Monday, December 05, 2016

A confluence of trends: trust in the mainstream media and inequality

As usual, serendipity leads the way in the topics I choose for this blog. A few days ago, I had found a post in social media about how well the economy is doing. The New York Times was advertising on Facebook and shouting the news about how great the economy was doing at 4.9% unemployment and I couldn't let that go without a reply. A casual search for the unemployment rate confirms their claim.

But hardly anyone talks about the real unemployment rate. Apparently, Gallup has figured out that the real unemployment rate is what people are thinking about and currently it's about 9.5%:



What is the real unemployment rate? The Department of Labor calls that the "U6":
U-6 Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force
In my last post, "When the jig is up, the mainstream media blames Russia", I discussed trust in the mainstream media. In that post we learn that public trust in the mainstream media has ebbed to an all time low of 32%. This is down from a high of 72% since Gallup started asking queries about trust in mainstream media. That high point was in 1976. Hmm. That seems to correlate well with another story.

In The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive, economist Dean Baker discusses what he calls "The Great Redistribution", the title for chapter 3. The story he tells in his book is that starting in the late 1970s, a policy decision was made to decouple productivity from wages. The end result is what we see here after 30 years of watching CEO pay rise and front line worker pay stagnate is an economy that is still staggering after the Great Recession. For more details on how we got here, Baker's book is highly recommended. You're simply not going to find this kind of information at the New York Times, or the Washington Post.

The mainstream media is almost completely silent on the reasons for the disconnect between productivity and wages. The MSM has maintained this silence from the beginning when the policy shift was made and implemented. What I see here is that as more and more income flowed to the top, the people at the top saw fit to ignore and suppress the story.

The only reason this information is getting out now is that we have the internet to find it with. With the internet, books by people like Dean Baker have a far wider distribution than if we had to depend on a publisher to make a print copy for everyone. Baker understands the reasons for copyrights, it seems, so he has offered the book for free as PDF and encourages readers to buy the print edition.

It's also important to understand that these policy shifts to decouple wages from productivity were made without very much input from the average working American. No American in their right mind would vote for people who supported an economic policy and legal framework which decouples wages from productivity. Unless, of course, that American was wealthy and well connected.

The political result of this policy shift is a presidential election featuring two of the most unpalatable candidates in history. Both candidates had messages that shifted in the wind during the course of their campaigns. Both candidates showed disregard for the working class and Trump continues to show that same disregard by nominating people to positions where they can do serious damage to the working class.

The same people who brought us an awful economy also brought us a political system that they can use as business opportunity. The candidates who run for office and do well when they do are chosen by the top 0.02% of the American population. Those same candidates suffer from something called tweedism. I know, it sounds like a political disease and it is.

Wait. What? "Tweedism"? From Wikiquotes:
William Magear Tweed (3 April 1823 – 12 April 1878), known as Boss Tweed and often erroneously referred to as William Marcy Tweed, was an American politician and political boss of Tammany Hall who became an icon of urban political machines. Quoted as follows:
"I don't care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating."
Tweedism refers to the idea that the right of nomination is more important than the right to vote. Most Americans have no part in the nomination process. Wealthy Americans are aware of this and have taken pains to ensure that most of us are unaware of the money primaries that decide who gets to run and do well when they run. The wealthy have created a walled garden of candidates for us to vote for.

The reason American public policy looks the way it does has nothing to do with ordinary Americans, for most of us have zero influence on the policy choices of the federal government. Ordinary Americans lack influence over public policy largely because they lack influence in the nomination process and the money needed to influence a politician once elected.

This study, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, shows that over 1700 issues and 20 years of legislation, ordinary Americans have near zero influence on public policy decisions. This same study is cited by former presidential candidate and Harvard professor, Larry Lessig in a TEDx talk in this video on YouTube. In this video, Larry gives us a crash course on Tweedism, too.

As inequality grew over the last 30 years, the MSM has consistently told us how great the economy is and that everything is cool. But then we had the collapse of the stock bubble in 1990s. Then we had the collapse of the housing bubble in 2007 and the subsequent Great Recession. I kid you not, every time I saw news of a layoff on CNBC, the price of the stock of the company doing the layoffs would go up. Now we see that after the Great Recession, the stock market is at all time highs, but that's not any good for most of us. Most of us own a pittance in stocks compared with the people who control the huge multinational firms that seem intent on ruling our lives.

We now know that when the MSM talks about the economy, most of the time, they're lying. They lie because they need to hide from us, just how bad inequality is in America, and how that inequality isn't due a free market. It's about who writes the rules. Watch this video to get a sense of how far off the charts, inequality is in America.

As wages disconnected from productivity our trust in the mainstream media declined. The internet gave us alternatives and still does, but we have to hunt around to find the sources we can trust again. Many once great sites for alternative news are now owned by parent corporations that make up the 6 parent companies that own 90% of MSM.

The Huffington Post is a good example. Once a bastion of good liberal news, they are now owned by AOL, which in turn is owned by Verizon. During the primaries, HuffPo demonstrated a clear bias towards Hillary Clinton, a politician who has been instrumental implementing and maintaining the disconnect between wages and productivity.

Another example is the Daily Beast. It would be easy to think of them as a good alternative news source until we learn that the parent company, IAC has Chelsea Clinton sitting on the board of directors. I've seen enough of this that I have to be quite discerning when I see news and decide whether or not to continue reading their sites.

If the mainstream media is looking for someone to blame for their loss of credibility, they need only to look in the mirror instead of blaming Russia. They could actually talk about the lost connection between productivity and wages. They could stop scaring everybody about how robots are taking our jobs when they know that's a lie.

Perhaps if the mainstream media stopped abusing the public trust they have pissed away on people like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, more people might take them seriously. In the meantime, it is up to us to find sources we trust or to become the media we need to stay informed.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

When the jig is up, the mainstream media blames Russia

Most Americans don't trust mainstream media anymore and the MSM knows it. The MSM knows the jig is up and they are trying to show us their kabuki mask to keep the illusion alive. Now that suspicions about the last election are high, they are blaming the Russians for hacking our elections, when it could just be human programming error and lack of oversight. I doubt they would ever admit that turnout for their candidate of choice was lower than they had hoped for.

America's trust in the media has hit an all time low. According to Gallup, only 32% of Americans still trust the MSM to report the new accurately and fairly. The all time high since they started asking was around 72% in 1976. Since then, it's been a long, slow slide down to the bottom. Well, I'm not sure that bottom has been reached yet as there is no sign of any rebound.

