Politicizing Science

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Now that science denial is coming back into (political) fashion, and indeed, an entire government is going to be built on lies and bad information, I feel like it’s now my duty to combat incorrect information as much as I can. I’m going to start posting frequently on issues where bad information is prevalent. It will be sort of a political myth-busting. The hope is that each piece can be used as a guide to the truth on a particular subject. It may not change many minds, but hopefully will at least help provide an argument for the side of reason.

Many of these pieces will be science-based (although not all of them). Science is a toolset – a framework for understanding the universe. A willingness to absorb and not dismiss new information is paramount. Openness, flexibility, and a thirst for new information are key elements. Trying to squeeze and manipulate a premise around an existing set of beliefs is the opposite of what we want here. Unfortunately, the new administration seems to be leaning away from science, and toward pandering to business interests.

Far too many people distrust science as something nakedly partisan. Indeed, one of the two major American political parties has spent a significant amount of time – especially since the nineties – as the anti-science party. Much effort has been made by Republican public officials, business interests, and media outlets to argue that certain scientific disciplines contain inherent political bias. This attitude now has increased power and influence under Donald Trump.

Writer Chris Mooney has written extensively about this. I highly recommend checking out his works on the topic. He has discussed at length how anti-science attitudes within the Republican Party has allowed the creation of bad laws and has damaged our potential scientific, technological, and even social advancement in the world. Education suffers when science is treated with political suspicion.

The fact that the basic framework for understanding the material world is treated politically is a major problem. We can have reasonable disagreements on taxes, budgets, firearms restrictions, the role of government in regulating business and healthcare, and on and on. There is a spectrum of reasonable positions to be held on these topics. However, the scientific consensus on certain topics should be above politics. There aren’t debates on the Senate floor over whether or not the Earth is the center of the universe, or if germs exist. Why are confirmed facts like anthropogenic climate change, biological evolution, the safety of vaccines (more of a fight on the right, contrary to some pundits), and the failure of abstinence education treated as an ideological litmus test?

Obviously many people don’t have an understanding of what the word “theory” actually means. And “scientific fact” is rarely completely clear-cut. But the following points are as much a scientific truth as germ theory or the heliocentric solar system:

* Anthropogenic climate change is real. I will devote an entire post to this to explore it in greater depth, but suffice to say, the planet IS warming because of human effects. Pretty much all serious climate science has confirmed this.

* The enormous variety of life on earth can best be explained by evolution via mutation, natural selection, and possibly other processes yet understood.

* The Earth is around 4.5 billion years old, and our universe is somewhere around 13 billion years old. The evidence for this is strong and has yet to be successfully refuted by those with religious agendas.

* Genetic research, stem cell development, GMOs, and so on are all vital areas of study, and have done much good for humanity.

* Governments have had a role in funding and administering scientific research for many years and are often best equipped for doing so. By providing government funding for R&D (compared to private research), the profit motive is removed or reduced, and important innovations can be developed that may not reap immediate financial rewards. A great deal of our modern, computer-based technologies can be attributed to government-funded research in pretty much every scientific discipline. NASA alone is responsible for an enormous amount of spin-off technology.

The reasons for Republican hostility to science vary. For many, it’s simply based on greed. I’ve discussed before how opposition to climate change seems to coincide suspiciously with the amount of campaign funding provided by fossil-fuel companies.  This is the very definition of corruption, but seems to be shrugged off by climate change deniers. That the Earth is warming is not in doubt. The human impact of that warming is a near-certainty as well. The science is clear, solid, and well-documented. But such scientific stalwarts as NASA, NOAA, and the EPA are all derided as politically biased – by those with their own specific political biases and a minimal sense of irony. Climate change research is likely to take a major hit under the Trump Administration, as Trump insists on staffing his Cabinet with people who make money off releasing carbon into the atmosphere and oceans. The potential for long-term damage to human civilization is horrific, and the Republican Party not only doesn’t care, but actively denies the problem. This issue will be one of the first I plan to discuss in depth, as it may be the greatest long-term threat to humanity. And that threat is exacerbated by the politicization of science.

Religious extremism also comes into play here. Opposition to research on contraception, genetically modified crops, and stem cell development all seem to be prevalent among the Christian Right. Despite the blatant unconstitutionality of making laws based on religious belief, a significant percentage of the Republican contingent in Congress fights against federal funding of certain sciences due to conflict with their religious convictions. Or, more cynically, some may simply be voting in the direction their electoral base might support. Either way, science is cherry-picked for reasons unsuited to running a secular government.

Some of a more libertarian bent simply believe (regardless of opinions on the science itself) that any government investment in scientific fields is a problem. These are the Ayn Rand True Believers who equate any government with tyranny. You know, except for military spending. And corporate welfare. And the drug war. And so on. Fake libertarians like Paul Ryan and Rand Paul who are just as ethically flexible as anyone else.

Science doesn’t become less valid whether or not scientifically illiterate elected officials believe in it or not. Climate change is real and important to combat. It’s actually not just important, but perhaps the greatest long-term existential threat to human society. I know I already said this, but it bears repeating. Pretending (or believing) it isn’t real when it’s HAPPENING RIGHT NOW is frightening.

Hey Republicans, from this liberal independent to all of you: CLIMATE CHANGE ISN’T LIBERAL OR CONSERVATIVE. Just like gravity or microbes aren’t. The apocryphal apple didn’t remain suspended in mid-air over Newton’s head, waiting for Tories to approve.

It becomes a point of faith that certain sciences are liberal hoaxes. Public support for and against these sciences follows predictably partisan lines. And political leadership works hard to reinforce this divide. Meanwhile, scientists of all political ideologies are increasingly aghast at obstruction and denial of reality. The Republican Party will endanger lives and marginalize themselves by fighting against reality. James Inhofe can play with snowballs during sessions of Congress, and meanwhile, the oceans will continue to rise, extreme weather events will occur more frequently, and the most powerful and advanced country on earth will turn a blind eye to the problem.

Increased political polarization and legislative gridlock doesn’t seem to be improving. And with a new Executive Branch set to follow the same science denial as the extreme fringe of the GOP, ideological division isn’t likely to improve. Somehow, science needs to separate from ideology. That’s going to be a difficult task. The human mind is adept at allowing all sorts of biases to cloud our judgement. As long as Barack Obama understands that climate change, evolution, and gravity are all real, there will be a number of people who vehemently insist on the opposite. What will it take to change minds? Will Chesapeake Bay be pooling around James Inhofe’s ankles during his next snowball fight? Will that be enough?

As always, others have said it better. Check these links out for more information:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/apr/28/can-the-republican-party-solve-its-science-denial-problem

http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-07-23/republican-says-his-partys-denial-climate-science-courting-disaster-voters

http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2016/06/30/donald_trump_is_the_inevitable_result_of_decades_of_gop_denial_of_reality.html

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/why-republicans-still-reject-the-science-of-global-warming-w448023

https://www.wired.com/2015/01/senators-dont-believe-human-caused-climate-change/

Posted in Governance, Myths and misconceptions, Politics, Science, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Backlash

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In this new era of President Trump, where there has been an enraged backlash against the new elements of the civil rights movement, concepts like Black Lives Matter find themselves under assault.

Many white Americans who bristle at the notion of being considered racist have vehemently derided Black Lives Matter as racist in its own right. They point to protests that have turned violent. They cite articles from websites with anti-civil rights agendas like Breitbart. They regurgitate long-debunked myths about black criminality. Within the new echo chambers of social media and so-called fake news, racist opinions fester and multiply.

Americans have always believed hateful things. Bigotry is hardly new. Indeed, it may actually be declining, ever-so-slightly, over time. But whenever significant moments of social change occur, there is an uptick in resistance to that change.

The rise of Trump has already been subject of endless thinkpieces. There is likely no single answer to explain why Donald Trump is the current American president-elect. Failures of Democratic messaging and ideology, interference from the Russian government, disruption from the FBI, the cyclical nature of American political control, the disproportionate electoral power of small states within the Electoral College, and a steady trend toward increased polarization, have all played major roles. No one thing can be blamed as the ultimate culprit. However, one aspect that certainly influenced and energized Trump voters has to be white resentment toward social change.

Post-election analysis has frequently castigated the Democrats for “playing identity politics.” Essentially, Democrats are being told (sometimes by themselves) if they just stopped caring about civil rights so damn much, and tailored their message to white people, then they would win.

Yeah, or maybe they would just become lukewarm Republicans.

People don’t like to be called racist. Yeah, no kidding. But even that statement is proof that a lot of white people are completely missing the point. Yeah, there are certainly exceptions, but for the most part, white people AREN’T being told they’re racist. They are being asked to confront the fact that people of color, women, LGBT individuals, the disabled – all have things tougher in this country than they do.

However, far too many white people take that as a direct affront to themselves. This goes back to the concept of white defensiveness. Of societal privilege.

