Saturday, October 30, 2004

Operation Clark County

Norm comments on the Guardian's intervention in the US presidential elections, Operation Clark County - joining the legions of mockers. More on that, shortly.

I want, though, to state for the record, that I took part in that. I sent off for a name and address, and paid my dues to send a hand-written letter to an Buck-eye voter. I also enclosed some campaigning material from my Yanklander comrades in the World Socialist Party US. Obviously, I was breaking out of the remit of the cmapign, actually urging the Ohionian not to vote for either of the buggers (though I was more polite in my phraseology than that).

I don't think, though, that the campaign deserves the condemnation it has receieved. It is, perhaps, a shining example of the new cyber-campaign world we live in, where we are becoming part of one human polity. Norm expresses himself to be "generally in sympathy" with this type of reaction:
Meanwhile, he has shown the letter to some of his friends and the reaction has been uniformly hostile: "One guy told me, 'Ask this Scottish guy if he speaks German. If he doesn't speak German, the only letter he needs to write us is to say thank you'."
Aside from being likely incorrect - had the German's won world war two (and it is fairer to say the Russians defeated the Nazis than the Americans, but thats a quibble) the outcome would probably have been closer to Robert Harris' Fatherland than to us speaking German - yes, there'd people bleating about Blair being the poodle of Berlin, and German voters (in the post '68 revolution democratic Germany) reminding us that "Ihr würdet jetzt alle Russisch sprechen, wenn wir nicht gewesen wären"* when we try to influence their decisions.

There is only one word I can think of to describe such a reaction - cretinous. To take the freely given expression of opinion of one citizen of a free country to that of another, and to deny it has any validity or any right to be given, is, frankly, narrow, nasty, dogmatic cretinism.

Norm has on his blog talked on the fact that the world just happens to currently be organised on national lines, and we have to accept that as a fact. But, in actually supporting the right of cretins to cower behind national boundaries - in absolute negation of any notion of universalism - he has turned to the dark side of promotying the viscious, reactionary and anti-working class creeed of nationalism. His own opinion, given here contains the seeds of it's own undoing. His call is precisely not a call to but out of other people's elections, but in fact a powerful argument for an extension of universal democracy, I should have a right to vote over the fate of Israel, and Palestine, to vote over whether or not one group of people go to war - I have that right as a human, as a member of a human polity exherting itself. We should be promoting that human community, not snidely laughing at attempts to extend human dialogue (patronisingly, I may add, in many cases, as it is Them the commedy yanks who will react on the sneerers behalf with barbed defensive comments).

People who support mass murder in the name of universal values should be wary of what they laugh at.

That went on longer than I thought - I'm off to read about a new voting system I've just discovered.

[* - cheers to my German mate for providing that translation for me, blame her, OK]

Friday, October 29, 2004

The costs of war.

I mislike what you might call argument ad mortum, or corpse counting - as a means of assessing the correctness of a war. For one thing, it's subject to so many claims and counter claims - "6 million Jews died in the Holocaust" "Well between three and five million Germans died after the war..." etc.
It's as ugly as any statistical battle.

It has begun over the report from the Lancet indicating that the death toll in Iraq due to the war may be much higher than previously announced. The Guardian covers it - CBC carries a detailed analysis, including this point:
The report in the British journal is based on the work of teams from Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. The authors acknowledge that the data cited in the study might be of "limited precision."

However, similar methodology was used in the late 1990s to calculate the number of deaths from the war in Kosovo, put at 10,000.
Which, I think, indicates that the methodology is accepted widely. I think the comparator is at least useful to allow us to have some confidence (if that's really an appropriate word here).

Australian News carries the first rebuttal I've seen, which is an Australian minister observing that Saddam had killed over 300,000 people. Obviously, that's neither here nor there to the people who have died who otherwise wouldn't, and their relatives, but it is a clear example of argument ad mortumn. Their take on the report is a straight lift from Reuters. New Zealand Herald lifts their story straight from the Independent - so their take is more, shall we say, combatative.

Can't see any other obvious coverage, that's enough. My point is, once one gets past treating morality as an accounts book with balancing columns, you have to assess war by means other than death tally. Once you have decided it is right that one should die, then it is right ten thousand or a hundred thousand should die - or else you invalidate your justification for the first death.

I will just say, though, that I think this illustrates the socialist position on war - that in modern capitalism so many lifes are so dependent upon an integrated system of production and distribution for their very existence, that it's disruption by war will have catastrophic consequences. This quote, from the Guardian report, carries that full weight:
They found an increase in infant mortality from 29 to 57 deaths per 1,000 live births, which is consistent with the pattern in wars, where women are unable or unwilling to get to hospital to deliver babies, they say.
By the way, it seems in the UK infant deaths per 1,000 are 5.2.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

All power to the...

