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, 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 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 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 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.
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
"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.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sunshine laws, whistleblowers and Wikileaks

In a past life, I used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA, enacted 1966) and the Privacy Act of 1974 (PA) to gather documents from the federal government. FOIA can be found in the United States Code (USC), Title 5 at section 552, or in shorthand, 5 USC 552. The PA can be found 5 USC 552a. I learned how to do this from a good friend of mine and never forgot the skills to do it.

After a year or so of practice with the feds, I began to figure how to apply the same skills to the states that I lived in. All states have laws that are analogous to the FOIA and PA and they can be used to request documents, often for free. I have filed more than 300 such requests and I don't think I ever lost an appeal. With knowledge of these laws, we can use them to learn how our government works and how determinations about us are made in ways we probably didn't learn in school. All of these laws are known as Sunshine Laws.

Sunshine laws came about first at the federal level with the passing of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in 1946. The APA was passed to give people a reliable means of accessing records of meetings where regulations are discussed and adopted. The APA gives ordinary citizens insight into the decision making process of federal agencies. Most states have an APA of their own, too.

So why am I sharing this with you now? Because I want to put Wikileaks into a broader context. The email scandal that dogged Hillary Clinton throughout the 2016 election did not start with Wikileaks. The email scandal came about because of a FOIA lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog organization. They brought the lawsuit because certain records created by Hillary Clinton could not be accessed and retrieved in normal State Department records. During the lawsuit, it was "discovered" that Hillary Clinton was using a private email address, on a private domain, on a private server in the basement of her home. Why did she do this? To circumvent the FOIA.

Why would she want to circumvent the FOIA? Accountability. Hillary thinks she's above the law and that laws are for little people. We can see it in the way she behaves and the kid gloves that James Comey has used to treat the investigation of her email practices as Secretary of State. For many people, that entire fiasco has been described in a very general nature, as if somehow, this doesn't really affect us personally, but it does and it can.

Let's imagine that you have been placed on the no-fly list by the department of Homeland Security. You'd like to appeal that decision, so to prepare yourself, you make a few very well placed requests under the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act. The meat of your requests? Documents that show how the determination was made to put you on the no-fly list. You're not a terrorist, not even close, but somehow, you got on the list.

As you correspond with the government, you discover that the decision making process should leave a paper trail, but there is none. It is discovered that the entire process was conducted via email on private servers on private domains with private addresses. You discover that the decision making process was recorded in a place that is not authorized by law.

The Privacy Act requires that documents about individuals be maintained in a system of records as defined by the Act. A system of records is a well defined location for the documents to be maintained, the description includes the location of the records, the media used to maintain them and the identify of the officer responsible for maintenance. This system of records must be published in the Federal Register, the same publication where all other regulations are published, so that we know where to find documents about us. If the records of the determination are not in the system of records, you have a violation of the Privacy Act, and potentially, the Federal Records Act.

The procedure for requesting records is fairly easy to follow. You write a request for records concerning you under penalty of perjury to affirm that you are who you say you are. You identify the documents you are seeking and address the request to the officer responsible for maintenance of the records. The agency has a time limit of 10 business days to respond to the request. I usually give them 30 days to respond by mail.

If the agency does not respond to the request in a timely manner, then the requester can assume that the request has been denied and appeal the determination. If the appeal is denied, then the requester can sue in federal court for relief. These are administrative remedies and they must be exhausted before proceeding to court. These administrative remedies apply to both the PA and the FOIA.

As you can see, the Sunshine Laws, particularly the FOIA, are near and dear to my heart. They are required for a functioning democracy. Anyone who intentionally runs afoul of these laws has failed to demonstrate an interest in democracy.

Sometimes an agency receives a request for politically sensitive information. We could call this information "hot". In response to such a request, the agency may stall and delay. The agency may intentionally deny an appeal. If the requester is determined, he may file suit in court for records.

Sometimes, an employee of agency clearly sees something wrong. You know, like Edward Snowden. Instead of following the usual process for disclosure, he goes outside the law to share that information with fellow citizens, to warn them of a potential conspiracy to harm the people. He may feel it is his civic duty to blow the whistle.