White people point to successful civil rights progress from the Sixties through today. They point to the election of an African-American president. They point out a black or gay friend they might have. They aren’t racist, they swear. They condemn the KKK just like anyone else. And they resent being told they are privileged. They have money problems, too. They’ve had struggles. What’s this privilege bullshit you’re talking about?

President Obama has discussed this himself. Telling someone they’re racist usually just causes more defensiveness. However, ignoring the underlying issues of race that are constantly bubbling under the surface of our national culture won’t help, either.

There are better ways to address racism than calling someone racist.

Maybe. But there are also some problems with that statement.

I find it interesting that the behavior itself is suddenly less offensive than the observation of said behavior. And I find it downright hilarious that people who rail against political correctness are such delicate flowers when their own behavior is described to them.

When Trump supporters rant about “political correctness,” “social justice warriors,” “multiculturalism,” and “identity politics,” they aren’t necessarily intending overt racism. But often they are. And in terms of the societal effects, the difference between reflexive defensiveness and blatant bigotry may not end up amounting to much.

Many white Americans are basically scared of the advancement of people of color. But it’s not that they necessarily oppose a simplistic idea of equality. Many feel that such equality has already been achieved, and discussing issues of systemic racism, police brutality, media bias, and so on, amounts to a personal attack on their very whiteness. Most wouldn’t articulate it quite that way, of course. But that’s what it amounts to. Seeing a person of color win the highest office in the land amounted to an enormous affront to many white Americans. And yet to others, it was a validation. See? We aren’t racist. There’s a black guy in the White House. Let’s all move on now and cut taxes. Or whatever.

Barack Obama’s victories allowed many whites to proclaim that the arguments should now be over, and any more discussion of race is just “divisive.” This is where you get white conservatives calling Obama himself a racist and “the most divisive president ever.” To many black Americans, who have watched (often with frustration) the President take consistently cautious and appeasing steps when discussing race, this is just ridiculous. What has been divisive is the constant rage and unceasing pushback from his (largely white) political opponents. Obama bent over backwards to not discuss privilege, or systemic racism. He attempted to repeatedly engage Republicans and present himself as bipartisan and post-racial. And the response – racism, obstruction, and naked partisanship. Every single time. So, toward the end of his terms, the filter would loosen a bit, and President Obama would speak more directly about his experiences, or the experiences of people of color. And when he did, the refrain was instantaneous. “The President is divisive! The President is racist!”

White America doesn’t like being called racist. Fine. Who does? But it’s deeper than that. People don’t like to even discuss uncomfortable truths. People are scared of examining the reality of those who don’t have things as easy as themselves. Of course racism is dead for many white people. Because they don’t have to deal with the business end of that racism. Police are less likely to treat them with suspicion and aggression. Employers won’t toss out their resumes.

Empathy isn’t necessarily difficult (even for the privileged) when problems for others are glaring or up-close-and-personal. But when it’s more subtle, when it requires a deeper dive to see the issues… it becomes easy to ignore. It’s easy to dismiss as mere complaint. Empathy in 2017 requires more involvement than it used to. But it’s still vital.

We should be better than “good enough.” Americans of color still find themselves held out of power. They still find themselves with systemic, cultural, and economic disadvantages. Are things better? Sure. Better than 1820 or 1880 or 1930. No doubt. But that doesn’t mean the work is done. And that work requires white people to accept that they have things easier. That the system is built by and for themselves. That they will need to put themselves in the shoes of others. That they have to accept responsibility. Not necessarily responsibility for the existence of racism, but for the privilege it provides. The privilege of not worrying about potentially racist policies from the new President. The fact is that it’s difficult to give up those societal advantages when they aren’t recognized, and sometimes harder still when they are.

White people – I’m talking to you, as a white person. As a person of privilege. I speak your language. I too sometimes feel reflexively uncomfortable hearing those less privileged than myself articulate their pain, fear, frustration, and anger. Sometimes I even want to deny, to argue, to say – hey, it’s not my fault. I wasn’t there. I didn’t oppress you.

But that instinct is the problem. It is a way to immediately invalidate the experience and distance myself from that pain. And progress won’t be possible if white people keep doing that.

When African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latino Americans, Muslim Americans, immigrants, LGBT individuals, women, or anyone else who has been marginalized states they have a problem – SHUT UP AND LISTEN. Don’t argue. Don’t deny. Don’t backpedal. Don’t try to counterattack. Shut up, recognize your privileges and LISTEN. Don’t try to defend yourself. I know that’s hard to do. But refrain from that, please. Because you aren’t personally under attack. A system is what’s being indicted. A system white people benefit from. But they don’t have to. And they shouldn’t, if we are to gain true equal opportunity. White people, we’re going to have to get uncomfortable if we’re going to fix this.

People of color are still in the minority in America. This is changing from a demographics standpoint. It won’t be the case in 30 years. But the long-held majority status has allowed white people to consolidate power. Black President or not, white Americans still wield power and influence out of proportion to their numbers. And sharing that power is a scary concept for many. But in the long run, there is no choice. No alternative to progress.

Donald Trump’s rise was due in part to racial fear and prejudice. But this can be used as an opportunity, if people are willing to seize it. My fellow white people: we can lash back against the backlash. The hatred that allowed Trump to narrowly take the White House is likely a temporary one. But the first step to ensuring that it remains merely a historical blip is to listen to people of color. Don’t dismiss their fears.

We can’t afford to let racism win in America.

As always, others have said it better. Check out these links for more information:

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/13732500

http://www.vox.com/identities/2016/12/21/14028038/racist-history-germany-america

http://www.vox.com/2015/5/28/8661977/race-police-officer

Posted in Civil Rights, Media, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Too soon, too soon!!!

So, earlier this week, the Electoral College met in each state and decided that a wealthy, racist landowner who lost the popular vote by around 3 million should become President. You know, as the Founders intended.

Fine. That was always the most likely result, after an election day in which pretty much every prognosticator got everything wrong, and several states the Clinton campaign thought were “safe” narrowly selected Donald Trump.

There have been approximately eleventy gazillion thinkpieces from every possible political slant, all trying to figure out what happened. I will probably explore some of that myself, over the next few weeks.

However, one thing I want to mention is that the Democrats need to stop focusing on the Presidency. Yes, keeping the White House was incredibly important. And yes, getting it back in four years is even more necessary. But that said, a lot of the problems Democrats faced this year (and in years past), occurred because they tend to neglect the “downballot” races in favor of going after the top spot. There were US House races this year where Republicans ran unopposed! There was one in Texas where Hillary Clinton actually carried the district. The Democrats screwed themselves by not focusing on the local. Governor’s mansions are mostly Republican. Same with state legislatures. While Democrats are alternating between self-flagellation and absolute denial over Hillary losing Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, the real groundwork for the defeat was at the local, county, and state levels, where Republicans kicked the asses of  Democrats all over the country (and have for years).

I definitely believe that focusing so much on the top spot has hurt Democrats in the long run. Building an infrastructure from the bottom up is how a party holds power. Thinking ahead to the 2020 Presidential race is counterproductive and pointless, especially with all the work Democrats will need to do just to keep Trump in check.

Now, let’s talk about the 2020 Presidential race!

Deep breath.

Okay, lemme explain.

This is mostly for me. I am gradually bringing myself to the reality of 4 years with President Trump. I’m preparing myself for a pretty shitty (and busy) time. However, before I dive into complete opposition mode, I’d like to take a look at the Democrats’ current roster. How deep is their bench? Who among current party members might make a strong Presidential candidate 4 years from now? Who might already be looking ahead to 2020?

This is mostly an exercise in political masturbation. It’s just for me, and anyone interested in pointless speculation.

Four years is a long time in politics. A lot can happen between now and then. Many of these names may not even be viable by summer of 2019, when they’re expected to start looking into running.

These are names that intrigue me now. I’d like to see where they’re at in three years. If one or more of them make some noise, I can point to this article and provide a big, loud “I told you so.”

In early 2013, I did something similar, although I didn’t make the mistake of posting it online. My top choice at that point was Martin O’Malley. I still stand by him as a good pick to run for president, even though his candidacy was derailed by bad timing and a disappointing lack of personality. I’m hoping that one of the people I’m listing here can do better than he did.

Except for maybe the top 3, these are in no particular order. They’re just names I’d like to see sometime in mid-2019, hopefully starting “exploratory committees.” A primary with these any of these individuals would certainly be interesting.

Anyway, here are some people I’m going to keep an eye on for the next four years:

Sherrod Brown – My personal favorite. I had rooted for him to run for President this year, and then hoped Hillary Clinton would offer the VP spot to him when she won the nomination. Brown was a US Representative from Ohio for 14 years, and then has been a Senator since 2006. He was also the Ohio Secretary of State from 1982 to 1990. Ideologically, he’s Elizabeth Warren, but with more experience and maybe a touch less charisma. He has expressed zero interest in running in the past, and will turn 68 the week before Election Day 2020. But 4 years, as I’ve already noted, is a long time.

