Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Politics

How to lose an election in a lost democracy

leave a comment »

In recent times, I have made several posts dealing with the themes like democracy and the U.S. presidential election—including How to win an election in a lost democracy, on how a truly disastrous candidate (like Hillary Clinton) could conceivably and hypothetically manage to win through placing a sufficiently bad candidate (like Trump) in the opposing camp.

While this was not a serious suggestion (at least not for the current election), I actually and honestly thought that the flaws of Trump would bring Hillary a victory—for the last week or two before the election, a sure-fire one, with not enough time left for a turn-around. This to the point that I actually failed to write the please-consider-what-you-are-doing post I had planned for last week, seeing it as a waste of time.

Election day came the miracle and one of the greatest reliefs I have ever experience—a major bullet was dodged.

Despite the title of this post, I will not try to analyze how this happened in-depth (I have not done the necessary leg-work). But: Trump likely managed to leverage his advantages among the uneducated/working-class/whatnot*, while likely sufficiently many in the rest of the population realized that Hillary was the greater evil, possibly aided by the email scandals that brought her long history of bad behavior to mind—as well as the many investigations that have all been prematurely interrupted. Trump was lucky (or campaigned well…) in that his distribution of votes gave him a majority of electors through winning most of the swing states, while having slightly fewer votes than Hillary overall. Voter turnout, how many of whose supporters actually voted, might have had a significant effect (often the case with upsets).

*Looking at statistics at e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_2016 it is clear that the candidates have very different impacts on different demographics, including using criteria like education. That I side with the candidate of the “uneducated” while most of the “educated” go against my recommendations is annoying, but I can understand how someone like Trumps rubs the educated the wrong way—I too see him merely as the lesser of two evils and would like have preferred e.g. Obama. At the same time, I re-iterate my observation that education is not automatically a sign of intelligence or good judgment: Many of the educated who voted for Hillary will have done so because she too is educated, because she has a more sophisticated image, because the educated in the U.S. are “supposed” to vote Democrat, or similar. With the Republicans and the Democrats in general, there is often the problem that those with some intelligence are bright enough to see the right-most wing of the Republicans, the Fundamentalist Christians, and so on, as problematic; however, not bright enough to see that the left-most Democrats, the politically correct, the gender-feminists, …, are just as uninformed, irrational, dangerous, and otherwise problematic.

Looking back at the posts I did write, I want to repeat that this is not an ideal situation: Disaster was averted, but chances are that Trump, as the lesser of two evils, will prove to be a genuinely bad President—it is just that the alternative would with a high degree of probability have been even worse.

On the down-side, looking at the problems with democracy and its current failure, the victory of Trump could actually be the stronger side of that failure, with his extremely populist take. On the other hand, it is a positive sign that someone in no way established as a politician, and certainly not a professional politician, could win.

As for those who wanted Hillary Clinton because she was a woman, because it would be high-time to have a female President, or similar (all idiotic reasons to elect someone), they should take comfort in it being far better to wait a while longer and then get a woman who is actually worthy of the job. Someone like Hillary could, in a worst-case-scenario, have set back the chances for other women by decades. As a Swede I can point to a number of absolutely disastrous women, far worse than Hillary, who have been brought to the fore despite their lack of competence and other suitability to provide the female candidates the feminists cry for—and who have done exactly such damage. The single best example is likely Mona Sahlin, who came very close to becoming the Swedish Premier, but who also was deeply, deeply stupid and has repeatedly been caught in various, if minor, corruption scandals. In contrast, those women who have made it to the top without a significant leg up or with being a woman as a major selling point, like Thatcher and Merkel*, have done women a favour through actually proving that there are women who can do the job as well as the typical male Prime Minister resp. Chancellor.

*Notwithstanding that my opinion of Merkel has dropped considerably over the last few years.

As a side-bar, it can be interesting to briefly compare Bill and Hillary, especially because part of my aversion to Hillary is Bill’s Presidency and a wish to keep the Clintons in general (but Hillary in particular) out of the White House: Bill was a lesser evil than Hillary for at least two reasons (if we otherwise consider them fungible, which is likely unfair to Bill) in that firstly he had considerable relevant practical experience from his time as Governor, while Hillary had a gifted Senatorship and otherwise was the Governor’s/President’s wife; secondly his Presidency interrupted a long period of Republican dominance*, while Hillary’s would have extended a Democrat reign.

*One of my main observations concerning democracy, and power in general, is that it is a bad thing for a specific individual, party, organization, … to have great power for too long. Reasons include a growing risk of corruption, people confusing who they are as persons with their official roles, lack of new ideas, and too much resistance to change. Correspondingly, it is good when another party wins an election every know and then, even when otherwise the worse choice. For Bill, the last Democrat was twelve years back and the Democrats had had four of the last twenty-four years. For Hillary, she would have extended a Democrat streak to at least twelve years and twenty out of the last twenty-eight.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 10, 2016 at 11:27 pm

How to win an election in a lost democracy

with one comment

Looking at the U.S. Presidential election system, there is an interesting flaw in the two phases* involved: A candidate can win the first phase by having an ever so small majority, possibly even plurality, of his own party support him—and be without chance in the second phase through this support being too small.

*Preliminaries and main election. A case for more phases including preparations, declarations, nominations, and (of course) the election by the electoral college could be made, but I stick to the popular vote here.

In this setup, what is the best way to win an election? Make sure that a. you have a strong internal support, b. your opponent antagonizes almost half of his own party (or otherwise has a weak internal support and a strong risk of defectors). By planting, covertly supporting, whatnot, a poor candidate within the opposing party, the election result can be manipulated in a massive manner. The poor candidate does not even have to be “in on it”. In fact, I would be unsurprised if most variations of such (at least approximately) “divide and conquer” tactics work better when only the outside manipulators know the truth.

