Uncommon Sense

August 25, 2022

We Might Just Be Hobbits

I was watching a documentary last night about J.R.R. Tolkien. A comment was made about Hobbits, Tolkien’s mythical folk, that they were quite ordinary, a slow witted, even stupid people, contrasting greatly with the characters in many other stories who were elites: princesses, knights in shining armor, doctors, lawyers, royals, advisors, etc. And that this characteristic helped us identify with them, the Hobbits, and place us into the stories. Hobbits, stand-ins for ordinary people like you and me, just wanted to be left alone, so as to get on with their lives. They didn’t want to rule the world; in fact they couldn’t imagine ruling the world.

Those aren’t direct quotes as I didn’t take notes but they are close.

As participants in a democratic society, though, we are being asked to “rule” to some extent, too large an extent in many ways. We are asked to vote on school board positions, town councils, special district representatives, bond issues, general propositions, state representatives and governors, and federal representatives, senators, and presidents, oh and constitutional amendments. Here in Illinois, we are asked to elect judges for myriad courts, And I don’t know enough about any of them to cast a valid ballot, so I leave those “bubbles” unmarked.

I say we are being asked to participate, as rulers of ourselves, to a higher degree that the vast majority of us are able or willing to do. I have voted in every general election since I turned 21, save one due to illness or a divorce, I can’t remember. But the turnout for “midterm” elections is quite abysmal, and for primary elections . . . for midterm elections . . . even worse. There are so many elections we have to have elections to choose people to be in the next election.

Clearly people are voting with their feet because they are not going to the polls in many of these elections. And more and more young people are dropping out of the polity because they don’t see a connect between the elections and anything getting done. And I do not blame them one bit.

We might just be Hobbits, or Hobbit-like enough, and we are just not suited to participate in a democratic society with myriad elections. We need a better way to “rule ourselves.” (No, not you, Bishop! You’d just make things worse. Sit down!)

August 22, 2019

What Motivates Trump’s Supporters?

Like many of you, I felt that the primary motivation of Trump voters was the economic stagnation of the middle class and middle America. The elites were getting richer, hand over fist, while we were getting squeezed by employers and creditors, and that left us with the only option of getting mad. That may not have been the primary motivation, however. This a “must read” article from The Guardian.

A New Poll Shows What Really Interests ‘Pro-Lifers’: Controlling Women by Jill Filipovic.

The subtitle is “According to their own survey responses, anti-abortion voters are hostile to gender equality in practically every aspect” (I assume they meant “every respect” at the end there.)

And, of course, at the source of all of this misogyny? Well, you figure it out.

July 27, 2018

The Problem with Bases

No this is not about baseball. It is about our two main political parties and their “bases.”

The Republicans have sold their souls to the Religious Right, neoliberals, and reactionaries of the fringe of the right wing of American politics to get and stay elected, no matter the damage done. They haven’t dumped the rich as a core base element for who else would they serve? The Democrats have dumped their historic base of labor (working class people), minorities, and the less wealthy for the professional class, only to find out there aren’t enough of those to win them elections.

When I was young (I first showed an interest in politics when Eisenhower was president.) Republicans were stabilizers. They supported the institutions that kept out society stable (in their HO, of course). They supported the schools, the police, the military, the government (Right or Wrong!), the church, law and the courts, and so on. The complained when political or judicial opinions went the other way, but they didn’t threaten to take their ball and go home.

When I was young, the Democrats stood for fairness, helping the poor, balanced taxation, labor unions, and they were far from anti-war (both Kennedy and Johnson expanded the Vietnam War tremendously on specious grounds at best).

Neither party was worth a damn when it came to international relations. There was a small fringe who complained loudly about foreign aid, which has always been a spit in the bucket financially. (Somewhere along the line instead of giving technical aid and money to other countries, we now give them discounts on buy the weapons of war. Apparently as far as the U.S. goes peace and freedom don’t go together.)

