Fool Me Once? Shame on You. Fool Me 156 Times?

How many times must Charley Brown have the football pulled by Lucy before he gets wise and takes his football home? Apparently, this is something Sisyphean that keeps on looping forever, like a GIF. Since Peanuts is on eternal reruns, Charley Brown will never learn his lesson.

Democrats are the equivalent of Charley Brown. They keep expecting Republicans to be rational and to accept the proffered hand of bipartisanship, since getting things done is obviously more important than partisan politics. And time after time, Lucy in the form of the Republican party pulls the football away, showing where the Republican priorities are. If you can envision Mitch McConnell as Lucy, it humanizes him (slightly).

So now we are in the waning days of the greatest pandemic the world has seen since the flu epidemic of 1918. At least, waning in this country as we have rolled out vaccines early here, a byproduct of our affluence. Now all those who are freeloading off of the reduced transmission of the virus (freeloading via their refusal to get vaccinated) will feel emboldened to proclaim that the whole incident of the pandemic was an overwrought hoax, and certainly did not call for the abridgements of freedoms that wearing a mask represented. Those poor snowflakes on the right were completely undone by having to wear a flimsy cotton or paper covering on their faces.

The entire world has seen economic damages exceeding even the human toll of the disease. Billions have lost income, and it was only in those countries where it was possible to borrow money, that enough income could be replaced to keep the economy alive. Elsewhere in the world, economic disruption has been severe. Remember India, where at the onset of the crisis, millions of laborers had to walk back to their homes due to imposed restrictions? Even in the US, we heard about those who starved to death on these forced migrations.

So what we should have learned through this experience was how interdependent we have become. Our economy does not function if we do not have adequate child care enabling many to participate in the labor force. This is one of the new infrastructures we have constructed over the recent decades, and the latest legislative proposals reflect this human interdependence. Republicans, though, do not acknowledge the changes in the world they have brought forth. According to them, if you cannot build it, it is not infrastructure. And they would rather see bridges fall into the Mississippi River than even consider the need to raise taxes to prevent such occurrences.

Those who are unable to adjust to changing conditions will find themselves going extinct. We see this in the animal kingdom, where creatures who inhabit a small niche, are not able to withstand the disturbance of that niche.  It may be a small darter found in a single section of  stream, or a song bird using a specific tree species, or an insect battered by removal of its habitat and the onslaught of pesticides applied indiscriminately. Within humanity itself, groups who find it impossible to adjust to changing conditions, may also face extinction. Unfortunately, for humanity, those who are cornered often are at their most dangerous. This seems to be the fate of Republicans in the US where the knowledge of their upcoming obsolescence has led to an existential battle to retain the levers of political power. They use their power in state legislatures to rig the election process to give themselves an incremental boost in election results. Enough, perhaps, to overcome the demographic surge they fear so much. If they can retain enough power through this decade, then they may be able to elect a real capable autocrat who understands how power works, and this façade of democracy can finally be done away with.

The need to prevent this erosion of our liberties is why it is so critical to reform the electoral process. All Democratic Senators must understand that it is folly to expect Lucy to keep the football on the tee so they can kick it down the field. Instead, they say just enough good things to keep Charley Brown running forward, knowing full well they will pull the ball back and enjoy watching Charley Brown land on his butt once more. In this case, it is vital to reform the rules of the game so that one side cannot gain an insurmountable edge. If we don’t take advantage of the disruption caused by the pandemic, we will forever be falling on our butts in the future. And we will deserve it.

A Letter To My Senator Joe Manchin

Dear Senator Manchin,

I am a resident of West Virginia and a subscriber to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Therefore, I had full access to your column of June 6 rather than having to settle for the abbreviated versions shown on TV. I appreciate your steadfastness towards your principles, but must disagree with you about the nature of those principles. You appear to believe that the stability of the democracy depends upon the continuation of the filibuster as a mechanism to foster bipartisanship. I believe you are mistaken as to the nature of the opposition, as it is now apparent that the party of Mitch McConnell disdains any attempt at bipartisanship. Just as the fanatics on the right have referred to Democrats as snowflakes, they in turn live in mortal fear at being called RINO’s. Ever since the members of the Freedom Caucus emerged from the primal swamp of the Tea Party movement, and burrowed into the halls of Congress, the rules of the game have changed.

No more is it possible for those of good will to seek out compromise with the opposing party. Being seen as being open to compromise is a sure way to gain an opponent on their right who will decry openness to compromise as socialism light. It is no longer possible to generate even a fraction of Republicans who are willing to extend their necks out in order to have them chopped off by those who still carry weapons for Donald Trump. Therefore, I believe your mission to save democracy by insisting upon the virginal purity of the filibuster to be misguided, and dangerous to the democracy you so rightly wish to defend.

