Saturday, December 21, 2019

Happy Holidays!

I'm off to the Florida panhandle to spend time with my in-laws -- then back to California where my college buddies will come to me for New Year's!

Whatever you're celebrating this season (Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus ....), I hope it is suitably celebratory.

Thursday, December 19, 2019


The House of Representatives has voted to impeach President Donald Trump.

I have many feelings competing for primacy about this moment. I'm somber, certainly. I feel shame, by the fact that not a single Republican was willing to put loyalty to America over loyalty to Trump. I feel despair at the fact that Senate Republicans have predetermined their decision, and there's nothing -- no argument, no evidence, no "smoking gun" -- which could ever change their mind.  But I'm also proud of the majority of the House which did its duty under exceptionally trying circumstances. Posterity will remember.

And on that note: Posterity will remember. There will come a time -- and I don't think it will be a very distant time -- where Republicans will race to excuse, overlook, or plead forgiveness for what they have done these past few years. They will say they never liked Trump, that they were trying to be the adults, that they were caught in a tough situation, that hindsight is 20-20, that they managed the best they could. They will want history to, if not absolve them, then at least overlook them.

It is my sincere hope that this, at least, they do not receive. History should remember them, and it should remember them with opprobrium. Their legacies should be forever tarnished. Their grandchildren, who might have been proud to say they descend from a U.S. Congressman, should be ashamed to admit the relation. They should take their place as villains.

There is no argument, no leverage, no pressure that can compel Republicans to do the right thing. History will be their only consequence. They should be forced to endure it.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Worst Spoiler

Here's a question I've been pondering:

Imagine an election with three parties: A, B, and C. Suppose that the election is decided on a plurality-winner (first-past-the-post) basis, and that B and C both would prefer the other to win over A (that is, B is C's second choice and C is B's second choice). Consequently, many members of both parties support "strategic voting"  whereby if B is the best chance of beating A C's voters should vote B, and vice versa.

In two districts, the results of the election are as follows:
District 1: A = 45%, B = 43%, C = 4%
District 2: A = 42%, B = 24%, C = 34%
In both districts, A wins, even though the combined B + C vote is larger.

My question is which party, B or C, is more to blame for failing to "vote strategically".

On the one hand, in District 1, C clearly had no chance of winning. So the voters who did pick C did so, under this view, on a completely selfish and self-destructive basis. But, one could say, the relatively small numbers who voted for C demonstrated C backers, as a whole, probably did try to "do their duty" and vote strategically. Maybe 4% is about the minimum one could plausibly expect even when voters are thinking in strategic terms.

On the other hand, in District 2, B arguably was competitive with C -- even if C had an advantage, B wasn't obviously drawing dead like C was in District 1. It's one thing to say "don't waste your vote on a third party that will be an obvious non-factor", it's another to demand dropping one's first preference in a situation where it is realistically in the mix. Yet of course, the flip side is that in District 2 it looks as if B backers didn't even realistically contemplate voting strategically, and thus a district which is overwhelmingly "B + C" ended up in the "A" column (whereas District 1 at least looks to be on face a swing district).

Obviously, part of the answer depends on what the baseline levels of support would have been for voters had they not been acting strategically. It's hard to credit B backers in District 1 for voting strategically if their base of support was 4% to begin with.

But anyway, this is something I've been pondering.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

There's Little To Celebrate About the UK Elections Outcome

Had Labour won last week's UK general election, it would have been a stamp of endorsement for the horrifying wave of antisemitism Corbyn and his allies of ushered in.

That would have been a catastrophe, and it was avoided.

But the tragedy of this election is that in averting that catastrophe it ushered in several other catastrophes. An unstoppable Brexit. A historically unpopular Conservative Party nonetheless receiving a giant electoral mandate to bring back brutal austerity politics. The effective legitimation of the Tories own brand of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism.

And worst of all, the politicians who tried to be the adults in the room ended up being punished the most.

Each of the former Labour or Conservative MPs who left their parties trying to chart a different path lost their seats. The LibDems, who at one point seemed like they might pose a viable liberal alternative to the populist fever that gripped both Labour and Tory, lost a seat (specifically, party leader Jo Swinson's seat). Most terribly, the Jewish MPs most wounded by Labour antisemitism, and who had risked the most to fight it, lost their seats. Luciana Berger will not be returning to parliament. Neither will Ruth Smeeth, or Mike Gapes. Louise Ellman was bullied out of politics altogether.

And this doesn't even get into the efforts by some on the left to "blame the Jews" -- as opposed to Jeremy Corbyn's almost ludicrously low approval ratings -- for their defeat. Between the ones who think Corbyn's failures were entirely a result of Jewish slanders, and the ones who vaguely admit that the Jews had a legitimate grievance but if they so much as dare breathe a sigh of relief that Corbyn won't be PM they're basically cheering Windrush deportations, the next few months hardly seem likely to be much more pleasant for UK Jews than the last few months.

Meanwhile, once one gets past the fact that Jeremy Corbyn will not occupy the Prime Minister's office, one has to look long and hard to find anything positive in the race-by-race results. Let's see: Margaret Hodge retained her seat.  Chris Williamson lost his in deeply humiliating fashion. Those are nice, I guess.

But beyond that, what's worth celebrating? That Boris Johnson will be Prime Minister? That the nativist right has never felt more emboldened? That the most tangible upshot of the British public's "rejection of antisemitism" was to reject the Jews who had fought hardest against it?

A catastrophe was averted. More catastrophes are coming. There's not much to celebrate here.