Thursday, February 2, 2017

Donald Trump, In The Flesh

Saw a thing today:

So I decided to get in on some of the fun by tying Twitler's statements another track from The Wall:

Are there any queers in the theatre tonight? Get them up against the wall!
And that one in the spotlight, he don't look right to me! Get him up against the wall! 
And that one looks Jewish!
And that one's a coon!
Who let all this riff-raff into the room? 
There's one smoking a joint! 
And another with spots!
If I had my way,
I'd have all of you shot!

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Unexpected Virtue of Punishment

I hope Trump fails.

I know it's the popular, banal wisdom of the masses to say that they hope, despite everything, that he turns out to be a good President.

Some of these people say that it's too early to tell and we should just give him a chance, that maybe he'll surprise us.

Some of these people say that they don't want the ills of a failed presidency to be borne by the people.

Some of these people say that it's for patriotic reasons, that they don't want to root against America, regardless of who her leader is.

Most of these people are inclined to regurgitate any weak-hearted, feeble-minded ecumenical bullshit that neatly dodges any responsibility, accountability, or critical thought.

Not I.

First, let's be perfectly clear. Donald Trump is not going to be a good President. The people who elected Donald Trump do not want a good President. Nothing Donald Trump has said or done has given the slightest indication to the contrary. If your plan is to just give him a chance and hope for the best, instead of getting a passport and moving your investments overseas, then you're well behind the curve already and his administration is going to hit you like a gold-plated slab of marble.

These low expectations are, in large part, what propelled Trump to the forefront of the GOP ticket in 2016. Every other candidate from both major parties was compared against a Presidential standard. If Trump, however, could make it an hour without using a racial slur or literally throwing his feces at his opponents, he was considered to have "done well" in the debates.

And that's the problem, here.

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

Nobody expects Donald Trump to be a good President. Nobody voted for him because he is Presidential. They voted for him, to borrow a metaphor, as a Molotov cocktail thrown through the window of the establishment. He will not surprise anyone except by virtue of the increasing obscenity of each successive scandal.

Because Donald Trump is a punishment, his administration is not going to be held up to a standard fitting the leadership of one of the world's most powerful and influential nations. The standard for a "successful" Donald Trump presidency is much, much lower: If there is still a country in four years, the conservative idiots on Breitbart and company will decry "liberal doomsaying" as "overblown", and we can fully expect Americans to shrug and pull the lever for four more years.

Anything better than an absolute disaster is not a success. Yet this is the handicap Donald Trump plays with.

Trump's policies are going to gut our industry, the dollar, our education, our health, our foreign standing, and our alliances, and he is guaranteed two years in which to work basically unobstructed. If this plan is fully enacted, America will lose her superpower status by the end and, given what the state of our workers and our education will be, it may be generations before we can dream of recovering it. NATO, the EU and possibly even the UN will be on their way to joining the League of Nations in the history books. America's enemies will be strengthened and emboldened by the decline of American and western power. We will be baited, by virtue of our thin-skinned and short-tempered and myopic Commander in Chief into unwinnable and unpopular conflicts across the globe. Trump and his cronies will walk away richer, the office of President will be forever disgraced, and the people of America will be greatly impoverished in nearly every way.

The real kicker is that these policies are going to hurt worst those people in the areas that voted overwhelmingly for Trump - which is to say, that there is only justice in the world if Trump does what any thinking person expects him to attempt.

This is the essential accountability to which the American voter must be held. As the rural south and the blue collar rust belt suffer disproportionately to the modest discomforts experienced by the liberal urban strongholds, the mantra must be "You asked for this. You wanted punishment." This must be internalized by the voters because it was the apathy of the voters that led to the failure of our institutions which installed this incompetent, unqualified, puppet of a leader. If we are to impress upon Americans the importance of voting and voting well, it is essential that Americans feel the full impact of their decision to vote out of spite, or out of ignorance, or with their gut, or to not vote at all.

The Constitution, the Electoral College, and the Congress which all contain measures to prevent people like Trump from achieving office failed, and these are deep flaws which must be corrected. They would not have had the opportunity to fail, however, had the voters themselves not failed in their civic duties.

Simply put, if you are throwing support behind Trump in the name of "unity" and "patriotism" you are mistaken. You cannot be both for the strength, security and welfare of this nation and your fellow citizens, and be for what Trump advances. There is no patriotism in hoping for a Trump success.

And so, in order to avoid eight years of the incredible and possibly irreversible damage even partial success will create, America needs a wake-up call. She needs the worst two years in living memory to get voters to remove the GOP from the legislature and thereby muzzle Trump. Given the high likelihood of outright, flagrant criminal activity from this administration, we must be prepared for the anguish of an impeachment.

Trump must fail. It is not unpatriotic to root against him, it is not unjust to expect the people to bear the weight of this failure, and it is not unrealistic to expect that he will fail though he has been President less than a day.

