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Jan. 3rd, 2017

06:02 pm - Instant-Runoff Voting To Improve Democracy

As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, “We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.”

Regrettably, it’s no longer merely black people who believe they have nothing for which (or nobody for whom) to vote. It’s vast swaths of the electorate, of all races, creeds, sexes, ages, etc., which is why the participation rate in the 2016 American presidential election hit a 2-decade low, with 45% of eligible voters staying away from the polls.

Recently a friend of mine, endeavoring to defend the American electoral system, wrote “If people didn't want to vote for ‘the lesser of two evils’ then they should have done what I did: voted for Jill Stein. You see, I think everyone has the right to vote the way they want, who they want, and why they want.”

The irony is that this same person sent along this link, apparently thinking that it supported his position, when in fact it did the exact opposite. It pointed out that the 324 million people in the USA fell into these categories:

The article concludes “Just 14% of eligible adults — 9% of the whole nation — voted for either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton” in the primary elections that culled the field to the 2 major-party winners who were (let’s be frank here) the only viable choices for the presidency.

The primary process makes a mockery of the idea that “everyone has the right to vote the way they want”, because by the time the general election rolls around, most of the candidates who might be “wanted” have been eliminated. Let me illustrate this with 3 example citizens; they’re hypothetical, but perfectly realistic. They are:

Deb is a pro-business feminist. She thinks it’s high time that the US elected a woman as president after 227 years when only men (43 of them) held the job. But, while she favors Hillary Clinton’s accommodation of the corporate world, the right-wing smear machine has made her uneasy about Clinton’s character. Deb would really like to vote for Carly Fiorina, but the Republican primary voters denied her that opportunity.

Deb ends up voting for Jill Stein, knowing that her vote won’t have any real effect because Stein doesn’t have a realistic chance, but thinking that at least she’s given a nod to the idea of a female president.

Rob is a working man, a Catholic blue-collar farmhand. He’s been screwed by the system for years and wants someone in the White House who’s sympathetic to regular guys like him. Donald Trump says all the right things, but he’s a billionaire with no personal understanding of getting his hands dirty, and he’s said rotten things about Hispanics. Rob himself works side by side with Mexican Americans every day, and his son is married to a Guatemalan girl. They’re all fearful about Trump, and Rob concedes that they’ve got a point. Besides, the left-wing smear machine has made him uneasy about all the contractors who did work for Trump’s properties and whom he subsequently stiffed when the bill came due; Rob knows who ends up with the short end of that stick! The guy who really speaks to Rob’s concerns, especially the part about affordable higher education for his grandchildren, is Bernie Sanders, but the Democratic primary voters denied him the opportunity to vote for Sanders.

Rob ends up just skipping the election altogether.

May is an engineer, a solidly results-oriented pragmatist. She has to work all the time with a variety of people like architects, interior designers, building contractors, website developers, and of course customers. It’s an intensely collegial process with a lot of give and take. She loathes the hard-line ideological posturing and gridlock of the nation’s capital. She might be inclined to vote for a “hands across the aisle” liberal Republican like Nelson Rockefeller or a conservative Democrat like Jimmy Carter, but those kind of political animals have gone from being “a vanishing breed” to outright extinct. What she’d really like to see is a sensible centrist with experience running a large organization, such as an Internet entrepreneur, big-city mayor, or university president, but under the current system none of those would even think of running, because they couldn’t get the backing of either the leftist-dominated Democrats or the rightist-dominated Republicans. The last presidential candidate she voted for was Independent H. Ross Perot back in 1992. After that, in disgust, she confined her voting to state and local elections. But the Supreme Court’s atrocious Citizens United decision in 2010 opened the floodgates to huge spending by outside interests, and that sordid fact was driven home to May when voucher-school advocates spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to buy seats on her local school board in 2012. After that she just said “to hell with it all”.

May not only doesn’t vote, she’s stopped paying attention to politics at all and advised all her family, friends, and colleagues to do the same.

For a mixture of reasons, Deb the disappointed, Rob the discontented, and May the disillusioned — and millions of people like them — couldn’t vote for a candidate they really wanted.