This is the most dangerous time for the status quo to remain in place. With the decennial reapportionment staring at us, the result of redistricting in states with Republican majorities in their legislature will be gerrymandering on steroids. When you consider the results of the last election, where Republicans were able to convert a state where in 2012, Democratic candidates received 81,000 more votes than Republicans. Yet Republicans captured 9 of the 13 Congressional races in 2012 in North Carolina. This is the future you will unleash upon this nation due to your intransigence at both favoring the filibuster, and your opposition to the For the People act.

I believe you find more portions of the For the People act to be good than those that are prone to increase division. This is your opportunity to use the processes of the Senate to propose changes to the bill in order to gain support from the opposition, and become a bipartisan act. But it will only happen if you agree to some sort of proposal to enable the bill to be brought onto the floor of the Senate for discussion and amendment. Please go ahead and express your support for some mechanism to bring this bill up for debate. It does not have to be blanket abandonment of the filibuster, but whatever legislative sleight of hand allows this type of bill to avoid the strictures of being filibustered would be greatly appreciated by this constituent. We know what the Republicans will do if they attain the majority again. Handing them the keys to the car of state by allowing the For the People bill to die a lonely death will not end well. It truly is in your hands to keep democracy alive, but not by the means you believe to be necessary.

Petrified Wood and Petrified Brains

Wood from ancient West Virginia

My wife and I talked about visiting Cincinnati later this summer. There is one thing I am not allowed to consider, though. That is a repeat visit to the Creation Museum. I will admit I did go there once, and did manage to hold it together while I saw the full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark, along with all of the animals which supposedly sought refuge on the vessel. But as soon as I escaped the building, and entered the plaza where they sold ice cream, I broke out into uncontrolled laughter. So much so that my wife was afraid one of the armed guards would take exception to my merriment and provide a bit of a 2nd amendment solution. I did calm down, and tried to reflect on what I had just seen.

I had voluntarily paid for the privilege of seeing the literal interpretation of the Bible and the Old Testament stories displayed for my own faith to grow. Or at least, that was what was supposed to happen. Instead, I was the one who saw the convoluted logic displayed, which made it seem like the management of the museum really, really tried to fit the world into their tidy world view of total consistency with the Bible. One problem is the world is not that neat and orderly. Instead, it is an accumulation of acts and conditions that can trace their origin all the way back to the initial act of creation in the Big Bang.

My own house bears testimony to the impossibility of fitting all the niceties of the physical world into the 6,000-year saga of biblical history. You see, I collect petrified wood. As it turns out, there’s a strata of ground underneath this region that trapped fallen trees, hundreds of millions of years ago. And over the eons, that wood transformed into rock, tumbling out of the eroded hillsides and falling down to the creek beds below. Our front porches have displays of large chunks of petrified wood “artfully” arranged to greet any visitors. I used to go with my sons on expeditions down into the creeks where we would search for hunks of wood. I imagine they really enjoyed the freedom of splashing around in the water even if it came with the penalty of carrying the chunks of stone up the hillside to our house.

The large chunk weighs about 40 kg

But those who view the Bible as inerrant will discount the evidence laid out before them, no matter how persuasive it may be. To those believers, it is impossible for light to take millions and billions of years to reach us, because it is incompatible with a view of the universe not being over 6,000 years old. They discount use of radioactive decay as a tool to determine the ages of things in the past, since they enable ages to be traced back beyond the 6,000-year barrier where God created the heavens and earth and declared them to be good.

This tendency to believe only what you have been told is accurate even though the evidence of the eyes contradicts it, does not function only in a religious arena. Indeed, we are seeing an entire political party willing to overlook the evidence of their eyes, and claim the events of January 6 were a mere kerfuffle, not an event worthy of further investigation, and certainly not something to cause a critical eye to be cast upon those who instigated the crowds of January 6 and their violent storming of the Capitol building.

For four years, one section of the US public heard only that Democrats were evil, and as these claims met no opposition on the networks of the right, new beliefs were proposed stating the Democrats secretly were responsible for the huge surge in child abductions (really?), followed by satanic rituals of slaying these innocents for their adrenaline. Yet there was only a wink and a nod towards these purveyors of lunacy from those in authority. As long as judges could be confirmed who would bring America back to the pre-Warren years, they were willing to play along with the crazies. One problem. They never understood their words would instigate action, and they would have large crowds who took every word as inerrant, and a direct command. Rudy Giuliani may believe he was only being hyperbolic when he suggested “trial by combat”, but an entire sector of the public was already primed to act on the literal nature of his words.

The sector of the population who is willing to delegate their logical thinking to others is the sector calling for unending audits of past elections. Maybe we’ll find Chinese watermarks, or contamination of paper with bamboo fibers in the ballots, and can thus declare all votes cast null and void. I find it more than ironic that those who were on the victorious side in 2016, castigated anyone who dared to protest against the acts of the past President as having TDS. Yet the derangement evident today, where millions cannot accept the evidence of their eyes, resulting in endless rehashing of past elections, is viewed by them as a necessary step on the way of reinstating the true monarch of this nation. Talk about snowflakes! These partisans melt down if there is any doubt cast upon their outlandish conspiracies.

