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As I give it at least my dozenth try at getting the ol’ blogger legs back going, lets take a look at some highlights of life here in America, February of 2010 (grab a beer or a joint or a big mug of coffee, this is a long one):

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Seems it was a very good year to be a Washington lobbyist- the best year ever, actually.  The Center for Responsive Politics has looked into tens of thousands of  disclosure findings and found that in 2009 special interests of every kind spent $3.47 billion lobbying the Federal government.  “Even when companies are scaling back other operations, many view lobbying as a critical tool in protecting their future interests, particularly when Congress is preparing to take action on issues that could seriously affect their bottom lines.” said CRP director Sheila Krumholz.  Among those numbers, the dollars from your and my health care premiums (if you’re lucky enough to even have health insurance) spent ensuring Congress could not pass a meaningful overall of the health care system was $266.8 million (that amount spent by the pharmaceutical and health products industries represents a record for one sector).  The report also notes- oddly- that this year saw a decline in the number of actual registered lobbyists, prompting speculation that in the face of tighter controls on lobbying from the Obama Administration some aspects of lobbying have moved under-ground; now there’s a welcome development: the seedy back-room world of those with power manipulating politicians for their personal gain moving into a closet in the back-room.  “Democracy”? is that what you folks call this?

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I’m decidedly excited about organized labor threatening to “stay out” of this year’s elections in protest over the way the Obama Administration and Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate have failed to deliver much of anything for working people.  Lets face it, the Republican Party is not even an option- in terms of political choice- for working class people (I know what you’re thinking about Tea Party-ers and rednecks and religious fundamentalists and the like, and I’ll get to them, but I’m referring here only to those who are at least partially aware of their class-standing, the existence of class society, and who reject in general the inherent good of wealth concentrated among the wealthy (even if some of these things happen far from even their own waking consciousness)).  For years organized labor have leaned towards the Democratic Party knowing they’d at least get thrown some bread crust, and that that would always be better than the mere crumbs the Republicans may throw.  But in the face of being so hopeful, so full of excitement and promise (and after spending serious money and donating serious volunteer time) to get Obama in and with majorities and everything, labor has gotten jack shit. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m wondering if anyone can tell me the difference between this scene:

and this scene:

Give up?  Well, for starters, in the first video the U.S. (the president, the government, and the press) either explicitly or at least tactfully supports the protesters in the street over the “heavy handed” violence of the police.  In the second video, it’s just the opposite: the American State sees the violent actions of those police forces as “restoring law and order” and enforcing “security” in the face of radical, criminal social deviants.  By no surprise, that first video is of protesters in Tehran, Iran these past few days.  Iran, see, refuses to open it’s consumer goods markets to Western business, and more importantly, refuses to open its petroleum resources to Western exploitation for corporate profit.  Perhaps just as importantly, Iran refuses to accept the U.S. military as a legitimate “police force” over their sovereign affairs.  That second video, on the other hand, is from protests in South Korea in 2007, where people took to the streets against the devastating domestic effects (particularly in rural areas among peasants and farmers) of global capitalism.  See, South Korea does “freely” trade consumer goods with the U.S., does offer its natural resources to U.S. corporate exploitation, and freely recognizes the U.S. military as a legitimate “security force” within its own borders.

Engage in a global economic order in which the power elite can line their pockets? beat down dissent when necessary; refuse to allow rich white Americans and Europeans a chance at making money off of your people and land? well, how dare you beat those innocent people in the streets.

See, while admittedly president Obama has taken a very reserved public stance regarding the recent election results in Iran (the guy the U.S. preferred didn’t win) it’s no secret whatsoever that the West (including the U.S.) very much wants Ahmadinejad out of power in Iran and political unrest there is very much a welcome development, as far as the powers that be here are concerned.  Make no mistake, Ahmadinejad is an asshole of the highest order; among other absurdities he’s a holocaust denier, and in his political fits against the Israeli State (not unjustified from a humanitarian perspective) he’s gone that extra step to believe and promote full-blow conspiracy theory’s and even pal around with neo-Nazi’s  and white supremacists who share his hate for all things Jew.

