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Home again

Apologies for the long silence: let's just say that the cumulative effect of jet lag isn't just down to the number of time zones you traverse, but how long it takes. I live near a regional airport, and what was originally going to be a 90 minute transfer at the long-haul hub before my final sector turned into an 8 hour wait. As a result I got home with 36 hours of sleep deprivation and a nasty little cough — only five time zones on this trip, but it feels like I just flew in from Australia.

I acquired three notable things in the USA: an Amazon Kindle Fire, a small remotely piloted camera drone, and a sense of total mystification at current Republican politics ...

Let me tackle the Kindle Fire first.

The KF is a 7" tablet running Android 2.3 with a custom interface whomped up by Amazon. It's a rather basic machine in terms of specs (8Gb of storage, not expandable via micro-SDHC card; wifi only for connectivity: battery life of 8-10 hours). What makes it attractive is the design and packaging (nearly as good as Apple in terms of the out of the box experience), the ridiculously low price, and the content curation.

The KF is not ever going to grow up and turn into a general purpose computing platform — a direction I believe the iPad is heading in. Rather, it's a media consumption device pure and simple, which expects to live somewhere with wifi and broadband so that it can grab stuff out of the cloud.

Pluses: the lovely colour LCD display is much more comfortable to read off than any e-ink display I've ever used. Sorry, but e-ink is like muddy newsprint, and refreshes slowly: I can read on it, but it's painful, and as for making annotations ... no, just no. Oh, and you can watch movies or listen to music. Even run apps.

Minuses: the Amazon app store is US only, and checks which country your credit card was issued in before letting you download anything at all. Even free apps are subject to this check. And because I don't have a US credit card, all I can use are the core apps that come with it — unless I want to jump through jailbreaking hoops.

Luckily for me I bought the KF as a reader that I could chew through books and sideloaded DVD movies on, not under any expectation of using it as a mini-iPad. So what I can say about it is, it does what it says on the tin: but if you want a real 7" tablet you should probably grab a Motorola Xoom or pester that nice Mr Cook at Apple or something.

The drone: they're selling these things in Toys'R'Us. It's a radio controlled flying webcam. Back in the 1970s it would have been science fiction, or a very expensive superblack spy plane. I'm not sure what I'll do with it — apart from annoying the cat — it probably falls into the "cool toy, no obvious practical uses" category.

Oh, and finally: the politics.

I understand the basic point of the Republican presidential primary: get the party members out to pick a candidate from the shortlist of folks with a budget to run for president. And I understand that the candidates therefore need to appeal to the base. And I get that Romney is utterly unacceptable to one sub-group (due to not being a Real Christian) and to another sub-group (due to being the policy equivalent of silly putty), and that Gingrich is in there to deliver a big fat Fuck Off to the RNC over his past treatment (not to mention the narcissistic personality disorder). Rick Santorum I'm at a loss to explain unless he turns out to be Sasha Baron Cohen's greatest ever and longest running parody act: I'm waiting for him to either call for the reintroduction of the ducking stool for witches, or to be caught in an airport toilet cubicle with an underage [male] page and a couple of lines of cocaine.

But what's with the whole race to the bottom over racism and sexism?

I mean, these guys seem to be competing to shit all over the latin-American vote. And the whole ludicrous insanity of their anti-abortion and anti-contraception stance looks like they're actively trying to get every female of child-bearing age to vote against them. (It's like they've read "The Handmaid's Tale" and think it's a road map, not a warning.)

It's one thing to try to appeal to an ageing, mostly white, mostly Christian, base: but it looks to me as if there's no way to get the Republican nomination and actually win in an election where they need to get the unregistered/independent voters to come out for them. Or am I missing something?

312 Comments

1:

The only thing you're missing is maximum incredulity. You've nailed it but then I'm an agreeing machine.

2:

No matter which candidate is chosen, there's one possible scenario: come the election itself, a semi-credible third candidate comes out of the woodwork.

At that point, depending on where in the spectrum that third candidate is, either Obama's vote gets sucked out and the GOP win, or the GOP gets its vote massacred and implodes, and Obama wins despite having pissed off a lot of voters.

Or ... no, not enough time for a third candidate to break through. I don't think so, anyway.

3:

I've long since concluded that US Republicans are either bribed* to hell and back, or just really stupid. But it's hard to tell the two groups apart.

*If you get paid a seven-figure salary for what amounts to talk shit, I see how that would appeal to a lot of people. As we say around here: "If you've got neither talent nor skill, you can still become a politician"

4:

You are indeed missing something when it comes to the Republicans—something that many of us in the US also often miss: there are women who actually agree with these policies that we perceive as sexist. There are women who want abortion to be completely illegal in all circumstances, and who want birth control to be completely illegal in all forms. They buy into the stance, that many of us perceive as chauvinist and inherently wrong, that women should be told what to do by the man they are (in their mind, rightfully!) subordinate to (their father, then their husband). As much as people talk about how Muslim cultures often deny women basic rights and freedoms and treat them as little more than chattel, there are still Christian cultures (and Jewish cultures) that behave the same way. And in all of these cultures, the women tend to not only go along with it, but explicitly support it (whether or not this support is genuine, or due to ignorance/fear/whatever is irrelevant when it comes to attracting voters).

5:

The Republicans look like they are headed towards an abyss (not so much this year, but as the demographics change) but I have faith in the two party system. It does a good job of having two highly competitive parties. The parties change with the times, maybe with a bit of lag.

6:

The turnout in American primaries tends to be quite small. The anti-abortion nutbars are one of the groups that always, always, always turns out. So the candidates are competing for the craziest of the crazies: the ones who not only believe that abortion is wrong but that birth control is wrong and gay marriage is wrong and Vatican II was wrong and interracial marriage is wrong and maybe the Emancipation Proclamation was wrong, too.

Most of these voters are Christian fundamentalists of one stripe or another, who think that compromise is a bigger sin than failure. You either agree with everything they say...or you're a tool of Satan.

7:

On the politics - Don't knock it.

Sooner or later they are going to hit some magic combination of crazy and internally consistent. and then we are all doomed.

On the drone -

Anyone every tried to use a kinect camera to turn one of these things into an optically guided missile? I figure if you placed the camera carefully you could try and track it into a target on a single pass.

8:

Good analysis.

It's unfortunate, because a decent human being with centrist political views (socially liberal, fiscally conservative) could win pretty easily if the major parties and their big media shills weren't working so assiduously to prevent such candidates from getting any airtime.

9:

I think Obama's got to be looking at the contraception kerfuffle and thinking "I can't BELIEVE they fell for that." It's the biggest misstep fundamentalist Republicans have made in gauging public opinion since Terri Schiavo. The idea that access to birth control would be a campaign issue in 2012 -- the Democrats are laughing at their luck, and somewhere there are still some sane Republicans who are screaming and trying to apply the brakes.

I'm baffled that Santorum is the latest frontrunner too, but yeah this entire race has pretty much been about the base jumping from one not-Romney to the next. Palin, Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Christie, Cain, Paul, Gingrich, Santorum -- have I left any out? About the only guy who never got his fifteen minutes was John Huntsman (who was actually the best candidate in the race and the one with the best shot at beating Obama, but who has the same perception problems Romney has -- he's Mormon and generally seen as moderate, although he's really only moderate by comparison to the rest of the nutjobs in the race -- but if they'd actually given him a chance to speak they'd have probably discovered that he's a far more appealing person than Romney).

I don't think Santorum's "frontrunner" because of anything particular about Santorum; it's because he's the last guy in the race who hadn't had a turn yet. And I suppose there's some appeal to him (and Paul) in that he's actually honest; Romney will say absolutely anything to try and get your vote, while Santorum will say whatever the hell is on his mind whether it's popular or not. He'll never be President or indeed hold any federal office again, but I guess I can grant him a sort of grudging respect for calling it like he sees it even if his views are completely abhorrent.

Romney's going to be the nominee. And the base will grit its teeth, turn out, and vote for him. If the economy still sucks eight months from now, he'll have a shot; if it improves, he won't.

The rest of the candidates are a sideshow -- they're a product of a base that really hates Romney and a news media that has a stake in treating this like a real contest instead of a foregone conclusion.

It bears adding, too, that while Romney's religion is a negative in the Deep South, Mormons are a well-entrenched part of the GOP in the southwest. Santorum's win in Colorado was a surprise; Romney's in Nevada wasn't, and I think Romney will win Arizona (my home state) in a walk. I suspect Santorum will squeak out a win up in Michigan, entirely because Romney was dumb enough to write an editorial called "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt".

As for the immigrant-bashing, well, that always gets worse when the economy's bad. Presumably you already know that Arizona is one of the worst states for it, but things are actually getting better here -- the Senate President who sponsored that nasty immigration bill has been successfully recalled, and you may have heard about the sheriff who was recently caught in a relationship with a (male) Mexican immigrant. Sheriff Arpaio is still a force to be reckoned with, but the bloom's finally coming off; I think, for the first time in twenty years, that there's a legitimate chance he'll lose reelection. Not a strong likelihood, but a chance.

He's hit with a new scandal on at least a monthly basis; you may have heard of the federal investigation that found rampant racial discrimination in his department, and there's been a lot of coverage of a (years-old) story that his department failed to investigate some 400 reports of sex abuse (in a mostly-Latino area, naturally). And any day now one of his former cronies is about to be disbarred for their practice of pursuing frivolous RICO suits against any judge or supervisor who didn't play ball with them.

All of which to say, yeah, the anti-Latino sentiment around here is really and truly awful, but it's getting better. (Actually the Mormon Church is partly to thank for this; the leadership has come out publicly in support of compassionate reform instead of inhumane laws like SB1070.) And yes, it is absolutely a case where Republicans are sacrificing a huge and growing demographic for short-term gain (though that varies from one state to the next -- they were tripping all over themselves pandering to the Cuban vote in Florida).

11:

George W. Bush did essentially the same thing in 1999-2000. You need a candidate with no moral values and a captive press.

12:

"And in all of these cultures, the women tend to not only go along with it, but explicitly support it (whether or not this support is genuine, or due to ignorance/fear/whatever is irrelevant when it comes to attracting voters)."

I imagine that this is true for a lot of men too, it's got to be pretty damn scary to voice against the local consensus, especially when you are living in a small, poor, rural, community.

I do think, though, that the left is just as bad at falling into the "always characterise the other sides motivation in as negative a way as possible" trap.

And then even when the answer really is that the other guy is a rascist, mysogynist, homophobic jerk. I don't think we spend enough time asking awkard questions about why that is.

It's like the Chav thing in the UK, it's possible for someone to be terrible human being, and a victim of horrifying social betrayal, at the same time.

13:

"And in all of these cultures, the women tend to not only go along with it, but explicitly support it (whether or not this support is genuine, or due to ignorance/fear/whatever is irrelevant when it comes to attracting voters)."

If you're at the bottom level of a system, then you can (if you lift your head for a moment) see the argument in favour of overthrowing it. Nothing to lose but your chains, right?
But if you're at the second-bottom level, all you can think about is how terrible it would be to fall that one rung further.
This is how you get things like the Confederate Army. How do you persuade poor white peasants - who didn't generally have slaves themselves, and who were treated very badly by Confederate society (though nowhere nearly as bad as the slaves) - how do you persuade them to fight to defend the Confederacy?
Turns out it's easy, because the one bit of comfort they've got is the thought of how good it is to be one rung above the slaves.

Similarly, how do you end up with women fighting to defend an aggressively misogynistic society? They do it because they're looking down at the rung below them and thinking "thank God I'm a respectable woman and not one of those sluts".

14:

"I think Obama's got to be looking at the contraception kerfuffle and thinking "I can't BELIEVE they fell for that.""

Obama has been running rings around the republicans from the beginning. I really hope that whatever happens, someone actually takes not of the fact that hiring smart people, then actually listening to them can actually pay off.

Half his problem is that most of the time he is running rings around the pundits too.

Some issue comes up, the talking heads go on about how he is doing exactly the wrong thing, suddenly everything comes together, Obama gets what he wanted, the commentators get super quiet on that issue, rinse, repeat :-)

15:

The political science guys say that usually primary fights don't matter all that much in the end: the folks who don't make up their minds til November never hear about them, and the loyal partisans make their peace with the outcome soon enough. Usually.

16:

these are pretty cool too from the camera drone angle

http://ardrone.parrot.com/parrot-ar-drone/usa/

think they are made in france so probably avaiable in uk. Pricier though, like $200

17:

Hi Charlie,

Sorry to miss you in NYC!

There might be method to the GOP madness. I think we can take the 2004 electoral map as a baseline for Obama. If Obama only carries what Kerry managed, it's a loss -- but New Mexico and Colorado are likely wins for him, due to the Latino vote. That's 260 out of 270 already.

If the GOP loses Ohio OR Virginia OR North Carolina OR Florida, it's a loss for them. So they have to come up with a common denominator issue to rile up their base. (They would also like to flip Pennsylvania, and good luck with that.) Ohio has a lot of "white ethnic" Catholics, and of course Florida has a significant population of Catholics as well. I trust I don't have to explain Virginia or North Carolina.

(Nevada and Iowa are also likely wins for Obama, although Mormon turnout might make Nevada a bit more iffy. But you'd need both.)

If you assume a fifty-fifty chance of a GOP victory in any of those states, you can work out the rough odds of a GOP presidency -- very low. So they need to pull out ALL the stops to energize ALL the base.

How they do this with a Mormon, two Catholics, and a Ferengi, I have no idea.

18:

What's happening currently in the US is nothing short of a deliberate attempt to spread mass insanity, undo every social reform since Roosevelt and win the US Civil War for the South. Republican Presidential candidates aren't looking for a chance to lead the US. They want to lead the Confederacy.

You certainly noticed the television turned to Faux News in the 24-hour restaurant (or whatever), you certainly noticed that nobody called any of the Republicans on their insanity, and you probably noticed AM Talk Radio and a host of other very scary things. But unless you live here as a normal citizen for a year or two there's no way to grasp the real horror or actually observe the brain deadening effect of 24-hour blaring stupidity on your fellow human beings.

In one of your books you used a phrase that went something like "future shocked primates hurled screaming into the future." Now imagine what happens when extra future shock is deliberately induced by every media outlet available. That's the modern Republican Party.

The crucial feedback mechanism before Reagan was something called the "Fairness Doctrine," which worked like this: If you heard something on the TV or radio which you disagreed with, you could go on the air and present a "responsible opposing view." Reagan ended the fairness doctrine, so the US is hurling into the future with no feedback. Facing the inevitable future like a deer in the headlights.

The big problem for the Republicans is that their ideas aren't really very good. Essentially everything they've proposed or passed in the last thirty years has been a bad idea, and that's pretty obvious to damn-near everyone. The four candidates represent four possible solutions for their inability to create a working policy:

RICK SANTORUM: Go back to Jesus! Get rid of the unholiness of the evil brown people who aren't real Christians. Get Satan out of our society! Let us own our wives and daughters once again. Every sperm is sacred!

Note that this is pure dark-ages Catholicism. He's looking bring back feudalism, complete with Church Jails, crusades and witch burnings.


RON PAUL: Stop letting the Federal Government run anything. States Rights! Stop interfering in foreign countries! Don't prop up capitalists who fail. And I hate darkies!!

Ron Paul's ultra-Libertarian, States Rights spiel is a pure racist, male supremacist, anti-social-welfare dog whistle. However, his call to let a failing business, even a big bank, actually fail is fairly intelligent. There would be no moral hazard in a Ron Paul administration, and I love Paul's idea the the US should stop intervening abroad.

Essentially Paul is proposing a deal: Let me run the national government sanely and you can do whatever you want at the State and Local level. Bring back lynching - Paul's fine with it. Just let him get us out of Afghanistan... I'd like the guy if he wasn't scum.


MITT ROMNEY is what used to be called a "Rockefeller Republican." He represents the road not taken by the Republicans due to the Reagan revolution. Imagine a sane, sober, data driven approach to following the Republican agenda. Think Eisenhower, Ford, or Bush I. Unfortunately, he can't talk about his real idea of how to govern because the modern Republican Party will reject him completely.

Mitt's problem is that he doesn't do a good enough job of pretending to be insane to get elected Chief Lunatic. When governing Massachusetts his policies were fairly sane and intelligent and he might even govern slightly to the left of Barrack Obama.


NEWT GINGRICH: Charlie, you got it perfectly right in describing Newt as narcissistic. He practices and preaches the politics of personal malice. His appeal is to the very spoiled rich Republicans who think the height of cool is drinking champagne from a prostitute's shoe. In Freudian terms Newt is pure id. He can shit all over everything as long as he gets what he wants.

In terms of the fight for the Republican soul he is the guy who very proudly says, "We don't need to change a thing" while cuddling the third wife and counting his money. If elected he'll govern just like Bush II, but without the class.

I've gone on way too long. I hope that was at least moderately enlightening.

19:

On Fire-sized tablets:

For Android hackery:

The Nook *Color* is interesting in that it has a microSD card slot that it will boot off of, and the bootloader is not locked (does not require signed files to boot). So, you can actually carry around a wallet of microSD cards with different operating systems and leave the built-in firmware untouched. I'm not sure I know of any other Android tablets that are this flexible out of the box. I've got one, and ran Froyo on it before B&N updated the stock firmware to Froyo, ran Honeycomb on it, run CM7.1 on it, and expect to run CM9 (ICS) on it "soon", all without modifying the stock firmware at all.

(Oh, and some of these new kernels have activated the Nook's internal bluetooth hardware, present on the chipset but ignored by Barnes & Noble. I've used a bluetooth keyboard with my Nook Color. And yes, I've also sideloaded the Kindle Android app this way.)

The Fire has no external media slots but also lets you replace its kernel, so if you're willing to stomp all over internal storage, it's just about as hackable as the Nook Color. (Slightly less, since you have to "jailbreak" or "root" it in some way to get started, and that involves holes that might be closed. The Nook Color can, by design, just boot off microSD with no need to compromise the stock software to do it.)

The Nook *Tablet* requires signed flies to boot, so it's harder to completely replace the whole OS. There are hacks you can do, but they're of a different order than what you can do on the Nook Color or Kindle Fire.

For content:

Kindle Fire wins if you're locked into Amazon. IMHO, Nook (Tablet or Color) wins if you're not.

The Nooks support the B&N store, but also have Adobe's DRM built into their firmware, and also use EPUB as their native book format. So, you can for example buy books from the University of Chicago Press ebook shop and read them directly on your Nook alongside B&N content. You can take an EPUB file generated by doing "Save As..." from "Pages" and read it on your Nook. You can take the DRM-free EPUB or PDF files from O'Reilly books, write 'em to a microSD card, and read 'em on your Nook. You can use any of the Adobe-DRM-protected EPUB or PDF books lent by public libraries via providers like "OverDrive".

The Nooks also already have Netflix and Hulu+ and some other content services. DRM-free MP3 and AAC files will play. (And you can sideload Amazon's own app store too. *That's* unambiguously legal. Sideloading *Google's* app store isn't *unambiguously* legal in all cases.)

(Oh, and the color LCD Nooks also have hardware volume buttons, the lack of which I've heard more than one Fire user complain about.)

What you lose are Kindle-exclusive books, your existing Kindle library, Amazon's video streaming, and some integration with Amazon.

All that said, if you're willing and able to manually strip DRM and convert file formats, you can go back and forth between the DRM systems and between MOBI and EPUB. If you're willing to do that, I guess it mostly comes down to hardware differences (number of buttons & card slots, a contest Nook wins) versus direct coupling to vendor ecosystem (a contest Fire wins).

20:

The main thing you're missing about American politics, I think (and it's quite possible that this is true of other countries' politics too, but I'll stick with what I know best), is the rather small fraction of people who pay attention to and are influenced by such things.

Most voters are reliable partisans -- even a lot of people who call themselves independents vote in predictably partisan ways.

Of those voters who aren't reliable partisans, most of them aren't paying close attention to candidates' policy prescriptions. (This shouldn't be surprising. If you do make a practice of paying close attention to what candidates say and do about policy, it's likely that you'll come to notice that one party represents your views much better than another.) Most swing voters are influenced by bigger things than candidates' speeches, especially by the state of the economy. You can model elections pretty well by taking a very small number of variables into account.

Yes, there probably are some voters who haven't already decided which party they support and who are going to make their decision based on the speeches that the candidates give, but they're a minority of a minority. Unless the election is extremely close, they're unlikely to matter much. Best guess: if the economy continues to improve then Obama will be reelected by a pretty big margin, and if the economy crashes then the Republican nominee will win by a pretty big margin, regardless of who that nominee is or what he says about contraception.

In other words: the reason the Republican candidates are acting as if their positions matter a lot in the primary election, but that they don't have to worry about what the general electorate will think, is that they're right.

21:

As someone working in state level politics in the US, on the Democratic side of the aisle, we're all just trying to stay quiet long enough for Santorum to win the nomination.

Seriously though, I can only conceptualize the current state of the GOP and the 'mainstream' Right in the US as something like the last throes of pre-60s conservatism before it finally dies out. Remember, the fights that are being picked right now were first fought (and settled, for the most part) in the 60s and 70s.

This current crop of presidential candidates is the last majority boomer group- by 2016, you'll see a few, but the average age of the political class will mean that most of them will have grown up in a post-60s/civil rights/reproductive rights era. The entire dialogue will have shifted(I hope).

22:

Is Santorum the true Nehemiah Scudder?

(Scudder being the preacher that took over the U.S. in Heinlein's future history)

23:

Heinlein had Scudder win the election in 2012. If only he were alive to see it!

24:

What I'm about to say if half-facetious, but I relate the immense right-wing backlash of the 80s, 90s, and 2000s to the Reagan-era decision to stop funding mental-health programs, including state funded homes for crazy people... These days if you're nuts but non-violent you're probably wandering the streets without medication and voting Republican.

25:

The GOP race is really much simpler than you make it out to be. Romney couldn't beat the guy who lost to Obama in 2008. Santorum was the anti-Romney candidate who isn't Ron Paul and who managed to hold off doing obviously crazy and/or stupid things until after everyone else in his category had already done so. At this point, their only hope is that no one gets the 1150 delegates needed for the nomination and someone sane gets picked as a compromise deal.

26:

I know that was intended to be a joke, but please lay off the ad hominem stuff about your rival political tribe? I'm sure the Republican party didn't get control of the Senate (and the White House for 8 of the past 12 years) purely on the back of the care in the community voting demographic, and I'd like to keep the tone in here civil.

27:

Thanks Kevin.

I had forgotten that Scudder was elected in 2012 in the future history.

Here's hoping he isn't the true coming of Scudder.

28:

I pretty much agree with what's been said, but there are a couple of other things.