Tammy Duckworth – The newly elected Senator from Illinois would no doubt receive some scrutiny for not having been born in the United States, but since her father was a native-born American, the issue would likely go the same way as it did for Ted Cruz, John McCain, George Romney, Barry Goldwater, and Lowell Weicker. Despite having less overall political experience than most of this list, her resume is beyond impressive. She was commissioned as an officer in the Army Reserve, and became a helicopter pilot, specifically because it was an opportunity for a combat role, something denied to women at the time. She served for years in the Reserve, then the National Guard. In 2004, while serving in Iraq, her helicopter was shot down by an RPG, and she lost both of her legs, and almost lost her arm. After the injuries, she was fitted with prosthetics, and requested to remain in the Army Reserve. She finally retired in 2014 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. A year later, she finished her PhD in Human Services. Meanwhile, she served from 2006 to 2009 as the head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, was elected in 2012 and 2014 for two terms in the US House, and has now been elected to the Senate. She seems to hold positions the fit her solidly on the left side of the party. She’s relatively young, and will be 52 next Election Day.

Al Franken – In 1999, Franken wrote a satirical novel titled, “Why Not Me?” It was a look at a fictional version of Franken running for President in 2000. Obviously the humor was (in part) due to a politically inexperienced entertainer running surprisingly successfully for the highest office in the land. 17 years later, life imitated art, when a politically inexperienced entertainer ran surprisingly successfully for the highest office in the land. So, why not him? By 2020, Franken will have served in the US Senate 3 times longer than President Obama did. At least he will have his likely general election opponent beat in the experience category. He has been a generally reliable liberal voice and a serious policymaker. And after Donald Trump, it would be impossible to cast Franken as an unserious lightweight.

Cory Booker – This is a pick that will cause Bernie Sanders fans to roll their eyes in unison. Many progressives don’t trust him. Why is that? Booker holds solidly liberal positions on most issues. He has a track record of successfully balancing the budget, and turning around the local economy of Newark, where he served as mayor. He’s intelligent, experienced, and an excellent communicator. So what gives? Well, he also has a poor track record regarding education. He has been a strong advocate of expanding charter schools, and of school vouchers. School privatization activists have seen him as an ally, and conversely, many public educators have taken issue with his positions on schools. Booker also has enjoyed a relatively cozy relationship with Wall Street, and is often viewed as the kind of pro-corporate Democrat that has fallen out of style recently. However, after a few years of Donald Trump and his calamitous cadre of corporate capitalist cronies (sorry), even a relatively business-friendly Democrat like Booker may still appear populist by comparison. Plus, Booker will only be 51 next Election Day. At the very least, he should hold his own in debates during a primary race, and would ably represent the “establishment.”

Julian Castro – Castro has been discussed as a potential VP pick since before he joined Barack Obama’s cabinet. He reportedly came in second to Tim Kaine for Hillary Clinton’s running mate spot. Castro has been seen for a while as a rising star in the Democratic Party. He was a city councillor  in San Antonio, and then later served as mayor. He was selected as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 2014. Castro has, like Cory Booker, received quite a bit of criticism from progressives as being too friendly to banks and corporate interests. Castro has argued that working with private interests is necessary in his position. While generally quite liberal, he would also be seen as an “establishment” candidate. Castro will have plenty of supporters and detractors on the left, but over the next few years, the supporters will likely increase. Plus, he’ll be 46 years old in 2020, and looks about 19, so that may be an advantage against what will be a 74 year old Trump.

Joe Biden – Let me start off with the obvious number one criticism. Uncle Joe will be 78 just a couple weeks after election day 2020, one year older than Reagan was when he left office. This will certainly be used against him, even by a similarly geriatric Trump. It’s not like Trump has any problem being counterintuitive in his political attacks. But Biden may arguably be stronger in a head-to-head matchup with Trump than anybody else. Yeah, he’s old, yeah he’s part of the establishment, and yeah, sometimes he’s a bit inappropriate. But he’s also experienced, effective, and charismatic. He has been a consequential actor in the Obama administration, which has not always been (historically) the case for Vice Presidents. For a guy frequently derided as a clown, he has a solid grasp of policy, is a knowledgeable diplomat, and is a good debater, having mopped the floor with Paul Ryan (who has often been treated as some sort of policy genius). Biden is also viewed as corporate friendly in the same mold as Obama and Clinton, and that combined with his age will be big marks against him. But at this very early point, Biden has to be considered the Democratic favorite.

Tom Perez – Soon to be former Secretary of Labor under Barack Obama, Perez was a dark horse candidate for the VP spot this past election. Called a racist by a handful of far-right extremists like Jeff Sessions (an actual racist, by the way), he had generally liberal views on social issues and criminal justice. He is definitely to the left of some of this group, but hardly out of the mainstream. Perez has only served in an elected position at the county level, he also worked for Martin O’Malley as the Maryland Secretary of Labor, and was an Assistant Attorney General during President Obama’s first term. He speaks some Spanish, which doesn’t hurt. His lack of elected experience might be a drawback, though he is currently running for Chair of the DNC, which is… sort of an elected position. Will be 59 by Election Day 2020.

Russ Feingold – This one isn’t happening, for a variety of reasons. Probably most importantly – he’s now lost two straight Senate races against horrible bigot Ron Johnson. By 2020, he will have been out of elected office for a decade. However, I just really like the guy. Bernie fans disappointed with their Democratic options probably couldn’t do better, ideologically. He’s a decade younger than Bernie, and holds similar positions. He might be the best option for fans of civil liberties, being the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act back in 2001. He’s been the strongest advocate for campaign finance reform, as well as financial regulations. He is as non-interventionist as it gets, from a foreign policy perspective. He’s relatively moderate on gun policy (much like Bernie), which should help a bit against the pro-gun ideologues. He was an advocate for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage back before it was cool. From the perspective of where he stands on the issues, Feingold is by far my favorite candidate. From an electability standpoint, I’m not so sure.

Kirsten Gillibrand – Seen by many (including herself) as something of a successor to Hillary Clinton, Gillibrand is currently serving in Clinton’s old Senate seat. Okay, so she’s literally a successor to Clinton. Like the former Secretary of State, Senator Gillibrand also started out as a lawyer. However, her professional beginnings included a stint as a corporate attorney for Phillip Morris, which will doubtless provide ammunition for primary opponents. She worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign, and was mentored by Clinton. Gillibrand was  elected to the US House in a relatively conservative district in upstate New York in 2006, and again in 2008. When Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State, Gillibrand was appointed to her old seat by then-Governor David Paterson, then won a special election in 2010, and a “normal” election in 2012. She has been quite flexible in terms of her policy positions over the years, holding centrist views while in the House, and shifting gradually to the left in the Senate. While more of a populist now, she is still fairly conservative on civil liberties issues. Her flexibility (see: flip-flopping) may hurt her at the top of a ticket, but she might make for a solid VP choice. She’ll be 54 by November 2020.

Xavier Becerra – The longtime congressman from Los Angeles appears poised to become California’s Attorney General. He spent 24 years in the US House, is a fine public speaker, and holds agreeably liberal positions on most issues. He was also among those considered for a cabinet position under President Obama, and as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton. He may not be on anyone’s current list for 2020, but Democrats could do much worse. If he is able to use his new position to speak up as an opponent of Donald Trump, he may start to look more promising in a few years.

Kamala Harris – Newly elected Senator Harris is taking the seat vacated by retiring Senator Barbara Boxer, and is being replaced as California Attorney General by the person immediately preceding her on this list, Xavier Becerra. She’s relatively young, both African American and Asian American, and is a remarkably engaging speaker. She filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case DC v Heller, arguing that the Second Amendment does not guarantee an individual right to firearms, forever giving her a place in my political heart (but also providing plenty of ammunition for Republicans). Speaking of ammunition, as the San Francisco District Attorney, she dealt with some controversies regarding disclosure issues that would likely be used in a presidential race. Regardless, she has nothing that compares to the decades of graft and corruption that Trump brings to a political race, and perhaps Harris could be the one to capitalize on that.

Tim KaineAmerica’s nerdy stepdad said, “Nope” when asked about running in 2020. Of course, minds change frequently in the world of national politics. With his overall experience, competence, and general decency, he would still be a solid choice. I will admit I grew quite fond of him during this year’s campaign, and I’m sad that the stepdad jokes won’t be replacing the Biden goofy uncle jokes in the White House. Tim Kaine isn’t mad about that, just disappointed.

