Thursday, May 12, 2016

Grassroots Versus Top Down

The idea of political devolution in, or perhaps more accurately the de-federalization of, the United States is an intriguing one to me. I've written about this before. I wonder if the federal republic of the United States will disappear, not because of an active agency from without or within that orchestrates some sort of coup, but rather through either indifference or, more likely, obsolescence. The republican form of federation that the United States is currently constructed of might simply become too old-school to continue. It might have met its expiration date.

One evidence of this is the evolution of megaregions across the United States that hold seventy percent of both the populations and the jobs in the country. As one authority notes: "The New Megas, are the real economic organizing units of the world, producing the bulk of its wealth, attracting a large share of its talent and generating the lion's share of innovation." *
Source: Wikipedia
We seem to be seeing the reformation of the city-state and not just in the United States. These megaregions, often agglomerations of mega-cities, wield economic and political power that is not yet full understood or even recognized, but which have the capacity to work independently of the other or, for that matter, of any larger national governance. And we see this already being expressed, as discussed in the link in the first paragraph. 

Perhaps this also helps to explain the growing, although still nascent, support for Texan secession. It has recently made the news that elements within the Republican Party in Texas want to discuss at the upcoming state convention whether Texas ought to leave the union. While this very idea will probably not even make it to the floor for a vote, the very fact that it is being discussed is significant. Even more, to me, the fact that the top GOP leadership of Texas really wants nothing to do with this entire issue, and that the very idea of secession is being pushed at the lowest levels of the party's governance (at the county'level) is even more telling. This is because of the fact that all meaningful, genuine, and lasting political movements begin (or at least must find its weight in numbers) at the grassroots level. And this is what is happening in Texas. While only the GOP party leadership of only one county supported the idea Texas independence as of 2012, it has grown to at least 10 counties and possibly even up to 22  today (out of 270). Crazy!

Perhaps I'm not connecting the dots correctly, but mass consciousness can express itself in seemingly polar-opposite ways, but still be cut from the same fabric of thought and concern. For example, the right-wing populist Trump and the left-wing populist Sanders are both candidates reflecting disenchantment with the current political establishment, and the  right-wing Tea Party and the left-wing Occupy Wall Street both reflect the same fear of the rising Deep State.  

Every empire ends, every political entity has a shelf life, and every generation forgets the past, lives in the present, and has its own answers for the future. We just don't always know the timeline. 

*Dewar, Margaret and David Epstein (2006). "Planning for 'Megaregions' in the United States." Ann Arbor, MI: Urban and Regional Planning Program, University of Michigan. (via Wikipedia)

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Joke That Sums It Up

I heard this recently:
"The problem with this year's presidential election is that one of the two candidates is going to win."

Monday, May 2, 2016

Populism Is A Symptom

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines populism as "a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people." That is, 1) a politician who asserts that the interests and concerns of voters should be the driver of the political agenda, and 2) is by default anti-establishment. Thus the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the United States presidential campaigns. The popularity of both are fueled by populist sentiments to the right (Trump) and the left (Sanders). 

As has been discussed before, the rise of these populist candidates is not by chance. Americans have discovered that the political process does not work; that it does not serve their interests, and it has been co-opted by America Inc -- the large businesses and special interests of corporate America, which we could put in a nutshell as the industrial-military complex. 

And I'm convinced that it is not going to get better anytime soon. I've written before about how polarized Congress has become and how this entrenched political polarization has generated a systemic impotence for real reform. What does the future hold?

I've also commented in the past how I've become convinced that this Congress is the most divided since the Civil War. Now I have some evidence. I recently read an article from the Department of Economics of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- Working Paper, "Patterns Of Congressional Voting," by Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal, Sept. 1989 -- that examined voting patterns of every Congress from 1789 to 1985. Here's what they discovered: 

