• Will sports wagering expand to political events? Should it?

    The Los Angeles Times has a news report on Las Vegas bookmakers taking some bets on non-sporting events.

    Let me explain why that’s important and why it should be encouraged.

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    As Vegas sports books expand betting options, MVP voting is fair game. Will presidential elections be next? (Los Angeles Times)

    And though bets on nonsporting events — such as the Academy Awards, the presidential election and reality TV shows — are not allowed in Nevada, they are permitted overseas, and interest in such betting provides a push for casinos to expand their portfolios beyond traditional wagering.

    But regulators and casinos remain mindful of tampering or influence where voting, rather than scoring, decides an outcome. They have instituted safety measures, such as halting betting well before voting takes place and capping the amount that can be won — usually about $10,000. Most casinos require identification through a player’s card for bigger bets.

    “We’re not going to take six-figure bets on these,” said Jay Kornegay, Westgate’s vice president of race and sports book operations. –LA Times

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    My Comments

    These “Prediction Markets” provide valuable information to the public

    • Everything we know about these betting markets suggests they give us the best, unbiased forecasts of future outcomes
      • To put it concretely, you cannot regularly beat the “line” in pro football bets unless you have valuable, non-public information, such as the extent of a player’s injury.
      • If you actually have such information and can legally bet by using it, your bet will change the odds. That gives the public some real information, in the same way that price movements for milk or chicken at the supermarket give you information about shortages or surpluses.
    • The deeper the betting pool, the more reliable the forecasts
      • Are they more reliable than polls? Yes, because the bettors incorporate information from the polls in their betting.
      • In fact, they incorporate information from every source and have powerful incentives to get more information and to distinguish signal from noise.
      • There are such markets now in England, but Americans are restricted in using them; there are small markets (largely for academic purposes) in the US. Larger, deeper markets would be far more informative.
    • Allowing legal betting on political events such as presidential or Congressional elections would make these markets much, much deeper–and give the public better information
    • The only reason to block these bets (besides general opposition to gambling) is the possibility the events themselves could be corruptly influenced by bettors.
      • The fact that many states have lotteries indicates there is no general opposition (though state legislatures may not want any competition)
      • Corrupt influence is far more likely in sports, such as mobsters bribing fighters to throw a match
      • It can also happen in financial markets, such as a major oil-producing country betting on the futures markets, using inside knowledge that the state itself will expand or cut its production
    • The risks of bettors corruptly changing outcomes they bet on is remote and almost certainly less than in other markets were wagering is permitted.
    • For these reasons, political wagering should be permitted in states that also permit sports wagering

    Some examples where it would be valuable for the public to know the odds:

    1. Will the government of Venezuela be overthrown by Dec. 31, 2017
    2. Will Bashar al-Assad still be in office by December 31, 2017?
    3. Will Boris Johnson be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on September 1, 2017?
    4. Will Pres. Donald Trump complete his full first term in office?
    5. Will the Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in 2018?

    Lots of people are interested in these events and some would like more accurate forecasts about the outcome. For example, oil producers would like to know more about Venezuela as they plan their own production. By the same token, they may have good sources of information about the situation there so their bets would inform others by changing the odds.

    Knowing the odds in political-prediction markets would be very informative to them and to policymakers.

    On international events, for instance, it would give the National Security Council, CIA, Defense Department, and State Department additional information to incorporate in their policy planning.

    For these prediction markets to work well, the outcomes would have to be well-defined before the events. To bet on the outcome in Venezuela, for instance, I need to know the exact definition of “overthrowing the government.”

    That is obviously more complex than setting a 3.5 point spread for a football game, but it is already done in today’s thinner prediction markets. So, I don’t see any insurmountable technical reasons why political prediction markets cannot be expanded.

    They would certainly be useful–to the public and to policymakers.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    If the general topic interests you, I highly recommend a fascinating (and non-technical) book:

    The Wisdom of Crowds Paperback by James Surowiecki

    Surowiecki is not a cheerleader for all crowdsourcing.

