Sunday, December 21, 2008
Friday, December 5, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Friday, November 7, 2008
Duverger suggested an election in which 100,000 moderate voters and 80,000 radical voters are voting for a single official. If two moderate candidates and one radical candidate were to run, the radical candidate would win unless one of the moderate candidates gathered fewer than 20,000 votes. Observing this, moderate voters would be more likely to vote for the candidate most likely to gain more votes, with the goal of defeating the radical candidate. Either the two parties must merge, or one moderate party must fail, as the voters gravitate to the two strong parties, a trend Duverger called polarization.
if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse [sic] by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse [sic] the President. But in chusing [sic] the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; a quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two-thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall choose from them by Ballot the Vice-President.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
If the foreign diplomats in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly late last month could [vote], they'd go for Sen. Barack Obama.BBC News's poll of 22,500 people in 22 countries confirmed that Obama is "favoured by a four-to-one margin." The Guardian, in association with eight other newspapers, including Le Monde (France), Yomiuri Shimbun (Japan), La Presse (Canada), and Reforma (Mexico), corroborates these results. Gallup polls conducted in 73 countries have shown a 3-1 margin of support for Obama. I think the evidence speaks for itself, but at the risk of being redundant I shall say again that the World wants Barack Obama to win.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Like anything that I enjoy and can ponder for hours, Firefly has depth, and most interestingly political depth. Some of this is coincidental timeliness - the show premiered September 2001, and in the eight short years since then our own society has come to resemble fiction in startling ways. The most on-the-surface immediate reaction I get from the show in real life is the sight of blue gloves worn by TSA personal. In the show, these gloves are worn by government contractors on the hunt for a fugitive, and these contractors abuse habeas corpus, kill underlings, and are generally just dismissive of codes of conduct in their pursuit of their quarry. To see the same gloves on security personnel now kind of scares me.
There's more to Firefly's commentary than just prescient villains. The show takes place 6 years after a war between "The Allied Planets" and "The Independents". While the war is admittedly inspired by the US Civil War, the alliance/independent dichotomy strikes me as less of a historical fiction than a meditation on the fate of the United States.
The Alliance, you see, is a collection of prosperous and highly civilized planets, called the "core" (industrialized nations, or, alternatively, well-developed urban centers). The alliance has abundance, and with this abundance they have both a highly-functioning welfare state and a police state. The two, from the perspective of Firefly, are linked in such as way that they cannot function without each other. And in the brief glimpses we see of Alliance planets, it seems like a system that almost works - people are happy, private property is well protected, criminal behaviors are constrained by a system of digital monitoring all individuals, and there is a democratically elected Parliament in charge of everything.
But that's an almost. Throughout the show we see that there are flaws in this system. The government is far more secretive, functioning more less like a transparent democracy and more like a detached council (though perhaps this is how many already view the US legislature). The alliance provides competitive, free higher education for interested individuals, but at a high personal cost. Service to the higher echelons of government overrides local law enforcement always. Spoiler Warning: we see this as it regards distant planets in the episode "The Train Train Job", and we see it as it effects core planets in "Ariel". But that's the government functioning as one might expect, with some degree of secrecy and with priorities that don't immediately square with what locals want. Where the Alliance really breaks from good government is with corporations. Spoiler Warning for everything that follows.
In the first episode, the Firefly cast (also known as the crew of Serenity) are approached by a giant Alliance patrol. The patrol intends to arrest them for "illegal salvage", which brings to question what is legal salvage. While this question isn't addressed in the show proper, the answer is hinted at by the presence of the ubiquitous Blue Sun corporation. Blue Sun is a huge corporation, which does everything from sell canned goods to make t-shirts to employ blue-gloved individuals that hunt down fugitives as government contractors. In all the areas the government itself cannot function, government contractors are given authority, and they are even less accountable and are more subject pursue their objectives without attention to legal constraint. And then, in a flip, the contractors get to sue the government to enforce their monopolies against the public. The illegal salvage mentioned is not illegal because it is salvage (that is a necessary function in an interstellar economy, I imagine), but it is illegal because a contractors license wasn't obtained by those doing the salvage.
