Posts Tagged politics

Transcript: President Obama’s Nov. 5 news conference on midterm election result

 So, to everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.

— President Obama, press conference, November 5, 2014.

Thank you, Mr. President. I wanted to be heard.

Transcript: President Obama’s Nov. 5 news conference on midterm election results – The Washington Post.



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Why I Did Not Vote

I did not vote on Tuesday. I willfully did not vote. I specifically, purposefully, intentionally did not vote. I want to explain, but what follows should not be taken to be an argument against voting per se nor is it meant to be a criticism of your decision to vote (if in fact you did vote).

First things first, however. I have no intentions of being moved by those patriotic scolds out there who are about to chastise my not voting, nor will I accept their proposed punishment that I keep silent, that I have no right to complain about the government. That is blatant nonsense. I was endowed by my Creator with a right to express my views, an inalienable right, an irrevocable, unconditional right, accorded me by the very fact that I’m a human being. To quote the philosopher M.C. Hammer: “U can’t touch this!” I’ll not be silent (and neither should you be).

I have asserted elsewhere that my not voting does not nullify my right to vote. A right to vote is not an obligation to vote. My right to vote is not contingent upon my actually voting. It is not “use it or lose it.”

We know that some people had to fight very hard for the right to vote — women, for instance, and people of color even today in the face of the sham voter id. rules. It was a great and noble fight, to be sure. But consider that the right had to be fought for. What does that mean? It means that there was some person or persons who had the power to deny that right to the disenfranchised. But what does that tell us? That the “right” to vote is really — in actuality, not in theory — viewed as a privilege. People worry, then, that their privilege could be taken away. That is part of the reason so many people get evangelical about voting: they consider it a “use it or lose it” privilege.

But it is not and ought not to be viewed as a privilege granted by somebody to others. It should be considered a simple offshoot of the right to freedom of speech. Voters and non-voters alike have, in my view, an inalienable right to have a say in the governance of their lives, and no one has the right to view voting as a privilege that could possibly be revoked.

I admit to anarchist tendencies, and anarchists tend to be critical of voting. But one can be a principled anarchist (and that is not an oxymoron) and still vote — in certain circumstances. While the midterm elections were going on, my neighbors were out campaigning. Not for a gubernatorial candidate but rather for their positions on two referendum questions pertaining to our neighborhood alone: whether we should allow ourselves to have motorcycles and whether we should allow ourselves to install invisible fences for our dogs. My neighbors have been going door-to-door, circulating arguments, and so on. Residents are taking two weeks to hold the vote (ballots being accepted at any time during that period). I am certainly going to vote on these two issues. Notice that I said this issues concern our “allowing ourselves.” We are not supplicants to somebody else in those matters. We deliberatively and collectively are determining for ourselves how it is best for us to be. Of course, not everyone will be pleased with the outcome, but given that reasonable people can disagree, this kind of deliberative democracy, though imperfect, is about the best we can do. I’m all for it. It is not that anarchists must be opposed to order or organization; rather, the argument is about the forms of that organization.

The voting that was going on down the street at the polling place is much different. I have no fear of contradiction when I assert that most of the voters had no idea of the actual policy positions of the candidates (and that’s not entirely the fault of the voters, by the way). Even the candidates for local office are simply names on yard signs to most voters. People, I’m sure, tended to vote their party affiliation without any real understanding of what it means to be “Democrat” or “Republican” at the local level, and I expect they don’t have a very clear idea of the actual (and not simply the rhetorical) difference between the parties at the national level.

In addition, I am confident that most of the voters exhausted the entirety of their civic engagement in those few moments in the voting booth. They equate democracy with voting. They equate voting with being a patriot. They equate voting with civic responsibility. And when they’ve pulled the lever, they are done with all that.

Now these are the scolds who are very quick to criticize anyone who chooses not to vote in a particular election. I’ve spent more time on just this present set of reflections (one of many) than most people did “performing their civic duty” on election day. And it is a fair question whether this humble essay will have more or less (positive) effect on the world than one voter’s vote. For instance, the incumbent governor of Pennsylvania effectively lost his chance at reelection two years ago. The result was a foregone conclusion, a done deal. The governor-elect barely had to break a sweat. He even declined to dole out the customary “street money” ($340,000 in this case) for greasing the wheels on election day. Why? He claimed noble reasons (“I don’t want to pay people to vote for me”), but in reality he simply did not need to spend the money. We all knew he won before the polls even opened.

