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Who's On Third?
Thomas Friedman says we need a third party. I'm with him. One not brimming with sleazy dimwits like the other two. Here's an excerpt from his column:

What would OPEC do if it wanted to keep America addicted to oil? That's easy. OPEC would urge the U.S. Congress to deal with the current spike in gasoline prices either by adopting the Republican proposal to give American drivers $100 each, so they could continue driving gas-guzzling cars and buy gasoline at the current $3.50 a gallon, or by adopting the Democrats' proposal for a 60-day lifting of the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents a gallon. Either one would be fine with OPEC.

So, to summarize, we now have a Congress proposing to do exactly what America's worst enemies would like us to do - subsidize our addiction to gasoline by breaking into our kids' piggybanks to make it easier for us to pay the prices demanded by our oil pushers, so that we will remain addicted and they will remain awash in dollars.

With a Congress like this, who needs Al Qaeda?

What do we need?

Today's third party has to be big, strategic, centrist and forward-looking - something like the "American Renewal Party," something that frames the energy issue as critical to restoring U.S. strength and wealth, not just conservation.

Energy really is key to American renewal - from stimulating more young people to study math and science, to bringing down the trade deficit by decreasing our dependence on imported oil, to bringing down the fiscal deficit by raising gasoline taxes, to improving U.S. competitiveness by making us leaders in clean technologies, to restoring global respect by leading the fight against climate change, to advancing democracy by finding alternatives to oil and thereby weakening some of the world's worst regimes, who are using their oil windfalls to halt the spread of freedom.

"There is an opportunity here for someone who will seize it," said Micah Sifry, author of "Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America." That someone would have to be a more emotionally stable and energy-focused Ross Perot type. Because, added Sifry, "if the issue of the day in 1991-1992 was the ballooning budget deficit that we were not dealing with, then the issue today we are not dealing with is the energy and environmental catastrophe that awaits the next generation. It is as much a mortgaging of our children's future as the deficit issue. It needs the right leader, though."

I've always called (former Reason mag editor and recently hired LA Times assistant editorial page editor) Matt Welch a "common-sense moderate" -- somebody who's not really on either "team" (nor am I), but just for whomever is doing whatever's the least sleazy and dumb...or...if we're lucky, actually doing something ethical, that makes sense.

Unfortunately, we have an unengaged, uninformed electorate, voting the same old assclowns back in, again and again -- if they do vote. (To think we actually wonder why pot is still illegal, but people like this man are still losing their entire family to drunks behind the wheel.)

And, don't forget the question of the $2,000 we've all already paid for a fiber-optic Internet connection that we'll never get. Yooohoooo! Lawmakers? Oh...sorry...please call us when you crawl out of that lobbyist's pocket. If ever.

Posted by aalkon at May 4, 2006 9:23 AM

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I should think that someone would recognize that the trading of oil futures has more effect on the price of oil in the short term than comsumption does. Consumption is a function of how many cars and power plants are built, which happens rather slowly (in months), but marketing happens in minutes with the flow of information about where consumption is going.

That, not an oil cartel anywhere, is where things get stinky.

As for politicians - a third party won't be able to halt trading on energy futures. Even Enron's spectacle didn't stop it. This is regardless of how many lizards are in office. (Props to Douglas Adams: "The lizards rule the people, and the people hate the lizards." Why do the people vote for them? "Because otherwise, the wrong lizard might get in.")

Posted by: Radwaste at May 4, 2006 2:28 AM

Third party like Perot? Third party like Nader? Besides, the two party-system is a strong check on extremism.

> wanted to keep America
> addicted to oil?

Why do people hate cheap oil so much? I'll never understand it. It always gets compared to a mythical alternative where everyone eats bean sprouts grown in the backyard, minces about in ugly cotton fabrics, and listens to Windham Hill records.

Cheap oil is not some regrettable, distinctly American miscalculation: It's the fundament of modernity. Everything good that's going on in the planet larger than a single family is happening because of cheap energy.

All politicians are sleeze, but the voters are smarter than you say.

Posted by: Crid at May 4, 2006 10:33 AM

Cheap oil is not cheap at's artificially cheap oil. We (the public) end up paying the price in many ways, while the oil companies reap only the profits.

What leadership would have been, and I'm talking about the bozos on both sides, would have been encouraging the invention of alternatives starting after the oil crisis in the 70s. George Bush should have used his "political capital," when he had it, especially right after 9/11, to do this as well.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 4, 2006 3:52 PM

Crid, I have to beat you up on this thing, "the voters are smarter than you say". Maybe I don't understand what you mean, but as anyone can tell once they have had it pointed out to them, the average human (voter) is generally ignorant. That's why media can manipulate them.

