Sunday, November 13, 2016

Success in Democracy

There is something that needs to be said about the 2016 election: no matter what side you identify with the election was a huge success. America went from 8 years of one party control of the presidency to switching parties completely in one day. One day. Aside from a few violent riots this year, this is identical to how 2008 looked. And 2000. We completely changed gears in a single day and we did it peacefully.
            The rest of the world isn’t so lucky. Bashir al-Assad’s good graces with his people ran out years ago, and after repeated instances of abuse they revolted. They did not have the option to hold elections of any consequence and four years later their situation is dismal. It will take over 45 years to rebuild the infrastructure to pre-war levels. Hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced, and worse, Assad is still president, and the war is still raging.
            Iraq likely would have dumped their abusive leadership decades ago if fair elections were an option, but instead the U.S. had to oust their leader for them at great cost to ourselves and the Iraqi people, a cost that is still on-going after more than a decade of conflict and unrest.
            Libya had to revolt like Syria, although unlike Syria they ousted their leader. Kaddafi was run out of office and found a form of justice at the wrong end of a rifle, though the country still is in terrible shape years later.
            North Korea has no hope for disposing of their leader as his brutal rule keeps thousands or even hundreds of thousands starving to death in concentration camps. His grip on the throat of the country will not be loosened without extreme action of some kind, and the effects of his regime will echo for generations.
            For most of the world, these types of leadership situations are normal. Freedom House reports that 60% of the nations in the world are either “not free” or “partially” free. In the last 10 years over 100 countries have seen a net decline in their freedoms. It might be said that it is impossible for these states to see regime change in a single day, much less a peaceful one—even if another state implemented it for them.
            In January of 2017 Barack Obama will leave the White House. Donald Trump will enter office. This will all take place because of the work done by our Founders and by our officials who work to give us a government of remarkable stability. Americans will not have to take up arms to force Mr. Obama to leave. They will not need to topple the government to put Mr. Trump in office. These elected men will do it themselves in accordance with the law of the land, of their own volition, because we, the voters, simply asked them to. That’s amazing. That’s success. That’s democracy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

False Hopes: A Contingent Election Won't Save us from Clinton or Trump

Some in America are looking for an easy way out of the 2016 election—a fact that is by no means surprising or even unwarranted. Unfortunately this has led to some bad ideas from Johnny-come-lately 3rd party dreamers to Michael Graham’s “Stupid Simple” plan for a contingent election.  But this idea simply doesn’t hold up in light of realpolitik or historical context.
Simply put, Graham's plan is to convince millions of voters from seven or so various states to vote 3rd party to deny Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump the necessary Electoral College votes to win the presidency. If this happens, then a contingent election would take place to determine the winner. After that Graham’s plan outlines this step:

“5. So then Congress votes…”1

Ah, the catch—Congress. “Congress” being the House of Representatives in this case. This is the same Congress that Americans trust dead last behind big business, big banks, the justice system, and organized religion. Americans don’t trust Congress—begging the question of why they should trust this same Congress with the most important decision of the next four years. But Graham continues:

“Congress votes on the election and can choose from the top three electoral vote receivers…”1

There is no evidence to suggest that Congress would pick anyone other than the leader in Electoral College votes. (The singular exception to this might be that the House would pick Clinton over Trump if Clinton was only slightly behind, but this is just a theory). Graham’s plan can only add Gary Johnson (the questionable Libertarian polling in the single digits) to the list of candidates the House has to choose from. Graham simply assumes the House would elect Johnson over Trump or Clinton and he offers no evidence for this assessment. Again, there is no reason to believe that Congress would pick the candidate the least amount of Americans voted for.

