Turnout, Turnout, Turnout

 


Like the mantra “location, location, location” in real estate, there may be an operative phrase in political elections, and it is “turnout, turnout, turnout”. One year away from the 2020 presidential election, centrist, party-line Democrats are most concerned with “electability”, and before the primary season has begun they have anointed Joe Biden as the most “electable” candidate. Their overriding concern for electability is understandable considering the crucial importance of the 2020 presidential election. What they don’t seem to account for is how their idea of an electable candidate may depress turnout, an outcome that tends to favor Republican candidates.


Democratic voters outnumber Republican voters, and therefore high turnout elections tend to favor Democratic candidates. The reason low turnout elections favor Republicans is because the percentage of eligible Republican voters who turn up at the polls does not vary as much as the percentage of eligible Democratic voters who actually vote. One can get deeply into the weeds on the demographics behind this behavior, but it is sufficient to note here that it is a long standing trend and will likely continue on Election Day in 2020.


2008 voting line in Brooklyn
A line of people turned out to vote in Brooklyn, New York, in the November 2008 election. Photo by Flickr user April Sikorski.


In the 2016 election, the Democratic Party establishment crammed down the throats of Democratic voters a candidate who did not generate widespread enthusiasm. The Democratic Party since the days of Franklin Roosevelt has included a more diverse coalition of voters than the Republican Party, and Democrats as a result are less interested in toeing the Party line for the sake of an election than are Republicans. Some Democrats who were lukewarm on Hillary Clinton either defected to third party candidates or did not vote at all. That she nonetheless won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes was not a statement for her popularity as much as it was a statement about the unpopularity of her Republican opponent.


Voting machine lever
Voting machine lever, pictured in January 2008. Photo by Pauljoffe. The last of the old lever voting machines were used in the midterm elections in New York state in 2010.


The erroneous polls leading up to Election Day in 2016 also were a factor in Ms. Clinton’s loss in the real decider of presidential elections, the Electoral College. Polls predicting not only a Clinton victory, but a possible landslide, were perhaps a factor in depressing Democratic turnout around the country enough that it made a difference in the outcomes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, swing states that the Republican candidate won by a total of less than 100,000 votes, tipping the Electoral College in his favor. The demographics of Democratic voters are such that they are more likely than Republican voters to skip voting for a variety of reasons, among them being the appearance from polls that their candidate already has the election in the bag.


Overconfidence will likely not be a stumbling block this time around since everyone who has been paying attention even a little bit to developments in this country since January 20, 2017, should be well aware by now of the high stakes involved in the next presidential election. It is not hyperbole to state there has not been as crucial an election for the continuance of our democracy since the election of 1860. The corporate, centrist minority of the Democratic Party is determined to trot out yet another corporate, centrist Democratic candidate in the 2020 election, whether that be Joe Biden or, in case he falters in the primaries, Pete Buttigieg. The Democratic Party establishment keeps hammering away on “electability”, even more now than in 2016 because the mental case currently despoiling the country from the Oval Office is a known quantity after three years and for the sake of the country must not be allowed to continue in power past January 20, 2021.



“Do It Again” by Steely Dan, from their 1972 album Can’t Buy a Thrill.

 


The Democratic Party establishment refuses to see a move to the left as an opportunity in the coming election. Why would they, since that is not where the corporate masters want them to go? Voter demographics, however, are leaving behind the Democratic Party establishment as currently constituted, as well as leaving behind the Republican Party more generally. Whether that will have an enough of an effect at the polls on Election Day 2020 to make a difference depends on turnout, and that depends on enthusiasm for a Democratic candidate as much as it does disgust about what the presumptive Republican candidate has done to the country and will continue to do if re-elected. Demographic changes won’t make a bit of difference in moving the nation to the left or in booting out of the Oval Office the cancerous tumor currently infesting it if the people representing those changes don’t show up at the polls and vote.
— Ed.

 

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The Tariff of Abominations

 

“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”
— excerpt from Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States.