We could fix this with instant-runoff voting (IRV), as advocated by the FairVote organization (which also calls it rank-order balloting or preferential voting).

Why would we want to do this? Well, consider how the current plurality-winner setup works. Do a little mental exercise and imagine an election which came in at 14% for George Washington, 15% for Thomas Jefferson, 16% for Abraham Lincoln, 17% for Franklin Roosevelt, 18% for Ronald Reagan, and 20% for Josef Stalin.

Clearly 80% of the electorate favored a candidate dedicated to American principles of freedom and democracy, but their vote got split 5 ways, and the Communist dictator ended up winning. This hardly reflects the dominant will of the electorate.

But under IRV, voters would get ballots where they could fill in little circles to indicate whom they’d prefer for the office, in order, like this:

A voter would just blacken the preferred circle for each candidate, and the optical ballot reader would take it from there. As is the case right now with primary elections, where you can’t vote in more than one party, the machine would spit the ballot back if you had marked, say, both Lincoln and Roosevelt as your #2 choice, and you’d get a chance to fix it.

Under this method, Voter X could rank the candidates in order of preference — for example, Washington 1st, Lincoln 2nd, Roosevelt 3rd, Jefferson 4th, Reagan 5th, and Stalin not at all (as unworthy of office). X's ballot would initially be counted for Washington, but since none of the candidates got a majority on the 1st round of tallying, and because Washington had the lowest vote total, all Washington ballots would be reallocated to their 2nd choice (in X's case, to Lincoln) on the 2nd round. This would continue until somebody got a majority (almost certainly not Stalin, despite his early lead).

So how would our 3 hypothetical citizens fare under IRV? Each of them could cast their #1 vote for someone they actually wanted to vote for, but they wouldn’t have to stop there. They could keep on going, saying whom they’d like to see if their #1 choice were eliminated. I think it might look something like this:

You’re probably wondering “Who are some of these people?” Well, they’re accomplished citizens who might well be qualified to be president but can’t get past the current primary-election roadblocks:

You may be thinking “But they weren’t even on the ballot!”. And there was no realistic way for most of them to get there as things currently stand. But they could have been if the general-election ballot were an open door, as it would be under IRV, where we wouldn’t need primary elections. Any candidate who met a state’s requirements for getting sufficient signatures on a nominating petition would be on that state’s ballot, regardless of party affiliation. (This is exactly the way it currently works for primary elections.)

A candidate could list the party he or she most closely identifies with, of course, and state and national parties could still endorse their preferred candidates. In fact, they’d be even freer to do so. The national Republican Party could still endorse Donald Trump, but the Wisconsin GOP might throw its weight and support behind Ted Cruz. The national Dems might still back Hillary Clinton, but their Wisconsin counterparts could go with Bernie Sanders. And so on. The key thing to remember is that lack of a party endorsement wouldn’t deny anyone a place on the ballot.

IRV would have at least half a dozen virtues:
   (1) Electing the president directly, without skewing by the Electoral College.
   (2) Eliminating ideologically driven primary elections.
   (3) Giving citizens a wide variety of candidates to choose from.
   (4) Eliminating the “spoiler effect” of voting for a 3rd-party candidate.
   (5) Substantially increasing citizen participation in elections.
   (6) Halving the cost of conducting elections.
Let’s look at each of them individually.

(1) Electing the president directly, without skewing by the Electoral College.

First, a disclaimer. Eliminating the Electoral College could happen with or without IRV. But, as I hope to show below, it would be better with it.

My former state representative, Spencer Black, wrote a compelling essay in the local newspaper about his opposition to the Electoral College, and I refer you to it for his analysis of the problem.

For a quick example of it, however, let’s look at the presidential vote in Wisconsin, where there were 7 candidates on the ballot, nobody achieved a majority, and the state’s 10 electoral votes went to the candidate who got 47.9% of the human votes. Turning that into 100% of the electoral votes is, as Spencer notes, Not A Good Thing.

However, I differ with Spencer’s proposed “cure”: plurality victory. He writes approvingly: “For every office from county coroner to U.S. senator, the person who gets the most votes wins.” But 47.9% isn’t precisely "the most", only “more than anyone else”, that is, a plurality. As I noted above, plurality victory occasionally leads to the Stalin scenario and therefore should be avoided. Better to insist on a majority.