Further to yesterday's peice. I just want to ruminate on the logic of the situation, chiefly, on the power of the Power of Appointment.

So, the democratic centralist Central Committee nominates a new slate - usually unapposed, but with the possibility of opposition. The appointed CC appoints an EC and Officers.

Right, so the outgoing EC and Officers, part of the CC, will doubtless want to nominate a CC based on a knowledge of who will want to do what next year. i.e. they will propose new members who are willing to attend CC meetings, perhaps, and no more. That is, the officers and EC will want a CC that ensures they retain their positions. There will thus be likely no dispute among the new CC when they are appointed. Indeed, political cohesion will be a grounds upon which people are included on this CC.

This means oppositional factions will be unlikely to be represented on the CC, their existence will be confined to Conference until such time as they can find sufficient delegates to vote for an alternative CC slate, in effect, until they run the party, and exclude the current ruling group. Such utter exclusion is at least one cause of major factionalism, the fact that the leadership are an effective faction, albeit one rendered invisible by the rulebook, which means to compete their competitors must become one (and hope that in the process of compiling their slate, of getting people to agree to serve on their CC list, they don't get rumbled by the party machinery and knacked for their factionalising).

This is the worst kind of block-vote, and wholly undemocratic in it's exclusion of minorities. We have to ask, if these people won, would they run society this way.

But, and here comes the tangent part, we can see societies being run like this. Ameriky has it's fair share of entrenched power. This is a choice gobbett from Electoral Vote:
...the fact that eight of the nine Supreme Court justices are past the traditional retirement age of 65 and four of them have been treated for cancer, it is likely that the choice of who the next president will nominate to the Court will weigh increasingly heavily on the minds of many voters as we approach election day.
The Supreme Court is hugely relevent in American politics because of the entrenched nature of the constitution, it's so hard to change it that governing élites have usually found it easier to re-interpret it.

For instance, I was born the day the US Supreme Court changed it's mind and decided that execution did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and opened the way for it's re-institution to horrific effect acrosss the states. The constitution didn't change, but the court did, and so the constitution did change. If you, er, see what I mean.

Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life, they are accountable to no-one, and their appointment is a power of the President. The opportunity to appoint so many justices, to shape the constitution for decades to come must appeal to the prresidents-to-be.

The power to define the cosntritution belongs to that part furthest removed from public acountability - think on it. Democratic Centralist America.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Slating Democracy

As I'm sure the terminally insomniacal among you may know, the proposed new European Commission faces being rejected en bloc because one member, Rocco Buttiglione, might not be suitable for his proposed brief.

That is, further to my discussions on democracy below, MEP's do not have the power to appoint/remove commissioners. They are appointed by the president, and are collectively responsible to the commission first and foremost. MEP's can only remove the whole commission if one of it's members is not up to snuff. This is obviously a way of limitting democracy and democratic input, since it means that commissioners share an interest in covering each others backs rather than trying to protect their own by doing their job properly.

As I noted, this system is commonly used in left sects for appointment of Central Committees.

For once we can see this process openly in action. Respect (SWP front) has a proposed constitution here, which proposes
4.3) The NC will be elected by annual conference by alternative slates and will meet at least 6 times a year. The alternative slate system means that voting will be indicated by order of preference between slates presented for election. If no slate has an absolute majority the slate with the least votes will be eliminated until a slate receives an absolute majority. Movers of slates should seek to take into account the issues of gender, ethnicity, regionality and political affiliation and/or platform. It is important that women are fully represented and the aim should be at least the gender balance of the Respect membership.
That is, the NC must be elected en bloc in the same stich up way that teh European Commission is. Now, we can see from here that there is only one slate, apparently, being put forward (quelle surprise). That means delegates (not members, delegates at the conference) will either have to reject or accept the slate as preesented. Any Respect members who, say, may not want Gorgeous George Galloway on the National Committee will find they cannot specifically oppose his presence, they would have to vote against Lyndsey German as well, no matter how much they adore her.

Further, the provisional constitution further states:
4.4) An Executive Committee (EC) will be elected by the NC, from its members, to act on its behalf between its meetings and to carry out such duties as it decides. The EC will meet between NC meetings at a frequency it deems necessary. The NC will also elect the officers of Respect: National Secretary, Chair, Treasurer, Election Agent, Press Officer, Research Officer and other officers it deems necessary. Officers should normally be members of the EC.
So, not only will an NC be elected only by Delegates, but the NC will Elect an EC, that runs the day-to-day business. At least Labour Party members, for all it's bureaucratic stich-uppery, get to vote for their NEC directly. Or compare Respect's constitution with that of a relatively ossified and bureaucratic trade union's.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Blast from the past...

