Tag: politics

The Global Trends of US Politics

Every few years, the National Intelligence Council of the United States Government publishes a study of the near future, looking ahead roughly 15-20 years.  These studies are part of an effort to predict what kinds of changes the US is facing, and to prepare for these changes.  The studies are an attempt to push the typically myopic American policy-formation process into a more strategic and long-term approach.  The NIC’s latest study, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, prepared in 2012, looks ahead to 2030 (the next study, looking ahead to 2035, is due to be released to the President in December 2016).  The intelligence specialists, and the many academic minds they tapped to game out future potentialities of various trends and changes, offer insight into the kinds of policies – foreign and domestic – which the US needs to compete and survive economically, politically, and militarily.  While the authors of the study (career civil servants and academicians with no consensus on partisan interests or identity) do not promote or criticize any politician or political party, their predictions show clearly that the stances taken by the two major political parties offer drastically different worlds and potential futures for the United States.  The trends show that only the Democratic Party is able and willing to bring our nation into the world of 2030; while the Republican Party offers us only an incompetent and declining nation, and an international arena of ever greater poverty, instability, terror, and war.

Changes which will shape the immediate future:

The principle immediate objective of the authors is understanding the many changes already underway in the world today, which together will transform our world of today into the world of 2030.  The changes noted are mostly global in nature (although the authors also note some changes specific to the US and to other individual nations).  These changes will, to some extent or other, affect all nations.  Among the more decisive of changes (whose precise course the authors generally avoid predicting, preferring to speculate on the effects of various different courses) is the growth of the global middle class.  In China and India especially, but in many nations throughout the world (Brazil also quite prominently), the global middle class is growing far more rapidly than is the overall population.  The gentrification of the global economy is putting geometrically increasing stresses upon the world’s energy, food, and water supplies, and on other resources as well.  The growing middle class also pushes the world into political change, both further democratization, and increased authoritarianism – both of which are common results of different progressions of a growing middle class.

Another change shaping our future is the decisive shift of the global economy from the northern and western world to the southern and eastern – especially to China and India.  In investigating different potential courses, the authors argue that a stable and growing China is of fundamental importance to a continuing global economy and to international security and peace.  The various futures in which China fails to develop both economically and politically are ugly indeed, not only for the fifth or so of the human race who live there, but for those in India, the US, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere.  Similarly, Indian development is also a key factor; and the possibility of instability and tension between India and China could throw the world’s entire future development off track (particularly if a breakdown leads to a war between these two massive nuclear powers).

Nuclear war is generally, however, seen as less of a general threat than is another change, the increasing availability of lethal technologies to smaller powers and to non-state actors.  Store-bought drones, GPS, the commercialization of bio-engineering and DNA sequencing, computerized design applications, and other modern technologies are providing access to weaponized UAVs, bioterror capabilities, and other lethal attack options at ever lower prices to ever greater numbers of groups and individuals.  Terror operations like the Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino and other attacks are the “new normal” of the 21st century, a cost of living in the modern world to which we are going to have to learn to live with – or else, we are going to have to change radically our attitudes toward freedom, and toward public access to information and other technologies.  We can try to end terror by going backwards; or we can move forward and accept it as a cost for the many advantages with which we are endowed by modern technology.

Another change under way is the progressive aging of most modern states, as medicine and living conditions improve.  While longer life spans are rarely seen as a negative, the economies of aging societies are stagnating as the ratio of working to non-working populations decreases.  While some societies may simply conclude that longer life spans will have to mean longer working lives (at least for the lower and middle classes), other societies may seek demographic changes by attracting new, younger populations through immigration and refugee supports.  Currently, the US has one of the most youthful of populations among the advanced, industrialized states (due to its immigration policies and its history of welcoming immigrants and refugees).  However, Europe’s struggles over taking in refugees from Syria may, if these policies continue, also infuse Europe with younger blood and the greater productivity that comes with it.  But for more insulated societies, like Japan (and Europe should the EU reject further refugees), a new dimension of class warfare may develop as these societies become unable to support their growing, aging populations.

Another demographic change is the world’s accelerating urbanization, related to the growing middle class.  New technologies are creating a potential for new “smart cities” integrating individual smart devices with city services, markets, and resources, making for better and faster management of increasingly scarce resources.  To a degree, the developing world actually has a “smart cities” advantage over the developed, in that smart architectures can (the authors argue) be developed and managed far more easily on a blank slate than in large cities with established bureaucracies.  The middle of the century might well see higher standards of living in Brasilia, Mosul, or Lagos than in New York, London, or Tokyo as newly smart cities outpace old cities trying to mate smart technologies with large, conservative bureaucracies.

One of the few national changes which the authors consider as a global change is the growing energy independence of the US.  The authors call all too unapologetically for increased natural gas and petroleum production as a key to both US economic independence and to addressing the world’s geometrically increasing demand for energy.  The authors see green energy (e.g., solar and wind power) as unlikely to rival fossil fuels in keeping energy costs low before 2030 (around which time technological development may finally enable green energy to do so).  Low energy costs are also vital to increasing the world’s production of food, and to conserving as much as possible our fresh water supplies.  The authors see an energy-independent US as minimizing global competition, tension, and conflict for energy, food, and water (not to mention reducing America’s own impetus to fight for foreign oil supplies).

Finally, the authors (who as intelligence specialists have access to global data on climate conditions) note the definite trend of climate change.  Although they diplomatically avoid predicting environmental catastrophe, they note the likelihood that current trends will continue and accelerate, impeding future food production and access to water, and forcing certain population migrations from the most sharply impacted areas of the world.  They predict the likelihood that trends already long under way will foment conflict in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, areas especially vulnerable to climatic effects and to social change.

Variables which may shape the changes outlined:

There are a vast array of significant variables which will steer events and conditions as the world moves forward to 2030.  These variables are subject to change by government policies, and so effective government policy can steer them toward a healthy nation and a stable world.  Among the greatest of variables are the relationship between the US and Russia; the development of governance, and the related development of infrastructure; and the development of African food independence.  A peaceful and productive relationship between the US and Russia is a key factor that can steer the world away from conflict and tension; from violence, and from costly military productions and adventures.  On the other hand, either Russian adventurism or disproportionate US obstruction of Russian interests can steer international efforts away from harmonic economic development and relief, and into conflict and/or actual warfare – and while the authors always presume a low threat of apocalyptic nuclear wars, the possibility increases as tension between nuclear powers increases.  On a lower level, we can see even today that in Syria, for example, an open US-Russian rivalry is hampering effective work on combating terror and rebuilding state structures in the war zones.  Even without mushroom clouds blossoming over our cities, a new US-Russian Cold War will help no one.

Effective governance and infrastructure will be ever more vital as population demands for finite resources accelerate.  The authors note specifically the stagnation of infrastructural development in the US as a potential turning point in our nation’s path.  If we cease supporting schools to train our youth; building roads, bridges, ports, and communication networks to carry our commerce and data; caring for those needing medical help; or we lose faith in the role of government as a strategic manager of increasingly scarce resources, the US will quickly join the developing world as an economic and financial backwater, and (unlike many developing states moving forward) will move backward toward greater economic dependency and subordination to other powers.  Our political and economic independence is itself at stake – with a key determining variable being our willingness to invest in our own success and our own strengths.  Those forces on the American political map arguing against government expenditures on infrastructure and on welfare and social supports, are threatening (our own intelligence specialists tell us) to push the US off the stage of global relevance, but also away from the ability to protect our people and our way of life.  The authors similarly note the global relevance of government and infrastructure.  All of the developed and developing states must commit to greater education, greater infrastructure, and greater social spending, for the world of 2030 to be a healthy, peaceful, and productive one.  US policy must not just build our nation here at home, but must advocate and support the development of global infrastructure.

Finally, as the global demand for food, water, and energy accelerates – and as fossil energy plateaus, and fresh water supplies become ever more strained and scarce – a key link in the global food supply will be the African agricultural sector.  Africa has some of the world’s most rapidly growing populations, several of the world’s most rapidly growing middle classes (with both of these in particular expanding in Nigeria, Africa’s demographic center), and a number of the world’s most vulnerable and conflict-ridden societies.  Foreign trade with, and aid to African states from the more developed states of the world has historically been exploitative and nation-centered.  But if Africa does not expand its ability to feed itself without external support quickly – and dramatically – the next two decades may well see Africa become the world’s center of famine, instability, and violence.  These are trends that, thanks to growing internet connections and the increasing access of poor peoples to lethal technologies, will impact directly the more advanced states as they are visited by terror at home from the desperate peoples of Africa.  The increasing connections between desperate forces in Africa and the central forces behind ISIS in Syria and Iraq demonstrate just what kind of threat we are facing if Africa does not become self-sufficient in food production.  The authors predict that the focus of international terrorism may shift from the Middle East to Africa – and threats to Paris, London, Tokyo, New York, Detroit, and other cities far from Africa will emerge if the world does not work together to build an effective African agriculture.  On the other hand, successful work there can establish a foundation for greater economic stability not just for Africa but for the world; and will ease terror, both within Africa and beyond.