Politically there was as much corruption then as is the standard now, but the stakes were smaller as were the amounts grafted by our politicians. But each party had some principled actors who kept the others in line. Often the “line” was racist or sexist, but there were lines and you could, as ordinary citizens, see them and attack them or try to move them.

Now, what I see is cowardice and incompetence (to he left of me, to the right of me, …) in our political bodies. Leadership? Not to be found? Intelligence? So little that the political class cannot evaluate whether their intelligence experts are to be trusted. Political astuteness? I can’t even find a politician who can define it. Deft policy drafters? Give me a break.

If we were to have a parliamentary system as has been suggested, these two parties would dwindle away to nothing and newer, more robust, more coherent parties would take their places. But as I have posted before, our political system is rigged. As much as the Founders feared political parties, they created a system that allowed two of those parties to hijack the system. (Our winner take all elections doom us to having just two dominant parties.) And, it is clear that the Founders feared true democracy, so they structured the Constitution against that.

I am absolutely gob smacked that the “press” still posts articles addressing the public will. They tell us, for example, that the Roe v. Wade SCOTUS decision has never been so popular. So? Since when has public opinion been a determining factor in anything governmental? Large majorities of citizens want background checks for all firearms sales; does that matter? A large majority of people want corporations to pay more in taxes; does that matter? If you are poor or middle class you have zero chance of affecting legislation. If you are rich and a campaign donor, then you have some chance. If you are a rich corporate lobbyist and have donated large sums, then you have not only a chance to affect the outcome, you may be invited in to help write (or write completely) the text of the bill.

If the Republican Party of my youth or the Democratic Party of my youth were still in existence, I could vote for the kinds of candidates either party proffered. As they are now, I cannot vote for either party as they both are embarrassments and anti-democratic and need to go.

October 6, 2017

Supreme Court Takes Up Gerrymandering

Filed under: Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 10:20 am
Tags: , , ,

There was an article in the NY Times today with the title “How Computers Turned Gerrymandering Into a Science” which coincides with a Supreme Court case regarding hyperpartisan gerrymandering of voting districts. The two are related; I will explain.

The Constitution requires there to be a census every ten years (the first was in 1790 and there were almost 4 million citizens) and immediately after each, the lines of all federal voting districts need be adjusted because our political representation is weighted by population. The House of Representatives districts are both by state and by population, but basically the current situation is roughly that the US population is divided by 435 and that gives a number of people that are needed to make a congressional voting district. Currently, there are five states that have only one congressman (but two senators!) while California has 53 congressmen (I think). In the states that have more than one congressman, voting districts are designated. A number of states have just two congressmen and allow the entire state to be the voting district for each (as it is for all senators). In states with many congressmen, geographical districts are created and the voters in those districts decide who they want to represent them, which is where gerrymandering comes in. There is very little in the way of guidelines for this process, so the political parties have developed more and more clever ways of redrawing districts to their advantage. This the GOP did after the 2010 census. It actively focussed on winning over state legislatures, which control the redistricting process and then invented new ways to create districts which create more legislative seats for them. Basically, if a state were divided 50:50 between the two major political parties, the thinking of the founding fathers was that each party would get 50% of the representatives. But, with sufficient information, one can draw districts in which one’s opponents are heavily concentrated in a few districts, but quite diluted in many, resulting in something nowhere near the 50:50 split desired by the system.

This is the source of both the Supreme Court case and the Times article.

The information to do this district manipulation has been available for a long time but the ability to process it and draft districts to ones advantage has been quite rudimentary with the ability to see many maps from which the most advantageous can be selected has only been available recently, with the advent of computer processing. This manipulation of the process has been used not just to advantage political parties (both are guilty of this) but to disadvantage voters of color, for instance.

This new level of district drawing abilities supplies us with a solution to this problem. Instead of handing the redistricting process every 10 years to the political parties in control of each state’s legislature, resulting in political and legal battles lasting the entire decade, we can have the entire process computerized. We only need to define the algorithms by which the computer draws it’s maps and these are basically principles, principles of fairness, principles of expediency, principles of geographic location, principles of continuity, etc.. So instead of a city of Democrats being lumped into a single district and the entire rest of the state carved up into Republican districts, the city can be segmented into districts, mixed with suburban votes, resulting in a distribution of legislators close to the distribution of voters in each party, what was originally intended.

