Archive for the ‘democracy’ Category


It is what a government has when it largely represents the will of the majority of its people. Not the will of a small minority. And not imposing tyranny on that small minority either, it respects and protects the rights of that small minority. But we have a word for when a small minority rules the majority — that word is *tyranny* — and tyrannies are always illegitimate.

In the case of courts in English-speaking countries, they maintain their legitimacy via what’s known as “stare decisis”. That is, they based their opinions in court cases based upon a) current law, and b) previous opinions. This is not a new principle. It is one reason, for example, why the Catholic Church moves so slow — they have 1,500 years of precedents for papal opinions, and if a papal opinion doesn’t comply with that 1,500 years of precedent it can make only a tiny move towards a new position at a time, it can’t just throw out the old position altogether.

Stare decisis was the basis for the Supreme Court’s decisions for the past 150 years. Each new decision was couched in the language of previous decisions, or in the plain language of the law itself. This has at times caused issues when the Court recognized rights that were not currently respected, such as the right of black people to attend the same schools as white people, but even there the opinion was couched in Equal Protection language from prior court decisions. The Supreme Court didn’t come roaring out of 1945 intent upon guaranteeing equal rights to black people and simply ruling that black people had equal rights, it built decision after decision upon prior decision. When it decided “separate but equal is inherently unequal” it did not pull the decision out of its butt, it relied on 50 years of data showing that “separate but equal” never was plus language from previous Equal Protection court decisions showing that if the school segregation law was not treating citizens equally, it could not be law.

In this fashion the Supreme Court has typically been an anchor preventing radical change while providing for preservation of rights. The Court has at times gone off into evil territory — Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson come to mind — but eventually through applying the Constitution to court case after court case managed via stare decisis to come back from the dark side. Stare decisis gave legitimacy to the Court’s opinions and thus legitimacy to the notion of rule of law. And rule of law is important, because without rule of law, what you have is rule of gun, and rule of gun always ends up with the most ruthless and most murderous in charge.

Which is why it’s utter disaster for the United States that last week the Supreme Court basically threw stare decisis into the toilet in favor of a radical coup that remade American law from scratch based upon the ideological notions of the judges. By throwing out stare decisis in favor of imposing their ideology upon the nation, the Supreme Court has basically killed any legitimacy that it had. The Supreme Court fundamentally committed a right wing coup of the U.S. government last week, a coup setting five authoritarians in charge of the nation, and killing any respect that the majority of Americans have for the court.

Why is that important? It’s important because the Supreme Court relies upon other branches of government to do its work. The Supreme Court did not enforce the desegregation of Little Rock High School. The 101st Airborne did, via the intervention of the executive branch. So the Supreme Court ruled that New York’s concealed weapon law was illegal. New York’s concealed weapon law is very popular in New York State. What is the Supreme Court going to do when New York says f**k you, we’re going to continue enforcing our concealed weapon law? Joe Biden isn’t going to dispatch the 101st Airborne to free people imprisoned for violating New York’s concealed weapon law.

For those of you who have been in the military, there is an important and fundamental principle taught to every officer: Never issue a command that you know is going to be disobeyed. It destroys your legitimacy as an officer and makes it more likely that future commands are going to be disobeyed. This is what last week’s Supreme Court did — they issued a command that they know is going to be disobeyed. They issued that command because they *know* that it’s going to be disobeyed. The Supreme Court knowingly destroyed its own legitimacy. Why? Simple — the Supreme Court in the past has been a major defender of rights for minorities in America. By deliberately destroying the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, the right wing is betting that they via rule of gun can then take away rights from minorities that were previously granted by the Supreme Court.

In short, last week’s Supreme Court deliberately destroyed its own legitimacy in hopes that rule of gun rather than rule of law will become the norm in the United States. The right wing believes that because they are the most ruthless and most murderous people in America, they will come out on top when rule of law collapses because the judicial system has lost all legitimacy. Last week’s Supreme Court decisions weren’t an accidental destruction of the Court’s legitimacy — they were a deliberate destruction by people who want to burn it all down. And if you are not a white male Christian with conservative beliefs, you should be very, very worried right now.

— Badtux the “Time to get well armed, people” Penguin

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There is an idiotic Libertarian saying, “democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner”. But there’s a whole lot more sheep than wolves. Around 7 million sheep in America, and 4500 wolves.
The reality is that there are *always* more sheep than wolves. That’s how predator-prey relationships work. Democracy is where the prey (sheep) vote that the wolf gets to eat grass. Unless the wolf gets them to vote to put sheep on the menu, it ain’t on the menu.
Now, the wolf whines that it’s tyranny that the sheep won’t put sheep on the lunch menu. He has a right, a right he says, to eat sheep. Which is why the predator is *always* against democracy. 1000 sheep and 1 wolf voting the dinner menu never works out well for the wolf.

