Posts Tagged ‘Voting’

Predictions are fool’s errands. Useful ones, anyway. The future branches in so many possible directions that truly reliable predictions are banal, such as the sun will rise in the east, death, and taxes. (NTE is arguably another term for megadeath, but I gotta reinforce that prediction to keep my doomer bonafides.) Now only a few days prior to the general election finds me anxious that the presidential race is still too close to call. More than a few pundits say that Donald Trump could actually win. At the same time, a Hillary Clinton win gives me no added comfort, really. Moreover, potential squabbles over the outcome threaten to turn the streets into riot zones. I had rather expected such disruptions during or after the two nominating conventions, but they settled on their presumptive nominees without drama.

Polls are often predictive, of course, and despite their acknowledged margins of error, they typically forecast results with enough confidence that many voters don’t bother to vote, safe in the assumption that predicted results (an obvious oxymoron) make moot the need to actually cast one’s vote. (The West Coast must experience this phenomenon more egregiously than the East Coast, except perhaps for California’s rather large population and voting power. Has Hawaii ever mattered?) For that reason alone, I’d like to see a blackout on polling in the weeks leading up to an election (2–3 ought to do), including election day. This would allow us to avoid repeating the experience of the Chicago Daily Tribune publishing the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” back in 1948.

Analysis of voting patterns and results also dissuades voters from considering anything other than a strategic vote for someone able to actually win, as opposed to supporting worthy candidates polling far enough behind they don’t stand a chance of winning, thus reinforcing a two-party system no one really likes because it keeps delivering supremely lousy candidates. Jesse Ventura, having defied the polls and been elected to office as an independent, has been straightforward about his disdain for the notion that voting outside the two main parties is tantamount to throwing away one’s vote. A related meme is that by voting for independent Ralph Nader in 2000, the Democratic vote was effectively split, handing the win (extraordinarily close and contestable though it was) to George Bush. My thinking aligns with Jesse Ventura, not with those who view votes for Ralph Nader as betrayals.

If the presidential race is still too close for comfort, Michael Moore offers a thoughtful explanation how Trump could win:

This excerpt from Moore’s new film TrumpLand has been taken out of context by many pro-Trump ideologues. I admit the first time I saw it I was unsure whether Moore supports Trump. Additional remarks elsewhere indicate that he does not. The spooky thing is that as emotional appeals go, it’s clear that Trump connects with the people powerfully. But Moore is right about another thing: to vote for Trump is really a giant “fuck you” to the establishment, which won’t end well.

This blog of mine (nearing 10 years old) is in need of something besides ranting and complaining. Time to organize another traffic report.

Since my previous report, rather than reining myself back to 3-4 paragraphs per entry, I’ve gone the opposite direction and begun breaking entries into 3- or 4-part series. The “more” html tag is used with some frequency, and an addendum post is not unusual, as I always think of more to write. Seems to be lots of ideas to unpack and argue, even though commentary remains minimal. Which brings me to another development. Since telling other bloggers to stop subscribing so that I’ll go look at their blogs, my subscriber count has more than tripled and is now up to 626. If even half of those subscribers read my new posts when notification is sent, Spiral Staircase would be getting regular traffic spikes. But that’s not happening. Rather, I’m ignoring them, and they’re ignoring me, which is fine with me; I’m not a whore self-aggrandizing personality trying to drive up meaningless numbers via social media.

The Filipino cohort searching, finding, and clicking on my post about Scheler’s Hierarchy continues to gather the most traffic. When I blog about doom and collapse, Global Risk Report (an aggregator) sometimes picks up my post and refers traffic. A week’s traffic these days varies from 50 to 250 hits, which is a five-fold difference but still nothing in comparison to other blogs. So how about that collapse? Some believe in a fast, tumultuous crash, others in a slow, incremental fading away that only looks like a crash when viewed from the vantage of considerable hindsight (e.g., the Fall of the Roman Empire). Although I don’t discount the possibility of the fast scenario (should banks in particular seize up), it seems that the corrective mechanisms keeping the house of cards standing but wobbling madly are effective to forestall the worst for now. The slope still points down, but we’re still only just over the crest of the wave.

And finally, considering that today is Thanksgiving in the U.S., what can I be thankful for? All the usual, no doubt: hearth, health, food, and friends. That’s absolutely for real, not some sort of snark. But knowing what I know, I often wonder what to wish for, considering all the conventional American desires (wealth, fame, influence, etc.) feed back into the culture as distortion. Further, the longer industrial civilization persists, the worse it will be for whatever life remains on the other side of the bottleneck. Whereas some counsel resistance and even sabotage to hurry things along, the behemoth is so great by now that it will eventually fall under its own weight. My active contribution to that eventuality, whatever attitude and behaviors I adopt, is minuscule to the point of irrelevance (sorta like voting). So while the lights stay on and there’s air to breathe (unlike China), I suppose simple thanks for this life we enjoy is plenty enough for me.

