Sunday, March 31, 2013

What's It All About, Alfie?

What’s It All About, Alfie?
P. Schultz
March 31, 2013

            Here are some questions or one question that struck me early today for which I don’t have answers or an answer.

            As a friend of mine pointed out to me, the speed with which the issue of “same sex marriage” has taken on a new dimension or has been propelled in a new direction is quite remarkable. And although there are some holdouts, politicians seem to be almost falling over themselves to express their support for gay and lesbian marriage. And it could be that even the Supreme Court will get in on the act as well, if as some predict they decide to refuse to decide the Proposition 8 case from California, which would mean that the lower court decision overturning the result of Proposition 8 would stand. And also as some predict the Court seems prepared to overturn DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, it could be that our legal landscape regarding gays and lesbians will be markedly different a few months from now.

            Now, while these events are transpiring, I have not seen any analysis about just what is going on. I mean, yes, the legal and social landscape regarding gays and lesbians is changing and, often, this is presented as almost “natural,” just another example of the current of equal rights carrying the American political and social order to its destination. And perhaps this is all that is going on. But I cannot help but ask: What’s it all about? Why now?

            What lies behind my question is the assumption that our political order does not respond to “historical forces” as much as it responds to the decisions of those who hold the power in this order. That is, our political class makes decisions that affect, deeply and invasively, the way we live. Our government is not a barometer that moves as the winds of history make it move as much as it is a tool that the powerful use as they fit and as they believe feasible. Given these assumptions, my question, what’s it all about, arises.

            Another way to pose this question is to ask: Why is now the time that our political class has decided to lay the issue same sex marriage to rest, so to speak? Because once same sex marriage receives the imprimatur of acceptability, then it seems to me that it will be laid to rest, that it will pretty much disappear from our radar screens and recede into the background, much as has interracial marriage. [“What?” you ask. “Why do you even mention interracial marriage?” My point precisely.]

            Or we could ask: Cui bono? Who benefits? Or we could ask: How does our political class benefit? Of course, many want to think that gays and lesbians will benefit and, in terms of social acceptability and legitimacy, that is obviously correct. Whether their relationships will benefit seems to me, at the very least, questionable, given the incidence of divorce and separation, both actual and virtual, among “straight” couples. [Not every “intact” marriage is characterized by bliss or even satisfaction.] But how does our political class benefit, insofar as that class never does anything from which it does not benefit?

            If you sense I am stalling, you are correct. And I am stalling because I am hoping that some burst of light will come to me and I will be able to argue persuasively what it is that can account for this wave of support for same sex marriage. And as you have figured out from reading this paragraph, that has not happened yet.

            Perhaps though this question is difficult to answer because the issue itself is so inconsequential. That is, once this issue is resolved in favor of same sex marriage, the impact on how we live will be minimal at most. As noted above, resolving this issue in favor of same sex marriage will have all the impact that resolving the issue in favor of interracial marriage had on society, which was and is exactly no impact at all as near as I can tell. Or one could say that resolving this issue in favor of same sex marriage will have all the impact that killing bin Laden had; again, meaning no impact at all.

            And at this point another question arises: Why is it that our politics revolves around issues that are, quite often, not really issues of any consequence at all? Ah, now there is a question that is worth thinking about, whereas thinking about same sex marriage is not worth much time and effort. As Kurt Vonnegut might say: “So it goes.” Indeed.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

How Government "Works"

How Government “Works”
P. Schultz
March 30, 2013

            The following, which is meant to illustrate government “works,” is based up a book by Jonathon Schell, entitled The Time of Illusion.

            On November 3, 1969, President Richard Nixon gives a nationalizing televised address on, primarily, the Vietnam war. In that speech, using language and arguments that would easily justify sending more troops to Nam, Nixon announces that he is withdrawing some 30,000 troops from that country. Also, however, Nixon uses the speech to take on those who are opposed to the war, saying that there are those, a minority of Americans, who are trying to subvert majority rule and the Constitution to impose their will on the American people. After appealing to those he called “the silent majority,” Nixon also says, “North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.”

            As Schell notes, as a result of this logic the primary front for the Vietnam was to be at home and the secondary front was to be in Nam. And “Now, in the eyes of the President, the war was a domestic struggle with some serious international consequences. Thereafter, the Vietnam war would be waged in the United States.” [pp. 65-66] Of course, Schell is correct as the “war” being waged is one to preserve the status quo.