There is pressure in politics and whistleblowers serve an important purpose: to relieve that pressure. When that pressure is relieved, we can have a conversation with the government about how to work together. You know, because we're stronger together, right?

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has been the most punitive prosecutor of whistleblowers this nation has ever seen. The Obama administration utterly fails to see any social value in whistleblowers and would happily sentence them to a life of incarceration. In this context, it is clear they are not working for the common man. They are working for the 1%.

Now it turns out that the entire Obama Administration is flouting the law. They too, are using private email to conduct official business. Just in case anyone forgot, the Bush Administration did the same thing and "lost" 22 million emails. I guess accountability and transparency only applies to the governed, not the governing.

Will we be treated to the same behavior with the Trump Administration? Will Judicial Watch use the same level of scrutiny on Trump's team as they did for Hillary or even Obama? Will the ACLU step in to apply the same level of scrutiny to either administration? Well, I should hope so. They wrote more than a few good books on how to use the FOIA like this one.

When people don't feel safe blowing the whistle, they go to organizations like the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists or Wikileaks. They find places to dump their documents anonymously to raise awareness that the government that claims to represent them doesn't respect the same people they claim to represent. They seek to expose conspiracies and that exposure has an interesting effect.

As Julian Assange noted in his essay, Conspiracy As Governance, conspiracies require trust in order to function. They require trust in the methods of communication in order to perform collaborative cognition. If you cut the cord, then you slow the cognition down, because now the process must route around the damage. If you compromise the trust of the channels that carry the information used by the conspirators, then they have to find new channels to pass that information between themselves. Do that enough, and the conspiracy can no longer process information and fails to function.

If government officials are not using the means provided to them by law to keep their records, then they are not willing to be held accountable. They are engaged in a conspiracy, not democracy. It doesn't matter if their intentions are good. What matters is whether or not they would be tempted or even willing to work against the people they are supposed to serve given enough privacy to do it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

An article that seems to explain the existence of Wikileaks

In this election past, Wikileaks has played a significant part in shaping the journalistic narrative. Wikileaks has provided information that no other reporter was willing to produce. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do consider what Wikileaks has done as journalism. I believe that if they chose to do so at all, most elite reporters included information shared by Wikileaks in their reporting in order to give the appearance of impartiality.

What we learned from Wikileaks is how the Democratic party has operated during the Clinton campaign. We were treated to emails describing how the Clinton campaign colluded with the mainstream media to shape the narrative in Clinton's favor. We learned how Clinton surrogates got more press than Sanders' surrogates. We learned of their attempts to smear Bernie Sanders. We saw how debate questions were sent to the Clinton campaign in advance of the debates. We also learned that there was not a great deal of confidence in Clinton or how she managed her campaign on the part of many people who supported her. This is just a small part of what we got from Wikileaks.

Had any of our so-called elite reporters received this information in private, without compromise, they would have kept it secret from the rest of us. Many of the conspiratorial acts of the Democratic National Committee most likely would not have been exposed without Wikileaks. The question that comes to mind for me is this: how long has this been going on? I doubt the DNC really wants us to know.

There are now even more people in very high places who would like to see Julian Assange dead for exposing their conspiracies. Yes, I did mean to say "conspiracies". What the elite in the Democratic party have done is they have conspired to deceive the American people. From what I can see from the results of the election, they have unwittingly deceived themselves, too.

They deceived many Americans by casting Hillary Clinton as a better candidate than she actually was. They forced Clinton into the position of nominee against the will of millions of Americans, and thus, disenfranchised the very people they needed to win the election.

What motivates a man to expose such conspiracies? I believe that the answer can be found in a document called, Conspiracy as Governance, by Julian Assange. It is a short and interesting essay seemingly written as a mental experiment to ask a very interesting question (though it comes near the end):
Consider what would happen if one of these parties gave up their mobile
phones, fax and email correspondence — let alone the computer systems which
manage their subscribes, donors, budgets, polling, call centres and direct mail
They would immediately fall into an organizational stupor and lose to the other.
For the purpose of his thought experiment in the essay, Assange imagines the workings of a conspiracy as a system of computation and information processing. He shows us how a political party, confident in their privacy, can act in a conspiracy to impose its will upon others without their consent, and without their knowledge. Finally, he shows us how it all falls apart when the communication channels are cut. When the channels of communication are cut, information can no longer be processed by the conspiracy. Then the conspiracy can no longer think and it fails.