I think the low point for me came when the Associated Press declared Hillary Clinton the winner of the Democratic Primaries late last spring, a day before the primary election in California. MSM's relentless defense of Hillary Clinton for her email escapades in the press only served to enraged a liberal faction unwilling to accept her as nominee. The damage is done.

In the wake of this epic fail on the part of MSM, visibility of alternative media outlets have spiked. Places like Truthdig, Naked Capitalism and Truthout have become reporters of record on stories the MSM will not touch. The coverage of the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline comes to mind as a good recent example. Alternative news is all over it, but the MSM is very busy showing drug commercials on the nightly news.

Unfortunately, alternative news is getting the label of "fake news" by the MSM. According to The Intercept, more than 200 of these "fake news" sites are now identified as sources of Russian propaganda by an unidentified group of people who refuse to be named. There is a growing blacklist of news organizations that all seem to have one thing in common: they are critical of establishment politics and American Foreign policy. The Intercept has explored this trend and the group fomenting it in this article:
The group’s list of Russian disinformation outlets includes WikiLeaks and the Drudge Report, as well as Clinton-critical left-wing websites such as Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, and Naked Capitalism, as well as libertarian venues such as Antiwar.com and the Ron Paul Institute.
So, it looks like the MSM is an equal opportunity blamer, blacklisting conservative and liberal sites, too. Just as the Clinton campaign is blaming their loss of the election on the Russians, MSM is blaming their loss of the public trust on Russia. Seems like a happy coincidence, doesn't it?

The blacklist might have held up for most Americans, but the truth is already out. There is a clear connection of collusion between the political elite and the MSM. They seem to forget that these are the days of the internet. This means, that with enough determination and time, we can take any set of facts and cross check between sources.

I have found it useful to check facts in articles between diametrically opposed sources. A simple approach is to take the most liberal and most conservative sources and review their articles for the same set of facts. It's not that hard to do with search engine at hand. I believe that in most cases, two opposing viewpoints that agree on the same set of facts will yield at least some of the truth. This is why l believe that the diversity and expression of human opinion is essential for human survival. I don't care about sources as much as I care about corroboration.

I believe that if the mainstream media are looking for targets to blame for Hillary's epic fail in November, we only need to look at her campaign and how it was run. She ran an unprincipled campaign, colluding with the DNC, the mainstream media, high level allies in the federal and state governments and in the state level Democratic parties. Who else would be able to garner the support of more than 400 superdelegates before even the first primary was held? That to me was not only the biggest insult to the liberal Democratic base they expected to show up and vote for Hillary, it was also the biggest marker that the fix is in.

The Clinton campaign was so tight with the MSM, that her campaign manager John Podesta, had the audacity to encourage the MSM to give the most coverage to Trump above all others, and to take Trump seriously. Allies in the MSM were also feeding the Clinton campaign debate questions before the primary debates. And they did everything they could to obscure and bury Bernie Sanders in the news. Democracy Now! has a great article about "How the Media Iced Out Bernie Sanders & Helped Donald Trump Win", where they show how Trump consistently got the lion's share of the air time.

For example, “ABC World News Tonight” aired 81 minutes of reports on Donald Trump, compared with just 20 seconds for Sanders. Amy Goodman reports on how Sanders was so lucky to get that 20 seconds:
I asked Sanders what he did to warrant a full 20 seconds of coverage on ABC, and he threw his head back, laughing out loud. “We had the misfortune of actually trying to talk about the problems facing America and providing real solutions,” he said, offering his take on the media’s failure. “Trump was tweeting out about how ugly or horrible or disgusting or terrible his opponents were, in really ugly terms. Perfect for the media. That is a great 12-second sound bite. But to talk about why the middle class is in decline or why we have massive levels of income and wealth inequality can’t be done in 12 seconds. And second of all, it’s not something that they are, frankly, terribly interested in.” While the media may not have been interested in Sanders’ message, the voters were. Despite the media blackout, Sanders won 23 primary contests and 46 percent of the pledged Democratic delegates.
That is perhaps, the best encapsulation of how the MSM sealed their loss of the public trust. But is also a reminder of a meme I've seen floating around, to paraphrase in polite company:
"The older you get, the more you realize that no one has a clue what they're doing. Everyone's just winging it."
Clinton, her team and the mainstream media have proven this in spades. Clinton had the election clearly in her grasp, had everything going for her, but refused to listen to the people she claimed to represent. That is very poor judgment, but then, poor judgment is what we can expect from people who do not see themselves as being accountable to the people they claim to represent.

Some say that McCarthyism is back. It probably is, but I can say for sure that stupidity is all the rage in the mainstream media.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The sweet irony of Trump as president

Now that Trump is going to be president, the tide has turned in social media. I am seeing conservatives voices speaking louder, clearer in liberal circles. I am seeing them openly challenge liberal discourse where they did not before. I suppose that what I'm seeing is a "give this man a chance" message.

There are conservatives fearful that what happened to Obama will happen to Trump. I think that the odds are higher than even that Democrats in Congress will stonewall Trump just as Republicans in Congress did the same to Barack Obama, but not for the reasons most of us are told to believe. This is about money, not politics.

Bernie Sanders is still on the scene in Congress. He's now seen as a man of far greater influence than before and is schooling the Democrats on why they lost this election. The answer to that question is that the Democrats were fearful of Bernie, fearful of the liberal left and fearful of the loss of money from the relevant funders. According to this interview of Bernie Sanders by Matt Taibbi, Democratic leadership ignored large voter demographics, confident that the liberal left had nowhere else to go. But apparently they did, or Clinton would have won. From the article:
Taibbi: President Obama talked after the election about winning Iowa by going into counties even if the demographics didn't "dictate" success there. This seemed to be a criticism that the party had decided to ignore big parts of the country.
Sanders: I talked about that in the book. That's exactly what we did. We had 101 rallies in that small state. That's grassroots democracy. You speak to three-quarters of the people who end up voting for you. In New Hampshire, we had just a zillion meetings – far more people came out to our meetings. If you had the time to do that around the country, the world becomes different. The assessment has got to be that not only did we lose the White House to the least-popular candidate in perhaps the history of America, certainly in modern history, but we've lost the Senate, we've lost the House, we've lost two-thirds of the governors' chairs in this country. We've lost 900 seats in state legislatures throughout the country in the last eight years. Maybe it might be time to reassess?
Bernie nails it. He shows us exactly why the Democrats are where they are now. They are not paying attention to the rest of us. They sincerely believed that as long as they get their corporate dosh, they can win elections. I watched the election just passed very closely and Trump was everywhere. He went to places where he might not have been popular. So did Bernie. Bernie went to a Christian College to speak to a potentially hostile crowd.

