|The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)|
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
Obama in 2016!
Yesterday I concluded a Google+ post with the above slogan. I did not mean anything serious by doing so. It was angry throwaway line to conclude an angry throwaway post.
A month or two ago a commenter on a blog I frequent claimed that Obama would be reelected in 2016. I thought this was paranoid nonsense, snorted, and moved on. After all, we have a Constitution, the 22nd amendment of which states:
No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.
That sounds pretty unequivocal to me. I mean, two terms is two terms, right? I am as cynical as anyone about the propensity of the media to cover for Obama, or the tendency of the judiciary to expand the reach of government -- and the Democrat party is the government party. Still, I could not believe that a newscaster or a judge could say that 3 = 2 with a straight face.
But then I thought about it some more.
Let’s be clear: As of February 2013 there no support whatsoever for electing Obama again. If you Google "Obama 2016", you get nothing. (Well, you get results, but they are the results that come from two random words in the same query).
Obama has work to do, citizen -- (official) unemployment hovers around 8%, and the economy has unexpectedly stalled. Talk of a third term is a distraction. Probably with malicious intent. Worse, it's mockery. Mocking democracy -- why, it’s like mocking America itself.
But … in the year 2015 … I mean, 2015 is practically an eternity from now! And in that distant future, when you first read someone advocate the rereelection of our sainted Nobel Prize winner -- you’ll be skeptical. Because that’s who you are! Intelligent and skeptical! Mind you, things are pretty bad. Unemployment (of the official variety) is flirting with 9%, and something seems to be wrong with the "recovery." People are putting scare quotes around it. But a third term for Obama … well, it’s going too far. You admire the people advocating it. Their hearts are in the right place.
At this point, we're 90% done. Aren't we? When 2016 rolls around, and our President is making heroic efforts to keep (official) unemployment below 10%, and when you consider that Joe Biden has a propensity to fall asleep, and say ridiculous things when awake, and you see the news article touting Paul Ryan's newfound gravitas, and you consider the consequences of electing a (shudder) Republican …
A third term doesn't seem so outrageous. It seems patriotic.
Oh, that 22nd amendment thing?
A loophole: It is possible for Barack Obama, or Bush the Younger, or Bill Clinton, to serve a term as president. They need to be in line for the presidential succession -- president pro tem of the Senate will do. And then something needs to happen to the president and vice president. Resignation will do. Citizen, we're not bloodthirsty.
Will this happen? No, of course not. But it could happen. And once you admit that it could happen … well, is this fair? I mean, people who want to vote for Paul Ryan can just tick a box. People who want to vote for Barack Obama have to find not one, but two politicians who will agree to run as placeholders -- and even more unlikely, who are trustworthy enough to give up power.
Isn't this inequitable? Citizen, you're not going to privilege a bunch of dead white males over the right of every voter to cast a ballot, are you?
Does this strike you as sophistry? Citizen, let me show you sophistry. The talk of the chattering classes for the last year or two has been how the federal executive can evade the legislature-imposed debt limit by coining a gigantic platinum trillion-dollar piece. (So help me God, perfectly sane and intelligent people of my acquaintance were touting opinion pieces which stated that such coinage was mandatory.)
Now let's do an exercise. I want you to match one phrase from column A with one source from column B:
Nullification of the 22nd amendment
$1,000,000,000,000 platinum coin
Column BSober, responsible adult who is on the cutting edge of the political zeitgeist
Internet cartoon character who wears Mexican wrestling mask
That wasn't so hard, was it? But if you still find this too specious (after all, a trillion dollar coin has not yet been minted), consider the case of Frank Lautenberg. In 2002 Mr. Lautenberg was doing whatever it is newly retired senators do, when he was suddenly pressed into service. New Jersey senator Frank Torricelli was running for reelection, but developed an inflammation of his ethical organs. The Democratic party pressed Lautenberg into service as a replacement.
Nothing wrong with that … except that by law, it was too late for Lautenberg to be placed on the ballot. And the opposition party filed suit. What was the result?