Way back in 2016, Hillary Clinton made the mistake that cost her the election. She put a name to the phenomena she saw in front of her. By declaring opponents as “deplorable”, she crystallized the opposition to her. Obviously, in her opponent’s perspective, she considered herself to be the better of those who didn’t share her beliefs. Well, she should never have said that word, but it doesn’t mean the words were false. It seems an entire political party has been hijacked by those whose world view does not permit them to hold any perspective other than what is provided for them. If it doesn’t have a simple solution, then give it one regardless. Fit the round peg into that square hole. It’s all they know.

The Beat Goes On (and On, and On)

I expected the views of the Earth from the moon would have brought us closer together. The image of a fragile blue-white pebble from space shows just how small this space is we fight over. But instead of unifying us, we seem to have forgotten the lessons we could have learned from seeing Earth as a tiny ball suspended in a cosmic sea. We now insist that our version of humanity is the only one worth celebrating, and indeed, we must reach back into our past to recapture greatness rather than reaching forward towards new opportunities.

How close did we come to losing our cherished form of democracy during the 2020 Presidential election and its aftermath? A lot closer than we thought. Try these “what ifs” out for size. What if the endless stream of ludicrous lawsuits about the election found one of those Trump-appointed judges who were given incompetent ratings by the ABA? One of these judges may have viewed their fealty towards their nominator as greater than their belief in the law, and ruled in favor of the ex-President. What would that have done to the electoral aftermath?  Or, what if the roving mobs had come across one or more of their intended targets, and actually managed to hang Mike Pence, or pillory and puncture Nancy Pelosi? Would we still see Trumpistas referring to the mobs as nothing to be feared if they had taken a human toll in the form of the lives of members of Congress?

Just when you thought we had gone beyond this past presidency, along comes another Republican member of Congress who insists on stirring the festering pot of divisiveness. According to them, it is only those who want this nation to fail who insist that the previous election was fair. I’m wanting to go on to discuss real solutions to problems we have in this nation, only to be stymied by legislative representatives at the state and federal levels who care more for cultural hyperbole than the real work of legislation. But then someone like Ted Cruz comes along and informs the business elites that if they dare to express an opinion about a legislative matter, then they can just forget about having their bribes responded to by members of his party. We may have believed in the corruption of these legislators, but now we have them openly reveling in their moral turpitude in the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal.

If you think about it, this resistance is to be expected. The mantra of the Republican party since the primacy of Reagan has been that government is incompetent, and we’re all better off if we go it alone. Funny how it took over a half million deaths to disabuse many folks from continuing to believe in that mantra. Still, when you see the number of people who refuse to get vaccinated, you realize how deeply the poison of this past administration has seeped. As I’ve said, seldom do we have the chance to see evolution in action at the human level, but the differential survival rates between the vaccinated and those who disdain vaccination may eventually show up in a human preference for science at the genetic level.

But to have the beliefs of 40 years torn asunder by the reality of nature is tough for many to accept. It was tough for all of us when we learned the reality about Santa, and the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Those myths sustained us in our innocence. Likewise, the myths fed the American people about the sanctity of Republicans as exemplified by Trump were comforting to many, causing them to abandon their ability to apply logic to what they saw in front of them. I had never believed that so many people would ignore their logical brains in favor of accepting what Fox and Newsmax and OAN whispered in their ears, night after night. Combine this with the power of social media, and you had the perfect storm for the 21st Century USA. And thus, we barely escaped this last election with our democratic republic intact.

Reasonable people can disagree with programs and priorities. That what elections are supposed to decide. But it is unacceptable to have discussions about programs usurped by those who refuse to accept reality, and insist on re-litigating the last election time after time. What will it take to make those who still follow their orange champion (#cheetojesus) to give up their folly? Will indictment and conviction on criminal charges disabuse his followers from their cult? Probably not, he will be viewed as a martyr. Will the release of the internal documents that William Barr used to proclaim Trump’s innocence convince millions that the Russia investigation was not a hoax? Probably not, since the phrase Russian Hoax was uttered so often that many will not go beyond the headline. No, it will take some event yet to come, where their champion does something so gross and crass that it breaks through the impenetrable force field protecting him in the eyes of his cult followers. And when that break comes, it won’t be pretty, since no one likes accepting they are the foolish victim of a con. It’s always those who are most invested in the scheme who insist in their belief until the end. Once that end comes, they will turn on him with the same fury that they supported him in the Capitol on January 6.

Push Polling

Back in December I wrote a blog piece on polling (evenabrokenclock.blog/2020/12/02/poll-dancing/). That piece discussed the mathematical nature of polling, and the uncertainty that goes into a scientifically-designed poll. It mentioned 3 criteria that are required for a poll to provide valid estimates of the sampled population. Those criteria were:

  • Those polled are a representative sample of the population
  • Those who respond to polls are honest in their answers
  • The technology used to reach those who are sampled matches the technology used by those who are sampled.