Southerners called the 1828 tariff which had the effect of raising prices on imported manufactured goods while decreasing income from exported agricultural products the “Tariff of Abominations” because it hit hardest in the South. When President John Quincy Adams signed the bill into law, he assured his defeat by Andrew Jackson in the 1828 election. The 1828 tariff prompted South Carolina to propose the principle of nullification of federal law by the states, and the friction it set up between North and South was instrumental in leading to the Civil War more than 30 years later.


John Tenniel - Illustration from The Nursery Alice (1890) - c06543 05
This color version of a John Tenniel illustration is from The Nursery “Alice” (1890), with text adapted for nursery readers by Lewis Carroll from his Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. From the collection of the British Library. Carroll created in the Queen of Hearts, pictured at left, a model of imperious, irrational behavior.

The current president’s tariffs have exacerbated economic tensions within the country as well, this time not between North and South, but between rural, agricultural areas and urban, technological and industrial areas. They are his tariffs because over the past century Congress has ceded more and more authority to impose them to the executive branch as a matter of pursuing foreign policy, an authority which the current president, with his autocratic nature, is happy to exercise. He likes nothing better than to pronounce decrees, particularly ones that appear to punish Others, particularly foreign Others, and most especially darker skinned foreign Others.

He and his followers may not fully understand the possible ramifications and unwelcome reverberations of tariffs throughout the United States and world economy. It doesn’t matter to him or to them. What matters is the feeling of appearing to punish the Other for sins real and imagined against Our Kind, and of feeding off negative energy generated by acting on impulse rather than putting in the grinding, hard work necessary to build positively toward equitable trade agreements. It’s a lot of stick, and very little carrot.


Tariffs have always been used to further domestic political aims and foreign policy objectives as much as they have been used to generate revenue, which makes them somewhat more loaded than other taxes. The latest tariffs are no different, and their implementation echoes the 1828 tariff, an irony no doubt lost on the current president despite his exaltation of Andrew Jackson over all other American presidents. Jackson and his supporters opposed the 1828 tariff. Jackson nonetheless drew the line at allowing South Carolina to flout federal authority by proposing nullification. Jackson contemplated sending federal troops into South Carolina to uphold the law. Free trade advocates and protectionists reached a compromise with an 1833 tariff soon after the South Carolina legislature enacted nullification, averting a crisis and imposing an uneasy peace for the next 28 years.


From the 1951 film Quo Vadis, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring in this scene Peter Ustinov as Nero and Leo Genn as Petronius. Nero probably thought of himself as a stable genius, and had Twitter existed in his time, he no doubt would have used it as a political tool to share his addled observations with the world.

 

The political calculations behind the current president’s tariffs go beyond punishment of the Other which enthuse his base of followers to improving his prospects for the 2020 election in key Rust Belt states he narrowly won in 2016. Tariffs on steel, aluminum, and other industrial products appeal to manufacturing centers in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the states that tipped the Electoral College vote balance for him in 2016. Since the United States is a big exporter of agricultural products, it is no surprise that retaliatory tariffs imposed by other countries in the trade war have hit farmers hardest. Many of those farmers live in Great Plains states with relatively few electoral votes, and at any rate the current president has a cushion of support there to absorb losses of the disaffected. To make sure disaffection doesn’t become widespread, the current president has bought off farmers with subsidies so that he can continue to pursue his trade wars as personal vendettas, rather than as maturely considered policies leading to equitable prosperity for all. To borrow a phrase from the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes.”
— Vita

 

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Backslidin’ Away

 

“Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away.”
— from “Slip Slidin’ Away”, a 1977 song by Paul Simon.

Recently the Virginia House of Delegates refused to vote on ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), defeating it perhaps for good. If Virginia had voted in favor of the Amendment, that would have been the 38th and deciding vote among the states, and then the measure would have returned to the United States Congress for reconsideration of whether the time limit for ratification should be extended.


Seal of Virginia
The State Seal of Virginia. On February 21, on the grounds of the state capitol in Richmond, Virginia, two pro-ERA activists posed as the figures depicted in the seal, and one was arrested.