Due to that Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, there's effectively unlimited money running around in politics. Some of the people who spend a lot of that money (the Koch brothers, the Walmart heirs, possibly Rupert Murdoch) are far-right in their politics. The Koch brothers have been busted numerous times for unethical business practices, while Walmart is Walmart, so you can pretty much see what their agenda is.

The current crop of Republican candidates are primarily appealing to this small cabal and to the far-right base of the party.

To me, it appears that most talented Republican politicians looked at the situation and decided to sit out the 2012 campaign. They didn't particularly want to be owned by 1%'s super PACs, the 2013-2016 presidency looks like it's going to suck big-time no matter who's in charge, and the electorate is starting to get really pissed about the situation (see Tea Party and the Occupiers). Heck, there's now at least one sane roadmap for how to get a constitutional amendment to clean the corruption out of national politics (Lessing's One Way Forward).

I figure most people are annoyed enough with Obama that they'll want to watch him suffer for four more years, and that's the best chance he has for getting re-elected.

29:

Most voters are reliable partisans

That sounds like a depressingly accurate analysis (and you are correct, it applies in plenty of other countries too).

30:

"Rick Santorum I'm at a loss to explain unless he turns out to be Sasha Baron Cohen's greatest ever and longest running parody act:"

Charlie, you owe me a new keyboard for that one.

31:

My only explanation for the Republican nomination clown-show is that they've decided to see the UK Labour Party's 1983 Election Manifesto, dubbed "the longest suicide note in political history", and raise it with the longest *act* of suicide in political history.

Either that or the Democrats have thoroughly infiltrated the Repubs and are taking them down. But that sounds far too organised for the Dems...

32:

No prob man. It's your blog.

Just as a matter of characterization, however, the Republicans are not my rivals. Democrats are at best the lesser of two evils, and I can see myself voting for Romney over Obama should Romney win the primary.

33:

The drone. You can fly it vicariously with a Kinect:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMSM_9SeNZk

Or fly it through your phone: "androne freeflight.ar"

Have fun!

34:

If you want to understand modern U.S. politics, you have to understand the U.S. civil war. No, not the one that started in 1861 and ended in 1865 - no, this one started as a cold war in 1788 with the agreement on the 3/5ths compromise (which, for the purposes of apportioning legislators to the House of Representatives, counted slaves as 3/5ths of a person) and ended in 1877 with a Pyrrhic victory by the South via the Compromise of 1877.

You see, the US was never really all that unified. We had two countries, one primarily agrarian with heavy feudal undertones, and one based more on industry and trade, with a more egalitarian attitude toward the masses. The feudal nation was very much interested in conquest and aristocracy, while the industrial nation pretty much just wanted to trade with everybody, but kept getting dragged into stupid crap like the War of 1812 by the feudal elements.

The feudalists like to cast themselves as victims of the "war of Northern aggression" and sweep stuff under the rug where they basically did the same stuff to the industrialists. When they finally had their back up against the wall and their (massively inefficient) society was finally starting to crack apart, they threw a war to try and hold things together for a bit longer. History says it was from 1861 until 1865, but even after the "official" war ended, there was plenty of partisan activity and resistance.

Finally, in 1877, the Democrats (!) sold out the country with the Compromise of 1877, ensuring long-term Democratic control of the country in exchange for letting black people get lynched down South. It wasn't until almost a hundred years later that another Democrat (Lyndon B Johnson) used the death of Kennedy to ram the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress.

Shortly after that, a Nixon staffer wrote a book called "The Emerging Republican Majority", which was all about how to use coded phrases and dog-whistle politics ("Welfare queens!" "Illegal immigration!" etc.) to lure away the old Dixiecrat base to the Republican party. This book was used as an election bible by just about every Republican who has won the White House since.

The Dixiecrats became so enraged at what they saw as betrayal by the Democratic party that the political block filed them as "enemies of the state" and will pretty much vote for anybody who will inflate their ego as the "remaining true Americans". Business interests (which had been long looking to reestablish the "gilded age" dominance they missed) have been very opportunistic here, buying politicians and television stations all over the place, running propaganda pieces 24/7, and basically doing everything they can to push the country away from everything that actually has made the US great, while raking in huge profits, rolling back decades of labor law, and tossing little snippets of meat to their crazed base.

A fascinating book about all this (at least up until around 1877, with a small bit of post-1877 commentary) is "The Cousins Wars" by Kevin Phillips - he also drags in the English Civil War and the Revolutionary War from socioeconomic standpoints. The book actually has very little to do with the wars themselves, and much more to do with why they happened. He's also now one of the greatest critics of the Republican party and the current corrupt financial elite.

Oh, and that guy who wrote "The Emerging Republican Majority"? Kevin Phillips. I'd also recommend his book "Wealth and Democracy" - it was probably the most important eye-opener I read back in 2003, and it fairly accurately predicted the then-still-coming financial collapse of 2007. I find a lot of irony in the idea that the man that in some ways is most responsible for the current political landscape is also one of its harshest critics.

35:

The US reality-based community is open-mouthed. Happy, but incredulous. The GOP in Congress is acting as though the election is over, and they want to be Obama's good side.

Of course we all want to know why.

Krugman's theory is that the Contenders looked at the state of the GOP base, and decided that the base was crazy. They had too much residual morality to debase themselves as much as Romney has.

I can't come up with another explanation. I assume, at this point, it's all about the future of the GOP. A sufficiently catastrophic loss opens up the possibility of GOP 2.0 -- a party that even rationalists could consider voting for.

36:

I watch US politics unfolding from the Jameson's-fuelled soft-focus of the Emerald Isle and I literally (and I use the word carefully) can't believe what I'm seeing.

It's just too bizarre for words. It's so bizarre I can't even talk about it rationally. There's nowhere to get a grip, no anchor point for any kind of rational dialogue with these fuckwits.

Bonkers.

Warmly,

Jon

37:

The workaround for the Kindle Fire's US credit card detection is to buy a VISA gift card in the US and use that to set up an Amazon account. Not sue if that works for the Prime video streaming though.

38:

One thing you might be missing is that democrats do not vote in republican primaries.

In the primaries, the political party is picking who will be running for office, and only members of that party get to vote.

And, the way american voting works is: you get to pick one choice. It's a radio button, not a checkbox. So when there are a lot of candidates need to stand out. And you do not have to get a majority of votes, you just need a larger pile of votes than anyone else.

So your ideal, if you were an american political candidate in a primary with a lot of candidates would be to stand out in some way that still gets you a decent number of votes. And you do not worry about alienating people that will be voting for someone else -- you try to keep your loyalists in line and you try and play the angles for people that are genuinely undecided. And, since you are a politician, you do not worry too much about whether your "messages" conflict with each other, because of how much you have focused on any individual group...

Finally, if it looks like you are not going to win, you might start playing a different game.

39:

In general the Primary system is the same for both parties. You pander to the more extreme elements of your party so you win the nomination, and hope you didn't go too far and piss off the center. You just don't see it this year with the Democrats because Obama is running unopposed.

The "problem" is that even though there are only 2 major parties, the largest political group are the unaffiliated independents. Both the Republicans and the Democrats have around 30% of Americans identifying themselves as such. Some 38% identify themselves as independent.

The election in basically decided by the independents. But to be a serious candidate you have to get nominated by the minority. Basically around 30% of Americans choose who the candidates the other 70% can vote on are.

40:

Historically, the poor have been some of the most hard-core conservative people in the world. That's still pretty true today. Most of the poor who vote Democrat are only doing so because the economic issues trump the social ones for them. They have no love for the liberal/progressive social agenda. Conversely, the poor who vote Republican have merely decided the social issues are more important than the economic ones.

Plus there is a cultural meme in the US that poverty is immoral. There is a large population of people who are eligible for government assistance but won't take it. They had to sell Social Security as a pension plan that you paid into rather than the welfare program it really was -- too many elderly were against receiving handouts from the government.

41:

On the tablets, I'm not very interested in the Fire unless I can natively shop and read all the e-bookstores. The Ainol Novo 7 somebody linked earlier looks interesting enough, and of course there is the Nook Tablet, but the one which finally looks interesting to me is the Kobo Vox. It's real Android (not Amazon'd) so I can put both the Kindle *and* Nook apps on there, etc. along with having access to the Kobo store, other e-book stores, etc. (Man, I don't want to sound like a salesperson, and I don't have any of these tablets or iPads or even e-ink readers, and little personal experience with any of them. But I know that if I want one, I want one which isn't part of a vertical DRM tower.)

That said: Google's announcement of augmented reality glasses by the end of this year is hitting the Internet today. Oh my.

42:
Obama has been running rings around the republicans from the beginning.

Depends on what you mean. He ran rings around them during the '08 election, and then spent '09-'11 largely sitting on his hands trying to be The Reasonable One while they stonewalled and attacked him. I think he could have gotten a better deal on healthcare if he'd pushed for it (and it's not like he had anything to lose by asking for more -- what, was he worried that if he asked for something more liberal, the Republicans might call him a socialist and refuse to vote for it?), he CERTAINLY shouldn't have extended the Bush tax cuts for the 1%, and, generally speaking, his current resurgence in the polls is more about the Republicans' undesirability than because he did something right.

That said, I think his handling of the birth control issue shows that he may have finally learned to haggle, and learned when to stand his ground. I'm still far too disappointed in him to hope his second term will be more like this, but I'm entertaining the possibility, at least.

43:

Exactly. You've explained it perfectly.

44:

Kindle Fire - you can sideload apps too, not just DVDs. No need to jailbreak/root/whatever.

"The Handmaid's Tale" as roadmap, not warning - OMG, I think you've got it. Your perceptiveness about US politics amazes me.

45:

"Google's announcement of augmented reality glasses by the end of this year is hitting the Internet today. Oh my."

I'd be more impressed if I hadn't used something like this more than 20 years ago.

46:

On the tablets, I'm not very interested in the Fire unless I can natively shop and read all the e-bookstores.

I give mandatory DRM on ebooks from the Big Six about 12-18 months to run. Otherwise ...

(This happened with music in the iTunes store, circa 2003-2009. DRM was mandatory at first; then the music publishers woke up and realized they'd handed Apple a knife pointed at their collective throat. Now the book publishers have done the same with Amazon. And Amazon is a nastier company than Apple to do business with ...)

47:

The posturing is purely to capture the base, the winning candidates will then run towards the center when opposing Obama.

The interesting question is how the independent voter will react, given that independents are now 30-40% of the voters.

Re: drones. I see that they are to be regulated in the US. Realtors have been told to stop using them in LA. I suspect that the obvious use of drones to capture police misconduct is going to be legislated against.

48:
In general the Primary system is the same for both parties. You pander to the more extreme elements of your party so you win the nomination, and hope you didn't go too far and piss off the center.

I've always wanted to write my Master's thesis on primaries as a minmax exercise.

You just don't see it this year with the Democrats because Obama is running unopposed.

I don't think Obama ever ran as anything but a moderate, though. The people on DailyKOS who think he betrayed them by, say, pushing ACTA or ramping up the war in Afghanistan, were not paying attention in 2008, when he said he would do those exact things.

(Now, I'm a liberal, and I'm disappointed with him, but it's not because he's turned out to be less liberal than I thought. It's because he's turned out to be less EFFECTIVE than I thought. I had modest expectations and he hasn't even met those.)

I think, generally speaking, people who are perceived as moderates win primaries. Bush and McCain weren't really moderate, but they were perceived that way in '00 and '08 respectively. Clinton, Gore, Kerry, and Obama are ACTUAL moderates, and won their respective primaries (though Gore is also a special case, as then-VP -- actually, Bush was a special case too, as son of a former President). Despite a rather self-destructive GOP base that wants to throw this wisdom to the wind and nominate a totally unelectable candidate, the smart money says that the trend will hold and Romney will get the nom.

That said, I think simple charisma has a hell of a lot more to do with who ultimately wins an election than actual policy. Which is why Romney's got his work cut out for him.

The "problem" is that even though there are only 2 major parties, the largest political group are the unaffiliated independents. Both the Republicans and the Democrats have around 30% of Americans identifying themselves as such. Some 38% identify themselves as independent.

But as Matt Austern noted above, "Most voters are reliable partisans -- even a lot of people who call themselves independents vote in predictably partisan ways."

I identify as independent (though I'm registered Dem, purely for the purpose of voting in primaries), and I can tell you right now I will not be voting for a Republican. My choice right now is between gritting my teeth and voting Obama again and finding a third-party candidate I can get behind as a protest vote. (Bears noting that Arizona is a solid-red state, and if it's even close enough that it might swing toward Obama, then he's already winning the election in a walk. My votes on local issues may make a difference, but my vote for President absolutely will not.)

The election in basically decided by the independents. But to be a serious candidate you have to get nominated by the minority. Basically around 30% of Americans choose who the candidates the other 70% can vote on are.

The principle's right but your numbers assume 100% voter turnout. Turnout is around 50% at best in US presidential elections, and far lower in primaries.

49:

I'm as flabbergasted as any other European as to why all the current candidates made the list to run for president. They seem like a top ten list from cranked of crazy sandwich-board wearers!

However speaking to some American friends I get a different impression. Many of them are ignoring the crazy and instead focusing on other policies. Some have suggested to me that 90% of the crazy is just a publicity stunt with a minority being something to actually worry about. Personally I don't get it still because the idea that a politician has to act like the local village nut is bizzare but then we're faced with the reality that they are candidates who are attracting support...

50:

Yes, most voters are reliably partisan. The problem in the United States is not convincing them to vote.

The problem is convincing them to vote at all. Voting, after all, is a pain in the neck: you have to take time off from work, find and travel to an often unusual corner of your neighborhood, fill out paperwork, stand in line, then get home in time to feed the kids or watch The Simpsons.

Who wants to do that?

Republicans know that they have a dedicated core that will vote, even against their long-term best interests.
Democrats know they have a fuzzy constituency that can be motivated to vote, but getting them to vote at all is the hard part. The reason Democrats have enjoyed the current round is that Mitt seems so unappealing to a lot of Republicans that maybe, just maybe, more of them than Democrats will stay home this time around.

Republican state legislatures have been working doubly hard this round to reduce the time to vote, and raise the bar on voting eligibility, in an effort to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters: urban poor, minorities, and the elderly. It all comes down to numbers, and both sides are playing it like a game of Risk.

51:

The Visa Vanilla gift-card trick works really well for the Barnes and Noble Nook, too. I had to set that up for both of my kids.

52:
This happened with music in the iTunes store, circa 2003-2009. DRM was mandatory at first; then the music publishers woke up and realized they'd handed Apple a knife pointed at their collective throat.

The way it looked to me, Apple put pressure on the publishers to quit using DRM, not the other way 'round -- after it had already cornered the market and didn't NEED DRM anymore, of course.

Plus it made a handy excuse to charge a 30% markup on DRM-free songs.

53:

Open vs. closed primary and single choice voting varies pretty widely based on the state in question- for example, several states don't have party registration, so any registered voter can cast a primary ballot. You hear lots of stories about strategic voting in another party's primary in these cases, and sometimes it actually can happen.

In caucus states(Iowa, for example), you can have multiple rounds of balloting with viability thresholds, meaning people walk in with first and second choices and end up shifting significantly over the course of the evening.

54:

"Democrats do not vote in Republican primaries."

In states with open primaries, they do now! Witness: Operation Hilarity, a left-wing attempt to keep Rick Santorum's viability as a candidate alive an well, to keep the circus as three-ring as possible and to extract maximum gaffes for the DNC's advertising campaign.

55:

I've always found it easier to stay up late than to go to sleep early, so jet lag is usually minimal going west but vicious going east. I think it works that way for most people.

56:

The more I look at the US the more I'm convinced that the title of the country is wrong.

They're not a united group in any way except a geographical accident. Just about anything that starts "Americans are..." or "Americans believe..." is erroneous unless there's quantification "x% of Americans are..."

While that's true, to some extent, of all countries of course, it seems to me that the US is much more fragmented and unpredictable. Groups such as academics, that I have worked with over the years, vary from the wildly liberal, even more so than I'd expect of British academics, to people that I strongly suspect would be sacked by any British university for the racist and sexist attitudes and actions.

That attitude makes, to me, a sizeable proportion of the US seem racist and sexist in a way that I don't think we see in the UK any more - debates about whether we should force large companies to have a quota of women in the boardroom to break that glass-ceiling notwithstanding.

Can you win by appearing to be an extremist? Probably. Dobya seemed pretty far right to me. The current mob seem even further over but they are trying to appeal more to their core voters than the general populace right now.

It does amuse and confuse me in roughly equal measure that this very fractured culture tries hard to force a two-party system on everyone - despite the fact that the ultra-rich like Perot can legally stand. Even if you limit yourself to English politics we have I think 4 parties and 2 independent MPs. If you add in Scotland and Wales you get another 1 from each. Northern Ireland gives you 5 more I think it is...

The French system resolves to a 2-person race, but often has 3 or 4 serious candidates for presidential elections. Germany runs on coalitions of many parties and so on.

Wonder why?

57:

Witness: Operation Hilarity, a left-wing attempt to keep Rick Santorum's viability as a candidate alive an well, to keep the circus as three-ring as possible and to extract maximum gaffes for the DNC's advertising campaign.

The Democrats don't fight hard enough to use a Republican gaffe in the general election. It's like every couple years they run against Bozo and don't point out the white makeup and the red, round nose.

58:

If the GOP loses ... OR North Carolina OR ..., it's a loss for them.

The D's are going all out for NC this cycle. Holding the convention here and O or his wife seem to visit every month or more often.

In 2008 O won here but by a very slim margin. Under 50K. And they know, as others have mentioned, that a lot of enthusiasm from then is gone. (Some of the young first time voters seems to think they were electing a king who could do anything he wanted by fiat.) So they are working very hard to drum up interest.

They already have run into one headache. There not much union presence here in NC. But the national unions wanted the convention work to be done by union only people. Not sure how they finessed that one or if it is settled.

59:

it looks to me as if there's no way to get the Republican nomination and actually win in an election

Let's hope you're right. Unfortunately, it doesn't look entirely implausible from here (upstate New York). And some of the latest shenanigans in legislation only prove that out. After reading about the potential for mandatory state rape before obtaining even a chemical abortion (currently vetoed in Virginia, but still under consideration in Pennsylvania and one other state I can't remember right now), somebody wrote a brilliant speculative short called ILU-486. I've read it several times, and each time I go down to look at the new comments. And the single, terrifying unifying thread expressed there is that we don't see a future like that as being impossible. :-(

60:
Can you win by appearing to be an extremist? Probably. Dobya seemed pretty far right to me.

He and Gore spent the 2000 debates constantly agreeing with each other.

(I would add that every statewide recount gave Florida to Gore; I believe Bush's appointment to his first term was illegitimate. That said, he was close enough to steal it, so clearly voters weren't running screaming from him.)

2004 was rather another story; Bush didn't make any attempt to appear moderate in that election. It was still close, and it bears noting that incumbents are very rarely voted out of office during wartime.

It does amuse and confuse me in roughly equal measure that this very fractured culture tries hard to force a two-party system on everyone - despite the fact that the ultra-rich like Perot can legally stand.

Perot got zero electoral votes, and the debate rules were changed after 1992 explicitly to keep people like him out in the future. So yes, the two-party system is pretty entrenched.

Historically, the only way for a third party to win is by completely supplanting a major party -- as the Republicans replaced the Whigs, who displaced the Federalists. Simple plurality and the all-or-nothing electoral college do a pretty good job of entrenching this system, never mind debate rules that actively keep outsiders outside.

61:

I interact with people from all stripes day to day. Far right R to far left D and all in the middle plus some really fringe people.

As to the R race. Many (and likely most) R's really don't like the current primary race or choices. But then again what even moderately sane person would want to jump into such a mess.

As to the abortion, contraceptive, submission, issues. Most of the hard core R's I know think the submission thing is a very bad idea. And most conservative Christians I know don't agree with it. And most of these folks are also not against contraceptives. Even the Catholics. (I don't even ask about the cognitive dissonance in their views but they are what they are.) But a majority of the conservative women I know are anti abortion, at least after the first three months, but would not come close to being labeled submissive or anti contraceptive.

The folks holding strongly to all three view are a minority of a minority of a minority. But they are the committed ones who will show up at rallies and vote in primaries where only 5% of the registered turn out.

Just remember the Duggers are a freak show that gets ratings, not typical of anyone. Well just a few. In my 57 years I've run into 3 people from families of more than 10 kids.

62:
And most conservative Christians I know don't agree with it. And most of these folks are also not against contraceptives. Even the Catholics.

The statistic NPR and others have been citing is that 98% of American Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lives. (Stephen Colbert joked that the other 2% are nuns.)

It is COMPLETELY INSANE that the Republicans want to go to the mat on this issue. Like I say, the biggest misstep in gauging public opinion since Schiavo. Even among the group whose leadership most vocally opposes birth control, it is a TREMENDOUSLY unpopular position.

63:
(Now, I'm a liberal, and I'm disappointed with him, but it's not because he's turned out to be less liberal than I thought. It's because he's turned out to be less EFFECTIVE than I thought. I had modest expectations and he hasn't even met those.)

I'm a far-left progressive, and this is pretty much the way I feel about Obama. He never was a liberal, or even a centrist from the point of view of mid-20th century politics, which is where I started out. From any real historical perspective, Obama is a mildly conservative Republican (well right of Nixon, and rightwards of Reagan on some issues; he'd be Reagan if he were viciously anti-union instead of neutral on the subject and somewhat less tolerant of government stimulus).

Thane Walkup, that's a pretty good analysis of the origin of the batshit wing of American politics; there's some additional detail that's worth mentioning from later than 1877. There's a large part of the right-wing in the US that is still trying to erase Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal from reality (thank Cthulhu they don't have access to a time machine). There are a number of motivations behind this, including the belief that having a social safety net is a moral hazard because it entices people to idleness ("Idle hands are the Devil's playground" seems to be the guiding principle here, which indicates how Puritan Protestant thinking has infiltrated political ideology in the US).

Another motivation is the notion that the New Deal was a fundamentally communist idea, intended as a means of softening up America for conquest by the Soviet Union, or Russia, or Communist China, or Saddam Hussein, or someone. Note that while the enemies have changed over time, the evils attributed to them have remained pretty much the same ("Communist" has become a largely semantics-free label for whomever you happen to be afraid of on a given day). The "Red Menace" was installed as an all-purpose enemy in the beginning of the 20th Century, IMO learned from its successes in preserving the capitalist-imperialist status quo in England in the end of the 19th century. Large empires in the federal government were established, ostensibly to counter the depredations of Communism and Anarchism, and they have flourished to this day, in part because of their partnership with large corporations and the money they can provide.