Citizen, there is Power, and Power does what it wants. Power does not need to be lectured to by bitter clingers. And Power is not detail-oriented! It looks at the big picture. Here is what Power, in the shape of the New Jersey Supreme Court, decided -- I quote Wikipedia:
the law did not provide for a situation like Torricelli's and [...] leaving Torricelli on the ballot would be an unfair advantage for Forrester
Mr. Lautenberg has been serving happily in the Senate ever since.
So please don't waste your time and mine prattling about how a court cannot nullify the text of a Constitutional amendment. If an American court can implement the plot device of Harrison Bergeron, an American court can do anything.
Obama in 2016! And citizen, please do not be worried that your vote for Obama is mandatory. We can wait till 2020 for that.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
I’m about to say some mean things about voters and politicians. It may get a little ranty in here. But I’ll castigate people of all political persuasions -- no matter what your opinions, you can be offended.
Wait a minute. That didn’t come out very well.
Before sniping at your cherished beliefs, I will pay you a compliment. To wit:
I don’t think you are such a jackass as to participate in democracy in your personal or professional life.
I work in a team of more than a dozen people, and most days we gather before noon and decide where to go for lunch. We never vote. We kick around ideas by consensus. You know how this works; we usually eat nearby because it’s convenient, but sometimes we go to the place far away that a few people like, and if someone proposes an eatery that would be fun to try, sure, why not.
I can’t imagine settling “where do we go for lunch” by a show of hands. If we had to vote, it would indicate a breakdown of consensus, and soon I would expect the lunch group to fracture into smaller groups.
I have been involved in organizations that conduct official business by ballot. But these organizations also operate by consensus; voting is more or less a formality. My bridge club elects officers -- but it’s hard to find candidates, you have to press them into service. I lived in a small condominium complex for two years. When it was time to build a new fence and gateway, we were sure to poll every resident to make sure the expense was acceptable to them. Again, I can’t imagine living in a condo complex where acrimonious debates were settled on an 8-to-7 vote.
Does your employer conduct important decisions by vote? Does your employer conduct any decisions by vote? No, of course not.
In a consensus system. or a hierarchical system like a workplace, an opinion is a vector. It is not just the bare opinion that matters; a person can hold an opinion weakly or firmly, as an expert or casual observer.
In a democracy, a vote is a scalar. A or B, yes or no, that’s it. Voting is free and any moron or genius is free to cast a ballot. (someone with inside knowledge of the Santa Clara Water District) == (my friend and commenter Beth who has had business with the water board) == (a guy who read a newspaper article) == (someone who was horrified when the mailer said Hsueh didn’t vote in primaries) == (someone who realized that Kwok is what a duck does and we can’t very well elect waterfowl to important office).
If any good decisions ever came out of such a system, it was entirely by accident.
I mean, look at the candidates available to you when you cast your ballot. Look at them!
The recent presidential hopefuls, for instance. The Republican party is supposedly the party of free-market capitalism. Yet none of its leading lights has ever got much closer to capitalism than a cushy position obtained by being a government insider. (Newt Gingrich is the same age as my father, to within a few days. So far as I can tell, he has never held a non-government job.)
There is nothing uglier than the cynicism with which a Rick Perry or Meg Whitman attempts to appeal to stupid voters. (Perry famously was unable to list the three federal departments he would like to cut.) The extent of a Republican’s “opposition” to the state is to agitate for lower taxes or to claim to be “business friendly”, with no details given.
On the other side of the aisle we have a complete nonentity whose resume was free even of the modest accomplishment of winning a competitive election (his opponent in the Illinois senate race imploded when a Chicago paper convinced a court to open the details of his messy divorce). He is the subject of a personality cult, abetted by loathsome artistic propaganda. Devotion to our president has attained a repulsive recursiveness -- the supporters of Obama feel right and just, because supporting Obama is a sign of righteousness and justice.
As president, Obama has lived up to his complete lack of ability by tanking the economy and committing verbal mayhem whenever separated from his Teleprompter.
