Category: politics

The 2000 election and voting systems

After the 2000 ‘hanging chad’ election, the Election Commission report concluded that about 10% of votes are never counted or miss-counted. The Republican President and House didn’t much care, threw a few billion at the states some counties replaced the punch card machines w/ electronic voting machines. It made things worse. The election results are still untrustworthy, but in many places there’s no paper record to check but there is a poorly designed and poorly secured software program counting the votes. And yet worse, these voting machine companies are all private, and keep their software a secret, so there is no way to audit the software or check the election results. In the *rare* cases where security researchers have inspected the software and computerized voting machines, they have always proved easy to break into and subvert. Same with the centralized websites counting and recording the votes. Complete failure of democracy.

XKCD comic

Republicans treat national security as a joke

Gosh, the earnest talk by Republicans on the paramount importance of scrupulous by-the-book handling of classified information was just a show for the TV cameras and gullible Republican votes.

“More than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances as of November 2017, including the president’s daughter, son-in-law and his top legal counsel, according to internal White House documents obtained by NBC News.” link

And for most of these folks, ‘does not have’ means the FBI checked them out and won’t approve clearance because they are a security risk. Some of these guys are known to have worked for hostile foreign powers.

Trump administration is allowing Russians to manipulate US elections

Intelligence chiefs to Senate: Nope, Trump doesn’t care about Russia by Heather Digby Parton, Salon

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., asked a simple question that sent shockwaves through the hearing room. He asked the assembled intelligence leaders if the president had ever urged them to address the threat of further Russian interference.

He has not. When pressed, NSA Director Admiral Rogers said, “I can’t say I’ve been specifically directed to blunt or actually stop” future Russian attacks. CIA Director Mike Pompeo tried to defend Trump, but the best he could come up with was to say the CIA takes “all kinds of steps to disrupt what the Russians are trying to do.” FBI Director Wray said he had not been specifically tasked to combat Russian interference by the president. Coats said the same. When asked if the president has ordered an inter-agency strategy, he replied, “We essentially are relying on the investigations that are underway.”

Link to Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with the directors of national intelligence, the CIA, and the FBI. C-SPAN

Remembering communism, now a quarter century in the past

What exactly was the “threat of communism”? As an economic system it is inferior to government regulated capitalism. Communist states grow their economies slower every year than capitalistic states, so they become less of a threat every year, and the comparison pushes their people toward capitalism. As a political system, communism was a variety of dictatorship or oligarchy, and not particularly stable or appealing.

Post-WWII in the European colonies, the threat of communism is that the people will be better off, at least in the short and medium terms, so there was a threat to European control, and then to the minority white government or the local satraps.

In the West, the threat of communism is that workers would insist on a pay raise, and the opportunity of communism was that it was a cudgel to destroy unions and the left.

Illinois gerrymandering

With gerrymandering in the news and several cases on their way to the Supreme Court, I’ve seen discussion of gerrymandering. The extreme Republican gerrymandering in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina have come under criticism. I occasionally go nutpicking to see what conservatives have to say about this, and their defense is mainly, ignore this because Democrats are just as bad or worse. And Illinois gets held up as an example of a state highly gerrymandered by Democrats, perhaps because Obama was from Illinois, or perhaps it is the long shadow of Richard Daley’s reputation. He died 42 years ago. So I had a look. Is Illinois heavily gerrymandered so Democrats get most of the seats no matter what the vote is? Do Democrats get seats out of proportion to the vote?

Data from the State site.

Here are the 2016 Illinois Senate election results:
37 Dems (63%)
22 Repubs (37%)

Votes for Senate:
1906132 Dems (59.5%)
1299986 Repubs (40.5%)

Illinois House election results:
67 Dems (57%)
51 Repubs (43%)

Votes for Senate:
2584929 Dems (53.9%)
2210903 Repubs (46.1%)

US House of Representatives
11 Dems (61%)
7 Repubs (39%)

Votes for US Reps:
2810536 Dems (53.6%)
2397436 Repubs (45.7%)

Proportionally, Dems would have 9.64 Reps, or 10 and Republicans would have 8.22 Reps, or 8.

