Tuesday, January 31, 2012


There are a lot of muckrakers out there.

But a lot of people don't seem to realize it when they do it, let alone when they see others do it.

Here are some good signs of muckraking.

1.  Guilt by Association.  Pick someone else's sins/crimes and assign it to your target.  (Example: Blame the president for the Fast and Furious gun program, as opposed to the Attorney General.  Similarly, blame McCain for Bush's wars, etc.)

2.  Treat any bad result = corruption, without any evidence, as opposed to a mistake or even bad luck.   Example:  Use Solyndra's bankruptcy to assume that someone in the administration was corrupt as opposed to a single person made a bad decision  Similarly, assume that Cheney must have helped Halliburton get the sweetheart deals and help them get away with over-billing (but they got caught).

3.  Assume correlation = causation.  I.E.  Unions supported the President Obama and Unions came away owning a majority of Chrysler, after the restructuring. Not to mention the fact that the GOP gets most of it's money from the wealthy and it then supports tax cuts for the wealthy (Note the DNC gets a similar amount of money from the wealthy but ALSO gets cash from the poor, the GOP does not.).   Or treat gas prices as being caused by the president.  Or treat the economy as if it were under the control of the president.  Congress has more power over it than the President does, and even they can just nudge it.

4. Assume facts not in evidence (i.e. calling the health-care bill 'unpopular' - most polls show that with un-biased wording more people like it or think it did not go far enough - but that 'unbiased' wording is hard to get - see #14 below), and taking one example and treating it as common/average when it is in fact very rare.

5.  Misrepresenting the opinions and goals of your opponents.   I.E.  For example, saying x hates blacks or saying gays want to force others to be gay.  Using the word "socialist" or "nazi" on someone that does not self-identify as one.

6. Making ridiculous symbolic claims over minor actions, or expanding a small statement to a large one.  For example, claiming that Bush tried to sexually assault German Chancellor Angela Merkel when he gave her a massage, or that Obama is 'submissively bowing' or 'apologizing' to other countries.  In general any discussion of sexual sins is muckraking unless we are talking about a position that deals with sexual peccadilloes, such as Human Resources.  Similarly, taking a statement that says they will raise taxes on a few people and claiming it means everyone.

7.  Talking trash about people that praised their opponent - either saying they would change their mind or insulting them.  We discuss the candidate, not those that support them.

8.  Blaming one person/side for a failure to cooperate. Cooperation takes two. 

9. Blaming someone for something that clearly was not their fault - for example accusing Obama of causing the historic financial mess that started before he became elected.  No it is NOT good enough to say "he didn't fix it fast enough" after you first imply he created it.  

10.  Attacking someone for doing something that you (or your allies) insisted they do.  Happens more often than you would think, despite the obvious stupidity.

11.  Making unsupported comparisons (i.e. apples to oranges)

12.  Treating off the cuff statements as 'promises'.

13.  Claiming something is a failure based on no/limited evidence.  Almost every single politician does this one.

<b>But the biggest and most important sign of muckraking is simple:  14.  An insulting tone.  </b> Either in voice or in wordage.  The difference between "government provided health care" as opposed to "government run healthcare".  It is how "push polls" (Karl Rove's the master here) work.  It is the difference between asking "Are you pro choice" and "Do you favor killing babies".  

Both parties do these dirty tricks during election season.  Democrats and republicans running for office do so in their political ads.  But there is a party difference.   The Republicans do it ALL THE TIME, not just when running.  For the past 10 years, it has been easy to find Republicans doing this kind of thing.  Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Fox news has made careers/businesses out of doing it.   Democrats don't as a matter of course muckrake outside of the election season.

The reason is simple:

The Democrats have staked out the center.

Which leaves the GOP nowhere to stake out except the far right.    The only way for the GOP to show they are different from the DNC is to be an extreme conservative.  But they know the country is at heart moderate with a slight conservative lean, not a radical conservatism.  So they have to portray the moderate democrats as ridiculously left. But that's not the case.   How do you lie to the public?  You muckrake. All the time.

