Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Brief History and Commentary on the Electoral College.

 It is that time, once again, to exercise that most sacred of American freedoms, namely the right to vote on those people who are supposed to be working for our best interests. However, with our current political system, and especially the existence of the Electoral College, many people may feel that their vote doesn't really count. For the sake of completeness, and to help everyone be on the same page, I am going to cover some of the Electoral College's history, and what it is supposed to do. Most high-school American History books do not really cover this information, and are, generally, books of Great American Mythology more than actual history and just briefly touch on the mechanics of Government. There are a multitude of subjects I could cover from this sentence, alone, but this is about the Electoral College, so that is what I shall write about.
Once the Revolutionary War was won, and the Founders got down to the serious work of creating a government, and choosing the very first leader of the United States, there was a quandary. You have to remember that America, originally, was made up of thirteen states, all very suspicious of a central government, and had a very small population spread along the Eastern Seaboard. It was also believed that political parties were mischievous, if not down right evil, and that a proper gentlemen does not actively seek out office. Instead the office was suppose to seek out the proper person for the job, and court them, instead of the candidate courting the electorate that happens today. So how to choose somebody for the most difficult job in the country, without a nation-wide communication network aside from the early post office and newspapers, and without having the candidates campaign. Never mind keeping from upsetting the careful balance of power between the president and congress.
There were several ideas for how the president could be chosen. The very first was to have congress choose the president, but it was thought that choosing the president could become a very divisive issue that could have the members of congress resentful of one another. You have to remember, the idea of political parties was considered at best very bad, and at worst evil incarnate, so the Founders were interested in preserving the peace and keep divisiveness to a minimum. A second idea was to have state legislatures choose, but it was felt that this would allow the states to erode federal authority and undermine the very idea of a federation. Third was the popular vote, but at the time, the populations of the various states could not get information from beyond their states' borders. You have to remember, at the time, interstate travel was troublesome at least, and practically impossible at most. So there was a legitimate worry about a candidate from a more populous state winning a popular vote, or the populations of the various states voting for their local candidate over somebody from elsewhere. Again, this was before national campaigns, and having the candidates wooing the electorate instead of vice-versa. There was also a lack of communication networks, and a lack of political parties, they being thought to be reprehensible. Also, at the time, the Framers of the Constitution believed that there could be as many as five different candidates from various regions of the country. Lastly, of course, there was a real fear that slave-holding states would have an unfair advantage in the area of politics, especially with population-based programs.
Mind you, there was a clique among the Founders that thought that such an important political decision should not be left in the hands of the people. Alexander Hamilton was one of the primary members of a group known as the Federalists, and neither he nor his cronies could be called “men of the people”. They had great disdain for the masses, Hamilton being quoted as calling them a “great beast”. They felt that government should be dominated by the banking and merchant classes, they being better educated than the farmers and laborers that made up the rest of the population. It could be said that today's money-dominated political landscape had its roots in Hamilton's elitist attitude, but I digress. Those who opposed the Federalists, including Thomas Jefferson, felt that they were creating a form of elected monarchy, with the rich and powerful getting preferred treatment over the common people. Sound familiar? Sorry, I digress, yet again. However, this rivalry was the precursor to the very first political parties in the United States. I have to include yet another digression to say that the political party system has turned out to be as toxic as those early Americans believed. They have led to blind loyalty, and blind obedience to the party line on the part of their members.
The Electoral College has not changed, very much, from its original incarnation. There were some minor changes to accommodate the reality of political parties, true, but it is mostly unchanged. Nowadays it seems like the Electoral College votes for the president and the vice-president, instead of the runner up in the presidential election becoming the vice-president. Still, it started out with each state choosing electors equal to its total representation in Congress, House and Senate seats combined. The electors would meet in their states and cast two votes for president. The winner would be the person with the majority of the votes. The Founders thought that no one, aside from George Washington, would be able to win with a clear majority. With the absence of a clear majority, the election would be decided by the House of Representatives, where each state represented would have a single vote. The runner up, originally would have become the vice-president. That changed, and the electors would cast one vote for the president, and one for the vice-president.
Now there have only been four times where the Electoral College voted for a different candidate than the popular vote. The first three took place in the early days of the country, and the latest became something of a joke due to the hanging chad dilemma. However, America's collective memory is quite long and people, while maybe not knowing what it does, remembers that the Electoral College does not have to vote with the popular vote. This makes a lot of people feel that their vote does not, really, matter; especially if their candidate lost the race. Also for about forty years, since the first opinion polls were instituted, the American people have wanted the presidency to be decided by popular vote. People, especially the people of America, hate not having their voices heard, and the Electoral College is seen as a way of stifling the will of the people. Again, this is especially true if their candidate was the loser, and our lovely political parties are SUCH good losers. Not. Now, it is possible that once the people of America have a direct hand in the choice of President, the people of America would start to actually educate themselves about each candidate's policies, records and platforms instead of merely following the party line. It's not a large hope, given the current “us verses them” political atmosphere, but one can hope.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Culture of Assumption.

 Poverty is equated, most commonly, with laziness in America. As if the poor person deserves to be poor, because they do not work hard enough to have more money. Never mind the poor person is more than likely not being paid much, and probably spends the most of their money on food and utilities. The poor person, even if they are breaking their back day in and day out doing the work that the middle and upper classes would rather not think about, they are thought to be lazy. The stereotype is that they spend all their money on booze and/or drugs, and probably doesn't do anything but get Government hand-outs. There may be some truth to this stereotype, but it is not a universal truth. There is no reason for the almost universal disdain for those who are not comfortable, but it pervades the media, and is a part of the rhetoric of the Republican party and the Conservatives.
It is possible this disdain comes from the tradition of Rugged Individualism. If a person works hard enough, they can become successful, and overcome their poor background. It is something that happens to just enough people that the hope is still there. However one can not argue with what the stereotype has led to.
The pervasive disdain for the poor has led to a culture of assumption. It is assumed that the poor are lazy. It is assumed that the poor are all alcoholics and/or drug addicts. It is assumed that the poor choose to be poor and do nothing to help themselves. These assumptions may be true for some people, but they are applied to all. This is because of the popular adoption of the morals of a selfish atheist sociopath by the name of Ayn Rand. Rand's writings are all about the glorification of the individual at the exclusion of all else, including the mores of society. Rand believed that a person should not contribute to society or to charity, or even help those less fortunate. She believed that if one could not help oneself, then one did not deserve help. It is this adoption of the principles of individual greed over the good Christian morals of loving and aiding one's neighbors that has led to these stereotypes about the poor. Because it is far easier to assume the worst, than hope for the best.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Last Note on Bioshock

Why is it that people of extreme political ideologies see everything as an attack upon their beliefs?  There is a web-cartoonist, the one I quoted in my entry about Exceptionalism, who is so far Right, even the CENTER is Left, sees Bioshock as an attack upon Capitalism.

I don't see it that way, but I tend to walk the straight and narrow of political ideologies, IE the Center.  I eschew the extremism that has permeated the political scene, nowadays, and only wish the most sensible ideas to be used.

The whole Bioshock series is not an attack on anything but extremism itself.  Bioshock shows an objectivist dystpoia, where the underwater city was built only to benefit of its builder.  As long as Andrew Ryan benefited from Rapture, he was happy.  As soon as the criminal, Frank Fontain, started to threaten his wealth, Ryan became a tyrant.

I haven't played Bioshock 2, but I hear it's about a Collectivist dystopia.  Again, showing that an economic system taken to its illogical extreme is a BAD thing, not a good thing.  Lastly, there is Bioshock Infinite, which this Far Far far far far so far it's practically left Right leaning web-comic author is an attack on America Itself.  Of course this fellow believes, religiously, in American Exceptionalism, and that all other countries should be in awe, and bow down and worship America in all its glory.

Bioshock Infinite, like all the other Bioshock games, shows the idea of American Exceptionalism taken to its ILLOGICAL extreme, with all the jingoistic, bombastic, anti-foreigner, isolationist clap-trap that comes along with it.  Apparently Columbia was built as a way to spread American style Democracy to the world at the point of several thousand guns, and with the aid of big-arsed robots.

Oh what fun.  And, if you've ever find this distant-right-leaning webcomic author's blog, you get to see that's just exactly what he wants.  He wants to have the world be America, and kill off all other religions, races, and orientations, and enslave women.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Economic Systems

The problem with economic systems is that they exclude the "People are selfish fucking bastards" factor.

On paper, they look great.  All the factors contributing to the greater whole, and working wonderfully.

However, people are selfish fucking bastards, and if they can, they will work any and all systems to give them the economic advantage.  Hence the need for regulations.

Take, for example, the much-vaunted Free Market System.

Ideally, the free market system is supposed to be ruled by supply and demand.  When there is a higher supply, there is a lower demand, and therefore lower prices.  The reverse is true, when there is low supply, and high demand.

However...  Say it with me now:  People are fucking bastards.  People can either hoard their supply, or order their factories (even though they have the capacity) to only make a very limited stock, increasing demand, prices, and profits.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rapture and Republicans Part Two

In my last entry I talked about Rapture, the Objectivist dystopia unintentionally created by Andrew Ryan.  True, he didn't mean for it to be a dystopia, initially, but it ended up that way, due to Ryan's paranoia, and a multitude of other factors.  One of which was that Ryan intended it to be a utopia.

A utopia filled with like-minded people who would, with hard work, determination, and the sweat of their brows, make Rapture work.  Well, that was Ryan's vision of Rapture.  The vision of the people he brought to populate his city was vastly different.  Many of them felt they were above the meanial work that would keep the city running.  They were doctors, thinkers, artist, poets, captains of industry, and one was a criminal.  The society that was created, and was influenced by Ryan's recorded propaganda, was based on selfishness, self-interested, and self centeredness.  "What calamity has ever been caused by the words 'think of yourself''?" one recording asked.  None, unless you consider psychopaths and serial killers to be 'calamities'.

Oh, there were very few who grew food, but they were more interested in how much profit they could wring from the enterprise.  There were poor people in Rapture, but they were outnumbered by the upper classes, and were probably brought down for the sole reason of working for their "betters".  No charity was allowed, because Andrew Ryan considered altruism to be the root of all evil.  So we've got a city filled with selfish, self-centered people who believe they are the upper crust, high class, and above doing the work of a menial.  Therefor, the society was very top-heavy, and it lacked the support system of 'lower class' people that did the actual work. A society based on selfishness, top-heavy, with very little in the way of a support system, and throw in an addictive substance with no manner of oversight or regulation.  No wonder it collapsed.

Once again, I am finding unsettling parallels in the real world.  Politicians intent upon doing away with the Social Safety Net of Social Security, Medicare, and Welfare.  They tell their constituents that these programs are nothing but a drain on the National Budget.  Never mind using some of Ryan's words to say that nobody should be made to pay for the welfare of others.  Though they DO have charities to fall back upon, saying that charities would fill in where the social programs had been.  Then they turn around and do everything to make sure that the rich and powerful are able to keep their money, and corporations are able to keep more of their profits.  As if they wish to make a top-heavy society...  Or make the poor into easily exploitable slaves, what with the call for the deregulation of all industries, and the abolition of minimum wage.

The criminal in Rapture was happy that the society collapsed, and had a plan to kill his rival, Andrew Ryan, so he could rule over the ruins.  The problem with the politicians, should American society collapse, it will take THEM with it.

Rapture and Republicans

Now BioShock is a very interesting game.  Sure it has wonderful graphics, great gameplay, and a unique combat system, but its the writing that adds so much to it.  In BioShock we see an objectivist dystopia created by a man named Andrew Ryan.  Oh, he didn't intend for it to be a dystopia.  He intended to be a truly free city.  Free of Government, and Government intervention in the private property of individuals.  He also believed, strongly, in the right of an individual to make a profit from said property.  That being said, Andrew Ryan was the largest property holder, and employer, in his city of Rapture, therefor Ryan was the main one profiting from the city.

There was no real government in Rapture, except the whims of Andrew Ryan, and Ryan preferred it that way.  There was no one to speak up for the poor, and nobody cared, because Ryan's Rapture was based on self-interest alone and altruism (the belief in a greater good) was considered a great evil of the surface world.  Rapture, you see, was built miles below the surface of the ocean, hidden, so Ryan could preserve his so-called utopia from the governments of the world.

And in Andrew Ryan's city, Free Enterprise is the only economic philosophy allowed.  Everything is for sale, from the air that one breaths to a walk in the woods.  Nothing, absolutely nothing is offered for free.  And in Free Enterprise, because enterprise is allowed to regulate itself, there is nothing protecting the people from predatory business practices.  Also there is no safety regulations, no checking of goods and services for anything that could harm the customers, no medicine is checked for side effects, and none of the regulations that keep people relatively safe did not exist.

In Rapture, a scientist discovered that a sea slug's bite had cured a man's hands that had been crippled.  Research proved that this sea slug created a substance that modified a person's genetic code to make all of a person's cells into stem cells.  This it had great curative properties, and the potential for a great many other things.  Thus Adam, the genetic altering substance secreted by the sea slug, was born.  Adam caused a new business of selling of custom genetic modifications, called Plasmids, to be created.  People could gain fantastic powers such as the ability to shoot lightening from one's hand, light fires with a snap of one's fingers, or even lift and move objects with one's mind.  Adam revolutionized plastic surgery making it possible to simply sculpt flesh like clay, and even gave a botanist the idea for a formula to resurrect dead plant tissue.

However, the side effects of Adam were not discovered, until it was too late.  Adam as it turned out was addictive, caused insanity, and induced deformities.  By the time these side effects were discovered, the hard way, Rapture had become a city filled with insane deformed Adam addicts with fantastic powers, who turned against each other to extract the Adam from each other, and from wherever they could get it.

And in the real world, we have Politicians, especially Republicans, calling for the striking down of regulations that protect the people, especially the poor, from things that could cause them harm.

"Oh, but we're good Christian people," the Republicans would say, "we have the divine moral compass that the atheists refuse to have."  However, I've seen "Good Christians" overcome by greed.  I've seen "Good Christians" say that altruism is evil, when living for the Greater Good is what was taught by Jesus Christ.

The lesson, here, is that any philosophy, especially economic philosophy, will look good on paper.  However, when you add people, that's when things get complicated, because people are a mixed bag of self-centeredness, and a belief in community.

The second lesson is that anything taken to extremes will always fail.

I'll cover that, in my next entry.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

To Congress: Grow the *BLEEP* up!

Ladies and gentlemen of Congress, it has come time for you to grow up.  Quit acting like a couple of spatting gangs of kindergarteners and come to a deal.  Quit hiding behind your sacred cows, and make the hard decisions.  You are playing with the lives of the very people who elected you in good faith to represent them, and you are not doing a thing for them.
Grow up.

I know you hate to touch your beloved Military, but what kind of message are we sending to the world, when we are spending more than the ENTIRE WORLD on our military?  Also, taxes.   You are being lead around by the nose by a man who wants you all to lose your jobs, and to kill the United States of America, and replace it with the Fifty Feuding Fiefdoms.  Many of your constituents wish the same, but if this is to be a cohesive country, then we need a Central Government, not fifty little countries.  And to do that we need to raise the tax rate.  It’s been at one of the lowest rates in fifty years.  A lot of you look back on the Fifties with rose-colored glasses, as a golden age of Conservatism, but you choose not to remember that during the 1950’s the tax rate was considerably higher, and it was the very beginnings of our current debit-based economy.  Taxes need to be higher, spending on things like military and subsidies need to be lower, and we need to eliminate foreign aid to countries that hate the US.

Also, you need to stop planning on eliminating the programs that people depend upon.  What are you all trying to do?  Kill off a whole class of people?  True the elderly and disabled do not contribute to your campaign funds, but they do vote, and they do spend the money they receive to do their small part to help the economy.  It doesn’t help them if you cut off their income.  Nobody will help them, because their families can’t afford to do so, thanks to this horrible economy.  So they will starve.  Charities aren’t getting the funding, because it is mainly the middle and lower classes who contribute to local charities, and their local churches.  Celebrities contribute to the big-name charities, that do grand far-reaching studies, or to the charities in their own neighborhoods.  Funding is short, everywhere, and by cutting Social Security and Medicare, you are doing nothing less than killing off the elderly and disabled.

You have allowed your rancor over party politics, and your eagerness to allow yourselves to be divided along ideological lines to keep from uniting to find a solution that takes the best ideas from both sides, and discards the worst.  However, it seems that you are all being driven to keep the worst ideas at the cost of the best, just for the sake of being true to the lunatic fringe of your various ideological extremes.

You have forgotten that you are supposed to be Americans, FIRST and FOREMOST.  You are supposed to be American, first, then Party Member, Religion Member, Race Member, and Gender Member.  Instead you have it all reversed.  Party Member, Religion Member, Race Member, Gender Member all before being an AMERICAN.

Grow up, and get your priorities straight.  Then, maybe, both sides can make the grown-up decisions that you need to, instead of bickering like schoolchildren over choice treats.