October 18, 2012

Pensées dans l'isoloir

Everything just sounds more deeply philosophical in French.  It translates as "thoughts in the voting booth," and concerns that quiet moment, when one is all by oneself facing the ballot, and your brave and independent pronouncements about voting for a third party candidate are at last put to the real test.

So much to think about.  So many pensées.  Have I made myself a victim of my own "false equivalence," that easy cop-out favored by the Mainstream Media (those sycophants you often call the Lamestream Media in your snarky moments)?  Is it just too easy to say that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are indistinguishable politically, that voting for the lesser of two evils is nevertheless voting for evil, that third parties with actual real, helpful ideas can never break through to relevance and power if election after pitiful election we keep saying to ourselves, not this time, there is simply too much at stake?

Certainly these are conundra worthy of Voltaire and Descartes.  

One begins with the electoral facts.  California's 55 electoral votes are cast on a winner-take-all basis. There is not a snowball's chance in hell that anyone other than Barack Obama is going to win the Golden State.  Plus, I know that my vote is worth 25% of the vote of a pickup-driving cowboy from Laramie, Wyoming.  Wyoming has the constitutional minimum of 3 electoral votes (matching its two senators and one congressman) with a population of 563,000.  California's 55 electoral votes are based on a population of 37 million, roughly 74 times larger than Wyoming.  Yet the electoral votes are only 18 times as many.  Since we do not have direct election of Presidents by popular vote in this country, my vote is not what it appears to be in the first place.  It's a diluted ballot that I cast; thus, as far as symbolic votes for third party candidates are concerned, California is a nice safe haven to exercise one's conscience (and if it's not safe, whoever in the United States indulges himself in an act of conscience?  Certainly almost no one in the White House or Congress.)

There is a good reason that the Obama and Romney campaigns do not waste their money running expensive TV ads in California.  I hear about these "hard hitting" ads in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, but I never have my focus on "Big Bang Theory" disturbed by actual viewing.

Thus, a voter in California who worries a lot about how he votes, as a matter of reality, is engaging in a form of electoral grandiosity.  The die is cast; the fix is in.  Maybe the national polls talk about "razor thin" margins for Obama, a lead within the "margin of error," it's currently "neck and neck" at 47% all (that was actually the last number I heard - rather ironic, because I imagine, Venn Diagram-speaking, that there is a huge overlap between that 47% and the 47% that Romney despises).

I can assure you, however, that the campaign honchos do not look at those national polls.  They're irrelevant.  Ohio and Florida, Ohio & Florida, Ohio/Florida: color in the rest of the states red or blue, and just hold the elections in Ohio and Florida.  I'd hate to be a voter in Ohio: I'd be so tense every four years.  Here I take my place among the voters of a state with one of the worst-performing educational systems in the country (its glory days as No. 1 long past), casting my vote upon a sea of votes from millions and millions of uninformed, functionally illiterate, easily-manipulated (remember Proposition 8, anyone?) fellow citizens.  Please: give myself a break.

On the merits: I would rather see Obama win, and I'm fairly sure he will.  Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, however, believe any longer in the American Constitution or the Bill of Rights.  That is not false equivalence; it's just the way it is.  For a person like me, a "process liberal" as opposed to a "substantive liberal," my enthusiasm for the voting franchise took a major hit during the Misrule of George W. Bush, and virtually all of Bush's most repugnant, anti-Constitutional positions have been continued, and even expanded by Barack Obama.  (I don't know if you've noticed, but Barack is just not real original.)  Both parties appear content with the awful ruling in the Citizens United case.  Mr. Obama peeped about it in one State of the Union address, and that was it.  The big telecom companies were just granted final immunity by the Supreme Court from their complicity in all of the warrantless wiretapping of the Bush (and Obama, of course) years.

On and on.  Both candidates are warmongers, both will overspend on the defense budget forever, both will kowtow and cater to the interests of Wall Street over Main Street (it's where the campaign cash is).