(2) Eliminating ideologically driven primary elections.

Partisan primaries mean that moderates, centrists, compromisers, pragmatists, and accommodationists are, for all practical purposes, excluded from the range of choices available to the electorate, driven out in favor of candidates who appeal to the parties’ activists, either extreme leftists or extreme rightists. This graphic shows the nature of the disconnect between the public and the parties:

This means that the more “pure” a candidate is with respect to rigid pandering to her or his party’s main constituency, the less flexible he or she is when it comes time to govern, with all of its messy compromising and actually trying to, you know, get things done. No elected official wants to be called a RINO or a DINO and “get primaried” by an even more extreme member of their own party.

(3) Giving citizens a wide variety of candidates to choose from.

Remember the dozen names above of highly competent people who weren’t even on the ballot? They could have been if it weren’t for primary elections allowing the 2 major political parties serve as gatekeepers. But under IRV, a whole new world of possibilities would open up for the average citizen. Democrats could vote for Republicans; Republicans could vote for Democrats; everybody could vote for moderates. Choice is good.

(4) Eliminating the “spoiler effect” of voting for a 3rd-party candidate.

The classic example of the “spoiler effect” of 3rd-party candidates happened in Florida in 2000. Liberals who really liked Ralph Nader but would have settled for Al Gore were faced with the quandary of whether to vote their consciences, knowing that not voting for Gore might lead to a victory for Republican George W. Bush, whom they didn’t like at all (thereby making them complicit in Nader’s “spoiler” role), or whether to abandon their principles and vote for Gore, thereby understating the extent of support for Nader’s clean-government agenda. Meanwhile, conservatives who really liked Pat Buchanan and kinda liked Bush were faced with a comparable dilemma. In the end, it came down to 537 votes out of nearly 6 million cast, and there’s no doubt that some kind of “spoiler effect” was in play, casting lingering doubt on whether the election truly represented the will of the people.

But under IRV, voters who preferred a 3rd-party candidate (either Nader or Buchanan) wouldn’t be wasting their votes, knowing that they’d still have a shot at their 2nd choice if their favorite failed to make the cut.

And, once the statistics were published on how that 1st round of voting went, we’d get a much better idea of how many Americans really weren’t happy with the so-called “mainstream” alternatives, since they wouldn’t have chickened out at the last minute in the voting booth.

Finally, it might be that a 3rd-party candidate would actually pull an upset because he or she proved to be almost everybody’s favorite 2nd or 3rd preference.

(5) Substantially increasing citizen participation in elections.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that citizens would have substantially increased interest in voting once their ballots actually listed people they wanted to vote for. People like May Miller would stop bad-mouthing the process and might even end up driving her friends and nabors to the polls. Broader citizen participation could only be good for a democracy.

(6) Halving the cost of conducting elections.

If states don’t have to conduct primary elections, they don’t have to pay for them. This is of special significance due to the typically low voter turnout for the primaries. They still require full staffing of polling places, which means that the cost per vote cast is dramatically higher than for general elections.

Granted, financial considerations are deservedly last in this list of virtues, but they’re not insignificant. For example, the 2012 general election in Wisconsin cost $10,000,000 to administer, and Wisconsin’s about an average state, so it’s reasonable to project that figure up to 50 times as much, or half a billion dollars, for the nation as a whole. We could save that much for every primary election we eliminate. I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who thinks it’s worth spending twice as much to get poorer results.


The main reason for transitioning to IRV is that it more fairly represents the will of the electorate. But, in addition, as I hope have shown above, it would offer many other advantages as well, not least of which is restoring some semblance of civility to the democratic process by reinvigorating the respectability of sensible, moderate compromising instead of extreme ideological “purity”.

Dec. 30th, 2016

10:44 am - Where Was That Star?