So that's the Alliance - rich, cultural imperialists who have the money and the desire to establish systems of both social welfare and social control, and who manage to afford all their excesses of power by employing contractors, corporations, and other extra-governmental bodies. Commentary, right?
This is contrasted with the Independents.
The Independents (and their veterans, known as Browncoats), are states rightists, libertarianistic, and self-deterministic. They believe in local rule, in minimal government, in self-sufficiency, and in individual freedom. Great as this sounds, in corporates a whole lot of nasty - indentured servitude, slaves, rule by arrogant local "Big Men", criminal empires, and some real hardship are all more or less a given in areas where Alliance control is weak, and Independent victory wouldn't have done much to curtail these problems. It's almost a hobbesian simplicity - where the government is weak, the people have no choice but to be strong or to die. On the other hand, those who can make it don't have to deal with anything more powerful than people. It's an intensified myth of the American fronteir, of the self-succificient American pioneer, and of self determination almost directly contrasted with democracy and power.
Firefly is, as I see it, the relevant narrative of this time, or at leasst of the past decade. The show existed before the Department of Homeland Security, and by the time the movie Serenity debuted (the show's sort-of sequal in film form) private military contractors working for the US government had been involved in battles in Iraq. Writing now in 2008, the US is beginning to look seriously at some form of Universal Healthcare and the government has pseudo-nationalized many major financial institutions. And this is also the era of Ron Paul, where a radical rightist can advocate a minimalistic government and draw large support from youths (who already have an unfavorable experience with provided services imposing major restrictions on freedom; i.e. public school).
For good or not, I think that the path as foreseen in Firefly is more or less clear for the United States. We've moved irrevocably away from yeoman farmers, and we've moved further still from an open lawless fronteir. The only option I see, even in the face of rising libertarianism and minimalist government backlash, is a carefully guided course of expanded government. The pitfalls to avoid are obvious, but I'll state them anyway - tranparency is the only safe way to guarentee more government power, and even that alone isn't enough. Private contractors have to be held to the same standards as governmental organs, and they have to be just as transparent. And we as a society are going to have to find some way to ward off a police state while moving into a welfare state. Firefly shows us a workable but broken model - the future isn't set, so there is no reason why we can't do better than fiction.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
"173 despots would surely be as oppressive as one." - Thomas Jefferson
Monday, September 22, 2008
Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
WAKE UP, AMERICA!
What specifically caught my eye today was this passage in my book, The American Pageant:
Because political power no longer rested with the central, all-powerful king, individuals in a republic needed to sacrifice their personal self-interest to the public good. The collective goals of 'the people' mattered more than the private rights and interests of individuals.
This passage is from a section that talks about the main ideas of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, a pamphlet published in 1776. Strangely, or perhaps not-so-strangely, Common Sense seems to apply almost as well, if not better, to the political situation today than it did to the political situation in 1776, 200-some-odd years ago.
In Common Sense, Paine was advocating for a new idea called 'republicanism.' This idea was very radical, because before this time, the political system in America could easily be described as 'do whatever Parliament and the King tell you what to do.' Britain was approaching a constitutional monarchy at this time, but they really hadn't got over the idea of an all-powerful monarch telling everyone what to do.
Common Sense, if we put it in a more modern context, seems to be saying 'provide for everyone, because the government gets it power from the people, so you better take care of those people...people.' Irregular plurals aside, this seems to me to be advocating that most feared of political ideologies, the black sheep of democratic systems: socialism.
Oh, crap guys! Call the Civil Defense corps! Socialism's afoot!
Now, I must confess, in the interest of full disclosure and fairness (hahahaha, hohohohoho, full disclosure, fairness, blogosphere, ahahahaha....), I am a socialist (not a communist; that's a completely different animal). Yes, that's right, I believe that the government has a duty to take care of all of its people, not just those who happen to strike it rich. But that's another story.