The Equal Rights Amendment is meant to constitutionally protect women’s rights and should be a common sense addition to the country’s legal framework, but anti-abortion activists and those who cling to traditional gender roles have long suspected the amendment would be used as grounds for protecting abortion rights of pregnant women besides guaranteeing women’s rights when they are at odds with men’s long standing privileges, and consequently they have done everything in their power, high and low, to defeat the amendment.

Meanwhile, in an official ceremony for a high school in Wisconsin, female cheerleaders were given “joke” awards for their physical attributes, such as largest breasts or butt, or skinniest body. When some parents and faculty objected to singling out emotionally immature girls this way, the cheerleaders’ coach, Patti Uttech, expressed dismay that “politically correct” people couldn’t understand how the awards were all in good fun. Last year another Wisconsin high school made national news after people became aware that a photographer posing a group of boys for a prom picture had encouraged them to raise their arms in what can only be viewed as a Nazi salute, and almost all the boys appeared to comply with enthusiasm.

Then there’s Goodloe Sutton, 80-year-old owner and editor of The Democrat-Reporter, a weekly newspaper in Linden, Alabama, who in a February 14 editorial railed against Democrats he supposed were plotting to raise taxes in Alabama, and called for the Ku Klux Klan to raid the homes of Democratic legislators in Washington, D.C.. He added even more hateful remarks when asked later for elaboration by other journalists from Alabama and elsewhere once his editorial became notorious. In 2019, Mr. Sutton’s beliefs and attitudes are more in tune with those from the year of his birth, 1939.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel perform “Slip Slidin’ Away” in the September 1981 Concert in Central Park in New York City.

Did those beliefs and attitudes ever go away in the intervening years? Perhaps partially, although mainly they went underground. Now with encouragement from the current resident of the Oval Office, ignorant and hateful talk is bubbling back to the surface across the land, and here and there action has followed. In the current environment, it will only get worse. The Ku Klux Klan of 1939 is resurrected by a bitter old man with a newspaper in Alabama. The Nazi Party of 1930s and 40s Germany is evoked by laughing schoolboys in Wisconsin. Again in Wisconsin, a high school cheerleaders’ coach hands out awards that would not have been out of place in 1950s America, though even then most people might have deemed them in questionable taste given the age of the recipients. And in Virginia an amendment to the United States Constitution goes down in flames because even in 2019 there are people – not all of them men – who cannot step away from controlling all women as if it were their right.
— Vita

 

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Mind Your Peas

 

The federal government sends out mixed signals about dietary health by promoting the establishment of fast food restaurants in poor city neighborhoods on the one hand, and then on the other hand advocating healthier eating by limiting consumption of fast food. It boosts the use of cheese in fast food items, and then suggests consumers curtail their dairy consumption. It works hand in glove with ranchers in the beef industry by leasing grazing rights to federal lands at minimal cost, and then warns the public off eating too much red meat. That’s a lot of taxpayers’ money wasted on bureaucrats working at cross purposes with each other.

Dane county farmers market
The Dane County Farmers’ Market in September 2007 on the grounds of the state capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. It is the largest producers-only farmers’ market in the nation. Photo by Kznf.

 

People are so inured to confusing messages about what’s healthy to eat and what isn’t that most of them pay little mind to medical experts and bureaucrats, or rather they take their advice with a grain of salt, and that would be in the form of sea salt or Himalayan salt for foodie elites, and regular old table salt for everybody else. Like everything else in America over the past thirty or forty years, food culture has split into two halves, something akin to the haves and have nots. There are the foodie elites of the professional and upper classes, and then there is everybody else, from the lower middle class which is frantically scrabbling to keep from sliding down into the working class, which is itself struggling to stay one step ahead of poverty.

Americans can make a quick, cheap meal of sorts from a one or two dollar box of macaroni and cheese mix. For some, meals like that are their only option. It’s disgraceful that people of limited means should have to bear the disdain of people with nearly limitless means because their diet is based on calorie value per dollar over nutritional value. The poor and the economically struggling don’t have the luxury of being absolutely sure of their next meal. As to how the well off view their meals, anyone who has ever worked as a table busser or as one of the waitstaff in a high end restaurant can attest to the tremendous amount of food wasted by the patrons, even though they may be spending for one meal what a working class person can expect to earn in a day. The upper classes have that luxury because they have the security of knowing there’s more where that came from.

Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca as The Hickenloopers, Charlie and Doris, visit a health food restaurant in a skit from Your Show of Shows, with appearances by Howard Morris as another customer and Carl Reiner as a waiter.

Unlikely as it seems, the fast food restaurants scorned by foodie elites as obesity enablers for the great unwashed may hold the key to turning things around for people who can’t afford to buy groceries at Whole Foods, aka Whole Paycheck. Taking their cue to keep promotions of healthier options low key so as not to arouse the suspicions of poorer customers whose purchases are based on calorie value per dollar, yet feeling increased pressure from public health groups to offer healthier foods, fast food restaurants increasingly change ingredients and practices in a balancing act to satisfy both constituencies. No one will ever claim that a cheeseburger and fries are healthier than a homemade meal of vegetables from a farmers’ market, but given the realities of human psychology and the country’s current economic conditions, demonizing those who choose to eat the former more often than the latter is ultimately unhelpful in lessening the obesity epidemic, while reinforcing the widening economic inequality that is driving it.
— Izzy

 

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The Good, the Bad, and the Unpunctuated

 

The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, seems to be less in evidence every year. It’s difficult to understand why many people don’t like to use it, and it may be that they simply don’t understand what punctuation is all about. Punctuation is like musical notation, or at least the parts of it that indicate to the players where the rests are and indicate the rhythm in a piece of music. The players are the readers. If there were no commas or periods in writing, readers would not know where to take a break. Imagine listening to a piece of music played that way. For that matter, imagine listening to someone who runs on and on without a pause!

 

Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma), Chippewa Co., WI (6270394051)
If it’s confusing trying to sort out punctuation marks on the written page, try differentiating all the butterflies named for commas and question marks. This one is an Eastern Comma butterfly, Polygonia comma, from Chippewa County, Wisconsin. Photo by Aaron Carlson.

Take the title of the 1966 Italian movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which in the original is rendered as Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (the order of the nouns in the original Italian is good, ugly, bad). Never mind the difference in capitalization conventions for titles between English and Italian, and the change in word order from Italian to English, the key point is the inclusion of the serial comma in the original Italian and its absence in the English translation. It’s a simple thing, that comma. Why leave it out? Perhaps the translator was thrown off by the missing conjunction “and” in the Italian, which would have been rendered “e”, as in Il buono, il brutto, e il cattivo. In English, we are used to “and” coming before the last item in a series. It would not sound quite right to our ears if the title were translated as The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. That sounds choppy and abrupt. Throw in “and” before “the Ugly” and we have a rhythm that sounds right to the ears of English speakers. Except for one little thing.


The Danish National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sarah Hicks, perform a suite of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (main title)” and “The Ecstasy of Gold”, a piece from near the end of the film.

 

What happened to the last comma? Without it, not only the rhythm, but also the sense of the film title is off. Are we to rush through when we speak the last part of it? Instead of saying “The Good [pause] the Bad [pause] and the Ugly [full stop]”, are we meant to say “The Good [pause] the Bad and the Ugly [full stop]”? No one talks in the rhythm given in the second example. Does the phrase “the Bad and the Ugly” refer to one person only, in the same way that “the Good” refers to one person? Is that person both bad and ugly? Absolutely not, as is clear from the original Italian title and from the movie itself. There are three separate characters referenced in the movie’s title, and each is named by his outstanding characteristic.

In another rendition of the same suite, the composer himself, the great Ennio Morricone, conducts the Munich Radio Orchestra. The soprano soloist is Susanna Rigacci. The musical notes are the same in both renditions, but it’s interesting to hear the differences in their presentation.

