Any Chance of a Fair Election in 2016?

Although getting any sort of unanimity on political issues is impossible, you can come close when asserting the need that elections be free, open, and honest.  By that I mean that when someone casts his or her ballot for a particular candidate, that voter should have no doubt that the vote will be counted and counted accurately.  Even those candidates who might like the idea of rigging the ballot in their favor a bit will still publicly claim to support fair elections.

Without Fair Elections, Our System of Government is Sunk

This all makes sense.  After all, if the balloting process is corrupted and people find out, the winning candidates will lose legitimacy and their tenure in office will be under a cloud of suspicion.  None of this benefits the office holders, the voters, or our system of government.  Quite the opposite.  Office holders are then seen as usurpers, and thus their decisions are viewed as invalid even if followed.

All that aside, reality seldom matches the ideal.  So it’s reasonable to expect that when counting tens of millions of votes that there will be some errors.  And there will also be a few shady stunts pulled as well.  As long as the margins between the winning and losing candidates are large enough, irregularities are usually just brushed aside as unfortunate, but not enough to have impacted the outcome.  If the margin of victory is wafer-thin, then it’s a very different story.

Two Twentieth Century Elections as Examples

Restricting our discussion to the last half of the twentieth century, there are two presidential elections that stand out:  1960 and 2000.

1960:  Kennedy vs. Nixon

The 1960 election between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon is instructive partly because of the alleged voting fraud in Chicago under the supervision of the Daley political machine.  In this case, the possible irregularities were significant since Kennedy’s vote tally in Chicago essentially awarded him the presidency.  It is also instructive because even with allegations of a rigged election and vote counting process, the country as a whole accepted the results of the election and the presidency of JFK as valid.

2000:  Bush vs. Gore and the Hanging Chads

The 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore is interesting for a very different reason.  The controversy that erupted on election night didn’t center on accusations of voter fraud by one of the campaigns, but rather on the inability of the ballot counting system to generate an accurate result.  So the election result was not called into question primarily because of fraud, but due to mechanical failure.  Hence we had the notorious case of the “hanging chad.”

For those who might have missed all of this, machine vote counting used in this election depended on each spot on the punch-card ballot being either left solid or punched cleanly through by the voter depending on his or her choice.  What went wrong was that some of the punch cards were not punched properly by the voters, leaving the intended choice of candidates in doubt as the machines couldn’t determine the voters’ intentions without cleanly punched holes in the ballot cards.

With the difference in the vote totals between the two candidates measured in the hundreds, and Florida being the state at that point that would decide who became president, the pressure became intense.  We can remember the images of election judges examining each punch-card in an attempt to determine how the voter actually intended to cast his or her ballot.  As soon as things get that subjective in counting the ballots that will decide who goes to the White House, the decision will wind up being determined in the courts.

With one recount barely favoring George W. Bush, the Supreme Court intervened and ruled against Al Gore’s claim and ended the recounting, effectively giving Bush the presidency with a majority of Electoral College votes while a minority of the popular vote.  It was a recipe for continuing controversy and accusations that Bush’s presidency would be illegitimate.  And that’s what Americans got.

Clinton vs. Trump

This election has been extraordinary for so many reasons.

Neither candidate has a positive popularity rating, and much of the disapproval approaches downright hatred.

Groups like WikiLeaks and Project Veritas have given an unprecedented look into the inside workings of the campaigns, especially the Clinton campaign, and have revealed what are, if accurately reported, criminal actions to rig the vote.

One candidate, Mrs. Clinton, as well as her associates, have been under a continuing investigation by the FBI for fraud.  The email scandal involves  allegations that Mrs. Clinton, during her tenure as secretary of state, stored and transferred classified materials using private, non-secure means which is a felony.

Her and Bill’s Clinton Foundation is also under investigation for influence peddling and “pay to play” schemes where large foreign donors to the Foundation were given preferred access to the secretary of state and other favors from Mrs. Clinton.

We also have the spectacle of the Clinton campaign hiring thugs to disrupt Trump rallies, and in particular to bully women who would dare to betray their gender by showing up to support Trump.  This isn’t a matter of theory, either.  Officials of organizations retained by the Clinton campaign have been fired when leaked emails and hidden videos recorded by Project Veritas revealed their perfidy.

The investigations are continuing through election day.

Mr. Trump has not been immune from damaging revelations either.  A tape turned up that was made eleven years ago revealing some highly offensive comments made at the time by Mr. Trump about women.  The effort may have been made to write it off as juvenile “locker-room” talk, but the damage was done.  Mr. Trump was portrayed as a man who had a pretty aggressive sexual appetite.

Not to be outdone in the sexual scandal arena, old allegations of sexual abuse and rape allegedly committed by Bill Clinton surfaced.  It is questionable just how much impact this had, but it did serve to remind voters of the sleaze that never seems to be far from Mr. Clinton.

I could go on and discuss things such as the bizarre sexual behaviors in which both John Podesta who is Hillary’s campaign chairman and Anthony Weiner who is the husband of Hillary confidant Huma Abedin have been implicated, but it’s safe just to say that this has been one of the sleaziest and most viciously fought campaigns in memory.  Campaign ads and statements by the candidates themselves only reinforce the negative opinion the majority of voters have regarding both candidates.

