Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Likely Voter Scam

I just wanted to take this time to once again state my belief that the demise of the Democratic majority in both the House and Senate are greatly exaggerated.  For as much as there is an enthusiasm gap between the parties, which is something I find undeniable, I not only believe the gap will be far less significant on Election Night, but I think it's actually masking how things look right now.

And a big part of this is on the role that polls play on Election Day.  There's this theory that says it's all about momentum, and polls give momentum to a candidate.  And for as much as I think there is some momentum effect at play in every election, I think this effect is grossly overstated. 

Because frankly, I just don't see too many people voting for a candidate merely because polls say he's popular.  As if someone checks the Gallup poll one morning and decides "Hey, this Obama guy's beating McCain by two points.  I think I'll support him," with enough people doing that so that Obama's lead grows by a few percentage points.  That sounds insane to me.  And if anything, any such effect can easily be offset by complacency, where by a voter might not show up because he thinks it's a slamdunk; while the underdog's voter might show up, because he thinks it's needed.

And if nothing else, the momentum of polls is a very ill-understood topic, of which I doubt there is much serious research.  For as much as I think polls are useful, it's merely to identify where the momentum is; not to change it.  And if anything, I think it has more to do with convincing people to donate money to candidates who poll well.  Lobbyist-types are likely to give more to the guy who looks like he'll win, while regular donors are more likely to give to a candidate who has a chance of winning, but still needs the dough.  And that sort of thing can have a real effect on an election. 

But this Likely Voter polling stuff by itself isn't really going to tell us much, beyond making political junkies have their equivalent of a minor Christmas morning every time they read a poll they like.

My Theory of Polls

And beyond momentum, a poll more than two weeks before an election is fairly worthless.  Not that polls are so bad, but it's the "Likely Voter" issue that makes them so worthless.  Yes, Tea Partiers have more enthusiasm than most Democratic voters and they're likely to say that they'll vote than Democrats will.  So what?  That doesn't make it true. 

And if anything, I'd gladly bet that the opposite is true: Angry Tea Partiers who won't vote are more likely to tell pollsters they will, while complacent Democrats will say they don't know if they'll vote, but will.  And that's just got to be correct.  There will always be people who say they'll vote, but won't; and that group will most assuredly lean conservative for this election.  And there will naturally be people who aren't sure if they'll vote, but will; and that group will lean Democratic.  That just makes sense.  And with more urgency on the Democratic side, and more confidence on the Republican side, that'll just happen more.

Because seriously, here's what should happen: The Unions and traditional Democratic base will give a full-court press the week before the election and convince their supporters that this is do-or-die; particularly two days before the election.  This is it, and if they ever supported Obama and his agenda, this is the time to support it.  And that's most certainly true.  2008 was very important, but things are even more important now that we've got everything on the line.  Failure is simply not an option.  And these people will show up in large numbers to vote straight-ticket Democrat; not because they're enthuasastic about the people they're voting for, but because it's better than the alternative.

And in the end, we might lose a few seats, but we could possibly gain a few. But I just don't see the tidal wave giving Republicans the House and/or Senate.  That's been my prediction for most of this year and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Punishing Ourselves to Victory

Obama said:
The single biggest threat to our success is not the other party. It's us. It's complacency. It's apathy. It's indifference. It's people feeling like, well, we only got 80 percent of what we want, we didn't get the other 20, so we're just going to sit on our hands
And I've got to agree with that.  If all the people who voted for Obama in 2008 voted for Democrats in November, it'd be a landslide for us.  We'd slaughter them.  But the problem is that too many people have just given up on Obama.

But that was a big offense for many of the people Obama was referring to.  Apparently, the truth hurts.  So these people have to attack the man who is responsible for more liberalism than these keyboard critics of his will be in their entire lifetimes.  That's not to attack these people, but merely to state a fact:

Proving his point

Here are a sampling of comments to Obama's remark.
"Would that we had gotten 80. Seems more like less than 50%."

"All I wanted was a rollback of Cheney's acquisition of dictatorial powers for the executive, so I got 0%.  I shouldn't have been surprised; the Democrats are accountable only to the center-right."

"Our so called Dem "leaders" in Washington again showed why a large % of people who supported them are now basically disgusted we are with them. I have NEVER seen such totally ball-less group of people in my life. They deserve what happens to them in November, especially the Blue Dogs who really have NO concern for their constituents only concern for their "jobs".'
And there's a lot more just like it. 

And none of this makes any sense.  Because, yes, I suppose many of these people will be "punished" if they don't get re-elected.  But you know who else gets punished?  That's right, us.  The country.  These guys aren't just talking about kicking some traitorous Blue Dogs out of Congress.  They're talking about throwing us to the wolves. 