But, but...yes, I know what you're going to say.  What about abortion and gay marriage?  What about those Supreme Court appointments?  This is the ratio decidendi (basis of decision) of all elections, isn't it?  This is actually what the Presidential election is about: not tax policy (the President doesn't decide tax policy, the Congress does); not the "war on terror" (there's no difference); not the "budget" or deficit (the Obama Administration doesn't even propose budgets anymore); not environmental issues (both candidates are against the Earth); not nothin'.  Abortion, and in recent years, gay marriage.

Look, I wrote a screed on the effect of overturning Roe vs. Wade a long time ago.  Such a ruling does not mean that abortion is everywhere illegal in the United States.  It just means that you can't get an abortion in a Red State. So weigh that in the balance.  You have to travel from Texas to California.  My mother did that (not to get an abortion - to get the hell out of Texas).  Texas is a good place to get out of, for whatever reason.  

Should the rise of actual alternatives to the Two Party Duopoly system, with its thorough corruption and ossified inability to adapt to a changing world, be forever held hostage so that women in an unfortunate situation do not have to travel from Texas to California?  Nothing is perfect in this world, after all.  Perhaps we could organize the modern equivalent of the pre-Civil War Underground Railroad for women who need to travel to escape the ideological slavery of their judgmental, religious fellow citizens.  That, in fact, would be an excellent plank in a Third Party Platform. You have to take a few chances to get anywhere.

October 17, 2012

The Crisis of Global Warming Passes

It will hit 88 degrees here today in Northern California and 90 tomorrow, according to my usually reliable iPhone temperature app.  That's pretty warm for mid- to late October around here. Not that I'm one of those scientifically illiterate guys who think "weather" is the same as "climate" or anything like that.  I understand the difference.  Still, it's somewhat worrying, you know?  A little weird.

However, I think it must be my imagination because I watched the debate between the two presidential candidates who are allowed on mainstream television last night and the words "global warming," "climate change," or even "weather" were never mentioned.  Not a single, solitary time.

Since the Arctic ice depletion this year is the greatest in recorded history, and there are many other signs of warming, ocean acidification, collapse of marine life, and migration of infectious diseases and tropical insects into formerly temperate climates, one would think that in the course of such a debate climate change would at least merit a passing comment.  You might think about it this way: let us say that you're uncertain about the reality of anthropogenic global warming (AGW).  Shouldn't the issue at least be aired out?  It does have to do with the viability of Earth as our natural habitat, and that seems important.  Granted, you've been influenced by the dissenters, who at this most point are mostly Freeman Dyson, a very elderly mathematician who dabbles in atmospheric science mainly to irritate people (especially his wife); and Richard Lindzen, an atmospheric scientist at MIT.  Unfortunately for Denier Orthodoxy, the shock troops of AGW skeptics were dealt a heavy blow recently when Richard Muller, a prominent UC Berkeley scientist, changed his mind.  As reported by the Chronicle:

 "The hot issue of global warming got hotter Monday when a UC Berkeley physicist, once a loud skeptic of human-caused climate change, agreed not only that the Earth is heating up, but also that people are the cause of it all."
For the Denial movement, scientists can be very unreliable supporters since they have this distressing habit of changing their minds in the face of new evidence.  I suppose this is why there is such a perfect congruence between the base of Denialism and Evangelical religion, where Denialism is an article of faith (so to speak).  If you can believe that present life forms were simply placed here on Earth about 6,000 years ago by some Guy you read about in a book, then Denialism is the classic piece o' cake. Evidence?  What's that got to do with anything?

Still, one may deride the scientific bona fides of such skepticism, but one thing you gotta admit:  the AGW deniers are in charge in this country.  They don't need Muller, they don't even need Lindzen (who actually wobbles a lot - his argument seems to be that AGW is real, but it's not so bad).  They don't need anyone, since they disproved Evolution by devising their own "probability" science.

It works, too.  The heavily upholstered Candi Crowley, last night's moderator, certainly never brought the subject of climate change up.  Not a single questioner (the good citizens of Nassau County, N.Y.) were allowed to broach the subject (the moderator and CNN know, you see, what questions will come to the floor); and I imagine that the campaigns knew in advance that neither side would be "embarrassed" by a direct question on AGW because that would force them to commit themselves, one way or another.  So Romney can pretend to disbelieve in AGW, to please his salivating, know-nothing base; and Obama can be assumed to believe in such malarkey, to placate his "liberal" supporters.