It is not just human candidates who afflict us. If you are unlucky enough to live in a state like California which allows ballot propositions, you must cast yea or nay on proposals which are insane when they are not mendacious, and mendacious when they are not insane. Some examples from two weeks past:
Well! As Lord Ghirahim might have said, I had all this unhealthy anger and you were just the person to help me get rid of it. Next is Part 5, wherein I discuss world history and the complete and utter collapse of our current political structures. Might take me an extra day or two to write.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
A feature of democracy, so I am told: If your leader is a disaster, you can give him the boot come election day. “Throw the bums out.”
If your nation’s economy has been in the doldrums for four years, unemployment is high, debt is climbing without limit … surely the sitting president would not be reelected? Right?
To be clear -- I am not arguing that Obama should have been denied reelection on the grounds that his challenger would make a better president. I merely point out that it seems a reasonable strategy to replace one’s elected officials if conditions have not improved during their term. Perhaps this is unfair to Obama, on the grounds that he has been unlucky. This reminds me of the anecdote that Napoleon, when considering the promotion of a prospective general, would ask if he had been lucky. If America cannot obtain competent presidents, at least we can hope for lucky ones.
If you are still offended, think of this strategy as another unsightly wrinkle of democracy. Obama is turned out after four years of lackluster performance, I have to slog through attack ads for water board candidates, and it all works out somehow because God looks out for drunks, fools, and the United States of America.
But talking about Obama is not going to get us anywhere. Look at me, I’m anticipating that  footnote where I say mean things about our sainted Nobel Prize winner. Instead let’s talk about a clear and unequivocal disaster.
Let’s talk about Detroit.
For more than four decades Detroit has been a poster child for decay, crime, poverty, corruption. And during those same decades, Detroit’s elected officials have been members of one and only one political party.
Are there external factors? Sure, you can make excuses for Obama, you can make excuses for Detroit, you can make excuses for anything. Detroit has suffered from the decline of the auto industry. But so have other cities in Michigan. I wouldn’t fear for my life if I were to drive through Ypsilanti.
I mean Pittsburgh used to have a steel industry, which has fallen upon hard times. The one and only time I drove to downtown Detroit, I was looking at the skyline, which seemed normal … until I noticed a burned-out skyscraper with missing windows. Don’t think they have that kind of thing on the banks of the Allegheny River.
Also note that I do not claim that Democratic rule is necessarily responsible for Detroit’s problems. I’m just saying that after a few decades as America’s murder capital, as a place where you can buy a mansion for a song in spite of its easy access to a crackhouse, as a municipality so many of whose inhabitants have fled that entire neighborhoods are being bulldozed … you might consider the possibility of voting for someone different. Hell, start a new party if you hate Republicans so much.
Or how about Washington, DC? I read something very interesting recently, even though the author, Megan McArdle, was not trying to say anything profound:
I think that DC needs a new regulation. All current councilmembers should have to register--and run--as Republicans in 2014. This would encourage political diversity in DC, creating a space for Republicans as well as Democrats to compete in our elections.
Now McArdle didn’t actually mean this. She was making a reductio ad absurdum argument:
Stop snorting. I don't see why council members would oppose such a sensible rule, since after all, that's how they think business should be regulated.
But when you think about it … why is it absurd to imagine a DC council member running as a Republican? Is DC not famous for Detroit-type problems, albeit on a smaller scale? Once again -- one party government, decades of malaise, city couldn’t possibly elect someone from a different party even though they elected a mayor who was caught on fucking camera smoking crack for fuck’s sake.
Am I the only one bothered by this?
 That was just a stipulation for the sake of argument. In my opinion, if Obama were less enamored with crony capitalism, with taking trillions of dollars from productive people and flushing that money down the rathole of Democratic party special interests, if he were less hostile to job formation … maybe he’d be luckier.
But I doubt Romney would have been much better. And it’s not important to the larger point I’m trying to make.
Monday, November 19, 2012
I did not vote on Election Day. Twenty years ago I would have voted for the Libertarian candidate, but that has as much practical effect as buying an Obama doll and sticking it with pins. When the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November looms near, you can count on some earnest fan of democracy pointing to this or that election that was decided by a single vote.