And then, there was the poll I responded to last week. Since I am a resident of West Virginia, and apparently we have the nation’s most powerful Senator from our state, we’ve been subjected to a great deal of political advertising even in this, a non-election year. This polling is an extension of the advertising, in that it is overtly trying to influence the population being polled.

I was asked about the filibuster. I was asked whether I favored the majority of the Senate being able to ram their opinions over those of the minority by a simple majority. Just the way the question was phrased made me positive that I was being pushed into answering negatively, so of course I switched from an honest response into the mode where I was going to be opposed to the position being pushed upon me.

Next came the questions on support for HR1. There the premise was that by supporting that bill, I would automatically favor the enfranchisement of murderers and rapists, and of “illegal aliens”. No subtlety in this poll, that’s for sure. Where the question on murderers and rapists had to do with ensuring that felons who have completed their sentences have the right to vote restored, the nature of the question led me to believe that this act would allow those in prison presently to access the ballot. Likewise, the mandating of opt-in for voter registration as part of such governmental interactions as drivers licensing is being portrayed as the way for mass registration of ineligible voters who would then vote for Democrats en masse. In my state of West Virginia, the opt-in approach was approved in 2016. It has yet to be implemented, and this year legislation was approved to go back to having the default option being opt-out. Amazing how this works, if you ignore the law for long enough, it disintegrates and blows away in the wind.

I can only hope that the “results” of this poll are buried deeply within the bowels of whatever dark money entity commissioned the poll. For these are the real intentions of this type of polling. They wish to keep the ability to hide the origins of their financing from the public they are trying to hoodwink. The prohibitions against dark money staying buried under the rocks of financial entanglement are dear to the heart of the conservative industrial complex. Likewise, the requirement to take the power to draw their districts away from Legislators and give it over to a non-partisan group will remove the ability of legislators to take a 50/50 split in votes and turn it into a 2/1 majority through creative drawing of district boundaries.

I’m not certain I am in full agreement with all of the provisions of HR1. But I am certain that continuation of the status quo will be ruinous towards the continuation of this experiment in representative democracy. When one side uses their power to stack the deck in their favor, it eventually causes those on the outs to view the process as being illegitimate. Do this enough times, and you will be surprised by the response of those who view themselves as being occupied by an opposing force that refuses to accept their worth as humans.

The Chickens Have Come Home To Roost

The true Laugher Curve

Pity the poor Republicans. For forty years, they have followed the mantras spouted by their soothsayers, Art Laffer and Grover Norquist. “Lower tax rates bring in more money. Prosperity will trickle down. I want a government so small I can drown it in the bathtub.” For forty years, we’ve been subjected to an experiment aimed at fulfillment of the Republican dream. Then, with the ascendance of a so-called “businessman” to the Presidency, they had their wish totally fulfilled. Tax rates for corporations were slashed, incremental personal tax rates were cut further, and the estate tax now only affects a truly small segment of the population. We should have seen wild growth in our economy! Everyone truly happy and sharing in the national prosperity.

Except. Except we were not sharing equally in the prosperity this nation generated. Many, many folks were caught in the grinding wheel of trying to survive inside of a high cost society. Some lived in fly-over land, where it took a little less to survive, but still, it was nearly impossible to survive on a single income earning anywhere near the minimum wage. If they fell behind, then there were the predatory lenders, the auto title lords, the pay-day lenders, who would take advantage of those who had the least and withdraw funds feeding those who already had made it.

Now the Republicans are facing an opponent that doesn’t buy into the Ayn Randian philosophy permeating the Republican party. And those same Republicans, forced to compete on the field of ideas and policy, are retreating to their well-worn phrases against socialism, and attempting to incite culture wars in order to keep their base energized and engaged. It seems as though the first cracks are appearing in the Republican monolith aimed at enshrining Trumpism into the political hall of fame. Erstwhile supporter of Donald Trump, Matt Gaetz, now finds himself at the focal point of the magnifying glass of the Federal investigating agencies, while the bright light of the press shining through that same magnifying glass has caused the first smoldering of combustion to appear.

There now is someone in charge who believes we’ve had a decades long dearth in the investment provided through the Federal government. The bill has come due in the amount of spending required to repair the neglected arteries of our commerce. Perhaps the global commerce cardiac infarction from the Suez Canal blockage will show folks what can happen if something we depend upon within the US is suddenly taken out of service. Were we to suddenly lose train routes from New Jersey to Manhattan, or lose I-95 due to a bridge failure, we would see how vulnerable we are to this type of incident.

But its more. We now have a society where access to the internet is taken for granted in most population centers. Unfortunately, it is not a given in much of the lower population density regions that extends across the nation. As someone who lives in one of these lower population states, non-existent or extremely poor internet service is the norm anywhere outside of what passes for a population center in the state. Private industry has not found it profitable to serve much of the area in the country, since there is so little population there to amortize their investment. One of the real reasons for population declines in my state is due to the inability to compete because of poor internet connectivity. This really was apparent during the pandemic, where there were attempts to conduct remote learning through the internet. Whole swaths of this state were unable to do this due to the lack of internet service. The internet has become a necessary utility, like electric, phone, and water. Now it appears we are addressing those regions where it is not available, and that is good.