  • "[L]egislation is shaped not only by the 535 members of Congress and attendant thousands of staff, but also by influences rising in the executive, organized lobbies, the media, and from private individuals." (No revelation here, but it is nice to see it observed and noted.)
  • "The spatial structure uncovered by the [computer] model is very stable and it breaks down precisely when the political system breaks down; first, from 1815 to 1825, after the collapse of the Federalist party, and, second, in the early 1850's upon the collapse of the Whigs and the division over slavery." (I suspected the second example, I neglected to consider the first.)
  • "[I]n contrast to earlier historical periods, political change must now be accomplished by the selection of new legislators through the electoral process rather than by the adaptation of incumbent legislators to changes in public demands." (In other words, even by 1985 -- if not earlier -- party loyalty had ossified the political process, as compromise becomes a non-option.)
  •  "[T]he possibility of major political change has been sharply reduced because the average distance between the two major parties has fallen dramatically in this century." (This is not what it might first appear, as the distance that the authors are describing here is not distance in political ideologies, but that both parties have been co-opted by vested interests: they're both equally corrupt. Remember, this was published in 1989!)
At least by this measure, my suspicions have been confirmed: the US Congress has ceased to function as an institution of democracy, but has become simply an agent of the industrial-military complex. The American democratic process has become a fascade of a real, functioning democracy, at least at the federal level. Subsequently I'll state it again: Hillary will win the next presidential election, as she is the choice of the vested interests. They will tolerate the current campaign only to 1) insure their candidate's success and 2) to discredit any opposition.

These are unprecedented times.   

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why Voting Matters...I think

It's difficult to understand the causes and effects of a divided legislature as the factors that generate such a division are manifold. If one were to assume that, as a democracy, the makeup and ideologies of political representatives in Congress are a mirror of the makeup and ideologies of the American people, this would be incorrect. This is based on the supposition that everyone who is allowed to participate in the political process does, namely voting.

Unfortunately this is not the case. Indeed most Americans who are eligible to vote -- being 18 and older and a citizen -- do not vote. In fact, a significant minority of registered American voters (those eligible to vote and are able to do so because they've bothered to register) do not bother to vote. In other words, the American political process of representative government is controlled by a minority of Americas -- that is, those who bother to register and then to cast their ballots.

And the trend toward non-participation in the democratic process is increasing, meaning the minority of Americans that do vote are gaining in influence simply because they bother to cast a ballot and have their voices heard.

The US Census Bureau recently released a study that documents this trend in declining participating in voting from 1978 to 2014. 

Congressional elections are defined in this study as those elections that are between presidential elections. Note how few citizens (those eligible to vote, registered or not) bother to vote. With one exception, always below 50%.

More people bother to vote during presidential election years -- although one cannot call a participation rate in the 60% range significant -- but only a minority can get up off the couch during non-presidential election years.

White voters are more likely to have their voices heard than non-white voters.

And older Americans, especially Baby-Boomers, are more active in voting than any other age group, which can go far in explaining why the American Congress looks the way it does.

What does this all mean? It means that only those American who are more politically savvy, those that understand the power and influence of the voting process, vote. The majority of these voters are older white American baby-boomers. And this can also explain why our political parties are increasingly becoming further and further polarized: as fewer voices are being heard, only those who are most ardent in their politics -- meaning toward a political pole on the political continuum, rather than being in the political center -- will determine who gets elected. That is why, increasingly, we see fewer and fewer political centrists in Congress.

The following video gives a visual representation of this process. It is quite fascinating.

Remember, apathy (as in voter apathy) is a value and that value is reflected in the polls and as well the makeup of Congress. When fewer and fewer Americans vote, we get what we deserve: our present Congress -- perhaps the most inept since the founding of the Republic. The only time I can think when the US Congress was this polarized was right before the Civil War. I'm not saying that the US is on the brink of Civil War, hardly. But widespread and systemic non-participation in the democratic processes by wide swaths of Americans generates its own dynamic.

An interesting time to be alive. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Blue Vs. Black

I was unaware of Blue Lives Matter until I read this article by the BBC. Blue Lives Matter is a Twitter handle for Andie Pauly, who widely shares her cultural perspectives that strongly lean toward the political right. She writes primarily within the context of police officers and their families and the challenges that the police face in their public service; hence, "blue lives"  matter -- reflecting the color of most police department uniforms across the US.

As the BBC points out this woman's perspectives have become a lightning rod for both support from the right and intense criticism from the left. So divisive is the ongoing Twitter feud between her supporters and critics that it has become demonstrative -- in the words of the BBC -- of "how toxic America's culture wars have become."