Let’s assume that The Star of Bethlehem was a real event. Why is it that hardly anybody noticed it? It isn’t mentioned anywhere in the general historical record, and even in the Bible it appears in only 1 of the 4 gospels, that of Matthew, in Chapter 2:

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,
2 "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him."
3-6 [King Herod learns that prophecy predicted a “ruler” would be born in Bethlehem of Judea.]
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared;
8 and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him."
9 When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; ...

Most people, without giving it much thot, probably think that the phrase “we have seen his star in the East” means that the sages were looking toward the east when they sighted the star. (This view has been reinforced by the lyrics of “The First Noel”: “They looked up and saw a star / Shining in the East beyond them far”.) But a little reflection will reveal that the phrase would have been more appropriately translated as “we in the East have seen his star”, and that the star itself was visible toward their west.

The “wise men” were probably astrologers from the Zoroastrian tradition of the Persian Empire. Here’s what that empire looked like in its heyday, half a millennium before the nativity story:

So what were they looking at? Let’s posit the confluence of 3 circumstances:

  1. The Milky Way Galaxy experienced one of its periodic supernovas, in which a very large star, under gravitational collapse, burns off all of its remaining nuclear fuel over a period of about two weeks, causing a titanic explosion that results in its absolute magnitude (intrinsic brightness) being equal to an entire galaxy.

  2. Not at all unreasonably, the supernova was considerably more distant than the one in 1054 CE (the remnants of which constitute the Crab Nebula, ~6500 light-years away), which was visible to Chinese astronomers in the daytime sky; in such a case, its relative magnitude (brightness as seen from Earth) would’ve been attenuated by distance.

  3. It occurred in a part of the sky very close to the Sun, as seen from Earth, and appeared to be “trailing behind” the Sun in its daily trip across the sky.

Combine all these factors, and you have a transitory “new” star that didn’t glow particularly brightly in the Earth’s sky (so that by day its light would’ve been lost in the glare of the Sun) and in a direction that most people would normally avoid looking at, because bright sunshine hurts the eyes. The star would start becoming visible only late in the day, when the Sun dims as it reddens on the horizon. It would shine its brightest for only its few minutes of above-the-horizon visibility at dusk, when stars are coming out everywhere, and the one newbie would scarcely attract the attention of the common people. (“The First Noel” has it that “... to the earth it gave great light / And so it continued both day and night”, but it’s just a song.)


But astrologers, constantly scanning the heavens for signs and portents, would’ve paid attention to anything unusual happening up there. Supernovas are rare events, occurring on average at a rate of only one every half-century, and most of those only visible thru telescopes, which they didn’t have. This particular supernova, appearing late in the day and heading straight down toward the western horizon, might have seemed to them to be saying “Here. Over here. This way. Come look and see. See where I’m pointing. Follow me.” And, if they did mount right up and head off toward the west (which is where all heavenly bodies appear to be heading as the Earth rotates toward the east), so that the star “went before them”, they’d see the same thing every night for a couple of weeks, before (a) the supernova finally faded away naturally, (b) they ran into the Mediterranean Sea and couldn’t follow it any farther, (c) something out of the ordinary satisfied their vague, ill defined conceptions of what constituted a portent, or (d) all of the above.

This has been an attempt to create a plausible naturalistic explanation for the Star of Bethlehem. Of course, by far the most plausible explanation is that the whole tale is a myth, completely fabricated (or stolen from other sources) to overawe the gullible.

Sep. 8th, 2016

08:27 am - Democracy Rocks!

Democracy rocks! Let's get it back! Blurbs here:
Blurb 1
Blurb 2

The essentials:
• Sunday Sep. 11 • 6-10 PM
• High Noon Saloon, 701 E. Washington Avenue, Madison
• $10 cover charge at the door

This is a fund-raiser for Wisconsin United To Amend (WIUTA), a grass-roots citizens’ movement dedicated to amending the US Constitution to declare that
(1) only actual human beings have human rights,
(2) free spending does not count as free speech, and
(3) our society needs reasonable regulation of campaign financing.

The event will feature live music from 3 rock bands, a silent auction, a raffle, very little speechmaking, and emceeing by Mike Crute of the radio show "The Devil's Advocates". And, of course, all the food and drink you care to purchase.

