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Category: General

Today In Bad Pundit’s Fallacies: “Joe Lieberman Cost Gore the Election”

[ 223 ] July 27, 2015 |


Almost anytime either the 2000 election or Joe Lieberman come up in comments, someone will proffer their theory that Gore picking Lieberman was why he lost the election in 2000. Just so I have something to link to so I don’t have to go through this every time it comes up, here’s why this is a very silly argument:

  • First, let’s start with actual evidence. The political science literature shows that vice presidential selections generally have no discernible impact on election results, and 2000 was no exception. If either party had an advantage, it was the Democrats, but the effect is negligible. Reaction to the pick of Lieberman was more positive than is typical for a VP pick.
  • Yes, social science is far from perfect. But the stories told to justify the idea that Lieberman swung the election to Bush are massively implausible. The election came down to Florida. So…we’re being asked to believe that Lieberman was a net negative in a relatively conservative southern state with a large population of elderly people and a relatively large numbers of Jewish people? Please. Or you could also see the election coming down to New Hampshire, and, again, I don’t see how a New England Democrat who was immensely popular in his own state at the time was a net drag on the ticket there.
  • There’s also another important point, which helps to explain why Gore picked Lieberman although he didn’t particularly like him. The media, which was engaged in an all-out war on Gore, loved Lieberman. Picking Holy Joe earned Gore pretty much the only positive media coverage his campaign generated. I don’t know how much this helped but it couldn’t have hurt.
  • But “LIEBERMAN WANTED LABELS ON VIDEO GAMES” is one of the more hilariously solipsistic pundit’s fallacies I’ve ever heard. You will be unsurprised that exit polls do not find evidence that this issue drove voters in 2000.
  • Yes, Lieberman was terrible in the VP debate. As for how much vice presidential debates affect election outcomes, ask President Michael Dukakis.
  • We should also remember that while at the time Lieberman was an irritating squish, in 2000 he was bad like Dianne Feinstein, not bad like Zell Miller.
  • One thing that a lot of people have forgotten, willfully or otherwise, is just how much “Bill Clinton shouldn’t be impeached, but what he did was horrible” was a consensus position among the Democratic caucus during the impeachment. Lieberman has come to symbolize this just because he’s such an insufferable blowhard in general, but on this issue he was the rule, not the exception. Paul Wellstone, fer Chrissakes, called for a censure vote while going on about “the disgrace which those lies have placed upon his Presidency for all time” and “the President’s behavior was shameful, despicable, unworthy, a disgrace to his office” and “we all condemn the President’s behavior.”
  • As the consensus among even liberal Democratic officeholders suggests, the idea that using Clinton was a completely straightforward question for the Gore campaign because of the former’s good approval ratings is an anachronism. There were many people who approved of Clinton’s performance in general while believing that he had engaged in troubling, immoral behavior that also reflected badly on history’s greatest liar, the man who claimed he invented the internet Al Gore. Look at those exit polls again. Choosing Lieberman to try to diffuse this line of attack was not irrational.
  • Does this mean that Lieberman was a good pick by Gore? Well, no. Precisely because vice presidential picks don’t affect electoral results very much, the most important thing is to choose someone who would be an acceptable president if that is necessary and who could make a useful contribution as a vice president. Lieberman obviously fails both tests, and hence I think Gore shouldn’t have picked him. But did Lieberman cost Gore the election? It’s overwhelmingly clear that he did not.
  • …oh, and I forgot to mention this, but even worse is the idea that Lieberman cost Gore the election by calling for military ballots to be counted.  First of all, Lieberman was not the relevant decision-maker.  And second, “we should use an ‘intent of the voter’ standard for every ballot except those cast be people in the military” would be a massive political loser and the Florida courts would have rejected the argument anyway.  So…no.

Today In Editorial Misjudgment

[ 113 ] July 27, 2015 |


I love the NYRB in general, but…publishing a self-serving, fact-challenged defense of the nail salon industry that didn’t meet the standards of the New York Post (!) (No, really, !) is a doozy of a blunder. Hopefully, this is is an aberration — if I see “Massey Energy: The World’s Safest Workplaces” by Don Blankenship next week I’ll have to cancel my subscription.