Notably, in the U.S. political landscape, with the two main parties both covering a very wide range of opinions and interests (the Republicans likely more so), this is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Take a candidate like Donald Trump*, who by playing the populist element and fringes of one party can gather a majority of his own party, while being highly unpopular in other parts of the party. Chances are that he will be able to mobilize a smaller share of the party members in the main election than a more main-stream/moderate/whatnot candidate—and he will see far more “defectors” from his own party than the opponent’s come election day**. In fact, a number of Republicans have actually publicly declared Hillary the lesser evil (something I very strongly disagree with, however problematic Trump may be). Similarly, with some reservations for how well the populism works, he is likely to miss out on most of the party-less vote.

*This post is very definitely inspired by the current situation. However, and I stress this strongly, I am not saying that this has actually already happened—just that it is a very real risk that it eventually will happen, the more likely after the parties have reviewed the events of the current election. However, similar stratagems have definitely been tried in other contexts in the past, notably during military conquests.

**Normally, almost every Republican voter will see virtually any Republican candidate as better than his Democrat counter-part (and vice versa), because even if flawed in character and sub-optimal in opinion, he will still be the lesser evil through belonging to the right party and having at least roughly the right opinions. The idea is to find a candidate who will disturb this principle with as many voters as possibly (while still managing to gain the party majority).

Say that election day comes, that the Republicans and Democrats are equally strong in general support, but that 80 % of the Democrats vote loyally while 20 % remain at home—and that only 70 % of the Republicans are loyal, 20 % remain at home, and 10 % actually defect. Well, that splits the vote 90–70, giving the Democrats an easy victory*, where we “should” have had a hard fight to the last hour of the election.

*Of course, with the all-or-nothing voting on the state level, such overall numbers are not necessarily important. However, in the given constellation, this would have kept every blue state in its traditional color, likely turned every swing-state blue, and quite possibly given some red states a do-over. The result is the same—an easy victory.

Now, consider the special case that you are put in charge of getting someone herself* almost unelectable elected. Suddenly, this strategy is not merely advantageous—it might be an outright necessity! For a disaster** to be elected, the opponent must at least appear to be similarly poor.

Bottom line: If you are Scylla and want ships heading your way, make sure the alternative is Charybdis.

*And, yes, I am most definitely talking about Hillary Clinton. However, I am still not saying that this is what actually has happened.

**In the case of Hillary Clinton, the disaster falls into two parts. Firstly, she is objectively a poor candidate, with a history of corruption, dubious qualifications, weird opinions, … She has even already more-or-less promised a cabinet with a male–female division of 50–50 based on the overall population distribution and ignoring actual suitability and availability of candidates—an idea fully on par with a wall to Mexico. Secondly, she is a candidate with handicaps when it comes to being elected, including being less than universally liked and more controversial among the Democrats than is safe for a candidate to be, being unusually disliked among the Republicans, being less telegenic and charismatic than many others have been (including Bill and Obama), and just (at least to me) appearing less natural.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 9, 2016 at 12:11 am

Democracy Lost

with 3 comments

Churchill is claimed to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” I have long held the same belief: Democracy is not a good form of government, due to weaknesses such as giving clever manipulators power they are unsuited for and allowing the majority to impose its will on the minority in an often unfair or destructive manner. Unfortunately, all other methods (that I am aware of and that have actually been tried) have been worse. The “enlightened despot”, e.g., suffers from the massive problem of how to ensure that the despot is actually enlightened…

Today, however, we are at an absolute crisis of democracy, where the leaders elected are problematic or even disastrous; where the “democratic ideals” are increasingly neglected in the name of democracy; where democracy it self just becomes a charade to keep politicians in office and lobbies in charge; and where the voters’ concerns are only relevant to the degree that they can be used for (re-)electing politicians, implying that only the concerns of the broad masses are on the table and that party “information” becomes misinformation geared at the dumb and easily manipulated. In many ways, the modern politicians are as separated from and have the same attitude towards the people as the likes of FIFA and IAAF* have towards their respective athletes. Where politicians should see themselves as the voters elected representatives and servants, they too often see themselves as the elected conservators and masters; while the voters do not so much exercise a given right as they pose a bureaucratic obstacle to keeping the politicians in office.

*I had repeatedly warned against these and similar organizations (IOC, PETA, various UN organizations, …) years before the recent scandals broke. In part, because I had observed much negative behavior, especially a disregard for the best of the athletes and the sport (more generally, the ostensible raison d’être); in part, because it appears to be general principles that organizations slowly become mechanisms for their own self-preservation and that power-hungry opportunists drift to the top. Many of these organizations have a monopoly in their area of activity and the people in charge can be so for decades, with little or no accountability to the outside world or the athletes, and are therefore extremely vulnerable to these principles.

Democracy is degenerating into a caricature of it self. More: While democracy has never worked more than adequately and has often failed locally at different times (especially in countries lacking a democratic tradition), we are now standing the risk of global failure. More yet: One of the greatest selling points of democracy used to be that it was “for the people”, not “for the ruler(s)” or “for the state”—and this does not apply more than nominally in today’s world.

Often, the best we can hope for is politicians who do less harm than others. Obama did very little good, but (with some reservations for yet unknown long-term effects of ObamaCare) he also did very little harm, and by that standard he deserves a passing mark.

If the negative trends do not turn around, we will end up in a scenario halfway between “Nineteen Eighty-Four”* and “Idiocracy”, with a regular dose of “panem et circenses”.

*I almost renamed this article “Twenty Sixteen”, seeing that Orwell’s work is far more relevant to the text than Milton’s.