    The book explains, in clear, lucid prose, when it works well and when it does not.

     

  • What matters in Comey’s Testimony . . . and what doesn’t

    What was in the brew Comey stirred up and served to the world on Thursday?

    There was some red meat for both Democrats and Republicans. So you can expect them to emphasize different things.

    • In the media world, that means ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and others will see it one way.
    • Fox News commentators will see it another. Fox News’ flagship program, Special Report with Bret Baier, plays it straight. The other shows feature a lot more conservative, pro-Trump commentary.

    The Washington Post thinks the big news is Comey’s statement that “Trump lied” about the reasons for Comey’s firing since he, Comey was doing a great job and the FBI was not demoralized, as the president said. That was Trump’s lie, said Comey.

    That is a headline grabbing statement. But it is not what’s important.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Remember, there are ultimately two big legal issues:

    1. Did the Trump campaign collude with the Russians to throw the 2016 election?
    2. Did Pres. Trump obstruct justice in the FBI’s investigation of the Russian matter, Michael Flynn, or any other politically-sensitive issue

    There is one big political issue: Can the Democrats damage the Trump Administration? 

    • To do that, they need to find enough material to keep Trump on the defensive.
    • While Trump is on the defensive, he’s have a harder time moving appointments and legislative agenda (a gain for the Democrats)

    A weakened and vulnerable President will increase the Democrats’ chances of winning the House in 2018.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Turning to Comey’s testimony. . . he

     Confirmed that Trump has never been the subject of an FBI investigation and said he told that to Trump several times (as Trump claimed)

    Effectively stirred up the Russia issue again without offering anything substantive

    • Comey simply said what he now thinks 

    “It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired, in some way, to change — or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

    Comey’s testimony threatened to deepen the legal and political crisis engulfing the White House, which has struggled to respond to growing questions about the president’s conduct. -Washington Post (link here)

     Said Trump did not try to slow or stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 US election

    Comey declined to say whether he thought the president had obstructed justice, saying that was a determination to be made by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

    In response to Comey’s testimony, Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, released a statement saying the president “never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone.” –Washington Post

    • Comey offered no evidence of obstruction, which he would have been legally required to report contemporaneously.
    • He tried to square the circle by saying he now thought it might be obstruction
    • And, by raising the issue’s profile, he made set it high on Mueller’s agenda (and gave the Democrats talking points)

    ◆ Reaffirmed the leaks of “people familiar with Comey’s thinking” that Trump had privately told him he “hoped” Comey would be able to conclude the Flynn investigation and clear Flynn. But he did not order him to end the investigation.

    • At the time, he did not think that was obstruction, did not tell the President he was uncomfortable or that the conversation should end, but he did feel some pressure

    Confirmed that, in one disputed conversation, Trump asked AG Sessions to leave the room. 

    • Trump’s desire for secrecy supports those who think he was doing something improper. (Note, however, that improper is not the same as illegal.)

    ◆ But–and this is crucial–Comey changed his mind after being fired: now Trump was “directing” him to end the investigation of Flynn

    • His public statements about this pressure and his carefully chosen term, “directed” will force Special Counsel Mueller to look at the matter as possible obstruction
    • Mueller might have done that anyway
    • It won’t come to anything legally, but Democrats will seize on “possible obstruction” as a political hammer

    ◆ Admitted that he had orchestrated leaks of his private conversations, as FBI director, with the President.  

    • These documents almost certainly did not belong to Comey but to the government (but that is a legal matter)
    • He lacked the courage to leak the documents himself or simply disclose them in a press conference. He gave them to a “cutout,” a friendly law professor at Columbia and had him leak them to the New York Times.
    • Under questioning from Congress, he effectively outed the professor without naming him directly. NBC names the professor as Daniel Richman. (NBC)
    • Comey’s statement that he took the memoranda, which belong to the government, and converted them to private use is potentially a legal violation in its own right.