A great example is health care.  A real socialist government provides the health-care - just like England or Canada. They don't allow corporations to provide i - they insist on doing it themselves. Socialists have the government do it, moderates countries require citizens to do it, radical zealots say we don't need to require anything at all.  Note some of the far left Democrats wanted government provided healthcare - but they lost that battle to the moderate DEMOCRATS as the GOP refused to deal.  The DNC is a house of moderates, which really upsets the GOP.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Defining Success.

In private industry it is easy to tell if you are successful or not.  If you make money - and don't go to jail - you are successful.  If you go to jail and/or fail to make a profit, you are not successful.

In government, their is not one measure, but several.   This is part of what makes government so complicated.

Here are a list of the three major possible goals (That is these are the ways some people MAY judge it, not necessarily why they created it or how they should be judged):
  • Purpose: Achieve the stated purpose - such as defend the United States
  • Money: Under budget and/or cheaply
  • Partisan: Push the administration's world view
Now, sometimes there are obviously failures - when money is spent and zero change is done.  These are incredibly rare.  However, that CLAIM gets made an awful lot - usually by listing huge amounts of money and and cutting short the time frame.

It's sort of like saying "We have allocated $1,000,000 per child and it's been 8 months and we do't even have a child yet."

Yeah, it takes 9 months to give birth and the $1,000,000 you allocated is over 25 years, including everything you are going to pay including Medical School tuition.

Here is a list of general spending categories, including the post office.  In no particular order:

  1. Social Security
  2. Healthcare (Medicare/Medicaid)
  3. Military
  4. Agriculture
  5. Education
  6. Anti-Terrorism
  7. Housing
  8. Crime
  9. Science
  10. Environmental Protection
  11. US Post Office.

Let's go over these things:

#1: Social Security is a huge success in achieving it's stated purpose.   Budget wise the GOP tries to call it a failure, but honestly that is debatable.  Slight changes (such as eliminating the cap on SS taxes) can handle that issue.   Old people like it, and it successfully keeps the older generation in favor of the Democrats.   From the Democrat's point of view, Social Security is hugely successful in all three measures.  Overall success = 9/10

#2.  Healthcare Medicare and Medicaid are generally liked by the people that use it.  They do their stated purpose.  Veterans health care is not as well liked, but generally accepted.   Money wise they are OVER budget and not cheap - except when compared to private insurance which is much more expensive.   Partisan wise again, the Democrats get a big push from it.   From the Democrats' point of view government healthcare is moderately successful, but the GOP tries to claim it is a big failure. But everytime the GOP tries to change Medicare, they get laughed at.   Obamacare has not yet kicked in yet, so we can't really judge it.   On the other hand, if our old healthcare did everything we wanted, we never would have made Obamacare.   Overall, 7/10

#3.  The US is the undisputed military leader of the world.  But we did lose Vietnam war and we may not have made Iraq any better.  We also spend a crap load more than anyone else and it took us a decade to kill Osama Bin Laden.  Partisan wise, it is a big GOP stronghold.   While the GOP likes to push our military as successful, honestly, our record here is mixed.  The recent cuts that will almost certainly be support the view that we spend too much, just like in healthcare.  At best, it is a 8/10.

#4.  The US is the breadbasket of the world. The programs work.  They also cost a lot of money - often spent paying people not to grow  things.  Partisan wise, no one wants to truly support it.  Rate it a 6/10.

#5 Education.  We routinely badmouth our education system.  But honestly we let the states fund them.  More importantly, our higher education is still the best in the world.   Partisan wise, it is a punching bag.   Give it a 5/10

#6.  Anti-Terrorism.  Not many attacks get through.  But the TSA overspends a huge amount.   Partisan wise it is a huge success - the GOP loves to use it as a weapon.  7/10

#7.   Housing is a failure.  We spend a ton of money and get crap for it.  Moreover it is a punching bag.   At best it gets a 2/10

#8.  Our legal and justice system is remarkably good.   Yes, we arrest 1% of our population, but at the same time we give people many rights.  While it can be expensive to participate in it, the government costs are not unreasonable - except when we pay to keep minor drug offenders in jail.  Aside from the fact that we don't always pay enough for defense - or force legal abusers to pay court courts, it does well.  Partisan wise, it's a huge success.  People love to claim to be law and order politicians.  I rate it an 8/10

#9.  We don't overpay for science.   The amount we pay for Nasa, the National Science Foundation, etc. is trivial.   We get a lot for that little bit of money.  The few problems tend to be dramatic (Challenger disaster), but are a necessary part of discovery.  But partisan wise, often people ignore the science.   Call it an 8 out of 10.