The Policies of the GOP:  Deconstructing the US, Global Security, and Global Prosperity

The Global Trends study becomes more relevant in the context of the 2016 election year, as the US chooses between two major political parties, and the candidates’ mindsets about how (and where) to steer our nation forward.  As we look to the changes underway, and to the authors’ nonpartisan warnings about what conditions and approaches are needed to traverse them successfully, it becomes clear that the Republican Party’s radicalization by the Tea Party has positioned the GOP to be one of the greatest threats to our nation’s security and future.  The Republican mindset is so inherently flawed and out of sync with the 21st century that the only way that Republicans can bring our nation forward is by abandoning their ideology entirely, becoming Democrats in mind and spirit, and committing unswervingly to the liberal imperative of John Winthrop’s vision of the “shining City on a Hill.”

The basic failure of the Republican Party is its commitment to a 1950s vision of the world, a world now gone and transformed into something both hated and unknowable by American conservatives.  Republican candidates like Trump (who has himself personally steered American jobs to China and Mexico) threaten to “punish” China and Mexico for “stealing” American jobs (shifted overseas by American corporations, enabled by a loose regulatory environment and by consumer disinterest in “product patriotism”).  Republican candidates like him and Cruz clamor to reopen a new Cold War with the new Russia, bringing back (they hope) the “good old days” of a simpler, bipolar world.  But Putin is not Stalin or Brezhnev; and Russia is not the Soviet Union.  China is also not a new Soviet Union – being both more willing to talk, trade, and change; and more difficult to dissuade by traditional tools of diplomacy and military power.  The new Republican leaders understand none of this; and they hope that a 1950s strategic mentality will bring back a 1950s world.

This hope by the GOP for making America 1950s-esque again is not limited, unfortunately, to Republicans’ strategic vision.  They also envision a world shaped by white, male Americans and white, male Russians; but they ironically run away from their party’s 1950s commitment to secure our nation through an effective, nationally directed education program.  As global economic, technological, and environmental change invalidates the Republicans’ 1950s mindset, they cling ever more to a long-gone vision and they reject ever more their old commitment to education.  However, while American and Soviet economic and military power drove the bipolar world of the Cold War, the increasingly diverse world of the 21st century frightens and angers American conservatives.  Conservatives react by rejecting public education in favor of private, for-profit charter schools and of religiously-oriented home schooling.  They take money away from major educational institutions, as in Governor Scott Walker’s evisceration of the internationally competitive University of Wisconsin-Madison (while he channeled equivalent funding to new sports stadiums).

The Global Trends study demonstrates clearly that the US needs a more competitive education system.  The US needs a more directed and strategic approach to education, not a more localized or religious one.  The US needs to rebuild its technological edge as an area for job competitiveness and job creation.  This edge is vanishing as global education improves, and as the US education system deteriorates.  An independent and powerful US of 2030 will only be a reality if the US focuses on improving its education system, teaching more science, more culture, more languages, and more art (and creativity most especially).  Local, state, and national commitments to education must accelerate – not be cut by Trump’s and Cruz’s mutual agreement on dismantling the Department of Education.  China, India, and Russia drool at the very prospect of a Trump or Cruz presidency, and a final decimation of American education and competitiveness.

The conservatives’ lack of faith in American infrastructure is also spelling further trouble for 2030.  A productive America of 2030 will need new roads and bridges.  America will need a better communications network and data management system, and power distribution systems.  America will need to revamp or replace its aging nuclear stations, and will need to develop green energy capabilities for the eventual replacement of fossil fuels.  All of these are improvements that must be implemented now.  We need a political environment of faith in the public good of clean energy, cheap transportation and communication, and fast data networking.  The failure of private corporations to work toward these goals shows us that a “market solution” is not available.  The power of legislation and public funding must step in to protect our nation for the future.  And the Tea Party’s mission, ever more shrilly screeched at the public, is nothing other than stopping these very initiatives from ever happening.  The Tea Party is an obstacle that must be cleared, flattened, and paved over if we are to move our nation forward into the future.

Another Republican problem is defense.  Again, the Republicans remain wedded to a 1950s vision of tanks, fighter planes, and aircraft carriers as the key elements of a modern military.  And yet even our own Joint Chiefs of Staff continue to beg the Republicans in Congress to shift military spending to the tools needed for 21st century warfare – highly educated, techno-savvy soldiers; cyberwarfare assets, language specialists, and cultural specialists; engineering assets; and special warfare assets.  They complain that their tanks and fighters are facing obsolescence without most of them even seeing a day of action in the 14 years of constant warfare of our conservative and Orwellian “War is Peace” mentality.  In the meantime, the assets our military does need are overwhelmed and underfunded.  The US Congress must abandon its 1950s approach to warfighting – and the Republicans are the chief obstacle to making that happen and to securing our nation.

The most apparent defense problem of the Republicans, however, is not one of equipment, but of culture.  Their “whites only” vision of the world continues to foment suspicion and hostility toward Muslims and others.  And yet, Muslims are the central actors in the fight against ISIS, and for the battles over the Middle East.  They are the principal actors in domestic counter-terror operations in the US, where the FBI constantly reports that American Muslims have been the main – sometimes only – intelligence resource for early warning against home-bred terror threats (and that threat is ISIS’s main modus operandi, unlike al-Qaeda-style, centrally trained terror-warfare specialists).  Both abroad and at home, the US needs to cultivate a positive, mutually trusting relationship with Muslims and with Muslim nations.  Iran is a leading combatant against ISIS and al-Qaeda; and the US hostility toward Iran is as obsolete as our “whites only” approach to society and government.  Iran is also becoming a great power in its own right, a major future shaper of regional affairs, and one with much to offer the US in trade and political cooperation on other regional and international issues.  The US needs to push aside a party openly suspicious of Muslims, of Iran, of foreigners, as all of these forces will be ever greater shapers of regional and global destinies in the 21st century.

Democratic Approaches – Building the City on a Hill, and Working With the New World

On the other hand, America’s other major party, the Democracy, promises a more harmonic effort to bring the United States into the future and to maintain our nation’s independence and economic vitality.  The Democrats have a mindset in harmony with Winthrop’s City on a Hill, and with the changes predicted by our best intelligence experts.  The Democrats offer a harmonic fusion of foreign policy and strategy, governance and infrastructure, and situational awareness of strategic realities that contrasts starkly with the Luddite mentality of Republicans and Tea Party extremists.

Hillary Clinton’s work as Secretary of State fits well into the authors’ scheme of China and Russia as major players who will help shape the future.  Clinton’s and President Obama’s priorities in developing peaceful, mutually beneficial economic relations with China indicate the Democrats’ readiness to support Chinese development (a key factor in the peaceful development of Asia and of the global economy).  Two problem areas noted by the authors offer opportunities for positive work between the US and China: Korea and Taiwan.  In both cases, the US and China each have political and military interests in conflict with the other.  However, both states also see a greater benefit in maintaining together the status quo.  Both states are also wary of being unnecessarily driven by their respective clients (North Korea and Taiwan) into an undesirable greater conflict.

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have also offered suggestions about working positively and peacefully with Russia (so long, of course, as Russia – or Putin – also sees a benefit to cooperative action).  The authors note that a Russia determined to operate alone and aggressively can undermine global stability; and they subtly imply that US foreign policy must tread carefully between on the one hand allowing Russia too much opportunity for adventurism, and on the other backing Russia into a corner and forcing a proud nation to assert its exceptionalism through military posturing or even open warfare.  Republican posturing about keeping a loose finger on the nuclear trigger and about keeping Russia in line threatens to undermine that balance, and trigger Russian action and a renewal of imperialism.  The Democrats, however, offer cooler heads and a cooler approach in line with the Global Trends study’s recommendations for a careful and agile foreign policy.  Such a foreign policy is also necessary for building a greater US-Russian partnership on counter-terror (a mutual security concern for both nations) and on both European and Asian affairs in general.

The Democrats are also the only party advocating the continuing construction of our “City on a Hill,” developing effective governance and infrastructure.  The single most important element – and one which only the Democrats accept as an imperative for the future – is the development of our national education system.  A drastic improvement of our education system at all levels – primary, secondary, and higher education – is necessary to producing a 21st-century labor force capable of competing with foreign workers.  Unskilled labor is an economy of the past, and workers today and tomorrow need greater skills in math, science, languages, and even the arts (particularly in creative and imaginative work, the most difficult activities for machine intelligence to replicate).

Both to keep jobs at home, and to attract foreign and domestic investment to the United States (when opportunities for investment abound globally and are rapidly expanding in the developing economies), the US needs a highly skilled labor force prepared to work in a fully globalized and integrated economy, and with diverse cultures.  The Republicans are interested only in ensuring that students can pray and can maintain 20th century skills like writing in cursive; in ensuring that private corporations can eke out a profit from “education”; and in ensuring that uneducated parents can override local, state, or national goals of fostering a workforce capable of actually working.  The Democrats, however, are far more in sync with the needs of the labor force and of our business community, needs which drive greater educational efforts.  Our nation needs to rebuild education as the public good that it was during the Cold War, when both political parties committed unflinchingly to developing an effective education system, beginning with large-scale national direction, strategic goal-setting, and federal funding and management.  The obstacles of for-profit schools, charter schools, and home schooling must be overcome if the US is going to compete with the rest of an increasingly educated, literate, competent and affluent world.  If we do not overcome these obstacles, and reestablish public education, the US will quickly be relegated to the status of an economic dependency or colony of greater foreign powers.