            To demonstrate his own acumen and popularity, Nixon “had set in motion an elaborate hidden machine for manufacturing the appearance of public enthusiasm for himself….he had sent himself rigged telegrams and letters of support. Then he had put the telegrams and letters on display before the public that had supposedly sent them. Then he had arranged to have the Vice President [Agnew] praise him effusively.” [p. 70]

            With regard to the latter event, Vice President Agnew gave an address on November 13th in which he had argued that the President’s address, which Nixon had “spent weeks in preparation of,” had been subjected “to instant analysis and querulous criticism…by a small band of network commentators and self-appointed analysts” who were hostile to the president’s remarks. As Schell remarks, “The Vice President was calling outright for an end to criticism of the President on the most controversial issue facing the nation.” [p. 68] And, of course, Agnew appealed to the people to write to the networks in protest, which they did or seemed to do anyway.

            The media, perhaps not surprisingly and with very few exceptions, took the bait and “plunged into self-examination,” focusing not on the impropriety of Agnew’s attack on the president’s critics or on presidential criticism generally but rather on examining such phrases as “instant analysis” or “querulous criticism.” As Schell says, “the networks almost seemed to welcome the opportunity to rethink their coverage of the Nixon Administration.” [p. 68] And, of course, Republican politicians chimed in with support for Agnew and a defense of the president, with George Romney, for example, saying that Agnew was the “champion of the old culture that values historic and democratic principles.” Of the few angry remarks directed at Agnew, Averill Harriman said that Agnew’s speech “smacked of a totalitarianism….” [p. 68] Of course, as Harriman had been criticized by name in Agnew’s speech, his anger could be and was dismissed at personal pique.  

            So, there was an obviously orchestrated “presidential offensive,” which was not labeled as such in all but a very few analyses of these events. And these events were entirely staged, let us say from start to finish, with the president becoming, as Schell puts it, “his own most ardent and prolific supporter,” insofar as Nixon was responsible for Agnew’s address praising Nixon and insofar as “The President had set in motion an elaborate hidden machine for manufacturing the appearance of public enthusiasm for himself” by “rigging telegrams and letters of support.” [p. 70]

            It is easy to see why so many are willing criticize those who are, allegedly, guilty of endorsing what are called “conspiracy theories” involving our government. It is because, at bottom, it is all too clear at times that more than often than not, our government does engage in conspiracies. To be sure, these conspiracies might not be the complicated, intricate manipulations that capture the imagination, such as staging moon landings or blowing up buildings. But, nonetheless, as this illustration makes clear, our officials are adept at and government is so constructed that conspiracies are commonplace and remain, even to those thought astute in these matters, invisible.  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spinning the Polls

Spinning the Polls
P. Schultz
March 22, 2013

This will have to be a quickie. Below is a link to an article from the Washington Post written by Andrew Kohut, founder of Gallup Polling, in which he claims that it is the hard core conservatives in the Republican Party that are the issue, at least for Republicans. As he notes, 58 percent of the public holds an unfavorable view of the Republican Party and this is due to their hard core conservatives.

But at the same time, he notes, in passing, that 46 percent of the public holds an unfavorable view of the Democrats. Now, perhaps this is just me, but what this tells me is that the public can hardly support either party and, if that is the case, why focus on the hard core conservatives as the cause of these low ratings. Sure, 47% of the public have a favorable impression of the Democrats but that makes their support a wash, cancelled out by the 46% that is not favorably disposed to the Democrats.

Seems to me that what these polling numbers indicate is that the public is fed up with the status quo. But then I have never been very good with numbers!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Iraq: Ten Years Later

Iraq: Ten Years Later
P. Schultz
March 21, 2013

            Well, I fell into “it,” again. That is, I bought into the story line being aired and published about Iraq at the ten year anniversary of the start of that war.

            That story line is something like this: We did get rid of Saddam Hussein but at a considerable cost, especially to Iraq and its people. In fact, that cost was so high that the Bush/Cheney war in Iraq could – and to a lot of people does – look like failure. We meant well but were unprepared, not for the war itself, but for the “follow up,” where we were expecting to greeted as liberators but were not. We made mistakes and that is obvious to almost everyone now. We seem to be even somewhat humbled by our “experience.”

