And Cruz Channeled Newt Gingrich

The third 2016 GOP Presidential Debate took place as the polls began to shift. Carson moving up, Fiorina moving down, Trump sort of hovering. It’s no surprise that as the media has begun pointing at Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Rubio gave a strong enough performance that the media and public saw him as the victor. This may be the tail wagging the dog, which 2012’s musical chairs might have been, and it might be a real criticism of the media.

Meanwhile, Texas Senator Ted Cruz channeled Gingrich from 2012, pulling one of those ‘I-speak-for-all’ moments out to say the media sucks. While the media is certainly not the best institution, needing much improvement, the way a Cruz or Gingrich says it differs from more centered analyses. They basically mean that the media is inherently biased, putting facts aside, against the right. They tend to see the press as a picking wheel, with more of the slots occupied by pro-liberal than pro-conservative choices. Of course, that’s just not how it works.

Neither does it work, in my mind, to stand before the public and say, on the one hand, the Federal government cannot work, and on the other, that they want to lead that unworkable curse of an institution. Many of the candidates said it. For example, Bush admitted to a reflexive aversion to letting the Federal government do anything, down to regulating fantasy sports (though admitting it should be regulated).

To hear them tell it, there is a bona fide curse on the Federal government akin to the one on the Chicago Cubs baseball team, preventing the bureaucracy from ever doing a thing correctly. And yet, state governments apparently can do everything right, if we just let them. Hand a block grant of this or that back to the states, and watch as the rainbow-painted puppies sprout from the earth.

To hear them tell it, we don’t need to elect them as president. We need to have a Constitutional Convention to gut the powers of the US Government, possibly re-adopting the Articles of Confederation. Yet, they don’t actually come out and call for that. In their bizarro version of America, we just need to elect a president with enough courage to run through Washington, D.C., in a hockey mask, wielding a machete, slashing everything in sight. That’s what they’re campaigning on.

“It will never work, it’s just a money pit,” your mechanic says to you. “If you let me fix it, I’ll rip out the dashboard, seats, the AC system, and the windshield.” You would walk out immediately. Such a plan is simply preposterous. And yet, practically to a man, the GOP candidates seem to want exactly that, just like they did the last time around.

If, as expected, Marco Rubio now ascends in the polls, it probably doesn’t point to his ascendancy at all, but to a repeat of the 2012 GOP candidate rollercoaster finally kicking into high gear. The media’s tail might have just started wagging in earnest for the GOP’s dog.

As to the debate format itself, these networks need to expand the early, low-polling debate to equal the main event. This would mean the main contenders get more time, while the struggling bulk of candidates might still get more visibility with a larger debate. It’s senseless that the barrel bottomers get more TV time with fewer viewers.


The First Democratic Party Debate, 2015-2016

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee, and Martin O’Malley squared off in a debate. Absent were Vice President Joe Biden and Professor Laurence Lessig. The former still hasn’t declared a run, and he may just not run. The latter, a proponent of the “fix it first, then we can govern” strategy, was barred for not polling well enough (which is hard to change if the pollsters leave you off the polling lists).

The debate was at least as much of an echo chamber as the Republican debates, except with different ideas echoing. We have to deal with income inequality. Black lives matter. Global warming sucks. Clinton’s emails suck.

Clinton failed to fail, to the chagrin of everybody who bought into the idea that she was some sort of cardboard cutout, a collective hallucination of the 1990s. Sanders had his “sick of your damn emails” moment, which caused Clinton to jubilate.

But what did we learn? Sanders is left of Clinton, but between their positions and the political landscape they would hold them against, does it matter? If Lessig had been there, I’m sure in the minute time allotted him, he would have pointed out that we have to fix the broken system, too. That, barring a more responsive, less-competitive legislative body, doing much will be very difficult.

Hell, with the Freedom Caucus, America could know the winning lottery numbers and still fail to buy the ticket, because those idiots would be trying to attach a defund-Planned-Parenthood rider to the appropriation bill to purchase the $5 ticket.

So, just like with the Republican debates, we go into these things with a certain amount of our imagination hats on our heads. “It’s pretend time, boys and girls,” the moderators say. “Let’s imagine a world where not only the speaker is the president, but they can do whatever they want.” That sort of hypothetical monarchy game is the form of our debates.

Otherwise, there were the sort of meaningless questions such as whether Edward Snowden should have to go to jail. Whatever your opinions of the man and his actions, it’s moot unless he returns to the USA or a country with extradition. The odds are basically 50-50 on if Snowden ever steps on US soil again, and if he does it will probably be after 2030 or so. Not really a pressing issue.