The U.S.* presidential elections are a good case in point: For all practical purposes, they are just another popularity contest along the lines of “American Idol”. Take Obama: What does it matter whether his wife is considered wonderful? What does it matter whether he is a Muslim, African, Hawaiian, whatnot? What should matter is what he brought (or was expected to bring) to the table, say how intelligent or unintelligent he (and not his wife!) was, how knowledgeable or ignorant, how diplomatically skilled or unskilled, what experience he had, … Was his election and re-election based on this? No: His proponents played up his image, his wife, his (as turned out) empty “hope” agenda, and the “no more Bush” angle. His opponents tried to defame him based on issues of heritage, religion, and the like, even trying to remove his eligibility based on birth place. (Making a challenge of eligibility is of course legitimate. However, rules along the lines of “the President must have been born in the U.S” have little practical relevance on whether someone is suitable for the job. In contrast, hypothetical rules like “the President must have a post-graduate degree” or “the President must have served as a state governor or mayor of a major city for at least five years” would be much easier to defend.)

*Among the Western democracies, the U.S. is possibly the one where democracy works the worst—despite arguably having the most thought-through system. I would speculate that this is due to the age of the U.S. democratic system, with “FIFA-ization” simply having had more time to do its damage, possibly aided by the earlier and wider spread of television. (Cf. how Kennedy allegedly beat Nixon due to a better television performance.) The common use of public elections to appoint e.g. district attorneys is likely harmful. The emphasis on individual politicians and not parties (as in Sweden and Germany) almost certainly increases the populism and the vulnerability to lobbyists, but could have positive counter-effects e.g. through diminishing the role of organizations (and thereby the “FIFA-ization”).

Of the three current main candidates, all appear unsuitable for the job and each could do considerable damage if elected. Sanders is disturbingly far to the left. Trump seems to be off his meds. Hillary* is a corrupt opportunist (as was revealed repeatedly during her husband’s presidency), appears to have a distorted world view (e.g. regarding feminism), and has a political career that consists of gifts from others. In fact, her main strength is campaigning and public relations… (Between her and Bill, this is probably her fourth preliminary campaign, to which we can add two presidential campaigns, her senatorial campaigning, Bill’s gubernatorial campaigning, possibly campaigns for smaller offices at some point in time, and likely some involvement in at least the campaigns of Al Gore.)

*When I hear “Clinton”, I still think “Bill” and I suspect this is the same with most people outside the U.S. “Hillary” reduces the confusion.

As absurd it may seem to someone who knows my political stance (libertarian and classical liberal) and what I tend to think of the Left, I consider Sanders the least of these three evils. Indeed, since he might be the best hope we have of preventing a Hillary presidency, which is an absolute nightmare scenario, I would urge those who still have a vote to cast in the preliminaries to cast it on him. (By analogy, in a Hillary–Trump match-up for the main election, go with Trump. A Sanders–Trump match-up is harder, because there is at least some possibility that Trump is merely playing the opinion or trolling the election process, with the intention of being far more reasonable should he be elected. If so, he is the better choice; if not, Sanders is slightly ahead.)

The general problem, however, will not go away by voting for the “lesser evil”. To remove ourselves from popularity contests, radical measures are needed. In the specific case of the U.S. President, one way could be to explicitly forbid candidates for the electoral college to in anyway indicate a preference for a presidential candidate and to re-focus the election process on the individual electors, ideally even with the electoral college being chosen before the presidential candidates are determined: The college candidates have to convince the public that they are, individually, more suitable for the ad hoc task of electing the president than their competitors, ideally through pointing to intellectual accomplishments, experience, education, whatnot. (The actual implementation would have to be carefully thought through, especially in order to prevent a candidate’s unofficial preferences for President from being well-known, despite an ostensible lack of preference.)

A more general solution (that I have repeatedly suggested) is to set competency based limits on eligibility for both voters and candidates for office. For instance, presumptive voters could take a test to determine their ability to think critically and rationally and to see through political propaganda. (However, tests based on opinion or even knowledge must not be allowed, because these would very soon be abused to limit the right to vote to those having the “right” opinions, thereby defeating the democratic process. A test of thinking, in contrast, is only marginally different in principle and purpose from the age restrictions that are in universal use.)

An important point of democracy, too often forgotten: There are certain rights that are usually grouped with democracy in a blanket manner, but which are actually unrelated—and more important than democracy it self. Consider e.g. freedom of speech and thought or the right to due process. (To some degree these overlap with the connotations of “civil liberties”, “human rights”, and “Rechtsstaat”. More often than not, in my experience and at least outside academia, they are simply grouped together with “democratic rights” or “democratic principles”.) Keeping a true democracy running without (at least some of) them is hard; preserving them in a non-democracy might be even harder. Still they are not inherently linked to democracy. Indeed, there are many officially democratic countries that try to limit these rights and in doing so they become lesser than (hypothetical) non-democratic countries in which the rights are preserved. To take a few examples:

  1. Crimes related to sex are often given a drastically different treatment than other crimes, which undermines principles like “due process” and “Rechtssicherheit”. The underlying reason for such principles is, somewhat simplified, that no-one should be arbitrarily punished without having committed a crime or punished in disproportion to a crime actual committed. (With regard to criminal law. Civil law is the same m.m.) This is not just to reduce the risks of incompetence—but even more to reduce the risk of deliberate abuse of the legal system. This applies particularly to abuse by the government*.

    *Generally, a constitution, bill of rights, system of government, whatnot, must not be based on the assumption that the leader(s) of the country, governmental agencies, and individual civil servants are never evil (or incompetent). On the contrary, one of their most important tasks is to protect the people against this very risk. Unfortunately, this is something that most politicians fail to grasp—thereby proving the importance of the task…

    However, we now can have situations where no-one (ideally) can be arbitrarily punished for e.g. theft and murder—but easily could be so for rape (sexual abuse of children, whatnot). What then is the benefit of preventing arbitrary punishment for murder? A hostile entity (e.g. a government or a powerful personal enemy) simply forgoes the murder accusation and trumps up a rape accusation.