#10.  The EPA is notoriously short changed on cash.  They don't cost a lot.  But they also have a reputation for letting people get away with stuff - particularly because of Bush's 8 years of "no enforcement".   Partisan wise, it is useful to the Democrats and even the GOP doesn't want to eliminate it.  A solid 7/10.

#11.  The post office does a great job for a cheap amount of money.  Their current monetary problems are entirely due to Congress forcing them to be more conservative in their pension budgeting than any business has to be.   They don't really have a partisan function.  A solid 9/10

To me,t he surprising part is first of all how MANY government programs come out looking good.   Only Housing is a real failure (2) - although Education is not that great (5)> 

Even if you add Agriculture (6) as a 'failure', that is a 70% success rate.   Honestly, while the EPA, anti-terrorism and health-care could do better, but so could a lot of businesses.  

Start up businesses have a failure rate of 50%. 

In other words, government does a better job than most businesses does.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ginrich wins South Carolina

Newt Gingrich, which a lot of people had thought dead (and I thought could have won Iowa: http://conservativelyliberal.blogspot.com/2011/12/iowa-caucus.html), has made a major comeback.

I think he is likely to be the GOP Nominee.  This is not just because South Carolina has historically picked the nominee.  Frankly, Romney has repeatedly failed to turn his solid, dependable 25% following into anything above 35%.  Too many people are suspicious of Mitt, and Gingrich has gathered the support of most of the wings of the GOP.  He is moderate enough to attract the moderates, talks the religious talk (if not faithful to it), has enough T-Party support (even though they would prefer some of the off beat women - Palin/Bachmann.), and has enough of the old time reputation to get the wealthy.  More importantly, he has a rep of being a tough fighter.

All of which makes for a good thing for Democrats.  Romney is more of a moderate and does better against Obama.  The most recent polls has Obama beating Gingrich by 11% (51 to 41).  This compares with a virtual tie for Romney vs Obama (47 to 45)  (Source)

Yes Santorum won a single state.  But only barely, and it is a rather conservative one.  The rest of the country isn't going to support his brand of religious insanity.

Honestly, as we have already pretty much got rid of the crazier folk, it won't turn out too bad.  Santorum, Bachmann, Cain, etc. were more about radicalizing the government, than Romney or Gingrich.  They wanted to make major changes.  Mitt and Newt on the other hand are for small evolutionary changes, even though they talk a big revolution.

As a final note, I believe Newt is the likely GOP nominee.   The T-Party has enough power and is zealous enough to reject anyone moderate.  Romney is more moderate than Newt, so I expect their support to push Newt Gingrich into a failed presidential bid against Obama.   The T Party cares more about pushing their own radical agenda then about winning the election - and are not political savvy enough to understand just how many people dislike their agenda.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Supreme Court Decisions

Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States gave two decisions that are particularly interesting.

  1. They unanimously ruled that GPS surveillance requires a warrant. 
  2. The federal judges did not give the GOP enough leeway when it redistricted Texas.
The first is an outright win for the country.  There are a lot of reasons why cops should have to get a warrant before they GPS you, not the least of which is that with most cellphones, they can do it to your person, not just your car.  Note that this specific ruling did NOT talk about the legality of GPS tracking your phone, as the ruling explicitedly stated the search was rejected because it it involved touching the car.  But it is an indication that the court will not look kindly to phone GPS tracking.

The second is a minor win for the GOP.  The Supreme Court did not tell the Federal court to use the original, evil, discriminatory gerrymandered districts the Texan GOP had created.  But nor did it approve the court's version which gave 3 of the 4 new districts to Hispanics.  Hispanics population growth is the entire reason why Texas got any new districts, and the GOP, in their passion to give themselves more districts, managed to ensure that none of the new districts were Hispanic majority.  Probably because Hispanic districts tend to vote Democrats.