The Presidential vote in Illinois was
3090729 Clinton (55.8%)
2146015 Trump (38.8%)

In the Illinois House and Senate, Democrats get 3% more seats than indicated by the proportion of votes. In the US House of Representatives, Democrats get one more seat (11 instead of 10). So Illinois is gerrymandered to favor Democrats to a minor degree in the House and to a modest degree in the Illinois General Assembly.

What’s going on in Republican controlled states?

In North Carolina, “In the 2012 presidential election, for instance, Republican candidate Mitt Romney won only 50.6 percent of the popular vote in North Carolina, but Republicans ended up winning 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats — a whopping 77 percent.” and “North Carolina voting has been nearly split along partisan lines in recent statewide elections — such as for governor and president — but Republicans control 10 US House seats compared with three for Democrats.”

In Wisconsin, “Indeed, a year after the redistricting, Republicans captured only a minority of the statewide vote — 48.6 percent — but, as they had privately predicted, they still won 60 of the 99 state legislative seats, while the Democrats, who had won a majority of the vote, captured a mere 39 seats.”

In Pennsylvania, “To get a sense of how powerful Pennsylvania’s gerrymander was, consider that, in 2012, Democratic candidates won slightly more votes in US House elections and Barack Obama won the state. But the state’s 18 House seats didn’t split 9-9 between the parties — instead, Republicans won 13 seats there, and continued to win them for the rest of the decade.”

Everyone doesn’t cherry pick the news

‘Everyone cherry picking’ is not the problem. Those interested in accurate news can get from most newspapers, ABC/NBC/CBS/NPR/BBC/CNN etc. We’re in the third phase of the Republican rejection of reality.

First there was creationism, climate denial, smoking is safe, pollution is harmless reality denial by interested parties, plus entirely fictional stories on the margins–John Birch society news and Ron Paul’s gold buggery newsletter.

Second came the Republican news phenomenon–Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and then a host of web sites hyping or making up stories to keep the Republican base angry and afraid–the Sandy Hook massacre is a hoax by the govt to take your guns, Hillary is a lesbian and her advisors are terrorists, Obama can’t speak without a teleprompter, discrimination against white people is a huge problem, a new manufactured story every week, sometimes every day.

And now Trump is building on this. Just like he attacked every Republican critic during the primaries, now he attacks the press every time they write a critical article in his childish way–saying the stories are deliberate lies, ‘fake news’, written just to personally attack him. And Republican voters, conditioned by years of attacks on every news organizations that doesn’t tailor their reporting to the Republican party’s interests, bob their heads in agreement.

And the wide network of Republican opinion writers and commentators write diligently to support Trump. If Trump lies, they look around for a way to make it sound true. The White House is disorganized, so they write ‘bold change agents’. The White House is ignorant and unprepared becomes ‘breaking the establishment way of doing things’. During the campaign, Trump lied and said he had a ‘secret plan to defeat ISIS’, and Republican commentators wrote in support, yes, he must keep it a secret, and it will surely be better than Obama’s plan.

This is a phenomenon of both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. This is mainly a Republican slide into irrationality and delusion.

This single ‘partisan’ axis doesn’t cover it. Stories in Mother Jones are factually true and written from a left perspective, e.g., higher wages for workers is a good thing. MSNBC writes news stories based on sources and documentation, but their commentators include both liberals and conservatives. Fox News often runs stories that are factually incorrect and support the correctness of conservative aims. The WSJ news operation is conventionally fact-based and conservative, “The market is up today on news of stagnant wages.” while their opinion page makes far right arguments often based on fake statistics and premises. NPR’s stories often include comments by experts–a expert on water pollution, an economist, a expert on trade, someone who studies immigration, but usually also includes a comments by, say, the polluting company or the big bank featured in a story. This gets NPR branded as ‘liberal’. NPR’s economic and business reporting is conventional and conservative.