Elizabeth Warren – My birthday twin (minus 33 years) is one of the best attack dogs against corporate malfeasance in America. An American public disaffected by Trump backtracking on all populist rhetoric may embrace Warren. She’s Bernie Sanders, but more telegenic, and friendlier to the Democratic political infrastructure. Warren will also be 71 by 2020. That may not hurt her against an older Trump, but could be a problem in a primary race. Nonetheless, if she wants it, she has a good shot at the Democratic nomination.

Tulsi Gabbard – Tulsi Gabbard is an interesting case. She is Samoan, is the first Hindu Congressperson, is by far the youngest person on this list, and has close ties to Bernie Sanders. She isn’t afraid of criticizing her party, whether it was President Obama on Syria, or former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz on, well, everything. Gabbard is a highly-decorated Iraq War veteran and currently holds the rank of Major in the US Army. She served two years in the Hawaii House of Representatives, 2 years as a Honolulu City Councillor, and has been a member of the US House for 4 years. She holds political positions consistent with Bernie Sanders and progressives of his ilk, but has on occasion raised eyebrows for rather lukewarm positions on gun laws, and borderline Islamophobic rhetoric. Her attacks on President Obama for not using phrases like “Islamic extremism” were surprisingly unnuanced and bellicose. Some on the right have praised her for these stances, as well as her stated willingness to work with Donald Trump. Nonetheless, on 95% of the major issues, she stands on the left side of the party. She has a unique story, is quite young, and possesses a lot of charisma. Oh yeah, and Google really wants me to look at pictures of her surfing.

John Hickenlooper – At one point,the common wisdom was that state governors had the best experience to transition into the Presidency. Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush II all seemed to confirm this. But most of the major party nominees since W have lacked gubernatorial experience (save for Romney), and it’s mostly been Senators or corrupt businessmen who have gotten the nod lately. But for those who dig that executive background, Hickenlooper has been a largely successful governor of a purplish state since 2010, and may be the best possible option among a rather scant list of Democratic governors.

Bill de Blasio – I like him, but he’s going to struggle just to get re-elected as mayor of New York. Perhaps he can turn things around over the next few years, and present himself as a possible challenger. On the issues, he definitely stands with progressives in the Democratic party. But his current record is a mixed one, and his present issues are enough for me to mark him as “tentative” for now.

Martin O’MalleyJason Whitlock had Jeff George. I’ve got Martin O’Malley. Like Jeff George, O’Malley is probably better on paper than in reality. But looking at that paper – O’Malley is ideal. He’s quite liberal, intelligent, and experienced. He served 8 years as the mayor of Baltimore, and 8 years as governor of Maryland. Just based on the numbers – crime rates, educational achievement, economic progress – his 16 years in those offices were a resounding success. But as mayor of a city with major racial tensions, his record on policing and addressing racial disparities was less than exemplary. To his credit, he was able to acknowledge that as governor, and even moreso as a presidential candidate. His plans to address systemic racism were by far the most comprehensive of the 2016 primary season. Like I said, I will always pull for the guy. But I think he may have arrived on the national political stage a few years too late.

Someone Else – “I’m someone else!” “He’s right!”

I should probably note that this list is primarily who I would like to see run for president. I don’t necessarily think all of them would make great presidents. I believe Hillary Clinton would have been a much more effective president than Bernie Sanders, even though I supported Sanders in the primary, and generally preferred his positions to Clinton. Sometimes the strength of a candidate versus an elected official is such that they can affect the nature of the debate itself. Bernie Sanders definitely helped push Hillary Clinton to the left on several policy positions, and was able to garner outsized media coverage compared with his actual support (despite what some of his more conspiracy-minded supporters believe).

Based on Trump’s disinterest in clearing up his blatant and seemingly endless conflicts of interest, his initial bizarre cabinet nominations, and his continual lies – it should not be difficult to mount a solid argument against him in 4 years. Or against Mike Pence, assuming Trump manages to stumble straight into impeachment. “Drain the swamp” was a constant refrain over the last few months, with Trump railing against Goldman Sachs, military leaders he claims to know more than, Wall Street, and “the establishment.” Then Trump surrounded himself with Goldman Sachs, generals, Wall Street, and “the establishment.” As noted above, even corporate-friendly Democrats will be able to position themselves as populists next to Trump.

I have no real clue what’s going to happen over the next four years. That unpredictability is part of the problem with Donald Trump as president. I do know that liberals, progressives, leftists, and centrists will all need to focus on the here and now. Don’t worry too much about 2020. There will be much work to be done over the next few years.

But keep the aforementioned names in the back of your mind, so at the very least, I can get an “I-told-you-so” in 2020.

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Flunking out of (Electoral) College

electoralcollege2016-svgThe people have spoken. It was close, it was messy, but by a narrow (yet clear) margin, the people chose Hillary Clinton as their next president.

However, an outdated tool of racial oppression has overridden the will of the people.

Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States while losing by at least 1 million votes (as of this writing), and possibly as many as 2 or 3 million, once all the votes are counted.

So, how is it that the candidate whom a solid plurality selected as president will not be allowed to take office? Why do the people directly choose so many government positions in America, but not the presidency?

Well, let’s talk about the Electoral College!

Even for a country governed by rules from a 227 year old document, the Electoral College is something of an anachronism. Like many of the original anti-democratic aspects of our national foundations, it was designed to enforce the societal superiority of the white landowning elite.

“The Founders,” (which sounds like a neo-Celtic rock band) while paying lip service to notions of equality, generally agreed that political matters were best decided by the wealthy and educated. You know, “the elite.” To be fair, it wasn’t completely black and white. They were concerned with the rights of people to a point, and quite worried about the scope and focus of political power.

That said, the Electoral College wasn’t created only due to concern about power being concentrated in the most populous states, as many have claimed. It was also about propping up the institution of slavery, which was the style at the time.

There were other factors, to be certain. Individual states enjoyed a greater degree of autonomy then. There was some worry that more populous states would unfairly dominate the smaller ones. There were also logistic issues with collecting a national popular vote in a vast and largely agrarian country, back when the fastest method of long-distance communication was messenger on a horse. Spreading information (as well as collecting votes) to the people would be difficult.

But when it came down to it, the chief point of the Electoral College was always slavery. It’s just like the origins of the Civil War, no matter what neo-Confederate revisionists try to tell us.

In the original design of the College, Northern states with more free persons were weighted more lightly than the Southern states with large slave populations (but relatively few free persons). Essentially, they counted slaves as people (partly) for the purpose of calculating the Electoral College, but still denied slaves actual votes. This was the “three-fifths” compromise. Technically the three-fifths rule was specifically designed to help decide House of Representative numbers, but the two go hand-in-hand. The EC total for each state is simply the number of Representatives combined with each state’s two Senators.

The end result was that slaves were used for electoral purposes while still being disenfranchised. This allowed smaller states to enjoy a larger percentage of electors, as well as big slave states like Virginia – which had a whopping 13% of the total Electoral voters at the turn of the 19th century. Virginia became the largest state in the EC, mostly thanks to 40% of its population being slaves. It actually had fewer free citizens than New York, but 5 more Electoral College votes (by 1804).

James Madison himself noted at the Philadelphia convention, “The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.”

This artificial finger on the electoral scales created an electoral issue very early on. Thomas Jefferson was elected in 1800 thanks to the margin that the slave population added to the Electors. If there had been a direct election of legal voters, then John Adams would have won re-election that year, and Jefferson would have to have waited another 4 years for a chance of becoming the 3rd President.

Had Donald Drumpf, wealthy gadfly and builder of houses of ill repute, existed in the late 18th century, he would have loudly declared the process to be rigged. “This is a malodorous accord of venality!” He would have published pamphlets claiming Jefferson was born in the Leeward Islands.

Eventually, slavery disappeared in the US. Sort of. But the states were still not provided proportional representation in Congress (and therefore the Electoral College). After every national census, population changes *are* taken into account, and representative numbers are shifted to follow these changes. But the shifts still retain biases in favor of smaller states.

What about the people who argue that these sort of artificial limitations are positive controls on power concentration? They say, “this is a republic, not a democracy.”

Well, kind of. What we have at most levels is a representative democracy. We directly elect officials who will then decide the laws. The more informed we are about the officials we elect, the more we can impact the laws they decide. It’s an imperfect system, but it reaches the best combination of utility and fairness.

Usually.

At the local and state levels, sometimes direct electoral decisions are implemented. Laws can be decided by the citizens, depending on the situation and scope. For national legislation, though, it makes sense to select representatives who handle laws as a full-time (ish) job.

But even then, winning that voting power for the people has been hard fought and sluggish. In the era of Adams and Jefferson, only around six percent of the nation was eligible to vote for anyone. Local officials, state legislators, and members of the US House were chosen by “the people.” As long as the people were land-owning white men.