Still waiting for the big decision that should come by July:  Will the court put GOP politics ahead of history and law - blocking the Health Care mandate - or will it allow Obama to do exactly what the founders did in 1798.  (Text of 1798 law)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Low tax rate for Investments

It has become common knowledge that Warren Buffet and similar wealthy people pay a lower tax rate than poor people.   This happens for several reasons:

  • Tax rate on capital gains is 15%, much lower than the tax on ordinary income.   This is done to encourage investments.
  • Up until the end of this year, the "Qualified Dividend Tax Rate" is either 0% or 15% (really 15$, to get the '0%' rate you basically have to be so poor you won't have significant dividend income.)  Again, this was done to encourage investments.
  • They can choose to give money to a charity instead, reducing the taxes they owe.   Usually they have to give more money to the charity then they save in taxes - but they have more control over what the money does.   This is done to encourage charitable donations - which often do things the government would have to spend money on themselves if the charity didn't do it.
  • They can pay for extreme accounting.  Often this involves accounting tricks done solely to lower your taxes,  For example, they can move money to another country and pay that countries taxes instead of American taxes.  Or they can declare their car/vacation home/plane to be owned by their corporation, and have the corporation write it off as a business expense that LOWERS the total taxes paid.  There is some danger to this - if the corporation goes bankrupt they lose the car/home/plane.

This post is about the first two.

First, do we need to encourage investments?  In general there are just three things we can do with money - A) spend it.  B) bury it or C) invest it.   If you give it to a bank, that is an investment - the bank invests it and takes most of the profit.  Oh, sometimes for short periods of time, banks hold extra cash (= bury it) but they HATE doing that.   It cuts down on their profit.   Usually banks bury only as much cash as the law requires them to have on hand.  So they only do it for extra money for short times, when they are scared.  More importantly, tax rates do not affect that decision.   Honestly, like banks, not many people bury the money.   That's pretty rare.  We don't dig holes and bury the money, nor do we put it in a mattress.  So we don't need to worry about that.  We either spend it or save it.

The question is, is investing cash or spending it better?  Well, when the economy is doing poorly we generally want people to SPEND the cash, rather than invest in it.  If you invest it, it helps the future, while spending helps the present.   The economic theory is a bit complicated, but that's what it comes down to.   Businesses need money from purchases more than they need cheap loans, at least when the economy is doing poorly.   If you have high profitability, you can always get loans.  When the economy is doing better, we prefer investments, as investments keep progress coming.

So we don't always want investments - we often want people to spend the money.    But honestly, that isn't very important.  For the sake of argument, let's assume that we really do want to encourage investments.

Does a lower tax rate significantly increase investments?   Well, not everyone has money that they don't need to spend.   For our purposes, there are only 3 types of people.  The middle class (99 per-centers), the "Virgin" wealthy and the "Experienced" wealthy.

The 99% of us that are not wealthy have about 50% of the investments (Source).  The wealthy 1% have the other 50% of investments.

Those 99%?  They need and like that lower tax rate.  Otherwise they might not invest at all.  It makes sense to give them a lower tax rate for capital gains and dividends.   But they don't invest huge amounts because they don't have it.  About the only time they have more than $10,000 of investment income is when they sell a home - and homes are already treated differently for capital gains purposes.  Let's keep that rule about home sales.

But lets talk about the other 1%.  They are split between the Virgins and the Experienced.  The Virgins are lottery winners, Athletes, Musicians etc.  These are people that, while they may be phenomenally competent (or just lucky) in a particular field, did not have to develop business expertise.   Honestly, they don't know how to handle money.  They may have earned it with lots of hard work, but that is not what we are talking about.  The point is that while they don't know about money - or tax rates.  If they get good advice, or simply are intelligent, they will invest a lot of their money - regardless of tax rates.   Because a good adviser knows that the virgins tend to lose money.  We see it all the time.   If on the other hand they get bad advice and are stupid, they won't invest.   It won't matter what the tax rates are because these people (or their advisers) won't know that it is important.  