Example: the public will tell anyone who asks that they think they are a "good" driver, when they do not know how quickly their car will stop or turn, do not know how to make it do so, and almost never secure belongings against becoming missile hazards and distractions. Example: the public spends billions of dollars on placebos because they cannot think critically. Example: the public thinks that statistics is an invalid science because they are lied to - and they won't bother to learn the basics. Example: the public literally doesn't know what the word "crime" means, yet they routinely expect government to protect them against it.

Posted by: Radwaste at May 4, 2006 3:59 PM

>'s artificially cheap oil.


OTOH, one reason I spend so much time on your blog is that you're very patient with --nay, indulgent of-- the tyranny of small differences. With that in mind....

The particulars of our energy policy suck, and over time, rend deep wounds in our environment, finances, and global politic. But these are specifics. In the best of all possible worlds, we'd still be burning a tremendous amount of fossil fuel in the United States, and a FANTASTIC amount across the rest of the planet. A lot of things that people describe as "inefficient" are just ways to describe how playful, flexible, and spontaneous our economy is. Having options for shipping things (modes, dates, refrigeration, guarantees etc.) gives us a LOT of room to try and make space for ourselves in markets. Same with manufacturing and all the other ways we burn energy.

I know all about this because I'm a video editor.

No, seriously, did you see that Max Boot column in the Times yesterday? Hurry before this link rots:

Oil has been too CHEAP for investment in alternatives. I personally think that between Bush's hard-on for righteousness in Iraq and the thirsty Chinese, this won't be a problem much longer. But for the record I voted for John Anderson (Mr. let's-have-$1/gallon-tax) for president in 1980.

> What leadership would
> have...

We don't need leadership from fucktards like Bush and Gore. We should insist on SERVICE.

> as anyone can tell once
> they have had it pointed
> out to them

I translate that as 'With a suitably vague, condescending telephone pollster, people can be made fun of'.

> the average human (voter)
> is generally ignorant.

Large numbers of people are smarter than individuals. There've been some great books about this.

> they cannot think critically

A few years ago schoolmarm blogger Jacobs taught me to hate that phrase. What is "critical thinking" except a koan that pops up when we're trying to make fun of the little people?

> literally doesn't know
> what the word "crime"
> means

Again, I think it's about this misuse of pollsters. What are you trying to prove, that the average guy who's running out of a convenience store with a leaking coffee mug late for work doesn't have the dictionary definition of something carved into his eyelids when a grad student steps in front of him with a clipboard and a request for a couple of quick answers? Eventually, the pollster will collect his 'damning' appraisal of the popular mind, the guy isn't too late for work, and the person who commissioned the poll gets to cluck. Which is all they really wanted anyway. I think a need to look down at others, especially a imaginary statistical average, is universal. And it's something to avoid. Individual Americans are full of shit. Collectively, they're the best thing that every happened to the cosmos.

Posted by: Crid at May 4, 2006 8:21 PM

Just curious, Amy: how do you feel about having that Pajamas ad for Bill Frist running on your site?

Posted by: LYT at May 4, 2006 9:44 PM

Happy that somebody's paying me for blogging. I think people know I don't write the ads, or pick what runs. They rotate.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at May 4, 2006 11:35 PM

No, Crid, I'm not talking about pollsters or their questions at all; people mistake them for statisticians, and they're not. Polls merely measure the penetration of an idea in a market.

Funny you'd bring that up, though, because polls are a fine example of why mobs are "stupid".

What you don't acknowledge here is that mobs, composed of individuals, are continuously distracted, usually incapable of focusing on an issue - and then, when they can focus, personal pressures usually drive them to selfishness when an opportunity presents itself.

The "dictionary definition" of crime you deride is the very one that will determine whether Joe Sixpack goes home to see his family; to imply that it is unimportant is simply wrong. Perhaps you should look at criminal justice for a few minutes - long enough to realize that a crime is an action committed in violation of a statute and literally nothing else. A corollary is this: there is no such thing as a "pre-crime". Criminals act lawfully nearly all the time. In attempts to shirk responsibility for their own defense, the public has allowed - no, demanded - all of the restrictions which gall you today as you are bound by the same laws other people imagine do not apply to them "because they aren't criminals".