Slave Labor in Fishing

[ 19 ] July 27, 2015 |


I’ve talked about this several times before and I discuss it in Out of Sight, but slave labor in the southeast Asian fisheries is endemic and basically no one cares. This is an outstanding report on that slave labor. Almost all of the fish in the southeast Asian seas goes to the United States in Europe–for pet food, for farm animal feed, for fish farming, and sometimes directly onto U.S. plates. It’s totally unsustainable from an environmental angle and the long-term overfishing of these waters makes the future of much of the U.S. meat supply in serious question, but that’s a secondary question to the sheer brutality these laborers face, which you can read about in great and disturbing detail at the link. It simply isn’t a priority of the federal government and certainly not of the American companies buying from these sources to make sure the fish are harvested within a basic framework of human rights for the laborers. And in fact, there are no human rights on these boats.

This is why we need real international frameworks that place the burden of proof on the American companies buying this stuff. How does this end? That’s a complex question, but American companies canceling contracts with the suppliers who buy from these boats is a necessary step. That will only happen if we make those American companies legally liable for these conditions. Simply put, the global supply chain exists in no small part to separate big western companies from any responsibility for global labor conditions. They don’t want to know and mostly they don’t have to know. That’s not acceptable. We can publish all the articles we want about these labor conditions on the boats and we can feel bad for those workers. But when you start looking at what to do, only by demanding that we hold western companies legally accountable for the conditions can we the consumer make a difference. Otherwise, we aren’t doing anything useful at all and that’s not OK either.

In other words, when you feel Fido or Fluffy today, think a little bit about where their pet food comes from and consider how you can ensure that their food isn’t produced on the backs of slaves.

Confederate Monuments: Memorials to State-Sponsored Terrorism

[ 84 ] July 27, 2015 |

Brent Staples makes good points about what Confederate statuary is really about, especially when we are talking about people like Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Not all monuments warrant that kind of challenge. But those honoring the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest deserve the backlash they have generated. Forrest presided over the 1864 massacre of Union soldiers, many of them black, at Fort Pillow in Tennessee. He was also a prominent slave trader and served as the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Apologists argue that his involvement with the Klan was unimportant because he later adopted more enlightened views. But as the Forrest biographer Jack Hurst writes, by lending his name to the K.K.K. even temporarily, the general accelerated its development. “As the Klan’s first national leader,” Mr. Hurst writes, “he became the Lost Cause’s avenging angel, galvanizing a loose collection of boyish secret social clubs into a reactionary instrument of terror still feared today.”

Protests erupted in Selma, Ala., in 2000 when a bust of Forrest was unveiled on the grounds of a museum. (One critic likened it to erecting a statue of Hitler in a Jewish neighborhood.) The sculpture was subsequently moved to a cemetery.

Wait, Selma unveiled a monument to Forrest in 2000? Wow.

What should we do with such monuments? Some should clearly be taken down. I’m not 100% supportive of erasing the racist history of the past from the public spaces it occupies. It’s possible to interpret it as sites of racism. But really, who is going to do that? Does Memphis have the capability and money for the long-term interpretation of its infamous Forrest statue? Probably not. And we are not bound by our ancestors choices in who to memorialize. Just because a statue was erected in 1895 does not mean need to leave it up in 2015. If the statue was to an open racist, KKK founder, and commander during the Fort Pillow Massacre like Forrest, I don’t see any good reason to keep that statue up. That’s what belongs in a museum, with plenty of interpretation as to why it was seen as desirable to put that statue up and what that said about white supremacy and black rights in the post-Reconstruction South.

Some will claim that these fights over the Civil War are meaningless and don’t solve racism. First, no one claimed they would solve racism, a fight that can be fought but not won. Second, if you don’t think the past matters, talk to Lynne Cheney. Talk to the people fighting the AP US History standards for being too liberal (typically the AP response was to make this year’s DBQ about the rise of conservatism, which according to my grader friends, was all set up to make students write about how government doesn’t work). Ask the Texans seeking to eliminate all discussion of civil rights from the state’s history textbooks. Ask Bree Newsome. Ask the victims of Dylann Roof. The past matters a lot, and especially the Civil War past. These symbols are almost as much about the present as the past and symbols are incredibly important. We are turning a corner in the popular understanding of the Civil War as being about slavery and racism and eliminating statues honoring people like Forrest are an important part of that, especially since that’s where the energy and momentum is right now. And as I’ve said before about many movements, no one can control where the energy is at a given time and it needs to be built upon with concrete gains before it dissipates.