It must be the “and” that throws people off when they write out a series. They must think “and” stands in for the serial comma, making it unnecessary. But it doesn’t. Listen to the music: TheGoodtheBadandtheUgly slowed down a bit is The Good the Bad and the Ugly, and slowed down a bit more in the right places, rendered in the way we actually speak, becomes The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. That wasn’t very hard, was it? We speak in words, and the words are like music, with rhythm and tempo. When we write down the words we speak, we need a way to convey to readers, to listeners, that rhythm and tempo, and that’s where punctuation comes in. That’s all it is. There’s nothing greatly mysterious about it, though semi-colons befuddle many, and the novelist and essayist Kurt Vonnegut disdained their use, remarking of them “All they do is show you’ve been to college.” Homer, who of course spoke his poetry for listeners and never wrote it down himself, would probably have agreed.
— Vita


In this scene from Sergio Leone’s film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Eli Wallach’s character, Tuco, encounters an adversary and ends up succinctly admonishing him that it takes too long to speak, shoot, and leave.

 

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It Ain’t Heavy

 

In the first of two presidential campaign debates in 1988, when Vice President George H.W. Bush referred to his opponent, Democratic Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, as a “card-carrying member of the ACLU” (American Civil Liberties Union), he was actually citing Governor Dukakis’s own words from his speeches during the Democratic primaries, when he wanted to appeal to the left wing of the party. Governor Dukakis’s choice of words were unfortunate for him given the connotations of the phrase “card-carrying member” ever since the red-baiting days of the early 1950s Joseph McCarthy era, and the Bush campaign probably couldn’t believe their luck in that Governor Dukakis handed them such a juicy gift with which to smear him.

 

They knew and counted on the reality that most of the public do not delve deeply into the true meaning of things, and instead are all too eager to fall back lazily on shorthand terms. Conservative independents, to the extent they understood at all what the ACLU was about, had only to hear that the organization had the words “civil liberties” and “union” in it, and that Governor Dukakis was a “card-carrying member” of it, to jump to the conclusion that the man from Massachusetts with the foreign sounding name was practically a Communist, resulting in their bolting toward Vice President Bush. Governor Dukakis spent the rest of the campaign explaining himself regarding that and other blunders, and once he went on the defensive the campaign was over. Ever since then, mainstream Democrats have been careful to define themselves as Republicans Lite, rather than being card-carrying members of any organization other than Corporate America.

YDS-NewLogo
A logo designed in 2010 by Sean Monahan for a wing of the Democratic Socialists of America. Since 2016, about 24,000 people have joined the DSA, most of them under age 35.


A public service announcement from the ACLU in reaction to the use in 1988 by the Bush campaign of the phrase “card-carrying member” as a smear tactic. Interesting to note the mentions of the ACLU defending Oliver North.

In good news for people who would still like to work within the Democratic Party but who see it as hopelessly beholden to corporations while cynically throwing identity politics bones to the left wing in order to appease them, candidates for local and state offices around the country who are endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are having success in elections since 2016. The DSA is not a political party. It is an activist movement within and sometimes without the Democratic Party, and it endorses candidates who push its policy goals such as a $15 an hour minimum wage and getting the corrupting influence of corporate money out of politics. Michael Harrington founded the DSA in 1982, and the organization had not seen much success until the past two years, when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders openly avowed socialist principles in his presidential campaign, for many people doing away with the stigma of socialism that Governor Dukakis had tried to wipe off himself in 1988.

Noam Chomsky in a 1989 speech analyzes the 1988 election “card-carrying member” smear.

Most of the people inspired to become members of the DSA by Senator Sanders’s example, even though he himself had never joined, were not yet born in 1988 when the Bush campaign found it incredibly easy and profitable to brand Governor Dukakis an extreme leftist and make it stick with the public. For these downwardly mobile Millennials, some of them highly educated and many of them underemployed, the myth of capitalism raising all boats is for suckers. These were the people who formed the core of the Occupy movement in 2011, and when the establishment in the Democratic Party pushed everyone to accept their Republican Lite candidate, Hillary Clinton, while using subterfuge to undermine Senator Sanders’s candidacy, leading ultimately to the debacle of the general election, some of these same politically active young Democrats turned to the DSA to work to change the Democratic Party from the grass roots on up.