            So much for the story line being propagated broadly, even by some critics of the Iraq war. But what if it is all wrong? What if what we have today in Iraq is pretty much or even exactly what was planned? That is, what if the goal all along was to decimate Iraq, leave it floundering, its people mired in difficult circumstances, and its government, well, pretty much non-existent especially when it comes to security? More summarily put, what if what we see today is actually “success” and that those “mistakes” that we made were not mistakes at all but part of the plan?

            Of course, it would be impossible for any one to actually argue that the goal, the primary goal, was to decimate Iraq without seeming to be and actually being inhuman and cruel in a way that would be unjustifiable. So, it is necessary to disguise our intentions, saying although not quite actually believing or taking steps sufficient to make it happen, as building “democracy” in Iraq and, eventually, in the Middle East. And when that building isn’t successfully erected, we can talk about our “mistakes” as well as the failing of the Iraqis, pretending that we are concerned with our “failures” there.

            This take on Iraq and our strategy there would help to explain why, as some like to argue, “no one has been held accountable for the fiasco in Iraq.” Well, that’s true, but then you don’t hold people accountable for what are successes, and especially not for successes that are disguised to look like “failure.” It would also help to explain why Dick Cheney feels he has nothing to be sorry for: Why would he feel sorry for a success? And it would make sense of the rather implausible conclusion, made by both supporters and opponents of the Bush war in Iraq, that the administration, through an “oversight,” was unprepared for the aftermath of the invasion and overthrow. They were unprepared because they didn’t care if “it all went south.” As illustrated by Rumsfeld’s well known remark about the insurgency,
“Stuff happens,” it can even be said that the administration got exactly what it wanted: The decimation of Iraq.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Status Quo as "Reality"

The Status Quo as “Reality”
P. Schultz
March 18, 2013

            Below is a link to a column by Chris Cillizza, which asks if there is one Republican Party or two. Of course, the answer is that there is only one Republican Party or would be if the “wackos” would just face up to “reality” and be “led.”

“Historically, the GOP is a coalition of social, economic and national-security conservatives,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “That is unlikely to change. The Rubio/Bush faction of the Republican Party recognizes this reality. Many in the libertarian wing of the party do not.”

            Well, perhaps, Rep. Cole has it right. But it is also possible that he doesn’t and that what “the libertarian wing of the party” wants is something other than “a coalition of social, economic, and national-security conservatives,” if such can accurately be labeled “conservatives.” That is, the “wackos,” as John McCain labeled them, are not out of touch with “reality.” Rather, they are merely trying to change the prevailing alignment of forces within the party.

“The question before Republicans is, can they keep the party together — or at least all pushing in a similar direction — heading into the 2014 midterm election so the battle for the soul and leadership mantle of the GOP can be fought out in the 2016 presidential primary process?”

            Again, Cillizza may be correct but it could be that the question, as seen by the “insurgents,” is not whether “Republicans…can keep the party together,” but rather what the Republican Party will represent and, as a result, who will or should control that party. Cillizza writes from the perspective of maintaining the status quo, even though he doesn’t see it that way. In his mind, as in the mind of Rep. Cole or Jeb Bush, he is defending “reality.” And, of course, if you are opposed to this “reality,” then you are, willy nilly, a “wacko.”

            What difference does it make, you ask? Well, consider this as a possibility. Where would someone like Chris Christie fall in this analysis? Is he a “realist” or a “wacko?” Perhaps he is neither. But that of course condemns him and his bona fides because anyone who fails to embrace the status quo understood as “reality” is a “wacko.” The point being that when the status quo is taken to be or mistaken for, as our political class wants it to be, “reality,” then the possibility of genuine political change is short-circuited.

            So the battle being waged within the Republican Party is not over its “unity” or the possibility of “leadership” for the sake of unity. The battle within the Republican Party is the battle that should be occurring in the nation at large, that is, a battle over what kind of nation this will be. But of course with the likes of Cillizza “analyzing” our current situation, this battle will never be waged or, if it is waged, its outcome will be predictable and what is taken to be “reality” will prevail. And then we will wonder: “Gee, what doesn’t anything change?”