So now we hear the wails from the Republicans about the extreme leftists who have taken over the opposition party. Nowhere do we hear about the extremism we’ve endured on behalf of the ideology of “I’ve got mine, now go screw yourself” party we’ve seen for over a generation. Like it or not, no one is a raging success on their own. If we’ve been successful, it’s because of education systems put in place a long time ago. When people began abandoning the public school system, mainly due to the integration of that public system, then their engagement with that system has atrophied. Many no longer believe they have a role to play in the success of the whole. Instead, they decry forced taxation as legalized theft. They don’t care if the poor can’t get ahead, they’ll just hole up in their gated community and enjoy the fruits of their supposed labor.

Well, better historians than me have traced the decline of societies to the times when a significant underclass no longer feels they are able to share in the wealth of the society. That’s when desperation leads to true socialistic movements that will overwhelm any gates the rich can put up to isolate themselves. We can begin to address the obscene inequities present in our current system, or we can pretend that we can escape the world’s ills by flying to Cancun while everyone at home freezes in the dark.

History Rhymed

KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail file photo

Long, long time ago. Back when cave men and women huddled for warmth in rock overhangs, and I was a baby, I used to wonder about why things were the way they were. Like, why was it that black people in southern states had fire hoses and police dogs turned on them in order to keep them from showing support for voting. I wondered how this country could have the cognitive dissonance (I didn’t know what that meant at the time) to express such high, lofty sentiments about freedom, and justice, and human rights, while at the same time denying so many people a basic right like the right to vote.

Later in my youth, I encountered a book by Mike Royko, a newspaper columnist in the city of Chicago. His book “Boss” chronicled the reign of Mayor Daley in Chicago. More than anything else, that book explained how the system was used to keep minority populations in their place, and that was the way those in charge wanted it to be. I was from a small city in the Midwest. At the time, I went to the high school in town with the most minorities. I think our class was about 5% Black and outside of a few schools in Omaha, we had the most Blacks in the state of Nebraska. Since I grew up, the city of Lincoln has become a mecca for immigrants, particularly Asian. The Vietnamese refugees were perhaps the first to come there, but they have been followed by many other immigrants from many different nationalities.

I don’t live in Lincoln anymore. But what I do know is that the population of the city has grown steadily since I left, and when I visit, it seems as it is a much more vibrant place than when I spent my youth there. I can compare it to my current home in South Charleston, WV. At the time when I moved here in the 1980’s, the metropolitan populations of both areas was about the same. Since then, the West Virginia population has shrunk, while Lincoln keeps growing.

Why has West Virginia struggled to keep the population from shrinking, while a portion of Nebraska keeps on growing? Perhaps the current legislature in West Virginia can provide some clues. The West Virginia legislature seems hell-bent on maintaining cultural purity at the expense of being a welcoming state. The highest priorities are to prohibit the teaching of any sexual nature within the public schools, prohibit cities and towns from implementing any regulations that are considered as more liberal than the state requirements, and enable all parents to withdraw their children from public school, while the state aid that would have accompanied their children is allowed to be sent to other entities for tuition or class supplies. Each year we hear about the reductions in school enrollment in our county. When this bill comes into effect, not only will you have population decline reflected in enrollment decreases, but an exodus of students into private schools, virtual private schools, and home schooling will exacerbate the decline of public school enrollment.

But I’m sure coal will come back any day now, and allow for new generations to raise their children in prosperity. A new pickup in every driveway, and an ATV to boot. That’s the WV dream!

We as a nation are now facing what we have become. Instead of integrating people fully into our culture, we seem to be freshly reinvigorating the racist memes I remember from my youth. All in pursuit of some idealized memory where whites ruled everything, and the odd minority we have to encounter all know their place. After all, according to Senator Ron Johnson, those who marched on the Capitol were decent, law-abiding citizens of the correct race, who would never consider breaking the law. Not like those Black Lives Matter and antifa marchers who spread anarchy. You would be scared of the latter, but not the former. All of the chaos and vitriol shown by those who broke into the Capitol building? A few plants helped to turn the crowd violent. They’d never have done the things they did if they weren’t instigated to do them.

Those who feign ignorance of history will be sentenced to relive it. In many ways, we have never left the Good Ole Boys territory in much of this nation. We are now in this state facing a new bill that will certainly pass which prohibits any removal of civic monuments (read civil war statues), or rename any public facility without the express approval of a State entity. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, our billionaire governor’s main priority is to replace a somewhat progressive income tax with a hodge-podge of sales and sin tax increases, aimed at reducing his personal tax rate at the expense of those who will pick up the tab in consumption taxes. That is on top of all of the cultural battles that the Legislature has chosen to take on in this session. I think we are making real progress in our state (cheek hernia intended).