It's just better, in this country, not to talk about it.  Maybe if we ignore it, it will simply go away.  Let's develop all these fossil fuel sources, coal, oil, natural gas, as fast as we can so we become "energy independent," and release all of that pent-up carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in a fevered rush.  That was the message.  Better yet, if Obama is in charge of the release, the greenhouse gases, as I wrote on another occasion, will be "Liberal CO2," which I've shown is much safer than Conservative CO2.

Among the civilized and educated nations of the world, the United States of American does indeed dwell within a cocoon of profound ignorance.  It is eerie to behold it on such brazen display as last night.  One candidate, Romney, proposes a mathematically impossible plan of getting rid of whole categories of taxation without, somehow, increasing America's $1 trillion per year deficits.  He pays no political price for such nonsense, of course, because the mathematically impossible is just as easy to believe, in this country, as Creationism or the existence of a stable climate.

October 16, 2012

FAQ on the Fiscal Cliff

(Written without prior research in order to test my credentials as a low-information voter.)

1.  What the hell is the fiscal cliff?

I'm actually not clear on this.  If memory serves, it's some terrible thing that will happen right after December 31, 2012 (a little over two months from now) if Congress, which acts always as a slow, dumb and blind beast, does not get its act together and do something about it.

2.  Yes, but what is it?

Again, going from memory, when Congress was last faced with the notional illusion of a "debt ceiling," like the little kids they are they decided not to deal with it right there and then but told themselves that if they didn't really, for real, deal with it by December 31, 2012, that (in order not to have to think about it again and make difficult decisions) that all sorts of "Draconian" things would automatically happen (as if, in other words, they had not set these very things in motion by deferring a decision).  Among these terrible things are the expiration of the so-called "Bush tax cuts" (the reduction of the top marginal rate on income); the 2% FICA reduction; various other tax "relief" measures piled on in the endless pandering to the electorate which has been much in vogue since the economy collapsed; and (the Big Enchilada) 25% reductions in all "discretionary" spending categories, which would include, amazingly, defense spending, but exempt such old standbys as Social Security, Medicare and interest payments on the national debt.

3.  Isn't this kind of a mindless, stupid way to do things?

Well, yes of course.  The important thing to remember is that Congress wasn't the least bit sincere in this pantomime of fiscal probity.  The poison pill lodged in the middle of all this stuff is the reduction in defense spending.  That just isn't going to happen.  Since the United States, at the moment, is fighting about 14 wars worldwide, Republicans and Democrats alike can point to the need (as always) to "support the troops in harm's way/in the field/fighting to keep us free" and (reluctantly) extend the deadline on the fiscal cliff (that's a mixed metaphor - maybe "cantilever out" on the fiscal cliff) so that Wile E. Coyote has a little more running room before the moment of truth.

4.  How long will Congress keep extending the deadline on the fiscal cliff?

Essentially, till the freaking cows come home.  One thing to remember about the Republicans and Democrats infesting the building under the Capitol Dome: it isn't actually their money, all this tax revenue and cash they raise by borrowing all the time.  They don't really care.  They could solve these problems if they wanted to, but they don't want to.  They use all this money to solicit bribes (campaign donations) from crony corporations who feed off the federal budget. Other than the Entitlement programs, which have dedicated taxes of their own and thus are not the least bit interesting to Congress, other than as irritating drains on what little money America has left.  But you can't literally give the American people nothing and remain in office, so they live with it.

5.  Why is imagery from The Roadrunner cartoons used so much in discussing this issue?

The short answer is that public discourse in this country suffers from a paucity of imagination and cultural references. There are essentially only two metaphors used to discuss every dismal facet of the modern American economy: the Titanic (and generally rearranging the deck chairs thereof); and Wile E. Coyote running off the cliff and hovering briefly in midair.  At some point, you'd think the pundits would realize these tropes are completely played.  Then again, one would think that this "debt ceiling" nonsense would fade away as well, but there's not much chance of that either.