SocraticGadfly: 8/12/12 - 8/19/12

August 18, 2012

1968 — the election I wish we had had

Bobby Kennedy/Wikipedia
Yesterday, I blogged about the “fun” election we missed having in 1968 — Tricky Dick vs. LBJ, with George Wallace still in there, and ideally, the race winding up in the House of Representatives.

Well, now, as I work through a new book about Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign, let me tell you about the campaign that, as a true progressive, I wish we had had — Bobby Kennedy vs. Tricky Dick.

Let’s throw in an additional twist or two. Let’s say that Reagan actively campaigned earlier than he did in reality, and got enough delegates to, in combination with Nelson Rockefeller, prevent Nixon from a first-ballot nomination.

So, Nixon has to deal. But, with whom? Remembering how conservatives soured on him in 1968 for the “Compact on Fifth Avenue” and tapping the relatively moderate Henry Cabot Lodge as his Veep, he decides it can’t be Rocky. And, so, reluctantly, he turns to Reagan. Reagan and Nancy debate it, and finally decide to accept. Reagan knows that, if he doesn’t, Nixon will either tap Rocky, or else find another, younger conservative than him, and if he gets elected, campaign for that person for the presidency in 1976.

Now, on the other side, let’s say that Bobby Kennedy isn’t shot in L.A., of course. Let’s say that it’s true that Mayor Richard Daley at least promises to turn an open mind to Bobby. Let’s say that he crushes McCarthy in the New York primary, enough to persuade Daley’s mind further.

So, after a first ballot with Humphrey barely ahead, the machines start moving toward Kennedy in the second round. McCarthy is stubborn, but it doesn’t matter. RFK gets the nomination on the third ballot.

Humphrey certainly doesn’t want to be Veep again, and Bobby doesn’t want him, due to his LBJ connections. McCarthy keeps his stubborn grudge, so he’s out of the picture. With almost no black or female politicians of close to prominence, Bobby doesn’t have that angle.

One obvious choice is the man who ran himself in 1972 and who was a strong Bobby supporter — George McGovern. It shores up his support with at least some McCarthy supporters and in the Midwest. Or, trying to appeal to liberals in the South, he names Texas Sen. Ralph Yarborough, a choice sure to piss off LBJ. Yarborough was also a war opponent and a strong supporter of Bobby.

And, let’s have Bobby win the general election.


1. Not neoliberalism of today, or even of Jimmy Carter, but, some next step beyond the New Deal and an affirmation of the better elements of the Great Society get a stronger footing.

2. Richard Nixon really isn’t around to be kicked around any more. Or to try to rehabilitate himself.

3. Mistrust of an executive presidency, etc., never gets started.

4. Reagan takes a ding, too. He would, in this scenario, run himself in 1972, blaming Nixon for not being conservative enough in 1968. He loses, convincingly, after flirting with making a rapproachment to Wallace. (In this scenario, Wallace isn’t shot in 1972, but, does no better in the general election than in 1968.) Reagan tries again in 1976, but moderates coalesce around ... say, Howard Baker.

5. Bobby signs the SALT treaty with the USSR. He does some sort of approach to China, but not the same as Nixon’s.

6. We never help overthrow Salvador Allende in Chile.

7. If not full-blown national health care, Bobby at least expands Medicare and Medicaid.

I'm not saying America would have been "everything," but given Bobby's encouragement to people of different income levels to look beyond the Gross National Product would have definitely worked toward a "more perfect union."

#Groupon + #Cubbies = guaranteed inanity

It's clear that Groupon as a company and a business model is a piece of shinola and that investors clearly know that.

If that wasn't proof enough, the Chicago-based company is (albeit, for charity) trying to sell a Groupon coupon of sorts to throw out a first pitch for the Chicago Cubs Aug. 30.

Of course, per the Salon story linked at top, this may be part of a new Groupon push:
In a conference call with analysts, the firm’s CEO Andrew Mason kept talking up Groupon Goods, a service in which Groupon sells discounted merchandise to customers—in other words, something completely different from the coupons that earned the firm its IPO.
Yeah, the rights to throw out the first pitch at a late-season Cubbies game is definitely "discounted merchandise"!

More seriously, other MLB teams could do something similar, but smartly cut out the Groupon middleman. You could auction off such an opportunity in a number of ways.

August 17, 2012

1968 — the election we should have had!

Seeing this election unfold, I’ve been thinking about what could have, and should have been, a classic of an election back in 1968. Having read about Nixon's end-of-October 1968 arguable treason (to me, it meets the definition; it certainly violated the Logan Act) in gutting the peace talks, through back door channels to Saigon, and including the Christian Science Monitor killing a scoop about it, plus, reading a great new book called “The Ex-Presidents’ Club, I keep thinking about this “classic” presidential election we never got to have.

