Tag: politics

The Real Soldiers of Political Struggle

Quote of the Week:  Ethics, decency, and morality are the real soldiers. -Kiran Bedi

The first woman to join India’s Police Service (and a police advisor in the Peacekeeping Forces of the United Nations) reminds us that how we struggle is just as important as the values for which we struggle.  This election year has seen an escalation in violence, and in angry and invective rhetoric, which discredits all those who use such tactics.  Not just between the two parties, but even within both Democratic and Republican parties, the ugliness of attacks on candidates and their supporters by supporters of opposing candidates has muddied the moral battleground of political struggle.

The methods that political actors use in their struggle for power are not merely tools for achieving power; they are indications of what said actors would do with power if they achieve it.  That Sanders supporters (and, according to one Politico report, the Senator himself) have used tired Republican attacks on Hillary Clinton (including the nonsensical nothingness of the “emails” controversy, about which even Sanders said he was “sick and tired of hearing”), shows what a Sanders “revolution” would have looked like had it gained the nomination.  A Sanders campaign in the general election may well have turned from the morality of making our nation a better place into a more anger-laden, “holier than thou” crusade that would have turned our American conversation on the role of government into a scorched ruin.  While Clinton usually did speak with reserve about her rival for the nomination, her supporters often attack “Sandernistas” and the values of democratic socialism.  Such attacks ignore the fact that the leftist goals that have made America a better place (union-based power for the workers in their relations with their employers, controls on working conditions, minimum wages, Social Security and Medicare) all derive from socialism and are primary goals of socialism.  We on the Left need to get more comfortable with citing and embracing our socialist heritage as a uniquely American heritage.

From the other side of the partisan divide, the apocalypse of scorched-earth rhetoric is still looming, as Trump supporters care nothing for courtesy or accuracy in their attacks, and openly attack (verbally and even physically) those who show up to their rallies for reasons other than supplicating the candidate with worshipful adoration.  The Republicans’ flirtation with a totalitarian cult of personality is truly disturbing and threatens the final degeneration of the Republican party’s remaining moral reserve.

Now that the contest is moving past the primary phase into a general contest between the achievements, values, and vision of Hillary Clinton and her Democratic allies (including, it should be hoped, Senator Sanders); and the empty rhetoric and pep-rally antics of Trump and his Republican enablers; Clinton has the chance to demonstrate her leadership superiority through a more reserved and policy-driven campaign.  Such a campaign will speak nothing at all to the base of Trump’s supporters; who are not going to be moved by anything short of a racist vision of 1950’s America as their rallying point.  Instead, a campaign of ceaseless supremacy over Trump’s policy immaturity can work to build an alliance with the forces of conservative moderation, who cannot see in Trump anything resembling a conservative vision of controlling taxes and government expansion, or making government an effective area for dialogue and coordination with private markets and personal initiative.

Conservatives need to be reminded (as do some of the less experienced of Sanders’s supporters) about the values of the American City on a Hill, a society respectful of its members’ values, diversity, and faith; a society striving to build the community into a greater whole and more perfect union.  These values are the ultimate soldiers who will win an American political contest, if the victor is to direct the nation forward in accordance with our traditions and our historical legacy.  Otherwise, a resort to spite, distrust, paranoia about government conspiracy, and a weakening of governance and infrastructure will push the nation backwards, into poverty and global impotence.  If our nation is to survive and to protect both its own people and the disenfranchised of the world, we must empower the real soldiers in the fight: ethics, decency, and morality.

Headline image from womenpla.net, Inspirational story of Kiran Bedi – India’s first IPS officer.

 

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On Fools and Their Chains

Quote of the WeekIt is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere. –Voltaire

The problem with short, pithy one-liners is that they do not delve deep enough to spotlight the complexity that underscores a seemingly simple reality.  Voltaire’s oft-quoted contribution can be (and is) used by holders of any political viewpoint to attack all others, decrying each other as “fools” revering their “chains.”  A Nazi could have used the line against a Communist or democrat; a Communist would eagerly see a connection between the “chains” and Marx’s exhortation to workers to break their chains.  American Democrats can use this line against Republicans, and Republicans against Democrats.  Clinton supporters could use the line against Sanders supporters, and vice versa.

The truth, however, is that it is not adherents of any single ideology who “revere” their chains.  Instead, fools end up on all sides of political questions; each with a different set of chains that they revere, each convinced that the rest are the fools.  The trick to not being a fool is to notice the chains around you; and to push yourself, your politics, your community, and your candidate to help you to free yourself from your own chains.

We find fools revering their chains behind all sides of the 2016 American presidential election.  Those advocating for Senator Bernie Sanders are fools for failing to see in their enthusiasm that Sanders is neither an ideal candidate who could beat an energized Republican attack on his socialist beliefs, nor is he the perfect Leftist.  Like that of his chief rival, Secretary Hillary Clinton, Sanders’s legislative record is liberal, but shows a willingness at times to compromise with conservatives.  There is not quite the universe of sunlight between the two Democratic finalists that Sanders supporters believe there to be.

Furthermore, by threatening to break up the liberal polity, or to take their votes to third parties or waste them away on writing in Sanders, they do not have the numbers to get what they want but they do have the numbers to keep the Democrats from defending the powers of the presidency from the Republicans.  Despite their attacks on establishment Democrats, Democrats have consistently pushed and continue to push a liberal agenda forward, eking out a moderate construction of our City on a Hill despite the conservatives’ attacks on the City.  A failure of Sanders supporters to unite behind the Democratic flag will hurt their own interests and goals more than those of any other group, ushering in a firmer shift to the Right and away from Sanders’s vision of a progressive society.  In their enthusiasm, Sanders supporters are threatening to solidify their own and our nation’s chains.