Part of what's going on in the current lunatic fringe of the Republican party is that the linkage between fringe evangelical Christian ideology and anti-communism, which until recently was not considered respectable outside of its base, has emerged as a set of political wedge issues, and the captive media, much of it owned by the corporations that want to benefit from the breaking of the labor movement and the regulatory system that the right champions, has treated these issues as legitimate mainstream concerns, rather than the fringe ideology they are. Whether the average American voter will accept these issues as legitimate depends largely on whether they're satisfied with the state of the economy come the Presidential election.

64:

I would add that every statewide recount gave Florida to Gore

Yes, no, maybe.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A40608-2001Apr4

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A49376-2001May5

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/12/politics/12VOTE.html?pagewanted=all

I will agree with a statement that says it was more likely than not that if the Florida voting process had not been such a mess then Gore would have won.

As a side note. I like our counties voting system. OCR ballots with a simple system of how to mark them. Votes are counted by the local machines as inserted. Any ballot the machine doesn't like due to extra markings or multiple votes is dropped into a special tray. If the number of such ballots country wide affects an outcome they are counted by hand. And they are counted (or rejected) by hand anyway for state and national races.

And as someone who's been programming computers since the summer after the 12th grade in 72 I think internet voting and touch screen voting is lunacy. No sane computer knowledgeable person designs a one time system with no way to run a live test before it's single use based on low bid contractors.

65:

Apologies if someone else has already said this about the republican candidates, but I think it's the GOP cleaning house in preparation for the 2016 elections. Without any hope of beating Obama this year, they just want to get rid of the crazies (knowing that someone who's lost an election will probably never run again). I expect a shiny, more tolerant republican party starting next year.

66:
it bears noting that incumbents are very rarely voted out of office during wartime.

What scares me about this statement is that we seem to have entered a cycle of constant wars of opportunity, in which constantly re-electing the incumbent will keep the wars coming. Obama, despite his promises, has either not been willing or not been able to ramp down the war in Afghanistan, and several covert wars have been started during his administration. We may be in for a couple of decades of "Lukewarm War" before bankrupting the US sufficiently that it can't carry on any more.

67:

Schiavo

I've even seen Dick Armey say that issue should have never been addressed by the house. It was both stupid and wrong. And he says he was totally wrong at the time.

68:
Apologies if someone else has already said this about the republican candidates, but I think it's the GOP cleaning house in preparation for the 2016 elections. Without any hope of beating Obama this year, they just want to get rid of the crazies (knowing that someone who's lost an election will probably never run again).

I don't think it's as deliberate as that, but yes, we DO have a field of crazies (and Romney, who is less nuts, and Huntsman, who as I said would have had the best shot if anyone had paid attention to him).

A spanking in November at the congressional level will probably lead to a GOP that's more willing to run as moderate and ready to compromise. At the presidential level, I'm not so sure -- Romney's already perceived as moderate; if he loses at the polls that's not going to make Republicans think they need to water their message down even MORE. (They're not Democrats, after all.)

I expect a shiny, more tolerant republican party starting next year.

Well, let's not go nuts. But they'll be a little less extreme.

69:

That 98% figure seems exaggerated. Compare pages 6 and 8 of this study.

Off the bat, 11% of Catholics aren't using any birth control. In the additional caveats, it's only measuring women of fertile age (which excludes all the older, presumably more faithful Catholics), and was only counting "women at risk for unintended pregnancy", meaning that Catholics trying to get pregnant weren't counted.

From what I can see, even Guttmacher's figures give us an upper estimate of something like "87% of the Catholic women who are trying to not get pregnant have used birth control" after you take off 11% using nothing and 2% using NFP.

70:
Obama, despite his promises, has either not been willing or not been able to ramp down the war in Afghanistan

Again, I don't get this. What promises? In 2008 he very clearly said that he would draw down in Iraq while INCREASING troop levels in Afghanistan.

I don't like it either, but -- on this issue, at least -- I don't see him doing anything other than the exact thing he said he was going to do.

That said, while I share your alarm at the prospect of perpetual war, we DO still have term limits. And Bush wouldn't have won a third term even if he could have. It took much longer than I'd have liked for public opinion to turn against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it did finally happen. (And of course the event that finally destroyed Bush's approval rating was the NOLA flood.) Course, now the same idiots who got us into Iraq are rattling their sabers at Iran.

And the Democrats are, most assuredly, not blameless; most of them voted to go to Iraq too, and the "We had faulty intelligence" excuse is frankly insulting to the public's intelligence. I had sufficient knowledge to conclude that there were no WMD's in Iraq and that this was a power play by Cabinet officials who had been pushing for it for the past decade, and I was a 19-year-old college junior.

For now, I think the domestic situation is bad enough that public opinion will not favor any war. But if there were another successful attack on US soil, I believe that would change.

(And, to be clear, I'm not talking any kind of "inside job" conspiracy-mongering. I certainly don't think 9/11 was an inside job. I do, however, believe that it was exactly the kind of excuse Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al had been looking for to invade Iraq.)

71:

My main grumbles with Obama are as follows:

1.) He didn't fight hard enough for a better healthcare plan. I'm very uncomfortable with the plan as it stands.

2.) He still hasn't arrested a single banker. This is the big one for me, because he has creates a terrible world of moral hazard.

72:

As far as I can tell, the fact that the Republicans in the US succeed is as much due to all the supposedly sane people saying they might vote for Romney over Obama as it is to the patriarchalists. The supposedly sane people are probably the same people whose reasoning lead them to buy the McCain bill of goods on the grounds that he seemed moderate and argued against torture but didn't expect them to accept any new ideas.

Re voting, Bush jr. wasn't elected either time he was in office. Thank Diebold and hanging chads as much as marketing, bloodymindedness, and ignorance that he made it there at all.

(See "Republican state legislatures have been working doubly hard this round to reduce the time to vote, and raise the bar on voting eligibility, in an effort to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters: urban poor, minorities, and the elderly. It all comes down to numbers, and both sides are playing it like a game of Risk." YES)

I suspect insofar as there is any consensus or plan, the Republican market offering is a mixture of "appeal to extremists" and "appeal to the swing voter." And the swing voter is a person who can imagine Romney being to the left of Obama, or latch onto McCain being against torture. The Dems do the same thing, but the extremists they're working with are on the socially conservative end.

Also, the mainstream political discourse in the US is skewed to social conservatives. A Rachel Maddow or a Jon Stewart does not a radical country make, and I'm not sure they'd call themselves radical. They're as much about selling entertainment, I think. (Ok, I'm biased to hope Maddow is more, but that's a bias, given that I don't know her work well.) I don't know why. There has got to be a good book on the subject, and I suspect there are several, none of which agree with each other. I don't how much of this is the inherent *nature* of the political marketplace in the States (if there such a thing), and how much of this is just the result of successful marketing of a certain way of thinking by politicans and their handlers there over the past thirty years.

In terms of geographical fracturing, although I (a Northerner, child of Northerners, who grew up in Ohio and have lived in Massachusetts for fourteen years) feel more like I am visiting a foreign country when I go to North Carolina than I do when I am visiting Montreal. Even so, the discourse here is different than it is in Quebec, the groups fighting for dominance different, obviously. As to why . . . I refer you to commenters discussing the Civil War above, but honestly, I'm not sure.

And maybe, just as entertainers may be playing to the niche nowadays, so are politicians . . . ?


73:

Yeah, I thought the 98% statistic was pretty high.

87% is still a pretty friggin' huge majority. Hell, a 1999 Gallup poll asking if the Earth revolved around the sun only got 79%.

(Per your bolded text, I'm not sure what the point is in bolding it -- why would a study on current contraceptive use include people who are trying to get pregnant? I can see why you might ask them if they ever HAD used birth control, at some previous point in their lives, but if I'm reading p 8 correctly, this was on current contraceptive use, not lifelong.)

74:

This article is interesting vis a vis Amazon ebook sales

Amazon pulls 5,000 Kindle e-books in contract pricing dispute
http://www.teleread.com/ebooks/amazon-pulls-5000-kindle-e-books-in-contract-pricing-dispute/

"When it came time to renew its e-book sales contract with the Independent Publishers Group, a distributor for 400 smaller client publishers"

75:

Absolutely no argument here, and I'd add the extension of the Bush tax cuts, retroactive immunity for the warrantless domestic surveillance program, and keeping Guantanamo Bay open, off the top of my head, as broken promises that I'm pretty unhappy about. But I don't see any broken promise on Afghanistan -- whether I like it or not, it was his stance all along.

76:

Yeah, that stuff too.

77:

feel more like I am visiting a foreign country when I go to North Carolina than I do when I am visiting Montreal.

Interestingly NC seems to have way more diversity of opinion than MA. I've lived in KY, PA, CT, and now NC and spend a lot of time in MA.

Here in NC you can go from hard core conservative towns to hard core liberal towns in 50 miles. Or less. Raleigh seems to be about evenly mixed between all flavors from the ends to the middle. Chapel Hill more left. Carrboro where people who find Chapel hill to conservative move. Yet towns all around here are very conservative in thinking.

It all depends. On day you'll have a big turnout for a gay marriage support protest and a week later the same sized turnout for the other side. Living in the state capital makes it all more interesting to watch.

78:

I'm finding the Republican primary amusing, but it also scares me. Sure, the nominee is likely to be someone crazy and unpopular, but if there's a massive scandal in October, a prolonged spike in gas prices, and/or a war with Iran, crazy could still win.

Re e-ink vs. LCD -- I think this is a personal preference thing. I prefer e-ink because I find reading long texts on an LCD screen uncomfortable. It's too much like staring at a light bulb at high backlight brightnesses, and at low brightnesses the contrast and viewing angles go all to hell. One of the reasons I read is to get a break from my job staring at a monitor all day.

79:
But they'll be a little less extreme.

I think you'll be unpleasantly surprised. The base's reaction to losing big in 2008 was to say "clearly the problem is that we're not ideologically pure enough, if we're more conservative we'll start winning again", and then the teabaggers arrived and their views seemed vindicated by winning big in 2010, regardless of the true reason (the economy).

80:

The NPR numbers say "98% have used contraception at some point in their lives." The study you're citiing talks about the number of Catholic women who are currently / have recently used contraception.

There's no contradiction here.

It's may be reasonable to say that most Catholic women would still support anti-contraception laws; there's an astonishing amount of hypocrisy surrounding social issues liket hese. But I see no reason to think the 98% number is wrong.

81:

Beyond all else, I think a lot comes down to this problem

As Chris suggested, a lot of American politics is rooted in the Cold War, but technology is getting more important, and things are starting to move damn fast.

I'm currently (trying to) work in what is a young, tech centered industry, that I'm becoming more and more convinced is going to be spectacularly blindsided by a widely held belief that AI driven voice search is a flash in the pan gimmick, to whit, jumped up voice recognition that can be bolted on to the existing search model without changing anything at all. This is likely to be a fucking expensive mistake.

But the biggest decisions about our economy and commercial future are being guided by people who mostly seem to think that networked computers are a flash in the pan gimmick.

82:

From 1964, a history of US rightwing...strange thinking:

The Paranoid Style in American Politics
By Richard Hofstadter
http://is.gd/QV3k7y

83:

When the cascade failure of the world economies begins, and anarcho-capitalistic libertarian crypto-fascist strong men start ruling like tyrannical warlords, Ron Paul will seem like he was a moderate Republican candidate.

Frankly the whole pool of people running are inadequate to the task. The USA and the world can only be saved by a secret cabal of young hyper intelligent nerds running the world via a simulation like the the kids commanding the space battles at the end of Ender's Game. Maybe they could be duped into doing it via an app game on their Kindle Fires.

84:
I think you'll be unpleasantly surprised. The base's reaction to losing big in 2008 was to say "clearly the problem is that we're not ideologically pure enough, if we're more conservative we'll start winning again", and then the teabaggers arrived and their views seemed vindicated by winning big in 2010, regardless of the true reason (the economy).

See one paragraph above the "less extreme" comment -- I believe the Tea Party Class of 2010 will be out on its ass come November.

Maybe the Republican Party will double down in the '14 midterms -- nothing would surprise me at this point. But I see a whole sale repudiation -- dare I say refudiation -- of this "Not even in the face of armageddon, never compromise" doctrine coming.

And hell, I could be wrong. But it seems like the public hates Congress a lot more than Obama right now.

(Not that the congressional approval rating is a meaningful statistic, or that comparing it to the President's approval rating is apples-to-apples. But I still foresee the Republicans losing seats in the House.)

And you're absolutely right: the Tea Party victory in '10 wasn't about public acceptance of the Tea Party platform, it was about public rejection of incumbents. Now that middle-of-the-roaders have seen that the people they backed were actually serious about all that Ayn Rand defund-the-entire-government nonsense, they're going to be a lot less inclined to vote for them a second time.

85:

"Frankly the whole pool of people running are inadequate to the task. The USA and the world can only be saved by a secret cabal of young hyper intelligent nerds running the world via a simulation like the the kids commanding the space battles at the end of Ender's Game. Maybe they could be duped into doing it via an app game on their Kindle Fires."

The future is ghostwritten by Tom Clancy?

86:

While I haven't done the upgrade yet myself, CM9 (ICS) is running on the Nook Color according to nookdevs.com.

I highly recommend the Nook Color in terms of hack-ability, battery life and build quality. Virtually unbrickable and usually the first tablet to run new CyanogenMod builds.

87:
The D's are going all out for NC this cycle. Holding the convention here and O or his wife seem to visit every month or more often.

Yeah, this clear long-term strategy of the Democrats has been interesting to watch. Someone there knows what they're doing, and I suspect it might be the big O himself. I've heard mixed things about the national team trying to bring the local org (in some disarray) up to snuff.

They're also trying for Arizona, probably not this cycle, but 2016 -- and they might just get it. That'll put the dagger in the heart of the GOP as a presidential party for at least a decade, and probably longer.

88:

One thing I've been wondering about is who a likely Republican Vice Presidential candidate would be? Who would actually want to be seen standing next to Ick Sanatorium, other than someone as nuts as him? Or perhaps one planning on having him declared mentally incompetent during the first year in office--that seems rather unlikely. I think we lucked out when McCain picked Palin.

As for "The Handmaid's Tale" being the Republican guidebook, I think they've been working on that for a long time. I wouldn't be surprised if Atwood had been reading some of the writings of James Dobson. The influence of Dobson on the GOP grew significantly during the 90s. I was hoping when he retired a couple years ago that influence would wane, but with the current crop of candidates...

89:
They're also trying for Arizona, probably not this cycle, but 2016 -- and they might just get it. That'll put the dagger in the heart of the GOP as a presidential party for at least a decade, and probably longer.

I've been hearing the "Arizona is in play this year!" song my entire adult life, and I'll believe it when I see it. Granted, we went Clinton in '96, and I suppose it's possible we'll go Obama this year for much the same reason. But if I were a betting man, I'd say we'll go red in '12, '16, and '20.

As it is, if Arizona is even close, that's going to signal a Democrat winning in a walk, with or without Arizona. Just like '96.

Whatever happens, I don't see any circumstance that will mean "a dagger in the heart of the GOP as a presidential party for at least a decade". The Republicans are a far more well-oiled machine than the Democrats.

I remember, in early '09, just after the inauguration, when Obama was wildly popular and Fox News's ratings were plummeting. How long did that honeymoon last? Six months?

I'd thought that GOP infighting was about to come to a head, and that the fundamentalists and libertarians were about to have a major split. Didn't happen. Obama emerged as a common enemy, much faster than I expected, and the GOP emerged united to sweep 2010 with some shockingly retrograde candidates.

At this point I believe that even a thorough defeat just means that cooler heads will prevail for a few short years. And then the extremists in the party will rear their ugly heads again.

90:

I meant to add that there is a tendency for second term Presidents to feel freer to do what they intended to do during the first term, but wasn't politically expedient. Hopefully Obama will follow suit.

91:

I still agree with Lawrence Lessing's take on both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street. Both are DIY movements (one backed by a few rich guys, one not) that see the same, huge problem with Washington DC. The problem is that the whole political process has been corrupted by a lot of money flowing in from a few people.

If the moderates get as riled as the partisans, things will get interesting. While it's a good idea to be cynical about citizen power, notice how fast things changed on SOPA/PIPA when people started protesting. Even 100 years ago, similar campaigns (such as getting US senators elected instead of appointed) succeeded quickly.

If someone finds a way (possibly with a constitutional amendment) to:
--get Congress and the President to stop campaigning all the time,
--switch to public funding ($10 from every person in the US is $3 billion in campaign funds, and government could set it up so we choose how to spend our campaign cash), and
--(possibly) stop legally regarding corporations as persons with a right to free speech in the form of money,
Such a constitutional amendment will probably pass. Why not? I can't imagine that many politicians enjoy constantly fundraising, having their chains yanked by Super-PACs (of any persuasion), or making chains of Faustian quid pro quo bargains to keep their careers. Give them a way to collectively regain power without automatically losing to their opponents, and I'll bet a majority of them will take it. This even if they don't agree on anything else.

It might even happen in the next four years.

92:

I still agree with Lawrence Lessing's take on both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street. Both are DIY movements (one backed by a few rich guys, one not) that see the same, huge problem with Washington DC. The problem is that the whole political process has been corrupted by a lot of money flowing in from a few people.

If the moderates get as riled as the partisans, things will get interesting. While it's a good idea to be cynical about citizen power, notice how fast things changed on SOPA/PIPA when people started protesting. Even 100 years ago, similar campaigns (such as getting US senators elected instead of appointed) succeeded quickly.

If someone finds a way (possibly with a constitutional amendment) to:
--get Congress and the President to stop campaigning all the time,
--switch to public funding ($10 from every person in the US is $3 billion in campaign funds, and government could set it up so we choose how to spend our campaign cash), and
--(possibly) stop legally regarding corporations as persons with a right to free speech in the form of money,
Such a constitutional amendment will probably pass. Why not? I can't imagine that many politicians enjoy constantly fundraising, having their chains yanked by Super-PACs (of any persuasion), or making chains of Faustian quid pro quo bargains to keep their careers. Give them a way to collectively regain power without automatically losing to their opponents, and I'll bet a majority of them will take it. This even if they don't agree on anything else.

It might even happen in the next four years.

93:

One thing that no-one's mentioned that I think the Republicans are banking heavily on is a systematic voter-suppression machine that they've been installing as a result of their wins in state governor offices and state legislatures.

The idea is that if you can require that people present picture ID to vote, you automatically eliminate everyone who (a) doesn't need a driver's license because they can't afford a car and (b) isn't able to take time off to go get a state-issued ID that they only need in order to vote. If it's allowed to stand, it may turn out to be a very effective tactic for disenfranchising poor voters—the ones most likely to actually try to punish the Republicans for screwing them.

The other thing to be aware of is that it's a pretty well-documented phenomenon that neither Republican nor Democratic candidates actually do much to help the poor. The Republicans and Democrats do serve different demographics, but neither one serves the poor demographic. So it shouldn't be a huge surprise to anyone that the poor demographic doesn't have any particular loyalty toward the Democrats.

94:

I didn't actually intend "most voters are reliably partisan" to be depressing. I admit that the phrasing sounds slightly harsh to American ears, because Americans are used to hearing "partisan" used as an insult word, but think about another possible way to say the same thing: Most voters have a reasonably clear idea of where they stand and where the various parties stand and know which one comes closer to representing their views. Most voters are aware that even though there's some difference between politicians within a party, a politician's party tells you a lot more about how they'll behave in office than the specifics of the latest election's campaign speeches.

Put it that way and it doesn't sound so bad. Yes, it means that most voters are usually pretty predictable, but why is unpredictability always a good thing? I could easily make my voting behavior unpredictable, but it wouldn't make me a more engaged or more informed citizen.

95:

The D's are going all out for NC this cycle. Holding the convention here and O or his wife seem to visit every month or more often.

Yeah, this clear long-term strategy of the Democrats has been interesting to watch. Someone there knows what they're doing, and I suspect it might be the big O himself. I've heard mixed things about the national team trying to bring the local org (in some disarray) up to snuff.

I forgot to mention another problem for D's here. The mostly ineffective governor has decided to not run. She was the default 4 years ago as the Lt. Gov. but after the scandals of the prior admin and with the state switching to an R legislature in 2010 after 100 years and her personality coming off as wooden she decided to get out. Her likely R opponent barely lost to her last time and the D's seem to have a large number of "nobody's much heard of them or HIM?" competing. If the R gets/stays in gear it may be hard for Obama to avoid getting beat by a coattail election.

Of course the R candidate for President could upset all of this for the state R's.

96:

I was going to post something else. Then, I came across the following link on Jay Lake's blog: http://goo.gl/XpAzm

It goes a long way in explaining the U.S. drift (or, should I say gallop) to the right.

97:

...a decent human being with centrist political views (socially liberal, fiscally conservative) could win pretty easily...

He did and his name was Barack Obama. The problem is the Democratic base doesn't like him now because he's too centrist and the Conservatives don't like him because he's got the wrong color skin.

98:

Conservatives don't like him because he's got the wrong color skin.

Cheap shot. And wrong for most.

Most conservatives I know would like to have lunch with him. Because he's obviously an intelligent guy. But they don't like his social views.

99:

You're exactly right: the current condition of the Republican party membership guarantees that nobody electable can win the nomination.

For the past few decades, the right wing in the US has been putting together a loosely-coupled mob of think tanks, lobbying groups, pressure groups, propaganda organs, and other institutions. This strategy has been extremely effective at shaping conventional wisdom, controlling public debate, and generally moving the Overton window to the right (though perhaps not so effective at regulating actual societal change).

One of the most effective tools in their box is "the squeaky wheel gets the grease". You don't need a majority to get your way -- you just need to whip up enough people who demonstrably care a *whole lot*. They've used this tactic over and over, to great effect.

And now, it's coming back to bite them. The "Tea Party" started as an astroturf organization, funded by billionaires' influence groups as a camera-ready source of political pressure, but it has grown into a self-regenerating trope, fueled by the paranoia, hatred, and thinly-disguised bigotry they've been stoking for the past 20 years and more.

Seriously, the guys who started all this aren't psychohistorians; they're flying by the seat of their pants. There isn't anyone at the helm of the machine they've built, so it's just lurching off in the direction it was pointed.

100:

Bush 1 was NOT one of the sane republicans. Even Nixon was better. That Bush 2 was worse doesn't make him better. Eisenhower was a reasonable Republican. But remember that his defense department introduced the idea of "Brinksmanship". Ford was a sane Republican, he just wasn't very smart. But he knew it, and used reasonable judgement.

Eisenhower and Ford are the only decent Republican presidents I can remember. Nixon wouldn't have been that bad outside of raging paranoia...that's usually enough to make someone rank as "Worst leader of the century", but we've been given many better candidates.

