The Wires

Public Service Announcement

Safety/Irony Alert. CNBC (December 25): Your new home security system may be an open invitation to hackers to make you, and perhaps many others, unsafe.” -- CW

Vanity Fair: "... Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times chief book reviewer and Pulitzer Prize winner, who has been, by a wide margin, the most powerful book critic in the English-speaking world, is stepping down.... Kakutani said that she could neither confirm nor comment. But sources familiar with her decision, which comes a year after the Times restructured its books coverage, told me that last year’s election had triggered a desire to branch out and write more essays about culture and politics in Trump’s America." -- CW 

... Washington Post: "... investigators believe they have discovered the 'smoking gun' that would support a decades-old theory that [Amelia] Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were captured by the Japanese: a newly unearthed photograph from the National Archives that purportedly shows Earhart and Noonan — and their plane — on an atoll in the Marshall Islands.... Gary Tarpinian,  executive producer of the History documentary, told the Today show that they believe the Koshu, the Japanese merchant ship in the photo, took Earhart to Saipan, where she died in Japanese custody." -- CW 

Summer Beach Reading. James Hohmann of the Washington Post suggests Al Franken's Giant of the Senate. Hohmann's column hits some of the highlights. CW: Let us be thankful that Donald Trump is incapable of learning the lessons Franken learned from his team. If Trump were half as bright as Franken, he would be a succesful president & very effective dictator.

Politico: "MSNBC has parted ways with anchor Greta Van Susteren after just six months on air, as her show failed to live up to the network's ratings expectations. An MSNBC executive said the decision to remove the former Fox News host was purely for business reasons, based on ratings." -- CW 

Click on the picture to see larger image.... Low Society News. AP: "... Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump were among the guests as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (mih-NOO’-shin’s) married a Scottish actress. Mnuchin exchanged vows Saturday night with Louise Linton at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington. Mrs. Trump wore a pink blush dress" CW: which, if you follow Reality Chex, you will know was enhanced by some really costly baubles that remind the bride of Grace Kelly or happy times or something.

New Yorker: "In a paper in the journal Nature, an international team of researchers announced that they have pushed back the date of the earliest human remains to three hundred thousand years ago. And the specimens in question were found not in East Africa, which has become synonymous with a sort of paleoanthropological Garden of Eden, but clear on the other side of the continent — and the Sahara — in Morocco." -- CW ...

Washington Post: "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus took a final, bittersweet bow Sunday, staging its last three shows [in Uniondale, N.Y.,] after 146 years of entertaining American audiences with gravity-defying trapeze stunts, comically clumsy clowns and trained tigers." -- CW 

Guardian: "Pippa Middleton [sister of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge --] has married James Matthews in what has been called the society wedding of the year, in front of royalty, family and friends." -- CW

Washington Post: "Two months before Monday’s [May 8] announcement that Sinclair Broadcast Group would pay $3.9 billion for Tribune Media and add to its dominance as the nation’s largest owner of local TV stations, a top executive at Sinclair beamed a short commentary piece to many of the company’s 173 stations.In the segment, which looks like it belongs in a newscast, Sinclair vice president for news Scott Livingston stands before a wall of video monitors and warns that 'some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.' He accuses the national media of publishing 'fake news stories' — a direct echo of President Trump’s frequent complaint — and then asks viewers to visit the station’s website to share 'content concerns.' The piece was a 'must-run,' meaning news directors and station managers from Baltimore to Seattle had to find room for it.... While partisan coverage is a familiar staple of cable networks — Fox News on the right, MSNBC on the left — it remains mostly unheard of in broadcast TV, where it has generally been accepted that public airwaves should be used in the difficult-to-define public interest.” -- CW 

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Thursday
Dec292011

December 29 -- Low-Information Voters

Sorry, I'm literally having technical difficulties this morning. My computer crashed and lost quite a bit of stuff. I'll get it back up when I get it back up. In the meantime, here's this thought:

Yesterday, @Marvin Schwalb raised an issue that has vexed me, too: what about the millions of Americans who are eligible to vote but don't? So here's a scenario:

It's late on a Thursday afternoon in September 2012. You have just come home from a trip to the local high school where you have been registering 18-year-olds to vote. You get out of your car, pick up the voter registration material -- including new, unused voter registration forms -- and notice your next-door neighbor working in his yard. He waves you over.