What a "great" election we would have had with Tricky Dick vs. LBJ. (And, had he wanted to, with 1968 still largely dependent on caucuses, and the machine politicians who controlled them in many cases, LBJ probably could have gotten the Democratic nod, if he wanted to fight. After all, well in advance, he had picked Chicago to host the 1968 convention not for the beauties of Lakeshore Drive but the undeniable eminence of His Honor Richard Daley, mayor of Chicago.

Just think ... the two most paranoid presidents ever, running against each other. Epic.

And, let’s keep the one other actual element from 1968, speaking of paranoiacs — George Wallace as a third-party candidate.

It’s probable, that with nobody even coming as close as Humphrey’s almost-last-minute call for a bombing halt, that many people who voted in the Democratic primaries for Bobby Kennedy or Eugene McCarthy would have stayed home. (That then said, the authors of the book above claim that half of McCarthy’s votes in New Hampshire, it was later discovered (later because exit polling was primitive to nonexistent in 1968) backed him because they didn’t think LBJ was hawkish enough.

LBJ kept public silence about the Nixon campaign’s duplicity with Saigon. But not private silence; he let both Nixon and Humphrey know directly that he knew. (I’m not sure about Wallace.)

Had he been in the race himself? Different story. There would have been some leaking to the press, plus hints that he was going to send somebody to talk in Paris before election day, whether anybody from Saigon showed up or not.

But, let’s not stop there. Per a Facebook friend, this would be a great Harry Turtledove alt-history book.

Especially if Wallace were also in the race, as in reality, and, let's say, nobody got 270 electoral votes and this baby went to the House. Can you imagine the wheelings and dealings? Nixon would be the one more simpatico to Wallace on domestic issues, but, could Wallace deliver Southern Democrats in the House to Nixon?

And, yes, if you look at the actual 1968 results, per Wikipedia, the race could have gone to the House. Give Wallace and/or Johnson, combined, any three of these five Southern states that went for Nixon — Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia — and the race is in the House.)

Then, per the last election that did go to the House, what if, after Wallace were eliminated, Johnson and Nixon deadlocked at 25 states each? Neither would have been any more willing to step aside than, before the 12th Amendment, Aaron Burr was for Thomas Jefferson.

Under the Presidential Succession Act, that would have made the Speaker of the House, who would also be presiding over this deadlocked election, acting President.

Would the then-current Speaker, the aging John McCormack, have angled to keep the vote deadlocked, to benefit? Or done anything partisan to try to help Johnson?

Meanwhile, here's the election I really wish we had had — Bobby Kennedy beating Nixon and Nixon's Veep, Reagan.

This, in turn,  is another reminder that the U.S. Constitution is antiquated in a number of ways.

The baseball Hall of Fame and morals clause hypocrisy

I recently blogged about how I would like for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and other presumed top steroiders (can anybody think of other pitchers?) like Rafael Palmeiro and Gary Sheffield to have, if not a "confession" in a moral sense, an "owning up" in an investigative sense as to just what they used, how much, and an estimate of how much it helped them.

At the same time, I noted that there were problems, as well as outright hypocrisy, with the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame's moral character clause for players. (And executives, we should probably add, on the hypocrisy side.)

here's a few reasons for that.

The first is that the MLB Hall of Fame, among major sports halls in the US, is the only one with a morals clause.

Alex Karras and Paul Hornung are in the NFL Hall after a year's suspension for betting on games, for example.

Second, there's plenty of shady characters in the MLB Hall as is. Racists. People besides Pete Rose, who allegedly bet on games, even besides Shoeless Joe Jackson who allegedly threw at least one game.

Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker allegedly agreed to throw a game, with betting on it, at the end of the 1926 season. Commissioner Landis found out, and whitewashed it.

There's probably other problematic bettors in MLB's history. Doorknob knows there's enough other racists.

Third, per the "greenies" (and even steroid precursors) of the past, performance enhancement via chemistry isn't totally new. And, who knows how often Hank Aaron or Willie Mays used? We know that Mickey Mantle may have gotten early versions of steroids, even, from Dr. Max Jacobsen, JFK's quack doctor. Nor, whether with illegal corked bats by Babe Ruth, illegal spitballs by Gaylord Perry, or illegal scuff balls by Don Sutton, is performance enhancement via physics.

(I've blogged in more depth before about the steroids vs. other cheating.)

In short, just as a website like Baseball-Reference makes sabermetric adjustments for different ballparks, different eras, and so forth, I would like more information so we can make a sabermetric adjustment for steroids and human growth hormone, and anything else that was in the "cream" and "clear" that Bonds got from  BALCO. No, it won't be a perfect adjustment, but, it would be some adjustment.