Anyway, I wrote three comments regarding this, and figured I'd share them here.  Enjoy!

Double-Reverse Psychocology

I'm astonished by the number of Democrats who somehow imagine that we'll get more of what we want if we "punish" Democrats in November. As if it's somehow worth it to allow Republicans to trash the country for two straight years, in the hopes that a rightwing victory will teach Democrats to be more leftwing.

But of course, what we'll get instead is two years of Republican rule, followed by Democrats who are so afraid of another loss that they bend over backwards to appease Tea Partiers. Believe it or not, but the way to strengthen your team is to support them, not attack them. I know, that doesn't feel very satisfactory, but that's how it works.

If you want Democrats to be liberals, we need to give them more seats in Congress; not fewer. And if we abandon them, they'll find someone else who will support them. That's just how life works.

Senator Rand Paul

This isn't Senator Weak-kneed v. Senator Pony. This is Senator Weak-kneed v. Senator O'Donnell.

And look, the main reason Democrats haven't done more is because they're scared. They just don't think there are enough liberals to support a liberal agenda, and that paralyzes them. By abandoning them, they just get more scared and more likely to do nothing or move to the right. It's like punishing your kid by slapping them every time they screw up. You're more likely to traumatize him than teach him to stop screwing up. And as much as I don't like scared Democrats, that's certainly better than emboldened Republicans in charge.

And again, that's what we're talking about. Maybe you'd prefer that Republicans get control of the circus again, but I don't. I'll take an ineffectual Democratic Congress over an effectual Republican one, any day. This election has real consequences.

Rahm's Peeing His Pants
A commenter suggested that Obama is ignoring the left because Rahm things he's got them all sewn up.  To which I wrote:
Really? You imagine Rahm thinks he's got the left sewn up? Because I believe Rahm's shitting his pants about the left. I think they've written off much of the left because the left wrote them off long ago.

Seriously, at this point, what could Obama realistically do to woo you back? Could he do it in the short time before the election? Or is it already too late? And at what point did it become too late?

He started his presidency with a good 10% of the ultra-left having written him off. Right or wrong, they simply couldn't support him. It didn't take long until another 10% wrote him off, followed by another little chunk. And before long, he's lost 40% of his base or more. And there's nothing that can bring them back. Not realistically. These people already gave up on Obama and the Democrats, and want them punished for their sins.

So at that point, what can they do? Because this was inevitable. Obama would never have more than 70% of the liberal base, and probably less. They went into it knowing that. Liberals just aren't like that. And so what choice do they have but to work the middle, and at least put up a good faith effort towards looking non-partisan?

And let's be serious: The Obama presidency is WAAAAAY better than the Bush years. Anyone who suggests differently is deluding themselves. As much as it's possible to find similarities between Obama and Bush, I refuse to believe that any of you would trade this for another Bush presidency or a McCain presidency. Seriously.

And that's what we're talking about. You can blame Obama and the Democrats all you want, but at the end of the day, we've got to live with two years of Republican hysteria. We'll only be punishing ourselves.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Discovery Channel Hates American Sea Captains

One of the problems with our society is that you can buy justice, in that the better your lawyer is, the more likely you'll do well in our justice system.  But frankly, I can't really think of a better system.  I mean, people should be allowed to choose who they work for, as well as who they hire as lawyers.  And I believe in allowing supply & demand to determine market prices. 

While I can think of some heavyhanded solutions which could solve this problem, I can't really see any of them being implemented.  And even if we succeeded in giving people equal justice, we'd just force the lawyers into back allies, giving advice on the legal blackmarket.

I had written a much longer post, but decided it wasn't worth it.  So I'm only leaving this.  Hope you're not too disappointed.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Miranda Sham

The NY Times has an article about a fascinating study published by the Standard Law Review called The Substance of False Confessions (pdf), which details an analysis of forty cases in which people confessed to crimes they were later proven to be innocent of.  And the study is an excellent display of how police elicit confessions, what prosecutors do with those confessions, and what these people do intentionally and unintentional to convict the people they believe to be guilty of crimes.

And one of the biggest problems is the Miranda Sham.  While Miranda was originally conceived as a way of reinforcing our right to not self-incriminate, it's now used as a way of locking in statements, giving a technicality by which judges and juries can toss out witness testimony and ignore conflicting evidence, as long as certain words were uttered to the defendant before they were coerced into confessing.