N.B.: Just because I consider most of the Republicans to be B** S*** crazy doesn't mean I think the Democrats have been decent. They have been leading us step by step towards a totalitarian police state.,,usually they don't actually pass the legislation, they let the Republicans pass it and take the blame. Then they get elected and use it. Obama is an exception here in that he has acutally passed an used measures that increase the totalitarian oversight. This is because it's currently being pressed by the MPAA and the RIAA. (Don't know what the British equivalents are, though I'm sure they exist. The groups that want a totalitarian state with the excuse that it will help them protect their copyrighted materials.) But Obama leaned that way even before he was elected. He voted for FISA (secret intelligence courts) while he was a candidate for president.

101:

Well, my sample size is small (i.e., me), but I always vote. Sometimes, however, I can't find anyone decent to vote for. Last time I voted for Obama, but some of his actions have made him, to me, an unacceptable choice.

My suspicion is that this time I will be forced to select a party BASED on the knowledge that it can't win. (The last time I considered voting Green, or Libertarian, or Natural Law...but when I checked them out they were totally unacceptable. Reasonable. What sane candidate would run on a party that had no chance of winning?) But if I'm going to be forced to vote for an unacceptable candidate, I'd prefer to vote for one that has no chance of winning.

I, sort of, consider it my duty to vote. But I sure don't consider it my duty to help elect someone who is out to injure me. If the only choice is someone who has not chance of winning, and who couldn't govern if elected, or someone who is out to get me, I will reluctantly choose the first.

102:

Obama. Sigh. Realize that as a "centrist," he's to the right of Richard Nixon on environmental values. Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Protection Act, both of which the Obama administration would just as soon ignore if people didn't constantly scream about the stupidity of doing so.

That the center is to the right of Nixon doesn't say much that's good about the US. Heck, in my own family, I know of someone who campaigned for Barry Goldwater and ended up voting for Clinton. Go figure.

Incidentally, the whole Keystone Pipeline issue is classic NEPA: you've got to have a project boundary before you can analyze the environmental impacts, and if the project proponent shifts the project boundaries (say, by rerouting a pipeline), you've got to go back and analyze the impacts again. That's why Obama rejected it the first time. That Congress is trying to approve it anyway shows that they have little knowledge of, or respect for, the laws of the US. Those are great qualities in law makers. Sigh.

103:

Re: eInk vs Tablet - I'd tend to say it's horses for courses. If you are out in the sunshine or on a long journey, then eInk wins out. If you are in bed or need colour, or want to do more, then the Tablet is a better bet. For most users, I'd go Tablet first.

I'd tend to suggest a real tablet over the Fire though, the Asus 7" that's due looks real good. Getting free of Amazon is actually a smart move for most - yes it's a consumption device, but you lose out on too much.

It will be interesting to see if our host finds what I did, that the portrait format of the tablet is an ideal 'paperback' replacement - roughly the same size and shape and much more pocketable than an ipad.

Also, does our host have something planned on the eBook front? Or is it just gadget lust and interest?

As far as the american political car crash is concerned - I see the insanity of the republicans (and I would classify it as low grade insanity, the inability to rationally consider cause and effect) as symptomatic of a wider problem. Put shortly, the representative democratic process is no longer "fit for purpose". Not only is it corrupted by money, the role of the voter is beyond the capabilities or attention of the majority of the populous. In short the wrong people, with the wrong policies, and an insufficient conception of the national 'system' are virtually always elected.

What's needed is a replacement, or an encapsulation and shunting to the side. It's just not fixable from where we are - it can't deal with the scale of issues we have and is only getting worse.

104:

It's post-scarcity politics.

Economic self-interest is a less compelling motive now. Instead, you can move up the hierarchy of needs to more abstract motives like having your lifestyle and subculture choices validated. Tom Frank wrote "What's the Matter with Kansas" to ask why middle-income voters support the party that cuts the elite's taxes - he forgot to ask why many in the top brackets support raising their own taxes.

The main difference between the parties: 1. The Democrats are a coalition of sometimes very different subcultures. 2. The Democrats are more often supported by people at the bottom of the economic ladder who do still vote their economic needs.

I'd be curious whether some variant of moving up the hierarchy of needs is happening in other rich countries - Berlusconi vs anti-Berlusconi in Italy? Secular vs religious Jews in Israel? Those both seem kinda culture-war in nature....

Much of that was shamelessly stolen from a book called "The Big Sort":
http://www.thebigsort.com/home.php

It has much supporting data.

Someone wrote "Most conservatives I know would like to have lunch with [Obama]."

In order to spit on him, maybe. This probably isn't mostly racial, IMO. Hatred of Clinton was similar in kind, but the ideological polarization has grown steadily over the past 20 years - despite no increase in actual policy disagreement.

But obviously the predisposition to believe Obama is foreign or Muslim is based on conscious or subconscious prejudice.

105:

Nice summary and excellent point about induced mass insanity. The other point is that the Republican party is basically defunct. It is now a vehicle for various individual sociopathic billionaires to get their rocks off. All candidates are investment coalitions but now they are just outright meatpuppets--Santorum of Foster Friess (for non US readers this is doubly hilarious here because it is a homonym for a crappy soft ice cream chain Foster's Freeze) and Gingrich for casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Neither of these guys are serious candidates but they have to pretend to be so their sugar daddies will keep the cash flowing.

106:

I understand the ad hominem and civility worries but Alex R is right about Reagan closing mental health facilities and throwing the residents on the street on a mass scale. That actually happened. And it does correlate with the rise of batshit insanity in American politics. I can't claim causation but it is a frightening correlation.

107:

To clarify: By "having your lifestyle and subculture choices validated" I don't primarily mean policy or law on non-economic issues. I also don't mean to denigrate the importance of those issues. Primarily it means things like having a candidate who seems like "one of us"....

108:

Well, somebody has already mentioned it briefly, but it's worth repeating, and even explaining more deeply because the US is very peculiar in this matter compared to other industrialized countries.

So, once more with feeling:

Unlike my country (or the UK, or France, or germany...) the U.S. does not have a centralized national authority to control how its presidential (or other) elections are run. Each and every one of its 50 states has independent authority to do as they want on this matter, within some frightfully loose guidelines or "laws".

It goes much further than requesting costly photo IDs that disenfranchise entire segments of the population. Every thing in the book gets used, from citizenship status to residency for perfectly legal citizens.

109:

Any opinions on the "kobo" as opposed to its competitors?

Rethuglicans
Take your point about Handmaids' Tale as a map -truly scary.
Senn the house commite (or something) on birth control/contraception?
NOT ONE SINGLE FEMALE
Compare with HFEA in Britain
Totally insane!

ajay @ 13
Horribly tue
scary

alex r @ 18
What's happening currently in the US is nothing short of a deliberate attempt to spread mass insanity, undo every social reform since Roosevelt and win the US Civil War for the South. Republican Presidential candidates aren't looking for a chance to lead the US. They want to lead the Confederacy.
Ah, someone noticed!
ditto @ 22-3 scary
Rigged Florida-type polls, anyone?

EMS @ 50
Voting is HARD?
Uh?

comingstorm@ 98
Seriously, the guys who started all this aren't psychohistorians; they're flying by the seat of their pants. There isn't anyone at the helm of the machine they've built, so it's just lurching off in the direction it was pointed
So, like the party founded by Anton Drexler, all it needs is a NEW LEADER, huh?
Truly scary

Errrr - how many times have I said "scary" here?
Not good.

110:

I understand the ad hominem and civility worries but Alex R is right about Reagan closing mental health facilities and throwing the residents on the street on a mass scale. That actually happened.

Most of these mental facilities were close as a result of change and lawsuits in the 60s and 70s. Think "Once flew over ..." only with worse living conditions. But the groups filing these suits assumed the states would open up better non warehouse facilities. There was a law to build more community facilities passed in 1980 but it wasn't funded very well. Either by the 1980 Congress or later ones. D or R. So many of these folks got tossed on the streets BEFORE Reagan took office. And in some cases now you get situations where you can't commit some seriously ill people unless they consent and many of them don't consent. So they are on the street.

You can blame Reagan for the tone and for not wanted to fund replacement facilities. But most of the closures were before his time.

111:

I'm not a big fan of Bush I, but I think history will be reasonably kind to the man. He raised taxes when he needed to, he left Iraq as soon as he pushed the Iraqis out of Kuwait, he signed the Start I treaty, he signed the Americans With Disabilities Act and reauthorized the Clean Air Act. He fought in World War II and thus wasn't a chickenhawk, and he spent most of his life as a public servant.

Mind you, he was no JFK, and Panama and Iran Contra were both stains on his record, but compared to Reagan or Bush II he was the very model of intelligent governance.

112:

I'm an American, and I don't understand the crazy Republicans either.

I read a great blog post, which of course I can't find now. It pointed out that only about 1% of the American electorate votes in the Republican primary, and demographically it's not like the nation at all.

The Republican primary voter is older, whiter, and more Christian than the average American. By a lot.

For example, 99% of Iowa Republican voters were white, whereas only about 2/3 of Americans are white. Skewed voters -> skewed outcome.

The problem, of course, is that a candidate who appeals to the primary voters will be unable to win the general election. But that's happened to the Democrats too. Remember McGovern in '72.

113:

Someone wrote "Most conservatives I know would like to have lunch with [Obama]."

In order to spit on him, maybe. This probably isn't mostly racial, IMO. Hatred of Clinton was similar in kind, but the ideological polarization has grown steadily over the past 20 years - despite no increase in actual policy disagreement.

I'm someone. So you know how these people you don't know would behave better than I do?

Or can you not comprehend people who strongly disagree with someone being civil or even friends?

Not everyone who disagrees with a politician is a jerk.

114:

Can I defend the crazies?
What I think is missing here is recognition
1. that people are shaped by their experiences, and
2. they may react very differently to the same event.

Let me tell a story about the great depression
My maternal grandfather was an up-and-coming accountant who was wiped out by speculating before the great depression. My paternal grandfather was the black sheep of an Irish immigrant family that "made it". Both ended up despising the rich. To quote my dad, "they think their shit don't stink, but their farts give them away."

My wife's family was headed by a grandfather who founded several YMCAs (an early social worker by our interpretation), but survived the depression, and preserved his famiiy, by selling insurance. He is one of those who think, "Rooooosevelt is a commie" because he bailed out those who didn't make it on their own.

115:

Charlie,

I'd say the thing you're missing is that Ron Paul has some relevance in this election cycle. Last time they wouldn't even let him into the debates; this time he's actually doing fairly well (despite lacking any first-place finishes, as yet). True, he probably won't win the nomination, but it's good that the ideas he supports are getting some airtime. Ending the drug war, our foreign wars, and exercising restraint over the growth of our debt and our fiat currency... these things would go a long way towards fixing may of the US's problems. Hell, the world's problems too.

I'm not surprised that, as a visitor to the US, you wouldn't mention him in your discussion of the candidates. Our news media seems to be extremely reluctant to talk about him; Jon Stewart did an amusing segment on the subject. I am a little surprised at the hostility towards Paul among the commentors.

It doesn't matter Paul's beliefs on race, religion, sex, or any other such thing, because it's his core belief that the office he's running for is prohibited from doing anything but defending its citizens right to believe and do whatever they want, within the limits of individual rights.

116:

The GOP at the moment is acting demonstrably 'round the bend nuts. Completely certifiably crazy. I mean, just look at them. But why? I think there are two reasons. One was mentioned above: the smart ones are keeping their powder dry for 2016. Why stick your neck out and get clobbered by an incumbent with an improving economy and some significant victories behind him when you can wait it out and have a better chance? This is probably why the current GOP crop is composed of hobbyists, opportunists and wholly owned subsidiaries of various oligarchs. Nobody wants to run unless he's gaining something even if he loses.
Second reason: race. There's a black family in the White House. It's a huge issue for a significant number of white Americans. I hate to say this about my countrymen, but to a lot of them too much melanin means you don't look like a President. Ordinarily reasonable and stable people have become unhinged just because a black man is president. That can overrule any argument about policy, programs, the economy, wars, Osama Bin Laden, health care, budget deficits, or corporate bailouts. A lot of Americans right now just are not being rational because a black president makes them nuts. And that craziness is affecting the GOP primary race.

117:

The Republicans baffle me. I was all set to vote for a Republican for president, on the "fool me one, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" argument, or "anyone but Obama." And here they've managed to come up with four different candidates who fall below my "anyone" threshold: Romney, who is no better than Obama, and three other guys who are worse.

I would have voted for a candidate who focused on the Tea Party issues: constitutionality, balanced budgets, restrained taxes, free(r) markets. I'm not voting for a candidate who emphasizes the social conservative issues.

As far as I can tell, the Democrats are captives of the progressives, and the Republicans are captives of the social conservatives, and I count those as the two worst factions in American politics.

I think what the country needs is an Internet Party.

118:

"As far as I can tell, the Democrats are captives of the progressives"

In the case of the President, progressives would disagree. They thought he was going to govern from Progressive principles (he wasn't) and complain that he has acted like a moderate (he has).

119:

The drone: they're selling these things in Toys'R'Us. It's a radio controlled flying webcam.

Did you consider any of the helicopter style units?

And are there many places you can fly yours near where you live?

120:

Your description of Ron Paul misses the trees for the forest.

His interpretation of Federalism means that the states would be free to limit their citizens whatever rights the majority wanted. Griswold v. CT, Lawrence v. TX, even Loving v. VA would be right out the window. Some states (blue ones, for the most part) would be much better off and some would be a Scudderian nightmare.

===

The real panic in the GOP will set in when their candidate starts endangering their downticket races (Congresspeople, State AGs, and state representatives). A lot of Republicans will stay home rather than vote for a Mormon. Downticket candidates would be asked some pointed questions about whether they agree with Pastor Rick's opinion on birth control. (Most Americans think Pastor Rick should probably keep his nose out of their daughter's dorm room.)

121:

As an expat living in GA, I'm astounded every day. Fortunately, I recall the lessons of the reverend Bill Hicks - “I'll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here. 'I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.' 'I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.' 'Hey, wait a minute, there's one guy holding out both puppets!'” Amen brother.

122:

The Republican primary is a freak show for a number of reasons...first and foremost is that anyone with a clue doesn't want the job. Whoever is elected this time around is going to get plastered in 2016, because the next four years are going to suck for most people in the US. While I believe the current President has made it worse, the weight of decades of delusional US domestic policy (gleefully administered by both parties) is inescapable.

123:

Have to admit to being genuinely curious. Taking their word for it that race is not a big political issue, what _exactly_ are the 'social issues' or 'capture by progressives' that would prevent a conservative voter from voting for a conservative candidate like Obama? Or, equivalently, a competent conservative politician from standing for the Democrats?

This is not about the UK-to-US difference in starting point, the way a UK right wing proposal to open up the NHS to for-profit companies would be way to the 'left' of Obamacare. But the direction of travel, what they want to keep the same and what they want to change.

It is literally equally likely that Obama is a Muslim than that he believes in something other than free markets, balanced budgets and taxes as low as that allows; both would require a conspiracy to hide if true.

In foreign policy he evidently believes in not starting wars, and failing that not losing them. Killing clear bad guys in small enough numbers to not really count as a war is good too.

Similarly, obviously he believes in the status quo on contraception, abortion, and so on. I think the only issue on which he can at all be reasonably described as a liberal or progressive opposed by conservatives is gay marriage and military service.

Everywhere else, he is a conservative opposed by reactionaries; people who want to change things away from the status quo in a way that resembles the past.

I assume there is some legal barrier, and lots of practical ones. But putting them aside, if Obama were to be a write-in option in the Republican primary, why wouldn't he walk it?

The answer is the same as the reason that if you were a smart and competent conservatively-inclined politician with an eye to becoming President, you wouldn't choose to be a member of the Republican party.

124:

Obama made some missteps early on that have hurt his chances a lot. First he pushed through expensive health care reforms that didn't take effect for years when most Americans were worried about the economy above all else. Second, his programs to help the working and middle classes were mostly hidden while the efforts to stabilize the financial sector, auto industry, etc. were much more apparent.

He should have shelved the whole health care program until this year, and used it as a campaign platform. Back in 2009 and 2010 all of his energy should have been focused on quick ways to improve people's confidence in the economy and get money in the hands of consumers. Payroll tax moratoriums, stimulus checks, etc.

125:

Gas is going to 6 or 7 dollars a gallon in November. Obama is toast. He is already done for at 4 when it is 6 he may resign in disgrace but he will not be reelected no matter what. We had all better just hope Romney can pull it out. He will trust me. Paul has the second most delegates and lots of money. We are about to see Little Ricky taken down just watch. I am almost positive Paul and Romney have long since cut a deal. Santorum is not even on the ballot in Virgina and I don't see any way for him to be nominated. I think he is done after MI.

126:

Why do you say that gas will be 6-7 dollars in November?

127:

He still had to market himself to the progressives, the same way that Romney, a classic etablishment Republican with no principles, has to market himself to the social conservatives. The power of either faction is not to turn a candidate into a sock puppet but to veto a candidate who doesn't court them.

128:

I can't tell you what conservatives think, not being one. I personally voted for Obama in 2008, figuring him for the lesser evil, on the strength of his stated opposition to Hillary Clinton's advocacy of mandated individual purchase of health insurance. He hadn't even taken the oath of office before he reversed himself on that. Won't get fooled again, as the Who said.

My current top political priority is to see the individual mandate rejected. If the Supreme Court takes care of that before the election, my next priority would be to see the rent-seeking of intellectual property holders kept in check by the continued defeat of their heavy-handed restrictions on Internet activity. I'd like to see some movement toward fiscal sanity in general, but I don't think there's a chance in hell of either party going for that; too many oxen would be gored in either stable.

If all that doesn't make it evident, I'm a libertarian, in the American sense of the word. . . .

129:

Obama and the Democrats plan to run deficits from now until eternity. Every year the national debt will get bigger, from interest and new deficits.

Then they blame Republicans for the situation, and claim that if we just slightly raised taxes on the wealthiest people, the budget would be balanced (a lie). The only way to balance the budget with the level of entitlements we have is massive tax increases on the middle class, which of course they say they want to avoid.

And if Republicans won't fund this impossibly large government, the narrative becomes: mean Republicans want to take some free stuff away from you for no reason except that they are stingy, in thrall to business interests, and probably racist, too.

With even a basic understanding of math and the idea that lenders expect to be paid back or they won't lend money, you know that the Obama plan is not viable, and is in fact doomed to fail.

If you have a more sophisticated understanding politics you know that bubbles burst quickly, and it's unpredictable when they will suddenly burst, because as soon as people think it's starting to pop they all try to get out. So you know that the inevitable epic fail of America will happen suddenly and surprisingly, even though we could all see it coming from decades away. It's like a slow-motion 9/11. We know the planes are coming, we can see them out the window, but we don't know when they will hit.

People who understand that are either (1) cynical Democrats who hope to cash in on the big government while it lasts or (2) Republicans, regardless of how they feel about social issues.

Compare the Ryan plan to Obama's recently-unveiled plan. You can say the Ryan plan is heartless, but you have to admit that it results in a balanced budget, while the Obama plan leads to impossibly large deficits. How can you blame Americans for picking the GOP over the Democrat clowns who have no real plan for America's future?*

* Alternatively, you believe Democrats have a plan, a secret plan, which is to create a debt crisis, and then use the moment of crisis to seize powers that Americans would otherwise never give them. (Which would be an interesting subject for a novel.)

And as to contraception, Mitt Romney made fun of the Clinton administration "reporter" George Stephanopoulos moderating the debate when asked if contraception should be banned. The audience laughed at the moderator. That's not a candidate or an audience that wants to ban contraception.

Forget about social issues. The choice is between fiscal prudence and fiscal degeneracy. Democrats are desperate to make this election about social issues, instead of the failing economy, which is Obama's fault.

130:

"I'm not sure what I'll do with it — apart from annoying the cat —"

Just imagine that the cat is a Kzin.

http://openlibrary.org/books/OL7663033M/Man_Kzin_Wars_III

131:

@73
"87% is still a pretty friggin' huge majority. Hell, a 1999 Gallup poll asking if the Earth revolved around the sun only got 79%."
Well, it doesn't. ;-) The Earth revolves around the Solar System's centre of mass, which is often outside the Sun.

@(Per your bolded text, I'm not sure what the point is in bolding it -- why would a study on current contraceptive use include people who are trying to get pregnant?)@
Because I've seen the 98% figure repeatedly getting distorted like a game of broken telephone into things such as 98% of catholic women "use" or "are using" birth control, and then brought up in arguments about how the boots on the ground (or is it the butts on the pews?) disagree with the bishops.

132:

You really don't understand the difference between domestic debt and national debt, do you?

(Weird how the loony tunes narrative on economics seems to have become so pervasive among American internet pundits ...)

133:

War against Iran, Straights of Hormuz closed for a year, 20% of the world's oil supply cut off...

BTW, jet lag. A load of melatonin and 60mg of codeine works for me. Just take it this side of the Atlantic or face 50 years on the chain gang.

134:

W H Stoddard @ 117
Voote for the Tea Party?
Really?
When they are an atroturfed movement funde by some very rich, very unpleasant crooks?
Can't/won't you see this?
- & @ 128
I'll translate that ..
You are gullible enough to allow very rich people and corporations to treat you as a Peon.
I hope you don't get it.

Charlie @ 132
Thanks, beat me to it!

135:

Someone upthread made some very good points (that I can't now find, about the complexity of modern politics effectively making the rational response of voters to the issues impossible, and forcing things towards the emotive.

So with regards to hypothetical sci-fi alternatives -

I was joking the other day about how, if you really wanted to change the world you'd invent a computer virus that detects logical errors and then prevents them from being uploaded to the internet.

If we took that a step further, instead of the AI overlord, you'd have AI moderation.

At the end of debates, you'd get a little voice saying "the representative from Texas is mischaracterising his opponent's previous statements on corn subsidies, and the implication in his statement that fructose is linked with Communism, has no basis in fact".

You'd have a little red scrolling bar doing the same on the tv news, or a paragraph at the end of published articles.

If they wanted to avoid looking silly people would actually need to fact check stuff or make reasoned arguments.

You make the rules very clear, and let everyone spend as much time as they want looking for evidence of bias.

I'd been thinking about the idea for a story in which some alien civilization bloodlessly conquers Earth, installs the "behavioral correction" system, issues cryptic statement about a formal warning and Banhammers, and then leaves.

Anyone seen the idea used before? it's obvious enough that I'm sure someone must have.

136:

My view: e-ink vs. LCD has pros and cons both ways. They're differently optimised technology.

I have a Kindle. It isn't locked to Amazon-supplied product. The problem is the DRM on ebooks, not the actual file format. Some outfits distribute DRM-free e-books. Gutenberg for one, and some publishers. The Kindle is fine with .mobi format.

Amazon has a sales advantage, their "Whispernet" system. That's nothing much to do with DRM, and a lot to do with smart website design and operation. They were pretty hot when it was just physical books they sold. I got recommendations for a lot of books I already had, but that is a good sign: the system works.