The story here is that, 200 years before the Cold War, Thomas Paine was arguing that the United States should have, as at least a part of its underlying ideology, socialism. Doesn't that just blow your mind? That the good of the people as a whole outweighs the good of the self or the good of the individual is an idea that has been immortalized in stories since the beginning of history. Self-sacrifice and all that rot. In Common Sense this ideal took shape in the unifying idea of an American 'republic.' In more modern times, this ideal was fundamental to the political system called socialism.
What I'm trying to get at here is that from the beginning of this country, the government has been designed to serve 'the people.' In the singular sense. The government was not designed to serve individuals, it was designed for a singular and revolutionary new body - the American People. Lately, however, whether through innocent misinterpretation or malign meddling, this concept has become warped to mean that the country now serves the 'people' (plural, now).
This may seem quite nitpicky and not at all relevant to any kind of modern, constructive political discussion, but Supreme Court cases have been decided on as little as the placement of a comma (another bad idea which I'll write on later). I think that, whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, the mindset in this country has definitely changed in the past 230 years from brotherhood and society to greed and exclusivity. And that's just not common sense.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Why, you ask? Well, reversing the lens and using an extension tube allows me to take pictures of some pretty amazing stuff. Really, really (really) tiny stuff (probably not the Higgs Boson, but one can only hope). It's called macro photography, or technically, photomacrography, but let's stick with the former. I'll post some pictures that I take with it when I develop them (I know, it's retro to actually develop photos, but I just love the smell of chemicals...).
Oh, and by the way, happy last-day-of-the-world! G'night!
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Now for a nice anecdote: Last week, I was staffing the Democratic Party of New Mexico booth at the New Mexico State Fair, along with my parents and a few other members of the Jason Marks PRC campaign. We were registering voters and handing out buttons and stickers and pamphlets and things, and it was all great. Then, up comes this woman and she asks us if we have any Barack Obama signs or anything. We say "no, everyone in the entire state is out, including their headquarters." (Which is true, by the way.) The woman says that she really wants to go get something advertising Obama because she just overheard someone at the Republican Party booth say "I want to register to vote because I don't want a black man as President."
Well, at least he's got a reason, right? Anyway, this got me thinking, why should what someone looks like, or even what they sound like, or how old they are, determine if you vote for them or not? Unfortunately, that is a reality of American politics today, that is why Kennedy won the 1960 presidential debate, that is why the nomination of Sarah Palin (or even the thought of nominating Hillary Clinton) was so dramatic.
Can we design a better system? Is it possible to disassociate the person from the politics? I say we give it a shot. Tell both parties (or all of them, actually!) to come up with summarized platforms and then disseminate these platforms, through the press, through the schools, through any possible outlet, to the voting public. Then, come election day, each voter simply votes for the party, not the candidate, whose platform they most agree with.
I think this addresses several problems with the current voting process:
1. It eliminates (mostly) votes based upon physical appearance, race, gender, and other, non-policy-related criteria.
2. It has the potential to lower the amount of voter confusion on candidates' stances on issues.
3. It frees up the really charismatic people to go where we need them: dealing with other countries to patch up relations.
4. No more arguments over flip-flopping!
Conversely, it could also create a few problems:
1. Voters may not be able to rally passionately around a candidate (but doesn't passion blind judgment?)
2. It requires voters to educate themselves (I've already written about this. Basically, if voter's aren't informed in the first place, any decisions they make will be uninformed, also, and, in my eyes, invalid).
Personally, I think that having charismatic leaders is great, but a person should not be elected because they are charismatic. A party should be elected because of its stances on the issues, then charismatic officials should be appointed because they are charismatic and it's a job requirement for many positions. Voters should not base their opinions on appearance.
P.S. Maybe politicians should write anonymous blogs on their positions. They could hold Q and A sessions virtually. Ahhhhh, the possibilities unlocked with the internet....