The Democrats, including Clinton and Sanders in particular, also call for more physical infrastructure – new water systems, power systems, transportation systems, and communication systems, all of which are necessary to bring the US into the 21st century.  None of these can be developed solely through private enterprise; but instead the traditional American practice of mixing private contractors and employees with public funding and initiative can, as they always have before, build our nation into a greater one.  American businesses will not be able to compete globally without the infrastructural support that the federal, state, and local governments have always given them.  All great periods of rapid development in the US economy were built by the combined efforts of private business and public leadership and funding, building the infrastructure that business needs to survive.  American wealth is not built by private enterprise alone, and never has been.  American wealth is built on a combination of entrepreneurial spirit and the liberal imperatives of the City on a Hill, building public systems that enable private business to operate profitably.  The Republican focus on private market initiatives is a failure to read our nation’s economic history and economic present.  The Democratic focus on building public infrastructure is a commitment to protect both American capitalism and the workers who actually build our businesses and create jobs.

Finally, the Democrats show an awareness of 21st century realities that is gravely lacking in Republican posturing and simian displays of machismo and nationalism.  The Democrats embrace the multicultural nature of our own nation, a nation built by immigrants, refugees, servants, and slaves.  They embrace the right of peoples to come here to live, work, and found new families; and they embrace our nation’s need (demonstrated by the Global Trends study) for new, young workers as our birth rates decline with the rest of the industrialized world.  We also need a regular infusion of foreign cultures and languages to help push our own businesses and local governments into responding to the needs of customers, employees, and markets in a global, non-white, diversely gendered world.  Our nation needs new people to come here more than these new people need our nation – and that argument will become stronger as other options (like Brazil) for emigration become more viable and attract more immigrants.

The Democrats are also the only party willing to accept basic scientific reality, most importantly that of climate change.  The threat posed by climate change to national security has been formally recognized by our best military leaders.  The Republicans, though, just put their hands over ears, eyes, and mouth, and cling to a 1950s exploitative approach of using the Earth as if its bounties were infinite and free.  Here, too, the GOP is not merely “another party,” but poses an actual threat to both our nation and to our world.  The US can no longer afford to play with a group of people stuck in a virtual loop of stupidity and blindness.  If American businesses are to survive in the 21st century, they are going to become green and sustainable, and the 1950s model of exploitative business is going to have to be a thing of the past.  The survival of the US demands a political party committed to supporting the development of a green economy, with green businesses and highly trained workers.  None of these are goals of the Republicans.  All of these are goals expressed by the Democrats.

The Two Parties, and the Alternative Worlds They Offer

Today’s political parties offer starkly divergent plans for the nation and its future.  Our nation’s best intelligence specialists, tasked with predicting the changes that the US will face in the near future, suggest alternate visions of the future which demonstrate clearly that the Democrats remain the only major party capable of and willing to protect the nation’s interests at home and abroad.  While the Republicans strive for austerity measures risking our nation’s ability to compete and to keep businesses and jobs in the United States, the Democrats push for the construction of our City on a Hill in ways that offer to keep businesses here and keep them hiring Americans.  Democrats are committed to improving education, social stability, and the infrastructure upon which American businesses depend for their survival.  While the Republicans’ austerity measures threaten the chances American business has to compete and survive on both domestic and international markets, the Democrats’ clear promotion of infrastructure promises both economic and political stability at home, and a force to anchor the international economy and polity on a global level.   While the Republicans strive to distance our nation from and alienate the very international players shaping the global economy and polity, the Democrats push for partnerships and a recognition of the basic realities of international relations.  While Republicans cut off possibilities for greater governance both here and abroad, the Democrats push for greater efforts to sustain peoples of developing nations, particularly in areas of the world likely to bleed violence into the global system.  While the Republicans deny climate change and refuse to enact energy reforms that will build jobs and protect the environment, the Democrats offer both these jobs and a cleaner environment through such reforms.

The authors of the Global Trends study did not themselves note any party or politicians whose ideals, vision, or policies might help or hinder the nation’s progress.  But their message is all too clear nonetheless: the US can no longer afford a political party uncommitted to preserving the greatness our nation can offer, and unwilling to act responsibly to protect our people’s livelihoods, our nation’s defenses, and the world in which we live.  Rarely in our nation’s history has its interests been at such great stake, or the choice so clear as to which path will take our nation – and the world – forward.  There remains but one major party in the US which acts responsibly and consistently with America’s principles and legacy; and that is the Democratic Party.  In the end, there really is no alternative.

Headline image from the title page of NIC’s Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, 2012.



On Being Great Again, Or Good

Quote of the Week:  Patriotism is proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest”, but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is. –Sydney J. Harris

Donald Trump shocks Americans by telling them that he wants to make our nation “great again,” implying obviously that the United States had some greatness that is now lacking.  It is easy to associate this clearly unpatriotic lack of faith in America with racism and xenophobia (implying, for example, that the US was great, until it went ahead and elected one of “those people” as its president for eight years).  It is easy to do this because of Trump’s heartless criticism of Mexicans and Muslims (and of the latter’s faith, Islam).  It is easy to do this because of the numerous Nazis, Klansmen, and fascists of all colors (so to speak) who have come out in open support for Trump.  It is easy to do this because, notwithstanding the candidate’s willingness to tweet and speak about all sorts of people on the cuff and without any “due diligence,” it took him something like 48 hours to disavow one of America’s leading white supremacists.  Attacking ethnic groups, dissidents, and women is not something the candidate needs to take any time to consider properly; but disavowing the country’s leading white supremacist was something that needed closer study, not being any kind of “no brainer” for our little Orangearschenfürher.  All of this shows what most Americans need to know about what “greatness” is missing and how to restore it.

But for those of us not raised from birth to hate “those people” or to misogynize at our morning Tea Party, it is clear that what we need is not for our nation to be “great again,” but for our country to be good again, like Sydney J. Harris suggests.  We need to remember John Winthrop’s exhortations to us to build the City on a Hill by embracing the liberal imperative to care for the poor, to house the homeless, to feed the hungry, and moreover to use the wealth of those at the top for that explicit purpose.  We need to remember that politics should be about caring for those needing medical care, not about politicizing issues.  When we attack Planned Parenthood for performing a legal operation (and doing so using only private funds, and not anyone’s taxes), and use the government to punish the organization – and the many women and men it cares for in other ways, using both public and private funds for the purpose – for offending a minority of Americans, we are not “good,” and we are not the nation that Winthrop called upon us to be.  When we attack people for not speaking English “properly” (ignoring the multitude of uneducated bigots who themselves have a limited grasp of our grammar and syntax, though it be their only language), we are not “good,” and we are not the nation that was built on the labor and the blood, sweat, and tears of immigrants, indentured servants, slaves, and refugees.

Our parents, grandparents, or other ancestors (those that came here willingly, anyway) came to this nation not because of its military strength, and not because we pick on the weak and leave the dying to meet their end.  They came here because we are a nation that has always promised to be better than that.  They came here because we offered them something better than the empires of the past, great only for their ability to kill and to disenfranchise others.  Coming to our shores for our “goodness,” rather than for our “greatness,” they built this nation – together with those who simply had no choice in the matter – into a nation that was able to grow past its dark side, and embrace the better angels of our nature.  We became a nation born of slavery that (later than most) discarded slavery; a nation dominated by men who (later than some) embraced suffrage; and a nation dominated by white Christians who (through a mountainous struggle) embraced the “Others” and welcomed them into our community as builders and partners.

To be “good” again, we need to put Trump, and his supporters, back into whatever corner of our national psyche we dragged them out of.  We need to put them back into the box in which we keep our pictures of “Whites Only” and “No Jews” signs, pictures of slaves’ backs striped with whip scars, pictures of the Trail of Tears, and of schools forcing Indian children to adopt white, Christian ways.  We need to mark that box “Ugly Things From the Past We Promise Not to Do Again.”  And we need to put that box into high-school history books with long lessons about how and why we got over those evil tendencies, how we are a better nation because we moved past the need to do these horrific things, and how we embraced our promise to be a nation of many peoples, many faiths, many languages and cultures, and many ideals.  We need not to worry about our “greatness”; but only about our “goodness.”

Headline image via Google Image Search

The 2016 Primaries, Round Three

Now that we are past Semi-Super Tuesday (March 15, that is; not its official designation, of course), it is time again to look ahead to the next round of the primaries, and to consider the greater context into which the primaries are playing out.  First of all, if you are new to this process, and have not read Spark!‘s earlier posts on the subject, you can see all of our blogs on the primaries (three so far) by going to the Elections 2016 Category.  We have covered thus far the process in general (in “Primer on the Primaries“); the “First Round of the Primaries” (covering the beginning of the primaries, up through Super Tuesday, March 1); and the “Second Round of the Primaries” (from late February, through March 15).