Trump's failure is the penance that must be paid to preserve this nation and her place in the world.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Trump and the Punishment of America

Throughout this whole Trump debacle, I've been fascinated by a prominent phenomenon among his so-called supporters: the idea of Trump as a means of revenge against progressivism and liberalism.

You see it in posts like "Share this picture to piss off a liberal" or "Trump won because of [political correctness/safe spaces/liberal stereotype of choice]". Never mind that Trump got the fewest votes of any Republican candidate in 16 years, meaning that his victory was not a reaction against liberalism, but a failure of Democrats to vote.
Emphasis added.
"It's time for things to suck for you" is the message here.

What's interesting about this mindset, and why I say it is held by "so-called" Trump supporters, is that it means that these people agree that Trump is a shitty person and will almost certainly be a shitty President.

In fact, they hope he will be a shitty President.These people do not want a good President. They did not choose a candidate who will be just, empathetic, intelligent, or measured. They did not choose to run the best conservative. They chose to run the worst.

They want punishment.

They want punishment so badly that they nominated a person solely on the grounds that he is regressive, infantile, puerile, crass, coarse, and conniving. They chose these things because to punish America for what it has become - for what progress has built. They don't care that, by punishing all of America solely to "get back" at liberals, they are going to punish themselves. They don't care that Trump's plans are going to be more disastrous for the red states than they will be for the blue. What matters is that the blue states hurt, just a little, and that conservatives hurt them.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Gary Johnson's Not Playing With A Full Deck

Libertarian Presidential spoiler Gary Johnson tipped his hand in a major gaffe today when he responded "What is Aleppo?" to a question about the besieged Syrian city; and it turns out his hand has more than a couple Jokers in it.

This is a man who claims to be bidding for the highest executive office in one of the most powerful and influential international powers  and he was caught unaware by a question about the most important city in the most important conflict in the world today.

The Syrian Civil War did not break out yesterday. It has raged since 2011 - in other words, he should have started studying it the last time he ran for President. He has failed to learn anything of substance about it in half of a decade, instead choosing to fill his time with, from his personal presentation, biking and mountain climbing. Mike Barnicle of MSNBC had a spot on reaction to Johnson's bewilderment - "You're serious?" The internet community has seized on this gaffe precisely because Aleppo has become a household name - alongside Homs, Damascus, Raqqah, and Palmyra. Ignorance is not just no excuse: it is a liability.

Any candidate worth their salt must be familiar with the conflict. And yet the gaffe didn't end with "What is Aleppo?" Mike Barnicle had to provide three distinct prompts to Johnson before finally getting him on track by mentioning that it is not just a city in Syria, but the "epicenter of the refugee crisis." But to be honest, Johnson wasn't on track but on a parallel one. Rather than talk about the distinct dynamics in play in Aleppo, Johnson takes off on a talking point about Syria writ large.

The first two Jokers - Johnson hasn't been following the Syrian Civil War, and doesn't understand the importance of that conflict's most important city and the implications of the refugee crisis.

Johnson then makes some broad, half-true declarations about the war seemingly gleaned from headlines passing on his Facebook feed: that the Syrian Opposition is in league with Islamists. There are Islamists on most sides of the conflict, but there is no monolithic "Opposition" and there are more than the two sides he implies in his response. Third Joker.

Honestly, he'd have been better off leaving it at that punt - "I do think that it's a mess" - but he then goes on to show his fourth Joker, that he supports a "diplomatic" solution to the conflict in league with Russia.

At first blush, this seems sensible, save for the facts that "the Opposition" and the Assad regime are at loggerheads over who gets to rule the region and that Russia is committed to a military resolution of the conflict. Furthermore, it does not account for the loose cannon that is Turkey vis a vis the Kurds and Russia, it does not consider the ongoing security agreements in Iraq (under threat by the Islamic State which is taking advantage of an unenforceable border), and the lax environment and ample propaganda potential such a decision would create for the Islamic State as they move to increase their footholds in Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

Ultimately, these are all symptoms of a core problem that Johnson suffers as a Libertarian: his approach to foreign policy seems to be right in line with Libertarian Party doctrine, to wit, that we shouldn't have a foreign policy. His solution to the Syrian question is to extricate by the most expeditious means possible, without regard for the outcome or the people involved. He even goes so far as to explicitly blame "regime change" for the entirety of the crisis, language which suggests an external hand rather than the Syrian people rising up in civil war.

This lack of a plan further suggests the restoration of Assad to power, a plan which falls right in line with Russian goals and will therefore likely earn Johnson accolades from Trump. This alignment also highlights a conflict within Libertarian philosophy. It seems that isolationism trumps a people's right to self-determination. This lack of a plan completely fails to address the millions of people who are displaced by the conflict; who have no homes to return to, whose nation is threatened by the Islamic State regardless of the diplomatic relations between Assad and the Opposition, and who likely would be in grave danger should they return to Syria under a restored Assad. This lack of a plan ignores the pressures which the conflict is placing on the politics of many nations, many of whom are dealing with a wave of terrorism and a rising tide of far-right nationalism in response. Disconnecting with Syria and disinterest in the welfare of countries with whom we have old and deep diplomatic and economic ties beckons disaster.