Such events have always struck me as being equivalent to finding the face of the Virgin Mary in a pancake: Improbable, and irrelevant. So you have a Virgin-Mary shaped foodstuff. Now what? So there was some school board member elected by a single vote. So what? What was the alternative? I doubt the losing candidate had proposed to disband the school entirely and send the students to work in coal mines.
In the first post of this series I pointed out that it is very difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys. But my example was for a water board election. Surely when voting for a governor or president, these problems do not exist. Surely the differences between candidates are significant. For every email you get urging you to cast a ballot according to your conscience, you receive 50 or 100 urging you to cast your ballot a specific way, lest civilization collapse. The Republicans are coming to steal your ladyparts! The Democrats have a secret plan to enslave your children and sell them to the UN!
I mean we need to be delivered from Obama’s socialized medicine, right? And who better to save us than Mitt Romney, who … had Massachusett’s socialized medicine program named after him. Oh dear.
Are you concerned about a warlike president targeting and killing foreigners in faraway lands? Well then, you’d better vote Democrat, because Barack Obama … targets and kills Americans in faraway lands.
And now, a change of subject.
Let us presuppose a failing corporation. Perhaps your internet company, once the world’s foremost portal, has a second-rate search engine and second-best advertising. Perhaps your automobile manufacturer finds that its vehicles are no longer in demand. To avoid getting bogged down in the specifics of internet portals or cars, we will call our example corporation FailCorp.
By a stroke of luck, FailCorp is going to have a new CEO. And a brilliant one: Jeff Bezos! Amazon is doing so well that Mr. Bezos is looking for a challenge. He’s ready to roll up his sleeves and save FailCorp!
But … FailCorp is not a typical American corporation. Our new CEO must operate under the following restrictions:
1. He is not allowed to fire or discipline 99% of FailCorp’s employees. FailCorp employees can be terminated for extreme incompetence or corruption (through a process that the CEO has no control over), but they cannot be fired, or even reprimanded, for failing to execute according to Bezos’ vision.
2. Bezos is allowed to hire his C-level executives, and their reports. But these executives must be examined in a public process. FailCorp has a lot of rules and regulations. If a prospective executive has transgressed one of those rules, even a picayune one, he or she will not be allowed to join FailCorp.
3. It is absolutely verboten for Bezos to give any employee stock options, bonuses, etc. that are tied to the future performance of FailCorp.
4. Our new CEO does not have the power to determine FailCorp’s budget, or the prices that FailCorp will charge. He can propose prices and a budget, but final approval rests with a separate governing body whose appointment is totally outside Bezos’ control. Some of them are at odds with Bezos, and all of them will demand that FailCorp do business with their friends and neighbors.
5. For that matter, poor Mr. Bezos does not actually have full power over his products or even the policies around product support, returns, etc. Officially, control over product and policy is delegated to the same outside advisory body described in #4, with the FailCorp CEO able to propose but not ratify. Practically, FailCorp employees have a lot of scope to execute their own ideas. (As we noted in #1, these ideas may or may not be the same as the CEO’s.)
6. FailCorp’s customers are apt to sue at the drop of a hat if they feel that FailCorp is not living up to the terms of its (often vaguely described) obligations.
So … how do you like FailCorp’s odds of a recovery? I would imagine at this point you are wondering how FailCorp manages to produce any goods at all; even making it to Chapter 11 represents an achievement given the constraints under which it operates. But of course I am not describing a private corporation, I am describing the federal government. Electing a particular candidate would not lead to Change even if the candidate were interested in it.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
A recent local election highlighted the problems inherent in democracy. I first became aware of the Santa Clara Valley Water District election when signs for KWOK and HSUEH popped up in my neighborhood. These were followed by flyers in the mail. Okay, someone wants to get elected to some minor position. How cute.