I've been reading
Thomas, Hugh, 1931-: The Spanish Civil War / Hugh Thomas. Revised ed. Penguin in association with Eyre & Spottiswoode , 1965. 911p.,ill.,19cm.
I was going to wait till I had finished the bugger before posting on it. However, last night's chapter struck a chord.

Perhaps following on from my discussion of Bamberry's 'Troops Out Now' pamphlet, and the iconic status of the up coming battle of Fallujah. It's certainly goling to be writing the textbook of modern urban warfare - the most advanced fighting force in the world, with overwhelming airpower, is trying to take a city.

The first-time something like that was tried, was Madrid. Without saying anything further - I want to save that until I comment on the relevence of the book as a whole (consider this a teaser) - I'll leave it at wondering: Could anyone say anything like this, of Fallujah, as was said of Madrid?
Here in Madrid is the universal frontier that separates liberty and slavery. It is here in Madrid that two incompatable civilisations undertake their great struggle: love against hate, peace against war, the fraternity of Christ against the tyranny of the church...This is Madrid. It is fighting for Spain, for Humanity, for Justice and, with the mantle of its blood, it shelters all human beings." Pg. 413.
It's the question that defines the politics of our times.


Lo All,

well, as a good information proefesssional I've sorted my link-rolls out, dioviding into useful links and blogroll. I've also sorted them alphabetically (sort off) by blog name (articles excliuded, obviously).

I've added a link to The Guardian so you can see what other bloggers are fulminating against, as well as linkig to a Yankland comrade in Oregon ' Skookum Talk.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Bedrooms and Iraqi politics

The So-called Worker's Party has a new pamphlet out on Iraq, written by the redoubtable Chris Bamberry. (I can't find a single link to it, and can't recall the title off the top of my head - assistance appreciated).

Anyway, one Chapter is entitled "Freedom is Untidy" - presumably in parody of this quote from Donny Rumsfeld (Winner of 'Most Evil Looking Man of the Year Award 2001-2008')
"Stuff happens ... And it's untidy. And freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here."
Of course, Rummy boy was talking about looting. Bamberry was talking about putting bombs in public places and blowing up economically conscripted workers who join the police, or children or adults or anyone else who happens to be passing by.

Put another way, that heading was the most lick-spittlish weasel worded mealy mouthed verminous viscious euphemising down-playing spinning shystering meretricious mendacious gob load of venom that I have seen from any politico in a long time. That he goes on to justify hostage taking because the American took hostages first, and indiscriminate murder because, hey, the Americans started it first - and didn't the lovely French resistance plant no-warning bombs and commit indiscriminate murder?

Basically, all's fair in love and war, it seems - at least he's learnt at the master's heal well - let's not forget that while Barmpot fulminates over American hostage taking being against the Geneva convention, Twatsky himself was very fond of the practice. Even if he did oppose this sort of guerilla warfare (he much preferred state terror).

The facts are that the Stop the War coalition is not a coalition to stop a war, it now wants to urge it's continuance. They are the 'Wage the War' coalition now, urging on 'Victory to the Resistance'. Any semblance to class politics is dead, victory at any price, any cost, no matter how many workers get mangled in the process.Anyone but America. That is Bamberry's message, it shines through. The whole case is based on 'America did it first' nd the assumption that America must be opposed.

In the name of 'national sovereignty' or anti-imperialism or some other such nonsense, they are prepared to sacrifice the workers of Iraq - as Mick Rix notes in his fierce correspondencewith the egregious Andrew Murray, over the now infamous statement on the IFTU. The war happened, it's over, we couldn't prevent it, the class war continues, and a political solution is needed, not a barbarous one.

The Dying Game

I saw an incredible statistic on the blurb of one of the books we received at the Library this week.
HIV and AIDS in Africa : beyond epidemiology / edited by Ezekiel Kalipeni ... [et al.].. Malden, Mass., Oxford : Blackwell Pub., 2004
- It's blurb contains the following:
AIDS is devastating many areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Over twelve million people in the region have died of AIDS in the past decade. Over 29. 4 million people in the region are infected with HIV. Of the eleven people who contract HIV each minute in the world, ten live in sub-Saharan Africa. With no known cure and no vaccine as yet available, an estimated 60 per cent of Africans under the age of eighteen today will be dead of AIDS before they reach 45 years of age.
Let me repeat that: "an estimated 60 per cent of Africans under the age of eighteen today will be dead of AIDS before they reach 45 years of age"

Now, I don't know how you make that sort of prediction, but it is horrifying. Horrifying. Because diseases like that are devasting a continent, making it impossible to build up the sorts of systems and structures development truly requires. Of course, the disease itself is feeding on ignorance and poverty. Just for the records, life expectancy is not generally that hot in sub-saharan africa.