While this blog has previously acknowledged the wisdom of status quo ante in Syria, that assessment was also made only one year into the conflict. In the last four years, the United States has committed to one side over the other and a reversal of that position out of misguided isolationist principles will do far more damage to American standing than holding course. Cooperation with Russia is possible with regards to defeating the Islamic State, but only insofar as the Islamic State challenges stability in Syria. The end-state of that Syrian stability is going to be the result of diplomatic negotiations between Russia and the United States - and will only include Syria as a matter of protocol. The problem is bigger than it used to be, and it requires a committed and nuanced approach. It will not go away for being ignored.

But a total lack of any nuanced foreign policy - or even evidence of a gloss on Syria - constitutes only the flagrant failures of Johnson. The final Joker is in what this gaffe shows about his overall skill as an executive.

Nobody is President alone. Every head of state has a team which they build to inform them of events and policy, to help them craft strategies and talking points, to groom their presentation.

This gaffe indicates a failure of Johnson's own interest in the conflict. It indicates that the failure was so total that he did not even instruct his team to get him a briefing on the topic. Furthermore, it indicates that the sort of people that Johnson has chosen to guide and aid him in presenting an executive presence ALSO failed to take an interest in the topic, to take initiative and prepare their candidate, to support him and make him competent. Instead, these are people who have let the campaign slogan be "Feel the Johnson," apparently oblivious to the fact that if you are feeling the johnson, you are getting fucked. Luckily, they made that clear today. The Johnson campaign is the blind leading the blind, no matter which way you look at it.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What About Chomsky?

I don't normally quote Chomsky, but I saw this one and it immediately brought to mind countless "debates" where no progress was made because the group got bogged down in the "right" way to talk - how to phrase things in a way that wasn't microaggressive or privileged or otherwise "problematic".

Image result for chomsky smug

What makes this association worth noting is that these contexts, where policing language and mindset was more important than actual debate, are almost exclusively the domain of the oft-maligned liberal academic. That is to say, these are almost exclusively the domain where Chomsky resides.
In 2015, neuroscientist and prominent Atheist Sam Harris had an unproductive e-mail exchange with the semanticist and prominent political commentator Noam Chomsky, which Sam Harris later published in full on his blog in an entry fittingly titled "The Limits of Discourse." While the right wing cheered Harris for his militant anti-Islamism and the left wing cheered Chomsky for his militant anti-Americanism, what stood out to me was Noam Chomsky's immediate and steadfast refusal to discuss anything without an a priori acceptance of his terms and his worldview. Chomsky will not consider any criticism of his assumptions or conclusions, and is somewhat famous for a level of "whataboutism" where he shifts goalposts in order to avoid ceding a point.
There is a real danger in all ideologies to create echo chambers and engage in thought policing and ideological purity tests. The academic world already tends to an emphasis on theory rather than practice, (as Yogi Berra said, "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.") but so long as there is commerce between the theoretical and the practical the experiments can have relevance and meaning. There is no harm in pursuing an idea to its logical extremes, so long as we remain cognizant that these conclusions do not necessarily follow. When theory is found wanting in the face of observed reality, the correct answer is not to reject the observations or reality. As it is, reality already seems to have a liberal bias anyhow. We don't need to fudge it in our favor.
If we do that we are no better than the right-wing mouthpieces like Breitbart, Limbaugh, Trump, Hannity, and O'Reilly.
Or Chomsky.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Anarchism is a Loser's Game

The following is a reply to a member of an anarcho-capitalist group. The response is "in-line" and the portions of the reply which are quoted from the AnCap are presented in italics as well as being enclosed in quotation marks. The illustrations and links are added for color and interest.

"Consider for a moment that the history of government is, what, 10,000 years? How much time does a species need to "fine tune" a class system (that, as a rule, allows some in that species to use violence to enforce their will over others, either through popularity contests or some other means that legitimizes the ruler(s)) so that it works without leading to total collapse?"

I would contend that the complexity of the problem is second only to, if not on par with, the grand question of science. What I mean is that the number of factors which exist to be manipulated and understood, and the measurement of second- and third-order effects from manipulation of the factors, and the fact that oftentimes the manipulation of factors reveals information hitherto not even conceived, is similar to the way that the scientific method tends to raise more questions than it answers. The complexity of the problem is augmented by the fact that the parameters of the experiment are constantly shifting - the human condition is markedly different from what it was even at the beginning of recorded history. Additionally, like science, the systematic analysis of the efficacy of the experiment is a novel development and, like science, the practice and interpretation of the method is subject to significant emotionalism from society.

For a short answer to "How much time?" I offer these two rhetoricals: How much time does a species need to fine tune its understanding of the universe? Would the abandonment of the rigidity of the scientific system be justified due to its failure to thus far produce complete understanding?

