It’s the numbers, dummies!

November 14th, 2016

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Why progressives need to blame themselves* for the Trump Victory

Following the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency last week, a tsunami of analysis has followed, with everyone giving their theory to explain who voted for Trump, who didn’t vote for Hilary and why they did or didn’t. Racism, misogyny, anger at the political elite and neoliberal economics, disillusionment with the system, etc. But before the analysis must come the data.

I’ve previously made the case that politics is a matter of numbers, and those numbers can be confronting.

There are two sets of figures that leapt out at me from the stream of punditry following the US election. And they’re both about voter turnout.

Voter Turnout (in a small way)

The US political system is quite different to ours, and not just in the obvious area of concentration of executive power and the agenda of government that naturally flows from it. Another key feature of the US system is voluntary voting – and our compulsory voting system is one of the causes of the phenomena described in the above linked post.

Here’s the first set of numbers:

us-presidency-primary-vote-2000-2016

Apart from the surprising, and mostly sustained, rise in turnout from 2000 to 2004, the takeaway from this is that the Republican vote is basically unchanged in every election from Bush in ’04 all the way up to and including Trump in ’16. So every pundit making pronouncements about people voting for Trump due to his policies on immigration, neoliberal capitalism, jobs, taxation, foreign policy, etc, are just making it all up. Because there was no net gain to republican votes. Every voter who switched to Trump for those reasons was countered by a voter who switched away, or switched off altogether.

Speaking of switching off altogether, and to get to my point, check out what really made the difference in that graph. The MILLIONS of democrat voters who just stopped voting. Wow. Seriously, just wow! 3.5 million dropped off between Obama ’08 and Obama ’12, then another 5 million from Obama ’12 to Clinton ’16.

So what’s the explanation? Maybe sexism in the US is worse than racism? Maybe Clinton was seen as part of a corrupted system? At this stage, who knows? Certainly none of those pundits trying to explain the result based on Republican vs Democrat policies – this has nothing to do with Trump or Republicans. Democrats lost those 8.5 million votes, and they didn’t lose them to Republicans, they lost them altogether. They need to find out why this happened, and to do it, they need to do some real research and find out from those people who stopped voting. And take action to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Voter Turnout (in a big way)

The US has a population of 320 million. Of these, 230 million are eligible to vote, and approximately 200 million are actually enrolled to vote. 113 million actually voted. 60.3m voted for Trump, 61m for Clinton, 3.25m for Johnson and 1m for Stein. So sure, if every green voter had voted for Hillary then there would be a different president come next January.

But the real problem number is that around 85 million *enrolled* voters didn’t vote.

Why bother trying to change Republican minds, or even Greens for that matter? It’s got to be a lot easier to go find those people who didn’t vote, and convince 1 in 10 of them to commit to come out and vote. After all, that 1-in-10 did come out and vote in 2008. Stop running the campaign in the media, and get back running it at the grassroots level. Get your people to *vote*. Whether or not the polls were right before the election – and just because Trump won, doesn’t mean the polls were wrong – then the effort needs to be focussed on the last mile: getting people out to vote who already want to vote progressive.

Conclusion: Progressives, stop screwing up our future!

The world can no longer afford the do-nothing-or-go-backwards agenda of conservatism. Change in so many parts of society (climate change, technological change, etc) is happening too fast for the population to take it’s traditional “breather” from too much rapid change, in the form of a few years of conservative government. It used to be part of the political cycle, but we simply can’t afford it any more. Especially when it comes to climate change. Of all the dangers that were deeply concerning when the world was (and is still) facing with a Trump presidency, the most serious one is that inaction on climate change will strip us of our last chance to survive as a species.

So please Democrats of the United States, quit the protests, redirect your energy into getting busy and drag your people to the polls for every election to come!

Everything else is secondary.

 

 

* Yes, it’s “ourselves”.

Meritocracy

November 14th, 2016

Thought for the day.

Usually in response to a call for some sort of action to redress a gender or race imbalance, when someone claims that they use a merit-based system for promotion, we should challenge them to describe this system. A system has a set of processes or procedures that are followed so that the system works, and is not subject to individual biases. So when, say, the former Prime Minister, suggested that the Federal Cabinet, with it’s sole female minister, was selected on merit, then journalists and others need to ask him to describe this merit “system”. What *objective* measures of experience, qualifications, and/or other factors are potential candidates assessed against to determine their rank in relation to their peers, and therefore their selection?

[Spoiler] Claims of a “merit” based system are almost universally a smokescreen for having no system at all and just picking based on “gut feel” or other methods that are subject to unconscious biases.

The Magic Three

November 19th, 2015

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How Australian Elections Work (you’re not going to like this).

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Why Malcolm Turnbull will win at least the next two, if not three or four, elections.

