Thursday, November 29, 2012

Egypt: Yet Another Revolutionary Screw-up

Grand High Douchebag Morsi of Egypt has declared himself Grand High Pharoah Douchebag of Egypt.  Apparently, negotiating a truce with Israel gains you the right to be God-King.  Because, nobody has ever done that before.  Except several ex-presidents. And Anwar Sadat, who they killed for it.  Now Egyptians are rioting in the streets.  Again.  While watching this, it occurred to me that too many revolutions go sideways like this.

Americans are fortunate that our revolution didn't go bad.  But ours was a little different from many others.  Our revolution was a colony demanding independence from an empire that treated us like second class citizens.  We were already independent in many ways, having our own governments at the city and colonial levels.  It was not difficult to translate that into a cohesive government once the British had been sent on their way.

Most other revolutions that happened in that time, like the French revolution, were popular revolutions where peasants who'd been forced to live in wretched poverty overthrew their elites.  They tore apart the fabric of their society in the process of revolting, resulting in chaos.  The French revolution went like this:  Kill the king.  Then go crazy with the guillotine.  Then go crazy with the Napolean.  Then, after a making a mess of everything, bring back the royal family.  Which is right where they were when it started.

Marxist revolutions frequently followed a similar pattern: Bloodbaths and dictators.  Stalin killed something like 20 million.  Mao killed anywhere from 30-90 million.  Pol Pot killed almost 2 million.  The list goes on.  The pattern is clear, though:  Overthrow the government.  Have some nut job take over. Kill everyone associated with the old government.  Then kill everyone opposed to the new government.  Then kill everyone who might be opposed to the new government.

This has me wondering if it's inevitable that these sorts of developments happen after popular revolutions.  They start out with good intentions, but end up getting hijacked by crazy people.  The Muslim Brotherhood hijacked the Egyptian revolution in the same way Maximilien Robespierre hijacked the French revolution.  And maybe they haven't started a full fledged Reign of Terror (yet), but there have been increasing attacks on Coptic Christians, amongst other atrocities.

Now Ramses the Umpteenth is declaring himself dictator of Egypt.  Seems like it happens every time.  I'm somewhat heartened to see that the reaction of the people was immediate.  Maybe the young kids who started this revolution will correct it's course and have real, modern democracy, not the quasi-theocracies the Middle East is known for.  But maybe we'll have another nutjob dictator birthed from a popular revolution that makes a mess of everything.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Where Unions Go Wrong

I was absolutely amazed the when the baker's union refused to make a deal with Hostess, even after it was abundantly clear that everyone would lose their jobs if nothing was done.  I've been laid off twice before, so I tend to take stuff like this personally.  The baker's union appeared to have an all or nothing, "give us what we want or we're taking you with us," attitude.  Even the teamster's union was asking them to think it over.  When another union thinks your union is going too far, it's time to rethink your position.

Alas, the baker's union stood strong, and screwed 18,500 people.  I know that despite the sensational headlines that Great American Brands Are Dead, Twinkies and Wonderbread will probably survive.  They'll be sold to some other company in the liquidation.  The downside of this is that some of the potential buyers are not American companies, like Grupo Bimbo (I hope that means something less racy in Spanish) of Mexico.  So the brands may saved, but the American jobs may not be.

The dispute was in part about pensions and wages, but there were also unusual rules in the union contracts that forced the company to be inefficient.  The most often mentioned in the media is that Twinkies and Wonderbread can't be transported in the same truck.  This means that if you have a half of a truckload of Twinkies and a half of a truckload of Wonderbread, there must be two trucks, and therefore two drivers, two teams loading the trucks, etc.  And the loaders who load Twinkies cannot also load Wonderbread.  Any idiot can see that this is wildly inefficient.  Only one truck and one group of loaders is necessary.

So why would anyone do this?  It's quite simple.  Twice the number of union workers = twice the number of union dues.  This is where the goals of union management diverge from the needs of union workers.  The union bosses want to increase dues collections, so they need to increase the rolls of the union.  In slightly more than half of the states, even a non-union worker can be forced to pay a fee if they choose not to join a union.  They can also be fired if they don't join.  So any additional jobs automatically increases union revenue, even if those jobs are unnecessary.

What a worker wants is to make a living and to have job security.  Forcing inefficiencies on a company hurts job security, as we've just seen with Hostess.  The right way to produce jobs is for a company to be as profitable as possible and expand, hiring new workers for the expansion.  Jobs at a profitable company are far more secure than jobs at an unprofitable one.  I feel stupid for stating the obvious like that, but apparently some people still don't get it.