"Remember, you're arguing that some people *must* possess the "legal authority" to force their will on others with threats or actual use of violence in order to meet some utilitarian end."

As I've argued elsewhere in these threads, elimination of a legal governing apparatus does not necessarily reduce coercion; nor does it eliminate a class system. Realistically, it only reduces coercion de jure and replaces it with coercion de facto: the claim that a man is free to leave his job, and is therefore not "coerced" or "enslaved" is naive. No economy can be comprised entirely of successful venture capitalists, all economies require the skills of laborers and as such any economy outside of the strictest Planned Economy will have stratification.

The expense of vital services comprises a greater portion of the income of the poor. In an anarcho-capitalist society, where all services are rendered by private (and ostensibly, for-profit) businesses, this means that the poor must either prioritize which services they will pay for - to include vital services - or they must collectivize in order to bargain for them, a practice which has been sneered upon by your associates in other portions of this thread.

Why the freedom to freely associate and form supportive organizations which create bargaining parity is somehow immoral is beyond me. I do not understand why it is necessary for the business owner to hold all the cards if the only requirements for the AnCap model are the right to freely contract as sovereign entities; but it seems that to some, the right of the business owner to dictate wages is more important than the right of the worker to freely form a coalition in order to negotiate.

Returning to the point of the expense of vital service, I would like to comment on the market implications of a game theory model; the first-order effects of which you can yourself observe any time you see, say, two coffee shops on the same block:

Consider a beach of length X. On this beach are two ice cream vendors, selling an identical product at an identical price. The beach is populated evenly along its length by bathers who, realizing that the product is identical, will minimize the effort/time cost of obtaining ice cream by patronizing the nearest vendor. Where do the vendors establish their stands?

The optimal solution is that one vendor (Vendor A) establishes his stand at 1/4x, and the other (Vendor B) at 3/4x. In this arrangement, each vendor has half the beach as clients and client cost is minimized, with no client having to travel more than a quarter of the beach's length to obtain ice cream.

However, once the vendors are imbued with a profit motive, the optimal solution fails: Vendor A realizes that by moving his stand immediately next to Vendor B, he will control three quarters of the beach, even though only one third of his customers enjoy the convenience of having a vendor only .25x away, and some must travel as far as .75x for ice cream. Vendor B then moves his stand to the other side of Vendor A, effectively reversing their positions. This dance continues until a Nash equilibrium is reached with both vendors as close to .5x as possible. Each vendor now serves exactly as many clients, and generates the same revenue, as in the socially optimal solution. However, half the beach is now experiencing an exaggerated cost in obtaining ice cream.

When it's just ice cream on the beach, it's hard to care. When it comes to vital infrastructure, however, the difficulties of this arrangement become clear. Our mixed economy already places a premium on proximity to services such as fire and police departments, hospitals, schools, and commercial districts. The wealthy - who could afford the extra cost in transportation to these areas - instead pay a higher initial cost to station themselves near to them. The poor, who already have difficulty obtaining the services in the first place, now have an additional cost attached to even reaching the services, which exacerbates the stratification of the society.

The ability of the poor to deal with monetary inconvenience - ill health, temporary unemployment, vehicle breakdown, etc - is greatly reduced. These issues make it such that social mobility is exchanged for economic survival. The poor cannot afford to buy healthy food or buy supplies in bulk, so they purchase cheaper items which provide poorer sustenance or which have lower durability; the net result of which is that the cost of the same necessities which the wealthy buy not only claim a higher percentage of the poor's income, but that they are forced to spend money more often. The percentage of their cost of living isn't simply higher, it is disproportionately so.

The Anarcho Capitalist model of private toll roads, private security, private healthcare, etc. creates additional burdens on the poor. When you say:

"That is, the people who are on the receiving end of those threats or actual violence are, by all accounts, nothing more than drones meant to carry out the will of the rulers."

I see presented as an alternative a method whereby the poor are made drones, kept poor so that they can continue to buy services and cheap products to bolster the accounts of the entrepreneurial class.

Which leads us to the question of violence.

Most anarchist traditions rely on the voluntary participation of people in the social structure. The right-wing variations of them typically hold that private enterprise will provide goods and services through payment and contracts.

The question becomes: in what manner are these transactions and contracts enforced?

It is tempting to model these societies on the assumption of "enlightened self-interest," where the reputation of a company is what keeps it honest, and that companies will cooperate to provide socially optimal solutions. Those who propose this theory posit that the incentive towards profit maximization and rational actors on all sides of the arrangement will ensure the fair, impartial, and optimal distribution of goods and services - to each according to their ability, and assuming that ability is sufficient to match need. As with the ice cream vendor experiment above, the veracity of which can be determined in nearly any shopping center, this is not how human beings operate. And even in cases of game theory where the "winning" move - that is, the one which results in the maximization of profit to the player - assume rational actors on all sides, in many games the winning move is the one which disregards social cooperation.