Similarly, we aren’t beholden to what our ancestors decided to name sites in this nation, north or south. Does Minnesota need a Lake Calhoun? I think not. Does Michigan need a Calhoun County? No. Why not rename it? Might I suggest Harrington County, after former Duck and Lions legend Joey Harrington? That’s sure to gain support throughout the Mitten.

Speaking of such things, yesterday I visited one of my favorite spots in this great nation: where the traitorous slaveholder Stonewall Jackson was shot and mortally wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville.


Terrible battle for the Union, but good times. I wanted to run out to where Longstreet was shot in the neck by his own troops at the Wilderness, but I ran out of time. Next trip to Virginia I guess.

The 35

[ 27 ] July 26, 2015 |

Noreen Malone’s story about Bill Cosby’s accusers will be a blockbuster, and it eminently deserves to be. The sheer fact of 35 women pictured together and telling their stories is powerful enough. But what they have to say is equally important. Essential reading.

That Green Lantern Won’t Raise Itself!

[ 170 ] July 26, 2015 |


In this confusing, ever-changing world, it’s reassuring to know that Joe Lieberman is always an asshole:

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is pressuring a top Senate Democrat to buck the Obama administration on its Iran nuclear deal to ensure a safer future for Israel.

Yes, nothing would ensure a “safer future for Israel” than having the sanctions regime that is inflicting immense suffering on ordinary Iranian citizens collapse without getting any concessions at all! But, of course, Lieberman is pretending that this wouldn’t be the outcome of Congress overriding Obama’s veto and preventing the deal from going into effect:

Lieberman blasted White House negotiators for a deal that he said would allow Iran to ignore U.S. demands and instead support its own regional allies, which he described as “terrorist.”

“How can you make a deal with somebody who says they want to kill you?” Lieberman asked, reiterating the stance of Israeli leaders and its supporters who oppose the deal. “Pretty impossible in my opinion.”

Israel’s leaders say the agreement will make the country more vulnerable in an already-volatile region.

Instead, Lieberman encouraged the White House to go back to the drawing board to negotiate a better deal.

See, your garden-variety warmongering hack would just stop with saying that Obama should have gotten everything hawks want from Iran in exchange for nothing, using the same powers he could have used to get Congress to pass the Patient Protection, Single Payer, and a Clinic Offering Free Abortions in Every County Act of 2010 only he Didn’t. Even. Try. That Lieberman makes this argument only after asserting that it’s inherently impossible to make any deal with the Iranian state is the kind of thing that makes Lieberman very special.

The Flagship Journal of American Conservatism, Everybody!

[ 141 ] July 26, 2015 |


Shorter Crazy Andy McCarthy: “Given that Obama has used his imaginary “executive branch” powers to reach an agreement with Iran, he should be impeached for treason. I am not a crackpot.”

Meanwhile, at America’s most popular winger blog:

McCarthy’s right, of course. But as his ending query reveals, no one realistically expects the Republican establishment to call for impeachment, despite the fact that the House GOP could issue articles of impeachment with a simple majority vote, sending the case to the Senate for conviction (which would require 2/3 supermajority).

Why not? Because the GOP leadership has given up, and like a jilted lover, is trying so hard to “look the other way” that it no longer sees the obvious, and has lost all self-confidence in its own power, and the power of the truth. It also is betting the farm–i.e., the country–that the U.S. can survive another 18 months of an Obama presidency, and that the next (hopefully) GOP President can magically “cure” all of the Obama-induced cancers. It’s a risky and stupid gamble.

Yes, impeaching Obama on absolutely ludicrous grounds and have removal fail massively in the Senate would be the risk-averse and intelligent gamble. I hope that Ms. Foley will go on to a long and lucrative career as a Republican consultant.

The Great One Speaks

[ 60 ] July 26, 2015 |


I will have more about my favorite of today’s Cooperstown honorees later today, but let us explore some other reasons why Pedro Martinez is awesome. First, his remarks on “sock a teenage boy keeps under his mattress” Colin Cowherd:

Second, his comments on blowhard drug war moralism:

Pedro Martinez doesn’t think Alex Rodriguez will someday be elected into the Hall of Fame based on the track records of the BBWAA members with votes.

But he does think Rodriguez and other steroid users with Hall of Fame-worthy statistics deserve to get in.