            And this is what happens when the focus is primarily confined to winning elections. As Cillizza ends his column:

“The challenge for Republicans, put simply, is this: Can the GOP go from “wacko birds” to the White House in three years’ time? Not easily.”

So, if winning the White House is the goal, then the “wacko birds” must be grounded. And that I must say is correct. But think about it: What if in 1964 the then “wacko birds” had not nominated Goldwater, even though he went down to defeat in a landslide to LBJ? Of course, one reason many Republicans were willing to nominate Goldwater then was because they knew he would lose and lose big to Johnson. But what they did not know was that that “defeat,” like any defeat as opposed to a surrender, could be and would be undone in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency.

            While I am not a big fan of Reagan’s politics, I do recognize that he represented change and that change is necessary to the health of any political order. It is certainly necessary in a political order that seems to be in its death throes and that preservation of the status quo is little more than life support analogous to a morphine drip. The drip deals with the pain but it does not, because it cannot, change the outcome.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Gun Control - Again

Gun Control – Again
P. Schultz
March 16, 2013

            OK. First, there is below a video of some guy named Bill Whittle, who does something called “the virtual presidency,” where he addresses issues of current importance as if he were president. Then, below that is my “analysis” which was requested by a friend with whom I shared a street in Metuchen, New Jersey, when we were both much younger. Enjoy.

            My “analysis”:

My take on Bill Whittle is that (a) he is rather cute and (b) he makes his case like any lawyer would make it, amassing all the "evidence" he can to support his position, which was arrived at independently of his or any evidence. This way of proceeding is all so common today that almost nobody notices it anymore. People use evidence not to arrive at conclusions but to support conclusions they have already arrived at.

I really don't care much about "gun control." I think such legislation is "feel good legislation," which also has the consequence of disguising from ourselves that we are a violent people, i.e., a people who buy into violence readily [and are encouraged in this "way" by those with the power]. Of course, Whittle's remarks have the same result: to disguise who we are by talking about guns as a "policy wonk" does. And because these policies are not addressed to the underlying issues, they are bound to fail, which is perfectly consistent with the wishes of our political class [by which I mean the establishment democrats and republicans, both our alleged "liberals" and "conservatives"] who don't mind and, in fact, are served by "failure." [Failure makes us, ordinary people, devalue or dismiss politics and, hence, the possibility of real political change. What we have is "the best we can do."]

One of my favored books is No Country For Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy. In it, a sensible sheriff, sheriff Bell, wonders about this country a lot. At one point he says something like: "Good people don't need to be governed. And bad people cannot be governed at all. At least, if they can, I ain't never heard of it."

From where I sit, we live in a world of illusions: E.g., some believing that guns cannot protect us or others believing that guns can protect us. Then we argue over these illusions as if they were real. Meanwhile, the real issues go unaddressed. Another example from No Country for Old Men. Sheriff Bell is talking with another sheriff about drugs. The other sheriff says something like: "Things are really bad. They is selling those drugs to school kids." Sheriff Bell says: "It's worse than that." Other sheriff: "How's that?" Bell: "School kids are buyin' 'em."

And, of course, the question is "Why?" That is, why are school kids buying those drugs? We know why the sellers are selling, profit. It's just business. But why are school kids - or wealthy and successful people - buying those drugs? This is a harder question to answer and, hence,  "policy wonks" and politicians don't want to address it. [And perhaps we don't either as it makes us uncomfortable.]

We had guns at 37 Upland Ave. But we did not think of those guns as any kind of "statement" or that we were protecting ourselves from "tyranny" or from criminals. We used them to hunt. Today, on both sides of this alleged "divide," guns have been given a "status," a social status - either as harbingers of death or of protection - altogether unheard of then. Guns are guns is all. You have them or you don't. They might protect you or they might kill or injure you. That's it for me. This debate is, for me, a distraction, one that serves the reigning political class - it helps to keep it in power - without changing much at all. It is just another version of our politics of smoke and mirrors.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sequester Works! Duh.