What I’m not buying, however, is that there was likely any “stolen” election or that the protest movement that has sprung-up all of the sudden in Tehran is entirely populist, or entirely organic.  For those who think I’m dipping into conspiracy theory here, let me assure you: I’m not saying any of this with certainty, ’cause I just don’t know for sure.  What I do know- because it’s documented fact- is that the U.S. (along with other Western allies) has a long, long history of interfering in the political and electoral happenings of country’s for it’s own strategic (financial and military) gains.  The fermentation of pro-capitalist, upper class minority revolt in Venezuela, for instance; the “orange revolution” in Ukraine.  As I said in my last post- the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend, and in all three of these examples that’s very true.  In Venezuela, while the U.S. tried to covertly foment dissent in that country against Chavez, it’s also true that Chavez is power hungry and running that country in the same tradition of authoritarian socialist State’s throughout the Twentieth Century.  As well, Chavez loses much if any real sympathy we might extend to him by exaggerating the acts against him to try to prove his own point and draw attention to the interference of pro-capitalist forces within their borders.  Same with Ukraine: while programs like USAID covertly built pro-Western movements among sympathetic elements of the population (hit that link on “orange revolution” above and read down to the section on “involvement of outside forces”), Russia operated the same kind of program to push their favored candidate, just with all the not-very-subtle effectiveness of their authoritarian history (um, poisoning the other candidate? really? your covert political meddling handbook is the James Bond series?).  I find it incredibly likely that relatively progressive student movements have been nudged in Iran with the oversight of USAID or some other similar U.S. program; Ahmadinejad of course doesn’t win us any sympathy’s by claiming to have won in a landslide when it was likely closer than that, and by offering us photo-shopped PR images of his faithful backers.  

In statements about the protests in Iran, president Obama has explicitly spoken about the importance of people’s ability and right to protest without feeling the heavy hand of the State come down on them.  Let’s just agree to keep those comments in mind when we get the to G20 in Pittsburgh in September.

Really, I’m done (for the time being) with the Burlington IRV failure thing.  In the end, to me it looks like this:

1. IRV is a better system than plurality voting (which, though I do feel this way, there’s a very decent argument on the contrary).

2. Regardless of any relative strengths or merit, IRV is prone to a number of flaws (errors in logic, i.e., mathematical errors and paradoxes) and most certainly a number of these were demonstrated during the 2009 election for Mayor of Burlington, VT.

3. IRV is the current law in Burlington and under the law (a legitimate and in no way “un-Constitutional” method of calculating election winners) Bob Kiss won, should have won, and is the winner.

4. Primarily because of the first statement, IRV should continue to be the system that Burlington chooses- unless and until…

5. There needs to be sufficient public eduction and exposure to practical social study’s and mathematics, among other things, in school so that the public at large can engage knowingly about important topics such as fair and equal democratic decision making processes.

6. Primarily because of #2 and #5 it would seem minimal to continue to strive in every facet of life to build a world in which every single person regardless of what their skin color or belief system or sexual identity or place of birth or place of residence or anything of the sort is free to live exploring the complete and full un-hindered creative magnificence of life as they so choose (so long as their choice doesn’t hinder upon the same to others, of course).

7. From #6, hence how or who we vote for is but a fraction of the political power that can and should be exerted by the general population.

8. All things the same- as I said at the top, I’m pretty done talking about IRV.  But, over on GMD a gentleman named Rama became- well, pretty repetitive in his B.S..  It kinda killed what could have been at least a small but interesting exploration of an important issue.  It’s obnoxious enough to try and have an intelligent conversation and see it run-over by such mental dribble; but then he decided to take it personal and posted his own attack, pretty much against me, pretty much summarized as “wdh3 is a liar, an idiot, and a lying idiot”.

Well, who fucking cares?

I don’t know if he cares, but Temple Univeristy mathematician Warren D. Smith at least has a response:

(Rama Schneider) argued, rather repetitively, that Kiss’s election was valid because he won according to the rules of the IRV system. Essentially, (Rama) would simply repeat the rules, then state “Kiss won.” If anyone pointed out a logical pathology present in the election, he would say that was a “what if” scenario, but the actual scenario was: Kiss won.

In some sense, Ramabahama is entirely right. (And we actually appreciate his argument rather more than most preceding ones since we think he was actually being honest about it, not trying to deceive!)