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Excerpt from a transcript of the 4 September 2008 edition of DemocracyNow!:
AMY GOODMAN: According to the National Lawyers Guild, the criminal complaints filed by the Ramsey County Attorney do not allege that any of the defendants personally engaged in any act of violence or damage to property. Instead, authorities are seeking to hold the eight defendants responsible for acts committed by other individuals during the opening days of the Republican National Convention.Most of the activists were arrested over the weekend in preemptive house raids. None of the defendants have any prior criminal history involving acts of violence. Authorities are basing their case on paid informants who infiltrated the group. The eight activists charged are Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Gullen-Givens, Erik Oseland, Nathanael Secor, Robert Czernik, Garrett Fitzgerald and Max Specktor.
BRUCE NESTOR (President of the MN chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild): These charges are very significant for any political activist or anybody that cares about the right to organize politically or for freedom of speech. By equating plans or stated plans to blockade traffic and to try to disrupt the convention with acts of terrorism, the conspiracy nature of the charge, where you punish people for what they say or advocate, but not for what they do, really creates a possibility that anybody organizing a large-scale demonstration, at which civil disobedience may be a part of it or where other individuals may then engage in some type of property damage, creates the potential that all those organizers can be charged with these conspiracy charges and face significant penalties.
AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean, “in furtherance of terrorism”?BRUCE NESTOR: In Minnesota, that was a law passed after the attacks in New York on September 11th. It kind of tracks the definition in the federal PATRIOT Act, which is any criminal act, in this case at least a felony, that’s designed to influence or coerce public opinion or to disrupt a public assembly. And so, my guess is that the charge is based upon the idea that there was an attempt to disrupt the RNC, which would be treated as a public assembly, even though they didn’t apply for a permit under St. Paul public assembly laws to do so.
This is outrageous. The St. Paul Police Department, Minneapolis Police Department, Minnesota State Police Department, and FBI, among others, are actively participating in an abridgment of the rights, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, to freedom of speech, of the press, and to peaceably assemble.
What is also very disturbing to me is the (unchallenged) use of so-called "preemptive arrests" by the various police departments operating in St. Paul. This policy allows for arrest and detainment for up to 36 hours (a judge has actually lengthened it to 48 for many of those arrested) without the accused having actually committed a crime.
In addition, many raids have been carried out by the St. Paul Police, complete with assault rifle-toting SWAT teams yelling "everyone on the floor!"
I don't understand why this egregious and blatant violation of civil rights isn't front page news in every paper in the nation and leading the top-of-the-hour newscast on every radio and television station. NPR and Pacifica Radio are the only two media outlets I have yet heard any coverage of this from (aside from a small, back page story in the Albuquerque Journal where the phrase "illegal arrests" was not used until the fifth paragraph).
One of my classmates in AP US History today pointed out that this is almost exactly like the way China deals with the press and protesters. Now that's a scary thought.
P.S. - Tonight, as I was watching John McCain's acceptance speech at the RNC, I saw two protesters run out into the crowd and on the steps of the convention center, flashing the peace symbol with both hands. John McCain stopped his (admittedly lukewarm) speech as the protestors were forceably dragged out by security officers in suits and the crowd chanted "USA! USA! USA!" I felt ashamed at that moment. Not for the protesters, no, for them I felt nothing but empathy, but for this country. How far have we fallen in 200 years that to protest is now considered unpatriotic and is drowned out by pseudo-fascist cheers of "USA! USA!"? How can a party that purports to be the party of the average person be so callous to the obvious concerns of so many? Perhaps it is because the GOP only considers "average people" to be people registered as Republicans (just like they consider everyone who makes under $5,000,000 a year to be middle-class). However, the most appaling thing, to me at least, about this whole episode was John McCain's response to the protesters: "Please don't be diverted by the crowd noise and the static." That's what John McCain believes protest is - just crowd noise and static.