    Claimed his leaks were done for an explicitly political reason: to get a special counsel appointed. An extraordinary admission

    Admitted that Attorney General Loretta Lynch (in Obama’s final years) ordered him not to call an ongoing criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails what it was: “an investigation.” She told him to call it only a “matter.”

    • Comey said he knew Lynch’s terminology was deliberately false and misleading,
    • Comey acknowledges bowing to this order. Apparently, he did not push back.
    • Comey thinks Lynch’s order was to ensure the DOJ and FBI used the same language the Clinton Campaign was using, even though they knew it was false.
    • This is clear evidence that Lynch was using her office to try and influence the 2016 election.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    The most interesting comment on the Comey-Trump fight

     Matthew Continetti writes a fascinating opinion column in the Washington Free Beacon, entitled:

    This One Tweet May Lead to Donald Trump’s Impeachment

    The logic is this:

    • A Trump tweet after firing Comey further angers the former director; this is the one that said Comey better hope there are no “tapes.”
    • Comey decides to leak his Cover Your Ass memos (via a friend) with the goal of getting a Special Counsel
    • He succeeds
    • The investigation by that Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, could ultimately undermine the Trump administration and even lead to impeachment

    Continetti writes:

    It now looks like the most consequential Tweet of his presidency to date came a few days after he fired James Comey as FBI director. At 8:26 a.m. on Friday, May 12, Trump wrote: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

    That tweet, Comey told the Senate, prompted the now-private citizen to instruct a friend, Columbia Law professor Daniel Richman, to share with the New York Times the contents of contemporaneous memos he had written describing his interactions with the president. The article, published a week to the day Comey was fired, revealed that the president had asked the FBI director to end the criminal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

    Why did Comey have Richman call the Times? Because, he told the Senate, he hoped that the disclosure of the memo would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and possible collusion with associates of the president’s campaign. That is exactly what happened May 17, the day after the Times piece, when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named as counsel former FBI director Robert Mueller. –Continetti in the Washington Free Beacon

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  • Today’s British Tabloids have Dramatically Different Front Pages. Is America Moving that Direction?

    Britain’s tabloids have always been feisty and highly partisan.

    Today’s front pages are a perfect illustration.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    British Media: Always Partisan

    American Media: Getting More So

    Strong covers matter for tabloids because they depend on newsstand sales. That’s true in the US, as well as Britain.

    But US papers are less overtly partisan, less stark. Every reader still knows the NY Daily News is liberal, the NY Post conservative, but the differences are more muted, less in-your-face than those of Britain’s Sun and Mirror.

    In my opinion, though, America’s mainstream media is sliding down the same slippery slope. That’s not confined to the few remaining tabloids. It’s true of mainstream papers, cable news, and broadcast channels.

    The trend is not new, but it has accelerated with their hatred of Donald Trump and his vituperative reciprocation, calling them “enemies” of the people. Lots of presidents have thought that, but he has shouted it from the bully pulpit.

    If we continue down this slope, those tabloid front pages await us.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Is Open Partisanship Actually Better than Subtle Suasion?

    There is one interesting response, worth considering.

    Many conservatives already think the New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN are “homers” for the Democrats and progressives. But their slanted coverage is more pernicious, these critics say, because it is less obvious. Ordinary readers and viewers find it harder to detect. They drink the Kool Aid, not knowing it is a sugary drink of editorial bias slipped into hard news stories. If would be better, these critics say, if the media simply declared themselves, as MSNBC has, so viewers would understand.

    Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe you do.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat tip to Joe Morris for the English tabloids and for stimulating this response

     

  • Why America’s Political Crisis is So Profound. My latest at Real Clear Politics

    The column is here at Real Clear Politics.

    The op-ed tries to go beyond the partisan arguments you already know.