As the 2018 mid-term elections approach, Cenk Uygur delivers an astute analysis of the Democratic Party establishment from a perspective to the left of the mainstream. As always in keeping a wary eye on politics and politicians, it is good advice to follow the money.

The national Democratic Party establishment is too compromised and seduced by corporate money to listen to what working class and middle class people in places like western Pennsylvania are concerned about, the same people who essentially cast protest votes for Orange Julius in 2016, as ill-advised as that may have been. The Democratic establishment will try to make the 2018 midterm elections a referendum on Orange Julius, and to a certain extent they should, but what they are missing in their tone deafness to the needs of Americans in places like western Pennsylvania and Flint, Michigan, and the dairy farms of Wisconsin, is the desire of citizens there to see Democrats demonstrating real intentions to implement policies once they are in office that will improve the lives of the majority, instead of just big money corporate donors. The national Democratic Party establishment is hopelessly out of touch with those citizens. Card-carrying DSA members, working with local and state candidates, understand positive change will only come by listening to and serving citizens directly, and ignoring the cumbersome Democratic Party establishment, which is interested only in perpetuating itself by offering the easy way out by criticizing the current president’s disastrous administration, and in replacing his corporate water carriers with their own.
— Ed.

 

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Not a Piece of Cake

 

“All politics is local.” ― An old saying, most famously uttered by former Speaker of the House, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill

This fall the Supreme Court will hear the case of Gill v. Whitford, a partisan gerrymandering case from Wisconsin, where redistricting lines drawn up by Republicans in the state legislature in 2011 after the 2010 census resulted in grossly unbalanced election results, such as in the 2012 election when, despite a majority of the votes statewide going to Democrats, Republicans nonetheless won sixty of the ninety-nine State Assembly seats. While the case is specifically about the redistricting lines drawn for state elections, there are implications for national elections because state legislatures also draw the lines for federal congressional districts. National election results have similarly tilted toward Republicans winning more seats in the House of Representatives than simple vote tallies warrant, and Democrats typically gain fewer seats than vote totals should grant them.


The Gerry-Mander Edit
“The Gerry-Mander”, a political cartoon by Elkanah Tisdale (1771-1835), published in the Boston Centinel in 1812. The district depicted in the cartoon was created by the Massachusetts legislature to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican party candidates sponsored by Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists.

Gerrymandering has been around since the founding of the Republic, ever since Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution specified that the states had the power to apportion congressional districts based on census results every ten years. There’s nothing in there about how the states should draw the lines, though the 14th Amendment, adopted 149 years ago on July 9, 1868, set guidelines for citizenship and equal protection under the laws for all citizens, and that has been invoked by the Supreme Court to overrule racially motivated gerrymandering. State legislatures have nevertheless taken the broad leeway left in Article 1, Section 2, and run with it, with both parties divvying up the cake as they liked if they had enough votes from their own members to push new district lines onto the books. Once one party or the other established districts in their favor, subsequent elections had the effect of consolidating their power.

There have been partisan gerrymandering cases brought before the Supreme Court in the past, but the Court has always been reluctant to step into what it has deemed politics as usual, and their rulings have always been narrow enough to have little effect on the practice of partisan gerrymandering. The Court has been more willing to rule broadly against racial gerrymandering by applying the equal protection principles of the 14th Amendment. It’s hard to see the ultimate ruling in Gill v. Whitford deviating from past rulings unless one or more of the conservative justices rule against the State of Wisconsin, and by extension the Republican party. The Court is currently split 5-4 along party lines, with Republicans in the majority.

A scene from the 1974 film The Godfather: Part II, in which the gangsters Hyman Roth, played by Lee Strasburg, and Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, discuss divvying up business in Cuba before the revolution.

 

This gerrymandering case is a reminder of how failure to pay attention to state and local politics can result in a minority party exercising disproportional power. There are more important elections than the presidential one every four years. The party that turns people out for local school board elections, for city council elections, and for state legislature elections every year, year after year, is the party that ultimately takes power in the national elections. Those seemingly insignificant elections lay the groundwork and set the rules for what follows on a grander scale.