    For this reason, it is imperative that sex crimes are not treated differently than other crimes, no matter how easy it is to play on emotions. (The irrationality often present is proved e.g. by rape carrying similar penalties to murder in the U.S. and how some debaters actually seem to consider it the worse crime—a stupidity so abysmal that its sickening.) If someone accused of murder has the right to the presumption of innocence, then so must someone accused of rape. If someone accused of murder has the right to face his accuser, then so must someone accused of rape. If an alleged victim of attempted murder is cross-examined by the defense, then so must the alleged victim of a rape. Etc.

    Notably, “strict liability” has no justification whatsoever in criminal law, be it with regard to sex or other areas. All cases where a punishment is reasonably due (in the absence of unlawful intentions) can be fully covered by variations of negligence. For instance, someone who fires a gun in an apartment and accidentally kills a neighbor is negligent, because any reasonable person should have realized that this action endangered the lives of others. A large corporation is almost always negligent when inadvertently breaking laws, because a duty* to have sufficient legal knowledge or to make sufficient legal consultations can be assumed. In contrast, someone having sex with an underage person who professes to be of age and looks it to boot, cannot be considered negligent without additional proof that a reasonable person should have suspected something foul.

    *Typically, the legal system of a given country will assume such an obligation for entities, including natural persons, in near blanket manner. However, I am very skeptical as to whether this is ethically justifiable and compatible with a sound legal system, especially considering the horrifyingly large number of laws and their complexity. In my opinion, natural persons should be given considerable leeway, outside a certain core set of laws where knowledge can reasonably be assumed and demanded. (Better yet, if the average person cannot be presumed to understand or know that something is a crime, there is a fair chance that it should not be criminal to begin with.) Corporations, especially major ones, are a different matter.

    This the more so, as many sex crimes are in fact Orwellian “sexcrimes”: In the modern West, homosexuality is perfectly legal; a few decades ago that was not always the case and in other parts of the world it still is not. In Germany, someone 60 years old can legally have sex with a 16 y.o. partner*; in some U.S. states, someone 18 years and 1 month old can see his life ruined over having had sex with a 17 years, 11 months old partner. (In both cases, assuming mutual consent.) In Germany, prostitution is perfectly legal; in the U.S. it is not; in Sweden and (until this month) France it used to be legal, before campaigns of misinformation and misrepresentation forced the illegality of the purchase**. Indeed, I strongly suspect that some who call for changes in legislation have a hidden agenda. For instance, making sex with a 17 y.o. a strict liability statutory rape, will not merely cause people to stop having sex with 17 y.o. looking people—it will also make them a whole lot more careful about having sex with strangers who appear to be in their early to mid-twenties, about having sex while drunk, and similar. Similarly, extending bans on child porn to include not merely (proper) children, nor even just “children” below the age of 18, but depictions where someone above 18 pretends to be below 18 or could be taken to be below 18, is absurd and idiotic—unless we assume that this is just an indirect way of attacking porn in general, merely using the pretext of attacking child porn (and thereby avoiding the strong protests and resistance that would follow an attempt to ban porn in general).

    *I am not necessarily saying that this is a good or a socially accepted combination (certainly not a likely one). The point is that it is very weird (and usually a sign of too restrictive laws) when one highly developed and “modern” country declares something illegal that other highly developed and “modern” countries allow. Even within the U.S. there are odd variations from state to state.

    **But not the act of prostitution it self. The asymmetry is absurd, illogical, and incompatible with how e.g. narcotics are handled (the buyer or possessor is often not culpable, but the seller is). If nothing else: If the purchase is illegal, then the prostitute is enticing others to a criminal act, which would normally (and justifiably) be criminal.

  2. Germany has considerable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression, notably in that a number of symbols and greetings associated with the Nazi movement are forbidden. While to some degree, for historical reasons, emotionally understandable, there is little or no rational justification and it remains an undue intrusion on the rights of the individual. In stark contrast, the (largely common) symbols of GDR, the USSR, and other Communist dictatorships are not forbidden, even though the crimes of the USSR match those of Nazi-Germany and the GDR showed the same disregard for the life and rights of the individual. (More generally, unfortunately, and contrary to Leftist propaganda and Hollywood movies, there is nothing uniquely evil about Nazi-Germany. History is full of qualitatively similar examples, the difference being a matter of scale and success, which, at the time, where unprecedented.) To make matters worse, there are ongoing attempts to ban the strongly nationalist and allegedly Neo-Nazi NPD while a direct continuation of SED (the governing Communist party of GDR) is sitting in parliament. Notably, these attempts are directed not against actions but against opinions* and Leftist extremist often call for blanket bans on all claimed** Nazi and Fascist organizations. Claims for bans have even been raised against upstart AfD, currently the third largest party in Germany. Populist, yes; unconventional, yes; disliking the “old” political parties, yes. More ban-worthy or extreme than the other parties in parliament? NO! Fascist is as Fascist does: The organizations that want to ban other organizations for their own benefit are the ones that deserve to be banned.

    *In my understanding of German law, a ban would require more than opinions and to boot something specifically “anti-constitutional” (“verfassungswidrig”); however, I have seen little or no evidence of more than opinions and those Leftist extremists that call the loudest for a ban appear to ignore the question of constitutionality. Further, in as far as the opinions of the NPD, themselves, are anti-constitutional, they are so partly or wholly because the German constitution makes too far-going attempts to regulate what is the right opinion to have and the right way to do things, in manner that is not worthy of a modern Western country. (I have toyed with the idea of a deeper analysis, but have so far not executed the idea.)