Who lost the election? Hillary Clinton. What party is she with? The Democratic party. Which party was exposed by Wikileaks? The Democratic party. This isn't to say that Wikileaks brought the party down a notch by costing them the election. They would have lost anyway. Even if none of this information were exposed, the party deceived themselves into believing that Hillary could win. How did they do this?

The DNC deceived themselves by colluding with the press to weave a false narrative. They insulated themselves from reality by rigging polls to over-sample Clinton supporters and excluding millennials from the polls. They disenfranchised millions of people who supported Bernie Sanders and expected those same people to fall in line later. Most of them did not. They either voted for someone else or they stayed home.

While Assange does a great job of showing what happens when the means of communications are hampered, exposed or cut off, his point has not been fully proven, not yet, anyway. During the years leading up to the campaign and during the campaign, the conspirators had access to all of their electronics for communications, and so continued with their plans. But the essay does demonstrate the motivation for creating Wikileaks. That motivation is to hinder, expose and destroy effective collaboration among conspirators who intend to commit harmful acts against the people they claim to represent.

I can imagine that Assange has made very big fans of encryption out of the members and former members of the DNC and probably anyone else in power who wishes not to have their plans exposed. They will want again the privacy that affords them to be so arrogant in defiance of the will of the people. They will use more care in their means and manner of communication.

Knowing what we know now, can we can look again at our leaders with the vigilance required to regain and restore our democracy? I hope so.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I don't believe in the gloom and doom of Trump - besides, identity politics is dead

I don't believe in the gloom and doom of Trump that I see trumpeted all over the news and social media. People are crying, protesting, and making very dour predictions of how horrible Trump will be as president. I'm just not buying all of it.

While it is fair to say that all the awful things that people are saying about the outcome of the election can be seen as a call to action, they are just opinions not predictions. I am still an optimist. Yes, there are many people who are upset about the election and there are some people who have cause to celebrate with the rise of Trump. I have faith, and I think of faith as a reservation of judgment. I am not upset. I am not happy. I am agnostic. I am just an observer watching the parade pass by.

I err on the side of faith in times of disarray or even danger. I resist the urge to panic and go the other way, so rest assured, I have no plans to move to Canada. I just watch what people are doing and make a determination of what to do next. I avoid making important decisions under emotional duress. I've been burned by too many salesmen and have learned my lessons well. I also make an effort to avoid the emotional duress in the first place, too.

To put it differently, I watch what is happening and if I feel strong emotions, I let the feelings pass and then I decide how to act. I've practiced this response for decades and it has served me well. My experience of taking action based upon a strong emotion has served me well. In nearly every case, thinking before acting has served me better than taking a rash action based upon a strong feeling.

My response to Trump is no different. I honestly don't know what to make of Trump. I really don't know if he's good or bad given the shape shifting persona he has presented during the entirety of his campaign. Yes, he's said some nasty things. He might have even done some things that I don't approve of. But so far, he's not sent anyone to war. He's not sent bombs, troops or drones to Syria. He hasn't done anything even remotely as bad as Hillary did as Secretary of State, or even George W. Bush as president. Inauguration is still 2 months away.

Trump is an entertainer and that's all I see in him so far. During this election he has been willing to say and do anything to get elected and he got elected. Hillary did the same thing, but she lost the election because so few people believed in her and liked her. Sweet, sweet irony, I know. Whether or not the Trump we saw during the campaign is a true indication of the kind of man he will be as our next president, well, I don't know.