Take, for instance, the "Centipede Game." As I've rambled on quite a bit already, I will leave it to you to familiarize yourself with the setup in the interest of brevity. There is an article on Wikipedia which does a fine job of discussing moves, payouts, and the empirical data of how people actually play.

In such a game played entirely by rational actors, the Nash equilibrium is reached on the first move, which ensures that the first player wins, though it means a much lower payout than the potential maximum. It is noted "Palacios-Huerta and Volij (2009) find that expert chess players play differently from college students. With a rising Elo, the probability of continuing the game declines; all Grandmasters in the experiment stopped at their first chance." This means that there is real experimental evidence that rational play does not result in the maximum payout. As anarcho-capitalists rely on the assumption of all parties to the social structure to be "rational," it will follow that such elimination of incentive - or requirement - to cooperate is inefficient. However, given the variation of rationality in the human race, various levels of apparent cooperation can be expected, with the various "players" cashing out based on two variables - 1) their individual threshold for a desirable payout, and 2) their assessment of the trustworthiness of the other players. In all cases, "defection" is inevitable as all players seek to maximize their profit and will do so the instant they assess the game is reaching imminence.

When applied to the supply of goods and services, highly rational actors can maximize profits by "playing rationally," that is, by screwing over the other guy as quickly and as often as possible. This does not bode well for the development of trust necessary for "enlightened self-interest" and all that is necessary for "enlightened self-interest" to fail as a social model is that barest bit of self-interest which causes people to "defect"

What this means is that, in the absence of methods which enforce cooperation, theft, fraud, and extortion become widespread. This can be witnessed in Bitcoin markets, where people regularly pay for goods or services which are undelivered. Without any means of enforcement on the trade, there is no recourse. Essentially, the "threat of violence," as AnCaps and libertarians so often put it, is necessary to ensure cooperation.

To tie it all together, let's consider the following scenario, based on the quote "Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins"

I am happily swinging my fist about when it connects with your nose. Whether this meeting was intentional or not is immaterial: You rightly demand an apology, and because in this scenario I am the sort of asshole who will do what he can get away with, I refuse. Not only that, I continue to swing my fist about, with no regard for your nose. You attempt to take responsibility for the well-being of noses everywhere, and attempt to exercise your right to self defense by attacking me. However, it seems I am an experienced fist swinger, and you are beaten. You appeal to your friends for support to deal with the fist swinging threat. As a person of limited means, you are able only to gather a few friends, but because this is a free market society violence is also a commodity for sale, and you pool some funds to retain a small posse in order to come and deal with me. When next you find me, however, you discover that I have not only a physical, but also an economic advantage: I am able to retain in my service a squad of the finest, most aggressive, and best equipped bodyguards.

You are clearly wronged, but due to the total privatization of all commodities, and the inherent stratification of wealth, you have no recourse in this scenario. The only possible way to deal with me would be to entreat an equally advantaged person to spend their wealth in support of your cause. Because of the security forces each party is able to hire, this results in some small-scale warfare which does not necessarily result in a just outcome, and which causes danger to innocent bystanders.

Government is an administrative apparatus, which exists primarily to deal with the affairs of those it governs in a way which minimizes expressed violence through the threat of violence. It is capable of enforcing contracts and ensuring the equitable distribution of goods and services by pooling resources and making them commonly available. One of these resources is justice.

You said:
"I think you're conflating what you have with why you have it. Those things exist and increased once people became freer."

Those things I mentioned which exist certainly have an aspect of freedom to their proliferation, but they have far more an aspect of planning to them. The light-socialism of Scandinavia is empirically responsible for the ascendancy of the people therein - by many metrics, they are among the happiest, most equitable, best educated, most mobile, and least stratified people on the planet. If their wealthy suffer for their tax rates, it is incomparable to the suffering of the poor who live paycheck to paycheck, living in constant dread of the next calamity.

Someone else in these threads stated something to the effect that the sole commandment of the human condition is "to survive". I call bullshit. Beasts just survive. We have reached our place on this planet through two things: social cooperation, from the human hunter-gatherer herds to the modern corporations or Scandinavian light-socialist governments; and the ability to modify our surroundings.

Any method which reduces the human condition to "survival" is a backwards step, sociologically, morally, and evolutionarily.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Morality of a Living Wage

Los Angeles County, a region with which I am well familiar, recently approved a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour over the next several years.

I'll admit that when the $15 an hour minimum wage was initially being discussed - towards the tail end of the Occupy movement and shortly before a measure to establish the wage appeared on a Seattle ballot - I was skeptical of the idea and disposed to oppose it on the typical economic alarmism and sneering at the demographic stereotypically assigned to such jobs.