    **The degree to which this classification is correct is often disputable. As I have noted again and again, words like “Nazi”, “racist”, “sexist”, are often used in a highly inappropriate manner by the Left (the politically correct, feminists) in order to unfairly discredit their opponents (or through pure incompetence); similarly, it is quite common than an anti-immigraTION sentiment is considered anti-immigraNT or even anti-foreigner, or an anti-IslamISM statement considered anti-Islam or even anti-Muslim. In the specific case of NPD, they have many opinions that I find absurd, but if the Nazi claims apply (of which I am not yet convinced), they still make no demands for an invasion of Poland or extermination of Jews. In addition, as absurd as I consider some of their opinions, they are no worse than many Leftist extremists, and in areas unrelated to nationalism and the like their opinions often coincide with other parties. Indeed, having read up a bit during the writing of this article, I find them to have quite a lot in common with the Left in areas like economic policy and the traditional Leftist anti-EU, anti-globalization, anti-nuclear-power, …, stances—an observation I have made repeatedly with organizations considered to be on the extreme Right, including the Swedish SD. People on the “extreme Right” are often actually people that would have been considered on the Left, except for the addition of nationalist (etc.) opinions. To a non-trivial degree this applies to NSDAP (the original Nazi party) it self, even in its self-perception and deliberate presentation: The “S” stands for “Socialist”, the “A” for “Worker” (“Arbeiter”).

    Analogous to the above “sexcrimes”, this just amounts to Orwellian “thoughtcrime”.

  3. The surveillance mania of allegedly democratic governments is reaching a point which is, yet again, Orwellian. In light of the common knowledge of the Snowden revelations, I will not go into detail of what is already known to be implemented. However, I will give special mention to the recent attempts to force Apple to manipulate user devices according to governmental wishes (albeit by the judicial branch) and the suggestions for legal restrictions on encryption: Encryption should only allowed if its breakable (thereby rendering it almost useless). Similar calls have been made for a requirement that encryption providers also provide explicit back-doors or keep keys that they can hand out to the government at its will (making encryption useless against the government and opening a major security hole that non-governmental attackers will love). Some jurisdictions already require users to “voluntarily” hand out their encryption keys and passwords to allow governmental access. Other suggestions with a somewhat similar motivation is to remove large bank notes or put upper limits on the size of cash transaction, for the purpose of making anonymous payments impossible.

    Big Brother sees you…

    As an aside, I am very strongly in favor of legislation in the other direction (and use encryption extensively, myself): In order to protect the citizens from the government, such attempts to break encryption, engage in digital surveillance, accessing private computers, …, must be made illegal even for the government. (As should access to some non-digital forms, notably private paper diaries.) In particular: A computer can tell us so much about someone that such access is unconscionable. Firstly, many (including yours truly) use their computers as an extension of their own memories, making the intrusion tantamount to an intrusion into their actual heads. Secondly, many use their computers to record highly private thoughts, including for diary and (as I once did) therapeutic purposes. Thirdly, a computer can indirectly give us enormously detailed information about someone—too detailed. (Including highly intimate information, such as porn habits.) Fourthly, a computer will almost certainly contain communications with other parties that can be damaging to them or be of a type that they justly wish to remain secret to third parties, including e.g. exchanges of romantic emails and confidential business communications. Fifthly, digital evidence is so easy to forge* that it must only be admissible in court when the absence of manipulation can be proved, which is basically impossible to do when third parties have extensive access to a device, making most uses of such surveillance and access pointless to begin with.

    *In the vast majority of cases, no forgery will take place—true. However, it does happen even today, even in countries like Germany or the U.S. Cases where a DA seeks a conviction irrespective of guilt and innocence occur; where an investigator “knows” that someone is guilty and resorts to fabricating the evidence he lacks; where the accused has personal enemies who influence the investigation; … Worse: There is always a risk that times change and that, for instance, politically motivated persecutions through the justice system become common. “Due process” that is based on the assumption a benevolent justice system can never be true due process.

  4. The influence of lobbies does not only result in sub-optimal economic decisions, but also poses a severe threat to the rights and interests of the population. Among the many examples, consider changes in copyright legislation to postpone the time that works enter the public domain*, absurd restrictions on how a purchased good might be used (e.g. bans on backup copies of DVDs; as opposed to reasonable restrictions like a ban on arbitrary distribution of copies to third parties), attempts to reduce customers’ privacy from corporations, …

    *At what time and under what circumstances this should take place is ultimately arbitrary and the right to read books free of charge is something very different from the right to free speech. However, there have been repeated adjustments upwards over time (often retroactively), without the underlying ethical issue having changed, and through lobbying or other “para-democratic” means. To boot, I suspect that these changes are not only intended to favor the copyright holders—but also to artificially reduce competition for newly released works. While the nature of the change is my point above, I do find the often used criterion of 70 years after the author’s death to be excessive. Notably, these 70 years will almost always be longer than the time the actual author enjoyed copyright protection… If I had drawn up the rules, I might have gone with something like the author’s death or 30 years past first publication, which ever comes last: This protects the rights of the author (which is the most important), gives the heirs a fair slice even if the author drops dead the day after publication, and provides a sufficient time of use and security for third parties to not rule out buying the rights—while ensuring that the public domain is enriched in a reasonably timely manner. Alternatively, copyright could be entirely open ended, but associated with a rapidly increasing fee after the death of the author. (As an aside, I have grown increasingly skeptical to awarding non-natural persons rights outside of what is a business necessity, including copyright and free speech, seeing that these often lead to abuse like outrageous misrepresentations in advertising being called free speech or record companies snatching up the majority of the profit from the musicians’ work. Such rights are possibly better tied to natural persons only, with appropriate changes in business models where needed.)

Even the democratic process it self can be circumvented. Consider e.g. how the current German government consists of a coalition of two parties whose ideologies, economic policies, and whatnots are so drastically different that forming the coalition betrayed the confidence of their respective voters—and potentially made further elections unnecessary: They could, strictly theoretically, just make a behind the scenes deal to always form a coalition and potentially govern uninterrupted for decades, irrespective of the votes given. Or take the tricks of the Swedish parties against SD: Exclusion of SD from committees, parties voting against their own program rather than allowing SD influence on the vote, … This goes beyond the unethical-but-established practice of making election promises while crossing ones fingers—here the parties ignore the reasons why people voted for them in order to follow their own agenda.

