A failure of checks and balances

There’s quite a few Americans hoping against hope that America’s anti-fascist circuit breaker, the electoral college will trip up the Trump presidency before it even starts. There’s plenty of good reasons why it should, the latest revelations regarding how Russia assisted Trump’s campaign, his questionable cabinet picks and the clear signs of potential corruption, with him trying to use his office to further his own business interests. However its not going to happen. Yes it probably should, but it won’t.

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If there’s one thing Trump is correct about its how the US political system is broken, although he’s not going to mend it. His cabinet picks, a bunch of greasy brown envelope wielding Washington insiders and Goldman sachs bankers (quite a number of whom are close to Putin), should tell you all you need to know on that front. He could well prove to be the straw that breaks the camels back. Indeed its worth noting that the US is already one step away on the democratic Index from “flawed democracy” status….and that’s based on 2015 number prior to this election.

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Trump’s proposed secretary of state has many skills that suit him to his new job….of kissing Putin’s ass!

Firstly its worth remembering how the electoral college came about. It goes back to the founding of the US itself. The founding fathers were aware of the criticisms from the ancient Greek world regarding the dangers of democracy. They understood how a demagogue could manipulate the public into supporting him and cease power, thus ending democracy in all but name. And there was a perfectly good demagogue waiting to take over – King George, the original mad king himself. A historical fact of history that is often forgotten is that not everyone in America wanted to become independent. No, there was a sizeable number of Royalists who wanted to stay part of the UK.

So the founding fathers had good reason to be concerned. Their logic therefore, was that the people should essentially elect them to the electoral college and they would then pick the president, treading the actual vote as a sort of advisory election. Hence if the public voted for Benedict Arnold or something (make America British again), the founding fathers could just ignore that and put someone else in charge.

However, over the years this fact has been forgotte. Most of the electors these days are party insiders within the GOP and democrats. We are talking about the most odorous, party hacks you’ll ever find. The sort who both parties have to keep in back room positions out of public sight. Most of this bunch won’t get out of bed unless there was a brown envelope with a bribe waiting by the bedside from the carpet manufacturing industry. And they won’t wash unless there was another one waiting from the cleaning products lobby in the bathroom. The idea that this lot are going to rescue America from Trump is somewhat fanciful to say the least.

Now okay, I’m making an unfair generalisation. Yes there are some honest electors who take there job very seriously and have actually read the constitution. Indeed two electors are actually suing the state of Colorado as we speak to be given the chance to vote the way their conscience dictates. However they are likely to be in a minority, just take a look at the election results. The bulk of them will see Trump as an opportunity to loot the treasury as the city burns. About the only advice I’d give is to invest in the manufacturers of brown envelopes, because there will be a lot of them being used with Trump in charge.

And keep in mind there are some in the democratic camp who also aren’t happy about how Bernie Sanders was treated. Now with out going into the details of the rights and wrongs therein, my point is its just as likely that some of those in the democratic party will not support Hillary as those in the GOP will not support Trump. Indeed, recall that Colorado voted democrat. So those electors I mentioned earlier, are likely trying to avoid having to vote Hillary and might even support Trump.

So the great democratic circuit breaker is likely to fail, which begs the question, what exactly is the point of the electoral college? If there ever was a time for it to deny someone the white house now would be the time to do it. If they’re just going to be robots why have them?

Some say the electoral college is there to give smaller states more rights. Excuse me, isn’t that what the Senate is for? Rhode Island has the same number of senators as California, that’s whopping x40 over-representation for one state over another. What more do these states want?

And there’s a perfectly sensible way it could be abolished and still make Presidential elections a state by state contest. Have the election in two rounds. In the first round of voting, for a candidate to win he must carry +50% of the nationwide popular vote and +50% of the vote in at least 60% of all states. If no candidate achieves this, all but the top two candidates are eliminated and the election is repeated a few weeks later with a straight national popular vote runoff. This would ensure that whoever wins gets at least +50% of the vote in a majority of states.

Better still, let the Vice president be picked by the Senate (meaning the smaller states), with them picking from among retired governors. This is basically how Presidential candidates pick their VP’s anyway, so we’d just be making it a bit more democratically accountable. While also reminding who is ever in the White House that they can’t afford to neglect smaller states. By contrast the current system means we face the absurdity of a candidate who has not only failed to win the popular vote, but only got 46.5% of the vote (times the turn out that’s a support base of just 25% of the electorate).

And speaking of the Senate, there are others hoping that the Senate will block the basket of deplorables that Trump’s picked for his cabinet. Again, this is not going to happen. Many of Trump’s cabinet are lobbyists who have been greasing the sweaty palms of these senators with bribes campaign funds for years. Its kind of lacking in credibility for senators to get up and say “you’re a crook….and I know that because you helped to fund my re-election campaign”.