When faced with a big change, like with this election, I just wait and see what happens next. It's like Bernie said. To the extent that he's willing to work with us on progressive values, Trump has my support. To the extent that he's not, I will withdraw my support of him. He's going to be president, so we might as well set aside our feelings and figure out how to deal with him and that requires thinking before acting. Protesting him will only send up his guard and that adds difficulty to working with him. Remember that he is still reviled by many establishment Republicans, some of whom said they would vote for Clinton and probably did.

Four days out after the colossal failure of Hillary Clinton, I still see headlines and pictures of thousands of people protesting Trump as president. The vast majority of the protesters very likely voted for Hillary in the primaries. During the primaries, I watched as many people, including myself, were harassed and bullied into voting for Clinton. I guess I'm having an "I told you so" moment.

Today, legions of Clinton supporters exhibit a willingness to protest in the streets over an election that seems free of the all the "irregularities" we saw in the primaries. Clinton supporters seem unwilling to admit that Sanders very likely would have won where Clinton lost. They don't have clean hands. They are intent on focusing on the gloom and doom of Trump rather than organizing to get what they really want: better economic conditions.

Instead of admitting their mistakes, the Clinton team has cast blame upon Sanders supporters, those who voted third party and of course, the Russians. They used their power to rig the primaries and in so doing, ignored all the warning signs that said she was going to lose anyway. All of their collusion with the press to shape the narrative only increased their ignorance of the public sentiments about them. All the efforts to purge voters, close polling stations and finagle the state and national convention votes in the primaries further insulated the Clinton campaign team from reality.

If you're focused on rigging the game, you're not paying attention to the voters. If the dingalings at DNC truly believed in representing their base, especially all the new voters that Sanders was bringing in, they would have found a way to accept the success that Bernie Sanders had with voters as feedback on who the voters wanted as nominee. Instead they ridiculed Sanders supporters and did everything they could to disenfranchise them. What the DNC did to Bernie Sanders and his supporters was a monumental example of willful ignorance that cost them this election.

By rigging the primaries, they angered the very people they would need to support Hillary in the general election. I'd say that's very poor judgment. Team Clinton does not have clean hands, either.

Trump didn't do any of that. Trump prevailed against some of the most powerful Republicans in the primaries, despite very well organized opposition to him.

Trump also invite Sanders supporters with open arms, something Clinton was loathe to do. I bet a few million Sanders supporters did vote for him anyway, just to spite Clinton. There is even evidence to support the idea of the closet Trump voter. Political scientist Tom Ferguson noted in an interview with Paul Jay at the Real News Network, that exit polls among college age women showed Clinton with a mere 6% more votes than Trump. Isn't that odd?

Ferguson also stated that the Democratic Party's strategy of combining Wall Street money with identity politics is dead. He echoed what Bernie Sanders said, too. This election was about the issues, not the identity of the person running for office.

Naked Capitalism led me to that Tom Ferguson video in this article. They analyzed Trump's victory speech and noted that there is reason for optimism in this article:
In Trump’s acceptance speech he said four encouraging things:
* America wants to live in peace with all other nations — no more wars, no more invasions.
* He mentioned that he has over 200 retired generals and admirals consulting with him, which raises the possibility that this was just maybe a Pentagon-led insurrection against Hillary’s plans for WWIII. The Pentagon has never won an honest war game against Iran, and most admirals admit that our sixteen aircraft carriers are just fat, slow targets for swarms of supersonic Russian and Chinese and Iranian missiles. The Pentagon doesn’t want a real war; they just want more money for new toys.
* He said we are going to rebuild our infrastructure here at home.
* He said we will create millions of jobs here rebuilding our infrastructure.
None of that is edible to a neoliberal.
Obama and both Clintons are neoliberals. In contrast, Trump doesn't seem to have the stomach for war as neoliberals do. Trump has expressed a strong interest in building American infrastructure, which for some reason, neoliberals have neglected.

If Trump is true to his word on infrastructure, then it's a safe bet he can grow the economy. I know that building infrastructure works because I live in Utah. There are cone zones everywhere. They are constantly building, expanding and planning their roads, wiring and plumbing. Unemployment in Utah, as of August of this year was 3.7%. We're busy. Very busy. And when I see the cone zones, I know that those guys working on our roads are going to spend their money locally, and that grows the economy of the Beehive State.