The reader may be surprised that I have not included the rise of strongly populist parties, so common in Europe at the moment, that have a limited number of core issues, an incomplete overall party program, and a main theme of “we don’t like the way things are”. (In Sweden, they are termed “missnöjespartier”—“malcontentment parties”.) The “conventional truth” among the established parties and the press is that these malcontents are an evil and a proof of the stupidity of the masses—which would fit in well with my above discussion. However, I very strongly disagree with this premise: These parties show that there is hope for democracy, that the people is not satisfied with being the puppets of the politicians, and that the political landscape can change. In as far as they are problematic, they are just a symptom and not the disease. The common criticism that these parties often lack experience, competence, and a developed party program can be true, but before they actually become part of a government, if ever, they will typically have plenty of time to improve–and it would be a grossly unfair Catch-22 to exclude parties based on deficits they need inclusion to remedy. If nothing else, their presence can shake the old parties out of old habits.

Similarly, I have not included the sinking participation of eligible voters in elections: Yes, this is potentially bad, but it is also just a symptom of the underlying problems. I have, myself, not voted in the past fifteen years or so, despite once being politically active, because there are no parties and preciously few politicians that I find myself comfortable supporting. At best, I could vote for yet another “lesser evil” and I, as do many others, prefer to let my non-vote be a message of disapproval to the politicians. What I consider far worse, truly worthy of lament, is the reactions of some politicians: Instead of realizing that voter participation is a problem that they have caused themselves, they blame the non-voters… I have even heard statements along the lines of non-voters not doing their civic duty! The right to vote and to participate in the democratic process is a right—not a duty. (And, as above, not voting can it self be a deliberate message.) Quite often, I have heard claims that it is important to vote, irrespective of what one votes for or whether one feels informed enough, which is turning the world on its head: If someone does not have a clear opinion, it is most definitely better to stay at home and reduce the problem of the uninformed selecting our leaders. The attitude towards both the citizens and the democratic processes that shines through in these reactions is horrifying. Whether they are stupid, despise their voters, try to increase their legitimacy*, …, politicians like these have no business seeking office.

*A higher voter participation implies a higher degree of (perceived?) legitimacy, because if someone claims to be elected by the people and does not have even close to a majority of the people’s vote, well, it is simply not very credible. In Germany and Sweden we can have situations where 80 % is eligible to vote, of which 70 % does vote, of which 90 % of votes actually have an effect (votes on parties below 5 resp. 4 % are wasted, because of a cut-off, some votes are sorted out for formal reasons, etc.), and the eventual premier belongs to a party that received 40 % of the votes that did count, relying on the support of smaller allied parties to gain a parliamentary majority. In this scenario the support of 100 % * 0.8 * 0.7 * 0.9 * 0.4 = 20.16 % of the overall population or 25.2 % of the eligible population is needed—elected by the people, my ass! Now, if everyone voted, and no-one voted on new or fringe parties (or the fictitious but popular-in-Sweden “Donald Duck Party”), these numbers would turn into an at least semi-legitimate 32 and 40 %, respectively. (Assuming the same distribution. However, even with a lower overall share, the original proportions would typically be exceeded by a considerable margin.) Drop the proportion of voters to, say, 25 % and the numbers become 7.2 and 9 %! No wonder that politicians react negatively to non-voters… Also no wonder that they are much against lowering the proportion of eligible voters, while at least some politicians want to increase it, e.g. through lowering the age of eligibility to 16.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 16, 2016 at 9:13 am

The disappointing Angela Merkel

leave a comment »

Recently, Angela Merkel was named “Person of the Year” by the British news paper “The Times”:

For her central role in preserving European stability at a time of resurgent Russian aggression in eastern Europe, Angela Merkel is named today as The Times Person of the Year.

The German chancellor, who must decide by 2016 whether to stand for a fourth term in office, was chosen principally for taking control of the west’s fraught negotiations with President Putin of Russia after his annexation of Crimea.

Mrs Merkel has shown herself to be an indispensable power broker in a year when east-west relations have been tested to breaking point in the most dangerous geopolitical crisis since the Cold

(http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article4306900.ecee)

Now, I used to be a fan of Merkel’s, seeing her as one of the few politicians who actually bring some degree of competence to the table, as well as one of the least populist, and a positive counter-example to the many Swedish female politicians who have been promoted upwards just for being women (and have been correspondingly incompetent—consider Mona Sahlin, e.g.). As is, I consider this almost as a travesty, seeing that Merkel has spent 2014 ruining my impression of her—and has just broken the camel’s back by abusing the Charlie Hebdo situation to urge for an increase in “Big Brother”-/GDR-style telecommunications data retentionw of highly disputed effectiveness (according to a reliable German news sourcee).

Problems include:

  1. A far too weak reaction, almost a non-reaction, to the Snowden scandals. A chancellor after my taste would have taken a very clear stand against this intrusion on the citizens.

    I must conclude that she is in favour of such idiocies, is too weak to take the stand, or prioritizes international relations above the good of her citizens.

    (While the first revelations and Merkel’s lack of reactions date to 2013, there were plenty of opportunity for new reactions in 2014—none of which were taken.)

  2. An extremely populist take on last year’s general election, with many promises made without a word about the costs.

    I must conclude that she commits the politician’s deadly sin of prioritizing (re-)election over faithfulness to the ideals of the party and common sense—or, less likely, that she actually has more leftist views than she has hitherto let on.

  3. In the wake of said election (her party, CDU, and its Bavarian sister, CSU, where hailed as winners, but lost the supporting party FDP and with it the absolute majority), she for the second time entered a disputable alliance with the Social-Democrats, accepting many of their populist election promises and then passively letting them dominate the first few months—despite their being the junior partner in terms of members of parliament.