Then I started getting attack ads. My gut reaction was, who the hell wants to win this badly? Well, as this San Jose Mercury News article explains, there is a fair amount at stake:
In recent years, grand jury reports, media investigations and audits have criticized the agency for its rich staff benefits and salaries, mission creep and questionable spending. Among the issues: the seven-member board voting to spend $1.4 million to build a gazebo in Alviso; board members charging softball games, interviews and visits to community festivals as "meetings," reimbursable at $286 per event; and a failed attempt last month to provide lifetime pension and health-care benefits for board members, who serve part time.
Now I am not in the least bit qualified to vet the process of delivering drinking water. I occasionally buy water from grocery stores and Costco. It would never occur to be to buy stock in Nestle to influence how Arrowhead is bottled.
But this isn’t about water per se; it’s about corruption and malfeasance. And that should be curable via the democratic process, right? Vote for the right candidate, and corruption is transformed to purity and malfeasance is transformed into, um, whatever the opposite of malfeasance is. Feasance?
Sadly, real life does not work this way. Because to hear Kwok and Hsueh tell it, they are both are reform candidates. Hsueh was a former water district COO running as someone who would transform the district. Kwok was a board member -- I quote the article again: “appointed to the water board in 2005 after former member Greg Zlotnick was given a newly created, $184,000 job at the district without it being advertised. That controversy led to the board forcing out CEO Stan Williams, and eventually Zlotnick's job was eliminated.”
Now I have absolutely no way of knowing who is sincere and who is a fraud. Maybe Kwok has been working tirelessly to clean up the district for the last 7 years. Or maybe not. How could I know? How could I possibly cast an informed vote?
One of my duties at my job is to interview potential candidates for hire. Usually I interview engineers, and give them technical problems to solve. This works, but there is a lot of room for error. I can tell if someone can write a specific algorithm. I can’t tell if they’re combative, lazy, overwhelmed by complex systems and procedures.
Occasionally I am asked to interview candidates for positions that require “soft” skills. Managers, product people, that sort of thing. These interviews are much, much harder. Democracy is the process of conducting interviews for soft skill positions without ever having met the person, where reading one article in a newspaper probably puts you above the median in amount of research performed. What do you think would be the result if your employer’s interview process was conducted in this manner?
Friday, May 11, 2012
My grandmother once told me, as an interesting bit of family trivia, that though she was Italian, one of her grandparents was originally a subject of the Dual Monarchy, making me 1/16 Austrian. Thus my children are 1/32 Austrian. I hope that they would not claim citizenship or other benefits from that country on the basis of being 3% Austrian.Collapse this post
Elizabeth "Fauxcahontas" Warren, Democratic candidate for the Senate in Massachusetts, claimed to be a minority on the grounds of being 1/32 Cherokee. This is pretty scummy, but then it transpired that she was not even Cherokee at all, and the ancestor in question may well have shipped Cherokee along the Trail of Tears. Which would be like claiming an Austrian pension because one of your great-grandparents was related to Gavrilo Princip.
Saturday, May 05, 2012
Bad Astronomy, a warmist blog, got its panties in a bunch about the Heartland Institute putting up billboards with the Unabomber's picture on them, saying "I still believe in global warming."
I was not offended, but I did think that Heartland's billboard was more likely to drive away people undecided on global warming than to convince them. OH NOES HITLER WAS A VEGATARIAN!1!! AND LOVED DOGZ!!1
Then I started thinking about public choice theory as applied to political think tanks.
Supposedly, the Heartland Institute is in the business of saving the world.
Heartland may sincerely believe this. But saving the world is basically impossible and does not pay.
For example, Clinton's attempt to institute national health care was thwarted primarily through the efforts of Senator Phil Gramm. Gramm attempted to turn this into a presidential nomination in 1996.
Did conservatives show any gratitude? They did not. Gramm was left with sore feet and a pile of campaign debt.
The Heartland Institute is also in the business of soliciting donations. Now this actually puts money in their pocket. And the advertisement may even be successful at this. Somebody probably drove by, said "Global warming? I hatethose guys! Who put that billboard there? Heartland? Oh yeah, here's a check."