Most elections in Australia – Local, State, and Federal – operate on a Preferential Voting system. For a variety of reasons, a significant proportion of the population (>80%) vote for one of the two major parties, Labor and the Liberal/National Coalition. This means that in almost all elections, the vast majority of seats, if not all seats, will elect a Member from one of these two major parties. Minor parties and independents, in some cases getting more than 20% of the vote, will be eliminated when preferences are allocated. I’d prefer to have a system with more proportional representation of minor parties, independents, etc, however arguments about a lack of proportionality and representation are not the focus of this piece, so I’ll leave them aside.

The vast majority of voters will vote the same at every election – their world view, whether stated in two dimensions as Progressive vs Conservative, or in more sophisticated systems, will be the major influence their choice. So people who feel strongly about one end of the political spectrum or the other, will preferentially vote for the parties that traditionally support those views. If you fall into one of those categories, your vote essentially doesn’t count.

By logical extension, if a significant proportion of voters don’t change their vote, then due to the nature of the preferential voting system, it is the small proportion of voters who DO change their vote from time to time, who determine the outcome of any election.

To give a simple example, if there is an electorate of 100 voters, and in an election, let’s say they vote like this:

Labor 43
Liberal 37
National 5
Greens 8
Independent or other party 3
Informal: 4
Total: 100

Once preferences are allocated, let’s say we end up with 53 Labor and 47 Coalition. Labor wins. Let’s call this Election 1.

Let’s say 9 of these voters who voted for Labor decide to change their vote at the next election: 3 switch to the Liberal Party, 5 to the Palmer United Party, and one to the Greens. One of the independent voters decides to just decides to write “screw you” on the ballot paper this time, adding to those who make a mistake, intentionally stuff it up, leave it blank, etc.

Labor 34
Liberal 40
National 5
Greens 9
Palmer United 5
Independent or other party 2
Informal 5
Total: 100

Once preferences are allocated, you have 53 Coalition vs 47 Labor. Let’s call this Election 2.

So with only 9 voters (or 9%) changing their vote, and ONLY 3 of those voting Liberal, you have a change of government.

It’s when we look at those 3 who changed their vote from Labor to Liberal that it becomes interesting, and slightly depressing. Australia is a first world country. Life is very good compared to most of the rest of the world. Low crime rates, good healthcare, high employment, generally a good outlook on life. We can always debate the fine detail, but things are generally pretty good for the vast majority of the population. There are quote a lot of Australians who don’t care about politics in the slightest, because they don’t see that it has any effect on their own lives. And for the most part, they’re right, if they are middle class, have a reasonably well paying job or jobs, and are relatively healthy.

The general orthodoxy in Australian politics is that governments are voted out, rather than in. That is, when those 3 voters decide they’re sick of the current mob running the show, they kick them out and let the other mob have a go. As long as the other mob don’t stuff things up in a major way, they can look forward to running things for quite a while. Until eventually those 3 voters, let’s call them the Magic 3, get sick of the now current mob, and decide it’s time for a change of scenery.

After all, it’s the government that sets the policy agenda, not the opposition. It’s up to them to do what they think will take the country forward, while at the same time not doing anything to piss off the Magic 3. Rock the boat a little too much and you might find yourself out of a job. Just ask Gough Whitlam. Malcolm Fraser did ok, nothing too challenging, so he got to stick around for 8 years. The Hawke/Keating Labor government were in power for 12 years. They didn’t really do anything much to upset the Magic 3, and generally made life better for them through most of the major economic reforms of the late 20th century. The Magic 3 just finally got sick of seeing them in Power. The same thing for the Howard government. But the Rudd/Gillard government? All that infighting and backstabbing was a bit too much, so the Magic 3 turfed them out after two terms. Tony Abbott was on track to achieve the same level of pissing off the Magic 3 after only one term. That’s quite an achievement.

Until Malcolm Turnbull decided that he didn’t really want to spend years in opposition. Because he realised that, after the Magic 3 threw out the baby along with the bathwater, the last thing that Boring Bill Shorten was going to do was piss off the Magic 3. And you can be sure that Malcolm is smart enough to steer along with a steady hand and not rock the boat enough to make the Magic 3 seasick. He’ll have be a steady hand, nothing too controversial, and will hopefully structurally steer the economy towards the industries of the future instead of those of the past (yes, I’m looking at you, Tony), because after all, he’s pretty savvy when it comes to business.

But the point of all of this is that we have set up a system in which 3 people out of 100, who have no interest in politics, or any of what we (those who do care or are interested) think are the issues, decide who forms government. That’s the slightly depressing part.