            “But history! John Quincy Adams won the 1824 contingent election as the underdog!” you might say. This being repeated is unlikely. Why did John Quincy Adams win the contingent election? The answer is simple: because the political elites in the House of Representatives loved Adams and hated his rival, Andrew Jackson. They wanted to deny Jackson the presidency and marginalize him and they did—at least temporarily. Arguably Gary Johnson does not have a majority of allies amongst the political elites in the House to help him repeat this feat.
            But history doesn’t end there. The election of 1824 caused Andrew Jackson and his allies to form their own party, the Democratic Party. Four years later Jackson crushed Adams in the Electoral College in 1828, and was reelected again in 1832 for back-to-back victories. Democrat domination of the Presidency would continue until 1856 with only two losses. And what of the political elites who had elected John Quincy Adams and shunned Jackson and his allies? These elites of the National Republican Party lost 28 seats the very next election (1828)—and kept losing seats over the next two elections. It turns out shunned voters remember things like contingent elections. 

            The takeaway relating to Graham’s scheme is three fold.
First, winning a contingent election takes either a majority of allies in the House or arguably a majority of voters supporting the candidate. Johnson has neither.
Second, Representatives who disenfranchise voters face severe consequences. The citizens who vote for Clinton or Trump also elect these representatives and ignoring those voters would be political suicide. In a contingent election Representatives (who also want to be reelected) will try to appease a majority of their voters.
Third, if by some miracle Gary Johnson were elected contingently it would likely be seen as Libertarian disenfranchisement of American voters (a “stolen election”)—much like Adams victory. This is an ironic position for libertarians—who generally champion the NAP—to use Congress to force America into a coercive Presidential relationship. If history is any guide, this would be a long term disaster for the Libertarian party. 

            Thus the “hand it to Congress” argument is a poor line of logic and Graham’s assumption that it will “save us from this dumpster fire” of an election is pure folly. All it can do is hand the election to an untrusted House of Representatives. His idea has caught on for one reason: America desperately wants out of the consequences of the decision it made for itself. His words promise hope for an alternative when in reality there is none. Sorry America, you don’t get off that easy. Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the next president. Next time, in January of 2020, read the hard news about your candidates, what their positions are, and what their poll numbers are. It will be much harder than taking a morally easy (but politically irrelevant) way out. This is the only way to avoid so-called “dumpster fire” elections: by being realistically engaged through the entire process and stopping them before they start. Perhaps then we can stop playing board games and rolling the dice with our government and start making active and informed choices like we should have during the primaries.

(Author’s Note: for the sake of clarity I refer to the contingent election as being in 1824, when in reality it took place early in 1825.)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Colin Kaepernick's Pet Herring

Colin Kaepernick is either a hero or a jerk to either side of the political aisle at the moment. Many on the left love him; many on the right hate him.
And in all probability, he is trending as the quarterback the whole nation has eyes on for a moment. Both the right and the left (and the libertarians) are rushing to establish a narrative regarding free speech, police violence against minorities, and so on.  I can’t help but think that all of these groups are chasing a red herring and missing the point.
The red herring is the discussion that distracts from one very simple truth:
Colin Kaepernick sucks, and he wants to keep his job.

Pro Football Focus ranked all 32 teams for the coming year (2016-17 season) in terms of their quarterback situations. He and the 49ers were ranked dead last behind the Browns, the Raiders (it’s ok to laugh), the Texans, the Eagles and so on. This guy went from being in the Super Bowl to being backup QB and dead last on the list.
In another article, Pete Prisco at CBS ranked him 31st, above the unfortunate Jared Goff.  In May, Chris Chase from Fox Sports ranked Kaepernick and the hapless 49ers as the 4th worst in the NFL for the upcoming season. USA Today was also slightly more generous, ranking him 28 out of 32. Do you see a pattern? He's not doing well on the field. (All of these rankings were released long before his sit-out, so they were obviously not influenced by his actions socially but by his flagging performance).

Yet Kaepernick’s Google stock (as a search term) is suddenly through the roof. His name as a search term hasn’t been worth a damn in years, and suddenly all eyes (and the eyes of the Googles) are on him. He’s a hero, an activist, a talking point, a trending topic. And a poor quarterback.
I think there’s part of me that believes Kaepernick’s actions are sincere; maybe he is a true SJW (though his relationship with the notoriously poor-paying Nike raises a few questions).