    I must conclude in repetition of the previous item, possibly and again, in combination with her being too weak.

  4. As a result of various election promises, we are now heading for (among other things) several ill-advised pension reforms, a too high minimum wage, and true abomination—-a 30% quota for female board members. This quota ignores that equal opportunity leads to unequal outcomes (for reasons including different interests and family/career priorities) and will therefore give women an artificial and unethical leg up at the cost of men, in particular with an eye on the age structure; it will lead to more incompetence in the board rooms (a problem that is large enough as it is); and it can be disputed on ethical grounds for the intrusion on the companies themselves.

    (Conclusions as above.)

The motivation given together with the award, on the other hand, fails in at least two regards: Firstly, it does not give a holistic view of her year. Secondly, if Merkel has been meritorious in this regard, it is not public knowledge. She has not gone “above and beyond duty” for a chancellor in her geographic position, she has not had any obvious positive impact beyond what was to be expected from a randomly picked chancellor from Germany history, and she has failed in as far as the Crimean is still in the hands of the Russians, Ukraine is still in a state of civil war, and the Russians are still highly aggressive.

At the end of the day, I cannot shake the suspicion that the award was more in line of a statement anti-Putin than a statement pro-Merkel, with Merkel simply being the candidate best-suited for being the excuse. Similarly, I am convinced that the absurd Nobel Peace Prize award to Obama was thinly veiled anti-Bush prize (with some suspicions for a few earlier prizes, including to the IPC/Al Gore)—as discussed in a previous article.

As an aside, the repeated “great coalitions” in Germany and recent odd agreements between the leading Swedish parties (in effect that the opposition will not oppose the budget suggestions of the ruling party/parties, even when the ruling faction does not have a majority) are leaving me with a fear that politicians are deliberately trying to get rid of their main irritant, those pesky voters, by making their own arrangements, irrespective of election outcomes. The conclusion is premature bordering on the paranoid at this stage; however, the last time I suspected that I was paranoid, well, according to Snowden I was naively optimistic…

Written by michaeleriksson

January 14, 2015 at 8:30 pm

More on the German election

with one comment

We are now more than two months past the election—and I have some serious doubts whether I was wise in endorsing Merkel’s victory.

For starters, the victory part can in it self be disputed. As I did warn, the failure of FDP left the Bundestag with a more-or-less hostile majority. Differences between various Left-leaning parties has still left Merkel and CDU/CSU as the main force; however, they need an alliance with the Social-Democrats (SPD), negotiations have taken forever, and the price to pay has been very heavy indeed: The Social-Democrats have a disproportionate number of cabinet seats allotted to them and they have pushed through a number of issues that are are worrying. The most notable example is an unduly high minimum wage at 8.50 Euro/hour, which could severely worsen the market for the barely employable. A far worse suggestion was under discussion, but appears to be off the table for the moment: The introduction of quotas for female board members, with a minimum of 30 or even 40 % being women—outdated, sexist, and unjust. (As usual there was no talk of a minimum quota for each respective sex—just one for women.)

CDU/CSU themselves were less than exemplary during the campaigning, making hefty promises. These promises are now combined with those of the SPD and the resulting joint proposals are quite expensive—but little has been said about the financing. As is, there will sooner or later (probably sooner…) be a hole that needs to be stopped. Based on my impressions from the negotiations, the stopping will likely eventually be done through tax increases.

Furthermore, there have been a number of areas in recent times where CDU/CSU have acted unfortunately or potentially dangerously. Most of these point to the important role the failing FDP could have played to keep a liberal rain on Merkel (not to mention keeping SPD away from power and thereby avoiding the above problems). Examples include:

  1. A far to complacent reaction to scandals around surveillance of citizens and politicians (not limited to the NSA).

  2. There are suggestions to reinstate the Telecommunications data retentionw, which on a previous attempt was struck down by the Federal Constitutional Court—the more absurd in light of the recent surveillance controversies.

  3. A wish to make customers of prostitutes criminally liable when they visit prostitutes who work on a non-voluntary basis. Superficially, this may seem like a move to counter-act “trading”; practically, it is an entry point for a renewed ban on prostitution and puts the customers in a very unfortunate position. (I will expand on this in the following post.)

Simultaneously, although likely not tied to CDU/CSU, there are renewed attempts to ban NPD, a minor party considered neo-nazi and “hostile to the constitution” (“verfassungsfeindlich”—a legal German term allowing the banning of organizations). This may not seem bad on paper; however, it violates the principles of democracy in the name of democracy, highlights the limits of freedom of speech and expression in Germany, and shows a great hypocrisy: The East-German Communist party has a descendant in “Die Linke”, which is actually represented in parliament. (The originally party, SED, was restructured and renamed to PDS after the fall of East-Germany. PDS was represented in parliament until just a few years ago, when they merged with another Left-extremist/-populist grouping to form “Die Linke”, which is still represented. There is even some remaining overlap with SED in terms of the actual people involved—admittedly minor by now, but then more than twenty years have passed.) In contrast, NPD has no direct ties to NSDAP (“the Nazi party”), but are accused of having similar opinions. The one is the continuation of a criminal organization and thrives in parliament—the other has similar opinions to a criminal organization and risks being banned.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 4, 2013 at 5:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , , , ,

The German election

with one comment

Around the last Swedish election, I wrote no less than four entries ([1], [2], [3], [4]).

Last Sunday, the German elections took place—and I have yet to write a single word.

To remedy this somewhat, the things that strike me as particularly important or interesting:

  1. Conservative CDU/CSU finds it self in paradoxical situation, being widely hailed as the victors, yet being forced to search for a coalition partner among three Leftist parties to continue their government.

    To a Swede, the situation is particularly odd, because in the same setup in Sweden, a Leftist government would have been a near given, seeing that the the Social-Democrat SPD, the Center-Left ecological party “Die Grüne”, and the SED-descendant and extreme Left “Die Linke” together have narrow majority of the seats.