Over the years, it opened up more. Eligible voters eventually were allowed to cast ballots for Senators. “The people” eventually included black men – legally, and then eventually practically. Women could legally vote nationally in 1920 (earlier in some states). Efforts were made in the 1960s to make it easier for people other than white men to vote. The voting age dropped to 18 in 1971. So now, as of 2016, more than 200 million Americans are eligible to vote. And we can vote for national Senators and Representatives. We cast ballots for the President. But we still don’t actually get to *select* the President.

The most powerful office on the planet is one that the American people still do not directly choose. Yes, precedent has dictated that the winner of the popular vote is usually who the electors choose. But in four different Presidential elections, the electoral vote defied the will of the people.

An extra anti-democratic layer is in place that skews the intent of the citizenry.

The current disproportionate representation doesn’t “ensure that California doesn’t tell Wyoming what to do.” Instead it means that someone living in California has a vote worth a third of a Wyoming resident. Never mind that location within the Republic should have no bearing on quality or quantity of representation. Well, unless you live in Washington DC. Then you’re hosed. But that’s a whole ‘nother debate.

At this point in American history, the argument, “Someone from a more populous state shouldn’t dictate elections to those in smaller states” is meaningless. The quasi-confederation this nation started as was repudiated in 1865. States aren’t as important as people. Instead of a “tyranny of the majority,” we get an actually-unfair “tyranny of the minority.” People within smaller states get more say in selecting the highest office in the land than those in larger ones.

One person = one vote is the only rational option. That’s how we elect every other official. Why should we lose the representative part of our representative democracy for that one position?

We now directly elect mayors, city councilors, county commissioners, state senators and representatives, governors, lieutenant governors, (often other executive spots within states), national representatives and senators. In some states, we even elect lower-tier judges.

Is it really more fair and free that a person in Wyoming or North Dakota can overrule someone in California? Why would we worry about their location? We are supposed to be a nation operating on the principle of equal rights for all. To that end, true equality would entail a direct election of the president. Everyone, regardless of race, gender, ability, orientation, ideology, religion, or location should have an equal say.

Until they do, we can’t completely call ourselves a democracy or a republic.

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Yep, I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. You should, too.

Hillary_Clinton_(23705602384).jpg

So, I heard something interesting when reading/listening/watching the news over the last 18 or so months.

Hillary Clinton isn’t perfect.

I know, this is a shock. But I want to tell you something even more shocking.

Ready? Brace yourself.

It doesn’t matter.

Now, let me backtrack just a little. Obviously, Hillary Clinton has legitimate flaws. And yes, they should be taken seriously. After all, she is running for the office of the most powerful person on the planet. It’s fair to analyze her qualities, flaws, and quirks. But… one should be thoughtful about it. One should not give into anger or the emotion of the moment. It’s important to understand how to separate the bullshit from the truth.

Hillary Clinton is running for president, and I am officially endorsing her. And I want to tell you why. I want you to understand what I see, and understand what I’ve read. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. Some will just dismiss me as a liberal drinking the Kool-Aid. Some will dismiss me as a poor sap fooled by the neoliberal war machine.

I’m going to explain why all of that is wrong. And by the end of this, I hope you, dear reader, has a better understanding of where I’m coming from when I say Hillary Clinton is the most logical and reasonable choice for President of the United States.

Reasons for voting Clinton over everyone else

Hillary Clinton technically has 1,909 total competitors running against her. Those are the total number of people who have filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. But in terms of people who will actually get a significant number of votes (potentially over 1 million), she has 4 competitors.

I will list each one, and provide a brief reason why I can’t endorse them.

1.) Donald Trump – Republican

Where do I begin? He’s a monster. I know that’s a bold thing to say. But what he has said, what he has done, how he acts – this matters. He has stated a willingness to act in ways directly contradicting at least 7 Constitutional Amendments. He has pledged to commit war crimes. He has lied on matters of policy literally ¾ of the time. He has confessed, on camera, to committing sexual assault. He has suspicious ties to the Russian government. He is likely a tax cheat. He thinks global warming isn’t real. He was deemed guilty of racial discrimination by the Nixon Administration. There is so much more. Donald Trump is arguably the worst major party presidential candidate over the last century. Donald Trump makes George W. Bush seem competent.

2.) Gary Johnson – Libertarian

Johnson seems like a nice guy. And unlike Trump, he has held elected office. As governor of New Mexico, his record wasn’t great. And his libertarian platform – while “moderate” for a libertarian, would still completely reshape the entire federal government. Many like the notion of libertarianism. And many people also still think of Ayn Rand as an important thinker. I spent a little time a couple months ago describing why Gary Johnson is a terrible candidate for someone of a more liberal political lean. I think that this also goes for most conservatives, as well.

3.) Evan McMullin – Independent

He’s Ted Cruz, ideologically speaking, though he seems to have quite a bit more character and principle. He’s also a Mormon, for whatever that’s worth. He doesn’t seem like a horrible person, but he’s only on the ballot in 11 states, and likely to only be competitive in one. He also is really, stupidly, right-wing. If one likes the idea of a non-evil, Mormon Ted Cruz, then I guess he might be the best choice. But he can’t win, barring an electoral tie between Clinton and Trump.

4.) Jill Stein – Green

The “principled choice” for liberals and progressives. Jill Stein is supposed to be free of all the dirty political muck that covers Hillary Clinton. However, Dr. Stein doesn’t seem to have a great handle on how politics work. She demonstrated confusion over issues like quantitative easing, the medical hazards of WiFi signals, and has pandered to the anti-vaxxer crowd. Her speeches and writing also indicates a lack of understanding of our two-party system. She acts as though passing progressive policies is just a matter of political will and whipping the Democrats into shape. Yeah, because there’s not this whole other party that dominates the state governments, and the US House.

Okay, you say, but she also isn’t in bed with corporate interests, and she’ll end all our wars. Well, recent revelations have shown she’s been fairly careless with her investment portfolio. Maybe that isn’t a huge deal. I mean, who actually digs through their 401k, looking for fossil fuel and weapons companies? But it must be said it looks bad for someone who makes such a show of her principles and integrity. And for ending wars, cutting the military in half, and pulling out of all foreign conflicts – it’s a nice thought, but not actually that simple. Not only would she face tremendous pressure from all ends of the government, but our involvement around the world is such that quick withdrawals would almost certainly mean greater instability and huge power vacuums. A century of American intervention around the world – much derided (sometimes fairly) as “imperialism” – has created codependencies. Simply “pulling out” and shutting down half our bases without years of negotiations, alternative plans, slow drawdowns, and other complex deals, would be a disaster.

I want to like Jill Stein. I probably align more closely with her from an ideological perspective than I do with Hillary Clinton. But she has no practical hope of winning, and she has some serious flaws of her own, especially with her understanding of the nuances of the job she’s applying for. She also is downright dishonest when she repeatedly claims Hillary Clinton is scarier and more dangerous than Donald Trump. This is a ridiculous notion, that only holds true if one believes a Donald Trump presidency would be better for the Green Party political brand. It’s a cynical, ignorant, and reckless viewpoint, and one that seems to completely forget what an utter failure that notion was in 2000, when Ralph Nader was saying much the same thing.

If Stein really cared about progressive change, she would work to turn the Green Party into an effective political party, with support and funding for candidates at the city, county, and state levels. This would require dirty things like fundraising and advertising. Basically, becoming a mainstream party. Otherwise, she may as well do what Bernie Sanders did and become a Democrat. Actually, that might be more effective.

History/qualifications/good deeds/policies

Hillary Clinton has been a lawyer, the most active and influential First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt, a U.S. Senator, the co-founder of a massively successful international relief and aid organization, and the United States Secretary of State. That’s quite a resume.

As a lawyer, she worked for the Children’s Defense Fund, and advocated for children incarcerated in adult prisons, as well as poor and homeless children.

As a first lady, she helped to create the CHIP program, which has insured 8 million children across the United States. She also acted as a diplomat, and gave many speeches, speaking out on the rights of women and children around the world.

As a Senator, she put a lot of work into improving health care for veterans, especially reservists. She helped push through aid for 9/11 first responders. She was lauded by members of both parties for her work in several committees, as well as her ability to reach common ground with Republicans.

As Secretary of State, she visited 112 countries – more than any other Secretary in history. She helped negotiated the Iranian nuclear deal, as well as a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

Her platform is actually surprisingly progressive, far better than many leftist naysayers had assumed. Her tax plan calls for a big increase in the estate tax, as well as modest increases on income taxes for the wealthiest Americans. She is supporting big increases in infrastructure spending, college tuition coverage, children’s healthcare, and early childhood education. She supports a major increase in the minimum wage, and 12 weeks of paid family leave and 12 weeks of paid medical leave, which is actually quite revolutionary for Americans. Her proposed Wall Street regulations are stronger than many might assume, given her reputation. Clinton has advocated a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, fatter healthcare subsidies, and the ability to negotiate down drug prices. Clinton’s proposed changes are largely incremental, but also largely possible and practical – and that’s important. Moonshots are great, but understanding the political climate matters more. Clinton is proposing a more progressive domestic program than her immediate predecessor, and that’s nothing to sneer at.

