at this point in the 2008 election (i.e. roughly 14 months from election day). Obama trounced her in the primaries (taking greater and greater shares of the black vote as the primaries rolled on). No one is unbeatable and no one politician has a lock on the black vote nationally. Obama's poll numbers with black people are already dropping. I have seen polls with that number in the 70s as recently as roughly a week ago.

The real problem for Nader and West is, they should have been planning this primary challenge, with a candidate in place, since 2010. Whoever was going to run should have been on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire since at least spring of this year.

In terms of the tone of this piece, I urge you (and others who agree with you) *not* to assume that (1) black people will vote as a bloc for Obama (2) Nader and West don't have legitimate policy differences with the President (3) progressives (and the black people (progressive and not) who *aren't* supporting Obama in polls) don't have legitimate policy differences with the President and (4) policy differences with the President aren't worthy of being respected, just like every view in a democracy that doesn't overtly advocate for the oppression of one (or more) group(s) of people deserves some measure of respect, even as we disagree. I don't see how calling someone an "asshat" is useful to the political discourse at all. Regarding Nader's usage of the loaded Uncle Tom term, I don't expect him to apologize to Fox but I would expect him to apologize to *us* (while, at the same time, this lays out clearly the problem of racializing internal arguments that black folk have had internally for years, i.e. the attempt to measure the blackness of one person or another by their policy positions...we built the slippery road that Nader slid down (even though I would argue we have a group prerogative to determine which members of our group are adhering to an internal code (no Reconstruction Black Codes pun) that Nader, as a racial outsider to our group, lacks) (leaving aside debates about whether phenotypical traits are even valid principles to organize around, period)).

The more important question for black voters should be what course of action serves our short term and long term interests? The historical precedent of electing a Black President has been set. Do we need to vote as a bloc for a Black President who waited until his term was 75% over to propose a jobs bill when black unemployment was rising through his whole term and never seriously addressing the foreclosure crisis when it let to a roughly 50% decline in black net worth, according to some claims? I would say no. Everyone should vote their conscience. The biggest wake up call to the Democratic Party would be if they lose any sizable portion (5% or better) of the ever-faithful black vote in a re-election campaign led by a black candidate.

Since the "Bullet Or The Ballot" speech, if not earlier, black critical thinkers have assailed the tendency of black people to vote overwhelmingly for one party (it used to be the Republicans but switched to the Democrats, particularly from the 60s forward, as they offered more policy proposals that directly addressed our community concerns). When our support was in flux like it was in the 60s, we had Republican presidents like Nixon creating the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, because it still seemed like such overtures might earn (or retain) a vote or two. We lost our seat at that GOP table, from a policy perspective. I don't think losing a seat at a prospective third party table is smart politics. If Obama wins with 51% of the vote, a progressive-libertarian third party coalition takes between 3-5% (ideally 5%) and a Republican candidate loses with 44-47% of the vote (likely given Obama's organization and fundraising), this is a win-win (particularly if the third party coalition West and Nader proposes pulls in the magic 5% that gets them access to matching federal funds in the next election cycle).

If anything, considering rumblings from the right to form a third party that will dilute the Republican vote, black voters who aren't Republican or conservative *should* be seeking to dilute the Libertarian vote with a progressive-Libertarian alliance, so that the conservatives don't have complete control over the Libertarian movement and seize the crucial 5% of the vote for whatever third party *they* assemble.

This is chess, not checkers.

(cross-posted to my blog Tell A Lie Vision, because I didn't do all this writing for nothing...LOL)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Washington Post Tunisian Coverage Racialized To Absurd Extent

It is hard to write in one blog entry how deeply flawed the recent Washington Post article on the Tunisian uprising is.

A good start might be to examine the bizarre aside where the authors of the article describe Tunisian's "instinctive hospitality", an odd overgeneralization for an ancient state comprised of ten million people (all ten million of whom, according to the Post, would likely instinctively, without thinking, show me a great deal of hospitality should I arrive in their homeland). This stereotype is almost comical in the larger context of an article about a country run by an autocrat for over twenty years, who was forced to flee after killing dozens of protesters (hardly hospitable of him, despite his "instinctive hospitality", no?).

The Post goes on to paint the entire region of Northern Africa as Muslim extremists with the cast-off description of this hundred million-plus populated area as "a region often unsettled by Islamist extremism". If North Africa, as a region, was "often unsettled" by Muslim extremism, we'd be seeing global terrorism at a magnitude of a hundred times what it is currently, W. Post. This overstatement is only made worse by the Post's assertion that Tunisia (again, ruled by a dictator for over twenty years) is a "haven of tolerance" in comparison to the rest of North Africa, according to this (hopefully?) hastily written Post article. If being ruled over by a dictator who imprisons dissidents and kills protesters for twenty years is a "haven of tolerance", I suppose the opinion of the Post regarding such other North African states as Morocco must be simply awful.

Later in the article, the authors describe a man who sets himself on fire to protest an alleged unfair government taking of his private property, then segues into the next paragraph with the opener "From there violence spread quickly...", without stopping to explain how setting *oneself* on fire is actually violence as traditionally understood, let alone "violence" that "spreads" in any way that Western media understands the term "spreading violence". If this were the case, The Post should categorize the sky high suicide rate of American G.I.s in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of war as "violence" that has "spread quickly" over the past ten years. One could not imagine such a categorization; suicide by Westerners is an act of desperation, yet somehow these same acts in Third World countries are categorized as acts of violence?

This is not to mention the description of the destruction of property owned by the family of dictator Ben Ali as "protest violence". One can be violent towards objects? This is capitalist philosophy run amok, but that is another entry altogether.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why Is The Guardian Supporting A Coup In Ivory Coast Turmoil?

Why is The Guardian suggesting that a military coup is acceptable in the Ivory Coast due to its current post-election power struggle? Would this publication ever suggest that a military coup would be an acceptable answer to a political power struggle in a European state, such as the recent turmoil in Greece over government fiscal policy? It can safely be said that the answer historically has always been "no". How then can The Guardian suggest a military coup as a possible solution to turmoil in the Ivory Coast? The comment later in this article that Kenya had a peaceful recent election when both major candidates were from the same ethnic group conveniently overlooks the British government's historical role in playing ethnic groups against one another during the colonial period in Kenya. It is sad that European publications have a consistent track record of advocating political solutions for political problems in African countries that they would never suggest in response to political problems in European countries.