Clinton supporters instead savor the comfort of chains to their at best minimally left-leaning progressivism.  While Clinton, as Secretary of State, did push a number of progressive issues forward (women’s health and emancipation, the freedom of gender identity, the voices of non-governmental advocates for democratization like Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, etc.), she also wavered on trade deals which threaten to increase globalization and decrease American job growth and economic independence.  There is a dangerous tendency in Clinton and her supporters (and to Sanders as well, even if his supporters fail to see it) to settle for what progress we can sneak past the corporate establishment, while empowering that establishment further with greater wealth and status at our own expense.  Clinton needs to be pushed often and fiercely to remember her liberal credentials (which are just as legitimate as those of Sanders, even if she has connections pushing her in other directions).

Between the Democratic varieties of fools, Clinton supporters need to embrace the more progressive vision of Sanders, cease deriding “Sandernistas” and “socialists,” and remember that socialism is ultimately about empowering workers to fight for their rights – a message that the Democratic Party often at least pretends to espouse.  Sanders supporters need to realize that they are of much the same ilk as are Clinton supporters; and that as such, both candidates’ supporters lose out if Trump is elected in November.

Trump supporters are their own unique type of fool, many (like some Sanders supporters) new to the field of spectator politics.  Trump’s supporters have failed to read Trump’s own statements (conveniently available on his website), which promise both to hurt their political interests and to raise their taxes for the pleasure.  An alleged billionaire who shipped jobs to China, lost fortunes of his inherited wealth, and profiteered off of those losing their homes in the housing market collapse, is nonetheless convincing the uninformed that he is a populist who will fight his business partners and friends on Wall Street, bring back jobs to the US (now that it has become politically correct for him to be interested, and despite not having any actual plans for doing so), and will help them now instead of profiting off of their losses as he has always done in the past.  The people most hurt by Trump’s business practices and lifestyle are the very ones building his movement.  They do not merely revere their chains; they worship the man who made those chains, and shout that he is now going to set them free.  One could almost love them for their optimism and simplicity, were it not for their vehement racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and anti-intellectualism.

A final type of fool likely to play a role in November is the one who will withdraw from the whole process and just avoid voting entirely.  The republican (small “r”) ideal depends on citizens taking responsibility for themselves, for their families, and for their communities, by ensuring that elected officials are responsible to them through the electoral process.  Those who leave the thinking and decision-making to others are the first ones to complain that their schools are “failing,” that the US goes to war at the drop of a hat, that their income is stagnating, that their government is corrupt and unconcerned about their issues.  We expect adults to care for themselves, we expect parents to care for their children, and we expect citizens to care for their cities, states, and nation.  Those who do not vote are largely responsible for the disappointments of all of us, voters and non-voters alike.  These fools have failed to recognize their own responsibility for undoing their chains through the electoral process and through civic action.  They wear the chains of convenience instead of assuming the inconvenience of civic responsibility.

Which type of fool will you be?  This list is clearly not exhaustive, but simply recognizes that all of us ultimately are fools of one sort or another (especially in the eyes of the other fools around us).  Try to recognize that your own brand of foolishness helps you to revere some form of chain or another; and remember that we are all of us fools in chains together.

Headline image, Voltaire, by William Blake (c. 1800) from Wikimedia Commons.

The Virtues of Federalism

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I am a federalist.  Among the many powers in the United States, which influence or dictate to individuals and groups, the federal government has consistently been more progressive and a purer expression of the people’s will than have local or state governments.  The federal government is less subject to control by small minorities striving for power over the majority, than are local and state governments.  Local and state governments are where prejudices can best find haven and oppress citizens.  The federal government is also more progressive than the market, and more representative than are private interest groups, and corporations.  The market favors and reinforces those already possessing substantial advantages over others; and private interest groups and corporations are by definition self-serving organizations fighting against each other, and against the whole people, for their survival and dominance.  I am a federalist because the federal government is the organization best positioned, equipped, and willing to support my struggle for my own rights as a human being and as a citizen.

Governments are responsible for protecting persons and property; and for promoting the public welfare.  For the federal government, these functions manifest through constitutional provisions such as the commerce clause (US Constitution, Article I, Section 8, third clause), giving the US Congress the power “… to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states…”  The federal government is responsible for protecting business, workers, and our environment and resources.  The federal government is responsible for managing and arbitrating the necessarily conflictual relationships between business and employees and consumers; and between those wishing to use resources here and now and those wishing to preserve them for future or long term usage.  State and local governments are also responsible for pursuing these goals within their jurisdictions; but only the federal government is capable of managing these issues at the national level.  Market forces do not look after the interests of individuals, groups, or the nation; but simply react to prices and forces to restrict access to and usage of resources to those few who can afford it.  Private national groups and special interests look after only their own specific interest at the expense of conflicting interests.  A government must manage all of these forces and groups, and only the federal government is able to do that for the nation.

American power and wealth are built upon the foundation of two key pillars: public funding and direction, and private enterprise.  Throughout the history of this nation, private enterprise has depended upon the government’s active support, initiative, and funding to provide the necessary infrastructural foundation upon which to build successful businesses. The federal government played a key role in railroad development, providing public land and funding construction projects; and fueling a massive industrial revolution and employing hundreds of thousands of workers.  American shipping, communications, and motor works; oil and coal; agricultural industries and supports; were all built with federal dollars and federal initiative backing those men of wealth who could both afford and dare to build a greater economy with the people’s support and taxes.  No part of this nation was built by enterprise acting without government welfare, or by government acting without the organizational drive and muscle of free enterprise.