Remember the date: 9/11. (Something familiar about that.) And tell your friends. You don't have to be a genius to be appalled by the Supreme Court's disastrous decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Simply having a functioning brain should suffice.

(PS: In the interests of full disclosure, I’m co-chair of South Central Wisconsin United To Amend, so I’m not exactly unbiased about this.)

= = = = = =
War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.
—Big Brother (1984)

Corporations are people.
Money is speech.
Citizens United

Aug. 8th, 2016

12:33 pm - The "Kid Killer Loophole"

2016 Aug. 8

Dear Sen. Risser and Rep. Subeck:

Perhaps you recall the sad 2008 case of 11-year-old Kara Neumann of Weston, Wisconsin. She suffered from diabetes, a disease eminently treatable with insulin, but her hyper-religious parents chose to use prayer instead of medicine to “treat” it, as a result of which she suffered, lost her voice beause a month’s worth of vomiting had scalded her vocal cords, withered away from malnutrition because she couldn’t eat, slipped into a coma, and died before their eyes. Incredibly, her mother continued to believe for days afterward that little Kara would return to life if her parents just prayed even harder.

In theory, the Neumanns should’ve been able to get away with this horrific and egregious case of child neglect, because of the “Kid Killer Loophole” in Wisconsin law. S. 48.981(3)(c)4 provides that "A determination that abuse or neglect has occurred may not be based solely on the fact that the child's parent, guardian, or legal custodian in good faith selects and relies on prayer or other religious means for treatment of disease or for remedial care of the child.” And s. 948.03, dealing with “Physical abuse of a child”, contains this exception under sub. (6): "A person is not guilty of an offense under this section solely because he or she provides a child with treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone for healing in accordance with the religious method of healing permitted under s. 48.981 (3) (c) 4. or 448.03 (6) in lieu of medical or surgical treatment.”

Fortunately, a sensible Wisconsin jury had the good sense to ignore the specific wording of the law to find Dale and Leilani Neumann guilty of basically killing their own child. Sadly, the penalty imposed was for them to serve staggered prison terms, so that only one of them was behind bars at a time, while the other was free to “care for” their remaining children.

But this stupid, cruel, torture-enabling, death-promoting “kid killer loophole” is still on the books, giving free license to any religious fanatics who are only slightly less appalling than the Neumanns, or only slightly better at covering up their criminal neglect.

Similar laws are on the books in other states, but some of them are finally coming to their senses. The most recent of them is Idaho.

When will Wisconsin join the ranks of civilized jurisdictions and repeal this astonishing pandering to religious fanaticism? Aren’t we supposed to have separation of church and state in this country? Why are parents allowed to kill their kids in the name of religion? Didn’t we do away with this gross irrationality and its concomitant miscarriage of justice after the atrocities of the Salem witch trials?

If we are all God’s children, then God should be arrested for child abuse.
— Harold Kahm

Feb. 15th, 2016

03:14 pm - Election Day Feb. 16 in Wisconsin

It was the first election of the post-apartheid era in South Africa, and the TV news crew was out in the boonies looking for good human-interest stories. The government hadn’t been able to set up sufficient polling locations or staff them fully, so there was a long line stretching out of one rural poll into the dusty prairie beyond. The crew set out, walking toward the end of the line, looking for likely interviewees.

They spotted one old gent, dressed colorfully but leaning heavily on his cane, and asked him where he was from. It turned out that he lived about 20 klicks away and had left the previous night, walking and resting as he went, to get here. He was nowhere near the front of the line, and they said it looked like things were moving slowly.

“That’s all right”, he said. “I can wait.”

“How long have you been waiting already?”, they asked.

“About 60 years.”

I always vote.

Read to children. Vote. And never buy anything from a man who's selling fear.
— Mary Doria Russell, American science-fiction writer

Jan. 14th, 2016

10:42 am - "Nones" Now Largest "Religious" Group among Democrats

I’ve got mixed emotions about the findings of the Pew Research Center that the “nones” (people with no particular religious affiliation, including but not limited to atheists and agnostics) are now the largest single group within the Democratic party when subdivided by religious preference.