I know we all heed the horror of a single human being brutalised and possibly murdered but tehre are millions, millions being horribly tortured to slow and ugly deaths across teh globe. Saddam wasn't half the monster capitalism really is.

Having said that, my next post will be all hot and bothered on nuances of debates on Iraq.


A recent discussion at Harry's Place recalled a book called Breaking Free - published by some Anarchist scamps, featuring Tintin starting a proletarian revolution.

Well, someone found an on-line version, which I've put in my links, because its cute.
Although the story is a bit silly - it is the SWP theory of revolution, that one spark will lead to protests which grow and link up almost like magic - featuring secret service agents saying daft things like: "We've never encountered anything like these regional strike committees before" (thay have, loads of times, they got books on them, and if they didn't, they'd have this one - duh!).

But, it's hearts in the right palce, and it's a rollicking read, and a good place to start off discussion on the ins and outs of revolution. Enjoy.

Friday, October 22, 2004

American Democracy (10 - Conclusion)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 & Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 & Going Political all need to be read first.

To quickly rob the boss. Well, as we have seen, various factors link in to distort the 'popular will' in the choice of president. You could say, a series of filters exist which systematically constrict the choice. Herein the unfurling of my governing metaphor. America is the land of freedom and democracy - the place where local communities hold referendums on whether to have bond isues in order to fund local library services. Where even the borough engineer is an elected officer - and where real campaigns are run for such posts. It's a land of mind numbing complexity, where popular referendum is a means of setting law - direct democracy exists.

And yet, and yet, it is the land that has the almighty Presidency, a single human being charged with sole authority over both government and military, who, through the use of the presidential veto, has real legislative power - in ordinary circumstances, no law will even be proposed in the knowledge that the president will veto it.
Section 1. Clause 1: The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America...Section. 2. Clause 1: The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment....Section. 3.
He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States...Clause 2: Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it
Now, that is one mighty tranch of power.

As I discussed below, we may measure the level of democracy in terms of the more people within a community having a say in it's functions. Under the terms above, the president alone has the legislative, judicial and military functions all within their pocket. One man. So, while the country is spread among so many districts, franchises, local bodies, an bewildering array of different political landscapes, the free ranging President rises above it all like a collossus. Just so as in the full game of Go, the board ranges around in complex demi-battles in the corner, so when you play the 9x9 game do you find you have to race for the centre, with no manoeuvering room allowed.

Even were political groupings to develop locally outside the democrat/republican birfucation, they would need to decide to take sides in the presidential race, which can go to a real 50/50 split. Unlike parliamentary democracy, splitting the vote doesn't work, you have to build that 50% coalition. While the lib-dems here can have a real shot at power by building local bases, any chalenger yanklander side would have to consider their presidential alignment carefully.

To recap, and add a few more links. There are a series of filters. Starting with money - you need moullah in order to even stand. You need a party - obviously - and they may use their local control of political machinery to assist their candidate. After that, you need to win the biggest vote in the various districts - you can of course achieve this with a minority of the vote (and do that repeadedly in the majority of the districts). With that vote, you then may take the electoral votes of the state, and with them perhaps, a majority of votes in the electoral college. Of course, the number of votes you could win with a minority of votes in each district and a minority of votes in each state may not bear a close relation to the number of voters in each state because of apportionment distortions, and the constitutional weighting given to small states.

What we have in reality is a bureaucratic battle played out to arcane rules between rival oligarchs - the voters are the apssive witnesses to the chicanery of ruling élites, and they are far removed from the decision to appoint that almighty president.

The prospects for change? Well, I don't think the presidency is going to disappear anytime soon. It's unlikely, given the entrenched nature of the American constitution, that a change will be easilly forthcoming, any group that has the power to change the constitution must feel they are doing well enough under the current rules.

Perhaps a second minority Bush win will impel the Republicans to make changes to legitimise their rule - perhaps not.

Anyway, I'll watch the events with clsoe interest, and I'll close this series down now, so I can post occaisionally on different topics. Ten is enough.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

American Democracy (9)

As I'm sure you're aware, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 & Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8 & Going Political all need to be read first.