You might say that if everyone had my attitude, the outcome might have been different. But not everyone has my attitude, do they? Not everyone is particularly interested in participatory democracy. They’re interested in voting. So long as they are, the outcomes in races like the one in Pennsylvania are eminently predictable.

I am for the most part unimpressed by the “lesser of two evils” argument for voting…and especially for voting for one of the candidates from the Big Two parties. “Don’t you see, if you don’t vote (or if you vote for a third-party candidate), you’ll be helping Evil Candidate X win the election. Therefore you must vote for Slightly-Less-Evil Candidate Y who represents the Slightly-Less-Evil Other of the Big Two Parties. It is the lesser of two evils.” But why do evil at all? Why not work, even if it is your own humble little way (kind of like your vote), to promote an alternative to the evils of the two party system?

Now I don’t want to be partisan in this post, but have you seen some of the people you voters have elected? I for one am not going to be lectured to about political wisdom by people who voted for…no…I will just have to  resist naming the stupid and/or corrupt people you voters put in office. You know full well — don’t you? — who they are. And if you do, shame on you for electing them. And if you don’t, well, you’ve got nothing to say to me. I mean, one state returned to office a person whose entire platform is dedicated to being completely obstructionist. In other words, this person’s mission is to not to govern at all — not in the “that government governs best which governs least” sense, but in the sense that this person will work hard simply to thwart whatever the other side would like to do…even if it really were to contribute to the common good. Should I be complicit with that?

Nationwide, $4 billion was spent on this election. Four billion dollars! Our public schools are run down, our infrastructure is crumbling, our natural world is being devastated, and you voters — yes! you must take responsibility — wasted $4 billion on these elections. Money well-spent, would you say?

I am a registered independent voter. I am not permitted to vote in primary elections because I do not belong to a political party. In many districts, office holders are selected in the primaries — the disparity in party affiliation making the general election moot. In fact, I think I ought not to be allowed to vote in a primary election. Granted that we’re going to continue to have these kinds of elections, I think the parties themselves should select their candidates. However, I do not think I ought to have to pay for these elections. Let the parties fund their own selection process for their candidates. Why should I have to pay for the workings of a party with which I have little common interest?

Or here is an alternative: Public financing alone for this step in the process. All parties and their potential candidates for the general election, not just the Big Two, have equal access to the polls and to a reasonable array of public media in order to present their respective cases. You could do all this for a lot less than $4B. Worried that this would stop all the tv commercials and robo-calls to your house (hahahaha…of course aren’t…it’d be a blessing!) and that this would be an infringement of freedom of speech? Don’t worry. You’ll get over it. The public media will give you plenty of opportunity to hear all sides on all issues — in fact, you’ll have way more information than you get with all the attack ads you have to endure now.

There are lots of other election reforms that we could discuss, all of which would serve to strengthen democracy (i.e., that would start do do away with this fake democracy the patriotic scolds perpetually mistake for the real thing with a kind of religious fervor). But let’s leave that for another day.

Let me reiterate: I am not arguing against all voting. I am not saying I will never vote, no matter what. I am not telling you that you should not vote. I am simply pointing out that not voting is not the moral failure that some of you voters claim it is. Unlike you, I am not a Manichean about politics. I don’t think there is One Party of Light and One Party of Darkness. I think — only because it is true — that there are lots of political parties, but that we don’t get to hear much about them because of all you Manicheans. I am reminding you that voting is not all there is to democracy, and it is perfectly possible (I know, because it happens to be actual) that you can hold elections and still not have a genuine democracy. I recognize that there are non-voters who don’t vote out of apathy (but is the apathy entirely their fault?) or from laziness. But there is also a certain laziness in perhaps the majority of voters, who, thoroughly uninformed, sheepishly head to the polls yammering in their Manichean way about how the sky will fall if Evil Party/Candidate X wins the race. Some even declare, in that event, that they’ll leave for Canada. But, alas, they never do.

Truthfully, I don’t want them to. What I want is an increase in democratic participation. As things stand, I don’t think that is accurately measured by voter turnout.