Libertarians know this. But they think they are predators, so if they get to be in charge, they’ll have sheep for dinner. But of course they’re not predators. They’re deluded fanboy wannabes who have read too much bad fiction posing as “truth”, and if a predator ever comes to power, they’re going to be first on the dinner menu.

— Badtux the Realist Penguin

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The word “socialist” is pretty much meaningless nowadays. It’s been used to describe everything from Medicare to the U.S. Postal Service to a requirement to buy insurance before driving your car to the Interstate Highway System. Its meaning nowadays appears to be “anything that Republicans don’t like.”

That’s one reason why I like the term “Social Democrat”, which is an actual party in most European countries. It clarifies that we’re talking about democracy, not about totalitarianism, and it helps clarify that social democrats believe in social insurance, not in the government owning the means of production. That is, social democrats believe that government has a responsibility as an insurer of last resort when people’s problems become such that either the free market cannot meet their needs or they can no longer take care of themselves. Housing subsidies, Medicare, etc., are all social insurance programs. As versus the government owning a car company for more than the brief amount of time needed to flip it to a new owner when the old owner went bankrupt. Government should not be in the business of owning car companies, steel factories, etc. because government lacks the feedback mechanisms to properly match supply and demand or fulfill people’s different needs. But making sure that people have the minimum needed to keep them alive and participating in our society while providing shared infrastructure like roads and fire protection is well within the remit of what is reasonable and proper for government to do, and is exactly what the term “Social Democrat” encompasses in countries like Germany.

For some reason, however, the term “social democrat” seems to be a term that hasn’t caught on here in the United States. Baffling.

— Badtux the Social Democrat Penguin

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A few days ago I mentioned that centrally planned economies can’t work, but neither can capitalist economies unless there are rules that redistribute the tokens to the consumers and workers who generate wealth rather than allowing them to accumulate unfettered in the hands of owners of capital. At which point someone says, “well, the only way to do that is tyranny!”

What, in the 1950’s the United States was a tyranny? For real?

Then there’s the argument, “the rules will always be hijacked by the rich and powerful. How are you going to prevent that?”

My answer is democracy. The large number of young people looking at democratic socialism as the answer, which is where democracy is used to re-write the rules to favor redistributing the tokens back to the masses rather than letting them accumulate in the hands of a rentier class, shows that democracy can be self-correcting over time. Democracy is not Orwell’s boot pressing the face of man into the ground forever, it has the capacity for change, albeit sometimes the change happens depressingly slow and takes forms at times that are equally depressing. Is democratic socialism “the” answer? Not in its purest form, certainly, but it is a natural reaction to rentier capitalism and is the direction we must go if we don’t want a Mexico North with a huge impoverished class and a tiny but stupidly wealthy upper class and nothing inbetween. Mexico is not a nice place to live for the majority of people there (and the fact that they’re no longer coming to El Norte should tell us something too about where our nation currently is). If democratic socialism takes us away from that, sign me up!

– Badtux the Somewhat-socialist Penguin

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“I’m an aspirational anarchist. Society’s not ready for it, not close, but it’s the direction I’d like to see us head toward.” — a SF writer

The central problem of power is the central problem that anarchy theory correctly defines but the solution proposed — eliminate all power structures that could allow one person to impose power upon others — is nonsense if we are talking about humans. There are always humans who are more physically powerful than others, there are always humans who end up in control of scarce resources needed by others and thus are in a position of power over others, and the sociopath problem has no solution in anarchy theory, the sociopath problem being where those with the least compunction for harming human beings always rise to the top unless there is some other power structure to prevent them from doing so. I basically have not come up with any solution to this problem of power that in any way resembles traditional anarchy solutions that require consensus because they fall prey to the Liberum Veto problem where sly people use the need for consensus as a tool for obtaining power.

The only way I can see to make anarchy work is the unlimited resources and the (literal) deus ex machina of the AI “Minds” of Iain Banks’ “Culture” novels. And even there, we have seen Minds go insane and space their entire human contingent before heading off into the wilds of the galaxy to do whatever. Making anarchy dependent upon a deus ex machina in order to work properly in short isn’t a perfect solution, though I’d far prefer life in Banks’ “Culture” to life here.