Our two sons have joined the youth exodus out of this state. They reside in Maryland and Virginia, and have added to the vitality of those states. Somehow I don’t think they would be influenced to come back here if the income tax rates were lowered. I think there’s a whole lot of other considerations before they ever would decide to move back to this state. But then, you’d never know there’s a problem if you rely upon the signals coming from our legislature. We’ll reap the long term benefits of this philosophy after the release of the census results, when we move from 3 representatives down to 2. Back when the Kennedy-Humphrey primary battle was a thing, we had 6 representatives in the House. Looks like the trend we are trying to reverse goes back at least into the 1950’s. I don’t expect it to change any time soon, especially since this state seems to be willingly stuck in the same miasma it has wallowed in as this legislative session grinds down to its inglorious conclusion.

Superior? It’s So Much More Than A Lake.

Inflamed Trump supporters stormed the Senate side of the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, after the president’s rally.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

A premise of white supremacy is that the culture created by whites is superior to that of any other ethnic group. I for one do not believe that, and to prove my point, I only have to refer to what seems to be the cultural beacons for much of the nation. Reality TV. Really. This genre is aimed at the lowest common denominator among TV viewers, as it allows people to vicariously share in the lives of those who are viewed as superior. And how are they superior? Well, many on the airwaves prove their merits by being the chosen one, that is, the one among the rest of the beautiful people who end up winning the affection of the ideal mate. How do they do that? Besides the natural advantage of beauty, they are able to manipulate the emotions and actions of their competitors, and ultimately the emotions and actions of the supposed ideal mate. Stabbing in the back is not only desirable, it adds to the drama for all those who turn in week after week to see the soap opera play out. Ah, yes. The superiority of white culture.

When I was in college, wrestling was big. There were many local television stations that broadcast the regional wrestling circuit. I even had my favorites, a father/son team that used real wrestling moves to subdue their opponents. Sad (and easy) to say, they didn’t have enough pizazz to be fan favorites. I moved after college to Memphis, and there I encountered Jerry Lawler as the local king of wrestling. Very appropriate for the hometown of the King to also serve as the site where the King of Wrestling held sway. But since I first moved to Memphis, the sport has morphed and ended up as a bloated corpse, floating in the flotsam of popular culture. What’s more, the world of boxing has devolved into the world of MMA, where both men and women can aspire to be the peaks of their species by knocking the crap out of their opponents. We know so much more about head trauma than we did when I was a child, it literally hurts to watch any of this, yet so much of what we as a nation desire is more and more mayhem. If this is the epitome of culture that whites can generate, then let me be the first to say it ain’t worth crap.

The US has survived its episode with a reality TV star in charge. This was the fulfillment of H. L. Mencken’s prophecy from a century ago, where he said: “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” A moron who reached back into some poorly remembered recesses of his mind to a time when America was great.     I am so grateful that he is no longer in charge, and my hope is he becomes fully discredited as he wades through his morass of legal issues. But just remember, he is still the embodiment of the superiority of white culture.

What it seems to me is that America has lost its ability to self-motivate. We’ve lost the drive to succeed on our own, and because of that we do not have civic energy we need to embody greatness. Part of that is systemic, since big box stores replacing smaller establishments has reduced the opportunity to better yourself by running a small business. It becomes systemic when even the jobs offered at these establishments do not pay enough to sustain a minimal lifestyle. It is only the immigrants who still see the opportunity to better themselves by running a small business. How impoverished would our cuisine be if we had not been exposed to restaurants where local cuisines from across the world were available, thanks to the energy of our immigrant community. But we must maintain the purity of our race!

Our financial system has assumed greater and greater power over our lives. Basically, for any publicly traded company, Wall Street tries to ensure that the only consideration for that company is maximizing shareholder return. Lately this doesn’t even include profit, because so many companies borrow to enable stock buybacks enriching no one other than shareholders. I’ve seen the machinations a company will go through rather than face these individuals who try to impose their will on companies to “maximize shareholder return”. My old company ended up merging with its biggest domestic competitor, then forming three corporations out of the wreckage of the merger. Along the way it was necessary to divest many of the growth products due to anti-trust considerations. All of this was because an activist investor had targeted the company since he thought their costs were too high, and they spent too much money on research. I shudder to think of all of the wasted costs undertaken to make this misguided merger/demerger happen, costs that did nothing to improve customer service, or create new products, or reduce manufacturing waste and pollution.

This over-financialization of the business world is yet another example of what white culture has done, since the world of finance is still mainly a white bastion. Yet another case where whites are causing great harm as they run roughshod over the employees of their enterprises.

All of these are examples of why I find the arguments of those who invoke white supremacy to be faulty at best, and evil at worst. It seems that those who believe in white supremacy are willing to demean any other race and culture, all in the misguided belief that only they can solve the problems. Yeah, we saw just exactly how well that went over the past four years. Unfortunately, that attitude is not shared with many who supported the last presidency. Their only complaint was that he didn’t go far enough, just like his supporters on the January 6 picnic at the Capitol who wore attire that indicated Hitler did not go far enough. But since it was white demonstrators, at least Senator Ron Johnson wasn’t worried.