Yes there are some honest senators on both sides of the aisle. They can slow the process down, embarrass these nominee’s maybe even force one or two of them to withdraw. But they’ll be up against a corrupt majority who’ll vote them all in eventually.

America is founded on a principle of checks and balances. But all the indicators are that those checks and balances are about to fail, and likely too is America’s time as the world’s leading state. Indeed, its worth remembering how racism, populism and a push back against inequality and diversity may have helped bring down the Roman empire.

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A GOP stitch-up of the election

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The “October surprise” of a new batch of Hillary’s e-mails has threatened to upset the election. The democrats have cried foul and perhaps for good reason. There is a long standing tradition in all democratic governments than in the weeks leading up to an election government agencies are supposed to be in a state of Purdah, which means no statements should be released that might sway the vote either way. While the system isn’t quite as official and regulated in the US as it is in the UK, it is still a widely respected policy. Its been suggested that FBI chief James Comey actions, who is also a registered Republican, might actually be illegal and thus he could end up in prison rather than Hillary.

Indeed the FBI’s actions here don’t add up. Normal practice would be to keep this sort of thing confidential (even if there wasn’t an election going on) until you have something more tangible (such as some actual “evidence”, the FBI haven’t even read these e-mails yet, they could be a collection of Hillary’s pot roast recipes for all we know). This applies whether you are investigating a political candidate or Benny from the Bronx or Johnny tightlips.

Why? Well for starters we have this principle of innocent until proven guilty. If you don’t even have evidence of guilt (never mind proof), its a little early to be throwing around accusations. It makes getting an unbiased jury harder and makes it more likely the defendant will get off on a technicality (as it kind of implies you launched a fishing expedition against him, which technically the cops aren’t supposed to do). Also obviously enough if a prep knows they are being investigated they will do something about it, skip town, intimidate witnesses, “retire” a key informant, etc. Given that the democrats now see this as a GOP plot, they are closing ranks, the chances of the FBI completing their investigation in a timely manner are somewhere between slim and none. So one is forced to the conclusion that either James Comey is grossly incompetent or criminally abusing his office for political ends.

But how serious is this e-mail scandal? Well firstly we do need to remember that back when Hillary did set up this account it was against the backdrop of wikileaks when there were fears that US government e-mail systems weren’t that secure. This was largely the fault of Obama’s predecessor G. W. Bush. His big idea, the department of Homeland security, was a bureaucratic nightmare. So in order to make it work, they adopted very lax controls over e-mail security, which was exploited by Wikileak whistle-blowers.

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Also at the time the legislation governing the handling of confidential materials was a bit ambiguous, it wasn’t clear if it applied to e-mails. Keep in mind that Hillary’s predecessor, Condelezza Rice went around with a blackberry during her time in office (the whole reason Hillary went with this private e-mail server was because the NSA won’t supply her with a secure blackberry). On the other hand, its been argued Hillary might have been using a private e-mail server to avoid future FOI requests. Keep in mind that the GOP have been bombarding her with these for the last 25 years. So her paranoia is understandable, but its possible she was genuinely trying to hid something (e.g. emails to wall street bankers, the Clinton foundation, etc.). But the point is A) we don’t know, this is all speculation. And B) Republicans have done the same thing or far worse in the past.

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If the bar for prosecution and denying someone access to high office is this low, then G. W. Bush (two illegal wars, black sites, illegal use of torture, the biggest recession in 80 years), G. H. Bush (Panama invasion, the Church committee while head of CIA), Reagan (Iran Contra) should all have been impeached and removed from office. And Mitt Romney and Trump himself should also be disqualified as both have done far worse than anything committed by Hilary. To call the Republicans behaviour here double standards doesn’t even come close.

Of course, one factor in all of this everyone seems to forget is that there’s a long standing tradition in US politics that upon the election of a new president, the heads off all of the US government departments will file a letter of resignation with the new president. Now generally the incoming president will refuse to accept their resignation and re-appoint them. But every once in a while they don’t (Nixon was notorious for using this to get rid of officials he didn’t like). Given the frayed relationship between Hillary and Comey, he probably feared she won’t e-mail him back once he tenders his resignation (her likely claiming that she didn’t want to force the FBI to start another e-mail investigation!) and he’d be out on his ear.

So there’s an element of cynical short-sightedness here. Comey, trying to save his career, regardless of the cost to the country. Of course whether you’d want to be FBI chief with Trump in charge is another matter. He’ll use the FBI to go after his perceived enemies, so he’ll spend the next 4 years reading the e-mails of Hillary and late night comedians, while drug dealers, the mafia (who may have Trump on the payroll), terrorists and corrupt business executives get ignored. In short the FBI will be sent back to the bad old days of J. Edgar Hoover’s time in charge…if they aren’t already there!.