After having the discussion over and over again, and researching the issue, I eventually came around. By the time the LA County bill passed, I was getting pissed off by short sighted and flawed macros such as this one, which was running the conservative circuit on my Facebook feed today:

Besides the fact that this seems to think that the minimum wage would only apply to fast food workers, rather than raising everyone's wages; it also ignores the critical fact that the emergency personnel (as well as many retail clerks, military personnel, office professionals, manual laborers, and professional artists) are in fact also severely underpaid. It suffers from an elitist conceit that appears to argue that, because a person is new to the workforce, or performs a menial task, they are not permitted to make enough money.

I entered into an argument over a similar graphic to this one and was so put off by my opponent's cavalier dismissal of basic human dignity (complaining that such dignity comes at the expense of making him pay a marginal increase in his cost of living) that I collected the various data that had informed my reformed opinion.

Society is a cooperative enterprise. In the various liberal traditions, including democratic ones such as our republic, that enterprise further becomes collaborative. The system exists for the benefit of everyone, not simply to prop up the lifestyles of a few elite. We are remiss if we do not maintain this cooperation or advance the enterprise in a way that at is at least as beneficial to subsequent generations, and we ought to strive to constantly improve. To promote a paradigm in which entire segments of society are impoverished is antithetical to the entire premise. This is the gestalt behind the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which established that workers will receive wages sufficient to maintain “the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being.” These words, appear to me to establish that there is a legal requirement that the minimum wage be a living wage.

An easy way to check the level "necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being" is to examine the welfare system. This system, established as a safety net, is designed to meet the needs of a person and their dependents in a manner consistent with basic human dignity. A 2013 study by the CATO institute concluded that 34 states and the District of Columbia pay welfare benefits with a value above the minimum wage. Of the 16 other states, 10 of them are among the states with the lowest cost of living in the nation and 6 of them - Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Idaho, Florida, and Kentucky - are in the bottom quartile of national average income. And a recent DoD review found that record numbers of soldiers were on supplemental income - primarily food stamps - in 2014. 

The fact that the economic safety net is set at a level above the minimum amount of money we agree can be paid to a person is the clearest possible indicator that the minimum wage is too low.

What does the social safety net say a dignified wage is? In California, the maximum welfare benefit is equivalent to a pre-tax income of $37,160/year, or $17.87/hour. This benefit includes support for dependents, as the MIT calculator for a single person living in LA county with no dependents needs to make $12.44/hour - an increase of 38% over the current state minimum wage and 24.4% over the state minimum wage in January of 2016. A couple with one person working needs to make $19.53/hour. A single parent needs to make over $25/hour. 

The California minimum wage in 2016, $10/hr, will still fail to match the highest buying power the minimum wage has had - the minimum wage in 1968 had an inflation-adjusted purchasing power of $10.51 in 2012.

In the post-recession economy, we are not just talking about 16 year old kids starting their first jobs when we talk about the minimum wage. We are talking about people re-entering the workplace. We are talking about people who had to accept any job they could find after layoffs. In 2013, Pew estimated that as many as half of minimum wage workers were adults. The 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows 49.6% of workers making minimum wage or lower were over the age of 25. The economic policy institute shows that the average age of a minimum wage worker is 35. 88% of them are over 20 and 28% have children. 55% work full-time.

This means that when we talk about keeping the minimum wage too low to make a living, we are impoverishing people who are trying to support families and in many cases find a way back to a job they lost circa 2008 through no fault of their own. We are additionally impoverishing people who, without additional income, are likely to become saddled with student debt, if they can pursue an education at all. These same people are increasingly likely to return to live at home, if they can ever reach a financial position to leave in the first place.

So in 34 states and the District of Columbia, the social safety net is not simply helping people "get back on their feet". The social safety net is practically a part of the wage structure. In nearly 75% of the nation, business is allowed to operate with increased overhead because the government is subsidizing wages for them. In cases where workers are holding two or three part-time jobs which are not required to provide any benefits, the government is also subsidizing the benefits.

It's time to adjust the wage.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

On riding the Congressional Red Wave

I'm not entirely hostile to the Republican Party, though for all that I malign democracy, the Democratic Party promotes a platform to which I am more sympathetic. This is due to two factors: First, I am an advocate for active social change rather than passive, laissez-faire methods. Second, I am actively opposed to religion and theocracy in all its forms and as such the coalition between the Republican Party and the politicized Christianity in America make it impossible for me to support any high-profile Republican in any capacity whatsoever.

So it should come as little surprise that I am less than pleased with the results of the midterm elections. It may be simple, stupid optimism, but I don't think that these results necessarily forebode a swing back towards the right wing in the 2016 presidential season. The next two years will constitute a trial period for the Republican Party, and the performance of Congress during this trial will have considerable impact on that election.

There are a few things that are going to influence this:

1) Repeal of the ACA - This could go either way. The Republicans have been after this since before it even passed, and so it is now one of the "big ticket" items on their agenda. This is something that will be used as a benchmark of their success, like getting out of Iraq and closing Guantanamo have been for Obama.