To Vote or Not to Vote

I saw one of those picture-posts in my Facebook stream this morning that read, “When you skip voting, it’s not rebellion. It’s surrender.” As one might imagine, there was a great deal of discussion in the comments section. The overwhelming majority of the responses held that if you do not vote, you do not have the right to complain about the government. Following on the heels of this claim is the implication that one has not just a right to vote but a responsibility to vote.

I side with the minority on these claims. I am stunned by how easily people will say that if you do not vote you lose the right to voice your concerns. I thought my right to liberty (including liberty of conscience and speech) was inalienable. That means neither you nor I can abrogate this right – no matter what. This right was “endowed by the Creator” — or, if you don’t like the theological flavor of that claim, we could say: We just have these rights. Period.

So my voting or not voting is immaterial to my right to say whatever I think about our government. You have zero right to silence me on the basis of my not voting. You can disagree with my ideas. You can argue against them. You can simply decide to not take them seriously. But there is no valid argument for silencing me, including an argument on the basis of my voting record.

Just to underline: you have nothing to gainsay this. So stop.

Second, if I have a right to vote, I have the correlative right not to vote. But this requires some reflection.

Voting rights, as they stand, are not inalienable. That means, someone or some group might try to curtail or eliminate this right. In fact, groups try all the time (right, Republicans?). Putting aside cynical politicking (okay, Republicans?), we generally accept that those under 18 may not vote, those with a felony conviction (in some cases) may not vote, that you must be a citizen to vote, that you may vote only once, etc. There are restrictions on voting. So voting rights are limited, which makes voting seem more like a privilege than an inalienable right such as freedom of conscience. A privilege granted by whom? By those currently in the government (legislative, executive, judicial).

So if I am granted this privilege by the powers-that-be, must I exercise it? Am I required to vote? Would it be just in a free society to order people to vote and punish them if they don’t?

And vote for whom? Those on the ballot only, or should write-ins be allowed (as they are today)? If write-ins continue to be allowed, and you force everyone (well, those you deem worthy of the privilege anyway…) to vote, and if everyone irritated by having to vote when they don’t want to comes down to the polling place and writes in their vote for their wise Aunt Sadie or whoever, what would we have then? Would that really be meaningful? Wouldn’t we have more or less the same result if those who didn’t want to vote for one of the party candidates or for a write-in candidate who has zero chance of being elected simply stayed home like they wanted to?

What should we say about those who do not vote? Do they not vote because they are apathetic, lazy, disenchanted, cynical, contented, accepting, wise, rebellious, forgetful, incompetent, statement-making…? What? I don’t think you know, do you? It is certainly not one thing that keeps people from voting.

So whether voting is a right or a privilege, a citizen must be free to vote or not, and without punishment if she chooses not to vote.

But what about this fear: If voting is a privilege granted by the powers-that-be, and if people do not take advantage of that privilege, won’t it be likely that the privilege will be taken away?

There are certainly anti-democratic forces at work that would like to end all voting once and for all. To call voting a privilege plays into their hands, and so it is important to see voting more as a right — an inalienable right. As such, it cannot (legitimately) be taken away or given away, for that matter. Whether anyone votes or not.

So I would say that militating for the right to vote (i.e., fighting for something already ours) is a worthy cause. We’d be out in the streets if the powers-that-be were to try to take away our right to vote (which, by the way, is — by definition here — impossible: our taking to the streets would be our “vote” in that case). Whether you then go ahead and vote, given the current system, is immaterial to that fight. The right is ours. Period.

There is an argument to be made about the efficacy of voting (see this post from 2008). We must consider how much voting becomes a substitute for democratic engagement. We must consider, too, how much of a role big money plays in elections.

There are plenty of good reasons not to vote.

What about the “lesser of two evils” argument? Candidate A may be horrible, but A is far less horrible than B. Is that a good (enough) reason to vote? Isn’t the lesser of two evils still evil? Can one be faulted for not wanting to do evil?