“There’s nothing I can do with the way voters handle who did what,” Martinez said. “Certainly the numbers are there (for Rodriguez). But as you know, from previous cases where — Why not Roger Clemens? Why not Barry Bonds? — because of the same reason. So I’m not going to go into that and make a big deal out of this. I hope they all make it to be honest.”

Incomparably great on the field, also great off. (He’s also a treat to watch on the MLB Network if you’re into that kind of thing.)

Saturday Night Creatures Feature

[ 22 ] July 25, 2015 |

…and I shall call him “Shenanigans.”

Someone discovered a new species of octopus and rightly deemed it adorable. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s an octopus, a hat that some dude wore in the “Fat Albert” cartoon or an “Octonauts” character come to life. All I know is I have purchased two: I am petting one and wearing the other one on my head.

In other news, the corporation I’m working for demanded I make another picture featuring a dead-eyed, big-headed, vaguely-creepy woman wearing a jaunty hat. Being the corporate drone I am, I syngergized my outer-boxness and made this paradigm-shifting motivational poster. Enjoy, tasteless plebes!

The Clinton Rules

[ 111 ] July 25, 2015 |


Kurt Eichenwald — author of two of my favorite nonfiction books — has an excellent piece about the train colliding with a bus that just got hit by a blimp that is the latest NYT HILLARY CLINTON’S DISTURBING EMAILS story:

The story seemed to further fall apart on Friday morning when Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) issued a statement saying that he had spoken to the inspector general of the State Department and that there had been no criminal referral regarding Clinton’s email usage. Rather, Cummings said, the inspectors general for State and the intelligence community had simply notified the Justice Department—which issues the regulations on Freedom of Information Act requests—that some emails subject to FOIA review had been identified as classified when they had not previously been designated that way.


Indeed, if the Times article is based on the same documents I read, then the piece is wrong in all of its implications and in almost every particular related to the inspector generals’ conclusions. These are errors that go far beyond whether there was a criminal referral of Clinton’s emails or a criminal referral at all. Sources can mislead; documents do not.

The Times‘s war on the Clinton’s gets all the more deeply strange every year. They thought that uberhack Jeff Gerth gave them the new Watergate when he had given them nothing. But you’d think that one impeachment over a blowjob later they would hold off on reporting Clinton scandals unless there was some actual scandal. But, no, we keep getting the sequels.


[ 201 ] July 25, 2015 |

We can learn lessons from the mass murders that are a monthly event in this nation. We learned, as a nation, from Dylann Roof, that the Confederate flag is a symbol of horrible evil that inspires racist violence. It has since come down at the South Carolina statehouse. That’s pretty amazing. There’s plenty of lessons to learn as well from the Hitler-loving, liberal-hating man who shot up a theater in Lafayette, Louisiana this week. He should not have been able to legally buy a gun. Yet the laws are so lax that he easily avoided any restrictions. Even if you love guns, there’s no good reason to support a regime that allows anyone to buy them, no matter their history of hatred, violence, and mental disturbance. Gun restrictions on people like that is just common sense. Unfortunately, thanks in no small part to the scumbag facilitator of mass murder and terrorism named Wayne LaPierre, as well as craven politicians like Bobby Jindal who made sure anyone could buy just about any gun in Louisiana, there’s no way the nation will learn similar lessons here. And thus the mass murders and right-wing terrorism will continue.

Book Review: Greg Grandin, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World

[ 8 ] July 25, 2015 |


We are living in a renaissance of historical writing. There’s always been a good market for popularly written histories, but that market consisted of books on presidents and wars written for a white, male, conservative reading audience. That’s not going away of course. But what has developed in the 21st century is an alternative market of big narrative books by academic historians written for a left-leaning market that take seriously both the insights of the historical profession over the past thirty years and the disturbing history of the American and global past. There’s a few reasons for this. First, historians have moved beyond the social history of the 70s with its demography and number crunching and tightly wound detail that added a tremendous amount to our historical knowledge but didn’t lend itself to a wide readership. Meanwhile, U.S. historians at least largely existed on the edge of the postmodern turn, making it relatively easy for the field to at accept writing for a broader audience (even if most historians don’t have the writing skills). But there’s also a greater popular audience for good histories and a necessary dissemination method for publicity. That’s the internet, where not only might a professor be on Twitter and write for websites, but where a community might spread around important ideas and let a general audience know what books they should read. The democratic nature of that medium–which is less democratic than it once was but still–allows for books to attract reviews and historians to have opportunities that simply wouldn’t have existed when the New York Times Book Review and The New Republic were among the only outlets to disseminate this material. Among those historians who have both benefited from the internet is myself, both in attracting a publisher and in having a market to move copies of a book that brings the past to bear on the present in ways intended to inspire activism.