I've blogged about the steroids-and-sabremetrics adjustments before, but, a book I just read called "Cooperstown Confessional" got me to thinking specifically about the morals clause issue.

(Update, Aug. 17: That said, former major leaguer Doug Glanville has a very interesting NYT column saying that, in terms of general public relations for Major League Baseball, today's roiders may be more of a potential problem than the Cobbs and other racists of long ago and the Pete Rose of not so long ago. Glanville was stimulated to ask if public tolerance might be finite, with Melky Cabrera's 50-game PED suspension.)

Meanwhile, speaking of sabermetric adjustments, here's my blog post about some of the pitchers I would vote out of the HOF on player quality grounds. And, here's my thoughts on some batters I'd vote back out.

And, click the  "MLB Hall of Fame" tag for more on other candidates on this year's ballot and my thoughts.

August 15, 2012

Needed: A 'Rate My Boss' website

I’m sure many readers of this blog are familiar with “Rate My Teacher” and similar websites under other names. Now, in an era of grade inflation and helicopter moms, a lot of the teacher ratings on such websites aren’t based on fact as much as on various emotions.

But, that’s a whole other story.

I just thought, today, that we need something similar — a “Rate My Boss” website.

After all, our bosses rate us, with pay raises or lack thereof, with good or bad evaluations, and above all with ridiculous work, emotions and various sheiss dumped on us, if they’re out to punish us, or if they’re just bad bosses or have taken on the patina of dysfunctional workplaces.

So, why shouldn’t we be able to rate them back on such a website, even if totally anonymous, and extra-filtered (like being listed as a former rather than current employee, etc.)?

Because this is the United States, not Western Europe, let alone the Scandanavian subset.

Even a fair amount of blue-ish states have at least some “at will” provisions for bosses and companies being able to can your or my ass at their pleasure.

You’ve likely read the stories about companies trying to force current or would-be employees to “open” their Facebook pages, by changing account settings or providing their password, if they’re not open to the public.

Don’t you think something 10 times worse would happen with this?

Of course it would.

But, we still can dream. And, in today’s America, given wingnut Republicans and business-friendly neoliberal Democrats, that’s about all we can do.

At least for now.

That said, some part of me says that the right progressive, labor-focused nonprofit organization, IF it had its cybersecurity certified by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, just might be able to pull this off. 

And, we need somebody to try.

In today's era of shrinking unions, white and gray collar workers still having socioeconomic class snobbery (even if they're not that high on the totem pole) about unions, "tort reform" directed against on the job injuries and more, an informational mecca like this would definitely level the playing field to some extent. 

It's not as if state governments stand up for workers, certainly not in red states like here in Tejas. The Texas Workforce Commission? It just posts job ads you can find on Monster and elsewhere while casting a narrow eyeball on unemployment eligibility. It officially does not act as a site to receive employee grievances against employers.

Personal thoughts below the fold.

August 14, 2012

Ross Douthat's crush on #PaulRyan

Ross Douthat
Ross Douthat occasionally has a strongly factual NYTimes column; sometimes he has a reasonably factual one. He at least seems to give more effort to dealing with the reality-based world than do "Teapot Tommy" Friedman or "Send in the Boboes" David Brooks.


Then, there's times where he sounds like a kinder, gentler, larger-vocabularied tea party-type wingnut.

This paean of love to Paul Ryan, claiming that moderates should love him, is exactly that.

The real fun starts here:
Most Republicans would have been happy posing as deficit-reducers while arguing for deficit-financed tax cuts. But Ryan, despite his own supply-side sympathies, deliberately drew up a plan for deficit reduction that would work with our current tax code, and doesn’t require any rosy fantasies about how tax cuts will spur unprecedented growth.
Totally wrong, of course. Douthat's colleague, Paul Krugman, has already called Ryan's plan a fraud because he refuses to talk about specific deficit cuts (other than his plans to privatize things like Social Security). Krugman's on the trail again, now. And, Ryan hasn't ruled out supply-side tax cuts, either.

Douthat then shows he thinks moderates should like the entire House GOP:
Most Republicans would have been happy to hang the White House’s decision to help pay for its health care bill with $700 billion worth of Medicare cuts around President Obama’s neck without proposing any entitlement reforms of their own. But Ryan didn’t just propose a much more sweeping Medicare overhaul, he proceeded to do the hard work of persuading his fellow House Republicans to actually vote for his entitlement-reforming budget – twice.
The Senate GOP, of course, knew that such a plan was a non-starter and wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole. But, with computer-driven increased gerrymandering of House districts combined with the uncompromising, unthinking, "What's the Matter with Kansas" stance of tea party voters, the GOP House freshmen, especially, weren't so likely to be punished for such a vote. In fact, in some cases, they were more likely to be punished for NOT voting with Ryan.