Your neighbor is a friendly guy, you like him, but you don't know him well. You've chatted with him over the year or so he's lived there about family, the weather, sporting events. So he asks what you've been up to and you tell him about your afternoon. "Really?" sez he. "Gee, I've never voted. My parents didn't vote either. Just not a family tradition. Besides, I don't follow the news. Never watch it. I barely know who's running for President much less Senator or mayor or whatever." (Nobody is running for mayor -- the mayoral elections are in April.)

Obviously, you have no idea how this guy will vote. There's no family tradition where he might be a "legacy" Democrat or Republican or independent. He's a complete know-nothing.

What do you do? Even if he registers, he probably won't vote. And if he votes, how will he choose candidates? He might vote for the side you don't like, and you care about who gets elected. Do you hand the guy one of those registration forms you're holding? Do you urge him to vote for your guy Joe Blow? Do you promise to take him to the polls?

Or do you decide an uninformed voter is a danger to democracy and switch the topic to the autumnal equinox?

Reader Comments (7)

I don’t know if cavemen sat around and voted for leaders. Most likely it was the biggest badass in the bunch who clobbered everyone else (see Kubrick’s 2001—the first monolith).

The Cynic in me might want to say that this pretty much describes the way leaders are chosen today. But that would be wrong.

Surprise candidates and electoral results still obtain even in a system that seems rigged (and even though some of those election results ARE rigged—see Bush v. Gore) and designed to keep out the iconoclasts and those who don’t toe the corporate lines.

But…

Then we come to reasons for voting. One is that it is our civic responsibility. Our society seems hopelessly fractured at times and the ideologues and demagogues are happy for us to despair of the social contract. That means they can have at it willy nilly and tear down any structures that get in the way of their plans for control and command. But none of that is a good enough reason for neglecting our civic duty. We can’t excoriate the other side for destroying the fabric of civil society unless we put ourselves on the line as well and have our say, electorally speaking. Kant would say that if we are to consider ourselves moral, ethical beings, we have no choice but to do the right thing (the famous Categorical Imperative). Others might say “Vote early, and vote often”.

So if we establish that voting is a right but also a responsibility, what responsibility do we have to make sure that others vote? Any at all? What if, as in Marie’s scenario, we are almost certain that our neighbor will vote the opposite of our position. And what if, to follow that scenario, we are equally certain that the neighbor, by his own admission, is totally out of touch and has no idea of who the candidates are, their qualifications, or the issues in play? Do we still encourage him to vote?

This is like people who go to the racetrack and bet on horses based on their names without ever checking stats like former race results, speed over distance, whether the horse runs better on a dry surface or can gallop through the mud. Sometimes they win but their bet is never an informed one. But they still get to bet. (Some bettors love it that completely uninformed track goers bet. They can change the odds on the horses that are likely to win, the ones they’ve bet on.) But this logic doesn’t work in an election where there are usually only two or three choices. What does matter is the stakes, such as we have in a horserace, are winner takes all, or almost all. The purses for runners up are small and largely inconsequential. Coming in second in a tight race might give the horse (or candidate) some cachet the next time out, but in this contest, second place is first loser.

And the stakes are also equally high in a political struggle. Or could be. Not all presidents get to lord it over the other party, and some get treated like kings. Look at Obama and Bush. Obama’s margin of victory was a landslide compared to Bush’s, yet he is opposed at every turn. Bush, who had an election handed to him (okay, he stole it), ruled as if he were an hereditary king. A made up war and shouts of “traitor” directed at any who opposed him helped. But there was no way anyone could have envisioned Bush having that much power when he took office, or Obama being so ineffective in many areas. Nothing is a given. If it were, we could all sit around and wait for the inevitable.

But if you don’t vote, someone else will. OR if the vote is close enough, we run the risk of the election being purloined by unscrupulous candidates and operatives. Good reasons to vote yourself. But back to the neighbor.

