Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The black hole where the US media's coverage of third party candidates should be

It was an interesting experience watching CNN's election coverage as one of the roughly 1% of voters who had plumped for someone other than Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. Although I'd been in that position before, in past elections I'd voted for the relatively high-profile Ralph Nader. This time it was as if third party candidates didn't exist, and indeed as if their voters didn't exist either. The subliminal message was "if you didn't vote Democrat or Republican, you didn't participate in this election". Psychologically, it's very hard to swim against that tide, and I found that I had to remind myself a few times why the easy option of a vote for Obama really wouldn't have been such a great idea.

This subtle pressure on voters to conform is undoubtedly very convenient to some. At about 6am, I saw a former Clinton adviser talking about his party's "growing up" process in 1992, which included an embrace of the death penalty. The Democrats "wouldn't have been ready" to make that change four years earlier, he added with a degree of smugness. This repugnant notion that putting people to death somehow equates with "maturity" is enabled by the assumption that left-liberal voters have nowhere else to go - or if they're uppity enough to think they do have somewhere else to go, that they can and should be browbeaten back into line. Witness the disgraceful attempt to pin the blame for Bush's 2000 election victory on Nader and his supporters. Seemingly it had never occurred to the "centrists" and "moderates" (ahem) that their complicity in maintaining a discredited electoral system might just have consequences for them, as well as for the constituencies of opinion that they are happy to patronise and marginalise.

On a more positive note, it's conceivable that CNN may have been kind enough to actually count my Senate vote, because I happened to vote for the winning candidate - an unashamedly socialist independent. Which is a timely reminder that if enough people persevere with voting for third party candidates for long enough, eventually some of those candidates will make a breakthrough, and then they can't be ignored anymore.

It should also be pointed out that the US media's treatment of third parties is infinitely worse than anything we've ever seen in this country. Even when British politics was a genuinely straight fight between the Conservatives and Labour, the BBC used to faithfully report the results for Liberals and fringe candidates (indeed they probably did so more faithfully than they do now).

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A quick update on my previous post - somewhat surprisingly, Puerto Rico seems to have broken the habit of decades by voting against the constitutional status quo. The most popular option was to become the 51st US state, so it'll be intriguing to see if their wishes are respected, or if "only English-speaking states are welcome here". Unfortunately, the attempt to abolish the death penalty in California failed, which is without question a considerable setback for the abolitionist movement throughout the US. I do still firmly belief that America will join the civilised world eventually, but it may take a few more decades yet.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It's independence referendum day... Puerto Rico.  The fact that you probably didn't know that (no offence to anyone who did!) should perhaps cause us to question our assumption that any independence referendum is bound to attract considerable international interest.  After all, Puerto Rico is only slightly smaller than Scotland.  Having said that, today's vote follows on from a series of past referenda on the island that have always produced negligible support for outright independence.  There's no reason to expect anything different this time round, so that perhaps explains the lack of excitement.  The real interest will be whether the electorate opt for the status quo, for a free association agreement with the US, or to become the 51st state of the union.

Yes, you read that right.  This is a multi-option constitutional referendum.  The Scottish Liberal Democrats are understandably bemused - everyone knows that if you want constitutional change short of independence, the sure-fire way to get it is to insist that your preferred option is excluded from the ballot paper.

I must say that the status quo in Puerto Rico looks like the worst of all worlds - it gives the territory most of the bad things associated with being an integral part of the US, but without any of the voting rights.  Statehood might do the US and the wider world a favour by moving Congress slightly to the left, and increasing the chances of a Democratic victory in presidential elections. It would also make the US a much more unambiguously bilingual nation.  However, assuming independence isn't a realistic option, I think free association is what I'd be looking towards if I lived on the island.  In a way it's strange that option has never really been floated for Scotland - perhaps that's because as a proud historic nation it's unthinkable for us to have the same constitutional status as the Marshall Islands.  But the fact remains that free association is a rung on the ladder above Devo Max - we'd be sovereign, and outside the United Kingdom.

Another referendum taking place today will decide whether California should abolish the death penalty.  I'm quite glad I'm not involved in that campaign, because the Yes side have made a tactical decision to abandon the moral arguments against capital punishment, and are instead advancing the 'fiscal conservative' case that life imprisonment without parole would be more cost-effective.  They seem to be gaining some traction that way, but it must be hard to try to win a victory for a deeply-held moral principle by pretending you don't really care about that principle.

I was amused to see this defence of the death penalty on a forum the other day -

"We all have consciences to some degree HB....

The main difference here, is OUR consciences are activated by seeing a multiple murderer/child rapist be released, or escape from prison..

and do his horrible deed to yet another child....

yep, this drives my conscience absolutly NUTS.

While YOU'RE conscience activates over SAVING the pig knowing full well that they can escape, or be do their dirty deed over & over.....

You sure you want to talk about a pro's conscience?"

So the main justification for capital punishment is that prisoners "might escape" if you don't kill them? Crikey, just how insecure are these American maximum-security prisons?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Questions to which the answer is 'if you don't stop asking these horrid questions, I'll shame this family by becoming an arsonist'

Gordon Brown may not have been the greatest ever PM, but it's now clear that was not the summit of his political career. No, the role that history has been preparing him for is to resurrect Labour Hame's legendary Questions To Which The Answer Is "Er..." feature, which has been so shamefully neglected by its creator Tom "Admin" Harris for over a year now. For the uninitiated, the feature consisted of a series of 'impossible' questions for Nationalists. They were 'impossible' for the following reasons -

1) Approximately 728 answers from Nationalists would be received for each question, of which approximately 701 would be deleted. They simply didn't exist.

2) The remaining 27 answers would be declared "non-answers".

3) When asked why they were non-answers, "Admin" would explain that a legitimate answer could only consist of a 'Yes' or a 'No', without qualification.

4) Subsequent legitimate answers consisting of an unqualified 'Yes' or 'No' would be greeted with the words : "Thankyou for attempting to answer this week's Question To Which The Answer Is "Er...". Unfortunately, your answer was incorrect."

5) The question would then be declared UNANSWERED.

What a lark. Sadly missed.

But now Big Gord has made up for lost time, with more than twenty absolute belters. I feel like a kid let loose in a sweet shop, but I really don't want to make myself ill, so for now I'll just restrict myself to my absolute favourite -

"What happens if the Scottish Parliament has a different view on the line of succession for the Monarchy?"

First of all, the fact that this genuinely appears to be one of the questions keeping Gordon awake at night says something rather profound about his sense of priorities. As Johann Lamont might put it : "a male heir to the throne is no substitute for having a job".

But as it seems to be so important to Gordon, let's try and put this matter in some kind of perspective for him. There are currently sixteen Commonwealth Realms, ie. countries which share our monarch as their Head of State. All of them could in theory take their own view on the line of succession, but all of them have decided that would be extremely silly, and have agreed that any change (most probably allowing a girl to take precedence over any younger brothers) would have to come about through consensus. Scottish independence would simply add a seventeenth Commonwealth Realm to that process.

Now my own question for any passing Labour activist, if they can find the time -

Given the theoretical but unlikely possibility that the parliaments of New Zealand, Jamaica or Papua New Guinea could take a different view on the line of succession for the monarchy, does this mean that the independence of those countries is unviable?

In your own time, chaps...

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