So what can we do? Well. Democracy is the best solution we have thus far to the central problem of power. Unfortunately what we have seen is that democracy requires an educated, involved, and informed populace or else it is susceptible to being hijacked by rich jerks using propaganda and lies. Still, what is your alternative? Anarchy? Anarchy doesn’t work. Everywhere that it has been tried, it has turned into rule of gun as the most venal and ruthless gain followers and use concentrated force to impose their will and concentrate wealth in their own hands. In a sense the current state of Russia is a result of the anarchy that occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union. If there had been a smooth transition to a functional democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union, it is unlikely that Russia would currently be ruled by a strongman who maintains power by jailing and/or killing opponents.

Fuck anarchy, in other words. Everywhere it’s been tried, it’s ended up with strong man rule where armed thugs impose their will upon those who are less ruthless. Either it has been ineffective at fighting the armed thugs due to the liberum veto problem, or the people end up rejecting it in favor of the armed thugs because the armed thugs at least keep the common criminals in check. If you have a counter example, let me know about it. But thus far the only “anarchy” I’ve seen that actually works, works only because it’s embedded in a system that’s *not* anarchy. Which is sort of not a solution to the general problem of power, yo.

– Badtux the Anarchy Penguin

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By 2040 or so, because most young Americans (and immigrants) are migrating to the few large metropolitan areas in states where jobs are plentiful, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent of the population will choose 70% of the senators. And the 30% minority choosing 70% of the Senate will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70% majority who are only getting to vote for 30% of the Senators.

I do not see how the United States is going to survive this. Not as a democracy, anyhow. We have a name for a nation where 30% of the population rules the other 70% of the population. That name is *not* democracy or even republic. That name is “tyranny”.

Americans have thus far shown a remarkable tolerance for living in a police state, as long as that police state is primarily targeting brown people. (For details of this police state, read Radley Balko’s columns in Reason and the Washington Post). But once 30% of the population is using police state powers to impose their rule upon 70% of the population, they may find that the tolerance of Americans is limited. I don’t see a good outcome from that end state. At least, not an outcome that is nonviolent.

– Badtux the Demographics Penguin

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So the criticism is that the Democratic Party hasn’t done proper outreach to: racists, xenophobes, Christian Dominionists who want to impose Biblical law upon non-Christians, bigots who want to stone gays and trans-people to death, and other such deplorables of that sort. At which point I say: Wha?! Frankly, if the Democratic Party had embraced bigots, I would have voted Green Party because I can’t support a party that embraces bigots.

Not to mention that it would have been futile in the first place. Even if the Democrats had reached out to bigots, the Republican Party appears to have a lock on the bigot vote at present, having elected a President who actually was *convicted*, in a court of law, of being a bigot (he was fined major dollars multiple times for refusing to rent his apartments to black couples).

No, what the Democratic Party needs to do outreach to is, well, Democrats. If the same number of Democrats had voted in this election as had voted in 2012, we wouldn’t be talking about President Donald Trump, because the race would not have even been close. Not that it actually was close — Hillary Clinton won by 2.5 million votes, after all, the largest margin of victory-that-is-not-victory ever in American history, giving the lie to the notion that the United States is a democracy because in a democracy the person with the greatest number of votes wins. But the fact that 5 million Democrats stayed home means that what would have been a 7.5 million vote blowout instead turned into a 2.5 million vote win that was a defeat.

So: Democrats need to reach out to Democrats. Leave the racists, xenophobes, Christian Dominionists, bigots, neo-Nazis, and other such deplorables to the Republicans. The notion that Democrats need to reach out to deplorable people is contradicted by the electoral victories of Barack Obama. None of the deplorables voted for Obama, yet he won. Why? He reached out to Democrats. That’s why.

And the Democratic Party, going forward, needs to do the same.

– Badtux the “Fuck the deplorables” Penguin

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There are about 350 wolves in Wyoming. There are around 355,000 sheep in Wyoming. If Wyoming was a democracy where wolves and sheep voted for what’s for dinner, wolves in Wyoming would be eating a lot of grass.

This is true of all predator / prey relationships — prey species are far more numerous than predators are. Otherwise the predators would exterminate the prey and starve to death.

It’s true of humans too. The vast majority of humans just want to raise their families in peace, they don’t want to do predatory stuff. They don’t want to deprive someone else of their worldly goods, they don’t want to hurt someone, they don’t like violence, they don’t inflict violence and they don’t want violence. Think about it — the city of San Jose has 9.1 police officers per 10,000 population. That means that most people in San Jose are nowhere near the eyesight of police officers. Yet the number of major crimes in San Jose is around 330 per 10,000 people. In other words, figuring that each crime was being done by a distinct person (which it isn’t, a lot is repeat crimes by the same group of people), that’s 3.3% *max* of San Jose’s population that is predators, and the rest just want to get along and live their lives in peace.