Sequester Works? Of Course
P. Schultz
March 7, 2013

            Well, that intellectual heavyweight, E.J. Dionne, has finally figured it out: The sequester will work! Here is a link to his column in the Washington Post today, entitled “A way out of our budget wars.” Only what Dionne doesn’t get, even now, is that the sequester is working exactly as its designers wanted it to work: To prepare the way for taking more of our retirement money and health care money. Consider the following quote from Dionne: 

“The White House is betting that enough GOP senators are prepared to make a deal along lines that President Obama has already put forward.
“Obama’s lieutenants argue that, while Republicans are aware that the president is seeking new revenue through tax reform, many did not fully grasp the extent to which he has offered significant long-term spending cuts. These include reductions in Medicare and a willingness (to the consternation of many Democrats) to alter the index that determines Social Security increases. Obama has proposed $930 billion in cuts to get $580 billion in revenues.”

            This is like my response to those who had argued that Bush’s “Surge” in Iraq had worked: “Of course it did, exactly as it was intended to work: To get Bush to the end of his presidency without his Iraq war looking like the fiasco it actually was.” Now, those who designed the sequester did so in order to “justify” going after Medicare and Social Security, while leaving most tax “loopholes” alone as well as the “defense” budget. 

            So, Mr. Dionne, the sequester does offer “a way out of our budget wars.” But of course there is little that is justifiable in that “way.” But note the psychology the sequester “imposes” on Dionne: He and we are looking for “a way out of our [alleged] budget wars,” not the best way out or even a justifiable way out. Any way out will do, just as those alleged “incompetents” in D.C. intended.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

National Popular Vote "Reform"

More on the National Popular Vote “Reform”
P. Schultz
March 6, 2013

Here is more of my email debate on the National Popular Vote proposal. First, is my offering.

“Well, you know, Rich, it sounds wonderful, "every vote will be coveted" but that is a dream. And the facts you cite undermine your argument, like Reagan not winning LA. Reagan and his supporters did not target LA, did not covet votes there. They pretty much wrote it off, just as any Democrat then would have written off Orange County in CA. It is a waste of their time and money. Bet it was the same for Perry in Texas. You write as if these guys had no election strategies based on where they could garner the most votes, suggesting that Reagan fought for votes in LA or Perry in Houston and Dallas. Candidates go where they think and where their polls tell them they can get the most votes, and this will not change. The only thing that will change is where they go to get the most votes. All this proposal does is to change WHERE candidates will campaign the hardest, and that is not EVERYWHERE.

“In fact, I would say that candidates will not campaign hard in any closely contested state because if they win the popular vote nationally, they win those states, even if they "lose" them. And winning in those states adds almost nothing to their national vote margin because they are closely divided. And regarding states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Idaho there will be less incentive to campaign in those states under the proposed changes than under the electoral college as it currently functions, where it is practically nil. Why go to those states for a few thousand votes when you can go to Texas or California for tens of thousands?

“Look, in politics there is no way to arrange things, offices or elections for example, that results in equal treatment for all. Ala' Aristotle, there is no regime where "all" rule; all rule is partial and, hence, unequal. Either the one, the few, or the many rule. Basic fact of life. All the proposed plan does, all it can do, is change the calculus of inequality versus equality. Anything else is either a "pipe dream" or a thinly disguised attempt to benefit some at the expense of others. If you want to support this proposal, fine with me. But don't do so thinking that equality is right around the corner or that "every vote will be coveted."

            And now let’s hear from a proponent of this “reform.”

“Lets take the cases of both California and Texas. A Republican has virtually no shot at winning the states most populated municipalities. That does not mean they abandon them completely. The candidates still try to glean as many votes as they can from these cities. It matters if the Democrat wins 60% or 70% in Los Angeles or in Houston. If the state used winner-take-all method, the Republicans would have conceded the city completely

“Alternatively, the Democrat has the electoral incentive to get as many votes out of those cities as possible, to run up the score if you will. The Democrat also has electoral motivation to pocket as many votes in the Republican dominated inland empire as possible, knowing that they are not likely to win their.

“If the two states employed the winner-take-all method, the Democrat would have no reason to try to cultivate every possible vote from Los Angeles or Houston, and the Republican will have no motivation to address issues important to residents of the city. Both candidates would spend an inordinate amount of their time in the swing counties of the state.