There is something else positive about Trump, as reported by the BBC: Trump: Obamacare key provisions to remain. It's not repeal and replace. He sounds more like he wants to make Obamacare better. This is coming from a man who seems pretty confident that he can veto bills without worry. The Republicans have majorities in both houses, but they can't override vetoes without help from Democrats.

America has spent the majority of its life in war, 222 years to be more precise and there is no apparent end in sight. We have more than 800 military bases around the world, and from what I can see, the primary purpose of all that military power is not for war - it's for "free trade". If Trump can tamp down on the wars, that will further grow the economy at home instead of exporting pain. We just might find a higher form of capitalism than imperialism. You know, like peace.

If Trump manages to unwind a few really awful trade agreements like NAFTA and possibly the TPP if Obama somehow manages a lame duck vote on it, he will have made a good start. Note that Trump seemed to be the only candidate who consistently expressed opposition to trade agreements that cost Americans their jobs.

In a nutshell, it's far too early to tell how well Trump will do. It's also important to remember that he still faces enormous opposition from within the Republican party. If Trump is a true populist, defined as a member or adherent of a political party seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people, then there is reason for optimism. Whether Trump runs a populist or mainstream Republican presidency is still an open question.

Enough about Trump. What about the rest of us? Well, For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you push really, really hard on the universe, be prepared to duck. Clinton ducked after the election.

Bernie Sanders? He's been quietly organizing challenges to the top brass at the state level. He's endorsed a progressive Muslim, Keith Ellison, as chair of the DNC. He didn't sell us out. He's keeping the issues front and center wherever he can. If he's successful, and I think he will be, neoliberal Clinton shills are going to have a lot more light shining on them if they are still in place. Or they could be looking for work as Republicans if they're pushed out of their positions in the Democratic party. With leadership from Bernie Sanders, progressives in the Democratic party can work to clear out or call out the neoliberals who have abandoned the middle class for 40 years and counting.

The message from Bernie Sanders is that identity politics is dead. Trump proved Sanders right by winning the election. Anyone who fails to heed that message in American politics does so at their own peril.

For all of the reasons above, I remain an optimist.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hillary, you ignored the left at your own peril and lost

It is now two days after the election and the floodgates have opened. People are crying bitterly about Trump's win. There are memes aplenty telling us how hard the election has been on all of us and how terrifying Trump will be. They're also blaming the people who voted 3rd party for Hillary's loss, even though it appears she won the popular vote. These are the same people who told us, that if we don't vote for Hillary in the primaries, we get the Trump. I voted for Bernie but the people in control of the Democratic Party had other plans.

There are even a few people openly criticizing the Dingaling National Committee for nominating Hillary Clinton despite enormous mountains of evidence that she was just a bad candidate, plain and simple. Jim Newell at Slate nails it here:
Theoretically smart people in the Democratic Party should have known that. And yet they worked giddily to clear the field for her. Every power-hungry young Democrat fresh out of law school, every rising lawmaker, every old friend of the Clintons wanted a piece of the action. This was their ride up the power chain. The whole edifice was hollow, built atop the same unearned sense of inevitability that surrounded Clinton in 2008, and it collapsed, just as it collapsed in 2008, only a little later in the calendar. The voters of the party got taken for a ride by the people who controlled it, the ones who promised they had everything figured out and sneeringly dismissed anyone who suggested otherwise. They promised that Hillary Clinton had a lock on the Electoral College. These people didn’t know what they were talking about, and too many of us in the media thought they did.
The voters of the party got taken for a ride by people who didn't know what they were talking about. Those same people seemed to think that Hillary's campaign was more of a job fair or a business opportunity than an effort to get someone elected as president. I guess they weren't paying attention.

This loss is what happens when you ignore at least half of your voter base. This is what happens when you deride Sanders supporters and tell them who to vote for. This is what happens when you ignore Bernie or Bust. What part of Bust did you not understand, DNC?