Now unlike many of my more conservative buddies, I don't think unions are inherently evil.  It is possible for them to benefit workers without burdening employers unnecessarily.  The problem is that the system is broken by giving the unions special treatment.  There is a reason to have a union putting upward pressure on worker pay.  It's because labor is sort of illiquid.

Take, for example, the words of Matt Patterson from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, as seen on Special Report with Bret Baier:

What your labor is worth is what you receive, and if your employer feels that you are worth more you'll get more, and for a lot of people who are complaining about their working conditions, they're perfectly free to go out and get another job or start a company of their own, and that's how the free market works, and should work.

I should note that he's not necessarily wrong, but he's not quite right either.  Going out and getting another job requires that one is available, which is not always the case.  Starting a company requires seed capital, which not everyone has or can borrow.  But most importantly, what we're worth and what our employers thinks we're worth aren't always the same thing.  Our employers will eventually realize what we're worth, but only every six months to a year when he hands out raises.  This is what I mean by illiquid.  Even then, they may lowball us on the raise.  And getting a new job, even if available, isn't always the preferred move.

Prices on an exchange update almost immediately and reflect the true value of what's being traded because there is constant trading.  In other words, these things are liquid.  But if a laborer constantly trades (read: gets a new job) as suggested by Patterson, he'll become known as a "job-hopper" and be considered unreliable.  This actually reduces a laborer's value.  A union can renegotiate pay more frequently, bringing the worker's wage in line with his actual value more frequently.  This introduces a form of competition, which is not an anti-capitalist idea.

The problem is unions are considered indispensable by some (which is an anti-capitalist idea), so they are given special treatment.  Regulations that permit unions to compel dues and membership stack the deck in favor of unions.  The truth is that unions, like any organization, don't have a right to exist.  We should make them constantly justify their existence.  That's what the free market is really about.  The answer to this problem is Right-to-Work.

Right-to-Work doesn't destroy unions.  Many of the greatest advances in worker rights happened long before there were any compulsory dues or membership.  There was a time where every state was effectively a Right-to-Work state.  Unions did fine without compulsory laws.  Right-to-Work does keep unions honest.  If there were no compulsory union dues, the absurdly inefficient clauses in union contracts would be unnecessary.  The extra jobs produced by separating Twinkies from Wonderbread would not necessarily result in new union dues.  So the unions would have no reason to weigh down contracts with these kinds of clauses, because it would produce no value for them. 

Let unions operate in every state, let workers join any union they want, but also make every state a right to work state.  This will result in union negotiations where the unions negotiate for the benefit of their workers, not just to increase their union rolls.  Unions will have to constantly justify that they deserve to exist, and will start to realize that they, like the workers they represent, cannot survive without employers.  Maybe they'll start to see that forcing an employer to be inefficient is a self-destructive act.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Oliver Stone's Revision of US History - Should I bother?

I'm toying with the idea of buying "The Untold History of the United States" by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick.  Not because I think I'll learn anything from it, but because I occasionally like to remind myself that there are crazier people in the world than me.  Granted, it seems premature to pass judgment on a book I've not read.  On the other hand, anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I'm a terrible skinflint.  If I'm going to blow $15-$20 on a book, I better know it's going to be worth it.

What I have to go on so far is the talking points coming from Stone and Kuznick, through interviews and snippets of the Showtime documentary which follows the book.  Presumably these are summations of his main points designed to induce me into buying.  Therefore, purchasing the book would expose me to more of the same.  I will assume that these interviews and clips are mere previews for what is contained in the book, because that's how books and other media are sold.  So what are some of these talking points?

I.  The United States Didn't Win World War II, the Soviet Union Did

Stone contests that the USSR lost more people at Stalingrad and Kiev than the US did in the entire war.  Which is true, although losing more people doesn't necessarily equate to accomplishing more.  The USSR pushed the Nazis out of Eastern Europe and ultimately took Berlin at great cost.  These were important accomplishments, but are only part of the story. 

First of all, the Soviets had no involvement in pushing the Germans out of North Africa or the Mediterranean.  But more importantly, they did next to nothing against the Japanese.  They declared war on Japan on August 8th, 1945.  Which also happens to be the day before the Nagasaki bombing.  They were barely involved in the Pacific theater.