While vast fortunes were made (and very often squandered) by men of wealth, with the eager help of federal initiative and funding, the development of capitalism and all of its failings drove government to ameliorate the worst effects of capital.  The Civil War-era federalism of the Republican Party meshed perfectly with the party’s championing of workers’ rights against the greed of corporatism.  Later, the Great Depression drove the federal government to finally enact economic measures to keep the “boom and bust” cycle of unrestrained capitalism from breaking the lower and middle classes.  While state and local governments could moderate some of the impacts of economic spasms, the federal government could steer far more support to those areas suffering the greatest effects, providing help that only national funding could provide.  It was only federal New Deal mechanisms like Social Security, large construction projects, national labor and cultural drives, etc., that brought a broken US economy back onto its feet.  Private enterprise had failed, and state government was too near-sighted and hampered by local financial disadvantages to do more than minimize local manifestations of massive national problems.

Although deregulation has weakened the New Deal regulations that protected us from disasters like the Great Depression and the Great Recession, the federal government still attempts to ameliorate some of the failures of capitalism.  The Dodd-Frank banking reform law was one such attempt; with Senator Elizabeth Warren as the conceptual godmother of one of its key provisions, the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau empowered to protect consumers from irregularities in the banking sector.  Although Republicans have worked strenuously to keep the Bureau from functioning the way it was intended, the federal government still works to minimize the harmful ups and downs of the capital market.  The market, private business, civic action groups, and special interests are neither capable of nor interested in performing these roles effectively and beneficially.

The federal government’s irreplaceable functions are most evident domestically in the support and development of national infrastructure.  From the canals and railroads of the 19th century, to the interstate highways and nuclear power plants of the 20th, to the information network and green energy of the 21st, only the federal government has had the combination of political power, national jurisdiction, and fiscal resources to push private groups to do what the market is ill equipped to do by itself:  invest in their own and the nation’s success through federally funded and managed infrastructure programs.  No other entity has either the constitutional mandate, the public oversight, and the funding to make strategic decisions for our country, and to implement those decisions. In the 1950s, the increasing global competition with the Soviet Union pushed the federal government into a greater, more cohesive program of education, infrastructure, scientific research, and economic investment and management.  Similarly, the increasing competition today for jobs and markets in a globalized economy and information network pushes our country to a return to federal management, to a renewed faith in the virtues of federalism.

Infrastructure is one of the key public goods provided by government.  The public good is the measure of that which the people do best by doing it through collective governance rather than through private initiative or on the free market.  Examples of public goods are the roads on which we drive, the water that we drink, and the schools in which we teach and learn.  Schools in particular present a strong case not only for the provision of the public good, but for the federalization of that good.  The management of schools by local and state government derives from the growth of districted common schools funded by those authorities – the authority to manage comes with the fiscal responsibility for providing the public good of education.  However, our schools are failing because local communities and state governments have failed to fund such schools, as budgets have grown constricted amid economic woes and a growing conservative disdain for the public.  With district school funding keyed to local taxes (usually property taxes), schools in high-income areas have substantially greater funding than do those in low-income areas.  The conservative notion of “failing schools” refers not to a lack of our schools’ commitment to care for their students, but to these schools’ inability to squeeze the necessary funding from poverty-stricken areas.  Federal funding is the simplest answer to fixing such funding discrepancies.  The federal government has far greater assets with which to fund schools, and federal funding is not subject to local or state-level economic crises or failures.  Poor states would be more capable of competing with rich states for jobs and resources were their children better educated, and more consistently educated in accordance with priorities determined by federal authorities tasked with keeping American schools competitive with foreign schools.  Federal funding would also protect our schools and our students from local variations in political and moral extremism; although a continuing role by state and local authorities would still be necessary to give the communities a degree of power in offering electives favored by the community.

The autonomy of state and local governments is often championed by states’ rights advocates as negating the intrusion by the federal government into the lives of citizens.  However, states’ rights advocates ignore the glaring problem of state autonomy, which is that virtually all oppression which visits American citizens comes from their state and local governments.  States have vastly greater powers over their citizens than does the federal government.  State and local governments control speech, public behavior, unions, religion, arms, voting, education, marriage, welfare, housing, employment, food, water, the environment, commerce, communications, transportation, sewage and garbage, and many other activities.  In any given location in the US, the overwhelming number of laws that restrict people’s lives and choices come not from the federal government but from their state and local governments.  States were responsible for preserving slavery, segregation, poverty among African-Americans and other minorities.  It took the federal government to push a civil rights agenda to protect our basic freedoms.  North Carolina and other states are even dictating their citizens’ gender identities, while the federal government attempts to intrude into our state governments’ intrusion into our rights.  States’ rights do not represent the rights of the people; they represent the rights of a minority of people to enforce their power over their neighbors and fellow citizens.  The federal government operates as an ameliorating force in the struggle between the powers of the state and local governments, and the rights of the people.

A major problem with state and local government in the US is that the focus by our national media, and the attention of those few people who follow politics, are centered on the federal government.  This attention puts the federal government under a microscope that largely ignores the place where most of our law and most of our governments’ abuse of power takes place: in the states, counties, cities, townships, and villages.  Few as Americans are who can name their legislators in the US Congress, far fewer can name their state legislators, city council members, county commissioners, and other key elected officials.  This enables a far greater degree of corruption, lobbying, and abuse of power at local and state levels than can take place at the federal level.  State and local governments generate and enforce law with relatively little input or awareness by citizens (other than the few corporate actors funding local officials’ election campaigns), and with relatively little attention by either the media or the people.  In the meantime, the national media shouts loudly and constantly about major legislation in the US Congress, about election campaigns for federal positions, about bureaucratic operations, and about corruption and lobbying at the federal level.  This shouting ignores the fact that, taking place outside of most citizens’ attention, and with much lower voter turn-outs, local elections take relatively little funding; and a small corporate donation can create a far closer relationship between local government and the corporation than can be created by a much larger donation at the federal level.