    While Die Linke, with their connections to the East-German communist party, are unlikely to be a welcome partner for the other parties, a Leftist minority government with their support seems the logical conclusion.

    That this is different in Germany relates (I speculate) to a system that requires a majority for the prospective Chancellor during the intra-parliamentary election. Only if a majority fails to manifest it self repeatedly can a minority government be formed—or a second public election called for.

  2. The liberal (in various parts classical, social/pseudo-, and neo-) FDP dropped out of the Bundestag for the first time in some sixty years—after having reached a record high in the previous election and being the junior-partner in the incumbent government.

    The long-term effects of this are yet to be seen, but they could conceivably be far-reaching. Factor in that Die Grüne und Die Linke both took hits in terms of popularity, and Germany might be headed towards a two-party system. On the other, FDP might bounce, seeing that analysts see much of their failure as a consequence of achieving too little as the junior partner—a problem they will not have in the next four years.

  3. New-comer AfD, a euro-critical party riding on the dissatisfaction with the older generations of parties, came close to entry, but ultimately failed. Their progress or regression until the next election is one of the more interesting questions ahead.

    In their wake, other minor parties, notably “the pirate party”, fared poorly and had no chance at entry. FDP can put at least part of the blame for its fiasco in the hands of AfD.

  4. Germany has a 5% lower limit for representation in the Bundestag. Sweden has a 4% limit—and both FDP and AfD would have made it under Swedish rules. Together they account for 9.5% of the votes going to waste. (With several percent more lost on another small parties.)

As an aside, assuming that the Conservatives do prevail: The best man won—and was a woman.

(While I do not think highly of politicians, Angela Merkel is far above their mediocre average in terms of competence. Ideologically, I might have preferred FDP, but that they would not provide the chancellor was a given.)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 29, 2013 at 11:09 pm

The Left, the Right, and the People

with 5 comments

I have long seen a difference in the way the Left and the Right typically look at the mental capacities of humans: The Right (at least the libertarian and parts of the conservative Right) sees humans as reasonably rational and capable of making their own decisions; the Left (at least in its typical European incarnations and many Marxist, feminist, or PC variations) sees the average human as a sheep that needs to be led to have the right (i.e. Left, PC, whatnot) opinions, do the right things, and generally get by in the world. This is often referred to as “förmyndarsamhälle” (“legal-guardian society”; however, with a stronger implication of society being patronizing) by the Swedish Right.

As is often the case with early observations, they pale into the background. Recently, however, I have come across several posts (e.g. [1]e) that are so explicit on this issue that it has re-emerged into the foreground. To my own surprise, I find that I must give the Left at least a partial credit for being right—a very large portion of the population is simple so stupid that they would be better of led by the hand in at least some situations. This is evidenced e.g. by the politicians that manage to get elected, the credulity with which some absolutely nonsensical PC statements are believed, how unwilling people are to re-evaluate their believes in light of new evidence, etc.

Yet, all this does not matter:

  1. If 30, 50, even 90 % of the population is lacking, this does not give the government (the Left, the Know-It-All think-tank, whomever) the right to decide for the remaining 70, 50, or 10 %.

    What we arguably should do, is to increase the requirements on voters, e.g. in that a certain degree of critical thinking and general knowledge must be demonstrated before a citizen is given the right to vote. (Effectively replacing the age based limits of today with “capacity” based limits. Great care would have to be observed during implementation, however: It is vital that no test of opinion is made, but that capacity to think is the main determinant. In contrast, it is manifestly clear that many on the left equal “being worthy” with “having PC opinions” or “being ‘progressive’ ”.)

    In this manner, the damage they potentially do would be mostly limited to their own private lives, where they have a natural right to exert influence, but protect us from society-wide influence. (Interestingly, in my experience, the Left is usually keen on relaxing the conditions for who is allowed to vote even further—probably knowing that their own type of propaganda and often populist demands goes over better among those weak in critical thinking.)

  2. If the people needs a “förmyndare”, who decides his identity?

    Well, the unsatisfying answer is that it probably cannot be done in a fair and objective manner. If nothing else, there seems to be no end to the people and organisations who consider themselves called for the task, but have opinions that are incompatible with each other and/or idiotic on closer inspection. In some cases, it would even be a matter of the blind leading the one-eyed: Consider e.g. former PM-wannabe Mona Sahlinw—who regularly talks to voters as if they were little children, yet herself is uneducated, unintelligent, and of dubious morality and competence. (And, no, that is not merely a portrayal by a political enemy, but what is clear from her CV.)

  3. Similarly, who decides where to draw the border between who needs to be shepherded and who is allowed to deal for himself (or is even allowed to become a shepherd)?

    The answer is equally similar. In a nut-shell, these common Leftist attitudes are best answered with: Who are you to decide?

  4. The typical implementations tend to be such that they worsen, possibly even create, the problems they were intended to solve: The Swedish school I went to, e.g., did nothing to teach critical thinking, but was hell-bent on instilling the “right”, determined-from-above values—the UN is good, women are oppressed, nuclear power is evil, democracy is the only civilized form of government, … To actually teach the children about the limitations of the UN, or how perverted by special interests it is, was never on the table; a differentiated and more up-to-date view on the situations of men and women was absent; a compare and contrast between different energy forms (which, if fair, would have been far more favourable to nuclear power) unthinkable; and no deep discussion of the disadvantages of democracy, the least evil of the popular alternatives, ever took place.

In the end, a blanket treatment of people like sheep is the wrong way to go about it. Instead, we should try to give them the tools to both fend and decide for themselves.

(Note that I do not rule out that those who have failed despite having received the tools should be given further help. The first step, however, should be to give out fishing equipment and fishing lessons—not fish. Indeed, it would be presumptuous even to decide that fish should be a major part of the diet.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 13, 2011 at 4:38 pm