“With respect to small states, at least campaigns will have an electoral incentive to open up campaign offices in every state. You will not have the dynamic where the state parties send their volunteer to nearby showdown states. Sure, the candidates will not spend all their time in Wyoming, but they will at least advertise in the states media market. They will use local surrogates to campaign for them in the state.

“That is superior to the system we have today where New Hampshire is the only one of the 13 smallest states that gets any electoral attention.

“What is your view of the current winner-take-all system? Do you think it is superior to this plan?

            And then my closing salvo:

“You know, Rich, you keep repeating your arguments, which doesn't make them any more persuasive. I know you are invested in this "reform," and, as stated, that is fine with me. Just don't think it is anything more than a shift from focusing on electoral votes to focusing on the national vote total, nothing more, nothing less. Hey, if you want a direct popular election of presidents, fine with me - but this change has consequences, both positive and negative, like any electoral scheme. Candidates, UNDER ANY ELECTORAL SCHEME, must decide how to spend their time and money, which means they have to decide which votes to go after. This is just a basic fact of life which cannot be changed. So, what does the "reform" do? It cannot possibly reward those who go after every single vote every where. So where will candidates devote their attention? In states where they can get the largest margins of victory; this is simple math and logic.

“The idea that "every vote will be coveted" is just pie in the sky bullshit. Reagan wrote off LA when running for governor; this is indisputable and he did so because it made sense. He knew he could never get enough votes in LA to decide the election in his favor. He had to get the necessary votes elsewhere as he would surely lose LA. Under the proposed "reform," would Romney have campaigned harder in California in the last election? Only if he wanted to waste his time because he knew he would never get enough votes there to change the outcome of the national popular vote. In fact, I would argue Romney would be better off in your scheme campaigning less in California and focusing on increasing his vote total in those states where he was more popular. Also, under your scheme, Romney could have cared less if he lost Virginia by a few votes because a few votes would not, could not affect the national popular vote count as much as tens of thousands votes in Texas would. Is this better or worse? Take your pick. It is just different and is not the panacea you seem to think it is.

“The current system? Leave it alone. It is hardly our problem. We are currently living in an oligarchy disguised as a republic, where politics is largely a matter of smoke and mirrors and where the oligarchs are screwing us while sending people to die in needless wars and claiming powers that are blatantly unconstitutional - meaning both Bush II and Obama and almost any other "serious" politician. [Cf. Paul Rand's attempt to filibuster because our president claims the right to kill American citizens - as well as other human beings - whenever and for whatever reasons he likes. But we all know, don't we, that Paul Rand isn't "serious?"] The sequester is merely a way to prepare us for Washington taking more of our retirement money and our health care money and, barring a miracle, they will get it too - as George Carlin predicted - even as our military-industrial complex will go on spending billions and trillions of dollars and our schools will be dumbed down to suit the purposes of all those "job creators" by producing "standardized students" who are good at taking standardized tests and little else.

“The electoral college gave us Shrub but then the college gave us Kennedy too as he got fewer votes nationally then Nixon. But given how oligarchic our current politics are, tinkering with the electoral college is like changing a headlight on a car that won't start. Hey, if you makes feel better, do it. But your car still won't start.

“You've got a president and almost every public official claiming that due process is dead and you are worried about the electoral college? Really? Seems to me we have more important stuff to worry about. Isn't this a bit like fiddling while Rome burns?

One last addition to my argument: 

"Here are some interesting numbers. Obama got approximately 5 million more popular votes than Romney in 2012, 65,899,557 versus 60,931,959, Now if we take all the votes for Obama cast in N. Dakota, S. Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Utah, and take them away from Obama completely, giving them to Romney, the total gain for Romney would be about 980,000 votes. But Romney still loses and loses big. Now, as it seems unlikely that one candidate would get all the votes in any state, it doesn't seem to me that such numbers make these states very important for either candidate if the election were to be determined by a national popular vote count. Whether we use the current electoral college system or the proposed one, these states just don't have enough votes to matter. And, in fact, there is a greater probability that one of them or several of them would matter more under the current arrangement than under the proposed "reform." Now, add onto this list Mississippi, West Va., and Arkansas, and do the same thing. Now Romney would gain approximately 2.1 million votes from all these states and Obama would lose the same amount, for a total of 4.2 million votes. Romney still loses the national popular vote, once again illustrating that under the proposed "reform" states with relatively few popular votes just don't matter all that much.