Here's another interesting snippet from that article:
Sanders believes it is a mistake to dismiss the Trump movement as a monolithic expression of racism and xenophobia. Trump's populist appeals, sincere or not, carried the day, and Democrats need to answer them. Trump pledged not to cut Medicare or Social Security, promised to support re-importation of prescription drugs from other countries, and said he'd reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act. Sanders insists he and his staff are going to try to hold him to all of these promises. How they'll manage that is only a guess, but as ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders could easily force the Republicans into votes on all of these issues by introducing amendments during the budget resolution process, which begins in January. "Were those 100 percent lies that [Trump] was telling people in order to gain support?" he asks. "We'll find out soon enough." (emphasis mine)
I've seen some in social and mainstream media claim that Trump is an idiot. That characterization does not explain how he beat 17 of the most powerful Republicans in the country in the primaries. That doesn't explain how Trump beat organized opposition from Republican establishment power brokers, either. Despite numerous gaffes, outright lies and other other tomfoolery, Trump still managed to win. I suspect that Trump is smarter than he is willing to let on. The only thing we can know reliably about Trump is what he does, I take anything he says with a grain of salt.

Look again at the paragraph quoted above. Trump has pledged to do things that none of the elite Republicans want to do. Conservatives in social media express with a certain amount of glee that Trump will cut Social Security and Medicare, when he has pledged not to. Powerful people in Congress do not want Glass-Steagall reinstated. And anyone receiving dosh from Big Pharma will be loathe to allow reimportation of pharmaceuticals back into this country. Sanders is right to put Trump and the Republicans to the test to see if they believe in benefiting the general welfare of the country by their actions or to continue a persistent attack on the middle class and the poor.

But there is one other issue that Trump has been relatively silent on: the national debt. I've seen conservatives across the board say that now that we have a Republican president on the way, we will finally see someone cut the national debt. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many economists have seen Trump's plans and have consistently said the same thing: we're going to see more debt. In a nutshell, Trump wants to spend more money on infrastructure and cut taxes at the same time. That could only mean more debt.

One thing most people don't understand is that the public debt is a result of public policy that the average American has no control over. To understand how we got here, we need to consider this message from Harvard professor Larry Lessig (20m video, well worth the time to watch). For many years, he's been doing the research to show that the people with the greatest influence over Congress in this country is the top 0.02%, they are the relevant funders. He has shown that in the 2014 election cycle, that tiny fraction of our population provided 50% of the superPAC money.

There something else Lessig has been working hard to raise awareness about: the right of nomination belongs to the elite. Our country has fallen victim to tweedism. I know, it sounds like a disease and it is, but it is a political disease.

Tweedism is a corruption of the democratic process by denying the general population the right of nomination while allowing them to vote for nominees selected by the elite. The term "tweedism" is coined after an American politician, William M. Tweed. Here is how Mr. Tweed thinks:
I don't care who does the electing so long as I get to do the nominating.
Seems mildly familiar, right? Notice who got to choose Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention. That was not by popular appeal. The primary reason Hillary Clinton ran in the primaries was not because she's a popular politician. She was there because the money was there.

So I find it mildly amusing to see conservatives speak so confidently of Trump and what he will do when I consider that Congress has a 97% re-election rate. They get to choose their voters. Their moneyed interests are there to ensure they win again and again. That is the irony of Trump as president.

Monday, November 28, 2016

American Indians were the first to learn that imperialism is the highest form of capitalism

Anyone reading the news lately will notice that the fight over a pipeline in North Dakota is escalating. I've been watching from the sidelines with a quote running through my mind, "Imperialism is the highest form of capitalism".

While reviewing the discourse regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline I found an article from Heavy.com, which I think is a rather well balanced description of the conflict over the pipeline. I think it's interesting that I could find very little positive support for the pipeline beyond the temporary jobs it will create and the recurring property tax revenue that it will generate.

Here is something else positive about the pipeline from the Heavy.com article:
According to Energy Transfer Partners, the company whose subsidiary is developing the project, the 1,172-mile pipeline “will connect the rapidly expanding Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois,” transporting some 470,000 barrels a day. “The pipeline will enable domestically produced light sweet crude oil from North Dakota to reach major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective, safer and environmentally responsible manner.”
Also cited by the same Heavy.com article with a link to the Energy Transfer Partners site is the following passage that explains the benefits of the pipeline:
Although the United States is the third-largest producer in the world, we are the number one consumer of crude oil in the world. We need to close the gap between what we produce as a country and what we consume before we can be truly independent of foreign imports. While the U.S. produced 7.5 million barrels of crude oil per day in 2013, it still imported 7.7 million barrels per day in order to meet consumer demands. We need to close the gap between what we produce as a country and what we consume before we can be truly independent of foreign imports. Every barrel of oil produced in the United States directly displaces a barrel of foreign oil.
So the point of the pipeline is to reduce dependence on foreign oil? The same Heavy.com article cites a Reuters article that contains the following text:
The $3.7 billion, 1,100-mile (1,770 km) Dakota Access pipeline would carry oil from just north of land owned by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to Illinois, where it would hook up to an existing pipeline and route crude directly to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The line would be the first to allow movement of crude oil from the Bakken shale, a vast oil formation in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. (emphasis mine)
The Gulf Coast? Isn't that an export destination? Wait a minute. Energy Transfer Partners said that we need to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Energy Transfer Partners seems to be saying one thing and doing something else. Isn't that "crazy-making"? Maybe they're just lying about their intentions.

The US Energy Information Administration estimates that the United States consumes about 19 million barrels of oil per day. The same agency estimates that the US produces about 9 million barrels of oil per day. The same agency again says here that on average, in 2015 the US *exported* 4.7 million barrels a day of crude oil and refined products. That's about 25% of total combined US imports and domestically produced oil. Somehow, I'm not quite sure about Energy Transport Partners' desire to reduce American dependence on foreign oil.

