Humanity’s relationship with the basic concept of information has experienced very rapid, jarring changes over the course of history. The first great leap was is attributed to the printing press in the mid-15th century. Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise, does an excellent job of describing it’s impact on civilization that I think should be closer to the forefront of everyone’s conscious mind as we live through these chaotic times.
The original revolution in information technology came not with the microchip, but with the printing press. Johannes Gutenberg’s invention in 1440 made information available to the masses, and the explosion of ideas it produced had unintended consequences and unpredictable effects. It was a spark for the Industrial Revolution in 1775,1 a tipping point in which civilization suddenly went from having made almost no scientific or economic progress for most of its existence to the exponential rates of growth and change that are familiar to us today. It set in motion the events that would produce the European Enlightenment and the founding of the American Republic.
But the printing press would first produce something else: hundreds of years of holy war. As mankind came to believe it could predict its fate and choose its destiny, the bloodiest epoch in human history followed.
With the printing press, one didn’t necessarily need to be in good standing with the church to create and distribute books with ideas that may have conflicted with religious doctrine. While this also spawned the European Renaissance, the chaos that ensued should not be forgotten.
If it’s not obvious why I brought this up: the internet is causing another information revolution. Before the printing press, the basic mechanisms of civilizations were designed around people having no more knowledge than what could be remembered offhand. If few people are literate, how can one distinguish a written lie from a truth?
Today, we’re having another stage of this problem. In the modern world, information has been ubiquitous for centuries. Every public school has a library filled with books that children are taught to reference whenever they seek more information to absorb and convert into knowledge that can be shared or applied infinitely. In fact, for centuries, simply having certain stores of knowledge in one’s head well enough to regurgitate on command was a viable skill; now, even that has changed.
Now, we have the same problem with information as the 15th-18th centuries had: more of it than we know what to do with. Academic institutions still require students to memorize things despite ubiquitous tools that store and regurgitate information for us. Bureaucratic institutions process physical forms at a rate several times longer than what’s needed to Google everything about the process and maybe even design a better one.
In homes, parents don’t know what to tell their children about surfing the internet safely because the internet is so fundamentally different from what it was just ten years ago. There’s no institutional knowledge for how tablets affect toddlers or at what age children are liable to wander into the darker alleys of the internet… or if that’s even correlated with age. What content is good or bad for them? Is that even possible to measure? I remember a time before the internet where ideas backed by information were stronger than ideas that weren’t. Now, every idea can so easily find information to support it, but not all information is equal. Therein lies the problem.
Our ability to distinguish valuable, relevant information from noise has not grown proportionally with our access to it. With books, humanity eventually developed filtration methods, primarily in the form of literacy and critical thinking. Rigorously refined ideas were the only ones that warranted the effort to be studied, reproduced, and incorporated into reference texts and archives. Schoolchildren and especially college students are rigorously taught to distinguish good from bad sources, and to cite their assertions.
We don’t quite have that yet for the internet. Digital activity is monetized by clicks, and measured by attention (time spent viewing content), so the economic incentive of any web-based company is to present you, the digital denizen, with information that you react to, which is probably what you like.
If you read something in a newspaper or heard it on a radio or even saw it on T.V., describing it to a friend would require some degree of processing and mental digestion, during which many baseless ideas might get filtered out. Now, with the touch of a screen or click of a mouse, any headline that even for a split second inspires you to share can within seconds be presented to hundreds or thousands of others, many of whom might have a similar reaction and continue the chain. I’ve fallen victim to this mentality many times, and am thankful for friends who hold me accountable and prevent me from harboring false ideas.
I implore you to ask: What is your standard for truth? Specifically in the realm of politics. Whom do you believe, and why? I don’t have a clear answer for this if you ask me, but these are questions I want to think about and discuss with as many people as possible. Given recent events, I think it’s evident that the average American’s understanding of the political climate is, at best, guesswork. Which might be fine if Democracy didn’t depend on us understanding one another. But it does. We’re all on this rock hurtling through space together; let’s at least try to get along, however bleak the task may seem.
And so, I’m going to start this series, primarily as my own outlet for meditation on the goings on of the world.