Next are the "Experienced".  These people may be stupid and may be incompetent - but they either know how to handle money or trust someone that knows how to handle money.   Otherwise they would have lost their money (just like about 50% of the Virgins do after a couple of years).  They (or their adviser) knows that investments are more important regardless of tax rates.  They will invest even if tax rates match normal income rates because that is the smart thing to do.  You want your money to do the work, not you.

So the solution is simple.   Each year, have the first $10,000 (adjusted for inflation) of capital gains/qualified dividends be TAX FREE.   Keep the current exceptions for the primary house you live in (and/or a secondary home).  But all other capital gains/qualified dividends after the first $10,000 are taxed at your NORMAL tax rate.  Same as anything else - your salary, the gambling winnings, the alimony you receive, everything.

This still encourages the 99% to invest.  In fact, it is even BETTER than the current system of a set 15%, as they pay no tax.  It even encourages the 1% to invest a little bit.    Those of them (virgin or experienced) that are smart enough to keep their money, at least.

Most importantly, it is pretty much identical to the system we use for regular money.  If you just make $10 grand a year, we don't really tax you on it.  It's called a standard deduction.  So in effect, if all you do is investment income, then you get two standard deductions - the regular one plus the 'investment income deduction'.

(Note, this analysis assumes that the housing exclusions for capital gains is kept.  Real estate sales are an exception to the rule about people making investment decisions based on taxes.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Value of a Human Life.

There are lots of ways we value a human life - monetarily. 

The EPA uses a value of $9.1 million (2010 dollars - under Bush they used $6.8 million).
The FDA says $7.9 Million (up from $5 million in 2008, under Bush)
The  Transportation Department uses $6 million now ($3.5 million under Bush)
Lumber companies apparently value their employees life at $1 million. (Source)

The Department of Homeland Security seems to think they are more important, claiming that preventing terror deaths is worth far more than normal deaths.  Estimates range from as low as $12 million to an incredible $180 million spent to save a single life.   They need to make this argument, because frankly, the machines and methods they use are incredibly expensive and provide little to no benefit.

We think that valuing a human life is a bit macabre.  Could someone kill a person on purpose and pay this amount to get off?  No.  So they call it the "Value of a Statistical Life" instead of a human life, and then abbreviate it to VSL to add even more emotional distance.

Why do these VSL numbers vary so much?  

Part of the changes are mere inflation (they are set at different times), but quite a bit is simple philosophical differences.  Liberals apparently value human life more than Conservatives (except against terrorists).  We think corporations should have to pay more money to ensure our safety.  

A complicating issue is 'Quality of Life'.  Frankly, a life as a blind, deaf, quadriplegic, has a lot less quality than mine.   If someone were to blind me, make me deaf, and cut off my arms/legs I would definitely demand compensation, even if what they did was accidental.  Moreover, it is not just physical.   The quality of life of a homeless person with no education is lower than what I have. Similarly, I hope my quality of life is greater than that of someone with severe, untreated Schizophrenia.

Lawyers argue that if you get paid a certain amount for maiming, etc. then killing a maimed person means they only owe the difference between a healthy person and the maimed award.  While this seems particularly heartless, it makes more sense if the same event caused both - with the death delayed.  That is, you get shot and are paralyzed and they can't remove the bullet.  You get a payment, then 1 year later, the bullet moves and you die.  The insurance company claims they already paid you, so your family (and their lawyer) can only get the difference.

But if that logic works, than you can argue it applies all the time - even if the maiming had nothing to do with the death.   Age is a similar issue - the older you are the less life you have left.   But we won't don't use quality of life or age to lower the cost equivalent of a human life.  Corporation making hip replacements are not allowed to use a value of only $1 million because mostly old people get hip replacements.   Nor do we want drug companies to use a value of only $1 million because their drug helps blind people.  We expect companies to treat all (regardless of age, health, sanity with the same regard for life.  On the other hand, most of us are willing to let someone dieing of cancer to take medicines with higher side affects, but this at heart the same as paying more than for a healthy person than for a sick person.