The other part of me says maybe this is all BS. I do not mean pointless, meaningless, or reasonless. I mean that it may not be about social justice after all; it may be about football politics. His actions might be sincere, yes—just not sincere about social justice as much as he’s sincere about keeping his paycheck coming.
There have been multiple rumblings that perhaps the 49ers want to cut Kaepernick. What remains to be seen is can they? Sure they can cut an overpaid, crapped out player, but if Kaepernick is cut or traded will the conversation about why circle around his activism or his football skill? Are they cutting a quarterback because he's washed up or are they cutting an activist because he's controversial?

Kaepernick might suck, but I doubt he’s stupid. He went from a bottom-of-the-list QB that no one talked about to being front and center on the media stage—for now anyway. His sudden posturing doesn't sound like a true Social Justice Warrior as much as it sounds like a struggling quarterback on the bubble trying desperately to remain relevant and indispensable to the 49ers franchise. It's their move now, and their decision about Kaepernick is about more than stats now--it's also unfortunately about race.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

5 Thoughts on Iowa (in about 500 words)

1. The Polls Tell You Something…
Real Clear Politics has a current running aggregate of the most recent Iowa polls, showing Trump and Cruz on top, with Rubio and Carson far below, and the rest in a muddle below 5%. While Trump might be leading it would be foolish to call Iowa a slam dunk for him at this point because the polls tell you something…

2. …But Not Everything
Ben Shapiro wrote a great little piece recently where he reasonably questioned the Iowa polls. Often, candidates and supporters will denigrate polls because they don’t say candidate x is winning—but Shapiro questioned the polls for the following reasons: the Iowa Polls are historically inaccurate, the Polls are broad (i.e. possibly not screening their samples appropriately, and many Iowa voters make last second decisions), and the ground game in Iowa isn’t favoring Trump. Historically Santorum didn’t poll well and still "won" Iowa. What does this mean? It means that Trump and Cruz probably will do well in Iowa but it probably doesn’t mean a blowout, and it probably doesn’t mean something like a Christie win. It’s likely just a rough estimate at best. The sample sizes are small, and potentially the margins for error large. And a lot still hangs on…

3. The Donald-Free Debate
Donald Trump is skipping the debate. Admittedly this is odd for a perceived top-tier candidate—yes, Rand Paul did it recently but arguably he had nothing to lose, and Trump does—if the polls are even somewhat reasonably accurate. Trump’s perspective is likely this: he’s telling the media to go to hell, and telling them he doesn’t need them. It’s somewhat a given that every candidate worships at the Altar of the Media during election season but Trump is making a point not to. Or course this could backfire and Cruz’s observation that Trump is skipping out on answering the hard questions for Iowa voters might be the perception that takes hold among voting Iowans.

4. The Debate Must Go On
Chris Matthews thinks no one is going to watch a debate between two Cuban guys, but then again the closest Matthews has ever been close to a real Cuban is probably the last time he paraded himself past a janitor in the hall. The truth is that if Iowa voters notoriously decide last-second, they’re watching and pondering. Cruz will take shots at Trump, Rubio will target Cruz and try to generate more steam, and the rest are praying for a break through and a good performance.

5. Iowa Isn’t Everything…
The 2012 primary proved this brutally. Rick Santorum carried the popular vote in the early January caucus and had dropped out by early April. Mitt Romney came in a hotly contested second, but it was Ron Paul’s little delegate rebellion that ultimately gave him the win from 3rd place. In the end it didn’t matter; Barack Obama won the 6 electoral votes by nearly 6% over Mitt Romney. Do Iowa voters matter? Certainly, but historically they may not be a good predictor for the rest of the race.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Looking Past the Window on 9/11

On a crisp morning in September my father summoned my brother and I to join him in the room where the TV was. We were both fairly certain we were in trouble--though neither of us knew why. Looking back now, I wished we were in the worst kind of trouble as opposed to why we were actually called over. It was the eleventh of September.