For Energy Transfer Partners, this is about money, not ecology, not safety and most certainly not about being responsible. The meaning is in the response. Here is what is being shared lately about the response to the pipeline:
People are likely to start dying at Standing Rock-- if they aren't already. The Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council released this statement: “The physicians and tribal healers with the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council call for the immediate cessation of use of water cannons on people who are outdoors in 28F ambient weather with no means of active rewarming in these conditions. As medical professionals, we are concerned for the real risk of loss of life due to severe hypothermia under these conditions.”
Not to mention continuous mass tear gas, rubber bullets, as well as stinger grenades and LRAND (Long Range Acoustic Device) for 3 hours
Law enforcement also shot down three media drones and targeted journalists with less lethal rounds.
National Lawyers Guild legal observers on the frontlines have confirmed that multiple people were unconscious and bleeding after being shot in the head with rubber bullets. One elder went into cardiac arrest at the frontlines but medics administered CPR and were able to resuscitate him. The camp’s medical staff and facilities are overwhelmed and the local community of Cannonball has opened their school gymnasium for emergency relief.
PLEASE CALL THE FOLLOWING AGENCIES NOW:
ND Office of Governor Dalrymple: 701-328-2200
Tie up the fax line too: 701.328.2205
Morton County Sheriff's Department:
701-328-8118 & 701-667-3330.
ND National Guard: Main Number: 701-333-2000
Public Affairs Officer: 701-333-2007
Call often, please.
Please copy and paste; don't click share. Then pass it on. Thank you.
Notice also that there is real fear about sharing this information with the request above to copy, paste and share, without attribution. There is fear of retaliation, ostracism and perhaps physical harm.

Forces are gathering:


US veterans plan to gather at the site where they will be witness to some of the most violent police conduct we've seen at any protest in recent memory. All of this is in a fight over a pipeline, one of many that run across US soil.

As we can see above, this conflict involves local police authorities. Theoretically, they are peace officers, but they are not acting like peace officers, they are dressed like agents of war. It is a fair question to ask, "Who does that policeman really work for, anyway?" If they are launching so many rubber bullets, tear gas grenades and water cannons at the protesters in sub-freezing temperatures, they are not keeping the peace for us. They are attempting to clear the way for the people who own the pipeline. 

As more and more public figures begin to descend upon the pipeline site, what will the pipeline owners say when one of those famous people winds up in the hospital, if that should happen? Will they be able to get to the nearest hospital in a timely manner? Judging by the roadblock below, probably not, since that public road built with taxpayer dollars, leads to the nearest hospital:


It would seem to me that the people behind that barricade are very worried that protesters might get through. It would also seem to me that the forces fighting to protect and encourage the progress of the pipeline would rather not be held accountable. See, if they are not accountable, then they don't have to listen to the protesters. There is no need to negotiate. With sufficient application of force, the entire problem can be resolved. You know, like in the movies.

There doesn't seem to be any effort on the part of the authorities to work it out with the protesters or the natives who live there. I've seen articles that say that certain tribes agreed to lease or sell their land, that certain tribes agreed to the terms and that even some of the tribes wish that the protesters would go home. Did they negotiate the land leases or sales on equal footing? Is it even fair to say that two parties with equal power negotiated a fair agreement? Judging by the show of force so far, I don't think so.

I'd say the purposes of the pipeline are many, but the primary purpose is to demonstrate power without accountability. This power is being demonstrated by the federal government, local police and the companies that are building the pipeline. They answer to no one who lives on land the pipeline crosses. They're certainly not listening to the water protectors, more than 300 tribes who have expressed opposition to the pipeline or environmentalists who have explained the risks of the pipeline.

Here's an article from The Atlantic that sketches out a good legal case to stop the pipeline. The Atlantic points out that the pipeline runs across a nation within a nation, the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota nation. The LDN nation is recognized as a sovereign nation. The Atlantic also points out that for centuries, the federal government has systematically taken land from the natives even after a treaty has been signed with them. This pipeline is just one more act of aggression, but this time, they're killing trees to win the war in administrative and judicial proceedings.

For those who think that the tribes would like the protesters to go home, the Sacred Stone Camp website reminds everyone staying there that they are guests of the LDN nation. After the Army Corp of Engineers sent a "notice of eviction" to the area described below where the protesters have encamped, Harold Frazier, Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe sent a response stating in pertinent part that:
The area north of the Cannonball River is both the ancestral homeland of the Lakota people and inside the boundaries of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty, a treaty that has not been abrogated and law that governs us all.  The best of these lands have already been unjustly taken and flooded by the Corps in the disastrous Pick-Sloane legislation.  We will no longer allow our rights as a Tribe or as indigenous people as a whole to continue to be eroded.
Native American Indians have experienced American imperialism first hand and are calling it out in their response to the notice of eviction. They are the first ones. They were here first, and they are the first to fall victim to American imperialism. The imperialism they see is the land unjustly taken and they are defending the water protectors in their letter to the federal government.

The motive behind the pipeline is pure greed, something we might call "capitalism, unrestrained". Much of the land we call "America" was taken from the natives in the same way. These same natives who were living here, in peace, long before we arrived are trying to stop American imperialism, one more time.

With respect to the Dakota Access pipeline, Native Americans don't want the money (or another casino), they want the land and they want it as it was when they found it. Without a pipeline running through it. If they succeed in stopping it, they will have helped to tear down the facade of a free market of fossil fuels.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Sin City in the context of American politics

A few months ago, I was hunting around for something to watch on Netflix. By chance I happened upon Rounders, an ancient Matt Damon movie about the game of poker. What I like about the movie is that it illustrates the game of poker as a game of skill rather than a game of luck. Mike, the protagonist played by Damon in the movie, has become skilled in the art of reading body language. Mike has learned how to spot the "tell", a gesture repeated by a player that unwitting conveys the value of his hand. Mike has applied the skill of reading body language to playing a game of poker, thereby removing most of the risk in the game.

I've played Blackjack here and there in casinos and I can see how that can be a game of skill, too. People who know statistics know that Blackjack has some of the best odds against the house in any casino. If played well with some attention to odds and the hand, a player may find that with some discipline, he can make some money at Blackjack.

Developing the skill of playing cards for money takes time and money. Playing poker for a living seems like such boring work: players watch faces and count cards all day, tracking the gestures and the cards that have been played since the last cut of the deck. The business of playing cards for money is probably not the most efficient allocation of resources in a capitalist economy.

More to the point, playing cards seems like an activity that is farthest from meeting basic human needs. It's not industrious, not social, and in fact, it's one of the most adversarial activities one could consider for an occupation short of joining the military or working as a professional kickboxer. Mike, the protagonist in Rounders was only playing cards so that he could finance his law school education.

I've been to Las Vegas (aka, "Lost Wages") a few times and I have found a certain fascination with a city that sprouted up from nowhere to becoming an international phenomenon. Vegas has no natural resources to draw industry to it. In fact, it must draw all resources required to meet human needs to it. Food, water and the raw materials required to build those luxurious hotels all must be imported to support what can best be described as an addiction.