So Will There be a Fair Election in 2016?

I doubt it — and writing that does not make me happy.  Crooked elections are a disaster for the Republic, compromise the legitimacy of the winners, and humiliate the country in front of a world that closely watches what happens in America.  And bogus elections infuriate the voters.

There are already reports, in the mainstream media no less, of electronic voting machines flipping Trump votes to Clinton.  Officials might point out that these are problems that can and will be fixed, but you have to wonder why the reports are only of Trump votes flipping to Clinton and not the other way around. (The election is in progress as this article is being completed.)

And it’s unlikely that media outlets like CBS are only reporting the instances of Trump voters having trouble getting the machines to register their votes for their choice.  After all, these media organizations are much more likely to be supportive of Mrs. Clinton.  So if Clinton votes were being flipped by these infernal machines to Trump, reports of this would clearly be hitting the news sites.

How We Get a Fair Election

Honestly, I see really only one way that this year-and-a-half-long ordeal ends fairly.  And that’s if one candidate wins with such a blow-out total of electoral votes that all the problems with voting machines, illegal campaign tactics, and outright voter fraud are not large enough to make a difference.

On the other hand, if we have a close election, where the decision rests on one or two states with extremely close popular votes, we can expect legions of attorneys filing an equally unprecedented number of lawsuits that cast doubt over the results for perhaps weeks on end, much like we experienced in 2000.  It’s not a happy prospect with a happy ending.

May we be spared of that fate.

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False Arithmetic Gone Global

“Never was so much false arithmetic employed on any subject as that which has been employed to persuade nations that it is their interest to go to war.” – Thomas Jefferson

Everywhere we look we find empires built on falsehoods. Deceptions. Propaganda. False arithmetic. For example, we might look at the world financial colossus as a collection of empires built on false arithmetic. But, perhaps the most pernicious examples of deceptions and propaganda are those that lead nations to war.

The more intensely we look at history the more we find wars started by governmental subterfuge, by propagating lies to whip the citizens into a jingoistic frenzy. Examples are everywhere. Including in the US. Research the Spanish-American War and the Gulf of Tonkin incident as examples to enlighten yourself. Check out the role of the media in those conflicts.

The most recent manifestations of propaganda fueling wars, at least from the perspective of US involvement, are the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I can only pray that the current hostilities in Ukraine don’t turn into another hot war for Washington. Especially against Russia.

So what’s different now from even a decade or two ago? Communication tools. The ability to spread propaganda is greater than ever before. But so is the ability to combat it. Deceptions that might lead a nation to war will be quickly countered on the internet. Of course, there will be no shortage of shills, kooks, cranks, crackpots, and lunatics ready to share their ludicrous theories. And there will be copious amounts of disinformation spread. This is part of what makes the internet so much fun. And possibly dangerous.

What’s my point? When it comes to news-gathering, and especially analysis, we’re on our own.

If we’re to truly grasp what’s going on in this world, we must roll up our sleeves and get to work. I operate under several theories to help guide me. You might want to reflect on these as well:

  • Governments release information to advance agendas, not to impart knowledge, much less wisdom, to the people. I’m constantly reminded of that every time I encounter yet another official economic report that has been massaged to support the party line.  I’ve taken hold of this one like a bulldog and am not about to let go. Why? People and businesses make decisions based, in part, on the state of the economy. Lousy data fuel poor decisions which increase the stock of human misery.
  • It’s up to each of us carefully to research any sources of information or knowledge that we might use to inform our decisions. Check the sources, the track records. What economic or social models do they employ or support? Mercilessly discard the chaff.
  • It’s been said so often that it’s now trite. I’m embarrassed that I feel compelled to mention it. But mention it I will. What passes for news originating from mainstream sources should always be suspect, and thus be subjected to very careful vetting. What modernity has taught us is only what we should have always known. Much mainstream news reporting is nothing of the sort, but rather is agenda-driven propaganda, often bordering on agitprop. There, I said it.
  • The monopoly the mainstream media has had on news reporting has been broken. And that brings joy. Yet avoiding mainstream sources, or viewing their output very skeptically, is only part of a plan. It’s necessary to find sources to trust. And that’s not easy. But press on in this quest we all must, lest we find ourselves ignorant of the important events of which we need to be aware to govern our lives properly.

In an age where information flows rapidly and in unprecedented quantities to not only televisions sets or even computers, but to smart phones wherever we are, we’re responsible for being our own gatekeepers like never before.

Frankly, I feel a bit giddy when reflecting on the ability of small players like me to present our thoughts to the world. Then I’m taken by the responsibility that places us under. Finally, I’m nauseated by the opportunities for empires built on falsehoods to conduct effective disinformation campaigns.

Maybe that’s partly why I’m constantly reminded of my own shortcomings. So I try not to let my natural tendency toward the eccentric to infect my writing. And thanks, dear friend, for being a reader.

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