In a perfect world, encouraging him to vote might also encourage him to create a new family tradition of being a voter. And being an informed voter. We might also say that we have a responsibility to each other. I realize this is not very much in vogue in today’s political climate, but if you buy the idea that we, as a society, have a responsibility to educate the populace, via public schools, then it’s not much of a leap to agreeing that this responsibility could trickle down to the micro level. And, encouraging the neighbor to be more informed might actually change his mind about whom to vote for. I did say this was in a perfect world, but Plato might say that this is the world we need to strive for.

Of course I’m not taking into account the many personal barriers to voting such as cynicism, hopelessness, depression coming out of a sense that no one’s vote counts for much. To this I say this is exactly what certain political schemers want us to think. The fewer voters, the more room for shenanigans. The more they can sway those who do vote with lies and subterfuge. They’ve got media outlets working day and night and operatives running around with their noses to the ground to find wedge issues to enrage voters into voting against their best interests.

All good reasons to encourage people to not only vote, but to become better informed voters.

So call me an idealist, but I’d try to get the neighbor to get his ass registered and then start pursuing his civic duty. Otherwise, I’d have to sic Kant on him.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAkhilleus

I wish I could be as optimistic as Akhilleus is here.

The neighbor Marie posits seems "qualified" to be not just an average American voter but also an average Republican candidate. But unless you can be sure that he'll run on their ticket, absent other information about him having significant progressive political leanings, you probably shouldn't urge him to register. Voters with the characteristics Marie describes are more likely to be manipulated by modern political propaganda to favor the plutocracy than to favor progressivism.

High voting percentages are not an a priori good. They can be found in outright totalitarian states, and in ostensibly democratic ones they can promote a dictatorship of the dumb.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFred Drumlevitch

I vote because I think of how I'd feel if my candidate lost by one vote. I work on who I am going to vote for so I don't vote some hack into a relatively minor elected office like being a board member on the local airport authority or the conservation district when some other unknown (to me) candidate was really qualified. That is just second nature to me. I am a glass half full kind of person who believes that my vote counts enough of the time to make it worth the 5 to 10 minutes it takes me to stop my the election office and cast my vote ahead of time without waiting in line.

My parents took me with them to vote when I was a knee high. We knew the people running the voting place in our local rural school. I saw the votes happen and just grew up with an almost cultural and gut level feeling that I need to intelligently vote. Period. That's it.

I would not enable someone to vote such as in Marie’s example if they obviously had no clue about the issues or the people. With the right to vote comes an obligation to work on making an intelligent choice.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFrom-the-Heartland

I'm with @Akhilleus, who says: "voting is a right but also a responsibility."

To me, voting as a responsibility implies not only the act of voting, but the responsibility to be as informed as possible prior to doing so.

Thus, in my hypothetical conversation with my neighbor, I would probably say something like:

"I really encourage you to perform your civic duty and vote. But before doing so, try to become as educated as possible on the issues and candidate qualifications. If, in the end, you decide to vote in opposition to me, well, so be it. That's what elections are all about."

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZee

Forget your neighbor, it's too late. When I grew up, I was taught IN SCHOOL about democracy, government structure, the basics of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I was taught that voting was my responsibility. I was encouraged to read the newspaper. We were asked about current events. We were asked about the Korean War and what we thought. We were trained to be citizens as a basic part of our education. Today we train our children to pass tests in reading, writing and rithmetic. This way we are equal. All children are left behind.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarvin Schwalb

The described situation limns the paradox of the traditional model of democracy: that, a) the candidates are (or even can be) both honest and consistent, b) the citizens are (or even can be) both knowledgeable and rationally objective, and c) there is (or even could be) equality of voice. It is no leap of understanding to say that, unfortunately, none of those prerequisites can apply under the existing, traditional model. A further problem is that democracy is about losing, but our cultures and the traditional model - and, I think, certain of our autonomic behaviors - lead us to place winning as the important outcome. Within the confines of the scenario, though, I would encourage the guy to register and to vote - I would also give him a few examples of how policy maker choices affect him personally.