At state and local levels, prejudices are actualized into law (both written and unwritten) far more easily – and over a vastly greater number of issues and behaviors – than at the federal level.  This is why the civil rights battles had to take place at the federal level; the state and local governments of the Old Confederacy were unwilling to loosen the chains of oppression and to allow their citizens access to their constitutional rights.  Whatever states’ rights advocates argue about federal incursions into our freedom, the federal government has protected and enhanced our rights across the several states far more than our own state governments have, as controlled as the latter have been by local forces unwilling to change.

While democratization, civic action, and increased transparency can happen at state and local levels, it often takes greater resources than local citizens can access to put a spotlight on local problems.  It took national organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee to organize voters’ registration in southern states in the 1960s.  It took national actors and media outlets like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Time Magazine to finally enable the citizens of Flint, Michigan to fight their own state government’s lack of concern over their poisoned water.  In both cases, national actors helped push the federal government into a response as well, generating relief to oppressed populations that was not forthcoming from state and local governments.  As the federal government has stepped in to denounce North Carolina’s HB2 law, it is again taking the national resources of the whole people to fight against a minority of people, who are attempting to abuse their powers of law to oppress their own neighbors and citizens.  By spotlighting issues like voting in the 1960s, and Michigan’s water fiasco and the North Carolina law of today, the federal government can push democratization into local areas oppressed by their own governments.

Government is both a boon and a burden; the means of keeping ourselves free and a machine used to oppress us.  In the US, we have complicated relationships between federal, state, and local levels of government; and between government and corporations, the media, and private citizens.  Each of these is a form of oppression against the rest; and each is also a source of freedom from the rest.  Failures of policy, the impact of corruption, and abuses of power occur at all levels, from top to bottom, and throughout both the public and private sectors.  However, the attention of voters, information consumers, and the media have for some time been focused on federal and national issues, at the expense paid to state and local levels.  We have achieved a transparency of power in the federal government that is sorely lacking in the very place where most of our laws and our governments’ powers are enacted and enforced.  The sordid history of human rights in the US shows that there is not just an imbalance of power between federal and state levels; there is an imbalance of interest.  The forces of patriarchy, theocracy, racism, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, and oppression find quiet, dark corners in that very center of American law and power, our local and state governments.  Like cockroaches fleeing when a light is turned on, these forces slink into our local and state governments, away from the level where the greatest and brightest lights are shined by our media and our attention.  This is why I am a federalist; and this is why I cringe at the words, “states’ rights.”

In the 1800s, in the 1900s, and today, “states’ rights” have always meant the “rights” of a minority (those few holding local and state seats of power) to take away the majority’s rights.  States’ rights are not people’s rights; and they are the means for restricting or eliminating our rights.  While clearly imperfect, and subject to its own hungers and abuse of power, the federal government is better positioned, and has done more, to protect local human and civil rights than our local and state governments can do or wish to do.  I am a federalist because I am jealous of my freedom, and I am suspicious of power that slinks into dark corners away from transparency.  I am a federalist because my nation’s history shows that in the battle for our rights, the federal government has been a purer expression of the will of the people than the local and state governments have been.  I am a federalist because our local schools become less able to teach the more our local and state governments interfere with them, and because we need a federal effort to fund schools regardless of their geographic locations or the socioeconomic status of their districts.  I am a federalist because our nation works best when it works together as a nation.  We the People have formed a more perfect Union; and we must uphold and empower our Union.

Headline image of the preamble to the Constitution, from Wikimedia Commons.

Using Johnson’s 1964 Ads Against Trump, Part 2

In 1964, actor William Bogert was asked by Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign to read a script that coincided with his political views; and in filming his script he also improvised with some of his own views as a Republican about his party’s candidate Barry Goldwater, and about the coming election.  As with the “Daisy Girl” ad, the language of this ad, the frustration of a conservative with his party’s flirtation with extremism and hatred, and the comparisons between Goldwater and Trump, all present a unique opportunity to revisit history by using this ad, or one very much like it, to prove that Trump’s extremism and immaturity disqualify him completely from holding any political office, let alone the presidency.

Vote Democrat in November.  The stakes are too high for you to stay home.

Using Johnson’s 1964 Ads Against Trump

The “Daisy Girl” ad was one of numerous political ads used in 1964 by Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign to target Barry Goldwater’s extremism, war-mongering, and xenophobia (not to mention the KKK’s love for him – any of this sound familiar?).  However, by modifying names and dates for the 2016 election, they also provide the perfect message for Hillary Clinton (or whoever will be the Democratic nominee) to use against Trump.  This ad in particular, reminding us that “we can love each other… or we can die,” fits perfectly into Clinton’s “love and kindness” response to Trump’s casualness toward using the nuclear trigger.

Vote Democrat in November.  The stakes are too high for you to stay home.

Comedy Central’s Advice for Hillary Clinton

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Click to watch Michelle Wolf addressing Hillary Clinton’s “Likeability Problem.”

Michelle Wolf of Comedy Central reminds us that we all hate our bosses.  Since Hillary Clinton is running for the job of being the boss, she should embrace her ability to be the boss, and forget about being “likeable.”  As Wolf exclaims, Hillary “…eats enemies and shits policy.”  Likeability?  We do not want or deserve a leader we like; we need a leader who knows what she is doing, to save us from the wasteland of the Trumpocalypse.