And of course, what’s the likely outcome? Well if Hillary wins (which is still the most likely outcome), not only is Comey gone but pretty much every Republican senior office holder too. She would be well within her rights to argue that if the GOP are going to use the offices of state to settle political scores and play silly games, screw you, I’ll sack the lot of ye’s and appoint democrats or independents to those jobs instead. Of course this will lead to yet more partisan politics and a lack of political progress.

And speaking of short-sightedness, what is Assange up too? Okay, he doesn’t like Hillary, she doesn’t like him. But what does he hope to achieve? Does he want Trump to be elected? What will happen then? Assange’s claim for seeking asylum is that he fears going back to Sweden in case they extradite him to the US where he may fact charges carrying the death penalty. This doesn’t add up. Sweden has laws in place that would forbid extradition under such circumstances. But with Trump in charge, do you think Trump is going to respect Ecuadorian sovereignty? No way, he’ll have some assassin blow Assange’s brains out from across the street or send some Green Beret’s in to drag him out. So for the sake of scoring a few childish points, he’s jeopardising his own life and the entire political system. No wonder he has the Ecuadorian’s nervous. My guess is Trump or Hillary he’ll likely be put out on the street not long after the election, as he has now made himself a liability.

The short-sightedness of some people, they’re willingness to cut off their own nose to spite their face, is just sometimes baffling. Hopefully American voters will have the good sense to see through the facade to what’s really going on here and ignore it.

The politics of Fear & Hate

Lease anyone think radical Islamists have a monopoly on stupidity and senseless violence, the Tea “party’s” activities have claimed what could be their first victims in shooting in Tucson Arizona, 6 dead (including a federal judge), and a Democratic Congresswoman critically injured.

The only thing that surprises me is that this didn’t happen before, and unfortunately you can be sure there will be more incidents like this. Since Obama has been elected the Tea Party and its principal supporters on Fox news and right-wing talk radio hosts have been creating a climate of fear, deliberately encouraging the spread of vicious rumours and absurd conspiracy theories, for example that Obama isn’t a US citizen (nor a Christian) that his health care bill will mean “death panels” (which already exist in Texas by the way, brought in by Governor Bush! they can turn off you’re life support if you run out of cash or HMO coverage even against the wishes of you or your family), that Obama is a Socialists (they won’t even let him in the labour party and he doesn’t fight enough with his own supporters to join the socialists), that he plans to change the gun laws (we’ll after yesterday’s events, that actually might happen!), etc. Sarah Palin even put out a poster with several democratic congress members “in her crosshairs” – including Mrs Gifford. Ironically she was on the fiscally conservative wing of the democratic party, the real reason Palin targeted her seat was because it was one in a conservative state that the Tea Party stood a half chance of winning (in the end the Tea party all but ensured the defeat of the Republican challenger).

For months, the media in the US has been warning of a potentially dangerous undercurrent within the Tea “party”, with many talking of “Revolution” or “launching guerrilla war”. They’ve been many cases of Tea party supporters showing up to rival political events with guns (supposedly to reinforce their right to bear arms, though those effected suspect its more an act of political intimidation). Rather than try to rein in the forces they’d unleashed, those at the top of the tea party have been upping the rhetoric and now it’s had the inevitable results. Well I hope Mrs Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Ron Paul (the shooter was apparently a particular fan of his policies), and Glenn Beck are happy now.

This is the insidious danger of what they were under taking, using the politics of fear and hate is a dangerous game as invariably it leads to matters running out of control. Like Victor Frankenstein the Republicans and those at the head of the Tea “party” have now created a monster than they can’t control. And it’s a monster that could well destroy America, literally tearing the country into two pieces (a liberal leaning progressive nation on the East & West coasts with “Jesusland” in between).

A good example of the idiocy of the Glenn Beck/Palin/Limbaugh is they’re Nazi Tourette’s syndrome (i.e they accuse everyone on the left of being like the nazi’s….I don’t think they’re familiar with Godwin’s law).
http://politicalhumor.about.com/b/2010/05/13/lewis-black-glenn-beck-has-nazi-tourettes.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

Well okay guys, if you want to play that game, lets do a quick fact check and see who is more like the nazi’s (Democrat or Republican or Tea “party”). The nazi’s believed in the following things, I’ll leave it to the reader to tick the party boxes:

• They believed that their country was a unique nation in the history of the world with a special and important destiny
• They believed in a strong military and in using that military to solve their countries problems
• They believed in unilateral military intervention in other nations affairs
• They cared little what other nations thought of their policies, were less willing to negotiate solutions, and more likely to renege on treaties
• They were against the UN (then called the league of nations), and eventually withdrew from it
• They felt it was okay for their nation to invade another and take another nations resources “because they’re not using it properly”
• They liked playing with guns
• They liked taking their guns into the woods & running around shooting at stuff
• They thought it was okay to use violence to promote their politics, or the threat of violence at least
• They liked having big group meetings with lots of flag waving and patriotic displays.
• They’re political leaders were prone to stirring up the supporters to fear their political enemies, who they claimed were involved in many conspiracies against the party and those on the right
• They didn’t like gays, liberals, or ethnic minorities
• They wanted to exclude these groups above from certain jobs & take away their rights. They eventually hoped to throw all ethnic minorities out of the country
• They were morally conservative, feeling that a family (stay at home mom, dad goes to work) unit was the best environment in which to raise kids
• They banned abortion, and clamped down on family planning (in order to increase the population of they’re “master races”). Although this one is slightly neutralised by their policy of sterilisation aimed at disabled people and ethnic minorities (i.e they were to some degree neutral on the issue of abortion seeing it as a means to an end, but they did actually pass laws certain American conservatives would not disagree with)
• They felt it was okay to lie to kids in science class, German children were told to believe that their German blood somehow made them superior to those with other types of blood, even thought there was obviously no scientific evidence to support this (creationists anyone…..)
• The leadership of most Fascists regimes tended to be naturally suspicious of academics and scientists. While happy to exploit them for their own ends they disliked being talked down to by experts (For example, it seems one of the key reasons the Nazi atom bomb project failed is that the nazi leadership couldn’t get they’re head around the concept and never seriously funded the project to the degree necessary)
• They were pro-business (many wealthy German businessmen basically bankrolled the party) and very much in favour of large companies being left well alone by government….so long as the “right people” i.e. their political allies, were running them of course!
• They felt the media should self censor and only report stories positive to the government, especially at a time of war
• They were decidedly anti-union. They believed that businesses should exploit workers all they liked, if the worker felt he was underpaid/badly treated – quit! (well until they banned that too!)
• The nazi view of evolution is often distorted. What they believed in was a warped version of evolution that encouraged people to compete against each other like animals in nature, with the strongest triumphing and the weak vanquished. So it would be more correct to say that they believed that the strong in society should take what they want from the weak
• They were against state hand outs to the poor & unemployed
• While neither strongly for, nor against religion, Fascists groups generally saw the benefits of paying lip services to christian groups that supported their cause, although only as a political move (the “opium of the masses” as religion was once called at the time I believe). For example, Mussolini is most famous for the Lateran treaty he signed with the pope. Compared to socialist groups at the time however, you’d have to Fascists in the “for Christianity” box, as many Christian churches at the time strongly supported fascists regimes
• They were also in favour of the death penalty, including for crimes such as abortion, and generally favoured harsh penalties on crminals
• They saw certain situations in which torture of they’re enemy’s was considered justified

So, what was your score? Now, in the spirit of Godwin’s law, I’m not suggesting the Tea Party (or Republican party) are like the Nazi’s (….yet!), but there is an element of the pot calling the kettle black here, and they need to stop making irresponsible comparisons between idologies that they don’t understand. Obama might well favour a women’s right to choose, but that doesn’t mean he wants to push people into gas chambers! No more than Sarah Palin’s opposition to abortion means she wants to do the same (….yet!). US conservatives need to take on board yesterday’s events and have a good long hard look at themselves, because they are heading down a very dangerous road. History has a nasty habit of repeating itself when people forget its lessons, and as I’ve shown above, I don’t think most US conservatives are clueless about history.

And I have advice for any US conservatives reading this, from now on I suggest you keep a large kitchen rolling pin next to your computer. Next time you feel the urge to call someone a nazi, apply firm pressure with said item to the top of you’re head! Repeat until the urge goes away.

All that said, there are some practical steps to reduce the tensions in US politics. Making the words of political commentators legally binding & liable. i.e. A commentator on a major news network incites someone through lies and half truths to shoot another person, they (the station and the commentator) can be subject to criminal conviction, and are libel to be sued by the aggrieved party.

Another option could be a law banning privately held firearms from within a 1 mile radius of any political rally or event.

Alternatively, how about a law of reversal, in the event of a political assassination the government immediately passes a law they produces the complete opposite effect to what the assassin wanted. So if say, someone in the future assassinates (or tries to) a congressman because of his support for gay marriage, this law would make it a legal requirement that the government then legalise gay marriage (and make it compulsory for all members of the Republican party!) This shooter in the US seemed to be partial to Ron Paul’s policy regarding the use of precious metals as mediums of currency. I would suggest therefore, as a deterrence to future assassinations attempts, that the US government now pass a law forbidding private individuals from possessing more than, say $35,000 in gold or precious metals. No particular reason, other than to deter future assassins and piss off Ron Paul. Similarly the assassination in Punjab recently would require the immediate scrapping of all blasphemy laws in Pakistan.