Saturday, August 24, 2019

August 24, 2019
Are popular votes a good thing?  When it comes to deciding issues or making policy, we could cite examples pro and con.  The Brexit fiasco is an argument against referenda.  My state uses popular votes freely, by initiative and referendum and to authorize property levies. That system produces mixed results.  A negative example is the repeal, some years ago, of the state inheritance tax.
On the plus side is Initiative I-1639, passed last year, which imposed gun controls; it accomplished something important which the Legislature had failed to do.  However, it also demonstrated the limitations of legislation by initiative; the proposed law was far too complex for most voters to fully comprehend and, unlike the legislative process, there was no forum for clarifying discussion.[67]  As to legislation, it’s better, on average, when the will of the people is expressed through representatives.  Is indirect voting best as well in choosing a president, or should we trust and empower the people?
The question can be posed by two quotes attributed to, or borrowed by, Winston Churchill: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter,” but “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried.”  To frame the dilemma another way: On August 16, I noted the deficiency in public political knowledge revealed by surveys.  That hardly is a basis for arguing that we need more democracy, but we can’t wait for better education to decide whether the people should vote for president directly or through an undemocratic filter, the electoral college.
When I’ve seen or heard the terms “populism” and “populist,” I’ve thought they were misused, often in a sense evoking white nationalism or something equally reactionary.  However, we usually think of our nation as populist in the sense that the people rule.  Do they?  The fact that twice in sixteen years the electoral college canceled the popular vote demonstrates that we do not have a system in which the people genuinely choose their President.  The advent of Donald Trump is sufficient proof that we need more democracy, notwithstanding the shortcomings of the electorate; their choice was better, as it was in 2000.
The electoral college reflects the structure of Congress, which is only a semi-democratic institution.  Although allocation of House seats is based on population, adjusted every ten years by the census, each state has two Senators regardless of population, which varies widely, so representation in the Senate is anything but equal; one person, one vote does not apply there.  Senators are, since adoption of Amendment XVII, elected by the people of their states, so a popular vote is involved, but that does not eliminate the inherent inequality of representation.
California, with 39,747,267 people has two Senators (one per 19,873,634 people), as does Wyoming, with 572,381 (0ne per 286,191).[68]   If the states were significant entities or had historical status, the iscrepancy might be justifiable.  That argument can be made for the original thirteen, but west of there, boundaries often are arbitrary. Whatever the reasons for the size, shape and topography of the states, the makeup of the Senate distorts the electoral college.
The electoral system allocates to each state votes equal to the total of its Senators plus Representatives, thereby copying, in diluted form, the anti-populist bias of the Senate.  California has 55 electoral votes, one per 722,678 people, Wyoming 3, one per 190,794.  The ten smallest states by population (including the District Of Columbia) have 8,748,783 residents combined and 32 electoral votes,[69] one per 273,399 people.  The ten largest have 178,350,729 residents and 256 votes, one per 696,683.  It makes no sense.
However, we’re stuck with the makeup of the states and the Senate, and probably with the electoral college, all of which have constitutional status, so three programs are crucial to restoration of democracy; the first is adoption of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) to neutralize the electoral college.
  The member states of NPVIC pledge to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, thus converting the electoral college into a populist institution.  The compact will take effect when adopted by states possessing 270 electoral votes, a majority of the total, 538.  It has been enacted into law in 16 states (including DC), possessing 196 electoral votes, and will take effect if states with 74 votes are added.  The chances are difficult to evaluate; several states have gone part way, for example by passing the bill in one house, but Colorado now will vote on a referendum to repeal its adoption.
The other two changes necessary to government by the people are recapture of the Senate and the White House by Democrats and major restrictions on filibusters and holds, so that the Senate can come closer to conducting the people’s business.