This makes it an exciting time to be a historian and a reader (and both, in my case). We see straight academic histories like the recent books on slavery and capitalism by Sven Beckert and Ed Baptist take off and have real audiences that have gone far to provide context on the left for already shifting notions about slavery. Eric Foner is basically a national treasure, with his free MOOC a valued history to many. Jill Lepore is a publishing beast, pushing out both a respected book a year and excellent New Yorker essays. There’s historians like Ari Kelman who is telling familiar stories in new ways and people like Kevin Kruse writing books to address the issues that drive progressive politics today.

Of course what these historians all have in common is that they are U.S. historians. What about a Latin Americanist? Can they tap into this new market? That’s the space Greg Grandin has increasingly tried to fill. Long a respected scholar and passionate political writer, Grandin has in his last two books reached out to tell stories that are partially North American within a Latin American context. His last book, Fordlandia, was the story of Henry Ford’s ill-fated attempt to build a rubber plantation and company town reflecting his, shall we say, unique values in Brazil. It received a lot of acclaim. He has followed that with The Empire of Necessity , exploring the slave rebellion aboard the ship Tyral in 1805 and the rescue of the Spanish captain Benito Cerreño by an American captain named Amasa Delano (ancestor of FDR). Yes, this is the same incident that inspired Herman Melville to write his brilliant short novel Benito Cereno.

Winner of the 2015 Bancroft Prize, The Empire of Necessity succeeds in bringing a complex set of stories around slavery, geography, sealing, Latin American independence movements, shipping, the economics of the global shipping industry, African resistance, and much more. Yet while none of these things might immediately suggest to the lay reader a book they must pick up (outside perhaps of the Melville connection), the book succeeds spectacularly. This is the sort of well-written history that hides none of the horrors of the past yet is brilliantly written that people have long wished they could read. And now they can.

Grandin tells the story of slaves taken from Africa, brought to Montevideo after the original slave ship was taken over by a pirate, and then some eventually marched over the Andes into modern Chile. That experience alone, dealing with unbelievable elevation, is something that is central to the experiences of so many of the characters in this book. In Chile, they were placed on yet another ship to go to Peru. They revolted, killing several crew members and attempting to force Cerreño to take them back to Africa. Typically he lied to them and steered his way into the open water off the Chilean coast. Meanwhile, Delano, a sealer trying to be economically independent in a rapidly changing U.S. economy, has taken to sealing, killing thousands of the creatures and then sailing for Asia to sell the skins. An abolitionist, Delano ran into Cerreño’s ship. The self-emancipated slaves played it cool but at the last second, Cerreño jumps into Delano’s boat. Delano’s men then attack the Africans, the owner’s abolitionism instantly irrelevant, and the survivors are either executed or sold. Delano, desperate and in debt because he and others had hunted the south Pacific seals to tiny remnant populations, tried to take Cerreño’s limited profits in return for saving him from likely death, but ultimately he received a relatively small amount from Spanish courts. He died mostly broke while Cerreño settled in Lima to eventually flee the slave rebellions that were part of the Latin American wars for independence in the 1810s.

One of the book’s key points is the connection between white republicanism and chattel slavery. We know the U.S. side of this–southern slaveholders created a white male republicanism based upon the ownership of African people, which expanded rapidly after the invention of the cotton gin. But this was also true in South America, where trade liberalization in the late 18th century meant the trade in Africans and where anti-Spanish colonial agitation often revolved around wanting more trade in African slaves. Like in the U.S., the Age of Liberty was built upon the Age of Slavery. Grandin certainly doesn’t skimp on the brutality, including in the slave trade. The description of the seal trade leaves far too little to the imagination. And those seal knives intended to separate skin from muscle? Well, let’s just say they can be used on rebellious slaves as well.

I recognize that this review is more a thought piece about the nature of historical writing in the present than an in depth discussion of Grandin’s points. This post is long enough and there’s a lot of contours of the book I haven’t discussed at all. But it’s a very good book and you should read it. It’s one of the jewels of this golden age of left-leaning historical writing. Read and learn.

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