On the one hand, it’s good (and kind of poetic justice) to have a counterweight to the Radical Religious Right, which came close to taking over the Republican Party and still has an outsize influence there. On the other, this bids fair to further divide America along religious lines and exacerbate the political divisions that have resulted in the extreme polarization of our legislative bodies, which can’t be good for the country.

= = = = = =
Can we all get along?

— Rodney King, victim of beating by Los Angeles police, 1991 March 2

Dec. 25th, 2015

11:52 am - TRUE Scale Model of the Solar System

For decades, I’ve wanted to build a true scale model of the Solar System on the median strip of I-94 between Eau Claire and Tomah. It would be big enuf for passing motorists to actually see the planets to scale and then travel the proportional distance between them. These guys had the same idea, for the same reasons, but lacked the budget (and the federal authorization) to pull it off at interstate-highway distances, so they did it in the desert. Nonetheless, it’s probably the very first time anyone on Earth has actually created such a model truly to scale.

If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.
   — Carl Sagan (1934-1996), American astronomer and science writer

Addendum (Dec. 25): Mark Hobson informs me that just such a scale model has existed practically in my own back yard since 2009.

Dec. 17th, 2015

04:51 pm - George W. Bush’s Greatest Accomplishment

[originally published on 2008 July 14, but look how little has changed since then.]

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal Coalition was one of history’s most amazing juggling acts.

FDR was able to convince poor, young, black, single mothers that they had something in common with affluent, middle-aged, white, married Ivy League professors. And vice versa. Farmers who produced crops linked arms with factory workers who had to buy groceries. Good ol’ boy Southerners voted the same way as slick NYC personal-injury attorneys. Veterans looking for a good college education made common cause with pacifists. Civil libertarians joined forces with alphabet-agency government regulators.

It was really pretty amazing that this ragtag collection of constituencies was able to overcome its innate centrifugal force for even a single election, let alone holding together long enuf to govern the country — and pretty well, too — for half a century.

But it was already on the wane thru a combination of fatigue, complacency, and corruption by the time Ronald Reagan came along in 1980 and started the Republicans down the road to a different coalition — one that would rule from the right — which Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” would cement in place a decade later.

This one too had its odd bedfellows. See if you can find a common theme among these:

(1) Traditionalists. Their parents or grandparents voted for Ike or Reagan (apparently nobody ever voted for Nixon), so they grew up Republican and that's the way they always vote. No thot involved; it's just who they are and what they do. (Think Tommy Thompson.)

(2) Small-Business Conservatives. The classic Adam Smith laissez-faire entrepreneurs, not much different from Thomas Jefferson's sturdy yeoman farmers, who as rugged individualists just want to be left alone to run their own businesses without a lot of burdensome interference. For them, government is the oppressor, with all its regulations. (Think Duncan Hunter.)

(3) Big-Business Conservatives. People who have figured out how to game the system with their armies of lawyers, lobbyists, and tax accountants. For them, government is the sugar daddy, with its no-bid, cost-plus, sole-source contracts, an endless source of corporate welfare. (Think Mitt Romney.)

(4) Social Conservatives. Decent people, usually religiously motivated, who sincerely believe that abortion is murder, homosexuality is a sinful perversity, America's biggest enemy is moral decay, and the 1950s were a glorious era when everything was right with the world. (Think Mike Huckabee.)

(5) American Triumphalists. In an earlier era, these were the people who flocked to the banner of “manifest destiny”. They think that the US of A is the greatest nation on Earth, and it's our bounden duty to export our culture to the poor, benighted inhabitants of the rest of the planet, who will gladly welcome it as soon as we patiently explain what they've been missing. (Think John McCain.)

(6) Neo-Monarchists. You may have heard the parental theory of politics, where people who need nurturing want a mommy (the Democrats), while those who need protection seek a daddy (the Republicans). These are the people who totally buy into the daddy side of things. They want a strong, decisive leader and are basically suspicious of too much messy democracy. In an earlier era, they would have been rooting for MacArthur to become America's Mussolini. (Think Rudy Giuliani.)