For the record, Clinton’s couching of Snowden is one of her many safe plays in the debate. Establishment lines, to be expected. She did the same on cannabis, for example. Anybody studying the situation should have grave doubts that Clinton wouldn’t sign a broadly-supported bill to legalize cannabis in a heartbeat. And, similarly, she would either exonerate or condemn Snowden if that were the political choice.

That sounds kind of scary, electing people who will basically color within the lines, whatever the lines may be. Those lines are bent by political gravities that seem hard to change, and the system can commit massive cruelties because of them. The good news is that the lines seem to slowly shift for the better, as with gay marriage. The bad news is that, for millions dealing with convictions for cannabis or for someone like Snowden, the lines don’t move fast enough.

Gun control (or “gun safety” as several candidates called it) came up in a big way. Again, without either side giving ground it is hard to see how things change a lot on the issue. That said, it does set the Democrats at odds with the Republicans. A willingness to do something about a problem, even not knowing the right way to fix it, is still a virtue.

And, right with guns came the talk of war. Would you go to war? Should we have gone to war? What about Syria? What about Iran? The answers weren’t as hawkish as the Republicans’, but weren’t dovish either.

On Wall Street, on the other hand, there were calls by some to replace the firewall between investment and consumer banking. Clinton did not endorse the idea, but otherwise the consensus seemed to be it wouldn’t hurt. Again, not clear that it matters in the real world, where increasing regulations of finance isn’t exactly something easy to get passed.

Who won? Both Clinton and Sanders had strong showings, which basically means Clinton won, at least in the immediate aftermath. She’s the poll leader, which means that absent either a poor performance from her or a stand-out performance from a competitor, she either gains or stays the same. Sanders has a broad following online, which could turn a short-term Clinton win into a long-term Sanders win. Whether that materializes remains to be seen.


The GOP Crossroads

We’ve been at a crossroads for election after election. What’s the deal?

If you watched the second 2016 GOP debate, you would have heard a very different picture painted of the world than the one you likely see. Many of the candidates portrayed the 2016 election as a crossroads or a chance to change the direction the country is heading, things like that.

If you listened to Mike Huckabee’s fantasy spiel of what the world would look like after he got done with it, you probably laughed or threw up in your mouth a bit.

The country isn’t at a crossroads. The GOP is, has been, and will remain there until they can admit reality.

The fact that defunding Planned Parenthood is actually a serious consideration of the candidates for president in 2015 is very telling. As is immigration. As are nuclear launch codes. Vaccines even impinge on freedom, apparently. To hear them tell it, President Obama has planted landmines in all the school playgrounds throughout the land.

In 2012 we thought we had a clowncar. In 2015-2016, we apparently have the GOP rodeo clowns running for president.

Build a wall on our border with Canada, says one. We need to track visitors like shipping companies track packages, says another.

I am not afraid of idiots, nor embarrassed by them, but I am surprised by them. The failures of logic in their statements, such as how we can neither afford to do anything about atmospheric carbonization, nor could we make a whit of difference if we tried, and yet we must not disrupt ourselves (atmospheric carbon will be a major disruption over time), and yet we are exceptional in any other crisis (then why can’t we do anything about carbon?).

ISIS is, apparently, an existential threat to the United States of America. A problem for the world? Sure. But an existential threat?! Meanwhile, the aforementioned carbonization, while probably also not a true existential threat, certainly ranks much higher. The GOP pretends it’s nothing to care about.

The Twilight Zone Party seriously believes it can ignore reality.

At the little table, Rick Santorum claimed we should be worried about Islam because many Muslim-dominated nations have polls showing “two-thirds” (only true for a few of the countries) believe the world will end in their lifetimes (the poll was actually about the return of the Mahdi, which is prophesized to be just prior to the end of the world; FWIW, belief that Jesus will return correlates with the Mahdi responses). But in the good old US of A, somewhere around 22% will poll the same way on the actual end of the world (15% worldwide average). Oy vey.

But one of the biggest surprises isn’t the eschatalogical pastimes of presidential candidates, but the meantime that they ignore. The future is changing rapidly, and while they might talk about projections for Social Security insolvency, they had bupkis about where technology will be moving us in the near future. Nothing on automation both inside and outside of the military.

It’s like the biggest changes in the world are completely off their radar. Technology and climate. Big deals. Nothing worth the GOP’s time.

At the GOP’s crossroads, the paths form a figure eight, and they just go round and round in circles. Worst of all, most of the small government party’s candidates kept calling for bigger and bigger government for the fake problems they perceive.


The 2016 GOP Primaries: Debate One

Now that we’re somewhat familiar with the major candidates, it’d be nice to look at where the race stands. But some background is needed, at least for the GOP side of things.