Wolf also buries the “email controversy” by reminding us that none of us really know what servers are and what the issue even implies. “The only question we should ask about her emails is, ‘Did they get where they were supposed to go?’  Then shut the **** up!”

Headline image of Michelle Wolf, from the video clip referenced above.

Will Edison, or Marx, or Both Prove Right on Big Energy?

Quote of the Week:  We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. … I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. –Thomas Edison

Over a century ago, the controversial technology developer (some would say, “inventor,” while others might hedge at that title) Thomas Edison evoked his hope that man would not limit himself to destructive and extracted energy sources when there was unlimited natural energy all around us.  His conflicts with Tesla over alternative energy schemes notwithstanding, and leaving aside the morality of some of Edison’s own approaches to business and corporatism, this specific Edisonian vision has been betrayed by the energy corporations that today live in his shadow.

Energy companies themselves should be at the forefront of green energy research and implementation, and they would be if they did not suffer from a myopia that afflicts most American corporations.  Corporations are all too wedded to the quarterly profits and the stock-market values of their stock shares, to look into the future and invest in their own success.  If and when green energy supplants oil and coal, those companies that today profit the most from extracted energy ought to have ensured their own survival by spearheading the transformation to green energy.  But that takes a corporate vision that is beyond the quarter-to-quarter profit motivation of American corporatism.  Instead of a steady transformation that protects the economy, the environment, and the corporations’ own stockholders, there will likely be a market disaster as coal and oil become suddenly too expensive and limited in quantity to provide the world’s increasing hunger for power.  Some forward thinkers will make a fortune; and some old money will disappear into the coffers of the new.  In the meantime, of course, those less wealthy people who had mistakenly invested their savings in old energy may find their retirement savings gone and their lives financially ruined.

The corporate myopia is also related to “financialization,” as major corporations worldwide invest fewer resources into research and put greater resources into stock buybacks to artificially inflate their own market share values.  Overall, business is becoming less enamored of research and more enamored of artificial devices to put greater stock values into the hands of the stockholders – and to concentrate those stocks into fewer, richer hands.  Karl Marx’s predictions for the potentials that capitalism has for destroying itself have outlived the communist movement that he helped create.  The fall of communism notwithstanding, corporatism is becoming ever more the corrupt, inefficient system that Marx criticized.  Capitalism’s increasingly apparent inability to solve problems, to create jobs, and to make people’s lives better may yet generate a new methodology for economics in the future.

Extracted energy suffers from a dilemma, in that increasing energy extraction competes with food and water resources (through environmental degradation and through the need for water to push resources out of the ground).  On the other hand, increasing food and water production require ever-increasing energy availability.  The world’s rapidly growing middle classes want energy, food, and water in ever greater quantities; and the only way to assure those needs in the long run is by switching our energy systems to non-extracted energy; to wind, sun, and other systems as hoped for by Thomas Edison.  Who will win in the end – Marx with his predictions for the end of capitalism; or Edison with his hopes for the transformation of energy?  Or will capitalism’s end help to finally enable a transformation to green energy?  The 21st century offers us both an opportunity to make our world better through innovative technologies like green energy, and a danger of what may happen if we do not.

Headline image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain images.

Does Clinton Have a “Favorability Problem”?

Recently, the above chart has been going around Twitter (with no link to sources, but a reference to NYT/CBS/Huffington Post polls).  The argument is that Senator Bernie Sanders is supremely equipped by his favorability ratings to take on Donald Trump in a general election in November, and that Secretary Hillary Clinton is not.  However, this chart omits two significant points of data.  First of all, Bill Clinton’s favorability in 1992 is noticeably absent.  Before taking the election in a landslide, in April, 1992, Bill Clinton’s ratings were 34 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable, giving him a net -13 (unfavorable), a point worse than his wife is currently running according to this chart.

A second missing factor is the differential between the winning candidates’ ratings and their opponents’ ratings (taking the winning candidate’s net +/- favorability, and subtracting from that their opponent’s net favorability).  The differential between Sanders and Trump (37) is by far higher than any contests on this list (higher than the Reagan-Mondale contest differential, which is 30).  That, of course, is the basic argument of the pro-Sanders user posting this chart; that Sanders ought to win a November general election against Trump in a landslide.  However, the Hillary Clinton’s differential against Trump (12) is also higher than the lowest three differentials here: her husband’s victory in 1992 against incumbent President G.H.W. Bush (differential = 3); George W. Bush’s race in 2000 against Al Gore (differential = 2); and incumbent President Obama’s 2012 reelection win against challenger Mitt Romney (differential = 6).  While there appears to be more risk in running Clinton against Trump than running Sanders as the Democratic nominee, a Clinton/Trump race, if decided on these favorability ratings, would be a Democratic win.

Headline image copied from a Tweet.

Politics and Hatred

Henry Adams seated at desk in dark coat, writing, photograph by Marian Hooper Adams, 1883.jpg

Quote of the Week:  Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds. –Henry Adams

Often, when working up a Quote of the Week, I see some obvious connection between the words in front of me and the latest outrage from Trump or one of his Republican competitors.  It is easy – and some readers may already have done so – to see the “systematic organization of hatreds” that is expressed by Trump’s “whites only,” misogynistic dreams for a pre-Civil Rights America.  However it is harder to realize the intent of the words of Adams (he of the family of John and John Quincy, Charles, and other politicians and intellectuals) – especially the words, “whatever its professions.”  Unfortunately, hatred is not an exclusively conservative or Republican “value,” tool, or reality.