I have always remembered a striking line from the movie The Dancer Upstairs where the police investigator, who is tracking the leader of Shining Path in Peru in the 1980s, says (paraphrasing from Spanish), “I think there is a revolution going on.” Elsewhere on the globe today, Arab Spring has morphed from a series of U.S.-instigated regime changes into an emerging Arab state (ISIS), though establishing itself is violent and medieval. According to Tom Engelhardt, even the U.S. has a new political system rising out of the ruins of its own dysfunction. Unless I’m mistaken, a revolution is a political system being overthrown by mass uprising of the citizenry, whereas a coup is a powerful splinter within the current regime (often the military wing) seizing administrative control. What Engelhardt describes is more nearly a coup, and like the quote above, it appears to be coalescing around us in plain sight, though that conclusion is scarcely spoken aloud. It may well be that Engelhardt has succeeded in crystallizing the moment. His five principal arguments are these:

  1. 1% Elections — distortion of the electoral system by dollars and dynasties.
  2. Privatization of the State — proper functions of the state transferred into the hands of privateers (especially mercenaries and so-called warrior corporations — nice neologism).
  3. De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency — fundamental inability to govern, regulate, and/or prosecute at the Federal level, opening up a power vacuum.
  4. Rise of the National Security State (Fourth Branch of Government) — the dragnet complex revealed (in part) by whistle-blower Edward Snowden but plain to see post-9/11.
  5. Demobilization of the American People — surprising silence of the public in the face of such unwholesome developments.

Please read the article for yourself, which is very well written. (I am no great fan of the journalistic style but must acknowledge that Engelhardt’s work is terrific.) I especially like Engelhardt’s suggestion that a grand conspiracy (e.g., New World Order) is not necessary but that instead it’s all being improvised on the run. Let me offer a couple observations of my own.

Power has several attributes, such as the position to influence events, the resources to get things done, and the ability to motivate (or quell) the public through active management of perception. High offices (both government and boardroom, both elected and appointed) are the positions, the U.S. Treasury and the wealth of the 1% are the resources, and charismatic storytelling (now outright lying) is management of perception. Actors (a word chosen purposely) across the American stage have been maneuvering for generations to wield power, often for its own sake but more generally in the pursuit of wealth. One might assume that once personal wealth has been acquired motivations would slacken, but instead they divert in not a few psychopaths to maniacal building of multigenerational dynasties.

Pulling the levers of state in one capacity or another is a timeworn mechanism for achieving the proxy immortality of the American statesman. However, as dysfunction in the political arena has grown, corporations (including banks) have assumed the reins. Despite corporate personhood being conferred and recently expanded, largely via judicial fiat, the profit motive has reasserted itself as primary, since there is no such thing as a fully self-actualized corporation. Thus, we have the Federal Reserve System acting as a de facto corporation within government — but without conscience. Multiply that hundreds of times over and voilà: an American corporatocracy.

The effect has been extrapolated in numerous movies and television shows, all offering dystopic warnings of things to come where people, domestic and alien, are all expendable as power seeks to perpetuate itself. How far this can go before financial collapse, climate change, energy scarcity, or a host of others looming calamities overtakes is yet to be seen. Some hold out hope for true revolution, but I believe that possibility has been contained. Considering how the world has been accelerating toward ecocide, I venture that at most a few more decades of desperate negotiations with fate are in store for us. Alternatively, I find it entirely feasible that the delicate web of interconnections that maintain life in all its manifestations could suffer a phase shift rather quickly, at which point all bets are off. Either way, in no one’s wildest imagination could our current civilization be considered the best we can do, much less the best of all possible worlds.

Giving Back to the People

Posted: February 21, 2015 in Debate, Economics, Politics
Tags: , , ,

rant on/

I’m usually content to allow abstention to be my protest vote, but in the latest round of municipal elections here in Chicago, I have been sufficiently motivated to cast my protest vote (via absentee ballot, meaning it won’t even be counted until after all the shouting is done). So what motivates me to break my voting silence? Simply put, the mayor (small m, always small).

Chicago’s Feb. 24, 2015, municipal election might as well be called the 2015 Mayoral Re-Election considering what’s at stake and how the outcome is mostly a forgone conclusion thanks to modern polling practices. Besides re-electing the mayor, three other officials are running unopposed (varies by precinct/ward) and there are four pointless nonbinding referenda. Pretty slim ballot. We already know that four challengers to the incumbent mayor will mostly likely share the minority vote and thus be unable to force a runoff necessary to focus on just two candidates (or one viable challenger). My interest in removing Rahm Emanuel from office (an intent echoed plainly by his challengers) stems mainly from reporting in The Chicago Reader by Ben Joravsky. I trust Joravsky’s view of local issues, published in an independent newspaper, far more than anything that might appear in the city’s two leading rags (The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times — no links), both of which I ignore. The lesser influence is Kari Lydersen’s book Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%. I admit I haven’t read the book (I refuse to wade into that sewer) but I have read reviews, which are a nearly unanimous chorus of disgust at “Rotten Rahm.”