The primaries will continue into June, and of course are intended to select delegates for both parties’ conventions in July (the Republicans in Cleveland, July 18-21; and the Democrats in Philadelphia, July 25-28).  For the purpose of this blog, we are designating “Round Three” as taking us through the end of April.  May and June will constitute at least “Round Four;” and possibly more if needed to cover events as we move forward.

As of this writing (March 18), there are still some delegates yet to be apportioned from states that have voted, but which have not completed counting the votes.  Delegate counts are still somewhat unofficial, and are projections based on reports from states and voting districts.  As a result of confusion between the various state parties’ rules and other irregularities, various reporting agencies have minor differences in their delegate counts.  Real Clear Politics‘ projections of March 18 allot the following:

Democratic Race: 2,382 delegates needed to win [out of 4,763]

Hillary Clinton: 1,614 delegates (needs 33.5% of remaining delegates to win)

Bernie Sanders:  856 delegates (needs 66.6% of remaining delegates to win)

Republican Race: 1,237 delegates needed to win [out of 2,472]

Donald Trump:  673 delegates (needs 52.5% of remaining delegates to win)

Ted Cruz:  413  delegates (needs 76.7% of remaining delegates to win)

John Kasich:  143  delegates (needs more delegates to win than are uncommitted)

Marco Rubio:  169 delegates, and out.

Before moving forward, we can see, then that both Democratic candidates still have a viable path to the nomination; but that Clinton’s path is a far easier one than is Sanders’s.  On the Republican side, no candidate has yet a decisive edge for the first ballot in July.  Trump is by far the closest; but he still needs a greater percentage of the remaining delegates than he has shown himself able to secure thus far.  There is good news and bad news ahead for the Trump campaign.  The good news for Trump (and the bad news for the GOP and for the rest of the nation) is that the “winner takes all” states have now started voting.  In those states, Trump only needs to secure a plurality to get all of their delegates; and he has shown himself clearly able to accomplish that.  The bad news for Trump (and the good news for the rest of us) is that the Republicans are becoming increasingly hostile to him, and may manage to pull out enough key victories in states where Trump is weak to keep him from achieving the delegates threshold for the first ballot at the convention.  From there, things get a lot more interesting – and Trump may yet manage to secure a victory in Cleveland, so a brokered convention is not necessarily a Trump defeat.

None of the other Republican candidates has a viable path to first-ballot nomination.  Cruz needs an impossibly high percentage (over 76%) of the remaining delegates, and has nowhere been able to come anywhere close to such a victory, let alone achieving that nationally.  He would basically have to win many major winner-takes-all states to achieve that.  John Kasich, earning recently his first state victory in his home state of Ohio (a “winner takes all” state giving him the entire Ohio delegation), has so few delegates to his name that even if he were to win every single remaining delegate at this point – a 100% victory in every state, requiring nothing short of divine intervention – he would still come in 18 delegates short of a first-ballot win.  Marco Rubio, of course, has suspended his campaign, although his ghost may resurrect at the convention for second or subsequent ballots.

The next round of primary events include:

Thursday, March 10: Virgin Islands (R).  The caucus has already taken place; but no results have been announced yet.  9 Republican delegates will be apportioned, on a winner-takes-all basis.

Tuesday, March 22: Arizona and Utah will both hold dual-party events (primaries in AZ, and caucuses in UT).  The Republicans in American Samoa will hold an open convention; and the Democrats in Idaho will caucus.

Arizona is a winner-takes-all state for the Republicans.  Polls on Tuesday (March 15) showed Trump leading Cruz, 31% to 19%; but there were also 30% undecided respondents among the Republicans.  Clinton had a decisive edge on Sanders, 50% to 24; but that also puts 26% of Arizona Democrats into the undecided category and up for play.  Arizona could be a huge Clinton win; or a marginal Sanders victory.  Arizona has 58 Republican delegates to offer; and 75 Democratic delegates (plus ten super-delegates).

Utah has not been polled recently; but back in February both Cruz and Rubio had slight edges over Trump.  Bush, Carson, and Fiorina were still in play back then; and while Bush voters are unlikely to reach for Trump, Carson voters are more likely.  With Rubio gone, it may be easy to suggest that his voters support Cruz; but the two are widely different species of the Republican order, and Rubio supporters may go for Kasich or even Trump instead.  Some 42% of February’s respondents supported candidates no longer running; and so Utah has the chance to offer some nasty surprises.  February polls also showed Clinton leading Sanders 50% to 44 (with Sanders up a few points from January); and Sanders’s viability may well have been strengthened by his recent performance, so Utah is going to be a big fight for the Democrats as well.  Utah has 40 Republican delegates, 33 Democratic delegates, and 4 Democratic super-delegates.

Idaho’s caucus is currently presumed to be a modest Sanders win, giving both candidates roughly half of its 23 delegates.  Idaho and the other primaries and caucuses that day will give the Republican candidates a total of 107 more delegates; and the Democrats a total of 131 more, not including 18 super-delegates.

Saturday, March 26:  Democratic caucuses in Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington state.  Polling on these states is meager at best, and not up to date.  Together, they will allot to the candidates some 142 delegates, and 30 super-delegates.

April 1-3:  Republican state convention in North Dakota, which will nominate delegates to the July convention in Cleveland.  28 Republican delegates will ultimately be sent to Cleveland from North Dakota.

Tuesday, April 5Wisconsin open primary for both parties.  Wisconsin has no recent polling, but Trump held a significant advantage in February, when the field had more players.  Although the “middle states” have been forming a strong Cruz bastion, it seems unlikely that Trump’s advantage will have lessened; and it is a winner-takes-all state offering Trump (or whichever Republican wins it) all of its 42 delegates.  On the blue side, Clinton and Sanders were running neck and neck at the beginning of the year; so its 86 Democratic delegates make it a significant battleground state.

Saturday, April 9: Wyoming‘s Democratic caucus for its 14 delegates. Following this caucus, from April 14 through the 16th, Wyoming Republicans will hold a state convention to select the 15 remaining delegates selected by the party (there was a caucus on March 12; but it only had 11 delegates selected by that process). Three more Republican delegates from the state are super-delegates, as every Republican state party is allotted three such slots.  Polling data on Wyoming is lacking; but Ted Cruz blasted Rubio and Trump out of the water there last Saturday, taking 9 of the 11 selected delegates.

Tuesday, April 19: New York‘s closed primary for both parties.  The most recent polls showed Clinton with a whopping advantage (71% to Sanders’s 23) for its massive allotment of 247 Democratic delegates; however previous polls showed far less of an advantage (55% to 34 at the end of February), so either the recent Emerson poll is skewed, or Clinton’s success on March 12 has helped to shift New York more substantially in her favor.  Trump has a similar advantage there by the same polling firm (64% to Cruz’s 12; Kasich has a mere 1%), but previous polls by other firms had his numbers in the mid-40s.  The Republican party allots New York’s delegates as “winner takes most”; so as long as he has the plurality, he gets the bulk of delegates, but Cruz could still come out with delegates.  The trick to New York, however, is that it also has a 20% inclusion threshold; only candidates gaining at least 20% of district votes get any delegates from them.  Neither Cruz nor Kasich have been approaching those numbers in New York, so it is looking like an almost automatic Trump victory.  Cruz will likely rue the day he criticized “New York values” on April 19.

Tuesday, April 26: “Mini-mini-Super Tuesday” (I presume that only I am calling it that). Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island will all hold dual-party closed primaries, a huge battle for the Old Colonies.  Some 172 Republican delegates and 384 Democratic delegates are up for grabs.  While there is useful polling data  for Maryland and Pennsylvania, the other three states have not been adequately polled since November, 2015 (when almost all of the original 17 Republican candidates were still running).  A lot of voters have shifted to Sanders from Democratic undecided respondents since then, so only relatively recent polls are useful.  However, the entire region has been continually found to be more favorable to Trump than to other Republicans; and is largely more favorable to Clinton.  Delaware and Maryland have winner-takes-all Republican primaries; and Connecticut has (like New York) a 20% inclusion threshold as well as a 50% winner-takes-all threshold, so it may be a full Trump victory as well.

Total delegates, Round Three:  444 Republicans; and 1,004 Democrats (plus 184 super-delegates to be decided separately).

Based on the polling data available, Spark! projects the following for Round Three:

Hillary Clinton will gain another 520 delegates, giving her 2,134.  At that point, Clinton will need only 18.3% of the remaining uncommitted delegates to win the nomination.

Bernie Sanders will gain 417 delegates, giving him 1,273.  He would then need 82% of the remaining uncommitted delegates to win the nomination.  If our projections come anywhere close to the events, then by the end of Round Three, while Sanders will have come even closer to Clinton’s numbers, Clinton will have achieved enough superiority to take the nomination at the first ballot of the convention with ease.