I've examined in this in previous posts, that Americans are slowly but inexorably separating themselves not only emotionally but even physically from their political opposites (see The Dividing America series of posts).
Image: FreeThoughtProject
One of the most ardent and vocal opponents of Andie Pauly and her Blue Lives Matter crusade are the supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Lives Matter is a movement to draw attention toward police violence against inner-city African Americans. The Black Lives Matter movement came about as a reaction to the multiple murders of unarmed black men by (predominantly) white police officers -- murders that were frequently caught on camera and dispersed widely through social media, shocking Americans of all stripes and colors.
It is fascinating and unfortunate that the supporters of both the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements are such resolute opponents of the other. Although this might sound terribly pollyannaish, don't both black and blue lives matter? Why the disconnect? Why the hostile opposition of the one group toward the other?

Our society is coming apart at the seams. The BBC is right, our social strife is becoming toxic. Where are the bridge builders? Where are peace makers?
Image: AG News

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Growing Political Party Identification Divide

As was examined earlier in a four-part series (one, two, three, and four) the body politic of the United States is sifting itself into two primary identities -- identities that really transcend one's identity as Americans. I suppose, effectively, these are ironically post-nationalist identities.

Two social researchers, Shanto Iyengar of Stanford University and Sean J. Westwood of Princeton University, published an article in the American Journal of Political Science titled "Fear and Loathing across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization" (link). Here they examined the growing division among Americans along lines according to political party identification. This division even trumps the racial divide, especially among white voters.

It's a fairly long though easy read and quite compelling. For those of you who do not want to take the time to read it, here's what I've gleamed from it:
  • Americans may not speak their deepest feelings when discussing race issues, but they will do so in regards to political ones. In other words, Americans may not be honest in their discussions about race, but they are frank and honest in sharing their dislike of and alienation with members of the opposing political party.
  • Today, the definition of what it means to be a Democrat is to not be a Republican, and vice versa. And this identification is not political (!), but rather affective -- meaning that it is not determined intellectually but by feelings. It is a social identity.
  • This increasing partisanship among voters is reflected in the political process. There is a growing tendency to "bash" one's political opponents in Congress and in the state legislatures  (the opposing political party representatives) rather than cooperate. Cooperation is viewed as appeasement and might threaten a politician's ability to be re-elected. 
  • Lastly, this sense of political identification has become so entrenched that it contributes to how an American views him or herself. The authors state that in the 1950s political identity was relatively weak, but today it is significantly different: "Today, the sense of partisan identification is all encompassing and affects behavior in both political and nonpolitical contexts."
The question that remains to be answered is if these paradigmatic differences are fissure points. I do not think that they are in and of themselves, but they do serve as the basis for personal identification in an in-group vs. out-group context.This is not good, as the last time I can think of where such a similar difference existed was right before the Civil War.

If anything, these differences demonstrate a sense of post-nationalism, as neither extreme party position allows for the continuance of a status quo "let's just simply agree to disagree." Now it's "go to hell.",204,203,200_.jpg

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Empires, Warmongering, And Bankruptcy

This is insanity. President Obama is proposing spending $1 trillion dollars to upgrade and expand the American nuclear arsenal. As posted on Bill Moyer, the President wants to insure American nuclear hegemony well into the present century. Besides the fact that this entire idea is ludicrous, even if it could be rationalized how can it be afforded? Even the Defense Department wonders, even though they are pushing for it:

Critics charge that the expenditure of this staggering sum will either bankrupt the country or, at the least, require massive cutbacks in funding for other federal government programs. “We’re… wondering how the heck we’re going to pay for it,” admitted Brian McKeon, an undersecretary of defense. And we’re “probably thanking our stars we won’t be here to have to have to answer the question,” he added with a chuckle.

This is simply further evidence that 1) the US is an empire that is soon to collapse, as such reckless spending on the military suggests. As has been repeatedly pointed out elsewhere, empires are more likely to bankrupt themselves out of existence rather than suffer from invasion (here and here). And 2) the military-industrial complex has won! There seems to be no stopping it (I've written on this here).

What adds insult to injury with this proposed trillion dollar extravaganza is the fact that Americans are getting poorer and quickly so (see here). The Pew Charitable Trusts have just released figures that demonstrate how perilous this decline is becoming. Here are some charts:
Yes, income is going up, yet costs of living are rising faster. The chart below posts similar information in a different format:
  And the lowest classes are struggling the most. The highlighting is my own:
Ergo: we're going broke, but the president (and his supporters in Congress) want to build even more nuclear warheads. 

At times I wonder if I should move somewhere else, but there's no other place to go. Hmm, I wonder if we can change things through the ballot box? (Ha ha ha, I crack myself up.)

Your thoughts?