These benchmarks, of course, have very little to do with any actual effectiveness or competency, but because of their high profile and binary nature they are easy for voters to understand and rally behind. For this reason, the GOP essentially must pursue repeal of the ACA, despite what Mitch McConnell has promised in post-election interviews. To fail to do so is, in the mind of the voter, a failure of the GOP. The Republicans may expect that they can spin it as their efforts being blocked by the Democrats, but that spin is unlikely to hold up while they hold a majority. If it does, then the repeal of ACA gets to be a talking point for their next Presidential candidate. It's a tough tradeoff to measure.

Obviously, the greatest contributors to the enrollment numbers are the poor, who have seen an overall 9% decrease in uninsured people under the ACA. The kicker is that a higher percentage of Republicans gained insurance under the ACA than Democrats, so by repealing it Republicans will be hurting their own constituents, such as those in historically poor and republican areas such as Kentucky, Alabama, and Mississippi; and the deep south remains the most uninsured part of America.

Image Source: The New York Times
This does not indicate a large shift in votes, unfortunately, because voters tend to vote with ideology and not their brains. In Kentucky, for example, the ACA was a huge success. But despite high participation and a lack of an informed populace - who do not understand that the state franchise "Kynect" is an ACA program - voters in that state remain likely to support a repeal of the ACA and will probably blame Obama when their newly gained health insurance melts into the ether.

On the other side of the coin, young people (18-34), Hispanics, Blacks, and women all had significantly greater levels of enrollment than old white men. These are groups which tend to vote Democrat, and so will be fighting to keep the ACA on the books in two years' time.

2) Filibusters and Shutdowns - Unfortunately, the filibuster is a fact of life in Congress now - the commonly cited figure is that 70% of all bills before the Congress will be filibustered and only 2-3% of them will ultimately pass. The desirability of that latter point is a debate outside the scope of this discussion; it does, however, give an indication of the ability of our Congress to actually accomplish anything. As an organization tasked with running the nation and fixing its problems, a 2-3% implementation rate is eyebrow raising to say the least.

Abuse of this procedural artifact has been brought to light recently but it will make no real difference in the perception of either party. I assess that the minority party - which is the one with the most to gain from a filibuster - will suffer slightly more blame; on the other hand the mechanism is now identified in the public consciousness as a Republican strategy. At best, it comes out as a wash.

Speaking of Republican strategy, however, leads us into something which explicitly IS a Republican strategy: Holding the nation hostage via the Government Shutdown.

The shutdowns in recent years reflected extremely poorly on the Republicans, as the nation overwhelmingly (and rightly) viewed the loss of services as a dangerous and irresponsible act of political brinksmanship, rather than - as the GOP had hoped - as the inevitable results of a failure of the reigning Democrats to negotiate.

The voter has a short memory, as it turns out, and they decided that the solution was more Republicans. During the campaign season, Sen. Mitch McConnell threatened to use government shutdowns as a strongarm method to get their way. He quickly waffled on that point - presumably after an aide showed him the polls from the last shutdown - and has vowed "no shutdown, no repeal [of the ACA]" in the post-election interviews. At least one of those points is disingenuous, and the fact remains that the cat is out of the bag now. Congressional Republicans - who have to deal with not only Democrats, but the rogue and extremist Tea Party members - have historically demonstrated their willingness to shut the government down and it remains a threat that they can continue to employ. If the extremist elements within the GOP do not fall in line, the fallout from even the threat of a shutdown will reflect very poorly on a Republican Congress, who will be seen not only as disruptive as ever, but also as unable to control a congress in which they hold a majority.

Therefore, filibusters and shutdowns will inevitably end poorly for the Republicans in 2016, forcing them to take a less rigid, more ecumenical position in order to market themselves as a party that can solve problems.

3) Vetoes - There is really not much relevant data on veto-heavy terms. The Reconstruction era Presidency of Andrew Johnson, while culminating in an impeachment attempt, is not analogous because Congress had the votes to override a veto.

I expect, however, that a high number of vetoes is likely to go in favor of the GOP. Americans prefer an ecumenical government and the veto counteracts this idea in two ways.

First, it has the President throwing out the orders of our democratically elected Congress. Despite being democratically elected himself, there is simply no way to avoid the spin on this.

Second, while the Republicans hold a majority in Congress, they lack the supermajority necessary to override a veto. Once again, rather than being seen as the essence of republicanism in action, where our representatives have a balance of power which prevents a runaway Congress, this will be spun as a Democrat minority exercising a disruptive power to prevent the "will of the people". By passing laws that they expect to be vetoed, especially with the congressional tendency to attach emotionally charged titles to bills, the GOP can counteract at least some of the bad press from the above point by casting the democrats in an uncooperative and heartless light.

Expect the number of idiotic bills with emotional names and causes to increase as the election season picks up. The Republicans may also, in the spirit of Congress under Andrew Johnson, use a series of vetoes to pursue their OTHER high profile key agenda item: Impeachment of the President.