    Instead, it focuses on the country’s deep divisions, as they are reflected in sharply divergent responses to the allegations against Pres. Trump and his aides.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    The heart of the matter is that the opposing sides are making very serious allegations–and making them sincerely.

    Each side thinks it is defending America’s most fundamental constitutional values, while the other side is deliberately undermining them.

    These opposing positions build on already-deep divisions in American politics and society–and reinforce them.

    There are some bright spots in this dark tangle, and I consider them, too.

    Here, again, is the link.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    I welcome your thoughts.

    And, of course, please feel free to share this or any other post at ZipDialog.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, May 12

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Comey Commotion: Neither side’s story survived intact–and Comey didn’t do so well, either (a comment)

    • Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he intended to fire Comey, regardless of what the DOJ report said. That completely blows up the story the White House press office has been peddling that pinned the decision on Rod Rosenstein, the new number 2 at DOJ. Rosenstein’s memo gave Trump cover and may have changed the timing, but this was Trump’s doing. He said so himself.
      • And many sources are saying the ultimate cause was his frustration that the Russia investigation didn’t wrap up. That, too, is a serious blow. He should not interfere with such investigations. Ever. Period.
    • The Democrats’ narrative suffered an even more serious blow, in my opinion. The entire logic of the Democrats’ position is that Trump fired Comey as part of a coverup. The No. 2 at FBI, who is now running the show, testified to Congress that the investigation is a high priority and that it had plenty of resources to do the job. He also said that there had been no pressure from the White House on the FBI’s conduct of the investigation. That makes the obstruction-of-justice claim against Trump and his aides look tenuous, at best. And it makes Comey’s claim he needed more money for the investigation (see below) look bad.
    • Comey himself doesn’t look so good in the day’s news, either. He said that he asked Rosenstein for money $$ for the investigation. Rosenstein says, flatly, that such a request was never made. And McCabe (the #2 at the FBI, married to a Democratic politician) said there was already enough resources. So Comey’s statement, which supported the idea that Trump and his administration were trying to block the investigation, collapses.
    • Comey also told Trump several times he was no under investigation. We might not believe Trump’s statement on this but it was confirmed by the top Democrat and Republican on a Congressional Committee, who said Comey told them the same thing about Trump. It is unclear whether the FBI Director should ever make such disclosures.

     The New Yorker has a brilliantly clever cover. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with the political perspective, artist Barry Blitt deserves credit for a mordant pen.

     More biased coverage at the NYT. Sun rises in East.

    The story is headlined: “In a private dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty. Comey Demurred” 

    To see the bias in that pitch, just look at what the story actually says.

    • There were only two people in the room at that dinner: Trump and Comey.
    • Comey says, “Trump demanded loyalty from me. I, brave soul, refused.”
    • Trump says, loyalty was never even discussed.

    I have no way of knowing what happened in the meeting. You have no way. And the New York Times has no way. But look at their news headline. Comey is telling the truth, they are saying; Trump is lying. That’s possible. But it is not certain.

    The headline should have read “Comey says Trump Demanded Loyalty. Trump says the issue never came up.”

    Here’s the story, which is more accurate than the editorializing in the NYT headline:

    Only seven days after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, James B. Comey has told associates, the F.B.I. director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief.

    The conversation that night in January, Mr. Comey now believes, was a harbinger of his downfall this week as head of the F.B.I., according to two people who have heard his account of the dinner.

    As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.

    Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense.

    The White House says this account is not correct. And Mr. Trump, in an interview on Thursday with NBC, described a far different dinner conversation with Mr. Comey in which the director asked to have the meeting and the question of loyalty never came up. It was not clear whether he was talking about the same meal, but they are believed to have had only one dinner together. –New York Times

    Comment: Is there anybody at the NYT who knows the difference between reporting and commentary? If there is, she’s not anywhere near the masthead.