 

Debunking the scandals and conspiracies

This is going to have to be abridged, since Hillary Clinton has been the subject of more fear-mongering, lies, slander, attacks, and criticism than 99.9% of all public figures in the United States. Hillary has been a magnet for scandal.

I’m going to go over some of the bigger ones from recent years. This is by no means comprehensive, but should provide a framework with which to debunk some of the attacks on her over the years. If someone says, “But Hillary did this, this, and this…” you have some ammunition.

First of all, let’s start off with a few overviews of her controversies and scandals:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/09/tracking-the-clinton-controversies-from-whitewater-to-benghazi/396182/

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/28/hillary-clinton-honest-transparency-jill-abramson

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/04/17/snopes-com-has-been-debunking-clinton-rumors-since-the-clinton-years/

http://www.refinery29.com/2015/05/86510/hillary-clinton-scandals-guide

http://www.scarymommy.com/hillary-clinton-myths-debunked/

http://www.forwardprogressives.com/debunking-anti-hillary-clinton-myths-lies-conspiracies/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/09/06/why-hillary-clintons-perceived-corruption-seems-to-echo-louder-than-donald-trumps-actual-corruption/

Benghazi

In some ways Benghazi might be the “scandal” that riles up Trump supporters the most, or at least a close second to the emails. On September 11th, 2012, the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya was attacked during a period of unrest and protest. The US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, as well as a diplomat and two security personnel were killed during the violence. At the time of the attack, President Obama was on the home stretch of his reelection campaign, and Hillary Clinton was his Secretary of State. There was quite a bit of confusion at the time of the attacks, and the intelligence community initially believed the attack was a spontaneous reaction to an inflammatory anti-Islamic video that had been released previously. The Obama administration at the time accepted the initial reports of the cause of the attack, but cautioned patience as more information was discovered.

It was later ascertained that the attack was indeed a plotted-out act of terror. And the Obama Administration did react swiftly to the attack as it was occurring, but little could be done at the time.

Covering a few myths and misconceptions:

* There was no “stand down” order from Clinton or anyone else to the embassy security or the US military.

* Hillary Clinton was certainly not “asleep” during the attacks, as they occurred in the mid-afternoon in Washington.

* Hillary Clinton DID take full responsibility for the attack and aftermath.

There was no evidence of cover-up.

* Clinton did not refuse 600 requests from Ambassador Stevens for extra security before the attack. The reality of security requests was a lot more complex.

* This was hardly the first attack on a United States embassy or consulate. Since 1979, there have been 19 total attacks, including 7 under the Bush Administration. The Bush-era attacks resulted in the deaths of more than 60 people.

In the aftermath of the incident, the Republican Congress spearheaded a hearing to investigate the events of September 11, as well as the Obama Administration’s response. And then they held another. And another. As of November 2016, EIGHT separate hearings have been conducted – six more than were held for the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. And what did they find? They all agreed security could have been better before the attack, but no wrongdoing or cover-ups could be found. This has been acknowledged repeatedly. It was an unfortunate tragedy, but nothing more.

There appeared to be mistakes made before the attack. There was definitely a misunderstanding of the motivations of the attack when it first happened. But no cover-up occurred, and there was no criminal negligence on the part of Hillary Clinton. In fact, there is some truth to the idea that the Republican led Congress actually reduced the overall budget for embassy security in the two years leading up to the attacks. Would the budget that President Obama submitted have made a difference? Maybe. Maybe not. But it is more evidence that events like this contain considerable nuance.

Emails!

So, apparently, Hillary Clinton has a problem with e-mails. At least, that’s what we keep hearing. There have been a few different problems with her campaign and e-mails, but the big one officially started 15 plus years ago.

After Bill Clinton left office, he set up his own personal server for e-mails and the like. His fledgling foundation was getting off the ground, and he wanted a secure server to help run things. Hillary used it for her personal e-mails while she was a Senator. At the same time, many, if not most government officials – from legislators up to the executive branch – used personal email accounts for a mixture of both public and private e-mails. For the first decade of the century, government e-mail policy was a bit haphazard. When Hillary Clinton was sworn in as Secretary of State in 2009, she kept working off her personal server. From her perspective, why not? It was private, just as secure as what the government was using, and not officially against policy at that point. Nobody in the government batted an eye. Nor was it a secret. Even by the time Hillary’s e-mails started getting attention, a third of government employees were conducting business with private e-mails.

But what about that pesky classified information? Well, that’s trickier, but not complex. Most classified information isn’t actually sent via e-mail. Most of the e-mails sent on her server were not remotely sensitive. And among the e-mails that were marked classified (that were sent and received by Secretary Clinton), there were varying levels of classification. And almost all of the ones that should not have been sent via private e-mail, were retroactively marked classified. Meaning, they weren’t classified when she sent them. Out of more than 62,000 e-mails that were investigated, just 110 were marked classified when they were sent.

Yes, it wasn’t ideal, but there was no evidence classified information was sent intentionally. And there was no evidence any information made it into the hands of people not privy to such information.

It could have been handled better, and her overall penchant for secrecy certainly makes things worse, but the FBI director himself concluded that she is – at most – guilty of some carelessness. Carelessness she had in common with large swaths of Washington. Again, one can’t say she was entirely aboveboard with the e-mail situation, but there was nothing criminal or particularly dangerous. I’m going to provide the below links for further research, mostly since embedding these is a pain in the ass.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/08/20/hillary_clinton_email_scandal_explained.html

http://www.factcheck.org/2016/07/a-guide-to-clintons-emails/

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-pol-clinton-email-legal-analysis-20160705-snap-story,amp.html

http://prospect.org/article/why-hillary-wont-be-indicted-and-shouldnt-be-objective-legal-analysis

http://www.forwardprogressives.com/separating-fact-fiction-media-isnt-saying-hillary-clinton-emails/

http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/09/14-excerpts-fbis-report-hillary-clintons-email

https://medium.com/the-curious-civilian/admit-it-the-clinton-email-controversy-bothers-you-yet-you-dont-actually-know-what-the-clinton-511dc1659eda#.pvigkctmo

http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/11/4/13500018/clinton-email-scandal-bullshit

Clinton and/or the DNC stole the primary from Bernie Sanders

This myth is fading a bit, but among some die-hard Bernie supporters, as well as some others on the far-left (and far-right), Bernie Sanders was robbed in his primary challenge against Hillary Clinton.

There’s a lot of different (and sometimes conflicting) conspiracy theories with this one, but basically, Bernie Sanders supporters claimed the DNC was rigging the election against Sanders. Short answer: Definitely not. Longer answer: They certainly preferred Hillary, and some leaked e-mails made this preference clear. But in general, the actual process of voting was fair and scandal-free.

A few basic facts:

* Caucus states actually helped Bernie more than they did Hillary.

* The Nevada state convention was ugly and complicated, but in the end was fair.

* Purged voters in Brooklyn were voters who hadn’t voted in two straight elections, and likely would have been more supportive of Clinton than Sanders. Many voter purges are simply a matter of cleaning up voter rolls to ensure deceased people, and those who have moved, don’t remain registered for too many cycles.

* Hillary would have won strictly on the popular vote with and without superdelegates, with proportional voting, and under GOP rules. She simply had more supporters than Bernie.

* Open primaries were actually better for Hillary than for Bernie.

* Exit polls looking better for Bernie than the final result is actually a pretty normal phenomenon.

Yes, the “establishment” never warmed up to Bernie Sanders. But the primary contests weren’t rigged against him. He performed exceedingly well, and forced Clinton to move to the left on certain issues – which she largely stuck with after the convention. Despite losing, Sanders still accomplished quite a bit.

Russian Uranium

There was absolutely no evidence that the Clinton Foundation received money from Russian donors in exchange for a Russian uranium deal. This has been debunked.

Hillary lost 6 billion dollars at the State Department

Nope. Money wasn’t missing. Over a period of a few years, paperwork on some government contracts went unsigned and in a few cases, yes, missing. Two thirds of the contracts involved Secretary Clinton’s predecessors. In a vast bureaucracy, unfortunately, paperwork sometimes gets mishandled. It’s true that the audit found that 6 billion dollars worth of contracts had these paperwork issues. However, the money itself was entirely accounted for.

The Clinton Foundation

So, the Clinton Foundation was started, mostly by Bill Clinton, after he left office in 2001. Hillary Clinton has been accused of providing favors for people, companies, and even countries, in exchange for donations to the foundation. In addition, some have accused the foundation of doing minimal charity work. Some have also accused it of being a giant money laundering organization, intended to enrich the Clintons themselves, and help fund Hillary Clinton’s campaigns. Thus far, none of that has been proven true.