It is also interesting to contrast this election with the primaries. There seems to be an eerie absence of complaints about rigging, long lines or closed polling places. No complaints about purges or even about the media coverage of the same. All of the heat is pointed squarely on Donald Trump and his supporters. Oh, there are a few who are dissing people who voted 3rd party and cost poor Hillary her precious election. Before they get too carried away, perhaps they should train their gaze on this:

46% of voters didn't vote. Hey, if anyone is worried about "oligarchy" they might be surprised to find that oligarchy isn't rule by the rich. It's rule by the few. If you didn't vote, you're promoting oligarchy. If you're looking for voters to blame, look to the 46% who did not vote. Did your ambitious Hillary Clinton want a high voter turnout? She didn't seem all that concerned during the primaries. But now she want those votes?

Protests are popping up all over. The local police in Oregon helped protests take the I-5. Protesters have surrounded the Trump Tower in New York. Students have walked out at Berkeley. There is already talk of impeachment to see if they can keep Trump out of the White House. Apparently, plenty of desperate people are searching Google, looking for ways out of their predicament. Suicide hotline phone banks have lit up like Christmas trees.

All of this could have been avoided.

In Voters Repudiate Clinton, Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism describes how so many people she has talked to may have expressed anti-Trump sentiment to their friends and family, but voted for him anyway because they despised Clinton more. Here's the nugget:
So even though my sample was small (and I have more examples), it said the closeted Trump voter was a real phenomenon and likely bigger than anyone was allowing for.
The election outcome was based not just on Clinton being a terrible candidate on the merits, but on the abjectly poor conduct of the Clinton campaign.
Smith goes on...
Let us not forget that Clinton had every advantage: Presidential campaign experience, the full backing of her party, a much bigger ground apparatus, oodles of experts and surrogates, the Mighty Wurlitzer of the media behind her, an opponent widely deemed to be world-class terrible – utterly unqualified, undisciplined, offensive, with a mother lode of scandals – and what historically was deemed the most important asset of all, a large lead in fundraising.
Yet Clinton was a lousy campaigner and strategist. By all accounts, she was a micromanager who regularly overrode her staff’s advice. All the big-ticket Madison Avenue spin-meistering could not get the dogs to eat enough dog food.
What we see is that Clinton simply ignored a really big chunk of her base, the people who supported Sanders, and did it her way. She is elitist, wealthy, insulated and seems to think she can do whatever she pleases. Voters disagreed with her. Millions of them. Her campaign and attitude cost her the election.

Now there is already talk of the possibility that Barack Obama could pardon Hillary Clinton. I guess they figured out that if the Republicans have a trifecta, majority in the Senate, majority in the House and the White House, the game is on. If Barack Obama pardons Hillary before he leaves office, he will only vindicate the voters who voted against her. With his pardon, he would reinforce the idea that there is a class of people who are above the law.

If the dingalings at the DNC need someone to blame, they need only look in the mirror. This is also true of all the people on social media right now, maligning anyone who didn't vote for Hillary. These same people were willing to overlook the shortcomings of Hillary Clinton as a candidate and even potential president. They dismissed Sanders supporters after they could not convince Bernie or Bust voters, and eventually, came to the conclusion that Sanders supporters weren't needed to win.

I'm a Sanders supporter and remain so. I see the work he's doing as a Senator now, and I can honestly say as a Sanders supporter that we didn't start the fire. We didn't nominate someone unfit to be president. We didn't vote to nominate a truly awful candidate for president, who was willing to let her campaign run so far afoul. And when we saw that we were ignored, many of us either voted 3rd party or stayed home. I can imagine that more than a few Sanders supporters voted for Trump.

If you ignore your base, you do so at your own peril. Running for president requires you to prove you represent enough of us to get our votes. But, dear Hillary, when your words change with winds, while your actions follow the money, you leave us no choice but to abandon you for someone else.