     Quotas, Quotas, Quotas!! Freshman Senator wants mandated diversity on everything in Congress (Fox News)

    One of the U.S. Senate’s newest members is proposing to shake up the chamber by mandating “diversity” quotas for everything from staffs to committees.

    A proposal by Nevada’s freshman Democratic senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, could mimic efforts in corporate America. . . .

    “You just have to walk in the room and look at the Senators that are there — the 100 Senators, right? You could see the lack of diversity.”

    Comment: I’m absolutely opposed to discrimination on the usual prohibited grounds. And I appreciate diversity on multiple dimensions, including not everybody working on Capitol Hill being a lawyer (as, of course, Sen. Masto is).

    But, Sen. Masto, as I understand it, Senators are selected by an alternative mechanism. So, how does Sen. Masto plan to mandate her kind of diversity there. Btw, some democracies actually do mandate such gender diversity, requiring parties to put up slates that meet their regulatory standards.

    Typically, when these mandates go in, we get upper-middle-class, highly educated people who check off different boxes for some things, while we ignore all the other similarities among them.

     Former Rep. Corrine Brown stole big-time from the charities associated with her. Now, she’s been convicted  (News4Jax, Jacksonville, FL)

    She said that she never knew where the money was coming from; her staff handled such things. The staff testified otherwise. The jury didn’t buy her story.

     North Korea, still claiming the US (under Obama) tried to assassinate Kim Jong Un, demands the US hand over the culprits  (Washington Post)

    Comment: This won’t end well.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    ZipDialog will post less frequently for the next few days, as I travel the friendly skies. Sarcasm off.

     

  • A Quick Guide to the Political Firestorm over Comey’s Firing. What matters and why. What Democrats and Republicans will argue

    Donald Trump’s decision to fire James Comey has set off a firestorm, mostly along party lines, but not entirely. Some Republicans have expressed concern, too, and more will wring their hands in the next few days if the Democrats’ narrative takes hold.

    How long the fire lasts and how much it consumes depends, crucially, on information that will emerge out over the coming days, as media organizations pump their sources and Comey defends himself.

    Here are the basic messages you will hear from Democrats and Republicans, starting immediately.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    The Democrats’ message is remarkably disciplined. They are speaking with one voice, Chuck Schumer’s.

    They will repeat two key words: Nixon and Watergate.

    Their meaning is clear: Comey was fired to cover up Trump’s crimes.

    Here is their message:

    • Trump, not some underlying, is the person who fired Comey.
    • Trump fired Comey because the FBI was getting to close to uncovering malfeasance by the Trump campaign and transition.
      • This is focused on Russian collaboration with Trump and usually implied rather than asserted directly. Why?
        • First, the intelligence agencies agree that Russia actively meddled in the US campaign, sought to harm Hillary Clinton, and favored Trump.
        • We know that some Trump advisers had connections of various sorts to Russian entities. The most important is Michael Flynn, who was briefly the National Security Adviser. There are reports that he and his associates are now under investigation by a grand jury. Some questions have also swirled around Paul Manafort, head of Trump’s campaign in the summer, and Carter Page, a lower-level figure.
      • Key question: Do the connections between the Trump team and Russia rise to the level of collaboration? If so, that would be a huge scandal and lead to calls for impeachment. If such evidence were found and were convincing, many would consider it a “high crime and misdemeanor.”
        • So far, no evidence of such collaboration has been found. Senior figures of the intelligence community, associated with the Obama Administration, have specifically said that they have looked and that there is no such evidence.
    • Because Trump “interfered” with the FBI, which was investigating the Russia issue, we cannot leave this investigation to the Congress or Department of Justice.
      • Key claim: We are now seeing a Watergate-style coverup by the Trump Administration since they cannot fairly investigate themselves and we cannot count on the FBI, the DOJ, etc.
      • Key demand: We must have an independent special counsel to investigate
      • This demand will receive unanimous backing from Democrats, I expect, and has already received a lot of vocal support from them.
      • The demand will succeed politically if the public thinks there is a coverup and enough Republicans agree that an independent counsel is needed.
    • What’s missing from the Democrats’ argument?
      • None of them actually defend Comey or say he should have been kept in the job. They can hardly make the affirmative case since they have repeatedly called for him to be fired.
      • They simply say “the timing is bad” or “looks suspicious.” But they would have said that if Trump had fired Comey on Day 1. They would have said Trump is trying to stop an on-going investigation.
      • They have not produced any evidence that the firing was actually related to the coverup of a crime, which was the essence of the Watergate firing of Archie Cox and his associates.
      • They have not explained why the firing of Comey impedes the Senate investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
    • What to expect?
      • Democrats will keep pushing hard to get an independent counsel and, if possible, stop Trump’s policy agenda by tying up the Congress and undercutting public support for him.
      • Hearings, of course. Lights, camera, preening. The goal of public hearings is to push agendas, not discover information. And the Democrats have a perfect opportunity here.
      • huge fight over whoever Trump picks as the new FBI director. The fight will be less intense if the nominee is a highly-regarded, career professional, but the Democrats will still use the selection and confirmation hearings to slash and burn the Trump administration.

        ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    What are Republicans saying?

    They have said, or will say,

    • Comey deserved to be fired for cause, totally unrelated to any Russian investigation.
    • Rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey, making it impossible for him to lead the agency.
    • Senators from both parties had already expressed their lack of confidence in Comey.
    • There is zero evidence, so far, of collusion between Trump and the Russians, much less that Trump was trying to stop any investigation (the obstruction of justice charge against Nixon).
    • If you D’s think Comey is so great, why did you call repeatedly for him to be fired? That is, R’s will try to get D’s to defend Comey, an untenable position, and move them away from simply attacking Trump and the Republicans.
    • The acting director at the FBI is a dreadful candidate to lead the agency, even in the interim. Why? Because his wife, an unsuccessful candidate for local office in Virginia, was handsomely funded by Clinton confidante, Terry McAuliffe. At the very least, that was a horrible judgment, given the FBI’s interest in the Clinton machine.

    Significantly, I expect Republican activists to demand a fresh start to several failed investigations Comey led.

    They think Comey botched them and that the DOJ blocked them under Lynch and Holder. Besides thinking that’s true–and wanting to get evidence that it is–they would be happy to distract attention from incoming fire.

    • Why, they ask, were all Hillary’s aides given immunity without an indictment in prospect for the bigger fish, the one with the private, unsecured server? Why was no Grand Jury empanelled? Why didn’t the FBI interview Hillary under oath? Why wasn’t the Clinton Foundation seriously investigated?
    • They will want a major investigation of the Obama Administration’s alleged spying on Americans, including members of Congress, the Trump team, and so on. If such spying really did take place, and if it was directed against political opponents, that is a scandal as big as anything since Watergate.
    • They want to know exactly who ordered all the unmasking of names, which should be readily available, and they will want to know the purported national security purposes for the large number of such requests from the White House. They will note that Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, has already refused to testify voluntarily on that issue.
    • They know the leaking of Flynn’s name was a felony, and they want to see an indictment in that case.

    My guess: if the Democrats look like they might get a special prosecutor for the Russia issue, the Republicans will want one for the Obama spying.

    The Republicans in Congress know–or ought to know–that if Trump’s firing of Comey takes firm root as a major scandal, an attempted coverup by the White House, then the GOP’s grip on power will slip away.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • Goodbye Independent Voters. Hello Switch Hitters

    Many voters say they are “independent,” not affiliated with either party.

    You might think both parties would court them avidly, giving them extra weight in elections.

    The reality is that they have surprisingly little political leverage.  Is there a different and more effective political leverage option?