Republican government

I’ve seen comments that Betsy DeVos (married into the Amway pyramid scheme) is unqualified to be Sec. of Education. This is Republican government–Republicans want to destroy much of the Federal government. They were circumspect about in the past, but the Republican party has become more extreme, gotten more power, and feels less need to mask their objective. When a Republican is elected, the Sec. of Education is tasked with destroying public schools and funneling government support to private Christian schools. This has the dual goals of destroying teacher unions (to cut teacher pay) and funneling public money to for profit school corporations. And recall, the Religious Right, modern white political Christianity, was created in the fight over government subsidies for private whites-only Christians schools started to circumvent desegregation.

A Republican Sec. of the Interior is tasked with giving public lands to mining and lumber companies. A Republican Dept. of Justice shuts down enforcement of Civil Rights laws, anti-trust enforcement, and lets companies cheat their customers. A Republican Labor department is tasked with reducing worker safety and enforcement of honest pay laws. A Republican EPA Administrator is tasked with not enforcing (and eliminating where possible) clean water and clean air laws. The head of the Energy Dept. doles out subsidies to the oil and coal industry, and he works with Interior to give these companies protected Federal lands and works with the EPA to to legalize the industry’s pollution.

Cashing in on the Presidency

A note on Donald Trump. When he takes office tomorrow, he will be in violation of a Constitutional ban on receiving money from foreign interests, “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Trump still owns his company, and it takes in payments from foreigners in many ways. Since being elected, he has used his status as President-elect multiple times to meet with foreign officials and press them for help with his company’s business deals. Trump will also be in violation of the Constitution in another way. Trump properties in the US receive favorable tax treatment (tax abatements and rebates), these are a common part of real estate deals. The President is banned from receiving payments from the States under the Constitution. Trump has refused to sell his business, and plans to use the Presidency to increase his wealth. This is plain corruption, using the office of the Presidency for illegitimate private gain.

A don’t expect that conservatives will complain about Trump’s violation of the Constitution. Many conservatives have taken to calling themselves ‘Constitutional Conservatives’, but they will not utter a peep about Trump’s violation of these Constitutional anti-corruption measures. ‘Constitutional Conservative’ was always a proud name for shabby blanket opposition to President Obama. It was always about partisanship for them, not law or the Constitution. Trump’s self dealing will not attract the attention of the Republican majority Congress, they will do little or no investigation, nor demand Trump follow the rules laid out in the Constitution. Republicans will retreat to the President Nixon’s “If the President does it, it’s not illegal” excuse.

Trump meme #1

Meme: Trump learned discipline, respect, and hard work because his father sent him to a military academy.

Trump was such an insufferable a**hole, he failed out of his comfy private school and his dad sent him to a private military school. Because of this, Trump says “I always felt that I was in the military” and that he had “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”. Trump actually avoided service in Vietnam using 4 education deferments and then a Y-1 medical deferment for “heel spurs”. In college, Trump played football, tennis and squash. Trump has never held a job or done an honest day’s work in his life.

Notes on the present

State of the federal budget:
US fed deficit over the last few years

Annotated with more detail:
US fed budget changes

This is the steepest set of budget cuts since the US came out of WWII.

Is this typical for the US economy coming out of a deep, deep recession. No, unprecedented:

US fed spending post recession

A sharp reduction in spending like this is slowing the recovery. If the US followed the usual course (+15% federal spending, i.e. more stimulus), an extra 2-3 million people would have jobs, and that positive feedback would be pushing the US into a full recovery.

The budget currently on the table in Washington, rejected by the GOP:
2014 US Fed budget, Senate CR

Deficit reduction since 2011:
cuts since 2011

More charts covering the federal budget, deficit, health care spending, and related matters.