All this brings me back yet again to wondering why public office is a desirable destination. Half of the political rhetoric is about “taking back” (for the people), acknowledging that government at all levels has been hijacked, while the other half is “giving back” (to the people), a presumed bourgeois (Kennedyesque) devotion to public service shared only by those who are decidedly not bourgeois (read: rich, powerful, and insulated from the masses). It’s largely incumbents on one side, challengers on the other, but that’s not wholly true, as Illinois’ newly elected and installed governor (small g, always small) was a challenger. I find it difficult to judge motivations; results are more transparent. The nastiness of the results, judged individually and over time (since the early 1980s is a typical jumping off point when political economics are discussed), demonstrate that it’s been a radically uneven system of rewards and punishments. The underclass and minorities (large overlap there) are by turns abandoned to their fates and punished for their lack of success, the middle class continues to be squeezed out of existence by policies and practices that proceed with the inexorable power of demographics, and the rich get the spoils. It’s unclear whether any challenger to Chicago’s current mayor will act for or against the people, just as next years’ presidential (small p, always small) election will likely shape up as battle of political intents and promises, but I’m all for moving on from those whose results clearly demonstrate a different battle being waged and won.

rant off/

Update: Well, color me surprised! The incumbent mayor (small m, always small) failed to achieve a majority, so there will be a runoff election in April against top challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. I couldn’t be more pleased. Even the media is reporting on Rahm Emanuel’s flailing attempts to polish the turd that is his administration. I guess a $16 million campaign war chest and rebranding effort proved insufficient to overcome all the bad faith he has earned over the past four years.

/rant on

Today is election day in the U.S., and political noise levels have been raised modestly in preparation for the big event, expectation of the GOP gaining a Senate majority being perhaps the most significant result telegraphed for credulous voters. Of course, since candidates now run permanent campaigns (Hillary Clinton has been running for president for more than 20 years, don’t let her coyness about it fool you), including nonstop fundraising, noise levels are always at high volume. Although I watch no TV (the preferred medium of political debate) and see none of the attack ads, I hear plenty of complaints that no candidate runs a campaign on issues anymore but instead relies on being the less heinous of (generally) two miserable alternatives. Indeed, whenever I hear politicians making speeches or being interviewed, their inability to answer a straight question before diverting to perception management (true of pundits, too) is notable. Political speech aimed at redefining reality is so commonplace that nary a place exists where an honest citizen can turn for effective analysis before being confronted by a noxious, smothering fog of rhetoric.

One of the principal features of the lead-up to election day is idealistic insistence on the duty of the citizenry to cast their votes, often accompanied by the risible contention that an individual who abstains from voting has no right to complain for not participating in the charade (shades of Heinlein’s jingoistic parody “Service Guarantees Citizenship”). I reject the foolhardy notion that voting buys the right to speech and/or opinion. It’s obvious that, instead, money buys everything. Nevertheless, free speech precedes the act of voting, no matter what others say, at least until shouted down and squelched by political correctness and incipient fascism. From a strategic perspective, the mechanisms by which actual elections are carried out ought to dispel any thoughtful person from bothering, which many don’t — especially with midterm elections.

As I got to work today, “Please vote!” campaign volunteers were yelling candidate’s names at passersby. For what? To sway the vote at the eleventh hour? Sheer name recognition, not policy or intelligence or character, is interrelated with incumbency and celebrity as predictors of electoral success. But these pale in comparison with well-publicized reports of ballot buying, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and brazen vote stealing (inside electronic voting systems) to indicate the pointlessness of voting. Yet de rigueur exhortations to get out the vote and vote, or better yet, make campaign contributions (“give ’til it hurts” is sometimes heard), continue to lend false legitimacy to a corrupted system of self-representation that no longer pretends to function. The so-called “silent majority,” people who don’t use the ballot box to vote their hates, recognize the futility of voting when results are no longer (if ever they were) an accurate expression of voter intent. Whether a candidate wins or loses or an initiative passes or fails hardly matters, too, when the results are so indistinguishable. Take, for instance, continuous attempts to undermine and/or repeal Roe v. Wade and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a/k/a Obamacare).

Some commentators have observed that Republicans in particular are cravenly insistent on holding office (yet do nothing constructive once there), and further, are hell-bent on destroying everything just so blame can be assessed against Democratic opponents, whereas Democrats are passive onlookers unable to thwart the destructive impulses of the general public (e.g., voting against self-interest) and mean-spirited political actors. While the two-party system denies us worthwhile candidates, voting for more of the same would be the putative definition of insanity: repeating the same steps unvaryingly but expecting different results.

/rant off