But in the end, the little scenario has to challenge not the unengaged citizen, but the politically active citizen. The latter should ask h/imself if she really understands the system she is attempting to support and on what basis she supports it - theoretically, practically and informationally.

December 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOldStone50

My response is typically along the lines of;
"Just because you don't follow politics doesn't mean Politics won't follow you!" ....followed by questions about why would anyone think it's a good idea to build schools and bridges for Afghanistan and Iraq with American dollars and not do it here at home because it costs too much.... then I calmly point out that when republican politicians controlled every single branch of government the debt and deficit got worse and foreign aid went through the roof; the republican politicians did the exact things they swear they hate.

Now we have the republican politicians begging for a third chance after we had to listen to them whine for two years that they had made a mistake while Bush the younger was in office and that they had learned their lesson and would never do it again... but what we have seen once again is the republican politicians ignore the screams of the American people and listen instead to the whispers of the corporatocracy.
The rich people already have most of the money and they aren't sharing- even though Americans are suffering from lack of food and housing at record rates for these past four years... where is the evidence for the success of supply side reaganomics? What possible rationale can be given for more of the same? Shouldn't we start listening to those economists on the left who have mostly been ignored these past four years?
@Zee is an exception to the rule, most followers of republican dogma are still calling for a more theological type of governance- Once again hypocritically trying to implement the very thing they say they hate; big intrusive government! What could be more intrusive than a government that tells me who I can date, who I can live with, who I can marry, who I can or can't have sex with, what I can grow or not grow in my own garden, forcing me to have children I don't want, punishing me financially for not having children while forcing me to pay for other peoples children that they can't afford to feed, house or clothe!
Hopefully the tea party will continue to split the republican party and a new third party will emerge, or fourth or fifth for that matter.
From my dealings with thousands of Americans over the years I have learned that most people who live in this country are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. There is a lot of racism from all sides, many black Americans don't trust whites, most whites are totally ignorant of Black American culture and by default are prejudiced- which in and of itself leads to stereotyping and sets the stage for outright racism with lots of help of those who profit from fearmongering and demagoguery. You already know their names...
Most of the Mexicans I have met want to annex the U.S.; That is turn it into Northern Mexico, that ain't gonna happen, but that carrot has been dangled in order to keep them here without learning the language; setting them up to fail and lead the way for implementation of a two tiered society of working and non-working Americans. Owners and wageslaves, oh, I meant to say "The Help"...
The ruling corporatocracy has done a fantastic job of implementing the necessary policies and laws right under our noses, only now, 30 years into the plan are some people finally starting to notice something might be amiss... we haven't noticed stagnant wages because the corporatocracy has kept lowering prices instead by exploiting wage slaves overseas, while inexorably ensconcing wage slavery right here in America.
From Wikipedia;
{"The term 'wage slavery' or 'wage slave' has been used to describe the condition of workers in various economic systems, including communist states, but given the prevalence of modern capitalism, it is sometimes described as a lack of rights in the market system; especially in the absence of non-market structures stemming from some degree of democratic input (welfare system, retirement income, health insurance, etc.). The concept seeks to point out how the only rights workers have are those they gain in the labor market. They don't have a participatory say at the workplace or over the kinds of jobs an economy creates. Workers face starvation or other unpleasant consequences when unable or unwilling to rent themselves to those who own the capital and means of production. Capitalists, landowners, or sometimes a state elite, own the means of production (land, industry etc.) and gain profit or power simply from granting permission to use them. This they do in exchange for wages."}
Starve in the streets or work 14 hour days, 300 days a year.

The Democratic politicians used to offer real alternatives to this type of nonsense, but they have been failing miserably recently IMHO. Most politicians couldn't possibly survive in our current wage slave economy which is why they will do or say almost anything to get re-elected or even better- sell out the U.S. government to the highest bidder as a paid lobbyist.
I have worked my entire life so I can speak with authority on what it's like and just how hard it is to survive right now.
The immovable object is about to meet irresistible force.
Even the people who so far have managed to stay above the fray, and not be bothered with politics, are noticing not everything is as it should be.

December 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Doktor
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