To complicate everything, sometimes compensation for injuries will cost more than a human life.  That is, 24 hour care, for life, may cost $100,000 a year.  That's not counting medication, equipment, and surgery. A 3 year old child with a nasty brain cancer that ends up paralyzed can easily end up costing 20 million dollars over his life.  Of course, the more expensive the treatment the less likely they will live that long.  But we expect them to pay millions for initial treatment plus hundreds of thousand each year.  

I don't have a good solution for the quality of life and injury issues.  But I am offended by the variance in VSL values used.  We should need a single official VSL value, set at about 8 million, with automatic inflation increases.  Require all government agencies to use that number - the EPA, the FDA, the Department of Transportation, and yes, Homeland Security.

This takes the fear and illogic out of the TSA's silly, foolish use of money.  It also takes cheapness out of the Transportation Department's value.    Because honestly, I can't see how dieing in a car accident/plane accident is less bad than dieing in a terrorist attack.  Yes, the terrorist attack makes for scarier news shows, but we shouldn't let media appeal affect how much we pay.

Consistency makes for a better argument. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cognitive Biases and politics

A cognitive bias is a method of thinking that certain logicians consider to be flaws or errors.  I myself am a strong believer in "Adaptive bias" as an explanation for Cognitive Biases.  That is, what we call Cognitive Biases are methods and 'tricks' to come to decisions given minimal information.  Take "False Consensus" - because most people you talk with agree with you, you think everyone does.  Guess what?  if 80% of people believe something, then 80% of people will be correct when they think most people agree with them, and only 20% of people will be wrong.  In fact, given zero information beyond your own opinion, the False Consensus Bias is an intelligent, logical way to guess what the majority believes.

Moreover, the comprehension that other people think the same things you do is in fact one of the hallmarks of intelligence.  It's called empathy.  The knowledge that other people could think like you - and therefore want the same things as you and therefore you must protect things you like - is essential to modern life.

Similarly, a Normalcy Bias protects us from wasting money on false fear.   The Normalcy Bias is when we don't plan for something that we never experienced.   We don't plan for giant tsunamis - but we also don't plan for bees to develop tiny little guns and kill us all.

Some of the Biases have to do with the cost of being wrong, more than the truth behind the issue.  For example, in Bandwagon, people believe what is popular just because it is popular.   If you are a 'heretic', others think you are strange.   It causes social problems.  So given zero additional information, it makes logical sense to choose to believe what everyone else believes.  Unless of course you are trying to be different - to be leader, the inventor, the discoverer. 

The "Cognitive Biases" listed here are valid "guesstimate" methods, that people would be stupid to stop using.  But the logicians are correct when they claim these guesstimate methods do not belong in a strict logical proof.

Most cognitive biases are heavy influences on politics.  It affects who and what we vote for, and what we believe.   Here are a few of the cognitive biases that particularly affect politics:

  • Actor-observer - Good I/my friends do is intentional, bad I/my friends do is accidental. BUT good others do is accidental, while the bad they do is intentional.
  • Anchoring - We give extra value to one specific event, fact, or piece of information.
  • Backfire - Evidence against our belief enforces it because we think our belief is under attack.
  • Bandwagon - People are more likely to believe something because most people around them believe it.
  • Bias Blind Spot - We see ourselves as less biased than others (This one does not apply to me ;)
  • Confirmation Bias - W seek out information that supports our point of view or interpret neutral information as supporting our point of view, ignoring information that contradicts it.
  • Distinction Bias - We compare two options we think they are much more different than we do if we throw in more options as comparisons.  I.E. Calling Obama a socialist because you never compared him to say Stalin, Mao, Castro etc.
  • False Consensus effect - Everyone thinks most people agree with them.
  • Illusion of Control - The belief that you (or someone else) has more effect than they really do.
  • Moral Credential Effect - If he/she/I was good in the past, it lets him/her/me get away with other stuff now.
  • Normalcy Bias - Refusing to plan for something that has never happened before/you never experienced before.
  • Omission Bias - Judging harmful actions as worse than failing to act - even if the harm is the same (A guy that puts poison in your cup is worse than a guy that leaves poison in a sugar jar and never tells you about it when you add 'sugar' to your coffee)
  • Outcome Bias -  Judging an action by it's outcome instead of the reasoning - he shot and killed a man because he made eyes at his grandmother.  If the guy turns out to be a child rapist, most people won't care - until he does it again to a non-rapist.
  • Semmelwis Reflex - Ignoring new evidence that proves an old idea you believe in wrong.
  • Zero risk bias - Believing that reducing a small risk to zero is better than reducing a very large risk to a small one. 