Next, after lauding Ryan's "courage" earlier in the column, Douthat does a hypocritical backtracking:
The budget’s proposed tax reform, meanwhile, specifies new lower rates but not the deductions and loopholes that would be closed to pay for them. But Ryan clearly has an idea of which deductions he would cap and which shelters he would eliminate. He just hasn’t persuaded his fellow lawmakers to shoulder the political risks involved in getting specific.
So, it's that damned Mitch McConnell's fault!

Douthat's hypocrisy neatly mirrors that of fellow conservative Catholic Ryan, who claims he draws inspiration from Thomas Aquinas, not Ayn Rand, as noted in this column showing how Ryan is (when he's not hypocritical) bringing the social conservative vs. libertarian struggle in the GOP to the fore.

Finally, it's false dichotomy time! What else would you expect as part of the kitchen sink, and here you go:
That agenda is, as I noted at the outset, quite conservative. If you believe that middle class taxes should go up dramatically in order to keep the existing welfare state exactly as it is, as current liberal premises require, then you have every reason to reject Ryan’s proposals. And if you think that his proposals could be amended to require more of the wealthy and well-connected, and invest more in upward mobility for the down-and-out – well, then welcome to the club.
Wrong again. Social Security and Medicare are, of course, largely middle-class entitlements. So too, are much else that's "welfare," including guaranteed student loans that actually help banksters as much as students, but that's another story. We could spend plenty of time listing middle-class entitlements besides that, such as SBA loans, but you know the drill.

The point is, much of our welfare state is for the middle class. As Douthat knows but will never say in public, "old Europe" has more socioeconomic class mobility than the US.

This might not be his worst column in terms of lack of facts, but in brazenness of lying other under terms, it may well be.

August 13, 2012

The new Gilded Age, a lost decade or more, and today's politics

Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan to be his vice presidential candidate makes it clear that today’s Republicans believe that this is a new Gilded Age — and should be so.

Meanwhile, President Obama’s Catfood Commission and other actions, including trying to sing Kumbaya with Speaker of the House John Boehner, even as the Ryans of his party had emasculated Boehner, make it clear that the Dear Leader types within the growing neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party want to, to riff on old man Poppy Bush, give America a kinder, gentler new Gilded Age. Or to riff on his son, Shrub Bush, that they want to make neoliberalism a socially more liberal version of compassionate conservativism.

And, tis clear, with income inequality not just at its worst since the Great Depression but its worst since World War I, and continuing to widen, that we are indeed in a new Gilded Age, or rapidly approaching one.

Now, let’s tie in the rest of the elements of the header.

Everybody in the world of economics talks about fears of a "lost decade" like Japan (unless they're Mitt Romney and say Japan had a lost century), but nobody from left or right stops to think that we're arguably halfway there or more. The housing bubble started bursting in 2006, though the sheiss didn't hit the Wall Street fan until 2007 and later. Well, from 2006 on, 2007-present is 5.5 years, going over half a decade.

So, we’re in a lost decade already. My friend Leo Lincourt notes that many economists saltwater and freshwater alike argue we could face a lost generation.

And, has that that happened before?

Yes …

Back in the Gilded Age!

Parallels of parallels, for many, with the “Panics” of 1873 and 1893, and the deflation between the two, and all the other things ... the Gilded Age was arguably the same for many.

Right now, we’re at the border of deflation, and if gas prices zoom up and stay up, we’ll be in some new version of Jerry Ford’s “stagflation.”

Meanwhile, other parallels with the Gilded Age?

Growing antiunionism, to some degree among both parties. Republican Rutherford Hayes used federal troops as strikebreakers in 1877; Democrat Grover Cleveland did the same in 1894. We know about Romney. Obama? Other than picking up a campaign check, what has he done for unions lately?

Growing laissez-faire attitudes. That’s definite among Republicans, fairly definite among Blue Dog Democrats, and a lurking possibility, with spin, from neolibs.

Nativism. It was against Eastern and Southern Europeans in the original Gilded Age, and of course, against Hispanics today.

Monetary issues as a deterrent from real issues.

Some in the GOP attack the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing.” The rabid Ron Paul types go much further and argue for returning to the gold standard. The original Gilded Age had the gold standard vs. bimetallism.

Final parallels.

Individual candidate driven third-party movements of the 20th century aside (Roosevelt’s Bull Moose, La Follette’s Progressives, George Wallace’s American Independent Party), the late 19th century was the height of third-party movements in America. Let’s see about today, even with the more massively uphill fight of today.

Here's one of those third parties, with Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein profiled here.