As a new blogger trying to build an audience and readership, I have joined the Twitterverse, where I “follow” and am “followed by” many on, more or less, the same side of the partisan divide.  I am disheartened almost every time I open Twitter to see the hatred expressed not so much by the Democratic candidates for each other (especially considering how closely the two have been allied in the past), but by those supporting one candidate or the other.  There is ample hatred, and the organization of such by unofficial and unasked “voices” of the two candidates, by Clinton supporters against “BernieBots,” and by Sanders supporters against “$hillary.”  The #BernedOut and #NeverHillary pages are active indeed with vitriol directed against both candidates from those acting as voices for the other.

And yet, when looking reasonably at the policy proposals of both Democratic candidates, there is (as in fact both have themselves said, multiple times – were anyone to bother to listen) more connecting their visions and solutions than separating them.  There is a difference more in how hard they want to hit the accelerator, than in which direction to turn the steering wheel.  But they both see the car taking much the same road, to the same direction – the construction of our “shining City on a Hill,” of a community of care and welfare, of a united community of diverse cultures and ideas.  And while, as the nomination battle deepens, both candidates (especially Sanders, on the losing end of the fight for delegates) have an interest in spotlighting their differences, they also (especially Clinton, already moving on to a greater contest with Trump and the other party) have an interest in keeping, as much as possible, those on the Left united rather than divided.  The candidates see, even if the less learned and more puritanical of their followers do not, that nothing will be gained for either of them if their two forces do not unite in November.

Nonetheless, there remains the problem of the “discomfort of thoughtful politics,” and the 140-character superficialization of Twitter politics definitely encourages sound-bite simplicity at the expense of thought, nuance, and depth.  The angry, unsure against whom to direct their anger, are on both sides of the political divide; and their anger and hatred are all too easily organized by political voices of both the Left and Right.  If we on the Left are to make a claim at being the more rational of the two sides, or to have the better solutions, we need to look past petty bickering and differences, and to redeem the greater vision of the City on a Hill, the goal of both traditional Democrats like Hillary Clinton and more radical voices like Bernie Sanders.  And if we are to unite the nation – and that means bringing the other side with us – we need also to look at real policy differences and solutions that recognize the fuller spectrum of American thought, and the realities of the American political landscape.  We need to organize, without organizing (or encouraging) hatred.

Headline image by Marian Hooper Adams (1843–1885) – Massachusetts Historical Society, Public Domain.

Projections for Round Four of the Primaries

We have now reached the home stretch of both parties’ primaries.  Both parties have seen the fight for their nominations devour the weaker candidates, and there is finally a small enough number of remaining states that we can look at what’s left and project the final outcome.  For those who are new to the process, and who have not been following Spark!‘s coverage of the primaries, you may wish to see our previous posts on the Election 2016.  We began with a brief “Primer on the Primaries” (explaining the process in general), and then divided the events into three “rounds.”  Round One ran from the first primaries in February through “Super Tuesday,” March 1, 2016; Round Two ran from Super Tuesday through March 15; and Round Three from that point to the end of April.  As of April 29, 2016, there are just over six weeks before the final primaries are concluded.

As of today, Real Clear Politics shows the following results from the primaries already concluded (since they regularly edit their numbers, later visits to their site will reveal different results):

For the Republicans, Donald Trump is the front-runner, with 994 delegates. Ted Cruz has 566, and John Kasich has 153. The winning candidate at the Republican Convention in mid-July will need 1,237 of the 2,472 delegates available.  Trump at this point needs 41.4% of the remaining delegates to get there.  Neither Cruz nor Kasich has a viable path left to secure the nomination on the first ballot.

For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton remains the front-runner, with 2,165 delegates for the convention, while Bernie Sanders has 1,645.  The winning candidate at the Democratic Convention in late July will need 2,382 of the 4,763 delegates available.  Clinton needs but 17.5% of the remaining delegates to get there; while Sanders needs a whopping 82.6%.

Both parties also have some delegates allotted to candidates who have already dropped out.  Marco Rubio’s 171 delegates stand out most prominently, but there are also a handful of delegates for other candidates like Martin O’Malley and Jeb Bush.  The many state parties each have different rules for what delegates for dropped out candidates are expected to do at the convention.

Upcoming Events, and Projections for the Results:

May 3 (Tuesday) Indiana Open Primary for both parties.  Indiana will hand out 57 Republican delegates, and 83 Democratic delegates.  Trump has been leading Cruz by a small margin in Indiana, although Cruz has picked up points throughout the month of April.  For Republicans, Indiana is a “winner takes all” state (the Democrats do not use this practice at all, allotting proportional representation in all of their state and territorial parties), so Trump is the likely winner of all 57 Indiana delegates.  Clinton has been ahead of Sanders by only a few percentage points; so both are likely to come away with roughly half of the 83 delegates.  Spark! projects the delegates count to be: Clinton 43, Sanders 40.  Trump 57.

May 7 (Saturday)Guam Democrats will hold a Closed Caucus, allotting 7 delegates.  Polling data is not readily available, although the other two Pacific territories (Northern Marianas and American Samoa) each gave two thirds of their delegates to Clinton.  Our projections: Clinton 5, Sanders 2.

May 10 (Tuesday)Nebraska Republicans will hold a Closed Primary for their 36 delegates, allotted on a “winner takes all” basis.  No polling data is available; but Nebraska lies in a region that has generally preferred Cruz over Trump, so we project Cruz will take the 36 delegates.