The Republican voters of 2012 had a hard time making a pick. They apparently did not feel any great connection to any of the candidates. They were shopping, trying each one on. Finding a bad fit, finding it clashed with their values, they went to the next. Eventually, they went with the least ill-fitting, Mitt Romney.

2016 looks largely to be a retreading of that same ground. Trump has an early lead, mainly because he’s such a known brand. Trump has been around for a long time, outside of politics. He’s a fixture of America. That seems to many to mean he counts for more in a race among people with much less recognition. He certainly doesn’t seem much crazier than the average candidate in the race at the moment.

What’s more, his positions don’t apparently diverge so much from any of the other candidates. His tone does, though. He’s running as an anti-candidate. An outsider insider. The fact that he has had business success speaks to people that here is a man who, right or wrong, consistent or not, has gotten things done before.

Of the other candidates, Jeb Bush is favored. He’s the establishment pick, like Romney was. Barring either Trump or a dramatic shift by another candidate, Bush will likely get the nomination, just like Romney did. The voters will try each of the others in the Whitman’s Sampler and go with the plain chocolate with the dollar sign stamped on it.

The rest of the candidates, mostly, are middling. Some are more establishment, like Kasich. Others are more Tea Party, like Cruz. Others more hawk, Graham. But none stand out as the best mix of nougat, chocolate, nuts, and caramel.

The first debates

A few days ago the first debates happened. They were split into the top ten and the bottom seven. The popular wisdom had Trump winning the big table and Fiorina the small.

Trump did stave off any acute attack on his candidacy, not even losing points for being the sole candidate to refuse to pledge to support the GOP ticket no matter what. It’s not clear that he won, per se, as the moderators seemed to approach each candidate on a case-by-case basis for about half their questions. Trump’s personalized questions were of a different sort than those posed to other candidates, more about his personality than his record (though they did ask him about bankruptcies).

Trump seemed to score points by not melting like the Western Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. And that, to my eyes, was also why Fiorina won the small table. There were no particular standouts down below, and the fact that Fiorina did okay seems to garner her a win as another outsider businessperson.

It will be awhile before the next polls show whether the debate changed anything. It’s likely there will be a bit of shuffling in the lower ranks, without much change among the leaders. The next debate is over a month away, and will again be a big table, little table split debate. We should see a different mixture in each by then, which may begin to show a longer trend of where the field is heading.

software unAmerican

Language: The Debate and the Law

Stractics and Tagegy

Elizabeth mentions that they looked up the difference between strategy and tactics during the debates too.  And I thought Obama was supposed to be the intellectual here.  Oh, campaign posturing, you’ve fooled me again!

My understanding is that the plural, tactics, is equivalent to strategy.  The singular, tactic, would be equivalent to stratagem except the latter has the connotation of trickery or deception, which is a subset of tactics and strategies.

This election has seen many stratagem of attacking the opponent over language.  We’ve seen metaphors involving swine, doctrines that redefine themselves by an egg timer (and somehow remained owned by their minter), and so on.

It is obvious that neither candidate is familiar with the principle of charity nor do they believe winning on the issues alone is more important than winning.

Come Guy Fawkes Day, the cheese stands alone.  With all 300 million of us standing in a big circle.  That is the level of maturity our political landscape has devolved into.  Hi-ho, the derry-o!

How to Create Good Law

Even in the midst of a financial market meltdown the question on the tip of their tongues is “How do we show off?”  So McCain straps on his bullet-proof vest and charges into the fray.  Obama talks some sense about regulations, but seems to favor a bailout nonetheless.

Meanwhile, we’ve still got soldiers trying to stop the violence of two foreign lands and no real consolidated plan to stop buying all this oil.  We’ve still got millions without health insurance, one heartbeat away from bankruptcy.  Our electricity grid is aging.  Our internet service sucks.  Our transportation system is regressive.  Our tax structure is about as sensible as Ahmadinejad (again, in many ways caused more by perception than any intrinsic conviction).

One of the big problems is that we still legislate using 20th (err, 18th) century methods: a bill is born, and the staples fly until a simple three-section bill turns into a 200-section monstrosity. Then, as Obama said about funding the troops during the debate, a disagreement about something like time-tables (or in the case of the update to FISA that Obama voted for, illegal immunity for telecommunications companies) may force a voter’s hand either way.

In software we call the concept of having a module or class directed at a single, specific task “cohersion.”  When a bill focuses on everything from Iraq funding to the drinking age to a resolution praising the latest Pixar film we call that “coincidental cohesion.”  We should have law created according to the same principles that govern (proper) software engineering.

What’s more, we should have a context free language that describes the law.  That is the kind of thing that might drag me back to school some day.