And if the election rules had instead been “we will kill a goat, and if the entrails end up pointing South, then Simpson wins” we daresay Ramabahama would have argued that this was a fully legitimate Simpson victory and repeated those rules. Any attempt by us to say that the election rules themselves were illogical would have been met (we presume) by simply claiming those were “what if” scenarios. The actual scenario was: the entrails pointed South, and those were the rules – so Simpson won!

It’s with a somewhat heavy heart that I write this post.  A number of times I have written extolling the virtues of IRV (Instant Runoff Voting), including directly after the recent 2009 mayoral election in Burlington, VT.  In fact, my previous post went as far as to declare IRV in Burlington’s 2009 mayoral election to be a success while simultaneously pointing out that a paradox- a failure of the system to be consistent, free and fair- occurred.  I want to be very, very clear as I move forward here: plurality voting (i.e., whoever gets the most votes wins) is a drastically flawed system that only works when there are only two choices on the ballot.  This is because of something called Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, which is simply a mathematical concept which states (recognizes) that whenever more than two choices appear on a ballot the standards for a consistent, free and fair vote (the Fairness Criteria– developed and agreed upon by political scientists and mathematicians) cannot be met.  In the past I have extolled IRV as being the best alternative because it generally is capable of creating paradoxes or violating the Fairness Criterion a reasonably low percent of the time.  In my opinion, there may still be some truth to this, and it is entirely true that IRV out-performs plurality voting.  However, what seems to be even more true is that there are other methods for voting which greatly out perform IRV, and at the very least a modified form of IRV is necessary to over-come its most glaring flaws.

Unfortunately, the 2009 Burlington mayoral race demonstrates pretty much everything that can go wrong with IRV voting, and the simple fact that it did so should give us all pause and make us re-consider our acceptance of this voting method.  Again, I want to be as clear as I can: IRV is drastically better than plurality voting (the method we’re accustomed to using when electing the President or members of Congress).  That IRV in this instance suffered from a number of paradoxes and most certainly proved itself to not be consistent, free and fair should in no way whatsoever be construed as a reason to revert to plurality; likewise, the other options on the table for possible ways to hold an election all carry with them their own strengths and weaknesses.  Again, Nobel winning mathematician Arrow proved for us decades ago that no system is going to be perfect, and even those few since him who claim to have found or proven an “impossibility” (a voting system that doesn’t violate the Fairness Criterion) have not done so to the degree that they have gained widespread acceptance for their findings.  This is, in the end, a terribly complicated issue and there are no easy answers.  There is, on the other hand, at least one important question on the table: was Bob Kiss preferred by the majority of voters in Burlington this past Town Meeting Day?  A careful examination of the ballots suggests the answer is no, absolutely not.  And because this is the answer the ballots themselves give us, it’s important we re-examine IRV because Kiss is the candidate it handed over as the “clear” winner. Read the rest of this entry »

NOTE:  See my important update in the comments section…. there’s a lot going on here!

Almost a year ago I wrote a post called Elections Theory 101 which has proven to be one of the more popular things to come from this blog.  If you haven’t read it, you should, and at least a cursory familiarity with the material from it is required to read this post.  While I extrapolate a big picture conclusion in 101 (that because it is mathematically impossible, therefore by definition illogical, to have a free and fair election whenever there are more than two choices on the ballot- and because making it illegal for more than two choices to be on a ballot would be even more unfair and freedom-hindering- electoralism and representative democracy should be recognized as unjust and inherently unfree and un-democratic) in this post I want to look briefly at the recent mayoral election in Burlington, VT which used Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).  The reason I say that the ideas from 101 are “required” is twofold: First, the average person is generally unaware that there are a number of different methods for voting or holding elections, simple majority or plurality being what a lot of people consider to be “how you vote”.  As the issue of IRV has come-up increasingly throughout the U.S., that is of course a positive but the fact remains that IRV or majority or plurality voting are only a few of the options on the table and no one is going to be able to understand the issue and make an intelligent, informed decision if they don’t know all of the options available.  Second, but most importantly, Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem must be reiterated over and over so that we can all understand: whenever there are more than two choices on the ballot there is no way to hold an entirely consistent, free, and fair vote.  The very best methods (IRV, range voting) have their strong points over the others, but their own faults too.