In Europe, they played a major and important role, perhaps even the key one.  Holding the line at Stalingrad (actually, Russians prefer Volgograd these days because Stalin was a douche, but I guess I shouldn't nitpick too much) prevented Germans from having access to Russian oilfields.  German Tiger tanks were notorious gas guzzlers, even compared to other tanks.  And that's saying something.  If the Soviets hadn't held there, it's very possible that the Battle of the Bulge (where the Germans literally ran out of gas), would have ended differently.  And any idiot can see the value of taking Berlin.

But to ignore Japan is to ignore, let's say, 47% of the war.  In the Pacific, the USSR was Ivan come lately.  The Soviets invaded Manchuria after the US had pushed the Japanese all the way back across the Pacific.  Strangely, Stone tries to contend that the Japanese were ready to surrender before Hiroshima, but the thing that convinced them to surrender was the Russian invasion on the day of the second bombing.  So we didn't have to bomb them because they were ready to surrender but they weren't really ready to surrender until the Soviets attacked after we bombed them.  I'm getting a bit cross-eyed.

Stone tried to qualify his remarks in an interview with CBS, and stated that Russia won the war on land.  Nah.  North Africa is land.  France and Italy are land.  And strictly speaking, the Solomon Islands and the Phillipines and Iwo Jima and Okinawa count as land.  And stop acting like the naval contributions don't count.  Taking back the Pacific is a big deal, and the Soviets had nothing to do with it.

II.  American Exceptionalism is a False Idea

In the same interview where he qualified his claims that the Soviets won World War II by saying they won on land, Stone claimed that American Exceptionalism (viewing ourselves as an indispensable nation), makes us incapable of being a "global partner.".   Other statements he made were to claim that no other country considers themselves indispensable and dictates to others and China has no history of aggression.

Wow.  Where to begin.  I'm pretty sure Nikita Khrushchev saying "We will bury you!" and "Communism is the wave of the future!" was at least implying that he thought the Soviet Union was indispensable.  Also, controlling Eastern Europe for decades sounds kind of like dictating to others.  So the guys who he just got done praising for winning World War II are suddenly ignored after World War II.  Maybe he doesn't ignore them in the book.  But he's not exactly selling me on the book with this.  I could get a twelve pack of beer for the same amount, and I'm not sure that the book's worth as much yet.

As for the Chinese, they did a fair amount of dictating as well.  For example, they did some dictating to Tibet.  After they took it over circa 1950.  So unless Stone considers 1950 to be pre-history, China does have some aggression in its history.  But I guess that would make World War II pre-history too.  I'm getting more confused here.

But I need not restrict myself to what happened decades ago.  The Chinese spend plenty of time bullying nations in Southeast Asia, mostly in disputes over the South China Sea.  I'm pretty sure bullying counts as aggression.  The Chinese government also does all sorts of aggressive things against its own people, like running them over with tanks for protesting.  Or throwing them in jail for writing books.  Or putting their wives under house arrest when they win a Nobel Prize for said book. 

The Russians have done plenty of dictating to neighboring nations, sometimes using alternative means of persuasion, like poisoning candidates for president of Ukraine.  Also, I think the assorted Syrian shenanigans being perpetrated by Putin count as dictating to others.  With bombs and stuff.  I guess the only time things like this are worth considering are when America does them.

They miss the obvious.  America is the most powerful nation in the free world, and we are not partners with everyone.  There is no moral equivalency between us and the repressive government in a place like Russia, and certainly not the extraordinarily repressive government in China.  We may not be enemies, but we should compete with them.  We need to be a message to the world that freedom works better than repression, and we're the only ones capable of standing up to the world's biggest repressors.  That's what makes us indispensable.

We haven't always been perfect and admit that, something the Russian and Chinese governments, past and present, avoid doing. We designed a system that is based on ideas, not ethnicities, races, or nationalities. And it's also a self-improving system.  So we may underperform at moments in time (slavery, racism, sexism, the list goes on), but our system is designed to overcome these failings.  We gradually (sometimes too gradually) learn from our own mistakes and continually get better and more free, while the Russian and Chinese governments continue to silence dissent and suppress freedoms.  That's what makes us exceptional.

III.  American Imperialism

The co-author Peter Kuznick, claimed in an overly sympathetic interview with Tavis Smiley that this history is from the viewpoint of the victims.  Right, America victimizes the world.  Yawn.  He goes on to explain the birth of American imperialism.  America is the evil empire.  Double yawn.  America seeks global domination.  Please.  There were some times in early history where we had some expansionist adventures, but in the twentieth century that's not quite true.