    A New Name for Independents

    The replacement for independent voters may be political “switch hitters,” a term borrowed from baseball – batters who are effective from either their or right sides when they bat opposite a left- or right-throwing pitcher.

    The critical difference is that an independent voter operates outside of the political stadium; the switch hitter plays every day inside of the political stadium.

    Why Independent Parties Fail

    There are multiple reasons why even a well-organized and funded independent party will not prevail or even have a significant effect in presidential elections.

    • The Electoral College system wherein the state winner takes all.
    • No prize for winning even 20% or more, but less than a majority, of a state’s vote.
    • Voters tend to vote for apparent winners.
    • Lack of major funding for television commercials.

    The relative political power of independent voters is a myth. Try something that is politically realistic and potentially effective. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt ran for the office of president on the independent third-party Bull Moose ticket – he lost to Woodrow Wilson. In 1992, Ross Perot received 19% of the popular vote and zero Electoral College votes.

    Each state decides third-party access to the presidential ballot. The US Supreme Court has made it difficult for states to prevent independent third-party access to the ballot by prohibiting virtually impossible criteria. It is now easier for an independent candidate to be on the ballot, but independents and third-party candidates remain political orphans.

    The political reality: when Democrats vote for Democrats, and Republicans vote for Republicans, and independents vote for independent candidates, the long-established Democratic and Republican political parties always win.

    How Do Voters become “Independent”?

    A potential independent voter must leave the warm nest of either the Democratic or Republican parties established by their parents and social groups. The young generation independent voter is inculcated to be a partisan voter. Leaving one’s party affiliation traumatic, similar to leaving one’s organized-religion affiliation. It’s much easier to be an independent if one had no long-standing political affiliation in the first place.

    Still, some people do change. Perhaps they are motivated by disgust with the established parties. Perhaps they are swept away by a particular candidate or issue. A few change affiliations because they change their basic political outlook.

    Is there a pure independent voter?  Probably not. The independent voter is either Democrat- or Republican-leaning. There may be 5% of voters who meet most of the independent voter criteria checklist, notwithstanding the voter statistics arrayed below.

    The markers used by voter research agencies are reasonably consistent:

    • Moderates, 47%; liberal, 29%; conservatives, 24%.
    • Party leaning: independent, 20%; Democrat, 45%; Republican, 33%.
    • Most recent affiliation tally: independent, 36-42%; Democrat, 32-36%; Republican, 23-26%.

    Why do political polling statistics find that independents are a dominant political force? Political statistics are inconsistent, or skewed, for several reasons, from one-time shocks to ticket splitting because of particular candidates, rather than changed partisanship.

    To me, this strongly suggests those who say 40% of voters are independent are vastly overestimating. Maybe Ross Perot’s 19% is the highest mark for the independent voter.

    The Message to Independent Voters: Focus on Substantive Issues, Not Winning the Oval Office

    The message for independents is partially good news. Don’t quit now. Abandon presidential leverage expectations, focus on substantive issues for the common good, and achieve well-defined strategic objectives by stratagem and stealth.

    Independents should consider becoming political party switch hitters who can focus on beneficial, substantive issues from within either established political party. How can they leverage their votes to compel the president, and Democrats, and Republicans to question and resolve their dysfunction? Politics is not an end in itself. It is the vehicle by which government is achieved. A government that understands that the US is in peril; one that can create national good feeling, constructiveness, and competency that is based on mutual respect and stability.

    The strategic objective is in the collective American gut: small and large businesses that provide jobs for those who are able and willing to work; use government regulatory power sparingly to promote love of country among classes; continue to attract and welcome qualified immigrants who enhance our productive capacity and will become US citizens; and have the capacity for global leadership that is backed by constrained military power.

    How can beneficial change be implemented?