Motivated people turn out for elections, and Republicans have done a much better job over the past thirty or more years of motivating their people than Democrats have done with their people. They have done so with with some dubious tactics, it’s true, mainly motivating people through fear and loathing of The Other, whoever or whatever that might prove effective at the moment. That was easily seen in the 2016 election.

On a national scale, where state boundaries do not change, the Electoral College has worked to gerrymander the presidential election result on behalf of the Republican candidate as Democrats lose strength in the small towns and countryside of the middle of the country. For instance California, the most populous state in the nation, and one with a strong Democratic party majority, has 55 electoral votes (53 congressional districts plus 2 Senate seats) to offer the Democratic presidential candidate whether that candidate wins the state with a simple majority of one vote or an overwhelming majority of three million votes.

This is from a network television appearance by George Carlin in the early 1990s. No foul language warning necessary.

 

In the language of gerrymandering, Democrats are effectively “packed” into California and other highly urban states, mostly on either coast. Getting rid of the Electoral College and deciding the presidential election with a simple nationwide majority vote would eliminate this gerrymandering effect, but with Republicans controlling the Presidency, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, 33 out of 50 governors’ offices, 31 out of 50 state houses, and 37 out of 50 state senates, that won’t be easy.

Magpie eating cake-rubens peale
Magpie Eating Cake, an 1865 painting by Rubens Peale (1784-1865).

It would take working from the grass roots on up instead of snoozing until 2020 and dreaming the current Republican president will be impeached along the way. It would also mean holding the Democratic party establishment to account for selling out the middle and working classes while they chased after financial and professional elites. Since the Democratic party establishment has shown no inclination to change in response to the 2016 election debacle, however, it appears the best course in the years ahead will be to discard the Democratic party apparatus altogether and form an entirely new major party. It’s not like that has never been done before.
― Ed.

 

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Happy New Year!

The award for Malaprop of the Year goes to Scottie Nell Hughes, a Trump supporter, who criticized a video by the rapper Jay Z which, according to her, depicted members of a crowd “throwing mazel tov cocktails at the police.” Presumably the police needed congratulating for a job well done. A suggestion for ingredients in the new cocktail would be two parts Manischewitz and one part gin over ice, a splash of seltzer, and a slice of lime for garnish.

 

Some time back another Scott was similarly confused over this Hebrew phrase meaning congratulations, or blessings. Wisconsin Governor Scott “What, me worry?” Walker signed off a letter to a Jewish constituent by writing “Thank you again and Molotov.”



 

The fireworks in this video are from the “Phoenix” section of the Nagaoka Festival in Japan in early August, commemorating those lost to war and natural disasters. The festival is held every year over three days, with fireworks on the second and third nights. The display is world-renowned, and every year in a spirit of friendship and reconciliation the city of Nagaoka puts on a similar fireworks display in Honolulu at Pearl Harbor. The music in the video is by Ayaka Hirahara, singing her 2003 hit “Jupiter.” The melody is from Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter” movement of The Planets suite.

Peace.

– Ed. 

 

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Green Grows the Grass

 

Winter dormancy is settling in on lawns almost everywhere but the pampered ones in National Football League stadiums. The groundskeepers who maintain stadium turf have an especially difficult job this time of year because they are staving off the natural tendency of grass to retreat into dormancy and turn brown and stiff as winter approaches. Not only does that look unappealing on television, it is difficult for the players who have to compete on it. If the ground becomes frozen hard, natural turf can be as dangerous to players as the old artificial turf fields which had insufficient cushioning beneath them.

Preparing the pitch at Stamford Bridge
Preparing the pitch with grow lights at Stamford Bridge, London;
own work by TheBlues

Modern NFL stadium natural turf stays green into December and January because groundskeepers take measures to prolong its growing season, from heating systems underneath to grow lights overhead. They effectively keep the grass in a condition most homeowners have not seen in their lawns since September. The “frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is a memorable phrase evocative of the hard knocks of winter football outdoors in the upper Midwest, but it hardly applies any longer to the actual playing conditions considering modern turf management techniques.