DRM and e-ink/LCD choices are orthogonal issues. If DRM gets ditched, I don't see it affecting my Kindle, because I already read DRM-free content.

137:

My next book will be low priced eBook with no DRM.
However, I am adding a bit in the introduction to the effect that if the person is reading a pirated version and they think it worth it, send me some money.

138:

Anyone seen the idea used before? it's obvious enough that I'm sure someone must have.

David Brin, in "Earth", had something not entirely dissimilar -- internet bots to detect and suppress flaming and trolling.

139:

One of the factors is the growing hostility to Iran. That country is already picking and choosing who it sells crude oil to, on tha basis of which countries are taking trade sanction action.

To some extent, the market will be able to substitute. But a big chunk of the supply is at risk in a war involving Iran. Sensible companies will be trying to increase their stocks, maybe even commissioning a few tankers not currently in service, because they will get some cover from sabre-rattling interruptions. Those stocks will not last if a shooting war interrupts the supply chain. It's the difference between waiting a few days before entering the Gulf and the ship being sunk.

So there is a likely supply shortage. Not good for prices. And I can't see much chance for anybody to do anything in time to make a difference

140:

A lot depends on whether the USA attacks Iran, or just Israel. The Russians will be hoping it's the USA and that the war lasts a long time. They may even covertly supply the Iranians with the weapons to close Hormuz eg updated Sunburns

141:

> Frankly the whole pool of people
> running are inadequate to the task.

My plan: random selection of the President and Congress from their electoral bodies.

Really. How much worse could it be than the current popularity contest?

142:

Strait of Hormuz won't be closed for a year. A few weeks, top.

143:

I don't think any US President would commit political suicide by attacking Israel.

144:

"My plan: random selection of the President and Congress from their electoral bodies.

Really. How much worse could it be than the current popularity contest?"

Legislated by the pool of people too stupid to get out of senatorial duty? :-)

On the other hand, you have a point with the "could it be worse?" thing.

Are we allowed a Voir dire to exclude the anarchists? Consitutional nullification would be a hell of a thing.

What about the supreme court? do we draw them from every one who has seen an episode of Matlock or Judge Judy? Grisham novels?

Im broadly in favour, on the basis that I don't live in the US, and it might be amusing to watch.

145:

Roll on Neal Asher's Earth Central, or IMBs Minds - We might all hate the idea of losing control of our destiny to non-human intelligence, but lets face it, most of us don't have that now and at least an AI would be rational unlike the monkeys that run it all now.

146:

Dammit, now I need to write the thing. A Federation of intergalactic peacekeepers armed with relativistic banhammers. Don't make them come down here

(mod voice) PEOPLE OF EARTH (/mod voice)

147:

I meant, either Israel OR the USA or Isreal AND the USA attacking Iran.

And I do believe the Iranians could close Hormuz for a year if they had Russian weapons. Russia, being an oil exporter, would make billions from this.

148:

"alien civilization bloodlessly conquers Earth, installs the "behavioral correction" system"

You're too late. charlie's already done that re: spammers in rule 34, only it was an (evolved?) anti-spam AI

149:

I have major doubts that things will get this bad, mainly because whatever else you can say about Obama, he's just not that stupid. (And yes, I know how easy it is to close the Straits, and what Iran has available for doing so.)

I'm also think it's unlikely that any Israeli PM is dumb enough to start a major oil war during a US election year. If I'm wrong on that one, the US can say, "Hey, it's true we have a mutual defense treaty with you guys, but note the word 'defense.' We have no obligation to fight on your behalf when you shot first." Then Obama gets to be the reasonable one who restores peace after the Israelis screw up.

Of course this presumes that anyone in the US is capable of understanding the Iranian point of view. Last year I met a guy who'd been fired from the CIA after suggesting that the Iranians actually had reason to be paranoid where the US was concerned... This doesn't bode well for any US government actually understanding the dimensions of the problem.

150:

"YOU HAVE VIOLATED GODWIN'S LAW. PREPARE TO BE ANNIHILATED"

151:

My plan: random selection of the President and Congress from their electoral bodies.
Really. How much worse could it be than the current popularity contest?

A lot. I've met more than a few people over the years who make the current crop of candidates look stellar.

152:

Duh, I'm reponding to mayself, but speaking as a clinical social worker, even "genuine" crazies have their good reasons.

As others have pointed out, the "crazy" streams of US political thought have always been around. It's been a truism in polital science circles that the most intense win primaries, especially if the are closed by party. Then to win a general election there has to be some move toward the middle.

There are several interacting things different tha might slow that now

I would say the biggest is understnding of the way people think and make sense of their lives. Advertisers, and now political consultants are incresingly able to create stories that move people without their being totally conscious of it. Newt Gingrich while he was Speaker of the House wrote a memo on how to unite your side by demonizing the other side. I think he is not only narcissistic, but pushing toward evil for that.

The capture of the business/banking regulatory system allowed the economy to almost transition to chaos. There's got to be someone to blame for that. So who is in need of moral reform? The poor of course.

Then the Supreme Court Citizens United decision unleashed unlimited money to amplify the voice anyone able to attract a millionaire backer.

153:

And I do believe the Iranians could close Hormuz for a year if they had Russian weapons

But I think even the hard core religious leaders understand the economic disaster this would cause for them would likely end their rule. It's their bluff move.

154:

Charlie

What were your news sources on your last visit to us colonialists? Fox. NY Times? CNN? Talk at local bars and bookstores?

155:

Why would Iran attack ships? That means fighting the US Navy, which is never a good idea, and polluting the Gulf, which makes them look like the bad guy. If they want to stop the flow of oil they can sink one of their own ships in the Strait of Hormuz ("Oops!") or attack the Saudi oil infrastructure.

156:
Someone upthread made some very good points (that I can't now find, about the complexity of modern politics effectively making the rational response of voters to the issues impossible, and forcing things towards the emotive.

Well one of the issues - one that even more multi-party situations like the UK have too - is that with relatively few parties it's hard to find a party that a reasonably rational person can support 100%.

Do I take a weighted balance of those policies I support and vote for the best-match optimistically? Do I vote for the party with the lowest number of proposals I find intolerable and vote pessimistically for the least-bad?

Add to that politics not only being about the policies - if you vote for a leader you're voting in principle for someone to deal with the current issues best (by some measure) but you are also electing them to cope with whatever comes up. With the exception of Egypt, I don't think anyone's been elected on the basis of the Arab Spring yet. When Merkle, Sarkosi, Cameron and Obama (and others) were elected, the Arab Spring wasn't even thought likely. When Blair was elected, and Bush-II 9/11 was probably in planning but certainly not on the electorate's mind. So there's a punt "I trust that person a bit more to cope with new crises" that probably needs to get factored in. Fun in a group of people that we trust about as far as we can throw Eric Pickles.

So just how do you make a rational decision? How did anyone, ever?

157:

"YOU HAVE VIOLATED GODWIN'S LAW. PREPARE TO BE ANNIHILATED"

Although, the fact that we survived all the way through the 1940's suggests that enforcement standards are pretty lax.

158:

"They killed Johnny! Damn dirty stinkin' Nazis!"

BOOM!

159:

Please stop with the Santorum babble. HE IS NOT GOING TO GET NOMINATED. Once MORE he CAN NOT get Nominated at this point. He is too far behind in delegates and is not on enough ballots. Either Romney gets nominated during the process or someone else does at the convention.No one is going to stand next to Santorum anywhere.
As a sightly left leaning libertarian I don't really have much a problem with Romney. I might even vote Republican for the first time in a Presidential election. I have voted Libertarian since 1988 in every election but this time I may for Republican.

160:

So just how do you make a rational decision? How did anyone, ever?

Ban political parties and advertising? make every candidate stand on their previous experience, voting record, and individual policy platform.

Granted this would result in an election turnout of about three people.

161:

DRM was a condition the labels originally imposed; Apple got them to concede the massive loophole of users being able to burn CDs from the DRM'd tracks bought from iTunes store (as after all, they could already do that with tracks ripped from CD).
Apple in effect gave all the money from iTunes Store to the labels - the 30¢ from the 99¢ price did not cover credit card and bandwidth fees, let alone the advertising Apple bought. They made their money from iPods, not music.
As Charlie says, the labels later realised that they had literally given Apple the keys to all their recordings, and backed away from DRM. Apple was happy to drop it, though video has not made this leap yet.
Amazon is not in the same business as Apple; they make money from distribution, not hardware products, and will be tougher for the publishers to regain control.

162:

Regarding Arizona:

Whatever happens, I don't see any circumstance that will mean "a dagger in the heart of the GOP as a presidential party for at least a decade".

Demographics. Arizona is 30% Latino now, compared to 19% in 1990 and 16% in 1980, and Arizona has now more electoral votes. Every 1% Latino increase in the voting population is at least a 0.5% shift to the Democrats. If immigration were to stop in Arizona tomorrow, the proportion of Latinos would still continue to rise, because white retirees don't replace themselves.

If you think this is hot air, well, there's the example of how Governor Pete Wilson's (R-CA) anti-Latino policies turned an important swing state (and the home state of Ronald Reagan) into a Democratic stronghold. Similarly, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) is still in the Senate in large part because he discovered a very pissed-off Latino constituency in the metropolitan Las Vegas area.

It becomes harder and harder for the GOP to win nationally if, in addition to writing off the Kerry 2004 states, they write off the non-Cuban Latino vote.

(I'm using "Latino" here, but most of these people are Mexican-American, some from further south. Just as a side note, they have about as much in common with Cuban-Americans as a guy from Crete does with a guy from Ukraine. The GOP has been remarkably tone-deaf to these differences, something that Karl Rove has criticized them for.)

The Republicans are a far more well-oiled machine than the Democrats.
No. I study both of them incidentally for a living. The national GOP is in terrible disarray, and state parties have become embattled in swing states where they have formal control. It is just possible that the California GOP might fall below the threshold where it can interfere with the state legislative process.

At the national level, GOP legislators have rediscovered Molotov's diplomatic strategy: pure obstructionism. It doesn't require much effort -- which is good for them, because Boehner is the weakest Speaker of the House in the last few decades.

The Democrats could still lose, of course. But if so, it'll be due to outside factors: contagion from a European financial collapse, fallout from an Israeli attack on Iran [*], that sort of thing. Personally, I think there's a fair chance that the Democrats could retake the House.

[*] Has no one noticed how Turkey has very firmly made its play for the role of dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean? That would clinch it, because Israel will have divested itself of any remaining "soft power"; and the IDF and its small arsenal of nuclear weapons does *not* give Israel superpowers. Meanwhile, Turkey is a member of NATO...

163:

"Any opinions on the "kobo" as opposed to its competitors?"

I've been using a kobo touch for the past couple of months, and been able to compare it to the Kindle & a sony reader.

Upsides:
Nice to read from. Works well on a sunny beach and under fairly dim lighting.
Lighter and easier to hold than the others.
Very responsive once you're actually reading.
Has ability to use MicroSD cards for more storage if ever needed.
Battery lasts about 3 weeks of heavy usage (and with flights to and from NZ involved, it got *heavy* usage).

Downsides:
Does not support grouping books by series, so you have to add tags to the name.
Doesn't recognise books you have purchased outside of the kobo store so keeps trying to recommend books you might like that you already have.
Once I put more than 200 or so books on it started having issues loading the home page or the book library - it loads, but doesn't refresh the page. Pressing the screen triggers a refresh but you have to hit the side or bottom else you will open whatever book is in that part of the screen instead.
Doesn't have a cover for the microSD card slot, so the damn things fall out again once you put them in unless you put a strip of tape across.
Wifi is useless except for buying books through kobo store. Everything else needs the USB cable.

Overall I quite like it - it fits well in a pocket and has stood up to quite a beating without breaking or even scratching the screen. Back cover fell off once after I dropped it down a bus stairwell, but snapped back on easily enough. The sony reader handles sorting books much better, but isn't as nice to read from or hold and is noticeably heavier. I dislike the constant screen refresh of the kindle, haven't tried the newest one though.

164:

"Personally, I think there's a fair chance that the Democrats could retake the House."

This aspect of the election has been under-reported during the gawking at the year long car crash that is the GOP presidential nominating process.
There are national, state and local partisan races on the November ballot that will depend on turnout driven by the top of the ticket. The GOP's biggest danger right now is that an unappealing candidate for president will depress turnout, costing them close races all down the ticket.
FYI, Voters can select a straight party ticket or split their votes. Pulling the straight ticket 'R' lever registers a vote for many GOP candidates they may not have heard of. This is 'coat tails effect'.

165:
At the end of debates, you'd get a little voice saying "the representative from Texas is mischaracterising his opponent's previous statements on corn subsidies, and the implication in his statement that fructose is linked with Communism, has no basis in fact".

The Republicans would simply do what they already do, and insist that the facts were an atheist-communist-nazi-muslim invention and that they were the ones who were really telling the truth and you couldn't trust the computer. Fox and the like would presumably invest in their own counter-system that put up big red warning labels on any statement not approved by at least one major sponsor.

(Or, as one of my favourite US-political bloggers puts it "in another example of reality's well-known liberal bias...".)

166:

Frankly I'd rather see an unelected, randomly selected group of people, moderated by a collection of merit-selected experts than that. Or continuous plebiscite.

But while we hear many people say democracy is the best system we've seen so far, I think it's pretty fair to say it's a broken system in most countries, if not all - and we should be looking for a better one.

167:

"Why would Iran attack ships? That means fighting the US Navy..."

Well, if it is the USA that is bombing Iran then attacking the US navy is probably a good idea. If it is Israel bombing Iran, it is a bad idea. All depends.
If the USA were to lose a major ship to a Sunburn it would have a major psychological impact everywhere. If it were a carrier, the loss would be up there alongside 9/11. However, what is now a fact is that the USA is incapable of invading and occupying Iran. That time has passed.

168:

"But I think even the hard core religious leaders understand the economic disaster this would cause for them would likely end their rule."

Whereas being bombed by the USA and doing nothing will win them points in the domestic market? I think not. If the USA attacks Iran the entire Iranian public will be baying for blood. And that includes pro-Western "progressives".

169:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/arizona-debate-conservative-chickens-come-home-to-roost-20120223

Matt Taibbi has one interpretation of the utter looniness that is the 2012 Republican primary. I, for one, think he may be on to something.

170:

Those are some pretty huge downsides for the Kobo - I'll give it a miss

171:

collection of merit-selected experts

This would just move the food fight to the selection process of these experts. After all we'd all agree on what the metrics are for their selection.

172:

Iran closing by sinking a few ships does not mean the US must attack.

173:

No, but if the US does attack I believe that Iran will close the Straits of Hormuz because by doing so they will cost the West a vast amount of $$$ and may even trigger a global depression. I also believe that it is in Russia's interest that this happens.

174:

"Mitt's problem is that he doesn't do a good enough job of pretending to be insane to get elected Chief Lunatic. When governing Massachusetts his policies were fairly sane and intelligent and he might even govern slightly to the left of Barrack Obama."

When governing a liberal state with a Democratic 'Congress', he was more liberal than he is now. Give him the Presidency and a GOP Congress, and I'll bet you $1000 he'll make Dubya look good (not due to stupidity, but from looting on a vast scale).

175:

Try living here for the full horror of Rethuglican policy - getting government off your back and into your bedroom since 1432.

Anyway, if you buy a US pre-loaded VISA or other credit card, can't you use that to download US apps onto the KF?

176:

Are you picking on my comment for a reason, or just responding as you read through them? You mentioned That Person well after I did, so who exactly is beating that dead horse?

My question was about who would a likely Republican VP candidate be, and used that person as an obvious example.

Also it is still too early to make any predictions about who their candidate will be. Maybe you're not aware that rules for Caucuses and such vary by state? In Colorado, for example (it's the state I'm most familiar with), the delegates to the National Convention are not bound by the decision of the people who voted in the caucus. Right now it seems likely they will vote for That Person, who won this state, but they can and may vote for another.

Oh, and gas hitting $7 a gallon? Maybe if you live in Hawaii.

177:

"In general the Primary system is the same for both parties. You pander to the more extreme elements of your party so you win the nomination, and hope you didn't go too far and piss off the center. You just don't see it this year with the Democrats because Obama is running unopposed. "

I must have missed Obama's 2008 speeches about punishing Wall St.

It doesn't work the same way in each party.

178:

Why would I switch news sources simply by virtue of being a few time zones away from home? We have this thing called the "internet" ...

179:

"The "problem" is that even though there are only 2 major parties, the largest political group are the unaffiliated independents. Both the Republicans and the Democrats have around 30% of Americans identifying themselves as such. Some 38% identify themselves as independent.

The election in basically decided by the independents. But to be a serious candidate you have to get nominated by the minority. Basically around 30% of Americans choose who the candidates the other 70% can vote on are."

Take 2008, where the GOP had worked hard and successfully to destroy themselves in the eyes of all Americans who were not hard-core Republicans, culminating in an attempted re-enactment of 1929's Black Friday. The only thing I can think of which would match this in 20th century US history would be the election of FDR in 1932.

The vote percentages were 53% Obama, 47% McCain.

There aren't many actual independents in the USA.

180:

Amazon is not in the same business as Apple; they make money from distribution, not hardware products, and will be tougher for the publishers to regain control.

Correct ... but by the same token, Amazon is more of an obvious threat to the publishers; and Amazon effectively controls the DRM servers that lock in the customers. Dropping the requirement for DRM is about the only thing the publishers can do at this point that would undermine Amazon's near monopoly status.

181:

Or publishing on Pirate Bay

182:

"the Democrats are captives of the progressives,"

Man, I wish. Actual captives would behave a lot differently. For one thing, you wouldn't have to worry about an insurance mandate, you'd simply be on Medicare.

As for Obama catering, as you note later, he was the one Democrat in 2008 who opposed the insurance mandate (despite that making no sense in conjunction with the other reforms.) Otherwise he was basically the same as Clinton and Edwards, pretty moderate by liberal standards.

183:

The problem with any attempt to alert people to rhetorical legerdemain or sophistry is... it doesn't work.

It doesn't work because, as any political scientist who has spent years or decades involved in empirical study will tell you, people are fucking stupid.

Now, let me clarify. First when they make this statement - that people are stupid - and before you nod sagely, remember they use it as a universal qualifier.

Wait. What? Me no stupid. Me read science fiction.

What they really mean is, people are used to using that ancient region of our wonderful kluge of a mind, the reflexive lizard brain, which, and who knows how or why, understands language. The reflective part which seems to inhabit the frontal lobes? Oh, that's hard to use. Do I have to?

I've a vision of the Almighty with cotton in His ears, flinching and clenching his teeth at the unholy noise of humanity grinding gears until we finally figure out the fucking clutch that engages our frontal lobes. And honestly, maybe its just easier to keep the thing in Low, which is what the chimp handlers of the candidates are counting on.

They are rarely surprised. So, we hold totems, Ken dolls for your perusal, and you are free to ignore the warning labels clearly posted on them. I'm amazed to hear people who will say, and let's choose Ron Paul as an example, "Yeah, he's a racist and sexist and all sorts of other terrible things, and his son Rand was clearly carved out of wood and animated by the Blue Fairy for the next really odious round of political nepotism, and all that and more, and I recognize it and acknowledge and understand it, but I'm gonna vote for him anyway, because he's my kind of guy".

Or people who were disappointed in Obama, who clearly were not paying attention to what he said, there could be absolutely no confusion as to what he was gonna do, or how he was gonna do it. I voted for Obama because he wasn't McCain.

Why I myself, trying to keep up on current events, will read an analysis in, say, the Economist or Foreign Affairs a year after the fact, and I'll say, "Whoa! Why didn't I see this? I was all over this when it was in the news, and yet, I was sleepwalking through the whole farrago.

How to engage the frontal lobes? That clearly is the question.

184:

"Historically, the poor have been some of the most hard-core conservative people in the world. That's still pretty true today. Most of the poor who vote Democrat are only doing so because the economic issues trump the social ones for them. "

Andrew Gelman (poli sci/stats guy) co-authored a book 'Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do'
(summary at: http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/research/published/red_state_blue_state_revised.pdf).

When cutting things within states, he found out that income and pr(vote Republican) were positively correlated for all 50 states). Poor people actually vote Democratic.

185:

I don't know if this is fair, but from the outside of the industry it looks sorta looks like Amazon is sitting there looking smug, at checkmate in three moves, and the publishers are like "wow, we could be in trouble here, we should probably learn how to play chess"

There seems to be a general lack of awareness of just how far the game has advanced.

186:

I saw a rather cruel and politically incorrect joke of FB a couple of days ago. It went:
"You know how stupid average people are? Well half of them are even more stupid"

187:

Although, I was assuming that the real fireworks will start when the big supermarket chains discover POD, and decide that they want to be publishers too.

188:

My Mom, who lives on Social Security and supports my sister's family as well, and who told me she despised Sarah Palin, nonetheless went on to vote for McCain/Palin in 2008. She never did tell me why, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the current president was a bit too...well, 'dusky' for her...

189:

You seem unclear on the concepts of recession and counter-cyclical spending. Most of the deficit right now is simply because of massive unemployment, meaning a fall in tax revenues and a rise in food stamps and unemployment insurance and Medicaid. If/when the economy recovers, that'll unwind automatically. The welfare state and progressive taxation automate Keynesianism to a degree, though not enough. If the economy doesn't recover, we'll have bigger problems than fiscal deficits. (Think deficits in education, human capital, health care, infrastructure...)

It's true taxes will need to go up for balance over the business cycle, but that's because we've had reckless cuts for 30 years, to the point where after Obama's own cuts we have the lowest taxes in 80 years. Go back to the heady days of the first Bush administration and we'd be doing a lot better.

190:

'Legislated by the pool of people too stupid to get out of senatorial duty? :-)'

Athens largely ran this way. The pool was volunteers and the selectees were well-paid.

As for your 'voir dire', those anarchists deserve representation too. Not like this is an English jury running on unanimous consent.

191:

"Interestingly NC seems to have way more diversity of opinion than MA. I've lived in KY, PA, CT, and now NC and spend a lot of time in MA."

Please note that a state with a high proportion of whackjob right-wing crazies will have a higher degree of diversity of opinion (until that proportion dominates). Take the left-most 20% in MA and the right-most 20% in NC, and I'll bet that the group in NC will be way, way out in right field. You'll find far more Santorum supporters in NC than CPUSA members in MA.

192:

I'm reminded of a quote in this article:

http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/05/indian-call-center-americanization

"Truth is, 90 percent of the people there, you will find, they'll do the most stupid things, impulsive things. I know for a fact. At the same time, Americans are bighearted people, and the remaining 10 percent of them are smart. Bloody smart. That's why they rule the world."

I, uh, have a bad feeling I'm not in that world ruler column.

The beginnings of wisdom, Grasshopper?