That was the day the world burned, the day the world changed. 
Or did it?
We think the world changed but the truth is that it was our perception of the world that changed. Unfortunately it seems that our perception has reverted and regressed in many ways, to the pre-9/11 state, despite those horrific events giving us a window by which to see the world.

For the last 6,000-10,000 years, world history has been covered in bloodshed. The campaigns of Alexander the Great, Nebuchadnezzar, Napoleon and even the Second World War pale in comparison to many of the wars fought in Asia, where untold millions died in decades-long conflicts. The annihilation of towns, villages, peoples and cultures litters our text book pages now as it littered the fields with bodies and blood then. This is human history.
John Calvin thus argued that humans are depraved. Sigmund Freud quoted Plautus from centuries earlier when he said, "homo homini lupus est"--man is a wolf to man. Isaac Newton said chaos is the natural state of things. Plato said, "Only the dead have seen the end of war." 
Peace is unnatural, infrequent, and largely absent in the world. It's not because of arms trade, religion, government policy or greed. It's humans. That we blame inanimate objects or practices only reveals the furthest reaches of our evil--not only can we not face our evil, we must lie about it, even to ourselves.

The truth is, we've been lucky, or blessed if you will. America was started by a group of men who recognized human nature, and set up a system where men are free to work, deal and defend themselves from other men and governments, and they did so in what would prove to be the geographic cocoon of North America.
It's blessed us tremendously: there's been no state of true war on our continent our lifetime, nor in the lifetimes of our parents or grandparents. We live in a bubble, a bubble in time and a bubble of space in the world where we have enjoyed what most living humans would call a fantasy. 

The response to this truth should be then two fold: first to be thankful for the fantasy we live in, and second to recognize that for the rest of the world, September 11 is normal. Israel experiences events of proportional magnitude to 9/11 multiple times in every decade. It's citizens are experiencing the effects of PTSD on a daily basis, on all age and socio-economic levels.
For villages in Africa, Syria, and Iraq peace and safety are wild dreams that the scraps of humanity cling to, just to keep hope alive. These places are samples. They are indicative of the whole--the American sample is an anomaly the rest of the world envies.  9/11 gave us a glimpse into what humans do, what they are and what the rest of the world looks like--both bad and good.
We've forgotten that 9/11 wasn't a mural painted by radicals--it was a window opened by averages. Sooner or later the world's reality would find us, and in 2001 it did. 9/11 showed us a glimpse of the horror the world sees every day. But rather than gaze out the window of 9/11 and gain understanding, we've walked by that window and pretended there was nothing on the other side of the wall, a wall that is thin and crumbling. It's not that we forgot the event, it's that we missed the lesson. 9/11 is not so much the past as it is the present in a world we cannot bear to look upon. It is our world, and we must accept it. We are not in reality gazing through the window into an anomaly, we are in the anomaly and denying reality.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Politically Incorrect: The New Rape Culture

Rape Culture. Those delicious words tickling the tongue of the Tumblr generation who really have no idea what they mean outside of the context of a movement that rediscovered it’s purpose in demonization—as fart rape, and yes, that’s an accusation they’re making and taking seriously. But perhaps the phrase “rape culture” isn’t entirely useless.
What is it to rape? It’s to force oneself on another. It’s to place ones own needs for anger, rage, release, and catharsis above the needs of another human and to fulfill those needs by force. It’s to enslave a person for ones own use.
It is of note that when people talk about slavery that there are certain words that recur quite often: chains, capture, injustice, emancipation, freedom. There are also words much less used, and less associated with the idea of slavery than the aforementioned terms—wages, payment, money, compensation. Somehow it is understood quite clearly that the primary (not sole) issue with slavery is not whether or not one is paid, but whether or not one is free. Having control over one’s own self-determination trumps the wages of being an unwilling participant.
What then is the defense of a human against rape and slavery? It is the right of a human being to say one word: “no.” The Right to No is sacred. It dictates that every relationship (whether economic or personal) is voluntarily taken up and maintained. Ideally it is only forfeit when one violates another’s right to the same. “You must do this for me—you have no option” is the language of a slaver, and a rapist. If you want to see real rape culture, look around and see who forces whom, and who lacks the right to say “no”. Start with Aaron and Melissa Klein.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What the Nigerian Girls’ Crisis says About Our Own Tragedy