So we would expect think tanks to produce copy that appeals to True Believers, even though there is no need to convert True Believers, and even though the net effect is to make the think tank's favored policies less popular with the public.
It is Easter as I write this, and once upon a time that would have seen me in a church; I was formerly religious. Perhaps that is an overstatement. I was once a churchgoer, and attended a Catholic school; thus religion seemed normal to me.
People presumably generalize about religion from their own experiences. For me religion is ritual, lightly applied -- I am too young to have attended mass in Latin, but my churches were constructed with stone pillars and stained glass and smelled pleasantly of candles and incense. A distant deity, but one you can personally appeal to. The expiation of sins through confession.
Various important prayers and creeds, memorized.
If asked “what is religion?” I would probably instinctively recite some or all of the above points -- but would be wrong to do so. No religion replicates all the features above. Confession is peculiar to various Christian sects. Buddhism seems to get along fine without a deity. Appealing to the deity is frowned upon by Jews. I am reading a history of Rome, and the religion of that city would be incomprehensible to a Catholic churchgoer. Certainly Jupiter was nothing like the Christian God.
There are many strange religions. One is practiced here in this country. It is of the deityless kind, but it has beliefs and a creed, which I shall list below:
I imagine by now you’re thinking -- what is this crazy shit? It’s weirder than Mormon ethnology. Is it perhaps Pentecostal, a side branch of the serpent handlers?
Well, dear reader, I have a confession to make -- and since I no longer consort with monsignors, I must unburden myself on you. I exaggerated the luridness of this sect, and obscured the details. Here are the true beliefs and practices of a religion followed by millions -- though I cannot give it a true name, because it does not have one. (Its practitioners mostly claim to be atheists; some are Christians or Jews, but they care little for the Trinity or the Pentateuch -- these are the beliefs they hold dear.) To call it the American Civic Religion is close enough.
Is this fair? Well of course it’s not fair, it’s mean and vicious. But is this an exaggeration? Allow me to relate some anecdotes:
As I write this essay, I come to realize that religion is a slippery concept. I can’t prove that the American Civic Religion exists, and you can’t really prove that it doesn’t. Religion exists in a continuum with cultural practices and politics. If you clasp your hands together and kneel tensely with furrowed brow, you are obviously praying -- unless you do so while practicing yoga. Then you’re just having a good stretch and emptying your mind. Or again, consider the religious practices of the republican Romans. The animating idea of said religion consisted of a belief that if certain traditional practices of the Republic were adhered to, Rome would be successful. There was no Roman scripture or revelation as such.
Religion can blend into cultural practices, but cultural practices are to some extent optional. In America in 2012 one would suffer less risk of ostracism for declaring a dislike of Halloween than for claiming one did not recycle. (Though to be fair, if you don’t put candy out for children on Oct 31 one is considered to be somewhat of a jerk. You’re at least supposed to put your lights out and pretend not to be home.)
Religion can also be subsumed into politics, but people do actively analyze their political beliefs. One might have a debate with one’s friends about whether the poor should be subsidized, or whether America’ military should drop bombs on this or that nation.
But one rarely sees an average American ask just why he is supposed to prefer buses to the private automobile, or human power to the internal combustion engine.
Where did our American Civic Religion come from, and why? Well, at this point I have to beg off. This post has already gone on way too long. Certainly ACR does not have a long and glorious history. My childhood was safe from the demonization of the automobile, and if you had requested organic fruit, you’d get a smart reply that inorganic fruit was unlikely to be of any use. The fetishization of the environment was just beginning; we were commanded to pick up trash, but I don’t remember there being recycling bins.
“Mencius Moldbug” wrote a useful essay about the religion of the American overclass, which he calls “Universalism.” Mencius “defined the four principal Ideals of the creed as Social Justice, Peace, Equality and Community.“ There is a lot of overlap with what I call "High Church" above, but that doesn't make the American Civic Religion synonymous with the left-wing ideals of the Overclass. There are many people who sneer at peaceniks who nonetheless feel uncomfortable if there is no appropriate receptacle for their empty soda can.
Labels: Civic Religion