For instance, IRV (also known as preference voting or STV, Single Transferable Voting) suffers from the following paradoxes:

1. Thwarted-Majorities Paradox, in which a candidate who can defeat every other candidate in head-to-head races may lose the election

2. More-Is-Less Paradox, when if the winner of the election were ranked higher on the ballot by some voters this can cause a different candidate to actually win (this is also known as the Monotonicity Criterion from the Fairness Criterion, which is the standard we are trying to meet to know that we have a consistent, free, and fair election)- this is by far the biggest problem with IRV, I’ll speak more to this bellow.

3. No-Show Paradox, whereas if x’s supporters don’t show up to vote for her/him/it this may actually cause x to win and if x’s supporters do show up to vote she/he/it may lose.

4. Multiple-District Paradox, in which a candidate can win in each district separately yet lose the general election of the combined districts.

For the recently concluded mayoral election in Burlington (which I hashed-through here) some clever math students up at UVM decided to put the results through the ringer and see what really happened, beyond the headlines and the popular analysis.  Hopefully, this was done for honest purposes of applying mathematical concepts to the real-world, rather than any disingenuous political motives (I honestly just don’t know).  And the results aren’t shocking at all, if you are educated about these things: the 2009 mayoral election in Burlington, VT (which was held using the system of voting known as IRV) resulted in a Thwarted-Majorities Paradox.  According to the analysis of voter’s ballots done by UVM, Democrat Andy Montroll was favored over Republican Kurt Wright 56% to 44% and over Progressive Bob Kiss 54% to 46%, despite the fact that in the actual election Montroll came in third and Kiss won in the third round of voting with 51.5%.  According to the preferences indicated by voters’ on their ballots, if Montroll went head-to-head with either Kiss or Wright in a two-person race, he would be mayor. Read the rest of this entry »

Burlington, VT just re-elected Progressive Party mayor Bob Kiss (yes, in Vermont we have a third major Party, for those of you who aren’t from here- they’ve pretty much been in control of Burlington since 1981 and since then the city has won numerous “Most Livable  City”, “Greenest City”, “Healthiest City” (etc, etc) awards, so say what you will, they get results- nationally recognized results).  Congrats certainly to the people up there; “Silent Bob” would certainly have been my choice if I were voting there.

Most impressively, Burlington’s mayoral race was conducted using Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) (also known as preferential voting) as has been their practice since 2006.  So, how’d the system do?  Was the election fair?  Did the candidate with the most support win?

With numbers being supplied by the Burlington Free Press (OK, I know, I shouldn’t consider them a reliable source for anything but fire-starter, but they’ve got the most thorough unofficial numbers I’ve found yet)- we learn that in the third round of IRV Kiss received 4,313 (51.5%) first place votes to Republican Kurt Wright’s 4,061 (48.5).  Vermont law requires 50% + 1 (a majority) to win.  In the initial vote tallies, Wright had 2,951 first place votes to Kiss’ 2,585, Andy Montroll’s (D) 1,497, Dan Smith’s (I) 1,306 and James Simpson’s (Green Party) 35.  That brakes down roughly to 35.2%, 30.8%, 17.8%, 15.6%, .004% respectively.  True, Wright “won” the first round by having the most first place votes, but because by law “winning” the election means having 50%+1 of the people prefer you, it’s clear that no one is the winner, yet.  So Smith and Simpson were eliminated and the votes for them were re-distributed so that in the second round of calculations Montroll did the best by picking up 491 votes from Smith and Simpson supporters (for a total of 1,988 or 23.7%), Kiss gained 396 votes (2,981 total now for 35.6%), Wright gained 343 votes (3,294 or 39.3%).  At this point Wright is still “winning” but has not won, not by a long shot.  So then Montroll’s votes get re-distributed (looking at the number two choice from those ballots that had listed him as number one and looking at the third choice from those ballots that had chosen his number two) (and looking further down the ballot for anyone won chose someone who at this point had already been eliminated).  So in the decisive third round of vote tallies, Kiss picked up 1,332 votes and Wright grabbed 767- respectively totaling 4,313 (51.5%) to 4,061 (48.5%).  For the first time a candidate has over 50% of the votes and is declared winner: congrats, Mr Mayor!