If you voted for Trump, you should absolutely be ashamed of yourself. Forget the politics for two seconds. Let’s talk about the person. You voted for a man who is personally responsible for a 90% increase in hate crimes against muslims, increased attacks on SIKHS (people who haven’t done ANYTHING except be brown, wear a turban, and allowed ignorant people to confuse us with Muslims), who makes fun of the disabled, who doesn’t believe in women’s health rights OR gender rights, who COMPLEMENTS the worst leader the world has seen since WWII (Putin), who let’s forget if he actually did or didn’t rape women, he sure as hell thinks it’s acceptable and PERPETUATES rape culture and sexual assault, and who has the temperament of a small child but somehow has nuclear codes now. What you’re saying is that your own white privilege is more important to you than the safety and health of ALL of these communities, because he’s actually threatened all these communities. You’re saying that my health and my family’s wellbeing doesn’t matter to you, because along with myself, I’ve never seen so many people absolutely terrified to live in a country they love. And most importantly, you’ve never had your family members physically attacked and bombed because they’re different, so beyond not even understanding the fear your friends face, you clearly don’t have the empathy either. And any rebuttal or excuse you make for him, clearly shows HOW little your understanding is, or worse, you do understand and don’t care. You are absolutely and undeniably shameless.
I’ll get straight to the point: this article is about the U.S. Presidential Primary process, especially in the context of the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic Primary Election that took place on February 9th, 2016. As much as I’m tempted to delve into the actual politics of the event, what I want to discuss here is the role of the electoral system in this context.
There does seem to be a general, if not common, perception that the mechanics of primary presidential elections necessarily reflect the premises of the democratic system of the U.S.; this is mostly true, but it also has a moderate mix of the premises of privatization. Horray for the privatization of the political process! And what’s more: this is all actually quite new! Superdelegates weren’t introduced into the electoral system until after 1968 (Source)
But they really haven’t been too relevant in the political process until the 1984 election in particular (Source), and then
Check out the Twelfth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (Source)
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; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice…. The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President to the United States.
And also, Article II, Section 1:
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows
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.
The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.
Parsing the speech is a bit tricky for me, but in terms of relevance to this article, I gathered this:
- Number of Delegates for a Given State = Number of Senators (2) + Number of House Representatives (variable by state).
- The state legislatures are responsible for their own delegate selection.
- The votes of the electors are the ones that are directly counted to determine the president.
- The Vice-President is supposed to be elected separately from President (I actually didn’t know this tidbit until researching this article)
So those “Presidential Tickets” with the President and VP bundled up together? That’s purely a construct of the political parties. It would be quite inconvenient for a president to have a VP that might be from the opposing party.
Now, I’ve heard MANY different renditions of how “voting is completely useless because the Electoral College is what decides the president and votes have no control over that”, but a closer look at the way electors are decided on a state-by-state basis reveals that electors are almost entirely beholden to the voters they are supposed to be representing.
The purpose for the Electoral College is clear in historical context: in the late 18th Century, information traveled much more slowly. While the postal service did enable more efficient communication than ever before, it still couldn’t be carried across large distances any faster than a horse’s gallop. The electoral college was designed to consolidate voting results and send them over to wherever the president was to cast their vote on behalf of the people they represent. Electors are pledged to vote for a certain candidate, though ‘Unpledged Electors’ were allowed up until the 1964 election, after which NO state has filed a slate for any unpledged electors, though these delegates were allowed to vote for any candidate they chose on election day, much like superdelegates… but I’ll get to that later.
In the past, there HAVE been ‘Faithless Electors’ who pledged to vote for a certain candidate, only to actually cast a vote for a different candidate. The most recent instance of a faithless elector was in Minnesota in 2004 (Source), and have never had a decisive impact on any presidential election. since the late 19th century.
So that’s the electoral college in a nutshell, and also why some states (like Maine and Nebraska for the first time in 2008) split their electoral votes, while others are all-or-nothing as far as how delegates are allocated for each presidential candidate.
But how does this relate to superdelegates?
Well, one important point that is worth bolding in text: the presidential primary system as we know it in the United States has absolutely zero explicit ties to the Constitutional electoral system. They’re similar and closely related, and the former is specifically designed to feed directly into the latter, but the primaries are not a part of the government; they are purely constructed by political parties.
The Democrats and Republicans have both designed their primary systems very deliberately similar to the Constitutional electoral system. After all, the whole point is for their nominee to head right into the actual presidential election, so the best way to prepare them for that race is to emulate it within their own. The primaries not only enable the party to narrow down exactly who they want running, but also allows them to probe for strategies in the national election; public reactions to primary debate questions can give hints on how a candidate might handle that issue in the general election.
Aside: I think the terminology for “general election” and “primary election” subtly suggests that the two are somehow two phases of the same process. That’s how the pattern has been, and ‘the way things work’ of course, but I want to really emphasize how the “primary election” is not even on the same plane of necessity as the “general election” in terms of how a president is elected.