(7) Holy Warriors. These come in 2 subflavors: (7A) 2nd-Coming Christians, who want iron-clad control of Israel so the end-time prophecies will be fulfilled in time for Jesus to fight the big battle at Armageddon; and (7B) 1st-Coming Jews, who want iron-clad control of the Promised Land so the Messiah can finally get here to save his Chosen People. Each of these factions thinks the other is nuts, if not heretical, but they have a common end goal, so they work together for now. (Think Sam Brownback with a side of Joe Lieberman.)

(8) The Disapprovers. Also coming in 2 subflavors: (8A) Men, who (while slamming down boilermakers at the corner bar) rail at permissive laws than mandate only 20 years in the jug for those dope-smoking long-haired hippie freaks; and (8B) Women, who despair of hip-hugger jeans, ear piercings, and “what’s become of today’s youth”. However, neither subflavor disapproves of massive overgeneralizations based on sex, race, or national origin. (Think Tom Tancredo.)

(9) The Brahmins. Old money. It’s not as if they’re single-interest voters, but nobody else cares more about the inheritance tax (which they call the “death tax” and see as a threat to the legacy of their noble descendants). (Think Jim Gilmore.)

(10) Libertarians. They figure we can get by with as little government as possible, and that almost all human interactions can be handled by contracts entered into and enforced by enlightened individuals with their eyes wide open. For them, government is just a giant mistake, a trip down the wrong fork in the historical road. (Think Ron Paul.)

If there’s a common thread there, I sure can’t find it. Quite the contrary. There’s an inherent tension between big vs. small businesses, Christians vs. Libertarians, and so on.

But every Republican nominee or wannabe since Gerry Ford and Jack Kemp has had to show solidarity with each of these disparate factions, promising to look out for their interests. And they’ve had to appeal to all of them. As we saw in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the country is so evenly split that they needed every vote they could earn (and many that they didn’t earn but were handed to them gift-wrapped by Katherine Harris and Ken Blackwell). They couldn’t afford to let even one of these subgroups slip away.

As you can tell from my ability to attach the name of a Republican presidential aspirant to each of the above paragraphs, by 2008 each group figured that its own turn had come up — time to reap the rewards for the loyal support they’d shown in the past. Each managed to put forth or belch up an old white guy to carry its banner. Each such aspirant was clearly a product and exemplar of his particular group. And, probably for that very reason, each was held suspect by all of the others.

After all the shouting finally died down, and the Rs had ended up with the oldest, whitest guy of them all, they’d managed to at least disappoint if not infuriate all the other groups.

And this brings us back to George W. Bush’s greatest accomplishment. Not once but twice he not only convinced every one of those groups that he’d advance their particular agendas, he totally sold himself as being one of them! 

It was, of course, a total con job, a masterpiece of snake-oil salesmanship, the repeated success of ingratiating but unexamined claims like “Yo hablo Español” from a guy who could barely manage English. It was the triumph of Karl Rove’s version of manufactured reality.

But, in the pragmatic world of politics, it met the only test that ever matters: it worked!

And, hard as it may be to believe for those of us who think that history will judge Bush the Lesser as one of America’s all-time worst presidents, within just a few years GOP stalwarts will be looking back on him fondly as having delivered — at least for them — on his claim of being a uniter, not a divider.

Jun. 26th, 2015

01:03 pm - More on Flags

Eisenhower on Gay Marriage: "What's good for GM is good for the country."

Jun. 20th, 2015

01:32 am - Keeping Things in Perspective

After the massacre in Charleston, the South Carolina state capitol flew the national and state flags at half staff but saw no particular reason to do the same for the flag they’re proudest of:

Update: MoveOn.org has created a petition asking South Carolina to retire the Confederate flag.

Still later PS: After posting the message above, I ran across an article explaining that, to many people in South Carolina (also Georgia, Mississippi, etc.) the Confederate flag is a symbol of “Southern pride”. This got me to thinking about what symbols of Southern achievement they could use instead, and right off the top of my head I came up with:
• drinking gourd (Harriet Tubman)
• peanuts (George Washington Carver)
• saxophone (Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
• trumpet (Louis Armstrong)
• Olympic Gold Medal (Muhammad Ali)
• Nobel Peace Prize (Martin Luther King Jr.)

I wonder why they haven’t latched on to these instead?

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