193:

Yeah, supposedly the blue state difference is that there rich people vote Democratic, whether out of economic concern/altruism or out of social (sexual) issues.

194:

I hope you noticed that my entire response there might not have been absolutely serious.

Otherwise, I'm a little concerned that it was the "Judge Judy as supreme court requirement" bit that you let stand unchallenged. :-)

195:

"I'd thought that GOP infighting was about to come to a head, and that the fundamentalists and libertarians were about to have a major split. "

This recent 'barefoot and pregnant' scuffle has convinced me of three things:

1) There is no anti-abortion movement separate from the anti-contraception and Big Government belongs in your uterus movement.

2) These guys sincerely believe in 'barefoot and pregnant'.

3) There's not much in the libertarian movement which supports women's rights. I've seen too many libertarians not having a problem with Big Government, as long as it's in V-J Land.

196:

"Yeah, supposedly the blue state difference is that there rich people vote Democratic, whether out of economic concern/altruism or out of social (sexual) issues."

They showed that the tendency is still there, just that the slope of a logistic regression line is low, while the intercept is high. IOW, the poor are overwhelmingly Democratic, while the right are somewhat less so.
In red states, the poor are still majority Democratic, while the rich are far, far less so.

197:

Alex R @ 155
,,,fighting the US Navy, which is never a good idea
usually referred to as : "suicide" I think.
The USN is the only one of their services which seems to be truly professional - and by extension, the one you really don't want to tangle with.
However discussion of the "Sunburn" missile gives one the all-over creeps

Eloise @ 156
Easy
You vote for the least-worst candidate (or party)
However, even that can go pear-shaped, which is why we need coupled compulsory voting AND "None of the above" boxes...

timofulz1968 @ 159
Care to make a small wager on that?
I think Hick Sanatorium is going at least as far as the R convention ....

198:

I saw the "random panel moderated by merit selected experts" idea debated elsewhere not long ago. There seem to be two main problems:

1) Who decides what the merits for this group of moderators/advisors are, and who decides when someone meets these criteria? Do we have elections to vote on the how the merit system is set up -- surely this is essentially back to what we have now. Do we allow the group of experts to set their own standards -- open to a small amount of corruption, perhaps? There doesn't seem to be a way to circumvent human nature to prevent massive abusive and an effective dictatorship being created through this system.

2) Super-smart experts are not known for their patience when it comes to people not doing what the experts know is best for them. Again, it's a pretty short step to dictatorship from here: If everyone would just do as they were told, the whole place would be in better shape...

Democracy may be broken, but it's probably the least broken system that we can achieve given what we've got to work with (human nature, in all it's glory).

Perhaps, the only way to improve democracy is to ensure that everyone who wants a say on each decision has a say on that decision, rather than choosing the person that seems the least likely to screw it up for the next few years when the average MOP essentially doesn't have any say. Does the internet and always-on connectivity offer a hope for this kind of thing coming to pass? Perhaps, but voter fraud is going to be a nightmare.

199:

Anyone who thinks the Republican party will reduce either the debt or the deficit is delusional. That's not even flamebait - historical records are easy to look up.

From the end of WWII, the debt as a percentage of GDP decreased until roughly the mid seventies. The actual total debt increased every year, but economic growth outpaced it.

The only presidents since that time that presided over the debt going down as a percentage of GDP were, wait for it, Carter and Clinton.

So clearly, if you want the debt growth to go down, vote for people with names starting with C.

Under Clinton, for instance, the debt (these numbers are adjusted for inflation) went from 4.9 trillion to 5.628, and that final number was actually lower than the previous three years.

Under Bush, they went from there to 7.73.

What's worse, while Clinton's was a reduction of debt relative to the GDP, Bush was an increase.

So if you think that the Republican party, when allowed to it's own devices (and under Bush, this was very much the case, since they held the majority in both houses for most of it) will reduce the debt, you are doing so in complete ignorance of what has actually happened when they are in charge.

And it's not as if these are all new people, and you could assume they actually mean it this time - it's largely the same people as the last time they ran the debt up.

That's not to say that Democrats will reduce the debt or even the deficit substanially. But your odds of getting that outcome are better with them.

200:

Two blog posts, one from Kevin Drum and the other Matt Taibbi provide some insight.

"In 2000, conservatives were determined to avoid another George H.W. Bush, so they picked a candidate whose dedication to conservatism seemed unassailable. And as far as they're concerned, even that didn't work out." - Kevin Drum

http://goo.gl/5sFI

"No, it was while watching the debates last night that it finally hit me: This is justice. What we have here are chickens coming home to roost. It's as if all of the American public's bad habits and perverse obsessions are all coming back to haunt Republican voters in this race: The lack of attention span, the constant demand for instant gratification, the abject hunger for negativity, the utter lack of backbone or constancy (we change our loyalties at the drop of a hat, all it takes is a clever TV ad): these things are all major factors in the spiraling Republican disaster." - Matt Taibbi

http://goo.gl/8Lzq7

201:

Why would I switch news sources simply by virtue of being a few time zones away from home? We have this thing called the "internet" ...

You brought up the R primary nonsense after being over hear for a bit. I assumed you picked up on things over here you didn't see over there.

202:

It seems to me that the mandate would appeal to libertarians. It requires that people be financially responsible for their own health care. You are only being deprived of the option of sticking the rest of us with your health care cost.

Remember that the mandate was originally proposed by the Heritage Foundation and supported by a number of prominent Republicans. It only became anathema when that black guy in the White House added it to his health care bill.

Note: I would prefer a taxpayer supported single payer system and I voted for Obama.

203:

I'm blanking on the name of the University of Massachusetts who presented her work 2 conferences ago (ICCS, International Conference on Complex Systems). Bottom line: each of your organs and tissues has a different biological clock. Too large a perturbation causes jet-lag = biomathematical chaos.

I'm in that chaos right now, having returned to California recently from the Research Station on Heron Island Nature Preserve, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia.

I had presented for 50-minutes on "Complex Systems Theory and Science Fiction" (Springer USA had approached me and rewquested such a book, a complete draft now delivered) to a transdisciplinary group of faculty and students at the 2nd week of a 2-week workshop on Complex Systems Theory, and chaired the Wednesday morning sessions. I was offered, and accepted, a visiting professorship, part time, the details to be disclosed upon higher-ups signing the agreement, and a funding agreement with a 3rd party.

As to USA's Republican 4-man race, I am upset too, as my father's father was a penniless immigrant who worked his way up to owning a seat on the New York Stock exchange and controlling a portfolio in the inflation-adjusted neighborhood of a billion dollars.

The GOP was already drifting away from the Wall Street Conservative Republican position he supported. My father was a second-generation Wall Street Conservative Republican , who, on his death bed, cursed George W. Bush as a "traitor to the Conservative cause, a traitor to the Republican Party, a traitor to his own family, and a traitor to the United States of America."

I don't think that my father nor his father would be mollified by Newt Gingrich having been a History Professor, who co-authored 3 alternate History Military Science Fiction novels.

Either would have been disgusted by Rick Santorum, who blends bad theology (his statements about Satan), bad pseudoscience (he supported Intelligent Design in the Senate), and rank hypocrisy (I hear that his wife had an abortion to save her life, though Rick wants no other women to have that right).

At least Ron Paul has military experience, is a doctor, and knows the Constitution. Even liberal Democrats should want a Loyal Opposition, but I don't see one either.

I don't want a Dominionist Christian Taliban White House, thank you.

204:

I know what you meant. It just wasn't what your actually wrote (and all the funnier for it).

205:

My complete plan for the experts is too long for here really, where it's off-topic. But the short form is a smallish (

Yes, there is a risk that the experts will decide to take over but I'm betting on the fact that they'll enjoy arguing with other experts and coming up with a variety of plans for voting on more than taking control - particularly since the chance of anyone sitting on every panel is very remote, although a few might sit on several.

All of the options have to be acceptable to the vast majority - 75% (or maybe 90%) of the "experts" - that's not the same as supported as their best choice, but not so bad that they couldn't live with it. For a criminal law situation you'd probably have the police pushing for more police powers hard, but they can't be so hardline that the civil liberties lobby votes it out. Similarly, the civil liberties will push for more individual rights but it can't be so liberal that the police veto it. In debates about the economy we have a range of choices from tiny government to huge and so on.

We get better information about the choices, their strengths and weaknesses and the chance to make informed decisions on a case by case basis.

Ideal? No, probably not. Still a democracy at heart, but none of the fun and games of parties and representative democracy. Yes, it can be gamed - hacking voting systems would be an obvious one although the numbers of votes occurring and the size of the electorate make it tricky - but it makes lobbying and secret deals much more interesting to try and do. Lobby the whole nation, sure! There will be muppets that just vote of course, but they'll probably spread over the range of options. There will be enough people that make rational, informed choices. Better? I think so although it's all hypothetical of course.

206:

That doesn't really disagree with what I'm saying. Just that the poor may agree with the Democrats and support them for economic reasons while not supporting the Democrat social platform.

207:

A fundamental problem with American politics is that a very large fraction of the voting population has become deluded in ways that has them voting republican.

They are ignorant of much, which is ordinary, but they also "know" many things which are untrue.

(I'm sure there is a percentage of the population voting democratic due to delusion, but it seems to me to be much less of a problem at the moment.)

A very large fraction of the US population is absolutely certain that...

...they personally pay 50% or more of their income in taxes (50% is probably almost impossible, with 20-32% federal state and local being the range of quintile averages).

...they have never received significant help from the government (including people who live almost entirely off of social security, went to publicly funded school through nearly free college, and have been on medicare for years).

...we spend a large fraction (ie 10%) of our budget on foreign aid (rather than a bit under 2%).

...global warming is a hoax by fat-cat scientists (just like cigarettes causing cancer and the ozone hole).

...that capital gains and estate taxes are very important to their lifetime income (most people make very little in capital gains particularly out of retirement accounts which are tax exempt and the inheritance tax exemption is currently $5.12 million per corpse).

...that the US runs a huge "dole" type problem for the chronically poor (the US pretty much only gives help to people with dependent children, temporarily, or with disabilities).

...that taxes have recently been increasing at a rapid pace (they have been cut, repeatedly, through the bush and obama administrations, more as your income goes up but still some for virtually everyone).

...that the income and wealth distributions in the US are a bit flatter than they actually are in that socialist hell-hole Sweden.


Just straight up anti-facts that lead them to ridiculous conclusions about the world, their lives, how policy ought to change, and who they should vote for.

208:

I wouldn't discount the Nehemiah Scudder effect. The details are different, but Heinlein probably was onto something of the threads that are woven into contemporary American politics. The neo-Puritans in charge of giant easy-to-polarize voting blocks are an unfortunate part of the political landscape. The modern American megachurch is a strange beast, and all of the megachurches to my knowledge lean towards neo-Puritanism (I believe this is something like Puritan 4.0 at this point). The contraception/abortion code phrases seem obviously aimed at the megachurches more so than, say the American Catholic church. Certainly some commenters here are correct that the Catholics are involved, but they are indirect combatants. They are stuck between a rock (competing/fearing the Puritan megachurches) and a hard place (a currently "traditional" Varican administration)…

I'm hoping Scudder doesn't win in 2012, but Heinlein was right that there is a strangely Puritan vein in America that has won some coups in recent decades and has consolidated a surprising amount of power…

209:

"It seems to me that the mandate would appeal to libertarians. It requires that people be financially responsible for their own health care. You are only being deprived of the option of sticking the rest of us with your health care cost."

I and not Mr. Stoddard, but I believe the mainstream libertarian position is not that people should be compelled to buy insurance, but that people without insurance and money should not be allowed to compel anyone to treat them. No one is compelled to do anything. If this increases suffering, that is unfortunate, but not as important as removing government compulsion.

210:

The 2010 IgNobel Management prize was in fact awarded for this very idea.

MANAGEMENT PRIZE: Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo of the University of Catania, Italy, for demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.

REFERENCE: “The Peter Principle Revisited: A Computational Study,” Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo, Physica A, vol. 389, no. 3, February 2010, pp. 467-72.

211:

"...we spend a large fraction (ie 10%) of our budget on foreign aid (rather than a bit under 2%)."

A bit under 2% seems high to me... that'd be $60 billion, and aid used to be $15 billion. I see more recent numbers like $22 billion, and also $53 billion for the whole State Department budget plus military aid...

Funny thing is that if you ask Americans how much we *should* give in aid it would probably an order of magnitude higher, and not so hypocritically directed. But I don't think we have enough structural democracy for foreign policy to have much democratic constraint, not when we get a few votes every few years and domestic policy dominates.

212:

As discussed in an earlier thread, political definitions shift. It's deeply weird, I admit, that Obama's Centrism turns Nixon into a Liberal. But that's the political landscape we have here in the US. That the Overton Window has shifted so far to the right is a lamentable fact but one that I, a currently unemployed peon, can do little to change. We have to work with the politicians the Oligarchs give us, not the ones we wish we had. What do you think this is, a Democracy?

213:

Here's another lovely example of how batshit crazy American politics is.

214:

As far as I can tell, the Democrats are captives of the progressives...

I think your operational definition of progressive is... not the same as mine. A Democratic party that even had a whisper of a progressive stance wouldn't be lowering the corporate tax rate or even consider a new oil pipeline without equal investment in wind and solar.

Just because they repealed DADT doesn't make them progressive. That was a lousy law written by reactionaries and it was well past time for it to go. The Democrats just recognize that Gay civil Rights are an inevitability and have chosen not to stand in the way of that bus, letting the GOP jump in fornt of it instead. But neither are they driving this particular bus either, to carry this metaphor a bit too far. The Dems have been neutral to luke warm on most progressive social issues, letting the courts handle them. A progressive Democratic party would be proposing pro-gay rights and reviving the ERA amendments, drafting legislation to get us off oil and funneling money into scientific research for clean energy. Instead: they're sitting down to discuss a new oil pipeline and letting the GOP write the rules. That's not progressive in the slightest.

215:

Let me quote nobel peace price laureate Al Gore on one of your points:

Help with the mass persuasion campaign that will start this spring. We have to change the minds of the American people. Because presently the politicians do not have permission to do what needs to be done. And in our modern country, the role of logic and reason no longer includes mediating between wealth and power the way it once did. It’s now repetition of short, hot-button, 30-second, 28-second television ads. We have to buy a lot of those ads. Let’s rebrand global warming, as many of you have suggested. I like “climate crisis” instead of “climate collapse,” but again, those of you who are good at branding, I need your help on this."

Emphasis mine. Notice how he tries to imply that he doesn't agree with the way that politics is done without logic and reason. Which is sensible enough and lulls the listeners in a sense of agreement.

But what is he going to do about it? Nothing. In fact, he wants to do just the same. Logic and reason? Not me! Let's do the same! Let's just bombard people with ads until they think they know something. Logic and reason count for nothing.

And to a European observer especially the last sentence is something straight from 1984.

216:

Personally I think you are delusional. Please see Susana Martinez the Governor of NEW MEXICO. She is a crazy authoritarian nut job. Why do people think being of a Spanish derived culture makes someone a progressive by default? That is just stupid. MANY OF THE MOST HARDCORE ANTI-IMMIGRATION PEOPLE ARE OF "HISPANIC" descent.

217:

You may have a point about Romney and looting. IMHO it will be very interesting to see who gets elected to Congress and how they relate to the President. That being said, I think Obama has a lock on the White House for the next four years given two conditions: We don't attack Iran, and the European economy stays reasonably stable.

The joke in our house goes something like this:

"Who won the Republican debate tonight?"

"Obama."

If things get really bad, we'll all be thrilled because (hopefully) we elected someone other than Santorum and/or Paul.

218:

I agree completely. Here's a chart which proves that you are correct:

http://zfacts.com/p/318.html

The sole Democrat who has failed to lower the deficit was Obama, probably because he refused to end the Bush II tax cuts.

219:

Using all caps does not make your point stand out. Given where I am, I see many people of hispanic descent, so I don't know why you quoted it to make it seem less legitimate. And personal attacks are, even in this topic, not something that should be thrown about casually.

In other words, please take a few deep breaths before posting a comment, and try to make sure you've said what you want in the way you want.

220:

"No one is compelled to do anything."

Heinlein popularized the the saying: "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch."

You typify the libertarians I meet. They all want a free lunch. And right now damn it!

Living in society provides benefits and has costs. Any philosophy that doesn't acknowledge that right up front is worthless.

221:

I think you are missing the point of representstive democracy. We don't elect experts to govern, governments hire them. They are called "civil servants". Neither representatives nor voters need be experts. Voting is a way of allowing various interests to be represented. Once upon a time the only interests that counted - that were counted - were male property owners. Now we give everyone a say.

222:

"You typify the libertarians I meet. They all want a free lunch. And right now damn it! "

Please re-read my comment. I described the libertarian position, as neutrally as I could, but I did not advocate it or claim it as my own.

That said, I'm not sure where you get free lunch out of the default lib position - AFAICT, it's faults lie with monomanical focus on preventing govt coercion and damn the consequences, not looking for handouts.

223:

More because he inherited a second Great Depression. Also it's only three years into his first term.

224:

To be fair, depends which Democrats you're talking about. Washington and Maryland state legislatures have just passed gay marriage laws, for example, as California had before them (but vetoed). Some state Democrats are also fighting back against "drug test welfare recipients" with "drug test legislators".

But yeah, overall the Democrats are a party in which one finds progressives, rather than a captive progressive party.

225:

Well, to be fair there's evidence that education doesn't work, once someone's entrenched themself into a hostile position. Educated Republicans are *more* likely to deny global warming.
http://www.alternet.org/teaparty/154252/the_republican_brain:_why_even_educated_conservatives_deny_science_--_and_reality?page=entire
and that doesn't even mention the "exposure to articles supporting X, then recantations of X, just cause supporters of X to dig in deeper".

Interestingly, the article educating liberals makes them more supportive of nuclear power, closer to the scientific consensus, so it's not a symmetric polarization effect.

226:

I don't expect anyone in Britain or Europe to really understand American politics on a fundamental level, just as I would not pretend to understand subtle political context in Britain or elsewhere. It's kind of like when you're in a theater in a foreign country and everybody's laughing but you (or you're laughing and no one else is). There's stuff going on there that you don't understand and is difficult to explain. (Ask me about watching the production "Art" in London sometime.)

Now, having said all of that, I'll try to explain the unexplainable. There is a certain religiosity in America which acts as a touchstone that most people have to reference in order to communicate with the public. For example, the statement "I had to pray on it" is very commonly made by politicians (and many others). What they're actually saying is, "It was a tough isssue, and I had to think deeply," but that's too antiseptic for most Americans. (As an aside, if you said "I had to pray on it" in Britain, people would regard you as insane.)

It's a way of sort of acknowledging the dominant culture and shouldn't be taken literally. It is, however, kind of annoying, and as a person who feels that you should say what you mean, I don't use such euphemisms (and regard them as falsehoods, compounding the problem). But ALSO, as an American--living in the South no less--I understand the mode of communication.

That make sense guys?

227:

Um, do comments usually get "held by the blog owner?" I feel so... controversial!

228:

I don't expect anyone in Britain or Europe to really understand American politics on a fundamental level, just as I would not pretend to understand subtle political context in Britain or elsewhere. It's kind of like when you're in a theater in a foreign country and everybody's laughing but you (or you're laughing and no one else is). There's stuff going on there that you don't understand and is difficult to explain. (Ask me about watching the production "Art" in London sometime.)

Now, having said all of that, I'll try to explain the unexplainable. There is a certain religiosity in America which acts as a touchstone that most people have to reference in order to communicate with the public. For example, the statement "I had to pray on it" is very commonly made by politicians (and many others). What they're actually saying is, "It was a tough isssue, and I had to think deeply," but that's too antiseptic for most Americans. (As an aside, if you said "I had to pray on it" in Britain, people would regard you as insane.)

It's a way of sort of acknowledging the dominant culture and shouldn't be taken literally. It is, however, kind of annoying, and as a person who feels that you should say what you mean, I don't use such euphemisms (and regard them as falsehoods, compounding the problem). But ALSO, as an American--living in the South no less--I understand the mode of communication.

229:

"You see, the US was never really all that unified. We had two countries..." In Seed of Albion, David Hackett Fischer claims there were four to begin with.

A case could be made that New York State was three countries; it has three major dialects of English even now.

230:

Put anarchists in Congress, and within a month or two most of them will be voting for earmarks. And otherwise acting like politicians.

231:

If you had the audacity to include two URLs or links in your post, or one of a secret list of words, this is indeed the usual procedure.

232:

"FYI, Voters can select a straight party ticket or split their votes. Pulling the straight ticket 'R' lever registers a vote for many GOP candidates they may not have heard of."

Depends on the state, as so many things about US election procedure do.

Minnesota currently uses paper ballots, which don't have party levers. And various state, county, local, and special district offices are offially nonpartisan.

233:

In fairness, it's not really that people are stupid. It's that people are distracted. People have the TV news on while the kids are fighting and the dogs are barking and Dad's surfing the net. They're multitasking, and only very simple ideas repeated many times penetrate the din.

234:

We have paper ballots and straight ticket is an option. You can make one mark for a party, covering all of the partisan races. You can ignore the nonpartisan races or mark them individually if you really care about the county Drain Commissioner, judges or state university regents.

235:

Probably the Republicans are happy to have had Newt Gingrich (the pig) and Rick Santorum (the zombie sheep) froth all over the airwaves, thus making Romney look normal and reasonable by comparison; when Romney is nominated, moderate Republicans and the TV talking heads (is there a difference?) will draw a sigh of relief and not press him too hard.

When you are chastised with whips, you can be glad you aren't being chastised with scorpions.

236:

On the subject of attacking Iran, note this article in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/25/world/middleeast/us-agencies-see-no-move-by-iran-to-build-a-bomb.html

The money quote goes as follows: "...American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb."

Experts Say Iran Attack Is Irrational, Yet Hawks Are Winning the Debate
by Peter Beinart Feb 21, 2012 4:45 AM EST
From the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the head of Mossad, the experts are speaking out against attacking Iran over its nuclear program, but hawks like the GOP presidential candidates are drowning out the warnings.

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The debate over whether Israel should attack Iran rests on three basic questions. First, if Iran’s leaders got the bomb, would they use it or give it to people who might? Second, would a strike substantially retard Iran’s nuclear program? Third, if Israel attacks, what will Iran do in response?

The vast majority of people opining on these questions—myself very much included—lack the expertise to answer. We’ve never directed a bombing campaign; we have no secret sources in Tehran; we don’t spend our days studying the Iranian regime. So essentially, we decide which experts to trust.

You might also note this quote from The Daily Beast:

"As it happens, both the American and Israeli governments boast military and intelligence agencies charged with answering exactly these sorts of questions. And with striking consistency, the people who run, or ran, those agencies are warning—loudly—against an attack."