This is the punultimate post - looks like I'm gonna hit ten after all. This is a point planned in advance and forgotten in the execution, but which is vital to the case I am building here.
The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;--The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;--The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed;
That's the Twelth Amendment to the US Constitution.

As it clearly demonstrates, it is the votes of the Eledctors appointed by the states that decides the outcome of the election. Each state has one elector per electoral college vote. The BBC has a neat summary of what I've been saying here. Just to quote:
Are the electors bound to vote for their candidates?

In some states they have a free vote but in practice they vote for the candidates they are pledged to. In other states they are required to do so. From time to time, individuals or small groups, called "faithless" electors, vote for another candidate but this has happened only rarely and no result has been changed by it. In 2000 an elector from the District of Columbia abstained.

Quite famously, some electors have been known to vote for people who are not standing. As this site tells it
Another problem cited by critics is the possibility of "faithless electors" who defect from the candidate to whom they are pledged. Most recently, in 1976, a Republican elector in the state of Washington cast his vote for Ronald Reagan instead of Gerald Ford, the Republican presidential candidate. Earlier, in 1972, a Republican elector in Virginia deserted Nixon to vote for the Libertarian party candidate. And in 1968, Nixon lost another Virginia elector, who bolted to George Wallace.

An almost unmaginable betrayal of millions of voters, carried out on the whim of some elector with an axe to grind, and of course, entirely and constitutionally possible. That electors may be targetted and lobbied suggests that in less felicitous circumstances the popular vote could be almost entirely annulled.

Right, that's it, only conclusion to follow.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

American Democracy (8)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 & Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 & Going Political all need to be read first.

So, I lied, there'll be at least one extra, and possibly I'll scrape all the way to ten. Anyway, couple of points I've missed out so far.

Although small states have relatively more electoral college votes per voter, it is quite hard to win without the big states. The eleven most populous states can outvote all the rest:North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, New York, Texas & California (271 Electoral College Votes out of 535). They have a combined population of 160,637,738 (at the last census) out of a total popultion of the USA of 281,424,177 (That's about 57%).

That means, though, if the smallest of them - North Carolina with a population of 8,067,673 were to, as it were, swap sides, then the forty states with a combined population of 128,854,112 can prevail. (Thats 45% of the total population).

Further, it takes a total of 15 of the least populous states to outvote California. California has 55 Electoral College Votes, whereas South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Idaho, Nebraska, West Virginia & New Mexico combined have 56. Between them they have a population of 14,433,311 whereas California has an assessed population of 33,930,798. I think that can stand as a stark example of the disparity in voting strength.

Obviously, it only takes a fraction of the voters in each of these states (perhaps even a minority) to deliver their whole weights. We can further add to that the fact that voting strength will inevitably be smaller than the census assessments of the state, because that includes children, and the people who died after the census (or moved away) and all those people who don't register to vote.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

American Democracy (7)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 & Part 5, Part 6 & Going Political all need to be read first.

The long rambling point draws to a close.

My penultimate post - before somemore later, and, obviously, when the result is announced.

The last distorting feature is of course: property. That is, you cannot have free and democratic elections in an unequal society. The Americans are face with a choice between a billionaire and a millionaire because only such people have the friends and wherewithal to mount a campaign.

I don't just mean straight out corruption: though every little nudge helps to push the electoral bandwagon in your favoured direction. After-all, corruption has time honoured traditions, and each party can be equally corrupt, all it does is help keep interlopers from being able to join the race.

Couple this with the barriers to making it onto the ballot paper in some states - a process which can be costly and time consuming, and money is already a bar. Add further, that the candidates seem to have spent over $200 million each - about $1 per voter - and you can see it would be hard for anyone else to keep up.

Of course, if you privately own the means of communication you can throw that into the ring as well.

Money skews the race before it begins, preselecting who is eligible to even put their name forward, it contrainschoices and what can rationally be done within the system. But hey, they own the country, so why shouldn't they be allowed to buy elections, fair and suare?

American Democracy (6)

You know the score by now, you need to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 & Part 5 Before going on. And, something I have forgotten, it all begins with Going Political : can't be without our governing metaphor, can we?

Now, next couple of posts are kind of tidying up, then I should wrap up, I think, by getting to the point I've been driving at. I may return to this theme soon(ish) we have an interesting book arrived in the library -
The American ballot box in the mid-nineteenth century / Richard Franklin Bensel.. Cambridge : Cambridge, 2004.
Which I hope may add some historical light. Certainly, It looked interesting on a flick through.