We didn't willingly enter World War I or World War II.  We resisted getting involved in the first until an American cruise liner was attacked.  We were dragged into the second when Hawaii was attacked.  Prior to these attacks, we were inclined to keep to ourselves.  After the war, we were the only free country not in shambles, facing Soviet aggression.  We took on the role of the superpower of the free world, because no one else could.  If we are an empire, we are the first one ever that didn't become an empire willingly.  We did so to combat a larger, stronger empire bent on repression and global domination.  We were the only ones who could.  It's probably more accurate to call us a counter-empire.  We don't want to rule the world; we want to make sure no one does.

In the Smiley interview, he said he was proud of Showtime, because the documentary wasn't the sort of thing that would be shown on normal TV.  There's a reason why these things aren't shown on normal TV.  These three ideas are classic canards of extreme lefties.  They go out of their way to diminish American achievements, then claim that America is a regressive force in the world while ignoring actual regressives in the world.

Well, I've made up my mind.  The assorted lunacies I've heard so far have only served to reinforce my belief in America and Americanism.  The authors' addiction to obsolete ideologies has increased my allegience to the ideology that rendered them obsolete.  Reading the entire book can only make me more patriotic.  Also, I'm a sucker for good comedy.  If the whole book is this crazy, it should produce a few thousand laughs for me.  That's always worth $15-$20.

Stop Dying Democracy, You're Annoying Me

Now that the election's finally over, we can all breath a sigh of belief.  Nah, screw that.  Let's bellyache/gloat about the outcome.  Democrats can stand around and rub everything in the Republicans' faces.  Okay, it's a dick move, but Republicans would've done the same thing.  As for Republicans, they can participate in the time honored tradition of grousing about election shenanigans and dirty campaigning.  I'm okay with all of that, because some of it might be true.  Except one thing.  I'm a little sick of people claiming that Democracy is dead.  Get real.

This is something that's happening every time there's a contentious election.  Several months ago, when Scott Walker fought off a recall vote in Wisconsin, an inconsolable union activist claimed on TV that "Democracy died tonight.".  Democracy dying as the result of a vote (the most fundamental act of democracy there is) struck me as supremely ironic.  Also, technically it would be democracy committing suicide.

Some Republicans recently opined (Read: tweeted) that democracy committed suicide on Tuesday. So at least they understood that democracy-death by voting is suicide, not homicide. But nailing the manner of death isn't a big improvement.  Nothing died. There was no death.  Knock that off, it's aggravating as hell.  Besides, aren't the Republicans the ones whose destiny isn't reliant on who's in office?  Why does one election mean that we are doomed for all time?

Recent history should prove that democracy didn't receive a death blow on Tuesday. I know a lot of people tried to compare this election to 1980, but it's more like 2004.  A one-term president struggling with job approval runs for re-election.  The opposing party settles on a somewhat square, super rich, unexciting guy from Massachusetts, who also has a reputation for flip-flopping.  The party's support for him is actually somewhat lukewarm; they're more passionate about removing the president than voting for their guy.  Massachusetts guy loses.  Kerry 2004, Romney 2012.  Same story.

Back then, it was the Democrats who claimed that the country was lost.  From their perspective, I'm sure it was.  Republicans owned all three branches.  When Howard Dean was made DNC chairman and the torch was passed from Whoever-The-Guy-Who-He-Replaced-Was, John Stewart jokingly praised the peaceful transfer of no power.  Two years later the Democrats had the Congress, two years after that they had the White House.  I guess it wasn't quite the doomsday scenario they imagined. 

All they had to do was stop whining and get their act together.  Republicans need to do the same thing.  Now I'm not really a Republican or Democrat.  My score told me I was a Libertarian, which is right-ish, but not exactly.  But I see value in having two strong parties.  I think political competition, when done right, can have a positive results that are comparable to the benefits of free market competition.  Granted, neither me nor anyone else has figured out what "when done right" means.  But we won't ever figure that out if there aren't at least two vibrant parties.

These constant diatribes about democracy fatalities are just petulance.  Republicans believe their ideas are better, but not enough people were convinced.  Instead of complaining, they need to regroup, rethink, rebrand, and restrategize.  The message they had was not quite enough; not enough people bought it.  So now they have to think about what they need to do differently. 

There is one way to kill democracy.  Just give up.  If you don't want democracy to die, get back to work.  When you lose, assume it's something you did wrong and fix the problem.  Not sure what the new Republican message will be.  Don't know yet if I'll like it.  But if they can put up a good fight in future elections, democracy won't ever die.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Agony of Early Voting, The Joy of Mail-In Voting

The first time I voted early here in Florida was in 2008.  It was a Saturday, and I drove downtown to the county clerk's office where the early votes were being taken.  I'd never done it before, but the job I had at the time frequently required me to start early and stay late.  I figured I wouldn't have time to vote on election day.  So I'd just roll in, fill out the ballot, and run on home. 