So the parties have, instead of electors, delegates, which are invariably elected officials (usually from Congress) that are not only members of, but are very closely tied to, the political party. The individual delegates and even their numbers are decided by the parties on a state-by-state basis. Mind you, pretty much everything about this whole process is simply decided by the party, though they tend to prefer methods that don’t stray too far from Constitutional design and also keep them somewhat grounded in their constituencies. According to the Associated Press, the Democrats have 4,763 delegates and the Republicans have 2,472. These numbers (and their relative proportions of superdelegates) changes between elections. Mind you: the primary election is won by winning a majority of the delegates, regardless of how those delegates are distributed.
These superdelegates are unpledged: they don’t have to explicitly pledge to a candidate up until decision day. In fact, the 2008 Democratic Primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama raised quite a few concerns about superdelegates; the election started with Hillary having more endorsements from superdelegates, but that shifted later in the primary process, presumably to match popular opinion. Indeed, the race was close enough that the superdelegates could have swung it. Ultimately, enough of them voted for Obama to win him the nomination. (Source)(Source)
Why the superdelegates? Well, remember, the political parties do their best to resemble the Constitutional system, but they are not a governmental entity. While the courts can act on the legality of their actions in the context of the constitution, political parties are not bound to do exactly what the people say… and doing so has bitten them in the past. The Superdelegates were introduced into the Democratic Primary system after 1968, when (Vice President at the time) Hubert Humphrey was nominated by the Democratic Party… and not by the primary votes. While the primary system was based on the Constitutional election system, it was, in practice, largely ceremonial. The Democratic National Convention, when convening to decide who to officially nominate for the Presidential race, were not bound to select whomever won the primaries… in fact, they didn’t even need to select a nominee from those who ran in the primaries. In 1968, Hubert Humphrey was selected as the Democratic nominee despite not having run in a single primary. The party’s leadership completely disregarded the will of the voters that was expressed in the primaries and selected one their influential leaders. The Democratic voters did not vote for Humphrey in the primaries and frankly felt betrayed by their own party leadership. Consequently, Humphrey was smashed by Nixon in the election, 301 to 191 electoral votes. (Source)
After that, the Democratic Party members decided they needed a way to prevent something like that from happening. The party’s nominees would necessarily need to reflect the desires of their constituency… though not entirely. The party leadership was not about to cede ALL power of nomination to the voters. Enter the Superdelegate.
So how are they relevant now? Well, the New Hampshire Democratic Primary on February 9th of 2015 between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton (and also technically Martin O’Malley) yielded very interesting results from news sources.
Across the board, Bernie Sanders won the popular vote by a margin of over 20%.
Yet… many news agencies also reported a 15-15 split in delegates between Sanders and Clinton. Why? You guessed it: Superdelegates. They flocked to support Hillary.
Here are some graphics on the state of two candidates shortly after the N.H. primary:
Disclaimer: While I also believe that CNN has a clear bias towards the establishment manifested in very selective reporting, I have yet to see them flat-out lie. They may neglect to show numbers that don’t support their preferred narrative, but I don’t think they’d outright lie about them.
Source: http://www.cnn.com/election/primaries/candidates/hillary-clinton as of 2/10/2016
Source: http://www.cnn.com/election/primaries/candidates/bernie-sanders as of 2/10/2016
Remember: pledged delegates are committed to the candidate their constituencies vote for immediately once the results are settled. Superdelegates can change their vote all the way up until decision day, so those numbers ARE subject to change, but regardless, the disparity is glaring.
Again, this article isn’t about supporting one candidate over another, but to draw attention to the sharp disparity between democratic ideals and reality. It can be easy to conflate the primary elections with the actual Constitutional electoral process. The parties are in it for themselves, and cater to their constituents at least as much as they need to in order to retain their votes. While they have yet to take any drastic strategic measures with Superdelegates, their effect on the election is palpable.
These days, Muslims everywhere seem to be labelled as terrorists, killing innocent people in the name Allah. Disregarding how false this statement is, Muslims are facing genocide in a very unexpected part of the world – Myanmar.
Myanmar has long been a hotbed of political instability. In the late 1940s, General Aung San led a revolution against British rule. However, right before his dream could be realized, he was assassinated . Afterwards, the military took control of the government, followed by years of targeting the natives of the country and active genocide against many groups of ethnicities.