Curiously, for about 15 miles south of Vegas we can find some of the finest, smoothest highway I have ever seen in all my years of driving. It is meticulously maintained and free of any trash that I can see. The authorities seem to want to make sure their customers have a safe journey to the fair city of Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is regarded by some as "Sin City". The major industry, gambling, lures its customers with the chance of obtaining wealth without work (a sin), but the reality is that it provides nothing of the kind, even for the people who own "the house". This is because "the house always wins" and, "the odds favor the house", no matter how generous the payouts at the slots. Security at Vegas casinos is legendary, expensive and required due to so much cash changing hands.

Gambling, drinking, smoking and other "adult entertainment" are all seen by some as "sinful". Note here that I'm not a Christian and place no judgment on the the people who partake in the "entertainment" offered for hire in Las Vegas. I offer no defense or criticism of Las Vegas. I'm simply making observations of one very clear fact: most of what we consider "adult entertainment", including but not limited to gambling, drinking, smoking and strip clubs, do not meet real human needs and they don't solve real human problems. That's one reason why we tax and regulate those activities.

In short order, gambling doesn't solve the human need for industry, to produce and contribute to society. Drinking is just the act of ingesting a dilute poison for the temporary release of inhibitions accumulated since birth. The behavior I've seen in some drunken adults is not that far off from a totally sober toddler. Smoking damages the lungs and brings carbon monoxide into the bloodstream. Strip clubs just short circuit the desire or the need to learn the social skills required for mate selection. None of the "adult entertainment" in Vegas comes even remotely close to satisfying real human needs.

Here is one thing that I find somewhat remarkable about the word "sin". [To] Sin is not to identify some act as being somehow inherently evil. I don't believe in evil anyway, as that is a concept from religion, probably originating in Abrahamic or Judeo-Christian ideology. I replace good and evil with confused and not so confused. I don't believe in original sin since babies are not born with any capacity to commit evil acts. Taken literally, to sin is to miss the mark.

Las Vegas is iconic in American culture. Vegas is depicted in movies and TV as some sort of adult playground where "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas". Unfortunately, much if not all of "what happens in Vegas" doesn't really meet human needs. Much of that, to put it politely, is displacement activity. Displacement activity is what humans do to sooth themselves when faced with discomfort, you know, like sucking a thumb for comfort.

As some of you may recall, I've been on a bit of streak talking up a couple of books I've read called, The Explosive Child and Raising Human Beings by Dr. Ross W. Greene, PhD. The goal of those books is to help us observe children through the lens of skills and motivation. I believe that some of the concepts taught in those books can be applied to everyone, adults included.

When adults (parent, teacher, or authority figure) express a desire for compliance with an expectation to a child and the child fails to comply, adults often assume that the child lacks motivation to comply. Most adults will assume that a child is being "willful" in disobeying an adult rather than consider the possibility that a child lacks the skills needed to comply with the demand. Since the assumption is that a child lacks motivation, adults will often offer rewards for compliance and punishment for failure to comply. Gold stars and grounding are familiar examples.

Here's the rub. Reward and punishment just doesn't work with kids. If a child lacks the skills required to meet the demands of the environment, sometimes imposed by adults, he can't comply because he doesn't have the skills to comply.  No matter what is offered for reward or threatened as punishment, If the skills aren't there, no reasonable and aware adult can expect compliance.

And if an adult doesn't know what causes a child to fail to meet his expectations, then all solutions, from reward to punishment imposed by the adult are ill-informed. Unless a serious inquiry is made into the cause for unwanted behavior, like working with the kid to solve the problems that give rise to the unwanted behavior in the first place, no adult imposed solution is very likely to work. Solving the problem that gives rise to the unwanted behavior must be a collaborative effort. When the problem is solved, the unwanted behavior associated with that problem goes away.

To put all of this back in the context of Las Vegas, all of that "adult entertainment" is an ill-informed solution to problems that many adults have not resolved since childhood. That entertainment offers temporary relief from the problems, but does not address the problem itself. Happily, if the problem is resolved, then any desire to go Vegas for entertainment is diminished or eliminated entirely. Notice here also, that just as the motivation to go to Vegas comes from the inside, the influence to direct that desire to Vegas comes from the outside, usually in the form of advertising.

Advertising. I avoid it whenever possible because I consider it garbage for the brain. I believe that if I see something advertised on TV (most especially food), I most likely don't need it. Certain electronics, toothpaste, shampoo, clothing, and new cars are just a few examples of products than can fall into that category. In a generic sense, I may need or want some of those things, but not that shiny thing being advertised right now, and I most certainly don't need them to make me feel better when I'm with my family, friends or coworkers. I don't have to impress anyone and I don't buy things to impress other people. Yet I know that advertising implores me to believe that I must have their product or I'm a failure, I'll have bad breath, people will ignore me, or I will have missed yet another passing fad and be "left out".

It's not just Vegas. Much of what we call "capitalism" seems to operate with a single goal in mind: get the consumer to forgo his real needs for whatever is on sale, and if possible, get that poor creature into debt. Buy a new dress, a new car, an Apple iPhone, go on vacation to Disneyworld, get that mouthwash, buy that beer or frappucino, and watch football or soap operas as the case may be. Get busy buying all that stuff on credit and ignore your human needs for companionship and friendship. Don't worry about the terms on the card, just make the payments.

If I'm not paying attention to my needs, I'm also not solving my problems, and will keep buying products that will only provide temporary relief. Solve the problems and the hucksters have to go elsewhere to sell their stuff, because when I start solving my problems, the behavior that is symptomatic of the problems in my life go away. The urge to buy on impulse goes away, too.

This pattern of urging us to forgo personal needs for expensive things that don't solve our needs extends to public policy. For example, America got involved in two very expensive wars that failed to solve any real problems that Americans faced. Mainstream media told us that America got involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan due to terrorism.

The truth is that the wars were about oil. Oil is used to power our vehicles, it is not used to run our power plants for it is very expensive and inefficient to burn in power plants. But when oil is refined into diesel and gasoline fuels, it has served our country well for a time. I think that the party with oil is coming to an end in the not so distant future.

The wars in the Middle East are about getting other people to change, nothing more. We faced an oil embargo in the 1970's and the result of that crisis is that people became aware that inefficient cars are expensive to drive, so we bought foreign cars which were more efficient than the cars built by American manufacturers. Nowadays, people are starting to buy electric cars, cars that are far more efficient and environmentally benign than gas powered cars. Yes, they have subsidies, but they are nowhere near as costly as the Middle East wars.

We pay an implicit subsidy for the oil industry with our tax money by supporting more than 800 military bases around the world. That military power is what keeps the price of oil low, no reasonable economist will tell you that it is the free market that has maintained historically low prices at the pump for these last few years. That military power doesn't really address the real problem, our dependence on oil. Like the advertising on TV, it is intended to make it easier for us keep on buying cars that require oil-based fuels rather than electric cars. That military power is used to make other people change for us. The more we refuse to change, the more expensive our life becomes.