When the Constitution was drafted this wasn’t possible. In fact the political parties didn’t exist per se and many of the framers did not want them and their influence in the first place. Well, we do have them and we need to curb their anti-democratic urges and now we have the ability to do this, easily, without resorting to bipartisan commissions, etc. This is something that should be as regular as the posting of the annual schedule of a sporting league and not a running political battle decade after decade, requiring the frequent intervention of the courts. This is a bureaucratic task, not a political one.


August 17, 2017

Moving from Making War For the People to Making War On the People

As the Republicans are busy shrinking government until it is left with just two functions: making war/protecting borders and protecting contracts (especially corporate ones, but not labor ones), we would do well to understand how they got to their current position.

In 1994 John Ehrlichman, President Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser and a Watergate co-conspirator, confessed this to the author Dan Baum:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

The strategy, particularly of locking up Black people for drug offences, continues to this day. Convicted criminals lose the right to vote in many states. Convicted criminals lose most if not all job opportunities. Convicted criminals lose their voice. All good for Republicans, who are making war on the people, not for the people.

The Republican Party:
Systematically Disenfranchising Black Voters Since 1968

(Actually much earlier, but that didn’t make for a snappy slogan. S)

January 28, 2017

Want a Democratic Party That Wins … For the People?

All over the mediasphere, articles are popping up proving that Democrats cannot find their own asses with even one hand let alone two. Most of these articles are suggesting approaches to opposing Trump but there is a deeper problem here: before trying to cut down a tree, check to make sure the saw is sharp first.

It was Will Rogers who said “I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.” (He said this one so often, I couldn’t find when he first said it.)

But the Democrats did decide to get organized sometime near the late 1970s but that lead them to the New Democrat/Neoliberal disaster, the gutting of the middle class, full-time war making, the conservative counterattack and ascendancy, etc. and which recently culminated in the presidential election of Donald J. Trump. (Anything that leads your candidate to losing to the likes of Donald J. Trump has to be considered a total failure and a signal that it is time to reboot.)

But the Dems don’t need a reorganization, they need a savior. I wonder if they have noticed that the most approved of federal elected official is Bernie Sanders. They should slap a Democrat sticker on him and place themselves in Bernie’s hands, asking him to show them the way. There are a lot more approaches, but none that offer a better chance of success.

PS We should have paid more attention to Will Rogers (1875-1935). Here is some of his political wisdom:

  • What does the farmer need? Obvious: “He needs a punch in the jaw if he believes that either of the parties cares a damn about him after the election.”
  • What about a candidate’s image? Ballyhoo: “I hope there is some sane people who will appreciate dignity and not showmanship in their choice for the presidency.”
  • Our foreign policy is an open book – a checkbook.

Apparently our foreign policy model has been expanded to include domestic politics. And do you think he saw into the future to this election with his “dignity and not showmanship” quip?

December 13, 2016

Can We Ever Trust Our Institutions/Agencies Again … Even a Little Bit

This gets curiouser and curiouser. I recent blogged about the “Russian conspiracy” regarding manipulations of our elections (by leaking DNC emails to Wikileaks) and in part I said “I do not accept these assertions at face value as the sources are untrustworthy, but if more details were provided there might be something here.” and “The whole purpose of Wikileaks is to provide a place to “leak” information that cannot be traced back to you, even by Wikileaks itself, so it will be interesting to find out how we learned that the Russian government was responsible for things being leaked to Wikileaks.”

I then learned from my partner’s tech-savvy son, that all of the “protections” Wikileaks was supposed to offer leakers just never got implemented, so it is relatively easy to find out who sent what to whom, so my criticism of the report on that account is unsupported.

But, then … The Guardian (U.K.) reports that: “… WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange directly denies that he received the Democratic leaked emails from the Russian government and one of his associates, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, told the U.K. Guardian that he knows who “leaked” the Democratic emails and that there never was a “hack,” i.e. an outside electronic penetration of an email account.”