67. My comments on the initiative are in the post of 12/30/18.

68. State populations:
69.  Electoral votes:

Friday, August 16, 2019

August 16, 2019
Orwell’s 1984 is a fantasy, but this country under Trump is beginning to have an eerie and worrisome similarity to Oceania under Big Brother.  The novel described the mind set of a citizen:
In the ramifications of Party doctrine she had not the faintest interest.  Whenever he began to talk of the [party line], she became bored and confused and said that she never paid any attention to that kind of thing.  One knew it was all rubbish, so why let oneself be worried by it?  She knew when to cheer and when to boo, and that was all that one needed. [58]
That could fit anyone at a Trump rally; this could describe the Base:
In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it.  They could be made to accept the most flagrant violation of reality, because they. . . were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.[59]
The parallel is not complete; the political situation in Oceania more nearly resembled that of the USSR under Stalin than of Trump’s America.  Big Brother had control the Donald only can dream of.  However, his faithful do seem to be limited to knowing when to cheer and when to boo.
The Appendix to 1984 describes the principles of Newspeak: “words such as honour, justice, morality, internationalism, democracy, science, and religion had simply ceased to exist. . . .” Without much exaggeration, we can say that they have been suppressed in Trumpland as well, with the exception of “religion,” which has been redefined into a category of politics.  In addition, “all words grouping  themselves round  the  concepts  of  objectivity  and  rationalism  were  contained  in  the  single  word oldthink.”[60]  That certainly fits.  “Ultimately  it  was  hoped  to  make  articulate  speech  issue  from the  larynx  without  involving  the  higher  brain  centres  at all.”[61]  Appled to written speech, that could describe Trump’s tweets.
Why do Trump’s followers swallow his lies?  There are several factors: fear, bias, resentment of the “elitism” of liberals, a sort of class solidarity, but also ignorance about history and political concepts, a failing shared with much of the population.
As to the public’s ignorance, various studies have found the following:
• only 13 percent knew when the U.S. Constitution was ratified, even on a multiple-choice exam, with most thinking it occurred in 1776.
• 60 percent didn’t know which countries the United States fought in World War II.
• 57 percent did not know how many Justices serve on the Supreme Court.
• 37 percent believed that Benjamin Franklin invented the lightbulb.
• 12 percent thought General Dwight Eisenhower led troops in the Civil War; 6 percent thought it was the Vietnam War.[62]
• only half of adults could name the three branches of government. [63]
• more than a third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place.
• half believed that either the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 were before the American Revolution;[64]
• 41 percent could not identify Auschwitz as a Nazi concentration or extermination camp.  As with other surveys, young people were less well informed than their elders: among millennials, 66 percent could not identify Auschwitz.[65]
Does a college education help?  Not much, apparently.
• One-third of college graduates were unaware that FDR introduced the New Deal.
• Nearly half did not know that Teddy Roosevelt played a major role in the construction of the Panama Canal.
• Over one-third could not place the American Civil War in the correct 20-year time-frame.
• Nearly half could not identify correctly the term lengths of U.S. senators and representatives. [66]
There’s more, and it’s all depressing.  How can a democracy function, how can rule by a demagogue be avoided if so many citizens know so little?  The internet can’t be blamed for all of this; the educational system, top to bottom, needs attention.


58. 1984, Part II, Chapter 5; in the omnibus George Orwell, p. 836
60. Id., at 921
Id,. at 923
62. ship-test/
63. ow-less-you-think-180955431/#Aim8aA7mLsEUFsHX.99
64. ledge/340761/
65. millen nials-dont-know-what-auschwitz-is-according-to-study-of-fading-holocaust-knowledge/
66. society

Saturday, August 10, 2019

August 10, 2019
Do climate-change deniers read newspapers?  It’s tempting to think that they don’t or that they believe reports are, to quote our leader, fake news; that could explain their continuing to deny in the face of headlines like “Greenland is on track for a record melt year, having already lost 250 billion tons of ice.”  Wilful ignorance certainly is a factor.
Many who are not outright deniers may be unaware of the scope of the problem because of poor reporting.  I watch NBC news most evenings and, whenever a story about extreme weather is included, I wait for a connection to be made to climate change; it almost never comes.  The headline I quoted is from an August 8 article in The Washington Post , which mentions that glacier melting leads to sea level rise — a reportorial step in the right direction — but does not suggest why that might be a problem for people living in coastal areas.  Yes, it may be necessary to draw pictures; another recent article reported that homes still are being built in flood zones.[50]
On July 30, the New York Times, describing floods along the lower Mississippi, made the point: “Climate change is increasingly turning the extraordinary into the ordinary. Extreme floods and snowfall, at times moving to extreme heat and droughts, are forcing cities and farming communities across the country to grapple with the threat to their homes and livelihoods.”  It quoted an endangered species biologist on the flooding: “This is biblical proportion.”[51] Allowing for forgivable exaggeration, comparing the effects of climate change to the Flood in Genesis is apt: climate change may render the earth uninhabitable.  That, however brings us to another impediment to belief in climate change: religious doctrine.
Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma wrote a book a few years ago entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future .  For him, the Flood, or its aftermath, is an argument against doing anything.[52]  In his book, he dealt with scientific fact by pretending that it didn’t exist and twice cited Genesis chapter 8, verse 22 to prove that climate catastrophe cannot happen.[53]   That verse is part of a description of the aftermath of the Flood which Noah, family and animal pairs survived on the Ark.  Here’s the relevant passage (using the King James version which Inhofe no doubt prefers):       
8:20 And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