4) Impeachment of the President - This is the "Big Ticket" which the GOP has been pursuing for six years for no reason whatsoever. Mitch McConnell made assurances that his Congress would not shut down the government and that they would not fully repeal the ACA, but the impeachment of President Obama is still on the table.

This is a losing move for the Republicans and I hope they make it.

As above, they must pursue this point as a matter of public perception. Unlike with the ACA, however, there is a time limit. They cannot let this sit idle until they are in a better position to move - they must act in less than two years or they have failed.

Contrary to GOP hysteria, Obama has not committed any "Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors" and therefore is not subject to impeachment - or to be more precise, there is nothing to convict the President of in the event that impeachment proceeds to a trial before the Senate. Impeachment proceedings are a high profile case which would force the issue - Republicans would have to present their evidence and have it weighed. The failure of their case will be a high profile stain on years of campaigning, and the distraction of the case from other matters of national import will become a burden on the GOP for pursuing a petty political agenda at their expense.

Ultimately, I expect that it is safer for the Republicans to avoid the issue of impeachment overall so that they may maintain their theatrics, rather than suffer the much worse failure to convict the President. This puts them in a bind: as I've repeatedly said throughout this post, they must pursue impeachment now that they have a majority and the must do it within a set time limit.

It is possible that the GOP expects the payoff for repealing the ACA to be higher than that of even a half successful impeachment. Repeal of the ACA is high profile and the fallout from its removal lacks the immediacy necessary for the voters to attribute the cause of their ire appropriately. Should this be the case, it works against the Democrats in 2016 as well. Candidates can proudly say that they supported and defended the ACA should it survive a Republican assault; on the other hand,
failure of the GOP to impeach the President is not something which a Democratic candidate can mention without tying together the ideas of impeachment and the Democratic administration.

Ultimately, I don't expect either plan to come to fruition, but the GOP is likely to stage a big show of assaulting the ACA while letting their plans for impeachment fall by the wayside. This will give them contentious and ideologically charged fodder to ride in the 2016 presidential season. What remains is whether or not two years of a Republican Congress will convince the swing voters that the GOP is reactionary and dangerous, or if it will convince them that the GOP needs more rope to pursue its agenda.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Shrine of an Idiot God

While I am sympathetic for many reasons, I am increasingly of the opinion that one of the greatest recommendations of the monarchic system is that it has as an effect the disenfranchisement of essentially the entirety of a societies many, many idiots.

This has no bearing on the actual quantity of idiots present, or their vociferousness, but so long as the particular idiot that you hear is not the monarch, you can take comfort in the absolute knowledge that this idiot is not, and never will be, dictating policy. In this day and age I think nobody can deny the appeal of that sort of assured impotence in ones ideological opposition.

Imagine what changes there would be in our approach to discourse, which in the internet age is more prolific than ever, if it were known by both parties that their discussions are nothing but the exploration of hypotheticals? Without the illusion that anything said by any pundit has the slightest influence on policy, what good could getting worked up possibly do? From whence would come vitriol? Perhaps it is out of the habit of a lifetimes under a crown that gave our forefathers their seemingly effortless ability to discuss passionately matters of state, then just as quickly turn from them to more mundane subjects: a deeply ingrained belief that nothing they wrote actually had import or impact.

So what if the monarch is not brilliant, a master statesman? So what if now and again the monarch is one of the idiots? That is actually another upside which is critical to the contentment of the populace: Someone concrete to blame.

The monarch, as the State incarnate, literally is responsible personally for the well-being or otherwise of their subjects. If there is one thing that can be proven by the rantings of the people - of their blame casting and religious fervor and conspiracy theorizing and appeals to the state to intervene somehow - it is that the people above all want to know that someone is ultimately in charge. Not some amorphous, intangible Congress or Parliament. One solitary individual. Human nature all but demands a king.

And why not? Better to have one person in charge than this Byzantine mess of shifting allegiances and untraceable accountabilities. One person under whom we all thrive together or not; one person who is trained in the art of statecraft and who may even excel in it, potentially to bring us to new heights.

Let's not forget that the vast majority of governments have been some form of autocracy. The bulk of human achievement - art, technology, civics, literature, philosophy - has been accomplished under these conditions. The greatest and widest and longest lived empires the world has seen were united under a crown. Let's stop pretending that this is an accident.

Let's stop pretending that populist doublethink has truly improved upon tried and true methods. Let's abandon the idea that democracy and republicanism are new developments and logical progressions of autocratic government, when in fact these institutions date back to the ancient world. Let's stop pretending that by forcing politicians to pander to the populace for votes that we have attained greater transparency or accountability in our government; or that the plebians are even entitled to a hand at statecraft. Let's abandon that notion that says that all of us are better than some of us. Let's stop pretending that it isn't stupid to believe that democracy isn't mediocrity enshrined: that the law of averages somehow works in our favor in the long run.

Let's give monarchy another go of it.