Well, perhaps one can. If our backs are to the wall and all our choices are bad, one cannot be faulted for choosing the least bad option, even though it is still bad. But what if our backs are not against the wall? What if there are options besides complicity with certain evils? Wouldn’t working — in whatever ways, great or small — against the broken system be at least as good (if not better) than surrendering to it? Is taking the time to write a blog post, for instance, giving a reasoned opinion on not voting worth the same as a vote in the current system? Could it even be worth more? What if we were deny the equivalence of “citizenship” and “voting”, to think that we, indeed, have responsibilities, but responsibilities as citizens and not just as voters? One might be a responsible citizen and still not vote. 

To be clear, I am not arguing that you should not vote. I am arguing that if you do not vote you still have the right to voice your dissent and criticism of the government. I am arguing that you do not have responsibilities qua voter, but that you do have responsibilities qua citizen (and qua human being, for that matter). I am suggesting, too, that not voting is a form of vote, and that it can be (but, alas, is not necessarily) an act of civic responsibility.

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On Capitalism

If the links I’ve posted recently give any indication — and they do — I am a critic of capitalism. I have some scruples, though, that keep me from going all the way with that criticism. Let me try to explain.  

  • First, I am not an economist. I have read broadly but not deeply on a variety of economic theories, and I have to confess to coming away rather more confused than I had hoped. Thus I cannot offer a solid opinion on the overarching mechanisms of the economy, since the theories I’ve familiarized myself with conflict, sometimes severely. So I have to admit to “going with my gut” with a number of my views here (not always advisable for a philosopher). But I’d also have to say that I am doubtful that anyone can provide a knock-down, irrefutable argument for one economic system versus another. There is an “irreducible complexity” to global and local economic systems, and different theories offer different tradeoffs. There is no utopian system forthcoming.  

  • Second, even some of us critics of capitalism can see some of that system’s merits. Indeed, even Marx and Lenin can be found approving certain aspects of the capitalist system, at least as they pertain to its role in the “inevitability” of communism (for instance, in the elimination of scarcity). A recent piece regarding capitalism’s role in combating climate change has to be read against the flood of evidence of capitalism’s responsibility for producing dangerous climate change. As this article aptly puts it, we may not be able to “crowd source” our way out of this mess.  

  • Third, I am highly dubious of centralized solutions to challenges of this complexity. To reiterate an ancient knock on socialism, nobody is smart enough to organize the economy from an armchair.  

  • Fourth, I believe in the power of freedom, including free markets. A central tenet of my criticism of capitalism is that it prevents there being truly free markets. The markets we have are oligopolies kept in place by the armaments of various nation states who have become the corporations’ lap dogs. They are anything but free. They are anything but rational. Remember there are two concepts of freedom: I can open up a chemistry lab full of chemicals and bunsen burners and so forth and let you have at it to your heart’s content. You are free to do as you will. But if you are ignorant, you will simply be free to blow yourself up. The lack of restraint is identical to your being captive to the severe consequences of your ignorance. But if you are extremely disciplined in learning how all that equipment works and how all those chemicals might react with each other, then you will be truly free — not to do any old thing you want, but to work in harmony with the reality of that lab in order to do beneficial things relatively safely. Our so-called “free market” seems to me only free in the first sense, having overall a reckless disregard for people and for our world. Nevertheless, I remain skeptical of overly-centralized power.  

  • I cannot at this moment offer a coherent alternative to the clearly problematic and, indeed, dangerous system we now have in place. Things simply must change. But, unlike our current president, I will not embark on a campaign that offers simply a slogan: “Change.” No. Hard work has to be done, and I should be responsible and play my small part. A new theoretical approach (literally, a way of “seeing” our situation) must be developed. I have no doubts that there are insights to be drawn from Marx, but perhaps also by Smith, and certainly by many others. But 18th and 19th century theories will not be adequate to 21st century problems.

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More on the People’s Climate March

Here are a few links to article you might want to take a look at concerning the People’s Climate March that was held yesterday, September 21. 

The big question after an event like this is: What happens next? Will this march be a catalyst for change, and if so, what change should we hope for? Are there flaws in the strategy?

So have a look at what others who are asking these questions are saying:

Arun Gupta

 So we have a corporate-designed protest march to support a corporate-dominated world body to implement a corporate policy to counter climate change caused by the corporations of the world, which are located just a few miles away but which will never feel the wrath of the People’s Climate March.
Rather than moaning on the sidelines and venting on Facebook, radicals need to be in the streets. Join the marches and more important the direct actions. Radicals need to ask the difficult questions as to why for the second time in fifteen years has a militant uprising, first Seattle and then Occupy, given way to liberal cooptation. What good is your radical analysis if the NGO sector and Democratic Party fronts kept out-organizing you?