    Use the electronic internet infrastructure, present and future, in place of the traditional political organization that requires many personnel and much money to operate. The key concept: do your own thing; tell your selected political party what your thing is. Aggregate substantive concepts and ideas, and array them on the Internet. Note that rescuing a dog from a well will receive more than one million hits overnight. This phenomenon can be used to auction switch hitters and their policies to the highest bidders, whether Democrat or Republican.

    Political leverage is achieved by letting state and local parties know that you and your switch-hitter colleagues have a substantive agenda and that, if most of your ideas are incorporated into their agenda, your vote will be theirs.

    Remember the critical concept

    • Independents play in the parking lot, outside the political stadium
    • Switch hitters come up to bat every day.

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    Richard Friedman was chair of the National Strategy Forum/Chicago. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Counselor to the American Bar Association Committee on National Security.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, March 12

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Turkey’s relations with Europe continue to decline. The latest: Netherlands deny entry to Turkish foreign minister; Turkey’s leader, Erdogan calls the Dutch “Nazi remnants.” (Fox News)

    Comment: Erdogan is transforming his country, and not for the better. For years, Turkey was secular, a legacy of Ataturk’s revolution after World War I. Erdogan has turned it toward Islam, though not as strident a form as some other countries. For years, Turkey was a semi-democracy. He has increasingly assumed dictatorial powers and is in the midst of an election to reinforce those powers.

    Having failed to enter the European Union, his latest gambit was to hold up Europe for ransom to slow the flow of refugees fleeing regional wars. Now, Erdogan sounds less and less interested in that bargain.

     As North Korea’s arsenal grows, experts see heightened risk of ‘miscalculation’  (Washington Post)

    ZipDialog has frequently focused on the growing threat from this belligerent, erratic country with an unstable regime.

    Over the past year, technological advances in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have dramatically raised the stakes in the years-long standoff between the United States and the reclusive communist regime, according to current and former U.S. officials and ­Korea experts. Pyongyang’s growing arsenal has rattled key U.S. allies and spurred efforts by all sides to develop new first-strike capabilities, increasing the risk that a simple mistake could trigger a devastating regional war, the analysts said.

    The military developments are coming at a time of unusual political ferment, with a new and largely untested administration in Washington and with South Korea’s government coping with an impeachment crisis. Longtime observers say the risk of conflict is higher than it has been in years, and it is likely to rise further as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seeks to fulfill his pledge to field long-range missiles capable of striking U.S. cities. –Washington Post

     Saturday Night Live has become an editorial page. Will viewers prefer that or comedy? 

    The New York Daily News, which shares SNL’s politics, puts it this way: “Trump-dominated SNL showdown features ‘complicit’ Ivanka Trump, ‘racist’ dog, ‘distracted’ Jeff Sessions” and called it a “mud-slinging showdown.”

     Harvard Library lists many legitimate, conservative news sites as fake. (Washington Examiner)

    Included on their “fake, false, and misleading” list are the Washington Free Beacon, the Weekly Standard, the Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, and Independent Journal Review, but not Fox News. The sites listed are legitimate sites with strong conservative leanings (of different varieties). Comparable progressive sites, such as Mother Jones, are not listed.

    Comment: If this were an editorial for Slate or the New Republic, it would be par for the course. But it is not. It is presented as a seemingly-neutral, professional guide for students and scholars. In that guise, with Harvard’s official imprimatur, it is truly shameful

     Genetic testing and the workplace: major privacy issues  CNBC reports

    Workers participating in so-called workplace wellness programs reportedly could be ordered to get genetic testing — and hand over the results — by their employers or face financial penalties, if a bill being pushed by congressional Republican becomes law.

    That bill, passed by a House committee Wednesday, could end up as part of the second phase of planned Obamacare-replacement legislation, the STAT health-care news site reported Friday. –CNBC

    Comment: Expect a slew of ethical, legal, financial, and political issues to arise as medical-testing technology improves. We will have ever-increasing capabilities to link genes to future diseases and even behavior. Employers and insurers will want to know. Individuals will want privacy.

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