"Isn't it interesting that when elections turn on counting the number of votes, those states with more voters count for more, are more important than those states with fewer voters? Who'd of thunk it?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Make Every Vote Equal. Really?

Make Every Vote Equal. Really?
P. Schultz
March 5, 2013

            The following are parts of a debate I am having with a former student, Rich Rubino, who is supporting what is called the National Popular Vote Plan which is intended to guarantee that the candidate with the most popular votes for president, nation wide, is actually elected president. It does this by having states pledge to award their electoral votes to that candidate who receives the most votes nationally, regardless of how any particular state voted.

            Rich has published a book which he describes as follows on Amazon.

“Make every vote equal: What a novel idea. I published this book to promote the National Popular Vote Plan. I am convinced that the current method of electing a U.S. President is not appropriate for the times, and more importantly, fails to comport with the will of the American people. Under the current system, Presidential nominees are forced to allocate almost all of their time, energy and resources to only about ten states, the “Battleground States.” The other forty states, which represent approximately 80% of the American electorate, are largely ignored because the electoral outcome in these forty states is almost a forgone conclusion. This unfortunate situation is solely the result of the “winner-take-all” method of awarding electoral votes. Safe States (non-battleground states) “get no respect” in the Presidential election process. Presidential campaigns will from time-to-time drop into these states to do some fundraising, but the Presidential nominees rarely make an appearance in these states to discuss the issues with the voters. Trips to safe states are like trips to an ATM machine. The campaigns grab cash and flee these states as fast as they can. The quaint coffee-shop news clips that permeate the American airwaves during the election process nearly always occur in the ten battleground states, resulting in a situation wherein certain voters and constituencies get preferential treatment. This “voter bias” is detrimental to most American voters and to the reputation of our Presidential election process. For example, Presidential candidates have an electoral incentive to address the concerns of the Cuban Americans in Florida, steel workers in Ohio, and ethanol producers in Iowa, yet there is no electoral incentive to address the “catch share” regulations affecting the Massachusetts fishing industry, to address safety issues affecting coal miners in West Virginia, or the proliferation of gang violence in Chicago. Even once a President has been elected, the winner-take-all method of electoral voting still survives to maintain this biased playing field. For example, in 2011, when President Barack Obama went on a three-day bus tour to promote his Jobs Bill, he barnstormed Virginia and North Carolina, which “coincidently” are two critical battleground states. Corroborating this fact, the Washington Post reported that either President Obama or Vice President Biden has appeared in Ohio (a battleground state) during their first term in office about every three weeks since they took office. In short, it is grossly unfair and insulting that certain states garner VIP treatment simply because of their electoral geopolitical status. This outcome was “never” envisioned by the Founding Fathers who wrote our Constitution, struggling over the various elements to include.”

            Here is my response on Facebook:

“Congratulations, Rich! This is quite an accomplishment.

“BUT: [you had to suspect that was coming] Unfortunately, the plan does not, because it cannot, make every vote equal. Every election scheme favors some votes more than others and so does this one. For example, this plan would make the votes in those states currently known as "safe" more important than the votes in tightly contested states because a large margin of victory adds more to a candidate's national vote total than a narrow margin of victory in tightly contested states. So, the votes, the outcomes, in "safe" states like Massachusetts and Texas would be more important than, say, the votes, the outcomes, in Virginia or Florida because winning a contested state by a small margin would contribute less to a candidate's overall victory than winning by a huge margin in a "safe" state.

“As near as I can tell, the "electoral college" never operated as Publius argued it would, leaving aside the first two elections whose results were foregone conclusions. Everyone knew Washington would be the first president. It serves certain purposes now, both positive and negative. But so does any election scheme. There is no way to create an election scheme that is unbiased or equal, just as there is no way to create a political order that is unbiased or that treats all equally.”

            And here is Rich’s response, followed by my last response.

“Peter, This method is not perfect, but it comes closer to electoral equality as any I have seen and will certainly end the disproportionate influence of 10 states simply because of their geopolitical status. Every vote would actually matter. We can use the state as a microcosm here. Each state uses the popular vote. The result is that candidates try to cultivate every possible vote. A vote in Peru, Massachusetts is commensurate with a vote in Boston, Massachusetts. Candidates do not discriminate as to where the voters are.

