Monday, September 26, 2016

The Black Swan

With the first presidential debate tonight, it is interesting to note that Nate Silver, polling guru who made a name for himself successfully predicting both of Obama's robust victories, has basically punted when it comes to divining the outcome for 2016. The polls are too close and the trend lines are going in odd directions in swings states versus the nation at large. But what Silver is really saying, at least what I came away with, is that polling in this presidential election year is not reliable.

In other words, the polling guru is calling a black swan. Silver won't name it as such because his FiveThirtyEight web site, owned by ESPN, is part of the corporate media monopoly and is therefore all in for Hillary. But a significant part of this particular black swan is the corporate media monopoly itself. So Silver's elliptical reference to a black swan makes perfect sense. Self-censorship.

The black swan of which I speak is a Trump victory. Impossible based on the factoid that the candidate who is leading in the polls two weeks after the last nominating convention always wins. But who could have imagined in late August, after the daily pummeling Trump receives on the front page of the "newspaper of record" and the tens of millions of dollars Clinton has spent on unchallenged ads, that in late September Trump would be ahead in Ohio and Florida and that we would have a nail-biter on our hands?

Hillary's path to 270 electoral votes is easier to imagine because I don't see Trump winning in Pennsylvania or Michigan, states Trump needs to find a way to the White House. But there is also a small chance that no candidate gets to 270. This could happen if Trump wins Colorado, New Hampshire and one of the two electoral votes Maine apportions based on Congressional District. Assuming all the swings break according to the current FiveThirtyEight map, this would keep Clinton under 270.

Andrew Levine in "The Meaning of the Trump Surge," which was the featured piece on the CounterPunch web site over the weekend, thinks that after the debates Hillary will reattain her substantial post-convention lead. In this scenario, Levine thinks the best that can be hoped for is that the Jill Stein vote will reach five percent; at that threshold the Green Party will qualify for federal funds. This is a big deal. It was the unicorn we were after in 2000 with Nader-LaDuke.

If Nader-LaDuke couldn't do it, neither will Stein-Baraka.

On Saturday I participated in a 5K road race that is part of an annual community event in a working-class neighborhood in the northernmost reaches of the city. I go every year. It is my favorite run. I think it has something to do with its small scale. I like racing on the empty streets early on Saturday morning. What I noticed this year is that people still have their Bernie signs up. This is a phenomena I have noticed in the more inexpensive precincts of my neighborhood, something one would expect to see in apartment windows. But in the northern home-owning neighborhood of working-class Broadview it came as a surprise. No Trump signs. No Hillary signs. Only Bernie signs and Seahawks signs (and less of those than in years past).

What do these signs portend? It is hard to say. Were Kucinich signs still up in yards and apartments at this point in 2004?

I don't think every Bernie sign is a marker for Jill Stein. After all, Bernie has capitulated and is campaigning for Clinton. I think these signs are similar to Tibetan prayer flags and signify nothing more than the bleached aspiration of a weekend Buddhist living in a 'roided-out consumer culture. I think we need to start looking at the electoral map from the 2004 election.

Monday, September 12, 2016

American Exceptionalism Coming to an End

UPDATE: This past Sunday, September 18, one week after the post below, on the identical Sunday morning run, I spied one lone Hillary sign. It was on the beauty strip near an intersection. It had been up before, in August, but someone had knocked it down, and it had not been replaced when I was on my 9/11 Sunday morning run.

Hillary is in real trouble. Maybe not in terms of losing the general election to Trump, though there is that (the fact that Florida is still up for grabs is proof that Clinton, running behind Obama's numbers with whites, is in rough shape), but the idea that she will have any legitimacy with which to lead a discredited empire is far-fetched.


Pneumonia is serious and not easily dealt with if one has to continue to go to work. The video of Hillary being trundled by Secret Service into a waiting van like a life-sized rag doll or a duffle bag of dirty laundry points ahead to a front-porch type of campaign from yesteryear for the Democratic nominee.

Hillary has two weeks to heal up before her first debate against Trump. She should be able to clear her schedule and get some bed rest in Chappaqua. The weakness of Trump gives Hillary a lot of wiggle room.

What I noticed when I was out running yesterday morning in my neighborhood is that there were no Hillary bumper stickers or yard signs. My neighborhood is in one of the most liberal districts in the nation. For there not to be one visible marker of the Democratic nominee when in the recent past one couldn't go a block without seeing evidence of support for the current president (though no more) is an ill omen for Clinton.

In this environment, one would expect to see some proof of life for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. I did not. It might be too early yet. But overall, like the absolutely soporific and hollow 9/11 invocations that festooned the opening Sunday NFL games, the mood is weary and cynical. The U.S. is plowing ahead into an era of Mubarakism. Elections are only for show and everyone knows it. The state is knit together by brutal police force. A lot of people care, and a lot don't. Still, American exceptionalism is coming to an end.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

FF #23: Final Issue

I was recently gifted a copy of Thomas Frank's latest book, Listen, Liberal (2016). It is basically the same thing that Frank has been writing about since he started The Baffler at the end of the 1980s -- how the working class has been and continues to be raped by the nation's political class.

While reading one of the early chapters yesterday I was struck by Frank's description of the great labor struggle that began with the lockout at A.E. Staley in Decatur in 1990s. One of the divisive issues was the company's demand that workers move from a regular workday to a rotating 12-hour shift. Frank mentions that this kind of 12-hour shift -- when you're on and then off and then on again -- basically precludes any kind of normal life. You can't go to church on Sunday, coach little league, maintain decent relations with one's family. Management demanded the shift change knowing it would bring about a war with the union. And it did.

Reading this passage in Frank's book made me realize that it is the same problem I am experiencing in my life. I am not working a mandatory, rotating 12-hour shift. But I am working a job where I never know what is coming from day to day. I do work the occasional 12-hour day. But mostly it is the incessant, cascading demands, never knowing when the next flaming arrow will pierce my hide. I have no protected time to perform my duties. Each day brings new requests; and once fulfilled, nothing is ever good enough.

I have been operating in survival mode since July. All my usual routines have been backburnered. Hopefully, after Labor Day and the big annual event hosted by the organization I work for is done, I can begin clawing my way back to a normal life. (I have an escape plan hatched.)

Earlier this summer I completed Jonathan Hickman's historic run on the Fantastic Four from a few years back. The final issue, FF #23, is an amazing statement of Modernism. Nick Dragotta's art captures the essence of the 1930s optimism regarding human achievement, which is largely inseparable from the Manhattan skyscraper sky. The apex of political achievement in the United States is the New Deal, the Comintern's Popular Front, the Flint sit-down strike, etc. It is no coincidence that the comic book superhero is born at the same time. The idea is that the future is open and it is bountiful and ours to harvest. The future. Can you imagine a better visualization of it than Dragotta's first three pages below? Franklin Richards talks with his sister Valeria, both Reed and Sue Richards' children from the future.

Now we have no future. The Hippies had one. It was back to Mother Nature. That was cashed in for an ersatz free market utopia, which, after not too long, certainly since the Millennium, has been reappraised as a dystopia.

If we are to get out of our death sentence we have to go back to the foundation of our "future," the 1930s, and discover what we did right. Charles Bukowski thought it was because everyone was so tough from the Great Depression. Can we be that tough again?