Also on May 10, West Virginia will be holding semi-open primaries for both parties (independents can vote in either party; but party-registered voters may only vote in their registered party).  The state will allot 34 Republican delegates, and 29 Democrats.  All polling in West Virginia is relatively old (early March at the latest). While the very last Democratic poll had Clinton leading Sanders, most others showed a substantial Sanders advantage; and the demographics of the state also indicates it to be a potential Sanders victory.  Trump has held a significant advantage in all, similarly dated polls. We give Clinton 8, Sanders 21; and Trump 25, Cruz 8, and Kasich 1.

May 17 (Tuesday)Oregon Closed Primary for both parties, which will allot 28 Republican delegates and 61 Democrats.  In addition, Kentucky Democrats will hold a Closed Primary for their 55 delegates.  Trump holds a significant advantage in Oregon (with 43% among Oregon Republicans), although Cruz or even Kasich may get delegates out of the state as well.  In both Oregon and Kentucky, Clinton leads by narrow margins (41:38 in OR, 43:38 in KY).  For Oregon, we project Clinton 29, Sanders 32;  Trump 18, Cruz 7, Kasich 3. For Kentucky, Clinton gets 29, Sanders 26.

May 24 (Tuesday)Washington Republican Closed Primary, allotting 44 delegates on a “winner takes most” form of proportionate allotment, wherein at district levels each candidate can get all delegates from a victory with over 50%, and where each candidate must secure at least 20% to get any delegates from a district.  Washington presents an interesting contest for the Republicans, with no good polling data available.  However, Trump has generally outperformed Cruz in opinion polling of coastal states (and in actual primaries of the eastern coastal states).  On the other hand, Cruz got a narrow edge in Alaska’s delegation.  We give Trump 39, Cruz 5.

June 4 (Saturday)Virgin Islands Democratic Closed Caucus, for their 7 delegates.  No good polling data is available. We guess and give Clinton 4, Sanders 3.

June 5 (Sunday)Puerto Rico Democratic Open Primary, for their 60 delegates.  This delegation is even larger than 27 of the 50 state delegations; and is by far the largest of the non-state delegations.  While no polling data is available, the Latino population (and Clinton’s generally friendlier remarks about the island) suggest a likely Clinton advantage and victory.  Clinton 35, Sanders 25.

And Finally (cue the fanfare):  on June 7 (Tuesday), there will be a massive last battle in both parties for five states:  California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota.  Also, the Democrats will hold a Caucus in North Dakota.  303 Republican delegates, and 694 Democrats, are going to be selected for the conventions by these battles.

California’s Closed Primary will allot 172 Republican delegates, and a mountainous 475 Democrats.  Trump has a clear lead for the “winner takes all” state, which should present a great victory for the Great Bloviator.  Clinton has held a small margin there over Sanders; and the chance for Bernie to pick up a “Yuge” array of delegates there may well reward his campaign’s decision to begin fighting for the state even before the last battle (on April 26) for the Old Colonies of the Northeast.  However, we give Clinton 255, Sanders 220; and Trump 172.

Montana’s Open Primary will send 27 Republican and 21 Democratic delegates to the conventions (the Republicans on a “winner takes all” basis).  The only polling available is useless, being over a year old.  However, regionally, the state’s neighbors have largely favored Cruz and Sanders.  Clinton 6, Sanders 15; Cruz 27.

New Jersey’s Primary (Open GOP, Closed Democratic) will decide 51 Republican delegates and a hefty 126 Democrats.  A Rutgers poll shows that a Trump victory in the “winner takes all state” is pretty much in the bag already (having over 50% of the state’s Republicans).  Clinton has a significant lead on Sanders (51:42), although Sanders is picking up steam.  Clinton 67, Sanders 59; Trump 51.

New Mexico’s Closed Primary for 24 Republicans and 34 Democratic delegates.  Polling data there is scarce, with the last being in February (with most of the initial clown car still in and hopeful).  Trump and Cruz were tied; but together they polled barely half of the votes.  New Mexico is the only state whose Republicans on June 7 will not be “winner takes all”; so it is possible all three candidates will get something out of it.  Clinton held a 47:33 advantage over Sanders back then; and its western and eastern neighbors have both favored Clinton.  New Mexico also is both a state of loyal Democrats, and a state with a large Hispanic population; both of which features also promise a likely victory for Clinton.  We give Clinton 20, Sanders 14.  Trump gets 11, Cruz 12, and Kasich 1.

South Dakota’s Primary (Closed GOP and Semi-Open Democratic) will allot 29 Republicans and 20 Democrats, with the Republicans on a “winner takes all” basis.  Although the state’s delegate counts are fairly low, the state promises an interesting battle.  Polling data is completely wanting there; and the state lies in a transition area between Trump’s area and Cruz’s area; and between Clinton’s area and Sanders’s area.  It could go any way.  Just for fun, we give Clinton 8, Sanders 12; and Cruz 29.

And let us not forget the Democrats’ North Dakota Open Caucus for their 18 delegates, in which we guess Clinton 4, Sanders 14.

After June 7, the Republicans will be done; but there will still be one more Democratic event:  on July 14 (Tuesday), the Democrats will hold a Closed Primary for the 20 delegates representing the District of Columbia, to wrap up the 2016 primaries season once and for all.  Washington, DC is another place devoid of good polling; but it is located in an area friendly to Clinton, and with a large African-American population, the district is likely to support her pretty prominently.  Clinton 16, Sanders 4.