The Clinton Foundation itself has actually been remarkably successful, especially with providing inexpensive AIDS drugs to people across Africa. It has been suggested that literally millions of lives have been saved thanks to the Foundation. Seriously. Millions. That’s a big deal. The Foundation has definitely had its share of failures, but it has almost certainly been a hugely positive force in the world. It is considered (by people who are paid to consider these things) one of the best charities on Earth.

Hillary laughed at a rape victim, and freed her rapist.

Not even close. In 1975, young lawyer Hillary Rodham was assigned by a court to defend the accused rapist of then-12-year-old Kathy Shelton. The prosecutor on the case has stated that Hillary was unhappy with the assignment and resisted it at first. Hillary did her job and defended the accused. Eventually, Kathy and her mother pushed for a plea deal, and the rapist plead guilty, was sentenced to 5 years, and ended up serving a total of 10 months. The “laughter” came from her reminiscing about aspects of the case many years later.

Bill Clinton’s policies

Bill Clinton had kind of a mixed record to liberals. He often pivoted to the center, and frequently worked with Republicans on bills that would be anathema to previous liberal stalwarts. Welfare reform, the 1994 crime bill, deficit reduction, NAFTA – these policies have been controversial among progressives and liberals. And Hillary Clinton has been seen as a symbol of those policies.

However, the truth is a little trickier.

It has been pointed out that her involvement with domestic policy largely ended after the failure of health reform. And while she did occasionally voice support for some of her husband’s policies, she actually spent some time behind the scenes fighting against some of the harsher aspects of the welfare reform law. Similar things occurred with the crime bill. As an aside, it should be noted that Bernie Sanders himself voted for the crime bill.

There is also quite a bit of doubt that the crime bill actually had much effect on mass incarcaration. This is a myth that doesn’t have a lot of statistical backing. It certainly is true that the crime bill included harsh policies that disproportionately affected minorities. It’s also true that new policies proposed by the 2016 version of Hillary Clinton takes strides to atone for much of the excesses of that bill.

NAFTA, a boogeyman of both the left, and the Trumpian right, didn’t actually have that much of an effect on job losses and trade imbalances. Treaties with China were far more impactful to American jobs.

Hillary Clinton is too right wing/hawkish/pro-corporate

Well, there are some legitimate arguments to be made here. I will get into some of them in the “Real Concerns” section below. She certainly is not the most progressive candidate on certain issues. However, much of the complaints about her from the left have been overstated. 3.9% of her campaign contributions have been from Wall Street sources, which is far less than many of the big names in Washington. And her foreign policy, while definitely more inclined toward military solutions than I would like, also has included some deft diplomacy. From an ideological standpoint, she was generally rated as one of the more liberal Senators, and matches up on most issues 85-90 percent of the time with Bernie Sanders.

Honesty

So, one popular knock on Hillary Clinton is that she’s dishonest. Well, how does one measure dishonesty? Do we talk about her reactions to the aforementioned “scandals?” Well then, for the most part, she comes off well. Does she bend the truth now and then? Sure. She’s a national political figure with a penchant for secrecy. She certainly isn’t perfect. And if you still persist in thinking all of the above issues are true, then I suppose she is a hideous liar. But in the real world, where she’s generally pretty clean on those topics, she’s reasonably honest.

If we’re talking policy and her take on governing, then she may the most honest major American political figure, next to President Obama. She’s been quite accurate compared to all of the major primary candidates of this current Presidential election.

Real concerns

When discussing Jill Stein earlier, I noted that she is unrealistic about the size and interconnectedness of American military power. Simply cutting the US military budget by half in one fell swoop would have serious consequences all around the globe. Having said that, there is something to be said about just how extensive our military is all over the world. The United States has more than 800 military bases in other countries. We spend more on our armed forces than the next seven largest militaries combined. We are engaged in actual conflicts in literally dozens of countries. And we have killed (albeit largely unintentionally) thousands of civilians every year for decades. The United States has sometimes supported noble causes and helped broker peace. The United States has also supported unlawful coups and helped prop up murderous regimes.

And as a Senator, and then later as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has been complicit (sometimes more directly than others), in quite a few interventions in several countries, with a rather mixed success rate. Many civilians have died, and international democratic reforms haven’t exactly spread like wildfire. Clinton has demonstrated a faith in a fairly aggressive foreign policy and definitely deserves credit (blame?) for much of the drone program that turns warfare into a videogame. It becomes far too easy to pull the trigger when there’s a disconnect from the target. A lot of innocent people have died.

It’s true that American foreign policy has been violent and often expansionist – especially over the last 120 years or so. And Hillary Clinton hardly has the most blood on her hands among Secretaries of State. But she definitely has far more than she should. And her foreign policy is something we need to watch carefully.

I’m also concerned, albeit somewhat less so, about her friendliness to corporate interests, While she is certainly a believer in climate change, and not opposed to some increased regulation and restriction on carbon, she isn’t groundbreaking. There has been a willingness to trust private enterprise far more than she should, and that needs to be watched closely.

Voting your conscience

To me, “voting my conscience” means ensuring that the best possible outcome occurs in the election. Note the word “possible.” My conscience is fine with compromise. My conscience would be much worse-off knowing that the reckless, ignorant, dishonest, corrupt, hateful, and predatory Donald Trump is elected. Yes, maybe Stein’s policies are a hair closer to my own. Yeah, Johnson seems like a cool guy. Sure, McMullin is… um, not Trump. But so what? Those three aren’t gonna be President. Even in a system that made it easier for third parties to succeed – they would still be longshots, because none of them represent a plurality of the American electorate. All three reside closer to the ideological fringes.

The Democratic and Republican platforms are both close to a plurality. Either Clinton or Trump WILL be President. And I reject the notion that I’m choosing “the lesser of two evils.” Imperfect is not synonymous with evil. Perfection is something children and those who don’t care about actually getting elected aspire to. When one candidate actually is evil, and the other one is flawed, but basically on my side, and a handful of others have no practical hope of victory, my conscience tells me to prevent evil. The worst-case scenario is not a viable option, especially for something as shallow as trying to prove a point.

And it’s fair to note that most (I know, not all) of those who are casting a protest vote are relatively well-off white people – and usually male. You know, the people who stand to lose the least with a Trump election. Many straight white males have trouble empathizing with those who are directly threatened by a Trump presidency.

But my conscience tells me to pay attention to the plight of those who aren’t as privileged as I am.

Endorsement

Hillary Clinton has three major points going for her this election.

* She’s experienced and knowledgeable. Arguably moreso than any major party candidate of the past half century.

* She supports most of the better policies of the Obama Administration, while adding improvements to many of them. On several topics, she is proposing the most progressive policies since the dawn of the New Deal.

* She’s not Donald Trump.

There are plenty of other positive attributes to discuss, and I can expound in depth on my three initial points (I already have in many of the above paragraphs). But she is simply the best, and most practical choice for the system we currently have.

Hillary Clinton has demonstrated an ability to work with those who disagree with her, to compromise, and to make dirty political decisions that don’t satisfy the purists. But those decisions are how bills get passed. Those decisions are how meaningful progress occurs. It’s slow, it’s meandering, but real progress almost always requires concessions in a diverse democracy. And Hillary Clinton understands that better than any of her 1,909 opponents.

Hillary Clinton isn’t a perfect person, or a perfect candidate. But neither are any of her opponents. And she, above all others, understands how to use both her strengths and weaknesses to produce real accomplishments.

Barack Obama is arguably the most consequential American president since Johnson, maybe even since FDR. His policies, for all their flaws, (and for all the obstruction that has slowed them), have reshaped our government and political landscape more than any president in decades.

And Hillary Clinton may do a better job of pushing through further refinements of what he started. And that’s plenty good enough for me.

Beyond that, as mentioned before, she IS incredibly intelligent, accomplished, and experienced. She isn’t a leftist, but she has a solid progressive track record on several issues. Her party platform – largely thanks to a spirited primary challenge from Bernie Sanders – is more progressive than it otherwise would have been.

I think it is important to watch her carefully, and hold her accountable for decisions she makes. There are concerns about foreign intervention, the size of the military, and the national security state. It’s important for the left to pressure her on those issues, and make sure support is contingent on her making positive changes on those topics.

Meanwhile, for whatever it’s worth, I support Hillary Clinton for President and will happily cast my vote for her in just a few short hours. I really hope those who read this do the same.