Then I got there and saw a line of people so long I would have thought it was for a Justin Bieber concert.  Except that the people in the line were all over 18, which is atypical of a Bieber concert.  Also, Justin Bieber was only 14 back then, and apparently was only annoying other Canadians.  A few quick inquiries told me that the wait would be hours.  But it was this or not vote.

I took a deep breath and got in line.  I always have bad luck when I wait in line at a government building (DMV, tax assessor, whatever), because I'm always in line with weirdos.  I know normal people have to go to these offices (presumably, everyone does), but they never go at the same time I do.  Every time I go, the line is full of creepy-looking, heavy-breathing, basement-dwelling guys. So not only am I waiting an hour or so to get a license or pay taxes, but a bunch of would-be child molesters are breathing down my neck the entire time. It's unpleasant.

However, this particular line was not a bunch of freaks. Several women who worked at the nearby hospital were in line behind me.  Immediately ahead of me was a guy who worked at a local internet company.  Ahead of him was a local state representative, who had come out to vote with the rest of us schmucks.  These were all normal people. I was somewhat amazed.

I noticed several of the candidates working the line, trying to drum up last minute votes. Most of these were candidates for offices that nobody pays attention to. But a few were running to be judges and aldermen. I found this strangely heartening. We may have to march into town halls or courtrooms and bow and scrape and say "your honor" or whatever once they're elected, but for now these would-be pols had to work the line and beg for votes from the hoi polloi.  This actually reinforced my belief in democracy.

It didn't last long.  Once I got past the politicians, I noticed the freak show.  Every activist in town was passing out flyers and other assorted swag to the unsuspecting voters.  There are laws against campaigning near a polling place, but the law in Florida says no campaigning within one hundred feet.  This line was way longer than one hundred feet, and the activists were staying well away from the entrance.

One guy was there from the local Democratic party.  He handed me a slip of paper and said "Here's your Democratic slate.  When you go in there, you don't even have to think, just pick the candidates we've listed here.".  I took the thing to shut him up, but couldn't help but be a bit stunned that a party representative was encouraging me not to think.

An elderly lady came up next and glared at me with rheumy eyes and shoved a slip of paper at me with one quavering hand.  She said something to me in a wheezy voice, but I couldn't make it out.  Having always been taught to respect my elders (even the ones that look like they could be zombies), I just nodded politely and took the slip.  It was pro-life leaflet saying something about the abortion "holacust.".  Republicans, and particularly pro-lifers, spend a lot of time trying to shake the belief that they are ignorant, inbred, crazy people.  It's a belief I've always found unfair. She wasn't helping their cause.

I dealt with dozens of similar nutjobs that day. When I finally got to the front of the line (six hours later), I saw a little form that came with the ballot that gave me the option of having my ballot mailed to me next year.  "Hell, yes," I thought.  Anything to avoid this nightmare again.  Since that fateful day, my ballot has been delivered to my mailbox.  I also discovered that day why I always bumped into creeps and weirdos at the DMV and the tax assessor's office.  Normal people do this stuff over the phone or online or through the mail.  Now I get my ballot through the mail too, and the number of oddballs that I bump into has decreased dramatically.

Of course, I completely forgot to vote in 2009.  My ballot was just collecting dust on my coffee table for months.  One could argue that this reduces turnout. Still, after watching all of the bitching and moaning about early election nonsense in Florida for the 2012 election, I see the value of mailed ballots.  No more long waits is just the least of it.

Two years ago, I bought a house in a somewhat nicer area than I had been living in.  The market was at rock bottom, so I could afford it.  And unlike my previous neighborhood, politicians and party volunteers routinely knock on doors in election season.  Every now and then I'll actually talk to one, when I'm in a good mood.  I'm rarely in a good mood.  Now that the ballot is mailable, if some campaign douche comes by I can laugh in his face and tell him I already voted.  Of course, that's a blatant lie.  I wait until the last minute to deliver my ballot.  But it is effective at getting people to go away.

The other huge advantage is that I get to troll the putzes waiting in line.  I could just mail the ballot in and not hand deliver it.  But that takes away half of the fun.  Tonight, I'll go to the poll at the busiest time, when the dinosaurs are waiting in line to vote in an actual polling booth.  I'll see hundreds of people who came there straight from work.  They'll wait in line for hours while their kids are at home not getting supper because their parents had a democratic urge.  And I'll saunter by those long lines, occasionally looking askance at these geniuses doing it the old-fashioned way.  I'll relish the hate-filled looks of the masses trapped in that seemingly endless queue.  If someone asks me what I think I'm doing, I'll smile sweetly and say "My ballot's right here, suckas!"  Then I'll drop my ballot in the slot and bail the hell out.

Of course, the biggest advantage to mail-in ballots would be noise reduction.  I've noticed, as always, a frenetic last-ditch effort by both campaigns to snag last minute converts.  Pundits jump in front of every camera they can.  Television ads jam the airwaves.  Tweets clog cyberspace.  As the desperation increases, the ridiculousness increases.  Crazy predictions, outlandish analysis, and absurd claims bombard us at every turn. 

If we all mailed in our votes at least a week in advance, we could seriously reduce the crazy levels.  I'm generally supportive of encouraging people to shut up, and this would be an effective way to do that.  Not that I'm opposed to people speaking their minds.  I just prefer that they say something useful.  Most last minute pundit spew is mindless blather, and therefore shut-up-worthy.  I prefer to hear thoughtful analysis.  Or at least mindless blather with an underlying meaning, which is what I do on this blog.  Mail-in voting shuts up the chattering class early and prevents the circus that is early voting lines. 

I don't know if other states mail out ballots, but if they did we could reduce the noise level significantly.  We could tell the door-to-door campaigners to take a hike.  We could render last minute misadventures in punditry obsolete.  I would have to give up voter line trolling if everyone mailed it in.  But it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the betterment of America.  Besides, I can find other ways to be a dick.  Mail-in voting: for a better, quieter, less annoying election.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Yay! I'm In a Battleground State! My Vote Counts! Now What the Hell DoI Do?

For the first time since I've been old enough to vote, I live in a state that is up for grabs.  Florida, a battleground state.  More than that, I live in a battleground county in that state.  I can actually impact the outcome of the election.  But there are three candidates (two that are viable) that I might vote for.  And I'm not sure what to do with any of them.  One seems better for the economy, another seems better for social issues, and the one that seems most in line with what I want doesn't have a prayer. 

I took the test at to find out who I'm most in agreement with. I match Gary Johnson on 87% of issues, Mitt Romney on 77%, and Barack Obama on 60%.   I only match about 57% of other Florida voters. That last one's not surprising; I match slightly more than half of the people in Florida. It's a battleground state. It's how we roll.

What to do?  Here's where I am on each one.

#1 Barack Obama

The economic recovery under Obama has been tepid.  I spent six months out of work in 2009, when the Florida economy, largely a real estate and tourism economy, was getting hammered.  His attempts to stimulate the economy didn't and haven't had any noticeable effect.  The only effect I noticed from his signature achievement, Obamacare, was that my employer at the time (this was after my six month jobless stint) called together the office and notified us that the cost of our health benefits had increased.  If we wanted to keep our coverage, we'd have to pay more.  If we wanted to pay the same amount, we'd have to choose a lower coverage plan.  He gave us as many options as he could, but he confirmed what we all suspected: that this increased cost was due to the passage of Obamacare.

Obama's done reasonably well in certain foreign policy areas (like sending SEALs to shoot people in the face), but I'm uncertain about his commitment to stick by Israel and prevent Iran from getting a nuke.  He seems a little uninvolved in Syria, but maybe got too involved in Libya. Many other parts of the world are more unstable than when he entered office, but I'm not sure how much of that can be traced to something he did.  Overall, I give his foreign policy a "meh" rating. Some problems were solved, others were not.

On social issues, I tend to be fine with him.  Obama's positions on civil liberties seem in line with mine.  I'm fine with legalizing marijuana and gay marriage.  Obama supports one based on things he's said, and another he must be sympathetic to due to his youthful "choom gang" shenanigans.  Also, most of his supporters support marijuana legalization. It's worth noting that my beliefs on this are not due to some sense of social justice.  My tolerance for these things is born from vast indifference.  Also, I don't see how the government has any business dictating what we do privately.  So although I'm apathetic on individual issues, I have a certain Mind-Your-Own-Damned-Business-ishness in my character (#grouchy). So any time government tries to tell someone what to do, my natural response is to tell them to stuff it.  And I sure as hell don't want them wasting money trying to stop these things.