In the meantime, Donald Trump will gain another 346 delegates, for a total of 1,019.  He would need to get 34.1% of the remaining delegates to win the first ballot in July.

Ted Cruz will gain 71 delegates, bringing his total to 484.  He would need more additional delegates than are available; and therefore could not get a first-ballot nomination.

John Kasich will get another 18 delegates, bringing him up to 161.  He already has no chance for a first-ballot nomination.

The key states to watch during this process are Arizona (for both parties), Washington (for the Democrats), Wisconsin (for both parties), and New York (for both parties).  Collectively, the statistically uninformative Old Colonies battling it out on April 26 will also host a major contest for substantial delegates and for new numbers.

The Low Road and the High Road

High Road, Low Road

Quote of the Week:  He who would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. –Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine’s words give us a lens with which to look at two diverging routes taken by American political forces.  On the one hand, we have the conservative low road, sinking our nation to its lowest depths of racism, xenophobia, and bigotry, taking us ever further away from our shining City on a Hill and the establishment of a liberal community of prosperity and care.  On the other, we have the liberal high road to the City, to using our wealth (as leading Americans since John Winthrop in the 1630s have urged us) to care for the poor, sick, and unemployed.  Paine informs us that while the low road allows us to apply our Constitution and other national principles only minimally, and only for established American citizens, the high road to the City requires a liberal application of constitutionality to all human beings, regardless of national status.

We have too long allowed our government (even under President Obama’s moderate hand) to traverse the conservative low road.  We have allowed our government to imprison, without charge and without any intention to prosecute, foreign nationals for an unlimited duration.  We have allowed our government to encourage other governments to torture and to evade American principles of legality and morality through machinations like extraordinary rendition.  We have allowed our government to target American citizens believed to be aiding foreign hostile forces, without providing the required basic constitutional protections to those citizens.  So it should come as no surprise when our government wants ever more invasive tools of espionage and oppression, as indicated by the latest court battle with Apple over cell-phone encryption.  It is no surprise that, allowing our government to forget our constitutional principles (and allowing the government to limit constitutional protections to established US citizens – and not even all of those), we now have an entire Republican party hostile to foreigners – immigrants and refugees, the very types of people who (together with slaves) built this country in the first place.  It is no surprise that a Republican candidate is having audiences replicate the Nazi salute as they swear allegiance to their Orangearschlochführer and as they loudly urge him to protect them from Mexicans and Muslims.  This is where the low road is taking us – away from our City on the Hill, and toward an ideological parking lot; empty, barren, and open for sale.

Instead, Paine urges us to take the high road.  Paine pushes us to build Winthrop’s City, a liberal community of care and ethics, and of prosperity and wealth.  Paine urges us to apply our Constitution to all human beings, not just established US citizens.  Paine urges our politicians to treasure all citizens – not just those supporting them at rallies (and unlike those like Trump openly mocking anyone not buying the cheap dime-store make-up job he wants to put on our national legacy and principles).  Paine urges us to remember that when foreign nationals at Guantanamo are denied constitutional protections, we are building precedents for our government to weaken and remove our protections here at home.  Paine urges America to remember its revolutionary principles.  Those principles can only truly shape our polity at home and the rest of the world abroad when we apply them as liberally as we can.  We must guarantee basic constitutional protections to all people, and not ask first where they were born, what language they speak, what faith they profess, or what citizenship they hold.

The Republicans, and extremist forces like Trump, will continue to take the low road away from our City on a Hill, and strive to tear our City down in favor of a parking lot.  We Americans must fight them at every step, and drive forward on the high road, to the City, to a greater community of care and wealth and social justice.  Else we establish a precedent that truly denies protection not just to some loosely defined “outsider,” but to our ideals, to our communities, and to ourselves.

Feeding the Poor, and Building a City

Quote of the WeekWhen I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why people are hungry, they call me a communist. –Hélder Câmara

Brazilian Archbishop and liberation theologist Hélder Câmara committed himself fully to what he saw as a Christian mandate to protect the poor and oppressed from the evils of military dictatorship and economic inequality.  He fought against Brazil’s military government, and at times even against his own Roman Catholic Church, to protect his flock from oppression.  But Câmara’s mission was not a uniquely Brazilian one.  His mission touches deeply upon the fundamental mission of the United States: the establishment of our City on a Hill.

When John Winthrop evoked the mission of our City in 1630 (a moment cited by American liberals and conservatives alike as a key foundation of our shared national ideology), he infused our nation with a liberal mandate to use all of our economic wealth to feed and care for those in need.  This mandate came (in Winthrop’s sermon on Christian charity) not from a vague political or philosophical viewpoint, but from the teachings of Christianity.  The City on a Hill calls for the foundation of America as a new, Christian nation – defined not by the faith of its citizens; but by the charity of its work, of its society and of its government.  By definition, a “Christian nation” uses (that is, taxes) its wealth to feed, clothe, and house the poor; to provide medical care to all needing it; and to ensure individual safety and prosperity through shared public goods like education, transportation, and public safety.  This is precisely what the City on a Hill, described by Winthrop, means.  When American politicians refer to it, they are citing specifically what today we would call liberal values.

Câmara’s mission in Brazil also sought these objectives, within his specific fight to protect the poor from the oppression of his time.  But Câmara points out a fundamental truth for our City:  it is not enough to see individual points of need and darkness, and to assuage those points.  We must move past individual welfare and charity, and push (as Winthrop commanded us in his sermon) to a collective, societal change, asking not merely what this or that person needs, but why that need exists at all, and how to prevent that need from arising in the first place.

Not “asking why people are hungry” is the first step toward accepting the failure of our City – to accepting the concentration of wealth and the permanence of social injustice.  Instead, our City (and for the religious, their faith) endow upon us a liberal imperative to reshape our government, and our society; and to understand that a society only truly prospers so long as it ensures opportunity, comfort, and security to all its members, not just an economically predetermined few.  We must feed the poor.  But we must also ask why they are hungry, and then solve the problem discovered by that inquiry.  That problem is poorly restrained capitalism and an acceptance of accelerating income inequality.  The answers are a more efficient and progressive regulatory environment, and a more progressive tax structure that fulfills the nation’s oldest formative vision.

Câmara’s words, and his work, remind us of our liberal mission to build a City on a Hill.  He also reminds us to ask why injustice exists, as the initial step toward solving that injustice.  Together, Winthrop and Câmara remind us that building and protecting our nation, building the City on a Hill, are moral compulsions to liberal standards of political and social welfare, and to enact and solidify our City’s community of care.

Headline image of Archbishop Câmara, via Google Image Search, posted on a US Catholic commentary.


The Second Round of the Primaries

The opening round of the primaries is over, and the pace of the primaries process is about to accelerate dramatically.  The various candidates each have their own strengths going into this next round, from now through March 15 (there are, of course, primaries and caucuses going on throughout March, April, May, in into early June; but the significance of March 15 makes it a good point at which to stop and begin the next phase).

The story thus far:  The primaries have begun with the Iowa Caucus (on February 1), the New Hampshire Primary (on February 9), two separate Nevada caucuses (the Democratic caucus on February 20 and the Republican caucus on February 23), and the Republican South Carolina Primary (on February 20).  Here’s where the two parties’ separate battles for their nominations are looking so for:

Democratic Campaigns:

In terms of basic delegate counts, the Democratic candidates have won:

Hillary Clinton: 52

Bernie Sanders: 51.

While the two Democrats are almost tied, the Democratic Convention also assigns a significant number of votes to so-called “superdelegates” (key party members and legislators, designated beforehand by the Democratic National Committee).  Thus far, Clinton has 451 likely superdelegate votes (based on endorsements), while Sanders has only 19.  A convention vote based only on states voting thus far, plus the superdelegate endorsements, would hand an overwhelming victory to Clinton, 504-70.  However, these numbers also represent only 15% of the total delegates and superdelegates count in Philadelphia in July.  The next round (up to March 15) will finally put the Democrats at the 50% mark for voted delegates.

The last Democratic primary before Super Tuesday is in South Carolina (an open event, in which both independents and Republicans can also vote).  Current polling among likely Democratic voters in South Carolina shows 57% supporting Clinton and 33% Sanders (with the rest still mulling things over).  If those numbers stay true, Clinton should go into Super Tuesday with 82 or so delegates and 533 convention votes total, to Sanders’s 69 or so delegates and 88 convention votes total.  While Clinton’s advantage is (to borrow a favorite Sanders word) huge, Super Tuesday’s 860 delegates could potentially seal the deal for Clinton (as if those numbers did not seem to do so already).  The question is how many of those delegates could Sanders get.