So, a presumably reliable ex-British ambassador claims to know that the docs were not hacked but leaked from the inside. Plus a group of former U.S. intelligence experts is backing up this claim “All signs point to leaking, not hacking. If hacking were involved, the National Security Agency would know it – and know both sender and recipient.” The CIA only points to “circumstantial evidence,” not any hard identifications. So, the CIA is claiming “the Russians did it” for what purpose?

I do not know whether we have ever had reliable news organizations. If we did, they certainly were not immune to lies and misconceptions. It just seems now that there are just lies and misconceptions being reported. It also seems that government agencies, like the CIA, have so many narratives they wouldn’t know the truth if it bit them in the ass.

December 11, 2016

CIA Concludes Russian Interference Aimed To Elect Trump

The above is the exact title of an NPR report. According to that report the substance of the “Russian interference” is that the Russians hacked both the GOP and Democratic National Committee websites and that people “associated” with the Russian government released hacked emails of the DNC to Wikileaks.

I do not accept these assertions at face value as the sources are untrustworthy, but if more details were provided there might be something here. One claim was that nothing from the GOP website was released by “the Russians.”

The whole purpose of Wikileaks is to provide a place to “leak” information that cannot be traced back to you, even by Wikileaks itself, so it will be interesting to find out how we learned that the Russian government was responsible for things being leaked to Wikileaks.

Plus, how much actual sensitive, aka non-gossipy, information would any national committee put up on its website or associated emails when everyone knows that most sites are eminently hackable. My guess is most of the “sensitive” emails include “he said, she said” gossip that might prove embarrassing to the gossiper, but could hardly be substantive.

And, I have yet to hear anyone claim that they voted for Trump because of those “damning DNC emails.” Any quantitative assessment of the effect of the “Russian tampering” would have to be incredible small, unless, gee, they aren’t telling us everything or, just maybe, they are making this shit up.

November 12, 2016

Let the Bullshit Continue

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:04 am
Tags: , , , , ,

In an editorial in today’s New York Times, David Leonhart explored how the Democrats managed to lose the recent elections. One comment he made was illustrative of the cluelessness of the pontificating classes. He said “The soul-searching about the Democrats’ loss of the white working class is just beginning, as it should.”


The Democrats didn’t “lose” the working classes, they dumped them, deliberately and out in the open. I have written extensively, for example, about how the union movement in Canada is strong and healthy whereas in the U.S. it is stuttering and failing. The main reason for this difference is that the efforts of conservatives to undermine workers rights and unions were relatively unopposed by unions themselves and to a lack of Democratic Party support for the union movement. The Dems stopped supporting working people and their unions quite some time ago in favor of a new base pillar: professionals.

So, if the Dems are wondering why working people are no longer supporting them, they need only to look in a mirror.

And Trump? His political fate depends on whether the working classes lives get better or not, plain and simple. If he takes care of the working classes, which no one else, save Bernie Sanders, seems inclined to do, he will get re-elected in four years. (The operative question will be: “Just ask yourself: are you better off than you were four years ago?”)

November 7, 2016

Finally, Election Day

Now the next campaign can begin.

Seriously, I am wondering what the Republicans are going to do about the Supreme Court if Mrs. Clinton wins. If they rush to confirm President Obama’s nominee, who is quite a centrist, they will expose themselves for the political manipulators they are. Their reasoning for blocking confirmation of the current nominee for a record number of days was that the American people should have a say in this appointment through whom they elect as the new president; it should not be a “lame duck” appointment of President Obama.

If they stick with their faux narrative and wait to see who Mrs. Clinton will nominate, it might be a nominee even more progressive than Judge Merrick Garland, then they will have to trump up outrage that such a person would be nominated, when they have cast their lot on the wisdom of the American people to make a choice for president who would nominate justices for them.

Interesting boxes the Republicans seem to be fond of jamming themselves into. This is what happens when a political organization adopts a policy of “Logic, smogic, phht, who cares?”

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