You want to smoke weed?  Fine.  Don't tell me about it.  And don't do it near me because that stuff reeks.  You want to be gay?  Whatever.  Don't tell me about it.  Actually, lesbians are welcome to tell me about it, but gay dudes aren't.  Oink.  But there's one place that Obama kind of screwed the pooch.  You want to be Catholic?  Fine.  Government has no business telling Catholics how to be Catholic.  Even when it's the 1% of Catholics who don't use birth control. But Obama did sort of try to.

One thing that won't affect my decision is Hurricane Sandy.  Even if Obama nails that, it's not good enough.  Psychologists who work in human resources have a concept that they call the "Recency effect".  It has to do with judging someone by their most recent performance and not their overall performance.  Even if Obama's performance with the hurricane is exemplary, I'm not falling into that trap.  All four years are relevant.

So, on domestic policy, foreign policy, and social policy, Obama gets a "Meh", "Meh", and "Yeah, Whatever, With a Dash of Sorta Not Because of the Catholic Thing.".  I'm not too excited about him, which may explain why he got the lowest rating.

#2 Mitt Romney

I have no doubt that he'll do a better job with the economy.  Of course, that bar's pretty low.  Despite all of the rhetoric about Bain Capital being a bunch of corporate raiders, I know that venture capital companies specialize in helping new companies grow and helping failing companies turn around.  Neither of these is easy, but Romney's success rate was about 80%.  Given that startups usually fail and turning around a failing company is, well, problematic, I think that's a pretty decent performance. 

But another big part of handling the economy is handling the debt.  I don't know if I want taxes raised (although plenty of the rich guys I work for would be fine with it), but cutting taxes seems too risky.  He assumes that cuts will cause economic growth and an increase will stifle it, but that's not necessarily consistent with history (Clinton years).  And I know that Obama's stimulus involved any number of tax cuts.  It didn't seem to accomplish much. 

Mitt Romney doesn't seem like a small government guy.  His approach to business is sort of a top-down approach.  Small government is a bottom-up approach.  Let the people build the economy and have government do just enough to keep it going.  If the economy is a football game, the government is the referee, not the coach, and certainly not the quarterback.

Not being a small government guy is a problem, because I think only a small government guy has the guts to reform Medicare and Social Security. Bringing spending under control is critical, and these are huge chunks of the budget. The problem is, supporters, like the AARP, would rather see mountains of debt passed to future generations than fix the problem. I'm not convinced Romney or Obama will address this.

On foreign policy, Romney spooks me a bit.  I've no problem preventing Iran from getting a nuke or protecting Israel, but some of Romney's positions seem a bit too aggressive.  Excessive intervention in the Middle East can cause more trouble than it solves.  We've seen this in both the 20th and 21st centuries.  On the other hand, some of that may just be posturing.  After all, when Obama was elected, he promised to do things like close Gitmo.  It didn't happen.  He's also increased troops in Afghanistan, and gotten a little crazy with the drones.  These are not things he ran on.  What this tells me is that a President can make all sorts of promises when he's running, but once he's actually in office reality may set in.  What he wants may not be practical, at least not yet.  Mitt's positions may be a little aggressive on the campaign trail, but once he actually takes office he may have no choice but to moderate them somewhat.

On social issues, Mitt's positions are fairly far to the right.  This is a change from when he was Governor of Massachusetts.  As a presidential candidate, he has no problem enforcing laws that impose the values of one group on others.  But maybe that's just pandering too.  He's changed his mind on various things, but a lot of that was playing to the base during primary season.  Now that the right has no choice, we may find him moderating these positions.

Of course, those last two point out something else that's bothered me.  He's been compared to a weather vane, and I don't think that's unfair.  I have to ask myself if he really means what he says.  I have no doubt that he's interested in turning the country around, but is he going to do it like he says?  Maybe he's just saying what he needs to say to get elected, but once there he'll do things his own way.  If he moderated on foreign policy and social issues, I'd be fine.  But if he baits and switches on the economy, I'm not sure I'll like the result.

So, on domestic policy, foreign policy, and social policy, Romney gets a "Yah, sorta", "Meh (but don't go crazy)", and "Don't presume to tell us what to do with our private lives.".  I tend to give more weight to the economic issues, which is probably why he got the second highest rating.  But my stance on Romney is qualified with a dash of "Is this guy for real, or is he jerking me around?" 

#3 Gary Johnson

It's not a surprise that I'm most in line with Gary Johnson.  The Libertarian view on government is that the people should decide the direction of the country, and the government should focus on providing a safe and stable environment for the people.  The Libertarian view on foreign policy is roughly in line with the "city on a hill" doctrine.  America can generally lead by example, and should avoid trying to force people to agree with us.  If America is great, other people will want to be like us.