Cory Morningstar

 The oligarchs do not bankroll such a mobilization (via millions of dollars funnelled through foundations) without reason.
There is an agenda. The information that follows makes the agenda very clear and the only thing green about it is the colour of money. The term “green”, in reference to environment is, officially dead.

Lawrence MacDonald 

[on the strategy of “deliberative polling”]

Here is a cheat sheet on how to argue with climate deniers.

Here is a piece from the Wall Street Journal that raises some important (arguable) points. Consider the source (as in every claim in this discussion) but consider the questions, too.

(I may update this post as I find more articles of interest.)


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It’s really Revolution Day

[This post first appeared on June 30, 2011.]

Why do we call this U.S. holiday (holy day?) simply “the 4th of July”? Why don’t we call it “Revolution Day”?

Because God forbid we remember that it is supposed to be a revolution that we’re honoring. Okay, it was a certain kind of a revolution, one that favored the best interests of a certain group of people at the expense of others (one should always ask, cui bono…who benefits?). Still, it was a revolution of sorts, and a world-historical one at that.

What would happen if we really thought about revolution? It is probably too much to ask, to dangerous to consider. I get that, I suppose. I’m comfy…aren’t you?

But here is Tom Paine (from “The American Crisis“), with some updates underlined to ponder:

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain [or America], with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but “to BIND us [and any other country it chooses] in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER,” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.

Ponder that…. I know I got my comfiness pretty cheaply, if truth be told.

William Godwin, in hisEnquiry Concerning the Principles of Justice (1793), patiently and at length explains the dangers of government, whose power (as Lord Acton rightly noted) inevitably corrupts. And then Godwin asks what is to be hoped. He answers, speaking here of the juridical power of the state:

The reader has probably anticipated me in the ultimate conclusion, from these remarks. If juries might at length cease to decide and be contented to invite, if force might gradually be withdrawn and reason trusted alone, shall we not one day find that juries themselves and every other species of public institution, may be laid aside as unnecessary? Will not the reasonings of one wise man be as effectual as those of twelve? Will not the competence of one individual to instruct his neighbours be a matter of sufficient notoriety, without the formality of an election? Will there be many vices to correct and much obstinacy to conquer? This is one of the most memorable stages of human improvement. With what delight must every well informed friend of mankind look forward to the auspicious period, the dissolution of political government, of that brute engine, which has been the only perennial cause of the vices of mankind, and which, as has abundantly appeared in the progress of the present work, has mischiefs of various sorts incorporated with its substance, and no otherwise to be removed than by its utter annihilation!

[vol. II, ch. 24]

Thomas Jefferson wrote, in a letter to William S. Smith, Nov. 13, 1787, this famous line (with its subsequent, not-so-famous line attached):

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.

In other words, revolution can be good sh#t!

But Jefferson’s metaphor is apt: revolution is not mere destruction. It’s more like horticulture, gardening, growing beautiful & nourishing things. And sometimes in life, for the sake of something better, you’ve got to prune.

Our Founders pruned. But pruning is not a once-and-done deal. Not in gardening, not in political life.

In the lead-up to “Revolution Day,” why need read a little more of Jefferson’s letter to Smith:

I do not know whether it is to yourself or Mr. Adams I am to give my thanks for the copy of the new constitution. I beg leave through you to place them where due. It will be yet three weeks before I shall receive them from America. There are very good articles in it: & very bad. I do not know which preponderate. What we have lately read in the history of Holland, in the chapter on the Stadtholder, would have sufficed to set me against a chief magistrate eligible for a long duration, if I had ever been disposed towards one: & what we have always read of the elections of Polish kings should have forever excluded the idea of one continuable for life. Wonderful is the effect of impudent & persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, & what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it’s motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure. Our Convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusetts: and in the spur of the moment they are setting up a kite to keep the hen-yard in order. I hope in God this article will be rectified before the new constitution is accepted.

TJ wasn’t always right, wasn’t always on the side of the angels, was he? Be he has a point here….



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