Therapy, support groups and self-help books all have one thing in common: they can teach us skills we can use to solve our problems. They can provide the empathy we need to relate to others who have the same problems. They provide a forum we can use to discuss our problems and to solve them collaboratively. They provide us with durable solutions that can be repeated as needed whenever a certain problem arises, or the solution can eliminate the problem entirely.

Most politicians in America do not demonstrate empathy for Americans. Even if they make overtures to us, telling us that they really mean to do the right thing, their voting records tell us otherwise. Their voting record tells us that they're listening to the money, not the people. This past election gives us clear evidence of our mounting frustration with a political system that provides no accountability on the part of politicians to the people they represent. Most politicians would rather not solve the real problems that Americans face because it's easier to satisfy a few really big donors than to try to help the people they are supposed to represent.

The problem in American democracy is not any single part of public policy. The problem is that the top 1% have bought the representatives in government and are dictating terms to them, without solving the real problems that most Americans face. This is because the set of problems that the top 1% face do not intersect with the set of problems faced by most Americans. The top 1% have failed to demonstrate empathy for the average American and seem to have little desire collaborate with the rest of us to solve our problems together because they believe they do not share the same problems. We're supposed to be stronger together, right?

Bernie Sanders was and still is the only major politician to show true empathy for average Americans. He understands the problem of big money in politics. He understands the problems that most Americans face and has offered durable, repeatable solutions for Americans that are backed up by empirical evidence to show that they work.

It is truly tragic that the same people who are peddling ill-informed solutions that don't solve the real problems that most Americans face everyday, were able to lie, cheat and steal to defeat Bernie. But perhaps now that the truth is getting out, we can raise awareness so that the next time someone like Bernie challenges the establishment at the next election, we will be better prepared to effect the changes we need. If the 1% truly want to earn their keep, they are going to have to listen to the rest of us or the pitchforks will come sooner than they expect.

Perhaps at the next election, knowing what we know now, we can elect politicians who have true empathy for our concerns, with the will and power to implement durable solutions that help us to solve our problems together.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Finding (political) happiness has more to do with skill than wealth and power

There is a meme floating around with pictures showing how Hillary Clinton looked before and after the election. Before: her face is filled with her hope of winning the election. After her loss to Donald Trump, her face has lost much of its color and the muscles are slack. I've seen some in social media claim that Hillary is dying or that she looks like death becomes her. Yes, her demeanor has changed, but I don't subscribe to those views about her state of being. I think she's just really tired.

Running for president is a brutal and daunting task for anyone. Only the strongest among us can sustain the journey, even with legions of people helping. I think it's also important to remember that Hillary is just a human being. She does not possess any superpowers and is not immortal. I say this not as a defense of her - I did not support her in this election and I actively opposed her throughout. I say these things because they are facts.

The same is true for Donald Trump and all of the rest of us. We're just human beings. That means at some point in the future, we're all going to die, so we might as well make the best of it while we're here. Wishing for Hillary to die isn't going to help anyone and it won't really make anyone happy if her death were somehow, premature.

Like all of us, Hillary Clinton is seeking happiness. How we go about seeking happiness depends on the skills we have to create the circumstances that allow us to experience it. Happiness is not a place, it is not a goal and it doesn't come from external circumstances. Happiness is not, as some people seem to think, life without problems, for that is a life that never was. Wouldn't life be boring if everything went right?

I do not find happiness exclusively in people, places and things. I allow them to add to the happiness I have already found for I have no control over them. I do experience happiness, but only as a temporary state of existence. It comes and it goes. But it does so only to the extent that I allow it to. Happiness is a choice, but I have found that it is something more than that. To find true happiness requires some skill to experience it. Allow me to demonstrate this point with some familiar examples.

I'm a huge fan of the Beatles. I love all of their music and have enjoyed listening to the progression of their music from the early years to their last album, Abbey Road. On "The Beatles", aka, "The White Album", there are a few, not so happy songs, one of them being, "Yer Blues". From the Wikipedia page regarding the composition of the same song:
Lennon said that, while "trying to reach God and feeling suicidal" in India, he wanted to write a blues song, but was unsure if he could imitate the likes of Sleepy John Estes and other original blues artists he had listened to in school. In "Yer Blues," he alludes to this insecurity with a reference to the character Mr. Jones from Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man," and with the third verse, which draws on Robert Johnson's "Hellhound on My Trail." Instead, Lennon wrote and composed "Yer Blues" as a parody of British imitators of the blues, featuring tongue-in-cheek guitar solos and rock and roll-inspired swing blues passages.
I've heard that song many times myself and am even playing it in my head right now. John Lennon feeling insecure? The man who once said that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus once felt suicidal? C'mon! The White Album has another not so happy track, "I'm So Tired". Again, Wikipedia shows a familiar refrain, that of personal suffering:
Lennon wrote the song at a Transcendental Meditation camp when he could not sleep; the Beatles had gone on a retreat to study with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India. After three weeks of constant meditation and lectures, Lennon missed Yoko Ono, who he'd yet to start a relationship with, and was plagued by insomnia, which inspired the song. One of dozens of songs the Beatles wrote in India, "I'm So Tired" detailed Lennon's fragile state of mind. It was also an open letter to Ono, whose postcards to Lennon in India were a lifeline. "I got so excited about her letters," he said. "I started thinking of her as a woman, and not just an intellectual woman."Lennon later said of it: "One of my favourite tracks. I just like the sound of it, and I sing it well".
In both songs, we hear of a John Lennon in a state of mental agitation. Suicidal thoughts. Insomnia. Longing for someone else. From his songs, he shares with us that in every respect, he is only human.

We also see that he's sitting on a pile of money, living large while visiting India. He's receiving guidance from people who really know how to meditate and he's meditating. We see that he made an effort to find peace, yet he still suffered. Could he find happiness with better skills or more money?

There are countless examples of human suffering in song and music. Many of them are written and performed by people who have achieved widespread fame and enormous wealth yet they continue to write and perform new songs about suffering even after wealth and the good life found them. If they're happy, why are they writing and singing songs about suffering?

There is one other character I'd like to talk about and then I'll get to my point. He's one of my favorites, actually: Bono. Bono is well known as the chain smoking leader of the world's greatest rock band, U2. Bono also travels the world doing charity work, so he sees the suffering of the world first hand. "Until the End of the World" is a song characteristic of their style. Dark, moody, and a bit satirical. Here is an excerpt of the lyrics:
In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You, you said you'd wait
'Til the end of the world 
To me, this captures the state of the human race. We know we're blowing it and we don't know how to stop. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be this way. To me, suffering is not just a matter of choice. It's a matter of skill, or the lack of it.