A quick look back at the Public Policy Polling (PPP) tracking poll released earlier this month (which matched initial voting preferences to respondents’ racial identity), combined with the racial composition of South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states (and the proportionate delegates count from those states) demonstrates that of the 911 delegates to be produced from these collective states, at least 500 should go to Clinton, and at least 278 should go to Sanders.  The battle is for the remaining 133 delegates (many responding to the poll were still uncertain for whom they were voting).  Together with the superdelegates, but not including those 133 “undecided” delegates, Clinton still has a massive advantage, 1,004 to Sanders’s 348.  Even if Sanders gets all of those 133 extra delegates, that only brings him to 481, still less than half of Clinton’s take.  To put a dent in Clinton’s advantage and keep himself alive into the convention, Sanders therefore has to exceed expectations founded upon polls like the PPP tracking poll, and convince already pro-Clinton as well as undecided Democrats to vote for him.  With only a week left to do so before Super Tuesday, the Sanders campaign clearly has its work cut out for it.

Republican Campaigns:

Donald Trump has exceeded the expectations of everyone (except himself, and his own trumpenproletariat), and also exceeded the simplistic expectations implied by previous polls.  He now stands as the powerhouse of a newly re-organizing (or disintegrating) Republican Party.  He has a significant majority of delegates thus far (albeit from only four not very large states; so there is ample time for some yet-to-be-imagined counter-strategy by other Republicans to put him in his place).  As of last night (the Nevada Republican Caucus), the current convention delegate counts among the five remaining contenders are:

Donald Trump: 81

Ted Cruz:  17

Marco Rubio: 17

John Kasich:  6

Ben Carson:  4

There are also 8 delegates unaccounted for from states already voted (7 bound to candidates who have dropped out; and one Nevada delegate left to be determined as polls are still being counted).  Trump has a plurality of his party’s popular vote, winning not quite one third (31.9%) of the Republican popular vote.  This first phase of the primaries diminished the largest ever number of contenders for any American primary (17 candidates to start with) to the five current hopefuls.  For at least two of the remaining candidates (John Kasich and Ben Carson), the state primary and caucus rules in many of the state Republican parties doom them to irrelevance.  Only fifteen of the 52 remaining primaries and caucuses have no inclusion thresholds (which mandate some specific minimum performance level in order to gain any delegates); and most inclusion thresholds effectively mean that Kasich and Carson will get few delegates even from states that use proportionate delegation.  Realistically, the three reasonable contenders for the nomination are Trump, Cruz, and Rubio.

Despite showing both in opinion polls and in the popular vote thus far that barely a third of Republicans can get behind Donald Trump, the jobs-to-China billionaire has an advantage in that a number of states (including the key states of California, Florida, and Ohio) assign delegates on a winner-takes-all system (with a mere plurality as the qualifying measure of victory).  Trump needs only to do what he has been doing – beating Cruz and the rest for the greatest number of votes – to win all of those states’ delegates (a total of 744 delegates).  Add those (and the delegates from other winner-takes-all states) to the fact that thus far he has come in first in all of the states voting since Iowa (where he took only one delegate less than the winner, Ted Cruz); and Trump has a shot at going into the Cleveland convention with a majority of delegates.  The prediction of a brokered convention may not turn out, and Trump may well get the nomination on the first ballot.

In the meantime, while Ted Cruz started from a polling advantage over all other Republicans with the exception of Trump, Marco Rubio has come from behind and tied him for second place.  Rubio’s campaign has achieved that underdog campaign dream, the “big mo” (for momentum).  Although on January 7, Cruz topped the polls at 31.8% of Republican respondents (beating Trump’s 27.8 and Rubio’s third-place 11.3), the evidence suggests that as other candidates drop out, Rubio is attracting their votes and getting delegates.  The significance of Rubio’s race goes far beyond the mere triviality of the second-place holder; and Rubio’s accelerating campaign will have some advantages over both Trump’s and Cruz’s in the days ahead.

Thus far, with each state’s primary or caucus the sole event of the day, and with numerous days between these events to prepare for them, Trump has used a combination of campaign strategy and his cult-of-personality approach to public appearances to defeat traditional conservatives like Bush and Tea Party conservatives like Cruz.  Trump has carpet-bombed states with his own form, and with hats and T-shirts (made, of course, in China); while Cruz and the others have spent money on phone banks, door-to-door canvassing, and other direct vote-getting operations.  Trump’s minimalist strategy has worked, in the environment of the first round, an environment that allows candidates time to breathe and to move resources (themselves most especially) to the places where they most need them.  The next round, however, will have an entirely different environment.

The Next Round:

The next sequence of primary events (from now through March 15) are as follows:

February 27 (Saturday):  South Carolina’s Democratic Primary (an open event in which both independents and Republicans can vote as well), apportioning 51 more delegates.

March 1: Super Tuesday.  The largest single electoral event of the primaries season.  10 states will have primaries or caucuses for both parties simultaneously (AL, AR, GA, MA, MN, OK, TN, TX, VT, and VA); plus 6 more single-party primaries and caucuses (American Samoa D, Alaska R, Colorado D, Democrats abroad, North Dakota R, Wyoming R).  652 Republican delegates, and 860 Democratic delegates, will be apportioned by these events.

March 5 (Saturday):  Louisiana and Kansas have closed primaries and caucuses for both parties.  In addition, the Republicans hold closed caucuses in Kentucky and Maine; while the Democrats hold a closed caucus in Nebraska.  155 Republican delegates, and 113 Democratic delegates will be apportioned by these events.

March 6 (Sunday):  The Republicans hold an open primary in Puerto Rico to apportion 23 delegates; and the Democrats hold a closed caucus in Maine for 25 delegates.

March 8 (Tuesday):  Michigan and Mississippi both hold open primaries for both parties.  In addition, the Republicans hold a closed caucus in Hawaii and a closed primary in Idaho.  140 Republican delegates, and 184 Democratic delegates are apportioned.

March 12 (Saturday):  Republican closed events in Guam (a territorial convention) and the District of Columbia (a caucus), for 28 delegates.

March 15 (Mini-Super Tuesday):  The second largest electoral event of the primaries season.  Five states hold simultaneous primaries for both parties: FL, IL, MO, NC, and OH.  Also, the Republicans of the Northern Mariana Islands out there in the Pacific get to throw their two cents (and nine delegates) in.  Some 367 Republican delegates, and 697 Democratic delegates, are up for grabs.  By the end of the day, 1,535 of the 2,472 Republican delegates (62%) will have been apportioned.  Also, some 1,889 of the 3,782 (50%) voted Democratic delegates will have been apportioned.  Both parties should have a pretty good idea of how the candidates will be looking, although for the stronger candidates the game will be far from over.

The two largest electoral battle days of the primaries season are March 1 and March 15.  These days will challenge all campaigns alike; the “establishment” candidates like Clinton and Rubio, and the “insurgent” campaigns of Sanders and Trump.  Unlike the first round of primaries, which allow campaigns long preparation times to saturate each state with public appearances and local campaign operations, and where each campaign can focus squarely upon the only state coming up next, putting all their chips on one square, the political meeting engagements of March require more actual strategy.  Campaigns have three principal resources to divide between the multiple states up for battle:  the candidates themselves (a much more limited resource, especially in March), campaign finances, and supporting endorsements (politicians and celebrities to deliver speeches in support of or in place of the candidates themselves).  Campaigns have to decide how to measure out these resources, particularly the first one.

In Trump’s case, that first resource (Trump himself) is even more significant, because it is almost all that he has.  He actually has far less cash on hand, and almost no significant fund-raising system, than the other candidates; and his money has largely been spent on “swag” (hats and T-shirts) rather than on communication and vote-getting (phone banks, canvassing, etc.).  He also has virtually no endorsements of significance, outside of popular culture icons like Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin (McCain’s Folly from Seward’s Folly).  Super Tuesday will be a test of his ability to advertise himself nationally, and a test of his campaign’s already established support in those states.  In the meantime, Cruz and Rubio have larger actual organizations, and have much more money and public supporters of significance.  They can use these resources to blanket Super Tuesday and March 15 states with personal vote-getting, and to whittle down Trump’s apparent but not overwhelming advantage.  One disadvantage that these larger and better-organized campaigns face, however, is voters’ flexibility.  Most Republican candidates’ supporters show a far greater willingness to consider other candidates than do Trump’s.  With Trump’s supporters dug in, how much can the large-scale maneuver warfare of the Cruz and Rubio campaigns achieve?

Rubio has an additional advantage of “likeability” with respect to Cruz and Trump (both of whom are detested by many establishment Republicans), as well as the “big mo” (for the moment, at least).  Rubio and Cruz represent, to some, different names for the same candidate (the “token Latino” to attract ethnic votes, and established alternatives to Trump’s insurgency); but Rubio’s campaign platform is more moderate in scope than Cruz’s plan to shut down most of the federal government.  Rubio has more overall “electability,” measured by traditional standards – which themselves, in 2016, are coming increasingly into question and being discarded one after another.  Were this not 2016, Rubio would be the GOP’s dream candidate.  But the game is changing, and the measures for victory are changing with it.