I Don’t Think We’re In Kansas Anymore

West Virginia Capital Building

In January 2011, the State of Kansas embarked upon an experiment, where they deliberately slashed tax rates without a plan to replace the revenue. The revenue would be replaced, and indeed it would grow, due to the influx of investment and residents responding to the reduced tax rates. Alas, this plan ran afoul as reality intruded, and in order to maintain a balanced budget, the state had to cut spending for education and other expenses. Finally, the state legislature had to wrest control back from the governor, and raise tax rates back to their previous level in order to keep schools from imploding, and get the state’s bond rating back to an acceptable category. Governor Brownback ended up resigning his office, only to land on his feet when the President nominated him to be the US Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom. Governor Brownback was so toxic that it took two congressional sessions for his nomination to be approved, and it was only approved when Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie to place him in this newly-created office.

Never one to learn from the experiences of others, the West Virginia legislature this year is treading much of the same path that Kansas did a decade ago. Flush with cash from COVID legislation, the governor of West Virginia has proposed slashing the state income tax in half this year, with a view at eliminating it altogether in the future. He is proposing to replace the revenues with a combination of sales tax increases, and expansion of items that will be covered by sales tax. He also is proposing increases in certain sin taxes. But his plans are bereft on guidance on how the basic needs of the state will be met when eventually 41% of the taxes funding the state budget are eliminated.

At the same time, the state legislature is proceeding to add another layer of bureaucracy in the state judicial system, by instituting an appeals court system. Considering that the workload for the Supreme Court of the state has declined precipitously over the past decade, the addition of the new court layer is aimed at pleasing the corporate clientele of the legislature, as they enable another opportunity to delay and perhaps overturn verdicts from lower courts. And at the suggestion of the Governor, two new cabinet posts have been created, and given the natural tendency of bureaucracies to grow over time, state government appears to be growing instead of shrinking.

Now, looking ahead a few years, one can envision a future where it becomes obvious that the revenues lost from the income tax rate reduction have not been replaced from the consumption tax increases. Since there is no more coverage of state expenses from federal appropriations, the state will have to look for opportunities to cut. Indeed, the targets have already been floated for a significant portion of the cuts. It’s in higher education, where the flagship universities of Marshall and WVU offer the chance to reduce expenditures and force the increased expenses upon the students in the form of higher tuition and fees. Oh, by the way, the program that the state has to off-set tuition, the Promise Scholarship? That is also in the gunsights of those who would plow ahead and reduce the income tax rates to zero.

What would be the potential gain for making these cuts in tax rates? Why, the increased revenues coming in from the flood of business investment, and the in-migration of residents who react solely to tax rates as a way of making a decision about where to live.

Look, this state has a well-deserved reputation for refusing to value education. We are the lowest in the nation regarding post-secondary graduation rates. We have difficulty in providing potential employers with an educated work force already. To put the screws further on the universities of this state is self-defeating. Instead of cutting education further, we need to enable students to attend community college, and to improve the offerings of community colleges to better match up with the needs of employers. The last thing we need to do is cut aid to the institutions that offer us hope of moving ahead in the world.

By the way, most people do not make decisions about where to live solely based upon tax rates. Maybe in the case of New York, and California, where income and property taxes are significantly higher than in West Virginia, tax rates are a factor, but in a state with competitive total taxation, the little bit of tax reduction we can offer will not be a significant driver of behavior. A better determinant will be whether broadband access is adequate (it’s not in much of the state), and whether the local roads are adequate (they are horrible once you get off of the interstates and Appalachian corridors). And also, the issue of schools and support for the same comes into play. Needless to say, this legislature is also toying with the idea of cutting funding to local schools in the future by proving vouchers for homeschooling or private schools (in person or virtual). Just what we need, an opportunity for the next generation of this state to be able to marinate in their petri dish of ignorance and intolerance rather than be exposed to the real world through the public school system.

Speaking of the reputation of this state, our legislators seem bound and determined to uphold our perception of being a bunch of yahoos who don’t belong in civil society. After all, it is not every state legislature that has a newly elected member film himself entering the Capital during the January 6 riot. It certainly is not the case where several members of the legislature wear masks made of mesh on the floor of their chamber so as to comply with the letter of the regulations concerning face covering. It is not every state that has multiple bills being offered to pull back on sex education in the schools, and eliminate any chance for providing protection to those who do not choose to use the missionary position to procreate. Yes, the national media does not tire of holding up examples of West Virginia politicians in order to feed the stereotypes to the national audience, and we keep giving them ammunition. This past election has resulted in Republican supermajorities in both houses of the WV legislature. The members certainly seem to be having fun as they dance upon the shredded remnants of decency and hopes that this state can ever float the ship of state off of the shoals we foundered upon many years ago.