There are others, but these are some of the more common one found in political arguments.  Take the anti-terrorist actions taken by the TSA.  Illusion of Control - surely the TSA is why there have been no more terrorist acts.  Right?  Only, they haven't actually arrested a real terrorist. 

Another reason I prefer "guesstimate methods" as opposed to 'biases' is that I don't think the human mind has in-built flaws, but instead in-built features.  We need to make decisions, even about things we lack information about.  In fact, those are the primary things we argue about in politics - things we don't have enough information about to make an informed decision.  Sometimes that is an artificially created situation (as when people try to prevent evolution from being taught in school), but most of the problems involved in politics, we just don't know the solution to.  If we knew the solution, we would test it, prove it right, and implement it.

So, politics is full of these shortcuts. Keep that in mind when you argue.  Don't stick to just traditional logic, work on these shortcuts as well.   Recognize why people think things, and work counter to them.

Among other things, this explains the mud throwing.   When a politician (or their proxy - usually a SuperPac now a days), engages in Mud Throwing/dirty politics, they are trying to counter the Moral Credential Effect.   By destroying their moral authority on one issue, they hope to lower the amount of respect others get.  That doesn't make mud throwing OK, it just explains it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Hypocrisy in politics generally means pushing specific rules/laws that counter the basic principles you believe in.

When you ask for smaller government, but demand a big military, that is hypocrisy.   When you complain about government being too big - but push for regulations about abortion and gay marriage, that is hypocrisy.  Conservative legal theories claim they are limiting governmental power, but when the conservatives like the governmental power, they are all for it.

But the same goes for the Democrats.  When a politician that objects to racism calls NYC "Hymie-Town", that's hypocrisy.  When the Democrats talk about the "right to unionize" - and then force people to pay for a union even if they don't want to, that's hypocrisy.  Feminists legal theory demands equal rights - except when it comes to the right to give children up for adoption.

Part of what is going on is that people have secret reasons for believing certain things - and lie about it.   You don't want to outright say you are against government being too involved in business, but are for it being involved in religion and sexuality.  So you say you are against 'big government' in general.  Similarly, you don't want to outright say you are in favor of unions because they vote for you, so you talk about 'rights'.  In both cases, people modify the statements of their beliefs, focusing on things that are not their real reason but close enough to it.  It makes for better speeches - but more hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is founded on the inherent subconscious knowledge that our own personal beliefs are not ethical.  We create ethical public reasons to convince others we are right.    Then we argue based on those ethical public reasons.

This makes winning an argument hard.   If you attack the stated principles, you can't win - because those are not the real principles.  You can convince some independents that honestly believed the stated principles, but not the core believers.   If you attack their real, hidden principles, they say you are insulting them, as opposed to arguing.  

Now, this only applies to specific principles.  On a more abstract level, things are different.  Generic ideas are more straightforward.  So often the key to converting the core believers is to strike for the very heart of their beliefs.

Originally, liberals were about progress.  Originally conservatives were about conserving the good old ways.   Now, things have changed a bit.    As I posted earlier, liberalism is currently based on the core belief that people are inherently good, but bad things happen to good people.  Liberals want to help the unfortunate get over the tough times, not protect them.  Conservatism is based on the core belief that people are inherently sinful, but can overcome this with solid planning and hard work, turning good.   Conservatives want to protect weak willed people from temptation, not help them.

But those ideas, because they were so abstract, are harder to argue.   It takes a remarkable event to change them, or years of exposure to real life.   You need a Job (bible Job, not Apple) like series of events to convince a conservative that even with good planning and hard work, bad things can happen to you.  Similarly, it takes a horrible evil act to scare a liberal into thinking that all people are sinful, and that it takes work to become good.

But these events happen.   September 11, 2001 was just such a tragedy and it scared some liberals into conservationism - at least for a little while. Similarly, Bush's economic disaster took the homes and jobs of enough conservatives to turn people liberal - at least for a little while.   Some of those conversions became permanent.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

2016 Presidential Candidates, GOP

Recently I heard a republican state they wished they could mix and match their candidates and make a 'super candidate', using the best qualities of each.

This would not work.  Oh, you might get a good candidate, not a great one.

What makes a great candidate is not their values.   The Bell Curve ensures that the far majority of people have values that are close enough to one end of the liberal/conservative spectrum that you can fit in one of the major political parties.  The Democrats are a little bit more inclusive, but even the GOP has a big enough tent to include all the conservatives.  You might have some of your less popular views, but you 80% of people could win a primary if it were just about values.

Nor is background a killer.   The GOP has accepted a black man running as the front leader for the primary, and had a white woman running as Vice President.  A gay presidential candidate would still have an uphill battle, but give us another 10 years and that may change.  President Clinton showed that even affairs are not a career killer.

What makes a great candidate is a combination of charisma and negotiation.  And by negotiation I specifically mean you need to be able to compromise.   It's not just being the ultimate used car salesmen.   Negotiation is the ability to charm people into giving you what you want in exchange for something you are willing to give up.  That means you must be willing to give up stuff.   Reagan and Clinton did this remarkably well.   None of the current GOP candidates have it.   If they did, they would be leading the pack.  Romney comes closest, but if he truly had it, he would overcome the Mormon issue and the Health care issue.

Part of the reason why is that a charismatic negotiator can LEAD.  Lead, as in go where no one has gone before.  As in move the party towards what he believes, even if they did not start out agreeing with him about everything.  As in overcome prejudices against blacks/women/Hispanics/Mormons or gays.

That said, I expect Bachmann, Romney, Santorum, (and even Huntsman, assuming he gets some support), if they lose the primary, to run again in 2016.   If they win the primary and lose to Obama, they won't try again.   Gingrich and Paul are getting old.  Paul is already 76 and I don't expect him to try and run at 80, Gingrich is 69, and not as fanatical as Paul so I doubt he would run at 73.    Perry would need to take some serious debate classes to try again, but he might.  Cain is dead - unless he manages to win a Senate/Congressional/Governorship race in 2014 - in which case he might tray again.   But even if one of them wins, they won't have a serious shot in 2016.

The serious players in 2016 will probably be:

Marco Rubio
Senator from Florida, Cuban, Tea-Party favorite, Roman Catholic.  He will be 35.  Think of him as a republican JFK - young, charismatic, catholic.  He stole the Republican nomination for Senate away from the presumed heir apparent, Ex-Governor Charlie Crist..   He has the capacity to get the hispanic vote for the GOP - something they desperately want and aside from their ingrained anti-immigration, anti-hispanic prejudice, would be a good fit as hispanics tend to be a bit more conservative than non-hispanic.  Among other things, if the GOP choose him, they get a lock on Texas, but without him, they very well might lose Texas in 2016.   In my opinion, he is the Democrats toughest competition.  

Mike Huckabee 
Ex Governor of Arkansas, GOP presidential primary candidate in 2008, lost to McCain, who lost to Obama in the presidential election.  He is a southern baptist, will be 61, and currently hosts a Fox news show.  Huckabee and Romney share some of the same supporters - but Huckabee is a Southern Baptist, not a Mormon.

Chris Christie
Governor of New Jersey - first republican to win statewide election in New Jersey in 12 years.   US Attorney for District of New Jersey, law-order type candidate, budget cutter.  Has angered Democrats by cutting money for their programs.   Favored by the wealthy, he has endorsed Romney.  Christie is overweight and always dieting.  If he can lose the weight again, he will make for a very impressive looking candidate.  He will be 54.