Anyway, I need to expand on my points. One thing that was brought back top me, on re-examining my old A-Leveltextbooks, is the idea that First Past the Post is prone to immense swings on small changes of votes.

Using the third of my Stateone examples, Party A gets 6 votes in 6 Seats (slight correction there) and Party B gets 9 votes in six seats, and 4 each in the other six. if just 6 people change their vote, A is utterly wiped out. Just over one twentieth of the electorate stand between Party B and total power.

I can recall Michael Moore in, I think, Downsize this making hay out of the fact that Gingrich et al were swept to a landslide of the back of about 20,00 voters changing sides in Congressional Elections. It's a silly argument, it ignores the hundreds of thousands behind those switching votes.

Anyway, this reminds me of the argument that brought me one of my early experiences of seeing through a lame argument. Someone was trying to make out - in an article I read for my A-Levels - that PR is undemocratic because it has disproprtionate chances of certain parties getting into government.

Say there is a split between 3 parties - A=45%, B=40%, C=15%.
We could form governments (51% + of the seats) - AB, AC, BC.
That is, with 15% of the vote Party C has a 66% chance (two of three options) of being in Government.

What this argument ignores, of course, is that C will not have 66% of the government posts. Further, it ignores the fact that under FPTP a party with 40% of the vote can have 100% chance of forming the government - far worse a distortion than any of the small parties holdiing the balance of power in PR Assemblies.

- as an aside, while I don't advocate PR myself, but rather direct democracy, I remain offended by the counter arguments erected by capitalist politicians - they're shit, and offensive to logic. It's all so frustrating. -

Indeed, IIRC, according to Tony Benn's diaries, Michael Foot was praying for a three way break in the vote in 1983, to sneak into government. I wouldn't be surprised - way things are going - if Tony Blair hasn't got that sort of thing in mind now.

Hpw this relates to the American elections is that when I started research on this series, Kerry was behind, but it seems a small swing - about 4% might be enough to give him a thumping victory. Such is a nationwide winner takes-all election.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

American Democracy (5)

Part 1 Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4 All need to be read first.

Now, we have seen that part of the problem is political boundaries. It's a major problem of democracy. An example is Northern Ireland/Ulster/Six COunties, North of Ireland (take your pick). Sinn Fein maintained for 80-odd years than a majority election victory ceded Ireland from the UK. The Unionists pointed out that a majority in the six counties didn't carry it. Both sides were trying to draw the political unit to ensure they were the majority within it.

This is gerrymandering, and the BBC report Here the practise is alive and well in America. Districts are drawn up to avoid electoral confrontation and secure, erm, secure majorities. obviously, the majorities have to exist in voters willing to turn up, but equally, boundaries could be drawn to make each fight a knife edge rather than a romp home.

Obviously, this hinders political competition, and decelerates the changes effected by shifts of opinion, as each stage of the process has to undo the gerrymandering of the other side in order to secure their control and their expression of support.

On a national scale, this remains true as well. Nixon's famous 'Southern Strategy' sought to take control of the Bible belt and turn the electoral college votes there into a secure Republican base. It still is, and it makes life difficult for teh Dems.

We can look at the fact too, that the Bush clan managed to take control of the political machienry in Texas and Florida - 34 and 27 Electoral College Votes, respectively.

Of course, controling the political machienry at state level makes it easier to secure the state for the presidential candidate, but not always. Anyway, every little helps, it seems.

This is the last for the day. A few more points need to be made, and I will make them. Rest assured.

American Democracy (4)

Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3 need to be read first.

Obviously, much of this is simply the natural distortion of First Past the Post Electoral systems, otherwise known as plurality. Across America, many state legislatures are elected by various means, from weighted voting to Instant Run-Off (known as Alternative Voite this side of the pond). FPTP is well known for its distorting effect on voting. Over here, Labour lost the, IIRC, 1955 General Election despite having more votes than the Tories, because the Tories could turn their votes into seats, Labour just returned thumping majorities in Heartlands.

As in the previous example, it's easy to see how a minority can win an FPTP election, either through lumpy support (i.e. geographically concentrated) or its exact opposite, through being evenly spread against a fractured opposition. A party that has 30% everywhere might well take more seats than a couple of parties with clumpy support.

Take Statetone, again, 100 voters and ten seats. Pary A Could get 4 votes in each seat. Party's B & C get 6 votes in 5 seats each.

Party A 40 votes (no Seats)
Party B 30 votes (5 Seats)
Party C 30 votes (5 Seats)

Let's assume a political earthquake, and nexttime round, Party A gets 5 votes in 6 seats, and only 1 in each of the other Four. Party B picks up 9 votes in 4 seats and 3 in the rest, Party C picks up the rest.