For the average homeowner who looks out at a brown lawn throughout the winter (when it’s not covered in snow), the remedy lies not in trying to replicate the green turf of NFL stadiums. That would require an enormous input of money, time, and effort equivalent to what an NFL franchise invests, albeit considerably scaled down. Better to let the grass go to sleep for winter, but to tuck it in with some lime, some compost, maybe a light application of preferably organic fertilizer, and then a last mowing at a short setting to mulch the last of the fallen tree leaves. For the rest of December and January it’s time to settle into a comfortable chair in the warmth indoors and watch the football games on TV play out on the greener grass of early fall, maybe with snow falling on it for added dramatic effect.
– Izzy

View of Lambeau Field
View of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin;
own work by JL1Row

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Sowing Doubt for Fun and Profit

 

The first frost of fall was late this year across much of the U.S., in some places by one to three weeks, depending on the source of average frost date information. People who spend a lot of time outdoors tend to notice this, and also that a trend has developed of fall frosts arriving later and the last frost of spring coming earlier. Even people who pay attention to climate only sporadically may have noted the muted fall colors of the trees this year in parts of the eastern U.S., a result of extended warm weather and drought.

Fall Colors, Interstate State Park (1502556726)
Fall Colors, Interstate State Park, Wisconsin and Minnesota;
photo by Tony Webster

 

Cumberland Power Plant smokestacks
Cumberland Power Plant smokestacks,
Cumberland, Tennessee;
photo by Steven Greenwood

The growing season has increased over the last forty years or so, but that is not necessarily a good thing considering that short-lived creatures, such as insects, adapt more readily to swift changes than longer-lived plants and vertebrate creatures. Forty years is swift in the long view of climate. The short view is called weather, or weather events. Adding up weather events over forty years plots a trend in the climate. Unfortunately for the sake of rational discussion, too many people fail to make the distinction between weather and climate.

 

Not everyone agrees that the climate is getting warmer, or that if it is then humans are the cause of it. Some of those climate change deniers are motivated by their religious beliefs, others by a suspicion of government regulators, and still others are unmoved by the weight of scientific evidence, citing doubt about the conclusions. Who has sown that doubt? As always, we are well advised to follow the money. It comes as no surprise then that Big Oil, following the example set by Big Tobacco with regard to the link between burning their products and cancer, has worked to sow doubt about how the burning of fossil fuels contributes greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and causes a warming climate. Where there is doubt, they know, effective action against them can be hamstrung, and profits will continue to roll in until we all burn up from second hand smoke on a global scale.

Cigarette smoke
Cigarette smoke; photo by Flickr user Challiyan

 

Again following the money, the insurance industry is coming around to the reality of global warming and the increase in expensive weather events it is causing. The insurance industry, conservative gamblers that they are, are most interested in the economic facts they can pin down so as to minimize risk and maximize profit. They are not swayed by emotional appeals to religious or political views, but only by appeals to their bottom line. Another group whose costs are affected by the results of global warming are states and municipalities. As seas rise and severe weather events increase, causing unprecedented flooding, these entities have to pay for infrastructure improvements and higher insurance premiums.

 

States’ attorneys general are beginning to go after the fossil fuel industry to recoup costs, much as they did to the tobacco industry in the 1990s. It will be an even more protracted fight in this case because of the gargantuan amounts of money the fossil fuel giants can bring to bear; not everyone smoked in years past, after all, but today practically everyone uses gas, electricity, natural gas, plastics, and the list of products goes on. Some of these products can be replaced by use of renewable resources like wind and solar, but ultimately, like the reduction in use of tobacco products due to increasing social opprobrium, the steps for overcoming reliance on fossil fuel products and thereby breaking the economic stranglehold of Big Oil need to be taken by consumers, and that will require some wholesale changes in lifestyle, especially in the industrialized nations.
– Izzy

 

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