Some time ago, I wrote "Some thoughts on the diminishing utility of wealth". In that article, I show how as wealth increases, it has diminishing utility in the personal sense. You can only buy so many shoes and dresses. A diamond ring is pretty, but it won't make you happy. A trip to Europe is just an experience and then you have to come back down, to reality.

Unfortunately, there are some people who have very good skills at making money, but to do so, they have to step on a lot of people to do it. Yes, there are some people who achieve their wealth by actually producing things that society needs or wants (Elon Musk is one of the better examples). But anyone who has noticed our engorged financial industry may also notice that there are some who do not pull their own weight.

Hillary Clinton exemplifies the risk entailed by allowing external circumstances to control how we feel. She made a living telling wealthy people what they wanted to hear, while telling everyone else, what she thought they wanted to hear. She talked progressive while promoting a very conservative trade agreement. She talked progressive while promoting military intervention as good foreign policy. She talked progressive to us while courting the banks for money.

Did all that make Hillary happy? After losing the election, probably not. Did she have good intentions? Perhaps she did. Some people call her evil. I offer no defense of her here. I don't dispute she has made some bad choices and she's not being held accountable for them. I don't dispute that she's hurt more than just a few people to get her way. But I don't call her evil. I believe that if she could do better, she would. I believe that if she had the skills to conduct foreign policy without hurting others, I believe that she would have done that. I believe this because I believe that everyone wants to be able to go to sleep at night knowing they did the right thing.

I believe that when one person does something that is not so nice, maybe awful, maybe even heinous, to someone else, it is not for lack of a desire to do better. It is for lack of skills. Meeting our basic needs makes us happy for a time, and that is by design. Hurting someone else doesn't meet our basic needs. Never has, never will. Cooperating with someone else to get our needs met always makes us happier. That too, is by design.

We have have evolved to become more cooperative. We know this because scientists have conducted research to prove it. Scientists at Duke University compared skulls from different times in the fossil record with modern skulls of today and found evidence that around 50,000 years ago, the level of testosterone in humans suffered a serious decline. Maybe that's because the most aggressive males had killed each other off, leaving the less aggressive males to procreate a kinder, gentler progeny.

This change in human physiology correlates well with a blossoming of culture and technology around the same time. From this article at archaeology.org:
"The modern human behaviors of technological innovation, making art and rapid cultural exchange probably came at the same time that we developed a more cooperative temperament," said lead author Robert Cieri, a biology graduate student at the University of Utah who began this work as a senior at Duke University.
When two human beings cooperate in the spirit of good will, they get a nice feeling about it. I know that from personal experience. I really enjoy working in teams because I like how I feel when I help others. I like being a husband because I help my wife and she helps me. I like being a dad because I like helping and teaching my kids and playing with them. These are all forms of cooperation and cooperation requires skill.

Where do we learn these skills first? Usually our parents. But if they don't have those skills, then we must learn them later in life, from teachers, friends, or...the police. Most of us have learned from our families that when people have power, they don't have to listen to the people they have power over. We learn that when we have power, we can dismiss the concerns of others and force them to do what we want them to do.

In his book, Raising Human Beings, by Ross W. Greene, Phd, we learn that the style of parenting where parents impose their will upon their kids is called Plan A. Plan A means that as a parent, you can dismiss the concerns of your kids. You can impose your will on them through threat of force. That's the kind of parenting most of us are familiar with. I believe that kind of parenting got us here, to this place, this moment where we have a government that is mostly unresponsive to us.

We have leadership in our government that doesn't believe they have to listen to us. Congress had a 97% reelection rate. That's because districts are drawn for safe seats so, once you get in Congress, you're set for awhile. That means as a member of Congress, you don't really have to listen to the people, but you do have to listen to the money. That is Plan A in politics.

What does Plan B look like? In parenting, Plan B is about noticing problems that give rise to unwanted behavior and helping our kids to solve those problems. When we solve the problems, the associated behavior goes away. We collaborate with our kids to solve those problems. When we collaborate with our kids to solve problems, we teach them the life skills they must have to get their needs met as adults.

To put this in political terms without judging anyone, we have leaders who follow the money, not the people they represent. Because they're not listening to the people they represent, they must use Plan A, and impose their will upon the rest of us. That's why people protest. We saw it in Ferguson and we saw it again after Trump was elected. People are protesting Trump because they fear a Plan A president and Congress.

How do we know we have a Plan A Congress? Here's a study that reviewed more than 1700 different political issues and compared voting records over 20 years. The conclusion: ordinary people have very little influence over Congress.

If you don't listen to your kids, you won't know what problems they're trying to solve, so the solutions you impose won't work. If you're a Plan A parent, and the solution doesn't work, then you apply more force until the solution works.

Likewise, if you're in Congress and you don't listen to the people you represent, you won't know what problems they're trying to solve. The solutions you legislate won't work. Furthermore, if you're not listening to the people you represent, you won't really understand why you need bodyguards and armored vehicles when you back to your district. Get the picture now?

We need a Plan B government. That means a government that collaborates with the people to produce mutually beneficial and durable solutions that work for as many people as possible. Current power play politics is not sustainable and it will lead to greater and greater unrest until the people are heard and government becomes responsive to them and not just the 1%.

The Democrats in Congress want Chuck "Mr. Moneybags" Schumer as Minority Leader. The DNC is floating Tim "milk-toast" Kaine as the next candidate for president. Representative Carolyn Maloney offers a suggestion to Trump: appoint Hillary Clinton as UN ambassador.

Meanwhile, progressives roll their eyes and wonder aloud why Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and Nina Tuner aren't being recruited for more important positions. It's almost as if establishment Democrats truly believe that big money in politics will make up for their losses in the last election.

Money and power are terrible substitutes for interpersonal skills. Pop culture glorifies money and power while giving lip service to teamwork and collaboration. Pop culture tells us that given enough force, we can resolve our differences. Negotiating is boring. Let's make things go boom instead. Defeating the enemy is more exciting than turning them into a negotiating partner for a better life together. We're stronger together, right?

So what's more effective, protesting or getting involved in politics? I'd say if we're involved in politics, we'll spend a lot less time protesting. If we solve problems with our kids, we teach them to collaborate and negotiate. If we get involved in politics, we spend more time collaborating with our government than complaining about it.