Party A 34 (6 Seats)
Party B 54 (4 Seats)
Party C 12 (No Seats)

JUst to show that it's not muliple parties that is the problem, Party C goes out of business, the next result is that in Party A's result remains the same, and Party B picks p Party C's vote:

Party A 34 (6 Seats)
Party B 66 (4 seats)

The fact is, though, that in America now, many seats are being decided on a minority of the vote, Clinton won with a minority of the overall vote (in fact, IIRC, Lincoln was the very first minority president).

The fact that votes for president are filtered through constituencies first means that the vote will be inevitably distorted.

American Democracy (3)

Busy day for me.

Part 1 and Part 2 need to be read first.

So, we have the distortion of states weighting and apportionment anomalies.

We can now add a further distortion - winner takes all.

See, according to Electoral Vote Kerry is scheduled to easilly take all 55 Californian Electoral College votes (even if they are more expensive per vote than Wyoming's)by a whopping 51% to 43% for Bush. In some states the ratio is more like 48% to 47%, etc. Anyway, 51% of 55 is 28. So with 28 Electoral votes worth of support, Kerry is winning 55.

This is because, again, California is voting as a State, and thus the winner of the state takes *all* its electoral votes. A tiny handful of states actually do breakdown their electoral vote, but the overwhelming majority don't.

This, obviously means, it is possible for someone with a squeeking win in one state to get more votes, with less voters, than someone who comes in with a thumping win in another.

e.g. Stateone and Statetwo. Stateone has 100 people and 10 votes. Statetwo has 70 people and 7 votes.

Candidate 1 gets 51 votes in Stateone and 10 in Statetwo = 61 votes - 36%.
Candidate 2 gets 49 votes in Stateone and 60 in Statetwo = 109 votes - 64%.

But Candidate 1 gets 10 Electoral College Votes to Candidate 2's 7. This despite having a majority of the popular vote, and getting more votes in Statetwo than Candidate 1 did in Stateone.

American Democracy (2)

OK, Part 1 needs to be read first.

So, we've established that votes in the American Presidential elections do not have equal valancey.

We've seen there are two ostensible causes:

1) The difference in distribution of congressional seats in the House of Representatives.

2) Constitutional weighting given small states by the addition of 2 electoral college votes for simply being a state, regardless of population.

These causes are in fact, at heart, the same. That is, the reification of the statehood of the states. Obviously, if democratical values were to be followed electoral boundaries would follow population, and so the distributional anomolies seen in apportionment could be remedied by changing the shape and size of constitutencies. That the boundaries of the states must remain constant means that shifts in other variables cannot be adequately accounted for.

The fact is, it is the states who are meant to be electing the President, not the people directly. That was a part of the constitutional package to satisfy the local and diverse political élites drawing it up.

This is how Al Gore could lose last time, despite having the majority of the popular vote.

This reification of states is, though, just one distorting factor.

American Democracy (1)

OK, so, American Democracy.

Well, a while or so ago I was pointed in the direction of Electoral Vote which basically showed a battle ground break down of the American elections. What is striking, from a first glimpse, is just how much of the map is Red (i.e. Republican). The whole middle of the continent is Red. But that’s where no-one lives. Many of those middle red states are virtually empty, hence why Montana, North and South Dakota and Wyoming all have the minimum constitutional allocation of Electoral College votes.

Digression – I should explain. The US Constitution does not account for direct election of the President:

Clause 2: Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

Article II, Section 1, Clause 2.

That is, states vote for the president, using Electoral methods of their own choosing. The number of votes each state has is determined by:

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.

14th Amendment.

That is, by a process of apportionment which mathematically allocates the 435 Seats in the House of Representatives among the 50 States. The method is intended to make the allocation as equal as possible so that each representative has the same number of constituents as the rest.

However, a quick look at the breakdowns shows how this doesn’t quite work.

Wyoming had an assessed population of 495,304 which means they have 1 Representative (3 Presidential Electoral votes). Montana has 905,316 and 1 Representative (3 Presidential Electoral votes). That is Wyoming, the Electoral College votes per capita is 165,101 but in Montana it is 301,772. That is, Montana voters have nearly have the voting strength of Wyoming’s, despite have near double the population.

Now, the average apportionment is one representative per 646,952. According to the figures, just over half the population lives in states with lower apportionment rates, 141 to 140 million above and below.