Poll Dancing

Image from Cartoonstock.com

Ok, it is time to talk polls. For the second Presidential election in a row, the lack of accuracy from major polling services has been an issue. Before the election, there was skepticism expressed by many, since the predictions of a blue wave as detected by the polls did not match the gut feelings of people on the ground, especially in those states declared to be battleground states. It is always difficult to determine the slope of a line with less than three data points, but in this case, since presidential polling only gets tested every four years, it is appropriate to declare a trend and try to understand why it is occurring. In this regard, I have no knowledge about the internals that polling firms have seen. I am only looking at trends in society in general, and extrapolating them to the polling results.

First, polls are very valuable in estimating the characteristics of a large population, if three criteria are met. Those criteria are:

  • Those polled are a representative sample of the population
  • Those who respond to polls are honest in their answers
  • The technology used to reach those who are sampled matches the technology used by those who are sampled.

The first and third criteria are closely interrelated. Since most polling still depends upon land line responses, the audience for polling is becoming further and further divorced from the population as a whole. That is because fewer and fewer people use a land line, but instead are totally dependent upon their cell phones. If you look over the past decade, the growth of cell phone penetration has been explosive. And another factor that comes into play is that many people automatically disregard phone calls from an unknown number. So if you attempt to contact people on cell phones, you are likely to be ignored by an increasing percentage of the population. Finally, once you have answered the phone, you have the opportunity to opt in to being polled. I normally will opt in unless I am in the midst of doing something else and can’t split my attention. But I would be interested to see if there is a difference in behavior between those who lean left and those who lean right in terms of voluntary opt in percentages. Since so many of those on the right politically now distrust the government and the established elites, my sense is that more people on the right will decline to participate in a survey.

The second criteria, being honest in their answers, is the most subtle factor in determining whether a poll is accurate. Sometimes folks just want to throw a monkey wrench into the works, and so they will deliberately answer inaccurately in order to influence the results. The number who choose this option may be small, but when you are trying to assess a smaller population (like a state), the smaller sample size means each response is proportionally more important. So it can appeal to those who feel powerless in society to try to exert more influence on polls than normal by screwing with the results. For this to affect polling accuracy, it would mean that more people on one side of the electoral continuum would use this than those on the other side. Sounds like a good project for a social scientist to take on over the upcoming years.

Why has polling been so heavily used over the past few decades? Because it worked. When the US was a more homogenous nation, and we all shared a common communications technology (the telephone), it was possible to ensure that you could select a random slice of the population. Call someone up, have them answer a few questions regarding age, sex, and race, and you could slot them into one of the acceptable demographic categories for a poll. In case you haven’t noticed, we no longer fit neatly into categories as we used to. And the longer we go with alternative communications technologies, the further we stray from the easy-to-sample population we had from the 50’s through the 90’s.

Now, as to how the polls are used, you have to stray into the world of mathematics. One of the most common terms you hear is “Margin of Error”. That phrase is bandied about by the Steve Kornacki’s of the cable world along with many others of the pundit class. The formula for margin of error is this:

The margin of error in a sample = 1 divided by the square root of the number of people in the sample

This is what is amazing to understand. It doesn’t matter what is the size of the population being sampled, it only matters what is the size of the sample. That is why having a representative, but random sample of the population is so important. Incidentally, for a +3% margin of error, the sample size would need to be 1090. For a +5% margin of error, the sample size would need to be 400. Usually national samples are larger in order to ascertain valid statistics for subgroups (male, female, white, black, age groupings). But if just the top result is desired with a +3% margin of error, it is possible to sample the entire population of the US with a sample size of slightly over 1000 individuals. This is the magic of polling.

When someone speaks about the margin of error being +3%, what that means is that you would expect the true value for the population to be equal to the sampled value, +3% for 95% of the time. The 95% is a standard confidence limit in statistics, used often to determine if an effect is real or may be just a chance result. So if someone shows a poll support of 45% with a margin of error of +3%, then we would expect the real value to be within 42% to 48% for 95% of the time. If two candidates are being sampled, you look to see if there is any overlap between the 95% confidence intervals for the two. In this case, if candidate A had 45%, and candidate B had 49%, there would be some overlap between the 95% confidence intervals for the two. The range from 46% to 48% would fit both of these candidates. Now, if there is only slight overlap between the two, it is more likely that the one who samples higher is truly ahead, but it is not outside of the standard of 95%.

The 95% confidence interval is used many times in science. It is used in testing of drugs and medical treatments. I used it in production trials in a chemical plant, when we were attempting to determine whether one set of conditions was better than another. Once you are familiar with the math behind sampling, you can use that math in many different ways.

But once again, it all depends upon whether the population that responds to a survey is truly a representative sample of the population as a whole. It seems obvious that at least in the US, there is something wrong with the methodology used to select a random, representative sample. It remains to be seen whether these problems can be diagnosed and fixed before the next huge use of polling coming up in 2024.