Some totals for those not doing the counting (you’re welcome, by the way):  Before June 7, the Republicans will be fighting over some 171 delegates, and the Democrats for 302 (not including super-delegates).  On June 7, the Republicans will struggle over another 303 delegates, while (including DC’s June 14 primary) the Democrats will battle for some 714.  In total, these will add some 474 Republican delegates and 1,016 Democratic delegates.

Our projections give Donald Trump 139 delegates before 6/7; and 234 on 6/7, for a Round 4 total of 373, and a final total of 1,367, comfortably (for him, at least) over the 1,237 needed to get the nomination without a second-ballot floor fight.  Cruz should get 56 delegates before 6/7; and 68 on the 7th, for a Round total of 124, and a final total of 690.  Kasich is allotted an optimistic 4 more delegates before 6/7, and another one on the seventh, for a Round total of 5 and a final total of 158.  Trump should be the presumptive nominee going into the Cleveland Convention in July, with room to spare.

These projections also give Hillary Clinton 154 delegates before 6/7; and 376 on/after, for a Round 4 total of 530.  This would  bring her total to 2,695, significantly over the 2,382 needed to win the nomination on the first ballot.  Bernie Sanders gets 149 delegates before 6/7; and 338 on and after, bringing his Round 4 earnings to 487, and his final total to 1,844.  These numbers do not include another 153 super-delegates who have yet to cast their support; but who are also likely to be strongly pro-Clinton.  Clinton should be the presumptive nominee going into the Philadelphia Convention in July, also with room to spare.

Okay, but what is REALLY going to happen?

Obviously, these projections are seeded with presumptions; and of course the first point at which candidates (and voters) may make events happen differently is at the point of these various presumptions.  Two presumptions needing closer consideration in particular:  Trump’s performance in Indiana and in Washington.  The former is a “winner takes all” state; so as long as he wins there, he gets the full tally.  But what if Cruz bests him?  That takes all 57 votes away from Trump, and turns them over to Cruz.  Cruz’s path to the nomination at the first ballot is closed; but he (and the Republican electorate) can still stop a Trump first-ballot victory.  Washington is not “winner takes all”; but it gives strong benefits to the leading candidate at the expense of the weaker one(s).  We presumed a massive delegate advantage to Trump: 39:5.  But Cruz could, perhaps, show a strong performance there (the polling data is lacking; so we presumed a “coastal states” advantage for Trump that may not happen).  Those are the two places where our projections gave Trump a major delegates win, and where polling is questionable or lacking.  Elsewhere, Cruz could certainly outperform our expectations; but it would matter less (or, as in California and New Jersey, there is little hope of beating those expectations).

Another presumption is one that some Republicans have been mulling over: that the 1,237 delegates target is the ticket to a first-ballot nomination.  There has been talk over the internet about the RNC putting through a pre-convention rules change by which the “bound” delegates become unbound (the delegates themselves would have to approve of the change, so the question is, could enough Trump delegates want or be convinced to abandon their support for their putative candidate, vote through the rules change, and “unbind” themselves?).  After all Sanders’s talk about a “political revolution,” it seems the RNC is considering throwing their own in-party political revolution to keep the presumptive nominee from getting his prize.  There are also, of course, a number of delegates assigned to candidates no longer running (Rubio, Bush, Carson, etc.); and those delegates might end up supporting Cruz (or some new candidate).  However, by themselves, they are far too few, and Cruz is far too behind, for that strategy to get him even close to the nomination.

Yet another presumption has been one that Bernie Sanders himself has been trying to deflate, that the Democratic super-delegates are (as they have been so far) going to overwhelmingly support Clinton at the convention.  Sanders has been consistently arguing that super-delegates first of all should, and second of all will decide their support based on the pledged delegates vote.  The problem with that argument is that it ignores the fact that, momentum and excitement notwithstanding, Clinton has been consistently winning the pledged delegates fight, and is not simply depending on the super-delegates to hand her an unearned victory.  As of this writing, Clinton has 1,645 to Sanders’s 1,318 pledged delegates; and our projections bring those totals to 2,174 and 1,805.  Super-delegates are unlikely to recuse themselves en masse from voting (if they did, there would indeed be a contested convention, with no candidate getting to the 2,382 threshold for the first ballot).  The super-delegates abiding by Sanders’s argument and watching the vote would support the winner for the pledged delegates, and that is almost unquestionably Clinton.  Looking at our numbers (and the presumptions behind them), the reader will note that in almost no state won by Clinton did Spark! assign to Clinton an overwhelming majority of the delegates, but gave Sanders fair portions of pretty much every state.  California will be the biggest fight; but both candidates are strong there, and even if our numbers and the called winner (Clinton) are wrong, Clinton will still take to the convention delegate numbers similar to those projected.  Sanders will find it almost impossible to beat our projection of a pledged delegate margin by anything close to the 370 or so we project.

So Sanders’s “political revolution” depends on the party machinery abandoning not only their traditional role, but also the candidate who has won the most pledged delegates, for a candidate with nothing to offer in terms of reasons for doing any of these (other than his argument – justified by opinion polling – that he is shown to beat Trump in a general election by a greater margin than is Clinton).  Then, if the super-delegates do make such a decision, the “political revolution” is more of a coup – with the establishment denying the winning candidate the nomination and handing it to the candidate who had won fewer votes.  Exactly the thing Sanders is complaining about as a key to get Clinton nominated, is the only possibility that Sanders himself has at this point for getting nominated.

At any rate, presumptions notwithstanding, Spark! projects that in November, the general election will be one decided between the Democratic ticket headed by Hillary Clinton, and the Republican ticket headed by Donald Trump.  We will likely revisit these expectations and projections as we get closer to that last big battle on June 7.

Headline image from Huffingtonpost.com, via The Yale Herald.