In fact, for the most part, there is little deviation from the mid-range, except at the top and bottom. That is, Montana and Wyoming. Although the difference between the two is immense. Obviously, this is worse in big states above the median, because that means many millions of voters being effectively disenfranchised – as in New York, Texas and Florida (back to those in a while).

This, though, becomes worse when you add in the electoral votes from the Senators. That is, each state has two Senators in the House, and thus Two Electoral College Votes. Now, in any state with less than a million people, that means they have 1 Representative, and 2 Senators. 3 Electoral College Votes, with the non-proportional (i.e. not aligned to population levels) forming two thirds of their vote. Thus Wyoming voters are 165,101 per College Vote, whereas California is 616,924 (3.73 times as many voters per Electors). This is because California has 53 (out of 435 – 12%) Representatives, because it’s population is so large, so the Senatorial weighting has little impact.

What this means, back of a fag-packet maths. That on Average the Dems have are likely to win have 470,400 more or less per Electoral College Vote, Whereas the Reps. States’ are an average of 415,400 (ish).

Enough for now, more later on this fascinating topic.

Blog-roll update

Just a quick one before I post properly. I've updated the blog-roll, introducing the new blogger's yard for dead blogs.

Guacamolleville was a blog with a sunset clause, kept for archival reasons. Likewise, I've added it's predecessor Race 4 City Hall. I look forward to interring new blogs from the same source.

I've finally accepted the Whiskey Bar is closed, even if it's corpse is still twitching a little.

New blogs, well, I've added By-Elections as a worthwhile long-term linking investment.

Cyborg Democracy an interesting site I've read on and off for a while now, but which I'm linking to out of politeness after one of it's contributors left a deposit in my comments box.

The risk is with international Rooksbyism - the Youngster from York. As Debsian Socialist he's been vaguely interesting in a few comments boxes around the blogsphere, I'll see if he's worth my trouble...

That is all.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Going Political

Last one for today.

I plan to continue my discussions on Democracy, soon, with some comments on US electoral procedures.

Before that, though, I'd like to establish a unifying metaphor, that I hope will stand in for much of what I will say.

Many people have compare politics to a game of chess, counter move, move, misderection, seconding guessing. etc.

I would like to propose, though, that democratic, liberal democratic, particularly, politics, is like a game of Go.

Go is a game of stragey, properly played on a 19x19 board, though beginners can play on a 9x9 board to get the hang of it. It's about capturing territory, a reactive struggle between two equal and opposing forces. In the full game, several skirmishes are being fought at once, and the heat is off, each corner unfurling separately, each move does not demand an immediate response.

In the small game it's different, there is no margin, no recovery, no chance of invading the huge swathes of enemy territory and making your peices safe, you need to cut the board in half, and hope you get the winning margin. If you don't, there is every chance of being utterly wiped out.

Hold onto that metaphor, and I'll get working on my proper analyses.

Talking Turkey

Fistful of Euros links to the speech of Romano Prodi announcing the formal initiation of membership talks between the EU and Turkey. Following on from my Left Atlanticism posting, I can only see this as a good thing. Anything which tends to extend the unified political community, which extends a universalised concept of humanity and humaneness and which tears down the wholly artificial borders which divide humanity is a good thing.

A single, unified political entity breeching the divide between old Christendom and the Orient can only help, IMNSHO. Obviously, it won't be easy, the ramifications of Europe's borders streching round Asia Minor to border on Iraq, Iran, etc. are immense.

That it is being contemplated at all is a good thing, and all I can say is, soon may come the say when all humans are united in a single political community.

Obviously, the Turkish Maoists won't be best pleased...

Quick flurry

Right, need to start posting again. Again.

First up, quick note about the Tories.

I see from the news that the Tories are laying out an "Action plan" - that is, a binding mandate. The interesting thing, I feel, about this, is it suports my contention that political democracy has undermined the Tory party - the party of natural rulers, of leadership for the sake of nobless oblige, etc. As deferential voting dies a death, so does the sheer weight of the number of working class voters bring us more and more within the realms of direct democracy.

After all, this is the party who celebrates Burke - of swinish multitude fame - who famously denied that MP's were elected on a binding mandate, instead - he claimed - they are elected to exercise their judgment and conscience on our behalf. Howard's new line is a significant departure from that.

Aside from the working class vote, we need to look at the Blairite Hegemonic strategy - that is, that Labour staying in office as long as possible is helping disintegrate the old social networks that guaranteed positions of state for the scions of the ancien regime. Add to that the change in the social composition of the Tory party - now more petit bourgeois than ever before and we can begin to see why it is in touble.

Keep an eye on this one.