I didn't vote for Trump, but I can understand why so many people voted for him. He's anti-establishment. He didn't cheat to win, rather, he won despite organized opposition to him at the top of the GOP. He invited Sanders supporters with open arms, something Hillary Clinton could bring herself to do. As Yves Smith noted:
Hillary tried the Clinton “They have no where to go” trick one time too many, kicking the left after she only narrowly beat Sanders. And the left decided to return the favor. She made clear she has no intention of representing them. They heard her message loud and clear and acted accordingly.
Hillary and her acolytes are now reaping what they have sown. It is up to us to pick ourselves up and figure how we can work with Trump, just as Bernie Sanders has already begun to do:
“Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media.  People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids - all while the very rich become much richer. 
“To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”
Like Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump saw the anger of the American people and made it clear that he will represent them. Hillary ignored that anger and paid for her ignorance with this election.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Well, I didn't see that coming - Trump is going to be our next president

I watched the returns until midnight. Trump hadn't won yet, but he was so close that I figured it was over. I woke up this morning to see that indeed Trump had won. Tears and despair filled the air at the Clinton party. Headlines show what a good sport Hillary Clinton is: she called Trump to concede, but gave no concession speech. She would not give the people the honor of seeing her on camera, swallowing her pride with a fifth of Jack Daniels and some Zoloft. Oh,wait. At least three states voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Coincidink? Probably not.

Maricopa County, AZ had 724 polling stations open for the general election and Trump still took it. They had 60 polling places open for the primary election. What gives? I guess they really needed to make it easy for disenfranchised Democrats to vote for Clinton.

Hillary was a sure thing, right? Every poll I saw showed her with either gaping leads or at least a sliver of a lead over Trump. For months, even the polling site I love to cite the most, Real Clear Politics, had electoral maps that were mostly blue all over. But not today. No, those polling maps are red right down the middle. Not even the left or the east coast could save her.

Jill Stein got 1%. Oh, well. I love the Green Party, but as some people have noted, they really do need to work on critical mass. What I mean by that is that they need to get people into office in Congress and in statehouses to build the kind of momentum they need to get into the White House. I applaud their efforts and look forward to seeing them again in the next election.

BTW, just in case anyone should happen to blather some nonsense about it, Stein supporters did not cost Hillary the election. Hillary won the popular vote.

So, any Electoral College haters out there? Let's have a show of hands to see how many people would like to grind the Electoral College into dust. I know I would, but not because Hillary would have won. I just think they're done and I think we need a better system for choosing our presidents. I'm even up for ranked choice voting.

I'm not excited that Trump won and Hillary lost. I wanted Jill Stein, but I'm kind of relieved to see that we won't be continuing the Clinton Dynasty. There's enough resistance in both houses to keep Trump contained from doing really dopey stuff. And if he does decide to unwind a few trade deals, I won't be disappointed if he manages to pull that off. Sorry, I don't think he's dumb enough to start a nuclear war. Maybe that's because Trump and his family and all of his customers breathe the same air and drink the same water that most of us share. Even Putin claims that he will calm things down with Trump in office.

I really don't know what to make of Trump. I consider him to be entertainer more than serious politician. I honestly didn't expect him to win, either. I figured he would drop out before leaving the lush life he already has. I don't really share the same fears and concerns that most people in social media have expressed about Trump. But at least Michael Moore can say that he was right about Trump winning.

I'm an agnostic about Trump and life in general, so I have a wait and see attitude. I have few expectations about anything having been bitterly disappointed before. That wasn't working for me, so I adopted an "I don't know" attitude about life. That's how I am with Trump, too. That's how I was with Clinton.

I'm also an optimist. I am an optimist because I've found that I tend to get what I think about. If I live in fear, I tend to get the things I fear. If I live in hope, I tend to get the things I hope for.

Here's another reason I'm agnostic. I believe that faith is the conscious reservation of judgment. I reserve judgment about Trump now that he's president elect because even Trump wasn't sure he was going to win. Now that he's won, he's going to have to cross the canyon between what he said he would do, and what the rest of the world will let him do.

This is not the end of the world. Not for me, not for you, not even for Clinton supporters. There is still Congress, even if they don't listen to us much. There are still 25% of federal employees who said they'd quit if Trump is elected, so get your resumes ready if you want to work for the Feds. There are many variables, and many of them are unknown at this time. We don't really know for sure what will happen.

All we can say for sure is that if we want change, we must be the change we want to see.