On the Democratic front, Sanders, too, has exceeded expectations, particularly in groups which were most favorable to Clinton (women, Latinos, and African-Americans).  While those latter three groups still favor Clinton, Sanders has whittled down her advantage.  But as with Trump, Sanders has enjoyed the ease of the first round to gain points, and now faces the tough battles of March.  Clinton has developed her organization throughout the country, building support and working to disarm the “Clintonphobia” that the Republicans and Sanders have worked hard to reinforce.  The question of March will be the same for Sanders as for Trump: can the insurgencies fight a ground battle on numerous fronts simultaneously, against established campaign machinery backed by the party establishments?

Image from I Agree to See; via Google Image Search.

Fighting Evil, or Growing It

Quote of the Week:  The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it. –Albert Einstein

Einstein warned us that those wishing to perpetrate evil (like Hitler in his time, or Trump in ours) are incapable of operating without two additional forces supporting them.  First, they need supporters who themselves may be unwilling to “speak their minds,” but who also applaud evil men for unleashing the darkest monsters of our psyche, man’s tendencies toward suspicion and hatred.  And evil is equally dependent on those who stay silent and inactive; who work, raise their families, and die while remaining distant from greater events around them.

The United States is at a crossroads, much like Germany was in 1933.  A generation from now, Trump may have disappeared into the footnotes of history, unremembered and without having accomplished anything of substance.  Or, Trump can – if we let him – turn our nation away from its democratic principles and economic prosperity and onto the path toward authoritarianism and poverty.  We can remain a powerful and independent democracy; or become, as Trump’s supporters would have it, a third-world dictatorship and economic colony to China, India, Russia, and Brazil.  Although Trump’s supporters would bristle at that objective, that is where their course will lead us.  The twenty-first century economy requires ever more education and cultural diversity, and pushes into poverty and history ever more twentieth-century (and older) sources of income.  Those on the Left, like Clinton and Sanders, who want to steer our nation forward understand the vital importance education and cultural diversity will have in this new century. Their policies of the Left can help keep our nation free, democratic, prosperous, and powerful.  But Trump, and his fellow Republicans, call for the dismantling of education and other public goods that build our City on a Hill.  Trump’s opposition to education is hardly surprising coming from a mogul who himself shipped jobs to China, helping China (to use his own monosyllabic diatribe) to “win.”  Trump calls for ever greater debts to China through lower taxes (while increasing defense and other spending), and also increasing our provocation of China into military conflict (thereby also risking a nuclear apocalypse as well).  But the trumpenproletariat do not think closely about his policies any more than Germans in 1933 could see past Hitler’s own simplistic “solutions” to German problems.

Americans who value their nation must also value its principles, not merely its strength.  What makes the US “great” is not its military, but the inclusiveness of its society and ideals, the openness of its discourse, and the prosperity of its economy.  To keep our nation “great,” we need to keep it inclusive and diverse – pushing that envelope ever further as we go.  We need to welcome immigrants and refugees to help build our nation with us.  We need to keep our discourse lively and open – engaging each other, rather than staying in the shadows and allowing evil to grow unmolested.  And we need to transform our economy to a 21st century model – green, sustainable, information dominated, and supported by a massively expanded and dramatically improved educational system.

Most of all, to keep Trump from becoming our own nation’s Hitler, to push him back into the ash-heap of history, we need to fight – all of us – against evil where we see it.  We need to combat stupidity and simplicity of thought (the preferred growing environment of hatred and fear).  We need to bring more people to the battlefield of political discourse, and use our weapons of logic and facts.

Talk to your people – your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors.  Explain your views.  Learn theirs.  Engage and combat the evil in front of you – before it knocks on your door and throws you into a paddy wagon.  We can stop this now, in its tracks.  Or we can watch TV, shut our eyes, and bring our nation to its knees and its end.  Which way do you want this to go?  Will you be the evil, or be its end?

Headline image via Google Image Search.

Replacing Scalia: the Basic Math of Progress

With hard-line conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia departed from the bench, President Obama has a rare opportunity – to appoint another liberal Justice to the bench, giving the Court a liberal majority.  There are four conservative justices left: Chief Justice John Roberts (appointed by George W. Bush), and Justices Anthony Kennedy (the last Reagan appointee; and at times a centrist rather than a true conservative), Clarence Thomas (appointed by George H.W. Bush), and Samuel Alito, Jr. (appointed by George W. Bush).  If the president were to get another liberal justice appointed, that justice would join Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer (both Clinton appointees), and Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan (both Obama appointees).  With five liberal justices, it is not unlikely that moderate Justice Kennedy might steer more toward the conservative side of the bench (being as he has a force of balance between the two sides); but a numerical majority of liberal justices would still be able to push litigation and judicial review significantly to the left of the Court’s recent performance.

For the president to get his third appointee on the bench, he has to select and vet a candidate.  Then the Senate would subject his candidate to review in what is likely to be a more than thorough screening under the direction of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  If the candidate is passed by the committee, the vote goes to the floor of the Senate for final approval.  The first problem obviously is that the Republican majority of the Senate gives them the majority in each of the committees, including specifically the Judiciary Committee (which currently has 11 Republicans and 9 Democrats).  As recalcitrant as the current rank of Republican Senators has been (and as uncooperative and openly hostile to the president specifically), it is optimistic to presume that the committee would value the president’s right to appoint a justice over their political objective of disenfranchising the left.  It is more optimistic to presume the floor of the Senate would be any friendlier to the president.

In fact, the Republicans are getting ready simply to block the president’s selection of a new justice for the remainder of his term, keeping at least a balance of equals between the conservative and liberal sides of the bench.  Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), presidential candidate and a member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, has been leading the Republicans’ pre-emptive assault on the president’s constitutional prerogative to appoint Supreme Court justices.  Leftist petitions have been flooding the internet in the vain hopes of pushing the Republican Senators to reverse course entirely and actually follow the exact kind of popular calls for action that they have studiously ignored since taking the majority in 2015.  However, the math, and senatorial procedure, simply allow the Senate to sit on its constitutional prerogative of approving appointees for the remainder of the president’s term.

While that seems like bad news, this can also be very good news to Democrats.  Current electoral math suggests (not irrevocably, of course) that the Democrats are going to get large masses of new voters to the polls in November, and are going to get the White House on Inauguration Day in 2017.  Those large masses of new voters are also going to vote for one third of the Senators.  There are some 24 Republican senators, and 10 Democrats, up for re-election in 2016 (serving six-year terms, one third of the Senators are elected every two years; “Class 3” is the current rank up in 2016).  With 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and two Democratic-allied independents currently sitting in the Senate, to get a bare majority in the Senate in 2017 the Democrats need to re-elect all ten of their current “Class 3” senators, plus five more to take over Republican seats.  To beat the filibuster threshold (60 senators from the same caucus), the Democrats would need to take 14 seats from the 24 Republican senators up for re-election.  Incidentally, should Senator Sanders (I-VT) win the general election, the Democrats would need to fill that seat as well through another election; Senator Sanders is not up for re-election in 2016, so if he loses the nomination he gets to stay in the Senate for now.  Also, should some Democratic senators lose their seats, the Democrats would obviously need to unseat even larger numbers of Republican senators elsewhere.  Either way, the Democrats need five more seats in the Senate to gain a bare majority, and 14 more seats to beat the filibuster threshold.

If the Democrats do, indeed, push many new voters to the polls and beat the Republicans in doing so, they will also have the opportunity not just to keep their current senators, but also to unseat some of the 24 Republican senators up for re-election, and to gain a majority (possibly, but unlikely to include beating the filibuster threshold).  With a majority, the new Senate Majority Leader (perhaps Harry Reid, who held the post from 2007-15) would put together a new Judiciary Committee with a Democratic majority.  Under a new Democratic White House backed by a Democratic majority in the Senate, the President could appoint a far more liberal Justice than President Obama would ever be able to get through the current Senate, pushing the Court even further to the left.  As so many of the Republican strategies in recent years have backfired disastrously for the GOP, Cruz’s pre-emptive attack may also be the harbinger of a greater, more progressive America to come.  A more progressive Supreme Court could overturn its own recent Citizens United ruling, could reverse Scalia’s opinion on gun rights not being seated upon militia responsibilities, could find ways to restore some of the recently disemboweled Voting Rights Act, and could back ever more progressive legislation and presidential policy.  Senator Cruz’s pre-emptive attack could, under certain not yet guaranteed conditions, prove to be the greatest thing Democrats could hope for, and could show the Republicans why some things are best not wished for, let alone sought.

Headline image from The Atlantic, “A Closer Look at Confirmed Federal Judges,” (August 12, 2001), via Google Search.

The Timing of Political Revolution

Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders says that now is the time for “political revolution.”  As a campaign slogan, it is catchy, and the evidence from the only two (and disproportionately white) states to vote in the primaries thus far is that it is catching on.  Young people especially are flocking to Sanders and to his message of “political revolution.”  But are the Sanders supporters (and the Senator himself) correct about the timing?  Is it, indeed, really time for a “political revolution”?