Individuals and mobs are unaware of this and unwilling to be told they cannot "hand off" responsibilities to someone else. Thus, my point stands.

I have an excellent exercise for you to illustrate this further. Study a political issue up for referendum. Go down to the college - where you won't run afoul of polling laws - and perform a simple experiment. Ask the class to vote on the issue, and then explain the issue in an essay, immediately after voting. Do not coach them. Then, examine the result, asking yourself this question: How did knowledge of the issue affect the vote?

I think there are only two outcomes because the vote is always a "yes/no" to a complex issue; both are bad. Either the informed had a different vote than the ignorant, in which case ignorance is a drag on the process, or they voted the same, in which case there was no value to educating the voters. What this does is expose the value of media activism - the vote can be swung by appealing to any of the several factors that render any vote a complex issue.

Sometimes those factors trample rights. That's why we have a Bill of Rights and the concept of individual rights: so the mob can't kill the individual with impunity as it blunders along.

And there you have it: the Bill of Rights is the shining beacon, the signpost proclaiming the stupidity of mobs as it protects them from themselves.

Posted by: Radwaste at May 5, 2006 4:29 AM

> The "dictionary definition"
> of crime you deride

You're coming off like a priggish schoolgirl. I remember this one kid (name forgotten) in our freshman year of high school. He was a white guy with short hair and loving parents and an interest in politics. (I think he would become valedictorian.) One day there was a convocation, and we were told there'd be speeches from the candidates. This guy was first. He rose smartly from his seat, strode briskly to the podium with his shirttail tucked neatly into his pants, and said "My fellow students...." And 800 people exploded in laughter. His humiliation would have been complete, but the blood never quite reached his cheeks, because he simply could not comprehend. This was SERIOUS.

It was 1973 and we were hormonal children. Growing up in a college town meant not that adulthood would be easily accessed, but rather could be readily delayed as we experimented with sex and drugs and music for a few more years. Meanwhile the White House was under siege; the blustering Vice President had just retired in disgrace, Nixon was right behind him, and the Turb'y Sixties had made mockery of the solemnity of political formalities. Our valedictorian stumbled through his speech, each cliché farting like a punch line.

The next candidate was Sue. Friend to many and enemy of none, Sue might have been called "fat" in the schoolyard two summers before. But now she was turning womanly, and her comfortable warmth made her deadly in the auditorium. She shuffled from her chair showing the quarter-smile and beseeching eyes you often see from children of divorce. She wore fabulous bell bottom blue jeans. On one end of them, several inches of flaring fabric mopped the stage; on the other, teenage thumbs bashfully probed belt loops. "Hey guys..." Riotous applause. "So anyway, I think I wanna run for class president, and..." Standing ovation. "We could do neat stuff..." Hoots of encouragement. "'Kay, thanks, see y'round." She kicked his ass on the ballot.

> continuously distracted,
> usually incapable of
> focusing on an issue...

People pay attention when they want to, no matter how you feel about it. You don't get to decide. You can be grateful; it means you & I don't have to pay attention to everything at once. Whatever the detail is, somebody's got it covered.

> mobs, composed of
> individuals, are...

I'm glad you've done this math. (That's not sarcastic.) You understand that human nature is bad. But evil is expressed in individual hearts too, not just mobs. Listen, I don't want to go through your whole comment because it's dark and grainy. You seem to argue against broad suffrage, as if there were an alternate way to decently govern. There isn't.

A bumper sticker popular in Santa Monica reads: "If the people lead, the leaders will follow." The ineptitude of the sentiment is tantalizing, because politicians in democracies *DO* follow. That's why they're all so shitty. It's embarrassing that people still presume politics is about leadership... Or, worse, that it should be.

Posted by: Crid at May 5, 2006 9:36 AM

Crid, there's something very strange about your thought processes when my citations are "dark and grainy", yet yours illustrate my point nicely.

I do not advocate anything but the exercise of individual rights and their commensurate responsibilities. That the vast majority of people do not consider either is at once obvious, unfortunate and no excuse at all for doing anything but maintaining their - our - ability to do so, even against the wishes of so many that "someone else" be responsible for them.

Posted by: Radwaste at May 6, 2006 7:59 PM

I still don't understand. What do you want to have happen? Leaving sharp objects loose in a car is stupid, but do you think it's criminally irresponsible? "Commensurate" is the important word... When measuring these things, I say authority belongs to people, not to those who know what's best for them.

Posted by: Crid at May 7, 2006 6:57 AM

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