I’d like to start this off with a bit of truth (albeit somewhat crassly put).
I’ve censored and paraphrased this quote as the original is attributed to someone from the US Special Forces community and not a Sunday School Teacher. Here it is:

            “Hashtags, like buttons, and retweets aren’t going to do @#%$ to get those missing Nigerian girls back. It’s just a way for lazy westerners to feel good about themselves without having to sacrifice any of their time, money, or physical safety. This internet heroism is as fake as Chaz Bono’s *^$#. Dudes with guns started this mess. Dudes with guns are going to end it.”

In our western world of celeb worship, we forget that the rest of the world (terrorists in particular) don't really care about sad duck-faces and Hashtag Diplomacy. Over here a trending topic can get you fired and publically shamed for life. In Africa they use AK47s for firings, and machetes for public shaming. Such is the case with Boko Haram. The mere name of this terror group indicates their cause, as the BBC reports that the group “promotes a version of Islam which makes it 'haram', or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society.” If this group militantly hates western influence on these girls, how are they going to feel about a jet-setting 1%er like the First Lady with a hashtag? This group hates the idea of western education. Are they suddenly intimidated by western entertainment and pop culture? Not likely.

If anything, this campaign of internet heroism may serve opposite the purposes of its participants. The Boko Haram group is vehemently anti-western—so if the West disapproves of their actions, they have succeeded. In fact, the publicity is likely welcome for them: the purist group that defied the west and showed the world that they could do whatever they wanted with no more resistance than a formidable twitter campaign. Their name is getting repeated over, and over again. Boko Haram. The little Islamists that could. Every outraged cry against them is a mark of approval in their minds. Peer pressure sucks, and it sucks more against an assault rifle.

“Well,” some might say, “It’s to raise awareness.” Ok. Awareness is cool. But let’s take a trip back in time…to the year 2012. And let’s take a look at a trending topic that might be slightly embarrassing. I’m talking of course about the Invisible Children Project. You might better know it as a 29-minute video called KONY 2012.
            Joseph Kony is a cult leader, warlord, and human rights violator in Africa. His big claim to fame is of course the child-soldiers phenomena, which he propagated till the child combatants numbered in the tens of thousands. Kony found himself targeted by western Hashtag Diplomacy in 2012 when the KONY 2012 video was released. The video garnered 99 million views. The Invisible Children project reportedly raised over $8 million dollars. What happened? Exactly nothing. Today Kony is as free today as he was back then. He is supposedly considering surrendering to face the ICC and a host of other consequences. Why? Because of a few million hashtags? Because of vast financial resources marshaled against him? Because of international pressure? No. Because he’s reported to be “in poor health”, he’s 52 now, and he’s tired to being sick out in the jungle and on the run. So what did 99 million views and millions of dollars raised actually buy? Perhaps nothing more than to serve as salve for guilty consciences.
            The tragedy of these girls isn’t that this is a first time event. Islamic militants actively use kidnappings and much worse to advance their agenda—and on a weekly basis. The tragedy here is that this is what we’ve been reduced to. Hashtags. Videos. Trending topics, tweets, glib demagoguery, and little else. And somehow, we’re “helping.” The opening quote comes to mind again: “It’s just a way for lazy westerners to feel good about themselves without having to sacrifice any of their time, money, or physical safety.” This is our tragedy: not that such events happened on our watch, but that internet heroism and hashtag diplomacy was the best response we could come up with, and worse, that we thought much of ourselves for our “bravery”. How grateful we are that such “bravery” costs us nothing more than 30 seconds and 140 characters. Tragic, isn’t it?