“For example, on the last day of campaigning in the hotly contested 2010 Massachusetts Governors race, incumbent Deval Patrick and his Republican nominee Charlie Baker barnstormed both urban and rural areas. Patrick appeared in Boston and Marlborough, a city with a population of under 40,000. Baker made stops in the state’s largest urban centers, Boston and Worcester, as well as Wakefield, and his hometown of Swampscott, both with a population of less than 25,000. Clearly their campaign consultants have done the electoral calculations and realized that elections are not settled in urban areas alone.

“At the national level, by contrast, 80% of voters are relegated to the electoral sidelines. Their votes have little influence. In the 2012 Presidential election, after the nominating conventions, 69% of all campaign visits were in Iowa, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. Similarly, of the 13 smallest states, only New Hampshire garnered any visits. The others were ignored.

“A vote in Florida or Virginia would no longer have disproportionate influence, but neither would it have less influence. I suspect the campaigns would have field offices in both states and would try to turnout every possible vote, The goal of each campaign would be to win a numerical majority regardless of where the votes were cast. That means courting and turning out as many voters as possible. A candidate would be sagacious to deploy resources in as many parts of the country as possible under the National Popular Vote Plan.”

            And then my response:

“Well, a candidate might be encouraged to campaign widely but if s/he had the opportunity to garner a margin of, say, 100,000 votes while winning one state and only, say, 10,000 votes in winning another state, guess where the candidate goes? All this "reform" does is change which votes are worth more and which less, which as noted is all it or any electoral scheme can do. And I notice a gap in your stats from Mass. as you do not say whether the candidates spent as much time in Peru, Mass. as they did in Boston and its suburbs. As there are more voters in Boston and suburbs than Peru or even Worcester, I don't need stats to know how the candidates behaved or where they spent the most money. Unless they are just politically challenged, candidates always go more often to where they can garner more rather than fewer votes.

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Pig with Earrings Is Still a Pig

A Pig with Earrings Is Still a Pig
P. Schultz
March 1, 2013

            There is an old saying that if you put earrings and make-up on a pig you still have a pig! Indeed and below is an article from the NY Times today that is the “intellectual” version of putting earrings on a pig. This guy argues that sequestration is about “a deep philosophical divide” between the Republicans and the Democrats. And then he writes:

“But a step back [from the current rhetoric] illuminates roots deeper than the prevailing notion that Washington politicians are simply fools acting for electoral advantage or partisan spite.”

            Now, to be clear, I agree with Harwood that our politicians are not “simply fools” but am laughing at the thought that Harwood wants to turn this into a “philosophic” dispute. This reminds of my life experiences in academe where what is called “curriculum review and reform” is always dressed up as a “philosophical” dispute when, in fact, it is almost always merely a turf battle. Different departments want to preserve their “turf” so they their departments can retain their power and status within the institution.

            And this is precisely what is happening here, a turf battle both between and within our “two” parties. Of course, our politicians are not as adept as are academics at dressing up their disputes as “philosophic.” But then politicians are not as well rehearsed in using “philosophic” language and not the “intellectual bullies” that academics are.

            Still, this is what passes for “analysis” in our “paper of record.” And with this kind of analysis we can go on living in our delusional world, hoping things will get better when they will not and even cannot. And they cannot because those with the power are not actually interested in making things better but are only interested in preserving their power and status.  

Sequester: All According to Plan

Sequestration: It’s All Going According to Plan
P. Schultz
March 1, 2013

            There is not much reason to add to my previous piece on the sequester, as it is all going according to plan.

From the last article: 

“The Senate on Thursday shot down competing bills to undo — or at least mitigate the impact of — across-the-board spending cuts in a desultory bit of political theater that ensured the cuts would go into force Friday with a partisan blame game in full tilt.

“The votes were all but designed to fail. Democrats assembled legislation to replace $85 billion in cuts this year with a mix of tax increases on the rich, corporate taxes and cuts to military and agriculture subsidies with no consultations with Republicans. Republicans, internally divided but desperate for some alternative to the Democratic approach, offered legislation that would have locked in the cuts but would have given President Obama near carte blanche to decide how to mete them out.
And fail they did.”