Enter Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Revolutionary General Aung San. Suu Kyi is seen as the leader of the democratic movement in Myanmar and leader of the NLD or National League for Democracy. However, she has faced incredible adversity in her fight. Suu Kyi married a Britisher and mothered two British-born sons. She then went back to Myanmar to fight for progress in the country. The country’s military led government did not approve her actions and forced her into house arrest for 15 years. During her house arrest, her husband became increasingly ill in England. The government claimed that it would allow her to break her house arrest to visit her dying husband after incredible protests in the country. Suu Kyi claims she knew better though; if she left, she would not ever be allowed back in the country. She chose to stay under house arrest, and never saw her husband again, solidifying her devotion to the cause in the eyes of the people.
In 2010, she was finally released from her house arrest, being praised internationally for her resilience. Her troubles would not stop there, however. Since her release, there have been speculations that she may be reconciling with the current government. However, in June of 2015, the military government made an amendment to the constitution that keeps any candidate who has immediate-foreign born relatives from becoming president – a move many speculate is targeted specifically against Suu Kyi. By July, Suu Kyi and the NLD had decided to stand up to the government and run in the elections, whether Suu Kyi was able to become President or not.
Not everyone is a fan of Suu Kyi’s return to power. Among them, the minority Muslim group, known as the Rohingya, who currently do not have the support of the NLD or the ruling government. The Rohingya are Muslims who have lived in Myanmar for several generations, but are not considered to be citizens of the country. However, the 2015 election is the first time that the 500,000 eligible Rohingya voters (out of 1.3 million) are NOT allowed to vote – a fact that they are understandably not taking well. The government has declared them to be foreigners, thus barring them from entering the polls.
Over countless years, the Rohingya have been persecuted and recklessly murdered by others in the nation, which the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has labelled as “ethnic cleansing” – particularly the 969. The 969, lead by (crazy) monk Ashin Wirathu, who is known as the “Burmese Bin Laden”, are known for their stance against the Rohingya, warning that they are taking over the country. The HRW has been cited saying, “Burmese officials, community leaders and Buddhist monks organized and encouraged ethnic Arakanese backed by state security forces to conduct coordinated attacks on Muslim neighborhoods and villages in October 2012 to terrorize and forcibly relocate the population…Included in the death toll were 28 children who were hacked to death, including 13 under age 5.” in a 2013 report . Not all Buddhists agree with the 969, though (thankfully). In fact, the Dalai Lama has openly condemned the actions of the 969 and they are seen as a terrorist organization by many, but at the least, Buddhist extremists. That all being said and done, the government does not openly condemn the 969’s actions, which has caused a lot of strife on an international scale.
If you thought for a moment that the current discriminatory atmosphere was the only thing making this year’s elections difficult, I regret to inform you that’d you’d be completely wrong. There’s several things to take into account when looking at the elections this year. The first is that even if the NLD win’s a majority of the democratic elections held throughout the country, 25% of the parliament is reserved for military personnel. And though the NLD wants to change this law, they’ll have to win a majority of the seats to even have a chance, which could also take years. Furthermore, these elections aren’t for the president, but for the parliamentary seats, who THEN choose the president, something that doesn’t need to be done until March of 2016. Suu Kyi, who is also the favorite to become president, legally can not do so since the constitutional change earlier this year. When Suu Kyi was elected to a position last time in 1990, the government declared that she could not take office until constitutional amendments that were in progress were completed – a process that took 18 years (conveniently). This is not to mention the economic effect this will have on the country (which I’m not even gonna bother to go into… but it’s in a bad place right now) . There’s also the actual population of the state to look at, 70% of which lives in rural areas and use firewood as their main source of energy for cooking. That should tell you a bit about their technological development and outreach as well.
That’s not to say some things haven’t gotten better. In the urban setting, the use of cars has increased by 42% and the number of cell-phone users has increased 15 times. The number of buildings being constructed has also drastically increased. There are 1,400 LESS political prisoners now than there were just 4 years ago. But there’s still incredible social issues taking place. In a country that had a staggering 1,700 political prisoners in 2011, and 140,000 displaced citizens due to violence, we must heed Suu Kyi’s warning . She has consistently warned the U.S. and the world, that we must not only look at their progress, but have a “healthy skepticism” about the reforms taking place.
As confusing as all of this is, and however dim the light of hope seems at the end of the road for all the groups involved, I strongly believe that if we heed Suu Kyi’s words, and keep a level of skepticism whilst trying to move forward, we can truly begin to make a difference in the part of the world. At the very least, the election results, which should come out in a few days, will allow us to speculate about the future a little bit better.