So democracy, in a human society, is the 96.7% of the population that is sheep deciding what’s for dinner, and the 3.3% of the population that is wolves getting upset that they’re eating a lot of salad. Then the wolves get the idea, “hey, why don’t we start spreading stupid stories painting democracy as bad! Like that two wolves and one sheep deciding what’s for dinner story!”. And so they do. And so they do.

Point: when Libertarians trot out that two wolves and one sheep story, they’re full of shit and deliberately trying to mislead people into believing something that’s not true. In any democracy, the number of sheep voting is far, far larger than the number of wolves voting. So you don’t have to worry about the wolves voting in mutton for dinner. In a true democracy, that is. Of course, we don’t live in such a thing, and never have. But that’s another story.

– Badtux the Numbers Penguin

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An interesting outlook on urban planning in the SF Bay area:

“The people who bought their homes a long time ago lucked into a windfall and they resentfully lash out at anyone trying to cut in on that windfall. But notice how un-American these claims are. The current residents want to protect their gains by telling other people how they can use their property. When a new restaurant starts to take patrons from an old restaurant we generally don’t think that the old restaurant–the long-term resident–has the right to prevent the new restaurant from opening. The same is true, by and large, for new technologies and ways of doing business. Yet when it comes to residential land we give the old residents a veto on the new.

We have collectivized property in the United States (unlike in say laissez-faire Tokyo). Property is not fully collectivized, of course, but a person’s land is not their own–it’s subject to the dictates of the collective. Collectivization has been tried in many other times and places and the results are by now predictable. Collectivization in Palo Alto has produced inefficiency, high costs and a politicization of choice that makes for ill-will and endless conflict.”

I can vouch for the ill-will and endless conflict. Here in the City of Santa Clara, it’s coming to a head. The 45.1% of Santa Clara residents who are homeowners are adamant that the 54.9% of Santa Clara residents who are renters not be given the opportunity to own a home here, because building more housing would lower their property values. These people are a minority, but they are an affluent minority, and thus far have managed to enforce their edicts irregardless of the desires of the majority, who simply want more housing so they don’t have to double up with multiple families in overpriced rental housing. But oh, to hear the screeching of those who bought their homes in 1973 and now suddenly there is a major retail/residential development going 4 stories tall on the corner down the street from them! It’s as if they think they have a right to dictate to the majority that no, you cannot have a home.

In that respect, I believe that Alex Tabarrok is completely incorrect. We have not collectivized property in Santa Clara. Rather, we’ve Animal Farmed property in Santa Clara. In Santa Clara, all residents are created equal, but some are created more equal than others…

– Badtux the “Who appointed these people dictators of our city?” Penguin

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Libertarians say that democracy is evil because the majority would impose laws to oppress the minority. They call it “tyranny of the majority”. Yet recent history seems to be contrary to that assertion. Black people are around 13% of the US population. Despite that, there are now lots of laws on the books saying they have equal rights with white people. Gay people are around 3% of the US population. Despite that, there are now lots of laws on the books saying they have equal rights with straight people (though not as many laws as protect black people, still, the days of laws that ban being homosexual are long past us). It seems that the majority of people are, well, nice people. They might think homosexuals are squicky, and black people might make them nervous, but they don’t want to be mean to blacks or gays by treating them worse than other people.

In fact, it’s only a very determined *minority* of people that is against equal rights for all Americans. A group I call the “bitter clingers”, who bitterly cling to their bigotry because they have a deranged need to feel superior to everybody else and being a bigot lets them feel superior to everybody else. It appears that democracy, rule by the majority, is the *solution* for bigotry — oppression of the minority — not the cause as Libertarians would state. Let us not forget that the whole Southern segregation thing was imposed upon the South by a well-armed *minority* of Southerners, a well-armed white minority that were former Civil War soldiers with military training and thus ended up winning a guerilla war against the police forces put in place by the (black) majority governments of the South after the Civil War.

In short, the notion of the “tyranny of the majority” is bullshit. But I guess we already knew that. Heck, even when it was first said in 1788 by John Adams it was bullshit. John Adams was a wealthy mercantile magnate who was worried that if the majority were allowed to rule in America, they’d vote to tax wealthy oligarchs like him rather than imposing the tariffs that he wanted in order to protect his interests. I.e., the phrase “tyranny of the majority” was all about an attempt by a minority to impose its will upon the majority even then, a dishonest debating parlour trick, not a reality that has ever happened.

– Badtux the Observant Penguin

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