I myself am a socialist, of the variety referred to within the large and diverse leftist community as a “trade union socialist.”  We believe in the formation and use of democratic union organizations as a foundation of pushing through a greater democratization of both our economy and our government.  In the United States, trade-union socialists generally vote Democrat (or for the Green Party in local elections); as have I specifically.  Trade-union socialists are the primary constituency of the Democratic Socialists of America, an organization that has had a long and friendly relationship with Senator Sanders (a contributor to DSA newsletters, and of DSA values).  Sanders has for years been our spearhead.  He has pushed moderate socialist ideals into the legislative conversation.  Despite being an independent (still so listed in the Senate), he has also pushed actual Democrats into remembering and representing their leftist values.  Sanders has had a bountiful impact on American politics.

However, I disagree with the Senator about the timing of political revolution.  I have historical reasons, as well as concerns after viewing the past few years of politics.  Over a century ago, from 1904 to 1905, the Russian Empire was at war with Japan.  The war did not go well for Russia, despite having an overwhelmingly larger army and navy.  The new Japanese military operated on far more modern theories of war, and emphasized much greater modernized training than was found in the Russian military.  After repeated military setbacks, in January of 1905, a revolution began in Russia, mostly spontaneously.  The peasants (who formed the bulk of the personnel in the military, as well as the country’s population) rose up against the regime in protest against the great bloodshed among their own.

The organization that became the Communist Party (at the time called the Russian Socialist Democratic Labor Party, or RSDLP) had already fragmented into a small, radical “Bolshevik” group (led by Lenin); and a larger, more moderate “Menshevik” group (of whom Trotsky was a prominent spokesperson).  With a revolution apparently happening all by itself, the socialists considered what to do about it.  Trotsky saw that the rising was the people’s way of telling the socialists that now was the time.  He also saw it necessary to take the reins and lead the rising so that it ended not in defeat, bloodshed, and more repression; but instead with some measure of democratization of Russian society and government.

Lenin disagreed.  He looked at the rising, by traditionally conservative peasants (the Russian Orthodox Church itself had many clergy acting as leaders of the rising), not as a good sign but as an omen that the people were not ready, and now was not the time to agitate.  He saw a peasant revolution in 1905 as likely to take Russia backwards rather than forward.  The RSDLP largely agreed, regardless of the factional split.  Their concept of revolution was based on modernized, urban industrial workers, not the peasants; and the workers were still a relatively tiny sector of the population.  They feared that conservative peasants would oppose educational reforms, modernization of the economy and infrastructure, and the development of a more inclusive culture (all of which were key platforms for the RSDLP).  Ultimately, the RSDLP stood aside, while a smaller faction followed Trotsky into the revolution and into the new Russian government.  In little time, the Revolution of 1905 was unmade as the Tsar showed himself disinterested in working with a more democratic government.  Finally, World War I erased almost all of what little good the revolution accomplished; and a new revolution (two, in fact) took place in 1917.

The Russian Revolution of 1905 has great relevance to Sanders’s idea of “political revolution.”  Many Americans are, like the Russian peasants of 1905, very conservative; distrusting of outsiders, and of new ideas.  Consider the past few years, as Democrats have used the power of the White House, of the Congress before 2014, and of new social media venues, to try building a greater City on a Hill.  In the meantime, we have seen great push-back.  How much does the Black Lives Matter movement resonate among white voters?  The movement argues only that blacks should not be needlessly targeted for violent reactions by the police.  Is that a “radical” suggestion?  How many Americans, after the BLM campaign, clung ever more tightly to the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol of the racist America they wanted to maintain?  How hard has Planned Parenthood and other women’s health organizations had to fight – not for an expansion of services, but only to continue those services legally guaranteed by Roe v. Wade?  Furthermore, it took the US Supreme Court to overturn “marriage amendments” across the nation; and when a Kentucky county clerk told the Court they could go stuff it, a massive upswelling of support stood behind her.  There is still a discouraging proportion of Americans who hate Obama for no other reason than that they still see his color, and political power, as indicative that he is not even American, or Christian (and we will move past the further point of why his being Christian should even matter in a nation that pretends to value “religious freedom”).  These people will all be voting in 2016; and in the mid-terms in 2018.  How much “political revolution” can we expect from these voters?  And what kind of revolution do you expect to see from frightened, and frighteningly well armed, white men?

Sanders is not the only candidate promising political revolution.  Donald Trump has created a movement of trumpenproletariat from whole cloth, from segments of the population that rarely vote.  By moving increasingly conservative and xenophobic people to the polls, his promise to “make America great again” promises precisely to undo everything that has made our nation great already.  Each victory we have enjoyed – and we have had many – is seen as a “defeat” by this anti-American who wants to tear down the City on a Hill and build a parking structure in its place.  If we have a political revolution in 2016, Trump and his petty-fascist followers are promising to be the leaders of that revolution.  It takes a certain naive optimism to presume that “political revolution” is going to go the way Sanders proposes.  Even presuming Trump loses, his fascist army will still be fighting out there in the streets of the information superhighway, on Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat.  They will vote locally while voting for the president, and keep pushing Congress ever more to a radical right extremism that undoes everything we have accomplished over the last half century.

This is not the time for a political revolution.  This is not the time to radicalize heavily armed Americans already suspicious of their government, of new ideas, of people with different skin colors and accents and clothes and religions.  This is a time to consolidate those gains we have made, and to prevent the Right from making further inroads to our rights and our prosperity.  This is the time to build the City on a Hill by speaking to those values most Americans hold dear.  The last half a century has seen progress, and the promise of a new America that is more inclusive and more prosperous than ever before; that builds and shares more wealth than we have ever seen.  But that progress is at risk.  And promises of political revolution threaten to undo that progress, to destroy the foundations of a more inclusive, more productive, more secure America that we have barely begun constructing.

In the 1930s, there was another moment when political revolution was advocated.  Germany had a much larger and better organized socialist movement, and a century previously had led the world in creating what today we think of as modern liberalism.  That very state did see a revolution in the 1930s – a revolution of exactly the type of people that Karl Marx feared would undo all of our leftist values, and exactly the type of people that Donald Trump is bringing together.  With even stronger leftist assets and credentials than the US has today, Germany pushed over into a radical right-wing nightmare that makes today’s Republican party look democratic, inclusive, and reasonable in comparison.  This happened in the home of modern liberalism, and the home of a strong socialist movement.  Political revolution was argued by both left and right.  And when revolution came, those voices who had first advocated it were not its leaders, but its victims.

The last few years of conservative retraction demonstrates that the United States does not possess the capabilities needed for moving a leftist, or even just liberal, political revolution past the trumpenproletariat and past our own conservative peasants.  We have not one, but two candidates who are arguing for a political revolution.  Unlike Trump, Bernie Sanders is a great, principled, and honest leader.  But his promise to light the flame of political revolution is naive and dangerous.  Before you light the flame, be sure you know who is going to be carrying the torch.

Headline image by Ben Sarle, via Sanders campaign on Facebook.

Whom Are We Allowed to Criticize?

Quote of the Week:  To learn who rules over you, simply find out whom you are not allowed to criticize. –Voltaire

As an American citizen, I have a strong appreciation for the First Amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteeing our rights to free speech, and the freedoms of religion, press, and assembly; as well as the less-cited right to petition the government for redress of grievances.  All of these rights work together in harmony to allow us the right to criticize whomever we please – in theory.  Obviously, the Constitution was never purported to be a perfect document; and there are glaring omissions from the point of view of modern society.  For example, major corporations were beyond the imagination of the framers of the Constitution; and so corporate powers over individuals, communities, and even our government specifically are completely unrestrained by any line of the Constitution.

In fact, every grouping of people outside of the government proper has the power to restrict rights of all people joining those groups (besides often working to limit rights of others outside the group).  Churches can require members to follow religious rules; families, companies, and other groups can control speech as rigidly as they please; and so forth.  While the Constitution protects rights to criticize other groups, we are losing the fight within groups.  This becomes evident as political divisiveness and the vitriol of rhetoric separate factions within political parties as deeply as they separate the parties themselves.  As Democratic and Republican campaigns for the nomination to the presidency heat up, invective not only between but also within the campaigns is also heating up.  There is an ever-increasing expectation of ideological conformity within the campaigns.  Trump supporters (the trumpenproletariat) become ever more shrill in favor of their candidate, and eat each other alive when any of them expresses doubt or recognizes a flaw in their candidate.  The supporters of other campaigns do the same.  As a Clinton supporter myself, I have received the most vicious criticisms on Facebook from fellow Clinton supporters (whenever reflecting on weaknesses, like her Wall Street connections and her Iraq vote), while Sanders supporters and Republicans have been far less nasty.  While some members of both parties’ campaigns complain about attacks by other candidates from the same party, I have seen fierce expectations of conformity within the members of several individual campaigns.

This bipartisan expectation of conformity is troubling indeed.  It demonstrates that whatever the Constitution says, we are not allowed to criticize those very individuals asking us for our vote and purporting to represent our interests and views.  That is not a foundation of democracy; that is a weakness that can potentially undermine our democracy.  None of our candidates are perfect (if you will excuse the understatement); and we must express our doubts not only about those we are fighting against, but of those for whom we are fighting.  If we do not, the very point of this fighting is lost.

Headline image via Google Image Search