Note:
If those numbers above look familiar, it’s because Election 1 is the 2007 Federal election, and Election 2 is the 2013 Federal election. The preferential voting system distorts the numbers game even further. It doesn’t matter if you get 5%, 10%, 20% of the vote, unless you get a majority of preferences in any one seat, you get no seats. This enormously favours the two largest parties. Election 1 (2007) seats: 83 Labor (55%), 65 Coalition and 2 independents. Election 2 (2013) goes: 90 Coalition (60%) vs 55 Labor, with 1 Green and 1 Palmer United. So with only 3% voters switching from Labor to Liberal, you get 25 seats out of 148 (17%) changing hands.

“Lying” and Cowardice

May 20th, 2014

Everyone knows that politicians will break promises. In fact, there are plenty of times when it’s actually the right thing to do. The word “lying” or “liar” has been so abused that people don’t really understand it anymore. If you break a promise, you’re not a liar. If you change your mind, you’re not a liar. Lying is deliberately telling an untruth with the intent to deceive.

This isn’t about the Abbott Government’s treatment of Refugees and Asylum Seekers. They told us exactly what they were going to do and they did it. Australia voted for “towing back the boats”. Australia voted for keeping children in concentration camps. Shame on us and many of us may not like it, but the Abbott government was honest about it, and did what they said they would do.

This isn’t about Climate Change. They dismantled the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and have taken every step they can to remove the Carbon Tax and any shred of real action on Climate Change. Many of us may not like it, and it may end up being be the single stupidest act in Australia’s history, but the Abbott government was honest about it, and did what they said they would do.

On a range of other issues, the Abbott government was honest, and did what they said they would do.

But this Budget (2014) is different.

The Charter of Budget Honesty introduced by Peter Costello meant that incumbent governments could no longer claim that finances were better than they actually were, but also that incoming governments could no longer claim that they were worse than they actually were. The end of the predictable “Budget Black Hole” that allowed incoming governments to have an excuse for breaking a bunch of their promises (“core” vs “non-core”) was no more.

So everyone knew the size of government debt, the size of the deficit, and we could have an honest exchange of views that was based on reality. At least we thought we were having an honest exchange of views.

This is not about whether or not you think the size of the deficit is a problem or not, or even whether or not you think that the size of government debt is a problem or not, nor is it about the rate at which you think needs to be reduced. There will always be disagreement on those things, and that’s why we have elections.

The magnitude of the budget deficit and net public debt have not changed since before the election, except due to decisions made by the Abbott government since the election, and those decisions haven’t made a significant change to either. So the circumstances haven’t changed.

This means that so many promises made by Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey before the election were lies. They never intended to keep those promises. They made them with the clear intent to deceive. The circumstances have not changed. There is no foundation for this complete reversal of their policy platform. They were banging on about the need to reduce debt and the deficit before the election and that continues to be their mantra. That part is perfectly fine. But now we find that the actions they want to take to address that deficit and debt are completely the opposite of what they told the Australian public before the election.

So why then have all those promises been broken? Because they never intended to keep them in the first place. No new taxes, no cuts to Education, no cuts to health, no changes to the Aged pension, no cuts to the ABC or SBS, no changes to foreign aid. It was all pure bullshit.

Why couldn’t they have had the courage to take their true policy platform to the election? This was their plan all along, they just didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to stand behind it before the election, pretending they would do something else until they were safely on the government benches.

This is not so much about WHAT the Abbott Government has done, this is about HOW they have done it. We’ve always known their conservative position on a number of issues. That’s why a lot of people vote for them. But I guess they knew if they told the whole truth, there would be a certain segment of the voting public that wouldn’t vote for them: the swinging voters. Those who actually decide the election outcome. They aren’t rusted on to either end of the political spectrum, and make their decision each time they vote, based on the performance of the government and what the opposition says they’ll do if they are elected.

The Abbott government is a bunch of gutless wonders. They don’t have the courage of their convictions. They actually lied to their own supporters! And now they’re lying about the lies, in true Orwellian style, by saying they didn’t break any promises. At least Julia Gillard admitted that she broke her promise on the carbon tax.

The Abbott Government is a pack of cowards.

Desert Island Art

June 8th, 2013

I’ve often joked with my computer geek friends that if I was stuck on a desert island and could have only one program, it would be Microsoft Excel. Which is amusing on a number of levels: I have a long history of Microsoft bashing; Excel is not very well known for anything other than number crunching; Real Programmers™ tend to pooh-pooh VBA (the programming language in Excel).

But Excel is incredibly versatile. You can use it as a word processor, the formatting is great, the built in formula language is great, using VBA lets you turn spreadsheets into applications, and more. I even used it to design the kitchen and bathroom tiling for the Electron Workshop.

But a 70+ year old Japanese artist has taken it to an entirely new level: Using Microsoft Excel to create art.

tatsuo-horiuchi-1-670x354

 

 

WOW.

Much more at: http://www.spoon-tamago.com/2013/05/28/tatsuo-horiuchi-excel-spreadsheet-artist/