Immediately, Kurt Wright and the right wing mainstream media have picked-up on the bullshit line that IRV has somehow failed the voters because Wright “won” initially but lost as a result of the system’s workings.  Lets be clear and spell it out for Wright, WCAX TV, the Burlington Free Press, and any other’s who want to try this fuzzy line of reasoning: by law (rightfully) a candidate must have over 50% of the vote to “win”.  Obviously with three “left” candidates (Progressive Kiss, Democrat Montroll and Green Simpson) and two “right” candidates (Republican Wright and independent Smith- who I recognize would take exception to being considered “right” but whatever, it’s superfluous to my argument here) (and just not true anyway) the left’s vote was spread thinner and the right  centralized their first-place votes.  In a mere plurality voting system (i.e., who ever has the most first-place votes wins) this would certainly have given Wright the victory.  But this is exactly why IRV is so good, and so important, because this whole exercise demonstrates that if that had been the case- if Wright were elected with that initial 35.2% vote, the new Mayor of Burlington would be someone supported by 48.5% of the people- and not supported by 51.5% of the people.  48.5% to 51.5% is not a democratic victory by any definition.

So Wright and WGOP, er, WCAX can bitch and moan all they want- claiming to be the “winner” with less than 50%+1 of the vote is akin to saying you prefer the winter over the summer because you prefer warm weather.  IRV worked perfectly in service of democracy and the will of the voters.  Now comes the task of getting the rest of our State’s elections to function fairly as well.

I had originally started to write this post under the name “Obamofascism”, but the direction of it ended up changing course, and so did my title.  But the truth of the matter is that I’m in danger of falling into a mild-to-severe depression.  As I (tried to) speak a bit about during my interview for VT Blogoshere TV, real meaningful, progressive change is not about one person and will never come from the handing over of power from one person or Party to another- for that reason alone Obama’s election is a pretty marginal event.  However, a few things work to make his presidency far more significant than any other presidential election, probably in history.  The first, and most obvious, is the simple fact that he is of mixed race, and it is surely and without doubt an incredibly historic and progressive moment for this country- and even the whole world- that he not only won, but won so resoundingly.  The cynical, and even racist note that “Bill Clinton was our first black president” can now retire in favor of the fact that this nation- with our long, violent history of racism- has in fact elected a black man president (a black man with the middle name “Hussein” no less, which steps into a newer, highly prevalent racism, that against Arabs) (OK, so racism against Arabs isn’t necessarily new, but it’s trendy).  This fact alone should- and has- given pause to even the most anti-electoral and radical left among us, who are (and should be) without hesitation un-inclined to see “hope” or “change” in any empirical office.  Obama’s mere election is tinged with hope and change because of his race, and that fact can stand alone against nearly all others.

The second aspect of Obama’s victory that has gotten many on the left (and even the radical left) excited is the manner in which he won; namely, as a result of a highly grassroots, people-powered campaign (a movement) which brought together a variety of people from varying social, economic, racial, and geographical (bio-regional) backgrounds.  Now, this fact cannot single-handedly water down that a huge factor in Obama’s victory was the massive amounts of cash he was able to raise and then spend in areas of the country where traditionally the Democrats have found no foot-hold.  And despite the fact that yes, Obama was the recipient of huge amounts of small-sum donations from the aforementioned grassroots movement that grew behind him, he also gained mightily from the standard corporate donors (including the military industrial complex, which gave $500,000 more- $10.6 million- to Obama than to McCain; and the securities sector/Wall Street, which donated to Obama over McCain almost 3-2); nonetheless, Obama raised over 48% of his funds from donors who gave him less than $200, which says a good deal about the “bottom-up” effort on the ground behind him (48% of his total $639 million raised amounts to about $307,000,000 in small donations, for those of you keeping track at home).  People previously un-political, and who have never taken part in a campaign or “movement” of any kind came out to work to get Obama elected, and this fact is a tremendous opportunity to politicize the population.  More importantly, this is a moment where incredibly dis-empowered people, many of them from the most vulnerable and in-need segments of society, took collective action towards accomplishing a political goal– used their time, energy, and power- to effect a change upon society and their lives.  This is not only remarkable, but a tremendous opportunity to further build a social movement (or, if you prefer, social movements) that actually can bring about meaningful and substantive change. Read the rest of this entry »

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