Plan B requires us to be the change we want to see. That is how we achieve true political happiness. There is no better way to have it.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Mutiny at the Electoral College

I'm trying really, really hard to imagine Senator Barbara Boxer as a reasonable person. I'm so sorry that I can't. I see that she's very upset that her beloved relative and cherished candidate Hillary Clinton, didn't make the cut. Sure, Clinton won the popular vote by about 947,000 votes if you go by the latest tally at CNN (some sources were projecting a Clinton win by more than 2 million votes). But she didn't win at the Electoral College.

Boxer is so upset that, in a lame duck session of Congress, she has introduced a bill with an amendment to the Constitution to end the Electoral College. From CNN Politics, we have this gem from Boxer:
"In my lifetime, I have seen two elections where the winner of the general election did not win the popular vote," Boxer said in a statement. "The Electoral College is an outdated, undemocratic system that does not reflect our modern society, and it needs to change immediately. Every American should be guaranteed that their vote counts."
Say it ain't so, Barbara! This is from a woman who apparently flipped off Sanders supporters at the state Democratic convention in Nevada, though Snopes would have us believe otherwise. An index finger raised in defiance? Really? She also claimed that she felt threatened for her safety. Why? Because of her unbridled support for Clinton? I think it was a bit more than that, Barbara. She supported one of the most unloved candidates in history when we could have had Bernie Sanders.

I have to wonder if she's not just grandstanding with her latest bill. She's not running for re-election since she is retiring at the end of this term, so maybe she's serious about this. Boxer's bill contains a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would have the election for president decided by popular vote rather than the Electoral College that we have now.

Still, even with that longshot bill in the queue (she won't be guiding it to passage after January 3rd), word on the street is that there is a plan underway to use the Electoral College to ditch both Trump and Clinton to choose a "compromise candidate". Here is a video to explain in a few minutes how that might work, however remote the odds might be of that actually happening:



I have to admit, after watching that video, that it would be a demonstration of supreme arrogance for the Electoral College to just vote for someone else on December 19th. Who is under consideration? John "Contract on America" Kasich, a Republican candidate who lost to Trump in the primaries. He's seen as a serious and reasonable person. I'm not so sure I'd want him in the White House given how things are going in his neighborhood. Have a look at the economy in Ohio and see if you'd want that, too.

I don't like the Electoral College either, but I made my concerns known long before this election. The Electoral College was created before the days of the internet, at a time when the people who wrote the Constitution felt that only the most informed people should decide who will be president, like white male landowners. Now we live in the information age and most of us can do our own research. Yes, I think we can go with the popular vote now.

Going back to that video, the idea is that the Electoral College can defy the voters and just vote for someone else. There appears to be some support and organizing for a plan to get them to vote for a compromise candidate, not Trump and Not Hillary. I believe that if they were to vote for someone else for president, and they have the right to do so, they would only grease the slide towards the eventual abolition of the Electoral College.

I find it ironic that the Democrats loved the idea of the superdelegates for many of the same reasons that are used to justify the Electoral College. But their love persists for the Electoral College only to the point that the Electoral College does what they want. Now that they see Trump as the winner of the election, fair and square, the Electoral College is a problem.

The odds of the Electoral College voting for someone else besides Trump or Clinton are remote at best. In my research, I've found that historical analysis of the Electoral College finds few "faithless electors". Faithless electors are people who vote for someone other than the person determined by the popular vote of their state. Where there have been faithless electors, state governments have passed laws to curb the possibility of that happening again.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has provide this analysis of the Electoral College. Their article explains how the Electoral College works and also provides guidance on how states can affect the way their electors vote with state level legislation. It's a very good civics lesson for those who want to know. I wanted to know, so I read it.

One other thing that popped out at me while reading their analysis is the following statement:
Nov. 8, 2016: Election Day, when voters in each state will select their presidential electors. The names of electors are not on the ballot in most states. Rather, when a voter casts a vote for a presidential candidate, s/he is also casting a vote for the electors already selected by the party of that candidate. If a majority of voters in a state vote for the Republican candidate for president, the Republican slate of electors is elected. If a majority vote for the Democratic candidate, the Democratic slate of electors is chosen. (emphasis mine)
This is news to me. I didn't know that with my vote for president I am casting a vote for the electors that will go to the Electoral College in December where they will cast their final vote for president. Another question comes to mind. What happens if I voted Green Party? Apparently not much since there weren't enough votes to send a Green Party delegate to the Electoral College to vote.

While researching this article, I looked around for pros and cons for the Electoral College and I found this article by William C. Kimberling, Deputy Director FEC National Clearinghouse on Election Administration. Kimberling's enumerates the following points in favor of the Electoral College:
Proponents of the Electoral College system normally defend it on the philosophical grounds that it:
contributes to the cohesiveness of the country by requiring a distribution of popular support to be elected president,
enhances the status of minority interests,
contributes to the political stability of the nation by encouraging a two-party system,
and maintains a federal system of government and representation. (emphasis mine)
Political stability, huh? I'm not so sure that's where we're headed judging by the way things are going. I put the most concerning point in bold because that to me shows that the Electoral College was designed to encourage a two-party political system here in the United States. I would even go so far as to say that the primary reason it is so hard for third parties to get elected to anything in this country is the tendency for a two-party system to have so much influence on federal politics.

If we want to do away with the two party system that we have now, elimination of the Electoral College seems like a step in the right direction. I think the Europeans have been doing just fine with multiple parties vying for leadership roles and, contrary to popular belief, they actually get things done.

In my article, Duocracy vs Coalition Government, I compared the progress seen in the European Union to the political constipation we've had to endure here in the United States. They have a great public transportation system while we lumber along in our cars to work. Why? Because they could agree that government should be funding public transportation. Coalition governments tend towards progress at a faster rate than duocracy.

There is one other feature I like about coalition government. Progressives will always have somewhere else to go if they don't like the incumbent party. In other words, it's very difficult for dominant parties to maintain a lock on power. To me, that means that all political parties have incentive to compromise rather than to block.

The duocracy we have here is not a democracy since all political power has been handed to two political parties that can collaborate and collude to exclude other political parties and other points of view. We already know that they work hard to keep third parties out - just look at how hard it is for the Libertarian or Green parties to get any air time. Political stability doesn't necessarily mean progress, and political stability is in the eyes of the beholder.

The duocracy has disenfranchised millions of voters by excluding third parties and the Electoral College does this by design. If Barbara Boxer is upset about the outcome of the election, she has only herself to blame. She's been a Senator for the state of California since 1993, but has done nothing to change the system until now.

I'm with you, Barbara. I'm up for getting rid of the Electoral College. I'd love to see third parties have more influence in American political life, too.