And the whole thing is a sham.  We have the right to remain silent and if someone doesn't want to confess to a crime, we shouldn't be allowed to pressure them into doing so.  And in all of the cases presented in this study, the defendants were tricked into confessing.  They didn't want to confess and didn't even know the necessary details to confess, but due to their lack of intelligence (and more importantly, lack of lawyer), they inadvertently gave up their right to silence, though they had no intention of doing so.

In one case, one innocent person was not only pressured into confessing, but also pinned the crime on four other people.  Three of the other four also confessed.  The one who didn't had a lawyer.

Lawyers for All

And of course, had they been provided with lawyers, none of them would have confessed. Nor would they have endured lengthy interrogations, often involving lies and abuse. They didn't want to confess, but they didn't know how to not confess. And that's simply not how our system should work. We have the right to remain silent, and that right shouldn't only exist for those with the brains to demand it.  People who are too dumb to refuse to speak without their lawyer are the ones who need a lawyer the most. 

As the article states "In twenty-six of the forty cases—or sixty-five percent—the defendant was either mentally disabled, under eighteen at the time of the offense, or both."  And yet their confessions, without the presence of an attorney, were considered valid, even when experts testified that these individuals lacked the mental ability to understand what they were confessing to.  A schizophrenic who hears the "voice of God" during an interrogation is not a reliable confessor.

And just imagine if the right to bear arms was enforced similarly.  As if you only have that right if you actively pursue obtaining a gun, and the police can lock you up for hours, trying to trick you into giving them your gun; after which you've waived your right to possess it.  And then, during your trial, it's argued that you didn't have the right to bear arms because you had voluntarily waived the right, and therefore broke the law when you possessed a gun you didn't have the right to possess.

And yes, that's ludicrous.  But no more ludicrous than our current system of tricking people into confessing, and then acting as if those coerced confessions are rock-solid evidence that trumps all other evidence.  And this applies to guilty people as much as the innocent.  The right to remain silent isn't just a nicety.  It's a fundamental part of our system, which is why it made it in The Bill of Rights top five. 

If someone truly chooses to waive their rights, that's fine.  But if someone wants to remain silent, we don't have the right to trick them out of it.  That completely negates the whole purpose of having it in the first place.  The Constitution isn't just for the intelligent.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

God's Mysterious Ways

A man from Charleston was "hiking the Appalachian Trail" and met quite a few people from Colorado.  He thought this might not be a coincidence and decided to ask God why so many people from Colorado were there, and God apparently told him that he was sending him a sign telling him to go to Denver and work at Tim Tebow's charitable foundation; now that Tebow got drafted by the Denver Broncos.  And so he went to Denver, gave a note to the first Bronco he saw, then stood outside waiting for Tebow; holding a bible verse for Tebow to see.

And no, I'm not making this up.  I read it right here.  Some guy actually believes that God altered the vacation plans of quite a few Coloradoans, just to send him a message.  Sure, you'd think an omnipotent being could find some slightly more direct way of communicating, but I suppose if he really COULD do anything, it'd be just as easy for him to use these mind-manipulating bankshots, as it would be to pick up the phone and tell the guy what to do.  That's what omnipotence is all about.

And seriously, this is a mental illness.  This guy is absolutely bonkers if he thinks the reason all these Coloradoans were hiking the Appalachians was so that God could get this one guy's attention.  After all, God apparently still had to tell this guy what to do, so it seems God could have just spared these people the hassle and just talked to the guy directly.  And what, he's never heard of email?

Of course, I don't mean to disrespect all believers by mocking this guy, as I'm quite certain that this guy isn't representative of all Christians.  But still, this guy's beliefs should give us all pause.  After all, it's a fine line between believing the impossible and being stark raving crazy, making it especially important to stay diligent.  When it comes to the supernatural, even the impossible is possible.  But as we've witnessed in others, it's all too easy to find supernatural explanations to ultra-natural events.

As a side note: The oddest part here is how the reporter could report this news, without trying to warn everyone.  When someone's willing to move cross-country because a supernatural being told them to be close to someone else, it's probably not a good thing.  I don't see this ending well.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Tea Party Punishes Conservatives Again

I'm hoping to say more about this soon, but thought this headline made a point I've been saying since the "Tea Party" began grumbling early last year: Sen. Murkowski's Defeat Marks Major Tea Party Win.

That's right.  The Tea Party taking down a conservative incumbent is a "major win."  As far as Obama and Democrats go, these are the same fruitballs that have been attacking them since the beginning, and this represents no change from before.  No, it's the Republican Party that needs to worry.  The far-far right is on the warpath and only the craziest can survive.  And the crazier they are, the easier it is for us.