Granted, these are a little over-simplified.  And that's my main hang-up with Libertarians.  They do seem to oversimplify a bit too much.  I'm fine with free markets, but some Libertarians appear to think that it is the magical elixir that cures all ills.  I should mention that I find the socialist view that the free market is just snake oil a far more offensive idea.  The best way to describe the free market is to paraphrase Mr. Churchill.  The free market is the worst form of economy, except for all of the others.  It works, but that doesn't mean we can't do better.  Some of my Libertarian friends have such great faith in the free market's perfection that it borders on idolotry.  Which is ironic, since most of them are atheists. I want the freest markets possible, but I don't want laissez-faire.

In foreign policy, I'm generally in line with the Libertarian policy of avoiding interventions.  But sometimes it sounds a little too much like neo-isolationism.  We can't go back to the days where the United States only concerned itself with its own affairs, or at least its own hemisphere.  When you're about 22% of the global economy and the only real military power in the free world, you can't not be involved.  Our role should be as stewards of freedom and the free market, not as pushers of them.  But non-involvement is not an option.

This is why I don't call myself a Libertarian.  I'm more or less in line with them, but still have a few misgivings.  Gary Johnson seems like a fairly typical Libertarian, and my 87% score puts me more or less in line with him.  That's the highest score.  My rating on domestic policy, foreign policy, and social issues are "Yeah, mostly", "Yeah, mostly", and "That's right, tell 'em where they can shove their rules!".  But there's a problem. He can't win, and I'm in a position that I can actually decide who does. Still, I'm toying with the idea of voting for him. 

Americans have frequently taken a vending machine approach to politics.  When a vending machine doesn't give you what you want, you shake it or give it a kick.  When Americans do this to the government, this results in "wildcard" candidates. These are candidates that emerge in times of trouble and are a departure from what came before them.  In my lifetime, we made an actor president, we made another actor who was also a weightlifter a governor, and we made another actor who was also a weightlifter and a former Navy SEAL a governor.  We also made a junior senator with minimal experience the first black president.  Any number of tea-party candidates were wildcard candidates. Some might say all of them.  The idea is straightforward; inject some new blood into the establishment.

If a new type of candidate can affect the process, imagine how much a new type of party could.  Gary Johnson might not have a prayer of winning, but a good showing could lay the groundwork for a new party.  Of course, wildcard parties, like wildcard candidates, can produce mixed results.  Sometimes when you shake a vending machine, it just falls over and crushes you.  Doing that with the political process might have the same effect.  Public Service Announcement: Don't shake a real vending machine.

So I could vote for Gary Johnson.  I doubt it will affect this election, but it might build momentum for future elections.  If it does, I won't be wasting a vote.  But if my ISideWith results are any indication, I think I'm inclined to vote Romney somewhat more than Obama, despite my misgivings on Romney's authenticity.  Do too many votes for Johnson in Florida give Obama a win?  If Obama produces another four years of "meh" performance, is it worth it if I plant the seeds of a new party?  Is the new party really worth it, or will Libertarians just merge with the Republicans and moderate some of the Republican beliefs?

Of course, all of this is qualified by my "Ah, to hell with it" mentality (#grouchy).  How much is really going to change, regardless of who gets elected?  Answer, probably not that much.  I know that real change happens when the people make it happen, not the politicians.  We'll have debts until the people demand change.  We'll have unnecessary foreign interventions until the people demand change.  We'll have excessive regulation until the people demand change.  Maybe voting for the non-viable candidate is a small way of demanding change, but I doubt it'll do that much.

I could always just write in a random person.  I wonder if I could just put some random name in there, then find that name somewhere in the election results.  If I could find a record that had millions of votes for Obama and Romney, thousands, hundreds or dozens for the others, but only one vote for "Joe Blow Schmo" or whatever, at least I could point at that one vote and say "That was me.  I did that.".

A lot of people wonder how there can be undecided voters.  They assume that this is the result of laziness, stupidity, or some peculiar sense of vanity.  I've never been stupid, I am occasionally lazy (it's Florida; margaritas and chicks in bikinis have that effect on me), and I admit to being vain at times.  But that's not why I'm undecided.  I see two good to fair candidates that I'm not in love with, but I could probably live with, and one guy who seems best but doesn't have a chance.  An accident of geography has made my vote valuable.  Do I take a chance that Romney's telling the truth about his changes?  Do I treat Obama as a safety vote, since the economy has been mediocre, but could have been worse?  Or do I play the wildcard, even though it won't affect this election, and might not affect future ones?