8:21 And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

8:22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
God promised not to smite every living thing or curse the ground; does that say we can’t ruin everything?  Assuming that verse 22 is part of the “quote” beginning with verse 21, there will be seasons as long as the earth remains; giving that the interpretation most congenial to Inhofe’s theology, it is a divine guaranty that there will be some periodic variation in weather: seasons.  That does not rule out drastic change.  Think of the Ice Ages, although Inhofe may not believe in them either.
Then again, he probably does.  Here’s Inhofe in a speech in 2016: “One of the smartest things the other side did is when they got rid of, they quit talking about, global warming and started talking about climate change. Don’t get caught in that trap. I’ve had to say this on the Senate floor many times: That climate is changing. I mean, look at it archaeologically, spiritually, scientifically. Climate always changes.”[54]  Presumably “archeological change” refers to such periods as ice ages.  Inhofe prefers “global warming” because it allows him to refer to winter weather — see, we aren’t warm! — and to prove there is no warming by bringing a snowball into the Senate.
Senator Inhofe isn’t unaware of what, at the simplest level, is occurring; he noted recently that, “Over the past few weeks, Oklahomans around the state faced record rainfall and severe weather, leading to widespread destruction and flooding.”[55]  He just can’t take the next step because he would be forced to face other, unacceptable facts, and rethink his reading of Genesis.
I’m laboring this not because I think that we should make environmental policy based on Biblical exegesis, but to demonstrate that a core argument by a leading denier is nonsense.  He is not the only one who employs a theological approach to politics, nor is this the only subject which receives that treatment. For further clarification, I’m not attacking religion or, specifically Christianity; I’m suggesting that what passes for the latter, in the context of current political discussion, often is a gross distortion.
A story the Senator told on a radio program perfectly encapsulated his mind set and that of other diehard deniers:  “Senator Inhofe told the Eric Metaxas radio show this week that his granddaughter once asked him, ‘Pop I, why is it you don't understand global warming?’ ” His response: “[T]he stuff that they teach our kids nowadays, you have to un-brainwash them when they get out."[56]  Don’t learn, remain dangerously ignorant and pass that on.
The Senator’s rejection of climate change mirrors the attitude of the Trump administration, which also pretends that it doesn’t exist, going so far as to ban use of the term.[57]   Dealing with climate change requires political change, soon.


50. flooding. html


52. For more on the Inhofe philosophy, see my note of December 6, 2014.

53. The Greatest Hoax , pp. 75, 174



56. about-climate-change-484651

57. See discussion at: _change.php

Saturday, August 3, 2019

August 2, 2019
Television news is a window into a dismal present, a summary of the characteristics of a culture in crisis. Nightly we see shootings, instances of police brutality, floods and other signs of climate disaster and, to remove all hope for the future, Trump’s latest demented threat to make it all worse.
For entertainment, we can be spectators at the contest between the United States and the United Kingdom for the status of most self-destructive nation.  The elevation of Boris Johnson has allowed the UK to close the gap.  He and Trump are in a competition to determine who can more completely isolate his country from the rest of the world.  Not being at Trump’s level of ignorance and inexperience, Johnson’s bad ideas are more clearly manipulative.  According to a profile in The New York Review of Books, he didn’t make up his mind until the last moment whether to support or oppose the Brexit referendum.  However, even Boris, of Eton and Oxford, has his lapses, apparently believing that, after withdrawing from the EU, the UK still would be a member of its governing council, the sort of delusion one would expect of Trump.[48]  By design or lapse, the Two Stooges are leading their people to the cliff edge.
As different as they are, a description of Johnson’s performance applies as well to Trump’s: “an act, a turn, a traveling show.”  That show is designed to entertain and fire up the base: “In this theater of the absurd, it never matters whether the stories are true; what matters is that they are ludicrous enough to fly under the radar of credibility and hit the sweet spot where preexisting prejudices are confirmed.”[49]
Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates are having such fun tearing each other down, and even trashing the Obama administration, and the House leadership is so determined to oppose impeachment, that the odds of another four years of decline and danger on this side of the Atlantic are increasing.  Actually, “leadership” is the wrong word for Speaker Pelosi.  She appears to waiting for a popular demand for impeachment.


Fintan O’Toole, “The Ham of Fate,” August 15, 2019 Issue


Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day