In other words, war with Iran is not nearly a done deal.

237:

Sorry for the weird copy-and-paste in the post above. Here is the URL for the Daily Beast article:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/02/21/experts-say-iraq-attack-is-irrational-yet-hawks-are-winning-the-debate.html

238:

You say, "It seems to me that the mandate would appeal to libertarians. It requires that people be financially responsible for their own health care. You are only being deprived of the option of sticking the rest of us with your health care cost."

No, absolutely not. It's a classic example of what an Inuit man told an anthropologists (Peter Freuchen, I believe): "With gifts you make slaves, as with whips you make dogs." First you offer people the benefit of assured health care that they don't have to pay for. Then you turn around and say, Oops, you're using too much health care, we have to force you to buy health insurance whether you want it or not, and whether you can afford it or not. A perfect combination of bait and trap, much like the methods some pedophiles use to persuade their victims to cooperate.

From my personal libertarian point of view, if you want me to be financially responsible for my own health care, don't pay for it, and don't subsidize it—the single change in American health care policy I most strongly support is to make all health care benefits from employers fully taxable, just as my income (as a self-employed person) is fully taxable before I spend it on medical services. Then I'll pay for health care, or take out insurance (preferably catastrophic only), or turn to voluntary charity for help, or go without. But if you (the assumed collective "you") choose to give me health care free, I may take it, as the gift you present it as being, and I don't think that that creates any legitimate obligation in me: If you call it a gift and don't get my consent to pay in advance, I haven't consented to pay. I certainly will not vote for such "gifts."

Back in the days after the Civil War (the American one), one of the southern states—Louisiana, I believe—passed a law saying that every man of color was legally required to have a white man as employer; no one of color was permitted to be self-employed or unemployed. That was one of the things the Fourteenth Amendment was passed to prevent, on the ground that a legally imposed requirement to enter into a specified type of private transaction with some private party belonging to some particular class was legally equivalent to slavery. And no such compulsions were imposed by American law subsequently, until now. As a libertarian, I'm totally opposed to resuming the practice.

Don't want me to stick you with my health care costs? Don't pay for them. I'll pay my own medical expenses, as I do now, and if I can't afford to, I'll suffer or die, as all of us must sooner or later.

And of course there are difficult secondary issues of compensatory justice, for those of us who have paid into Medicare for decades. But they should not be allowed to override the fundamental ethical requirement of informed and uncoerced consent, both for medical procedures and for the financial arrangements that support them.

239:

Re: Latino attitudes on immigration policy.

A poll says:
"A majority (53 percent) of Latino registered voters said they personally know an undocumented immigrant, and one-quarter (25 percent) said they know someone who has been deported or is facing deportation proceedings....Fifty-one percent of Latino voters consider the issue of immigration, including comprehensive reform and the DREAM Act, to be the most important issue currently facing the community....All categories of Latino registered voters, including independents and Republicans, said they support immigration reform, in numbers ranging from 66 percent to 80 percent depending on the subgroup."

Source: http://newamericamedia.org/2011/06/poll-for-latinos-immigration-is-personal.php

So yes, this is one of the major ways the Republicans are killing their general election and long-term prospects in order to win primaries.

The problem below that: Republicans are based in just one subculture. This subculture was almost exactly 50% of the voters in 2000....it is not inevitably 50% forever. They may get non-subculture votes in some circumstances, e.g. the depths of a recession which is typically blamed on the incumbent party. Not in others.

240:

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink." George Orwell
The thing to remember is that the GOP had turned into a joke. Then there was LBJ's Democratic Civil Rights Bill. All the KKK states ran to a welcoming Republican party. They used old time media smears and wedges to win at any cost. Literally the only thing they really care about is making the rich, richer. And the simplest way of doing that pass laws that let them steal from every one else. Including selling their jobs. All the rest is just cover keep people from thinking about what's happening. Take a poll, blame the people most want to blame.
"Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it" .~Adolph Hitler

241:

"As it happens, both the American and Israeli governments boast military and intelligence agencies charged with answering exactly these sorts of questions. And with striking consistency, the people who run, or ran, those agencies are warning—loudly—against an attack."

Could be disinformation.

242:

"However, what is now a fact is that the USA is incapable of invading and occupying Iran. That time has passed."

The USA is certainly still capable of bombing Iran at will and pretty much without any credible defense against them. This seems to be the new strategy: take out pin-point targets from the air, remove the logistical and mechanical capabilities of any armies and let the people on the ground fight it out with hand weapons.

As a response to the pretty disastrous (in terms of public opinion at home, if nothing else) outcome of boots-on-the-ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, it's pretty ingenious. Aerial attack seems to be being refined into a tool that can remove an unpleasant regime without too much collateral damage on civilians to spoil the front pages.

Whether it will work to remove the military power of a state without a more-or-less organized opposition waiting to take up arms and take over government is an interesting question.

Interesting to contemplate the logical evolution of this idea: unmanned assassin drones that can fly into a territory, pinpoint and eliminate the critical people or infrastructure, whilst leaving the vast majority of the population untouched. Politics in an era where such capabilities are commonplace would be ... interesting.

243:

It's not actually a new strategy, except we can now do it with higher degrees of precision - since von Clauswitz wars have been about destroying their capacity to produce the tools to fight you combined with boots on the ground.

The only real difference is the assumption (realistic or otherwise) that your ability to destroy infrastructure doesn't have to be married to your ground troops, it can rely on local rebels/freedom fighters.

I think we have yet to see this proven. It worked in Libya - kind of. But actually there was a popular revolution on the ground already, that was then supported with air attacks, not air attacks that enabled a revolution. And there were definitely boots on the ground, if not in large numbers. Advisors and coordinators or whatever they were called, were still SAS troopers and the like. It might work in Syria, if anyone decides to piss off Russia and China - but again there's a popular rebellion in progress. Although it currently all seems to be focussed around Homs, there's been enough recent activity there's a real chance it would all flare up if the government forces were suddenly missing tanks, artillery and air support and the means to renew it.

You'd have to be pretty sure that there was a lot of support waiting for the chance to trust to it in a country not already in revolution/civil war I think. I'm sure there are potential revolutionaries in Iran, but enough and organised enough? Plus, of course, you're probably still risking warships. The 2000 attack on the USS Cole with a suicide RIB suggests it's not an entirely safe option.

244:

241 (Bankruptcy Records 10:09 25/2)) appears to be spam.

245:

If unmanned attack drones were to kill the President of the USA tomorrow, every US Senator, every congressperson, the entire Cabinet and all senioe officials reporting directly to them, the Supreme Court, the governor and deputy governor of every state, every military officer of 2 star rank and above, and also destroy their buildings they were in and kill everyone else close to them, what would happen?

- How many states would secede from the Union?
- Who would take over local government?
- Who would take over national government?
- Would troops return to their homes, or would they mobilise even without the generals to give the orders?
- Would the USA surrender?
- Would the USA fight back?

Now ask the same question about Iran. Why should they be any different?

Iran is not Iraq, just as the USA is not Napoleonic France. Knocking out the centre does is unlike to disable the country so much as annoy it a lot.

It would be nice to think that a majority of Iranians would prefer a Euro-American style representative democracy to the system they have now. It might even be true. But if the Americans bomb them to shit the number on that side will fall and the number on the other side will rise.

Anyway, crudely, George Bush II (or his handlers) believed that attacking Iraq would get him more votes in the USA. So America attacked Iraq, without provocation, to try to boost the Republican vote. We all know how that turned out. Partly because of that, no-one is now deluded enough to think that attacking Iran is a vote-winner. So how likely is it that Obama, or anyone else important enough to make it happen, would shoot themselves in the electoral foot.


The logic of the invasion of Iraq was roughly:

a) Some Arabs killed a lot of Americans
b) Some Americans wanted revenge
c) But the Arabs who did it were either already dead or in hiding
d) So the US government went after the largest Arab state it thought it could destroy easily, hoping that the voters wouldn't notice that, though the Ba'thists were guilty as hell of other crimes, they had nothing to do with this one.

And as for Iran, though it was never popular to say so in the USA, back in 2000/2001 the Iranian military was actively operating against the Taliban and Al Qaida. They lost men fighting them before we and the Americans ever did. In that war, believe it or not, they were on our side. But we threw it all away by invading Iraq. One side effect of that was giving Iran their airforce back. And the Iranians had the wonderful luxury of the moral high ground of public opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while seeing the Americans and the British trash their enemies in each country and out their friends in power.

We always knew the invasion of Iraq was *immoral* but with every year that passes it comes to look *stupider* as well.

Its really hard to imagine an even marginally sane American government trying to invade Iran at this time.

246:

>>>>If unmanned attack drones were to kill the President of the USA tomorrow, every US Senator, every congressperson, the entire Cabinet and all senioe officials reporting directly to them, the Supreme Court, the governor and deputy governor of every state, every military officer of 2 star rank and above, and also destroy their buildings they were in and kill everyone else close to them, what would happen?

It is much easier to attack infrastructure than leaders (who are very well protected and can hide). Will Iran (or USA) survive without bridges, tunnels, power-plants, power-lines, pumping stations...?

247:

After you've bombed all the bridges, tunnels, power plants, pumping stations etc, will you then end up in the Hague for genocide due to the deaths resulting from your systematic destruction of modern infrastructure required to keep civilians alive and disease free?
Ideally perhaps. But then it depends on who has the power to drag you there.

248:
So America attacked Iraq, without provocation, to try to boost the Republican vote. We all know how that turned out.

Bush got a second term?

249:

So you prefer said civilians to die in a nuclear war? Well, it may be fun to watch from another continent, but I'm living in Israel and not particularly thrilled.

250:

"The USA is certainly still capable of bombing Iran at will and pretty much without any credible defense against them."

The only defence is cutting off 20% of the world's oil, forcing a civil war and overt Shia takeover in Iraq and massively supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

251:

I am waiting for the time when unmanned drones will be employed by organized crime in the US.

They are very good assasination tools and not too expensive. Would be very useful in, say, current drug war in Mexico.

PS. The thing which Charlie bought, how many grams of explosives can it carry?

252:

Or a stranglebot that fits through a letterbox at night

253:

Thank you from saving me a lot of trouble writing the same thing :).

The current Republican party reminds me quite a lot of the Southern fire-eaters that started the Civil War (an historical irony given how it was the election of a Republican president that triggered secession). Many of the issues are still the same, such as opposition to universal public education, opposition to taxes, and opposition to internal improvements. The one twist I see is that current Republicans seem to most define themselves in opposition to liberals, and so will pick positions solely to annoy/spite liberals. This will even lead them to rejecting policy they themselves proposed. The big example there is the big health care bill that is very similar to the one Romney passed as governor and is ultimately based on a Heritage Foundation proposal. Would've been nice for Heritage to notice that their idea was unconstitutional some time before Obama signed it into law...

254:

I assume libertarians also oppose tax funded schooling? ie you can't pay your kids don't get educated?

255:

If memory serves, that awful Paul man was asked this very question and said that you should just "homeschool" your child, if you can't afford private school.

I use the inverted commas advisedly.

256:

Great straw man there. I feel that deviating onto Israel will take this thread in directions our good host would be unhappy with, but there are more possible outcomes than Iran getting the bomb and nnuking Israel first chance it has.

257:

At least some of them.

I think it's one of the ones who has fallen by the wayside, but "I plan to devolve 3 departments from government, the economy, education and... what's the third one" is a quote from this year's primaries.

And, for those of us in the UK, BBC Radio 4 is doing a show about it on Monday night (8pm I think). Analysis will be looking at the Republican primaries.

258:

"Aerial attack seems to be being refined into a tool that can remove an unpleasant regime without too much collateral damage on civilians to spoil the front pages."

So far, it's been rather mixed:

Iraq - ground attack still needed; end result was local chaos, with the US backing the least-objectionable faction.

Afghanistan - ground attack still needed; end result was 10 years of failed ground war; US will *try* to back the least-objectionable faction, which probably won't work.

Libya - assisting a war in progress, optimal geographic situation. End result - probably OK

Iran - government with strong local support, and a tradition of not liking the US f*cking with it.

259:

"So you prefer said civilians to die in a nuclear war? Well, it may be fun to watch from another continent, but I'm living in Israel and not particularly thrilled."


Charlie, any chance that you could give this guy a yellow card?

He's accused everybody here who doesn't want a war with Iran of wanting the destruction of Israel.

This is against both civility and even low levels of honest logic.

260:

Didn't Great Britain invent strafing (shooting people on the ground, from airplanes) while they failed to conquer Afghanistan? What can we learn from that, now that a pharmacist / software start-yup / science fiction author can purchase and use a radio controlled flying webcam?

261:

@ 258
He MAY have been calling for the destruction of the Iranian guvmint - a diferent thing, methinks (?)

262:

> Minnesota currently uses paper
> ballots, which don't have party
> levers.

30-odd years ago when I first voted, Arkansas had the big "slot machine" voting machines with levers. How they were configured depended on the type of election. For Presidental elections, they were set up to vote a straight ticket - whoever you pulled the lever for for President, everything else automatically defaulted to that party.

Later we went to paper ballots - 8-1/2x11 cardboard, with big boxes to color in with big felt tip markers. The cards went into a box, and which was periodically dumped and sorted by groups of little old ladies sitting nearby. As a former IT security geek, I thoroughly approve of that system...

Now we have Diebold electronic voting machines. They're clumsy and slow, we get no receipt, and as far as I can tell, there's no paper trail anywhere. Plus I've had an "election official" staring over my shoulder "to help me with the machine" each time I've used it. So much for the secret ballot... though since I have no real belief that my vote is actually tallied anyway, I haven't bothered to complain. Like most American voters, I've lost faith in the entire system, and I'm just going through the motions, like a rat pressing at the food bar long after the kibble hopper has run out of rat chow.

263:

This is why there will be no (overt) attack on Iran. That country's nuclear programme is too deeply dug in to be attacked as Saddam's Osirak project was in 1981.

Therefore, the only alternative is a decapitation of the Iranian regime via an unprovoked nuclear strike on one or more of Iran's centres of populations.

This would amount to genocide, and I don't see the current Israeli government, for all its sins, stooping to that level.

The current Iranian regime should be destroyed, but the only people who can do it are the Iranians themselves.

264:

Jay,

Well, you know, my point was to keep the message succinct enough for the multi-taskers out there. A more thorough treatment would involve two of my favorite delusions. I'm not much of a Nietzsche fan. In fact, I'm convinced that he started suffering from softening of the brain long before he started writing. But I do think he got one thing on the money, which, can't remember the exact quote, but paraphrased was "It will take a thousand years before we realize the full impact of the printing press", or something like that. And so:

1) After 10,000 years we may finally be understanding the impact of the Neolithic cultural package. It's more than just land parcels, and animal husbandry, and timber-framed rectangular houses, it's also governance. Aside from realizing things like limits to growth and sustainability, we also are maybe getting a handle on social groups beyond the extended family. Point being, before I stray too far, you are right, we have a limited attention span which is not a sustainable ecology. As such, we've to be most careful as to where to expend this resource, and which information sources we draw from, which gets me to point 2...

2) What I call Platonic Derangement Syndrome. And pity that this acronym is in use, but hey, sky objects quickly used up the pantheon of godly names, why should human weaknesses be any different? So, PDS involves basically terminally augmented reality, but without the futuristic rose-colored google goggles - instead using the existing cortex-kluge of what Kahneman calls Systems 1 and 2, the reflexive and reflective. We so often, whether ye be listing starboard or larboard in your ideology, are fucked from the get-go because our little platonic axioms as to how the world should really work. And then reality inconveniently (or fortunately?) steps in for a course correction. Point being, (again, sorry, I ramble), we misinterpret basic sensory data as, mandates, agendas, signs and portents from above, resulting in liberal cornucopia, or Randian objectives, or conservative stringencies, or whichever contrivance or who-haw animal you wish to construct...

Oh dear,...to summarize, it's kluges all the way down.

265:

...current Republican party...such as opposition to universal public education...

Interesting how each side can blow up minor points held by minority groups into a belief that it is a foundational position of the other side.

266:

Ignorance of Global Warming and of Evolution by Natural Selection.
Attachment to bad theology (Santorum agreeing with the Grand Ayatollah of Iran that Satan is running the USA).
Aversion to reproductive freedom for women (even though Newt has twice as many ex-wives as the first 44 US Presidents combined, and Mrs. Santorum had an abortion to save her life).
Yup, sounds like three solid planks in the party's platform.

As Richard Kent Matthews reminded me:
In the contemporary Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist traditions, the three "kleshas" of ignorance, attachment, and aversion are identified as the root or source of all other kleshas (mind poisons). Sounds like the heart of the Republican primary process...

267:

Later we went to paper ballots - 8-1/2x11 cardboard, with big boxes to color in with big felt tip markers. The cards went into a box, and which was periodically dumped and sorted by groups of little old ladies sitting nearby. As a former IT security geek, I thoroughly approve of that system...

Now we have Diebold electronic voting machines. They're clumsy and slow, we get no receipt, and as far as I can tell, there's no paper trail anywhere.

Interestingly when the subject of electronic or internet voting comes up in the US the biggest opponents of it tend to be folks with backgrounds in "serious" IT development of some kind.

As for me, I'm against it. I like our, where I live, mark with a felt marker and put into the op scan machine. Manual recounts are easy with about the only hassle when someone just gets strange with a ballot on purpose.

268:

Actually strafing was carried out in WW1, i.e. before the British pioneered the use of air power to deal with recalcitrant tribes in the empire. Even better, the mission in Iraq actually tended to drop warning letters first time round, to give people time to evacuate before they bombed the empty houses. MOreover the people bombed tended to be the ones against whichever central power it was that Britain supported, so you could argue they were performing police duties rather than murdering civilians.

Unfortunately in the UK, we are following the US voter supression methods, with total cross party support. I can't find anything about whether it passed or not, but assumed it did. The idea was to require ID when you register. The reasons for such changes were given as fraud, despite there being no recorded fraud in voting except for postal voting which wouldn't relaly be affected by the proposals. (Our good friends ACPO were involved in the lobbying for legislation...) It seems likely to cause a reduction in registration for voting.

269:

"And as for Iran, though it was never popular to say so in the USA, back in 2000/2001 the Iranian military was actively operating against the Taliban and Al Qaida."


Found your comment above a bit hard to believe so looked up some headlines ... which left me scratching my head.

http://worldpress.org/specials/pp/taliban_timeline.htm

Here's my head-scratching reaction ...

After a disaster/tragedy, the normal reaction is for people to ask Why/how did X happen? Since the worldpress Taliban articles/timeline were widely available, this info should have been referred to - at length and frequently - if only because it would cost networks less than paying reporters to find fresh information/news.

Also, if the worldpress articles/timelines had been used, the perception of Iran would have shifted: because Iran had already been fighting the Taliban, it should follow that Iran weren't such bad guys after all (enemy of my enemy, and so forth).

Yet this sequence of events, i.e., reporting/awareness building -> attitude shift, never happened - Iran continued to be perceived as an enemy.

Why?

--


Based on the above, I checked whether ignoring politically unpleasant information only occurred at the general public level. Apparently not.


Excerpt from Wiki:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cofer_Black

Black was "... director of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center (CTC).[4] In this capacity, Black served as the CIA Director's Special Assistant for Counterterrorism as well as the National Intelligence Officer for Counterterrorism.[5] Black's promotion was a part of Tenet's "grand plan" for dealing with al-Qaeda. Black was the operational chief in charge of this effort. Tenet also put "Richard", one of his own assistants, in charge of the CTC's bin Laden tracking unit. Black still headed the CTC at the time of the attacks of September 11, 2001."

"During the summer of 2001, Tenet, Black, and one of Black's top assistants, "Rich B" (i.e. "Richard"), were active in advertising the dangers of al-Qaeda to the new Bush administration. At a meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others on July 10, "Rich" predicted a "spectacular" terrorist attack against US interests "in the coming weeks or months" ... "Multiple and simultaneous attacks are possible". After the meeting, "Rich and Cofer congratulated each other", feeling that at last the CIA had gotten the full attention of the administration. At an internal CIA update in late July, "Rich" dramatically predicted, "They're coming here!" (i.e. the USA).[13]"


Considering that Bush1 had once been a CIA director, Bush2 should have been even more inclined to listen to the CIA .. yet he didn't.(Interestingly, Tom Clancy, a right-wing NYT best-selling author blamed the left-wing politicos for gutting the CIA - this was after 9/11, therefore after the Bush2 administration ignored the CIA briefing.)

I accept your hypothesis that stupidity <=> immorality, and would like to add: stupidity is driven primarily by confusion. (A few advertising/marketing brand studies have shown the confusion -> poor decision/indecision relationship.)

Ken:
Another poster is using a very similar username to mine, in case you want to reply to my post.

Regards,
SFreader

270:

Hmm ... the equal sign didn't print ...

I accept your hypothesis that stupidity <--> immorality, and would like to add: stupidity is driven primarily by confusion. (A few advertising/marketing brand studies have shown the confusion -> poor decision/indecision relationship.)

[[ Moderator: use '&lt;' instead of '<' in comments. I've fixed it in these ]]

271:

One more time ...

"I accept your hypothesis that:

stupidity [equals] immorality

... and would like to add: stupidity is driven primarily by confusion. (A few advertising/marketing brand studies have shown the confusion -> poor decision/indecision relationship.)

272:

"First you offer people the benefit of assured health care that they don't have to pay for. Then you turn around and say, Oops, you're using too much health care, we have to force you to buy health insurance whether you want it or not, and whether you can afford it or not. A perfect combination of bait and trap, much like the methods some pedophiles use to persuade their victims to cooperate."

Bill, you just compared socialized medicine to raping children on a left leaning UK author's blog.

Regardless of other issues, do you think this action would in any way increase the acceptance or credibility of your political philosophy?

273:

Aaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh!

Sorry, Mike. You just described the Democratic Party.

I hate it when my countrymen stick their heads in the ground like this. Drives me seriously nuts. There ... is ... not ... a ... plague ... on ... both ... houses. And it a bad sign for the body politic that so many people (including, it seems, far too many journalists) that people have managed to convince themselves of something that is simply not true, probably because is makes them feel like they're being fair and superior.

Ni modo.

274:

if you noticed after the attack on Iraq, where such facilities were soundly blasted the responsible parties didnt get to visit the Hague
unless they went there to press charges against the Iraqui's for building easily destroyed sewage plants

275:

I meant the IRANIAN civilians, actually. Of course, come nuclear war between Iran and Israel, both sides will suffer. Though I have more faith is Israeli missile defence than in Iran's

276:

There are always many possible outcomes (unless you just went through the event horizon of a black hole, I guess). It doesn't mean you can just sit and hope your preferred outcome is what's gonna happen,

277:

Funny thing about electronic voting machines. Long after the voting ended two groups did a precinct by precinct recount. The thing to remember is that there are exit polls asking who won. They have always been right. Till the coming of electronic voting machines. A recount found that if the poll said Bush won the voting machines said he won. If the exit poll said the Democrat won the voting machine said Bush won many times. As I remember it happened every time. There was just a little wonder about this in some News Papers. There was a huge push to use electronic voting machines. Now I know why. Will next time be different? It worked the way it was suppose to. Our R/W Supreme Court stopped the count when it looked like Gore was going to win, till a dead line passed. A recount showed he would have won.

278:

It's not an exact parallel but Sheri Tepper's "The Fresco" has some similarities. It used a ton of nanotech to accomplish but it gave ideas for rational interactions.

279:

> Considering that Bush1 had once been
> a CIA director, Bush2 should have
> been even more inclined to listen to
> the CIA .. yet he didn't.

Hmm? With that, plus the CIA's many publicized blunders, I can't fault him for discounting their reports.

Also, the CIA is only one of the intelligence services available to the President of the USA. He's briefed every morning by the NSA, CIA, and DIA, and each of a half-dozen other agencies has reports available should he ask for other opinions. These reports represent the opinions and best guesses of each agency, and they seldom have the same slant or emphasis.

It's kind of like the old saying, "a man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with three is never sure."

280:

"it's kluges all the way down."

Maybe a better way to put it is, "it's memes all the way down." You can't do analysis on everything. The trick is to know when your shortcuts have led you astray and the issue is important enough to do analysis.

To go back to Charlie's question about what's with the Rebublicans, you need a baseline of what politics is about and what's happened to them. I think eloise has it about right @156, although she doesn't like it.
"Do I ...vote for the best-match optimistically? Do I vote...pessimistically for the least-bad?" That's "normal" politics.

The "genius of the founding fathers" was to create a political system with "checks and balances" etc. where it's pretty hard to do anything without a fair amount of consensus. Without benefit of game theory, they created a system where it's worth cooperating. They coined a bunch of memes based on "natural rights" that appealed to lots of people, and the idea that if you play by the rules, you too can win.
I put some stuff @152 that talked about political parties. Some of the memes have always conflicted (we fought a civil war whether equality meant that no one should be slave), and now some don't seem to work.

The system is "unfair"; not everybody can become a millionaire, not everybody is above average. People have never been very good at understanding the workings of really complex systems, so as Kahnemann suggests, you substitute an easier problem and solve it. It must be a plot by... (fill in your favorite villain). We just need to ...fill in: (morally reform, punish, kill off) the bad guys.

(This is getting too long and I'm running out of steam, so I'll try more on the Republicans later. I'm not sure how you create new memes, but calling people stupid, crazy, or evil is unlikely to persuade them that you have better one)

281:

Agreed that it's only one of several agencies that provide reports.

However, as per the wiki article, since it was the only agency charged with the specific task of keeping an eye on al-Qaeda, therefore its reports should have been assigned greater merit than say those of the DIA regarding a possible al-Qaeda threat. (Just like I would expect the DIA to have more accurate traditional military info such as tanks, subs, etc.)

Basically, I'm asking: Why set up a special task force and then ignore its advice?

282:

"The sole Democrat who has failed to lower the deficit was Obama, probably because he refused to end the Bush II tax cuts."

And was/is dealing with a major economic crash.

283:

@ 280
OK but what happens when a set or sub-set of a major political grouping decides that they WON'T play by the rules &/or accept compromise of any sort?
As the Tea Party/christian right appear to be doing, now?
Remids me as an outsider of a previous occsion, about 1861
NOT good.
Comments?

284:

@283 "WON'T play by the rules &/or accept compromise of any sort?"

That's what it reminds me of too, though there is also 1929. We came out of that, depending on your point of view, with a long slide into statism and socialism, or with capitalism reined in and saved from itself. We didn't end with civil war that time.

When you look at who won recent presidential elections and people still like, (even though they have done some really stupid stuff) you've got Ron Reagan, Bill Clinton and maybe Obama. My guess is that optimistic memes tend to trump pessimistic ones, and that Obama wins (with caveats about Syria, Iran, European collapse etc).

He will still have to deal with non-cooperation, but their position of being against everything, has begun to shift. If they lose too big, that might make then stop playing by the rules entirely.

285:

Fact is that the R/W said there was no terrorism. It was all a plot by the lying left wing to cover their taking power to rule America. Our Bill had a group tracking and trying to kill OBL. Bush was taking it apart when 9-11 happened. All and I mean all the Far Right said OBL was just a camel jockey and could not be a problem to the only super power. Now the right has done every thing they said the left was trying to do and more.

286:

"Norm Ornstein and others have long been concerned about the US government’s poor record at planning for the continuity of government in case of disaster, terrorist or otherwise.

"So, we probably shouldn’t poke too much fun at Wyoming’s recent efforts to think ahead in the event of the apocalypse. (After all, both the Mayans and the GOP candidates in their Arizona debate have warned that it is nigh.)

"Still, it is intriguing to read that in case the United States disintegrate, Wyoming hopes to acquire an aircraft carrier. And, presumably aircraft. And, presumably, a coastline…"
http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2012/02/26/just-in-case/

287:

Several commentators have said that the brouhaha about contraception is the Republican party's biggest mistake since the Schiavo case, so one might remember that Santorum was involved in that, too.

And he may have been, up to a point, right about Schiavo. Since the Schiavo case the science of Vegetative States has moved on quite a bit, and we're able to us fMRI to communicate with quite a few people diagnosed as being in VS. Which was a pretty ropey concept even before that, given the number of people diagnosed as being in PVS who were later able to establish communication.

Which is not to say that Santorum's opposition to terminating Schiavo's life wasn't founded on outmoded theologies, or inefficient in terms of medical resources, or hypocritical in that he wasn't proposing to introduce a medical insurance scheme that would enable families to pay for indefinite care, or a number of other things: but it is to say that he was quite possibly right when he said that he thought Schiavo was conscious. Which practically everybody on the left said was impossible, because VS by definition meant that you couldn't be conscious. An issue covered more fully here:
http://home.vicnet.net.au/~borth/Neurorehabpvs.html

I'm actually writing an article now on how PVS and Schiavo became so integral a part of the progressive mindset, which means that I'd be very interested indeed in knowing whether there's anybody out there in Charlieland who've changed their minds since the Owen experiments and fMRI tennis.

Oh, and saying Santorum may have been right on that one point does not mean, and should not be interpreted as saying, that he would be anything other than a hideously bad president even compared with the other possible candidates. What's interesting is how a fuckwit like him could be more accurate in this one area than sensible people like us.

288:

If "opposition" is too much of an exaggeration, how about "hostility"? Because I sure see a lot of that, especially regarding the "public" part. Here are comments by two GOP aspiring presidential candidates:

Rick Santorum:

"We didn't have government-run schools for a long time in this country, for the majority of the time in this country," [Santorum] said. "We had private education. We had local education. Parents actually controlled the education of their children. What a great idea that is."

Ron Paul:
(cached)

"Congressman Paul wants parents to have the freedom to choose the best educational options for their children, and his commitment to ensuring homeschooling remains a practical alternative for American families is unmatched by any other Presidential candidate."

I'd also note that an energized enough minority can do a lot to push events along. I referenced the Fire-eaters, and their candidate in 1860 only had 18% of the popular vote. Didn't stop them from seceding.

289:

Well, I have been wondering what planet Anatoly was posting from, and now I guess we know.

Anatoly: given that Israel is the 500lb nuclear-armed gorilla in the middle east right now, I think it very unlikely that, Ahmedinejad's posturing aside (which is in any case aimed at motivating his domestic base and has no serious international relations standing insofar as he isn't the Iranian head of state) there is about zero chance that the Iranian government will decide to give Benny Netenyahu an excuse to turn Tehran into a glowing hole in the map. Because that's what would happen. Iran: 1-2 atom bombs. Israel: up to 200 H-bombs. Even religious crazies understand mutually assured destruction. If anything, I think an Iranian A-bomb would be good for the region. Certainly it'd focus a few minds ...

290:

You are thinking of Winston Churchill's policy in Iraq in the 1920s, of policing with bombers ... using mustard gas bombs on villagers who were late paying their taxes.

Great humanitarian, that Winnie.

292:

Poison gas was seriously considered as an option for colonial policing (how's that for the civilising mission) but you're right that it was never actually used. Charlie is also equally correct in his allusion to the use of policing with air power:

"During the Egyptian unrest of 1919, and again in
1921, planes of the Royal Air Force helped maintain internal security in rural
and urban areas. Aircraft delivered mail, relieved remote garrisons, patrolled
railway lines, and dropped proclamations. They were also used to bomb and
strafe groups of bedouin and break up concentrations of people in the Delta
area in March 1919."

Quote from:

‘A Swift Agent of Government’: Air Power in British Colonial Africa, 1916–1939*
David Killingray

The Journal of African History (1984), 25 : pp 429-444

293:

In Canada, Winston Churchill generally still has good press. However, people remember his decision to send two Canadian battalions of reserve troops (the The Winnipeg Grenadiers and The Royal Rifles of Canada) to Hong Kong, where they got to spend 3.5 years as 'guests' of the Japanese government after the fall of Hong Kong.

294:

"I'm not sure how you create new memes, but calling people stupid, crazy, or evil is unlikely to persuade them that you have better one".

Oh... dear. And here after I talked about platonic derangement. I know it's futile to complain about it, but the meme delusion is a personal irritation of mine, kind of like seeing someone give up on Xtianity but then watching them run straight into the arms of New Age hoodoo.

Stupidity, on the other hand, is unlike a meme, not only extremely well defined (as in more than just some game-show category, but rather, as rich as a 3D color spindle, with exquisitely precise and subtle descriptions of the tone, value, saturation and hue of the stupid), but also consistently, reliably, and repeatedly empirically verifiable.

Which is to say, you might as well have told me that it's all "invisible unicorns shitting donuts. The horns explain the holes". Continuing the baked-goods analogy, proffering up stale pastries with a sell-by date of 1976 is hardly giving me any confidence in the rest of your argument. Especially the part about swaying calcified mindsets who, through the very definition of word conservative, are unwilling or unable to change.

But that's just me. Carry, by all means, please.

295:

Related to your comments on politics, Charlie, have you seen this? (Don't want to say too much for fear of spoiling it.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w833cAs9EN0

296:

Yup. That's what gave me the sneaking suspicion ...

Actually, "we've been had, all of us, by a bunch of pranksters and situation artists pretending to be politicians and lobbyists" would be a great explanation for the past 20 years, wouldn't it?

297:

If only it was a prank.
Meanwhile my MP has been arrested for assaulting some other MP's (at least 2 of them Tories) in the HoC. I can understand the urge to assault them, but he really should be able to control such urges. Except he was allegedly drunk at the time.

298:

"Reminds me as an outsider of a previous occasion, about 1861
NOT good.
Comments?"

Well, @284 I worried that if "they" lost too badly, they might want to leave. On second thought, why not let them?
I don't want to look up the cites, but I distinctly remember that the blue states subsidize the red ones economically, that the blue states produce the most innovation, and that, if measured by the rates of divorce, are more moral.

Oh wait. That won't work. "They" want to tell us how to run our lives. They won't leave.


299:

Charlie,

Glad you've survived your travels. Sounds like you had a rough time. I'm going to go off the topic of most comments (except to say that I hope Rick Santorum gets the Republican nomination, because surely he's just too batshit to be electable).

Instead, I'm going to channel my inner policy-wonk-meets-consumer-rights-campaigner for a bit.

You almost certainly know about the EU's air passenger rights rules, under which airlines have a defined duty of care if you take off and/or land at an EU airport. Given your 8-hour delay, you should have been spontaneously offered appropriate refreshments, some means of communication at the airline's expense, and perhaps accommodation.

But it may go further: you may be able to get compensation.

TL:DR version

I suffered a significant delay last month that left me badly out of pocket (and very angry at my shoddy treatment by the airline). In the course of writing to the company to ask for reimbursement, I have discovered that I may in fact be entitled to compensation. The regulation makes a distinction between passengers who are delayed (sandwiches and drinks) and those whose flights are cancelled (compensation). But the legislation has been tested in court, and the distinction overturned. It's not very widely publicised. In my case, I'm expecting to receive €250 in compensation.

Following the European Court of Justice’s interpretation of Regulation No 261/2004 (Sturgeon and Böck, Joined Cases C-402/07 and C-432/07), the legislation must be interpreted as meaning that passengers whose flights are delayed may be treated as passengers whose flights are cancelled, for purposes of applying the right to compensation. This means that they may rely on the right to compensation laid down (in Article 7) when they suffer a delay of three hours or more.

For me this is a matter of principle, as much as it is about getting my money back. I also find it fun (yes, really).
But even if you don't enjoy this sort of thing, it may be worth your while to investigate further.

300:

Spent an hour today walking around Dealey Plaza. got to thinking how things might be different. Johnson escalated the Vietnam Nam war, started/ramped up many of our current social programs, and push through much of the civil rights laws.

Many of the current fights in US politics can be traced back to these items in one way or another.

What if the aim/luck/(name your conspiracy theory) had been a bit off. Just how different would things be today?

301:

>>>>Anatoly: given that Israel is the 500lb nuclear-armed gorilla in the middle east right now, I think it very unlikely that, Ahmedinejad's posturing aside (which is in any case aimed at motivating his domestic base and has no serious international relations standing insofar as he isn't the Iranian head of state) there is about zero chance that the Iranian government will decide to give Benny Netenyahu an excuse to turn Tehran into a glowing hole in the map. Because that's what would happen. Iran: 1-2 atom bombs. Israel: up to 200 H-bombs. Even religious crazies understand mutually assured destruction. If anything, I think an Iranian A-bomb would be good for the region. Certainly it'd focus a few minds ...

You are assuming Iranian leadership is rational. You are assuming they see the world the way we do. But history is full of leaders behaving irrationally. Do you want to TEST a situation with religious crazies in a MAD scenario? I don't.

302:

That's what we said about the Russians.
By that logic we should have joined the defeated German forces at the end of WW2 and used our nukes to immediately finish off the USSR.

303:

>>>That's what we said about the Russians.

Firstly, in 1945 MAD didn't exist yet.

Secondly, are you giving me USSR as an example of a rational player? Well, during the same period (WW2) you have Japan and Germany behaving irrationally.

304:

Actually, after 1953 (specifically, Stalin's death and Beria's arrest), and especially after 1964 (Kruschev's replacement by Brezhnev) the USSR did increasingly act as a rational player. Lip service to ideology is all very well but the leadership was increasingly distant from its revolutionary roots and in general pursued predictable strategies (if you assume they were motivated by the usual realpolitik combination of ruthless self-interest mitigated by risk aversion). Prior to 1953 ... Stalin was arguably paranoid, but that doesn't mean he didn't have enemies.

Now, Japan and Germany during WW2 ... it helps to note that Germany was basically going on a continental asset-stripping spree, without which it would have been bankrupt by 1940. Japan, similarly, was suffering from huge imperial overstretch: they'd been at war since 1931 and their response to the US oil embargo (to trigger the Pacific war) wasn't necessarily irrational in context -- although the War Party miscalculated the US political response disastrously.

While the German and Japanese motivations for going to war were, arguably, very irrational, their actions once they got into that situation were at least internally consistent.

I think it's generally a huge mistake to look at the actions of a foreign government and assume that, just because we wouldn't behave that way, they are therefore irrational or somehow random. Frequently the "irrational" aspects of policy are rhetoric intended to achieve some internal political objective (for example, Ahmedinejad's fulminations against Israel are actually targeting his own political base at home: remember, he has to run for election).

305:

Let me also add:

1. Ahmedinejad isn't the Iranian head of state. He's got about as much effective power as an Interior Minister. He doesn't have the authority to declare war, and if Iran ever gets nukes, I expect launch authority to be vested in the Supreme Leader rather than the President.

2. Ahmedinejad has to run for election -- Iran has democratic elements. But the only candidates are those approved by the (30 years past their prime) revolutionary establishment. So they're generally reactionaries (in the sense of supporting Khomenei's revolution). In order to get votes, Ahmedinejad finds it as convenient to rail against Israel and America as, say, Rick Santorum finds it convenient to rail against godless liberals and their godless contraceptives. The big difference is that Ahmedinejad has the luxury of not being allowed to do anything about his targets (so he can rant as loudly as he likes without risk of being held to his promises).

3. Ali Khamenei has kept his mouth closed. Probably because he doesn't need to run for election (he's the Supreme Leader for life) but he might potentially be held to account if, for example, he promised to nuke Tel Aviv and then didn't deliver. In short, he treads lightly and carries the big stick.

4. Most people in Iran -- as in Israel, or anywhere else -- do not want to be on the receiving end of a nuclear attack. Even the hot-heads will mostly have second thoughts when it's pointed out to them that they're inviting the painful annihilation of their families and friends while they hole up in a government bunker.

5. On the other hand, ownership of nuclear weapons arguably provides an insurance policy against being on the receiving end of a nuclear strike -- that's the traditional excuse for getting them -- and makes other people a lot more careful about, say, launching precision air strikes against your infrastructure. Like, oh, the USA and Israel (all that rhetoric about launching an attack on Iran won't have gone un-noticed in Tehran).

6. Iran has legitimate reasons to be highly suspicious of the UK, USA, and Israel (as a proxy for US power in the region). In particular, we fucked them over repeatedly between 1918 and 1979. (Hence the political utility, for Ahmedinejad, of being anti-American: it's the equivalent of a US politician wrapping himself in the flag.)

7. Also, despite the nuclear weapons issue, all the reasons given for Iran wanting civil nuclear power remain valid. They currently burn oil for base load electricity: as the price of oil spikes with peak production, being able to substitute nuclear power for domestic oil consumption will massively boost their balance of trade.

Upshot: Ahmedinejad is ranting for domestic consumption, knowing he can't be expected to act. The real authority who'd be in charge of any Iranian bomb is a whole lot quieter. I expect any Iranian bomb to be more of a bargaining counter than an actual deterrent. (C'mon, how likely is it that the Iranian air force could deliver a nuke -- through the IAF's fighter screen -- much less a knock-out first strike? Given that Israel's nuclear force is currently believed to consist of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on submarines?)

Finally, the last paragraph of this declaration bears some consideration. From a theological perspective the Iranian hierarchy seems to be very leery of nuclear weapons. That could change, but before you write them off as irrational, it's worth noting that a religious fundamentalist who believes in a literal Hell and further believes that people who use nuclear weapons will go there is going to think very long and hard before doing that.

306:

My point being that between 1945 up to the point where the USSR got nuclear weapons the "rational" Western response would be to nuke the USSR and finish off what the Germans started. Patton certainly thought so.

307:

But the armies of the USSR were mostly NOT in the USSR. To nuke them you'd have to destroy eastern Europe.

308:

Japan, similarly, was suffering from huge imperial overstretch: they'd been at war since 1931 and their response to the US oil embargo (to trigger the Pacific war) wasn't necessarily irrational in context -- although the War Party miscalculated the US political response disastrously.

And only doing 2/3s of the Pearl Harbor raid sealed their doom. The third wave that was never launched due to fear of being attacked by US carriers was to target the fuel and repair facilities. Leaving those intact allowed the US to get into the fight and in many ways allowed for a US victory at Midway.

From the Wikipedia article (and I've read this in many other places) "At a conference aboard Yamato the following morning, Yamamoto initially supported Nagumo. In retrospect, sparing the vital dockyards, maintenance shops, and oil depots meant the U.S. could respond relatively quickly to Japanese activities in the Pacific. Yamamoto later regretted Nagumo's decision to withdraw and categorically stated it had been a great mistake not to order a third strike."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor#Possible_third_wave

Basically they went "all in" then folded before the last card was dealt.

Not that I mind.

309:

>>>>While the German and Japanese motivations for going to war were, arguably, very irrational, their actions once they got into that situation were at least internally consistent.

If your baseline assumptions are batshit crazy it doesn't matter how internally consistent you are, you are still batshit crazy. What are Ali Khamenei's assumptions? He is a religious leader, after all. Are you going to say that he doesn't really believe in the truth of Islam, in Allah, in Heaven, in Jihad? Is it all just for show? Would you bet your life on it?

310:

test

311:

What are Ali Khamenei's assumptions? He is a religious leader, after all. Are you going to say that he doesn't really believe in the truth of Islam, in Allah, in Heaven, in Jihad? Is it all just for show? Would you bet your life on it?

He's been in office for what, 23 years? If he was batshit-insane for attacking the neighbours, I'm fairly sure he'd have got his war on by now. Instead he seems to have hunkered down to play a long game for local geopolitical influence. Domestically he's a reactionary/conservative. In terms of leadership, the Iranian revolution seems to have leapt straight from Lenin to Brezhnev.

312:

"Oh... dear. And here after I talked about platonic derangement."
And I thought we were going to be soul mates. I was just about to rename PDS as CMS - "calcified meme syndrome". That has a kinder and gentler feel, doesn't it? It at least implies there is some possibility of change. (You didn't say if you have some fundamental objection to the meme construct. Do you?)

To go back to Charlie's original question about the Republicans, how doe you understand, and maybe engage, a Rick Santorum? I think he is suffering from future shock. There is a disturbance in force - the natural order of things - and he thinks the Dems are trying to drive even discussion of the "sacred" out of national/political discourse.

He is sort of citing natural law arguments against birth control. I'm not sure he's being hypocritical about abortion after his wife had a "sort of" abortion. (Google it; not so clear) He has a developmentally disabled child which could weigh against abortion, and for keeping a Terri Schaivo alive.

Most of this fits within a catholic framework. The whole natural law thing is kind of squishy. It's hard to pin down "natural", and most catholics now seem to take "artificial" birth control as natural. (Apparently polling in AZ says that most catholics voted for Romney.) At least natural law gives a place to engage a Santorum.

I think people should take up Santorun on his willingness to debate religious values in the public arena. If I were moderator of a debate, I would like his explanation of how a guy who hung out with fishermen, prostitutes, and tax collectors; urged his followers to be better Jews, said that the poor would inherit the earth, and that the rich would have a hard time getting to heaven, somehow became the GOD of those who say, "I am glad I am successful and not like other people; it's such a burden to have guide/force the lazy, immoral etc. to virtue... blah, blah".

What's strange is the "do it my way" thing - the "throw up" Kennedy speech was really defending against "popery", and much as the catholic bishops might like "my way," they know they can't do this in the US. Their arguments about insurance payments for contraception are framed as freedom of religion for them. Jonathan @203 got it right, Santorum is taking a dominionist position. As far as I can tell, that seems to derive from the Bible being the absolute guide to action. There are very different takes on what exactly the bible "really" says even among fundamentalists, so I think we're back to Roger Williams, and separation of church and state.


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