For other endorsements of Hillary Clinton, please peruse the links below:

http://mindy-fischer-writer.com/2016/05/6-big-reasons-to-vote-for-hillary/

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/10/12/my-endorsement-for-president-2016-hillary-clinton/

http://www.npr.org/2016/05/17/478361999/4-things-to-know-about-hillary-clintons-approach-to-foreign-policy

http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/06/hillary-clinton-continues-not-be-shady-character

http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/06/hillary-clinton-no-donald-trump

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/11/the-case-for-hillary-clinton-and-against-donald-trump/501161/

http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/11/3/13318750/hillary-clinton-vision-government

http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2016/11/07/hillary_clinton_will_make_a_fine_president_donald_trump_will_be_a_disaster.html

http://nytimes.com/2016/08/05/opinion/campaign-stops/i-ran-the-cia-now-im-endorsing-hillary-clinton.html

http://www.stonekettle.com/2016/10/pragmatism.html?m=1

Posted in Civil Rights, Economics, Governance, Healthcare, History, immigration, Infrastructure, Media, Myths and misconceptions, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Patriotism or Terrorism?

Murrah_Building_-_Aerial.jpg

What if we lose? Then we lose. That’s what happens in a representative democracy (or democratic republic, for those pedants that want to quibble). You present your case to the people, and your opponent does the same. And the people make their choice. Their choice isn’t always rational. Sometimes, neither are their options.

But to lose means that more people than not disagreed with your side. It means, in that instance, the will of the people went against you.

You have a couple options.

You can try to figure out why you lost. You can look at the facts, talk to people who went the other way. Sometimes you find yourself starting to agree with their side. More often, however, you find yourself resolved to make a better case next time around. And, as has been the case in the United States for 240 years, there will be a next time.

Or, you can pout and say never mind, I’m done with this democracy junk. Become apathetic, and move on.

That option isn’t a productive one. But it is an option.

You know what isn’t an option?

Violence. Intimidation. Armed revolt.

This was decided in 1865. Quite decisively. Violent revolution as a reasonable counter against a functioning democratic system was put to rest that year.

If the majority decide, it isn’t tyranny. It means they collectively decided.

“Tyranny of the majority” is a meaningless phrase unless it leads to actual tyranny.

It’s usually a rallying call for sore losers.

In this presidential election, only one major candidate openly embraces authoritarianism. Only one candidate has openly expressed displeasure at freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Only one has threatened to imprison a political opponent, while being unable to actually name a crime she committed. Only one has openly admitted – even bragged – about committing violent sexual assault. Only one has shown an interest in actually using nuclear weapons. Only one lies (or is flat wrong) about policy statements 75% of the time. Only one has been accused by the freaking Nixon administration of housing discrimination. Only one accused an opponent’s father of helping assassinate President Kennedy. Only one wants to violate multiple Constitutional amendments to deport American citizens and ban every single adherent of the world’s second largest religion from the country. Only one candidate wants to restart a racist and failed police procedure that was already deemed unconstitutional.

It is that particular candidate who has supporters that would take up arms if their chosen person loses.

Committing violence (or threatening to commit violence) in order to force a majority to accept the will of a minority in the name of a corrupt demagogue… what would be the best phrase for that?

Tyranny of the minority in the name of an enthusiastic authoritarian?

Nah. That’s a little clunky.

How about… Attempted coup?

How about… Traitors to democracy, will of law, and the Constitution?

Yeah. That works.

You guys aren’t “patriots.”

You’re ignorant, sore losers.

Unfortunately, we’re talking about ignorant sore losers with guns.

And this could be a problem.

There’s a bunch of Turner Diaries cosplayers out there who want to try to make it happen. Historically, the vast majority of these people don’t actually amount to anything. They make grand proclamations. They masturbate to images of Timothy McVeigh. Then they go back to their mom’s basement and rant about “libtards” from behind their Gadsen flag avatars.

But there are quite a few armed extremists who have bought into Trump’s contention that the economic and political systems are “rigged.” Many have been conned by the idea that Hillary Clinton will become a despot.

There’s no logic or semblance of realism in those beliefs. But there are enough people who have chugged the (orange) Kool-Aid that there is a legitimate reason to worry. I’ve already discussed the possibility of Trump refusing to accept a loss in next week’s election.

He certainly could be able to rally enough people behind the lie that Hillary Clinton represents true danger to the nation. We have had right-wing domestic terror attacks before. We need to remain vigilant and be aware that it could happen again.

Violence is a tool of last resort. Revolution should only happen when the institutions fail. When the will of the people has been subverted. Potentially violent Trump supporters aren’t threatening violence to save America. They’re threatening violence because the Republican Party has spent decades telling them government is always the problem. They’re threatening violence because Donald Trump has spent 18 months encouraging such action, occasionally even directly. They’re threatening violence because they’ve been suckered.

This wouldn’t be a revolution. This would be an act of treason and an attack on our democratic values. Intimidating those who disagree with you is as undemocratic and unAmerican as it gets.

As always, there are many who say it better than I do. Please check out the following links discussing the potential for violent reaction to a Trump loss.

http://www.vox.com/world/2016/10/26/13412050/donald-trump-rigged-elections-violence

https://www.google.com/amp/nypost.com/2016/11/02/meet-the-militia-monitoring-voting-sites-for-fraud/amp/

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/what-happens-to-america-if-trump-loses-20160314

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-a-trump-loss-in-november-could-still-be-destructive/2016/08/05/4ed7fff2-5a86-11e6-831d-0324760ca856_story.html

http://nytimes.com/2016/10/28/us/politics/donald-trump-voters.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/10/27/if-trump-loses-im-grabbing-my-musket-with-12-days-to-go-this-is-what-2016-sounds-like/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2016/10/15/donald-trump-warnings-conspiracy-rig-election-are-stoking-anger-among-his-followers/LcCY6e0QOcfH8VdeK9UdsM/amp.html

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/20/donald-trump-refuse-concede-election-electoral-college

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Running against the Establishment?

I just had a quick thought today.

A billionaire real-estate developer based out of the richest city on the planet is most definitely part of the “establishment.”

One of Donald Trump’s primary claims this election is that he’s running to fight The Establishment. He says he’s an outsider.

Yeah, don’t believe it.

There’s more to being part of the “establishment” than simply working in government. Herr Trump’s various flaws and issues aside, one doesn’t acquire the type of influence and presence that he has without having hands in many institutions. He has certainly influenced government officials before (local, state, and national), and is firmly entrenched in the mainstream media.  His cozy relationship with the national media is a big reason why he managed to run a competitive presidential campaign without doing much traditional advertising.

This little rant is less about him, but the same thing goes to Bernie supporters (and I was one!). Bernie Sanders has been a member of the national legislature since 1991. Even without being part of a political party until recently, he is still firmly part of the “establishment.”

And I’m not actually saying any of this to knock either guy. I mean, I can tear up Donald Trump all day, but this is one situation where the fact that he is certainly part of the establishment isn’t his problem.

Americans have a certain distaste for the political process. I’m working on a blog piece exploring that in more detail.

Suffice to say, the near constant media/political/social demonization of the institution of government over the past 30 years is a big reason why we assume government automatically equals corruption and sloth. Now obviously, it definitely  can mean that.

But that kind of thing is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. We keep electing people who tell us government is the problem, and then they obstruct and delay and argue and fight over ideological purity… and fail to accomplish necessary tasks. And when one of them does attempt to compromise and make things work, we punish them by voting them out in favor of an ideologue. And the cycle just continues. We have gradually been spiraling into the corruption and failure we assumed was always the norm.

And then we blame “the establishment.” We blame politics in general. We often decry the gridlock, but fail to recognize our own complicity in creating it.

The driving ideology behind America’s second largest political party is to prove government doesn’t work by governing as poorly as possible. Donald Trump may not share other core values of the “establishment” GOP. But he is an enthusiastic contributor to the idea the government as we know it is the root of society’s ills. In that, he fits in just fine with the Republican Party.

Many career politicians get elected on the notion that they are there to fight the establishment. Of course, most of them already were part of the establishment in the first place.

Having an establishment is not the problem. In an ideal system, we have compromise, we have deals, we also have accountability. Sometimes people will have to make agreements that don’t completely square with their personal ideology. There would be no shame in holding elected office. One would run to serve, and to ensure the whole system keeps chugging along, and hopefully gradually improving. There 320 million diverse opinions in America. Nobody is going to get everything they want.

But instead, we don’t seek a more perfect union. We elect people who argue that the key to a more perfect union is to run a more perfect business. And then accountability shifts from the people to the money. And we complain about that lack of human accountability, but continue to blame public service. And, just as one would expect, public service deteriorates. Our infrastructure rots, our health care gets more expensive, the genuine existential crisis of climate change is ignored, all while national political candidates bicker over emails and lie about crime rates.

Nothing actually gets accomplished without some sort of “establishment.” The key is making sure that the establishment is accountable to the interests of the citizens. And that means the citizens need to pay attention. They need to learn how laws get passed, how moneyed interests get their hands in there in the first place. The people need to be willing to be part of the establishment, themselves.

Posted in Governance, Media, Myths and misconceptions, Politics, Quick post | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment