Monthly Archive: October 2016

I am prepared for Election day

Voting is a fundamental right for all qualified people, and State and Federal laws make intimidation of any sort at any point in the voting process a crime. There are some very specific rules that poll watchers have to follow in Texas. I have added the direct phone number for the FBI to my phone, I will have it set to Record video and sound as I set off for the polling station, and if I see anybody behaving suspiciously outside the polling station, I will record it.

I have read enough “nod and wink” nonsense already from people who seem to think that only The Right Sort Of People should be allowed to vote. No, you and your goons can damn well stay away from my polling station.
By the way, the biggest underlying issue is not Dead People Voting, or any of the other claimed fraud attempts that Donald Trump and his more extreme supporters are convinced is going to happen. The big underlying issue is voter suppression, and until that is prevented (which may require some draconian new legislation that jails state officials and elected representatives for breaches) the integrity of the US election system is, for me, not at anywhere near a high enough level.


Monday Round-up

1. The true status of lawsuits against Donald Trump
There are a lot of lurid headlines floating around about legal problems for Donald Trump. Some of the headlines scream “Trump accused of rape”, and “Trump accused of racketeering”.
Well, not quite. The lawsuits are civil complaints, not criminal complaints, so at this point Donald Trump is not charged with criminal counts. As Ken White explains carefully, Donald Trump is not about to be marched into court in November to face criminal charges for rape. Neither is he the defendant in a criminal RICO conspiracy charge. Hyperbole in the service of communication is not good, no matter which end of the political spectrum it originates.

2. Falsification of images to claim voter fraud

An image being circulated that purports to show a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent arresting an alleged undocumented immigrant in the back of a voter line is a fake. It is a composite of two separate images from completely different locations and dates.
Be vigilant. Photoshop is not a friend of the electoral process.

3. Laws on wiretapping
All states of the Union have anti-wiretapping laws. These vary in the conditions that are specified before a conversation between two or more parties can be legally recorded and, if appropriate, used in evidence. A number of states are what are known as “two party” states; in those states, both parties to a conversation must affirmatively give consent before any of the conversation can be legally recorded. Other states (including Texas) are “one party” states, where one party only needs to provide consent.
James O’Keefe and his pressure group Project Veritas has made a habit of recording conversations between Veritas personnel (usually engaging in deceptive impersonation) and other organizations, in an effort to demonstrate malfeasance by the targetted organization or its agents.
However, on at least one occasion, O’Keefe has been found personally liable under state laws for illegally recording conversations and obtaining documents. The latest round of revelations from Project Veritas concerning Democratic-affiliated organizations may also include illegally recorded conversations from two-party states.
I remain amused at the extent to which groups that claim that the Rule Of Law is sacrosanct are prepared to go to ignore state and federal laws when those laws conflict with their objectives.

4. The aftermath of the court verdicts for Malheur
As many of you have found out, the defendants in the trial over the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge were found Not Guilty last week by a jury at the end of the trial in Portland OR. This was a surprise to many people, not just the government.
It is far from clear exactly what reasoning led the jury to decide to find the defendants not guilty. There were also strange incidents during their deliberations, including a request from the jurors to essentially have one of the jury panel removed for what was described as “bias”. In hindsight, this might well have been a case where the juror was a lone holdout against a unanimous collection of Not Guilty verdicts.
The charitable conclusion from the verdicts is that the jurors were not sufficiently persuaded by the primary charge of conspiracy to impede Federal workers. Conspiracy charges have a high burden of proof. They require a jury to find that the defendants conspired as a group in advance to engage in activities that were clearly illegal, and that they then acted as a group to carry out those activities. That is a high burden of proof. The second charge of illegal use of firearms was also linked to the conspiracy, so it made the charges an “all or nothing” proposition for the prosecution. If the defendants were found not guilty of conspiracy, they could not be found guilty on the firearms charges. Effectively the prosecution created a set of “all or nothing” indictments. There were no consolation prizes of finding the defendants guilty on lesser charges.
The defendants sought, as part of their defense, to claim that a lot of their activities were not planned in advance, and just sort of happened on the fly, which would undercut the conspiracy claim.
There were more straightforward charges that could have been filed, such as trespass and criminal damage. The decision to use conspiracy charges may have been too ambitious by the prosecution.
The less charitable and more worrying conclusion is that the jury, instinctively sympathetic to the defendants, simply engaged in jury nullification.
To some extent it does not matter either way. The Federal government is not able to re-file new charges against the defendants because of the double jeopardy rules, although Harney County in Oregon could elect to file charges against them under local laws. I consider that unlikely.
Most of the defendants from Oregon are still charged in Nevada over the events at the Bunkerville standoff in 2014, and a number of them will remain in jail until that trial. The Bunkerville charges are a lot more serious, and the courts and judges in Nevada have shown a much lower tolerance for SovCit bullshit. We shall see how that trial unfolds.


The Bundy Court Sketches

During the Bundy trials in Portland OR, Scott Klatt (on twitter as @hecktow) has been doing daily sketches of the scene in the courtroom. Some of his sketches from the trial are now for sale on ebay.
This is the sketch from yesterday, when the court was in discussion/argument about a malfunction in the operation of the jury, with the rest of the jury panel accusing one of its members of being biased. (The judge ruled that the juror be replaced with an alternate and that the jury deliberation process should commence over again).
Scott decided to go with a Halloween theme…in case you couldn’t guess, Federal Judge Anna Brown is the person at the top, gavel in hand, with her lectern marked 9A for Court 9A. Jurors are on the left, defendants and their lawyers bottom right.


Alternate Realities – Baghdad Bob syndrome

Do you remember Baghdad Bob?
Of course that was not his real name, any more than the British World War II German propaganda broadcaster was really named Lord Haw-Haw. (Lord Haw-Haw’s real name was William Joyce, and he was hanged for treason after the end of World War II). The name “Baghdad Bob” (along with a less popular “Comical Ali”) was bestowed upon him by the western media in the early days of the Iraq War, when he would show up to press conferences, and, replete with enthusiasm, he would describe a view of reality that soon diverged dramatically from the view that the media could see and determine from other evidence.
Soon, Baghdad Bob morphed into his own one-man entertainment channel, with the media eagerly showing up to his press conferences just to see What Amazing Shit He Would Talk Next.
Ultimately though, Iraq was tossed out of Kuwait, and Baghdad Bob receded into a historical footnote, a canned reminder of how utterly ludicrous propaganda begins to sound when it becomes obviously disconnected from reality.
But not so fast…one of the features (it may be a bug, but on an amusement level it is more of a feature) of this election cycle is the sheer amount of propaganda being created by supporters of Donald Trump. Those of us who watched the 2012 electoral cycle were able to see the whole “unskewed polls” propaganda attempt, as supporters of Mitt Romney, unhappy that the majority of the published polls in the last month of the campaign started to show Romney falling behind Barack Obama, began to construct an alternate reality. The creation of the website Unskewedpolls, which published manipulated data showing Romney winning the race, attracted a lot of ridicule as it insisted, in increasingly shrill fashion, that Mitt was going to win. When the election results came out, and he had lost, the website’s owner became a laughing stock as he frantically dug for more and more implausible explanations for how his site had created a set of incorrect predictions.
But…it gets better. Not only are the claims that the polls are skewed back, mixed in with confident sounding predictions that Donald will win because Lots Of People Are Going To Magically Show Up And Vote For Him On Polling Day, but the other folks studying at the Baghdad Bob School of Ludicrous Propaganda are branching out. Like failed ex-Libertarian and general-purpose conspiracy-believing loopy-loo Wayne Allyn Root, who thinks that Donald Trump could never possibly have harrassed any women. No sirree. And here is his explanation of why:

Apart from the appalling use of spelling and grammar (I was not aware that “handsomest” was even a valid English word, but them I am one of those intellectuals, which makes my judgment suspect in some social circles), this is so effing ludicrous that I did actually burst out laughing.


Wanker of the Day

A religious crackpot who thinks he was a serious candidate for the Mayor of Calgary doesn’t much care for women being in the police force:

Click through to Twitter and see how his response, when challenged to provide evidence, is to retreat to Christian cliches.


Today’s Round Up

1. Why did the US business community not stop Donald Trump
While a substantial amount of effort has been expended on discussing why and how Donald Trump came to be propelled to the GOP nomination by the GOP base, one topic that has attracted little comment is that, compared to the previous GOP candidate Mitt Romney, who was heavily backed by big business (being a long-established businessman himself, he had plenty of friends in high places in corporate America), Donald Trump is regarded with fear and suspicion by the majority of leaders of large businesses in the USA. There are even one or two business leaders, most notably Meg Whitman of HP, who have publicly backed Hillary Clinton instead. That would have been unthinkable in 2012. At this point in time, it seems that Hillary Clinton has done a better job of gaining big business support than Donald Trump, who has instead focussed his appeal as a smasher of the current system. This was never likely to appeal to big business, which prides itself on being at the top of the system.
There are a couple of business leaders who are backing Trump, most notably Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers. However, they seem to operate largely independently of the overall big business consensus. This article explains why the big business consensus that existed until recently has more or less disappeared. The net result has been a loss of influence by big business over the direction and policies of the Republican Party, which may not be a good thing.

2. The influence of the conservative media on the direction of the GOP
One of the often-remarked-upon features of Donald Trump’s campaign has been the violation of previous norms governing the tolerable level of bullshit in a campaign. Trump’s utterances and policy statements have been over the map, but they contain an astonishingly high level of total bullshit and deception.
As this article explains, the conservative media, by consistently tolerating a “parallel universe” narrative of GOP policy that is already based on bullshit, has legitimized bullshit to the point that increases in the overall bullshit level are not being detected and rejected. The article concludes (depressingly) that the process itself is to blame. In other words, even if the current collection of commentators (Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity et al) were to vanish in a puff of smoke, replacements would show up uttering the same level of bullshit, because many information consumers are locked into a worldview that, to be sustained, requires continuation of an equivalent level of bullshit lest cognitive dissonance kick in.


District gerrymandering

Forget the dystopian nonsense being talked about dead people on electoral rolls being “voter fraud”. Anybody pushing that line of argument is either being disingenuous or stupid, or both.
The real problem with the modern US electoral system is that generations of gerrymandering have converted most of the competitive seats into safe seats for one of the two major parties. This has been a gradual process, but it results in the total devaluation of general election results, and a focus on primary elections, since the winner of the primary in a seat guarantees that person will be elected.
Here is a good example of a gerrymandered district in North Carolina. The shape alone should bring up a warning flag…

Here is an even more blatant one:


More Trump book reviews from Twitter

When you are dealing with a person who operates on a day to day basis almost like a caricature of a real human being, the jokes tend to write themselves…


The challenge for capitalism in the 21st century – employment

It has been obvious to me for some time that there is an emerging challenge for governance systems throughout the world. The main challenge is the gradual inexorable automation of industry, which continually reduces the number of humans required to create goods and services. A subsidiary contributor is the move from dirty fuel sources based on digging stuff out of the ground towards cleaner energy sources that require far fewer humans (an offshore wind farm employs far fewer people than a deep coal mine).
Capitalism as an economic model works best when countries are continually expanding their economic output. In the past, expansion of economic output would add employment, and sometimes scarcity of employees would push up wages and salaries, thus increasing prosperity. Rightly or wrongly, human expectations in the Western World have become set on the idea that people should enjoy continually increasing standards of living. Governments that fail to deliver on that fundamental expectation tend not to stay in office for very long. This is one of the main reasons why just about every Western country has massive government debt. Governments would rather kick the can down the road by borrowing than go to the electorate and say “sorry, we can’t give you X because it would require money we don’t have”. They have learned that this is not an acceptable answer, so they fudge, borrow, fudge some more and avoid the issue in order to keep voters happy.
Science fiction writers, who mostly live in the future, have been thinking and writing about this for a long time. Charlie Stross has certainly noticed it. Here is a series of tweets he just posted.

Unemployment is a key measure against which governments are measured by the electors. When I lived in the UK, there was a level of unemployment for a long time, above which the incumbent government would be negatively measured. That “magic number” was 1 million. Governments would try everything to keep the number below 1 million, lest they be shamed and embarrassed. When the underlying structural level of unemployment rose above that number due to de-industrialization in the 1980’s, the government simply changed the rules for counting people as unemployed to make the number smaller. Most Western governments have a host of exclusionary rules that they apply to unemployment measurements in order to keep the numbers down. As a result, the real level of unemployment in most Westernized democracies (including the USA) is usually higher than the quoted official numbers. This article from the UK explains some of the ways in which current official unemployment statistics can under-count the actual numbers of people who are unemployed or under-employed.
There is also a significant level of under-employment (people working, but not full-time) that unemployment statistics, almost by definition, will not count. Australia is one country that actually measures underemployment in addition to unemployment.Today it seems to be around 8.5%. This is a significant extra dimension to employment that many countries, unlike Australia, do not measure.
In a market where too many people are chasing too few jobs, conventional economics predicts that wages and salaries for employed people will fall. This appears to have happened over the past few years in Europe and the USA. People are employed, but many of them have lost wages and benefits compared to 10 years ago. There is a lot of discontent as a result, which is being exploited by demagogues and nativists, who tend to see issues like this as proof that there are too many non-natives competing with the true citizens. We can see the political results throughout Europe and in the USA today.
Libertarians have been wrestling with the issue of increasing scarcity of employment for a while, and there is a proposal which has been extensively debated for the introduction of what is known as a Universal Basic Income (UBI), an economic safety net to allow people to live without necessarily being employed in the conventional sense. Needless to say, the UBI would run headlong into entrenched ideological opposition from authoritarians who would yell “entitlements!” and other hopelessly unhelpful nonsense. To be fair, there is not even agreement among libertarians about the usefulness of a UBI. (But then, to use the old joke, if you put 10 libertarians in a room and ask them the same question, you get 13 different answers, because libertarianism, like classical marxism, has never been implemented on a grand scale).
The challenge for the world is however a serious one. How do we as a species evolve a governance model that recognizes that lifelong employment at steadily increasing wages is an outlier, not a mainstream experience? What can we do to structure societies and manage people to allow them to accept leisure time as valid and fulfilling? These types of issues are almost never discussed by politicians, since they conflict with established narratives about what people have as valid life expectations. However, if the issues are not addressed, I predict that there will be an increase in conflicts between countries over time. When resources are perceived to be scarce, people adopt a zero-sum approach, the “I Win You Lose Tough Shit” approach. So this underlying structural issue is having real tangible consequences in terms of political governance. History tells us that nativist political governance eventually leads to conflict between countries. Nativists singing from a songsheet with the hook line “I will make us great again” eventually see expansionism and conquest as the way to prove that the country is indeed Great again. That will not be good for global civilization.