Saturday, April 22, 2017

An After Party: Politicization and Third Parties [Part 2]

In a previous post, I explained how political parties started in America and why we are stuck in a two-party system. To continue the conversation, I will discuss the political climate of today and what this may mean for the future of political parties.

As the United States grew older, it exposed itself to more difficult political issues to grapple with. Strength of government and economy came first as the most fundamental of political matters, and these are the issues that still are held to be the most important areas of policy by presidents, politicians, and pundits today. Looking at how far we have come since then, perhaps Washington was right to warn us about political parties, no matter what they were in the beginning. From just the second round of political parties in the early to mid-1800s, during which Jacksonian Democrats and Whigs reigned, the menu of political controversies expanded exponentially to include: slavery, western expansionism, nationalism, anti-elitism, working class struggles, immigration. Today, we juggle everything from political correctness to gendered bathrooms.

Now, there are some things that must be understood when it comes to the massive amount of political issues we encounter today. Yes, as certain topics became more and more pressing in America, maybe political parties had no other choice but to come in at some point and make their stances clear. And difficult enough as it is to have only two political parties represent positions on a myriad of multi-faceted issues, what really has changed the political air of today is politicization.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, politicization means "the action of causing an activity or event to become political in character." Not only has politics managed to place laws governing so many areas of life people in the 18th century never would have imagined would be political, but politics has also become so pervasive that literally anything can be made into a political statement. These two ideas go hand-in-hand, but does the prior necessitate the latter? I'm not so sure, especially considering the technology of today. Television and movies have allowed us to watch programs and films from across the world, but those industries have always had some push to be monitored – take for example the 1930s Hays Code or film ratings by the Motion Picture Association of America. What really makes politics so accessible and applicable today are the Internet and our devices.

With the expansive and lightning-fast nature of the Internet, anything and everything is available. People can keep up with political movements happening across the globe, read translated texts, chat with people anywhere about policies, voice their opinions with little restraint. We can educate ourselves on any subject from countless angles, and that's one of the reasons I like that we can learn about politics through the web. I admit I learned most of what I knew in my first couple years of political awareness via the Internet, and although I had to learn to take everything I read with a grain of salt and some fact-checking, I understand why the Internet has become such a political place.

Our technological devices offer the amplification of a different side of politics: history and transparency. People can record or take pictures of anything on their smartphones; more and more police are using body cams. Emails, video and audio recordings, and other cellphone data can all be used against someone. Combined with the Internet, it is easy enough to find out just about anything and hold individuals accountable for what they do and say.

And people have. For instance, Weekend 2 of Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the wildly popular three-day affair in Indio, California, is currently happening, bringing about another wave of criticism to Coachella's very distant owner, Philip Anschutz. I say "distant" because Coachella is held by Goldenvoice, which was acquired by Anschutz Entertainment Group, whose owner probably spends very little time concerning himself with what a bunch of twenty-somethings in the desert do this time of year. But thanks to tax filings and local press releases, people seem to know exactly where this man stands in politics and have festival goers questioning whether or not to fund someone they do not agree with.

Being able to check the receipts is not necessarily a bad thing, but where should politicization end? I believe quite heavily that politics affects everything and everything affects politics, but that does not mean I feel the need to catalogue every single thing in my life and look into any way it or its components could be related to a political matter. I understand there is a limit that I have to be politically aware but also function in everyday life. This piece from Politico addresses this very issue and gives a great overview of how impossible it is to avoid politics now: your friends on social media, favorite brands, local stores, and beloved celebrities all have something to share. Is that too far?
I would occasionally like some relief from this cold reality – a good movie, a simple trip to the grocery store. After all, if even the parts of American life that unite us are politicized – even baseball and brunch – how do we hold the country together? What do we share when our most innocent pastimes are reduced to partisanship?
The politicization of everything is, I feel, irreversible at this point, but this could be the answer to the two-party quandary. Now that everything can easily be construed as political, whether it be where you eat or where you listen to music, can two parties really hold up all these countless issues? As we explore the depth of issues in the 21st century, for instance, not just leaving feminism at voting rights but discussing representation, dress codes, objectification in advertising, media, and entertainment, abortion and inequalities in healthcare, gender-motivated violence, equal pay, and parental leave, can American citizens really be sustained and satisfied by just two parties? Doubtful. Maybe what we need to break the two-party system is not a forceful third party platform but the simple fact that there are too many possible platforms to have.

A general realization of the cons of a two-party system will obviously not be enough to actually bring about multiple, equally-strong parties. The two-party system has been supported by Americans with an amazing consistency, and I can't say that without some serious cultural and structural changes (such as to voting procedures, which I went into in my previous post), we will suddenly have at least three competing parties. However, the 2016 election proved to me that there is something that does need serious changing. It left a bitter taste in almost everyone's mouth, regardless of who they voted for. Seeing the trajectory we are on now, I predict seeing a greater third-party presence in the elections, local and national, in the near future.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Comment Log

From Salhoot
On "The Paris Agreement and the Future of Climate Change": I really liked this piece. I even wrote a piece on the future of climate change myself. This administration has been frustrating for many people. When I talked about my climate change piece, I mentioned that not many people our age don’t really deny climate change. With the advancement of technology, I think it is going to be harder and harder to deny something that is so obviously there. You say "Hopefully, the rest of the world will continue to stay strong on the climate change front, and America will eventually jump back on the wagon, if not for the sake of our future planet, then for the sake of not being left behind by the international community.” I agree with this, I think in the future, we will be able to accept it as a country and the administration we have will be on board.

On "How We Just Lost the Future of Our Internet Privacy": One thing people are really sensitive about is privacy. While some people might be ok with being spied on I, for one, am not. I definitely don’t have anything to hide, but I don’t see the reason why everyone’s information should be known. What is the actual point of this? Why should my credit card numbers be known if the person who knows them doesn’t plan on using them? I think I fear for the future where people just have to not put out any information. You word it really well when you say we don’t have to hide the information, just protecting it.

From Sisterfinger 2014
On "Why Can’t Celebrities Be Political?": Something I have learned growing up is a lot of people do not want to discuss politics. I have always been open to discussions, as long as they are discussions and not arguments. I think the issue people run into is discussing politics with people who are looking to argue instead of being open to the opposing sides’ beliefs. With people attacking the opinions of others, most do not want to vocalize their own beliefs. In the case of celebrities, it makes sense why from a publicity standpoint, they may not want to share their political views with the public. Many celebrities have been scrutinized for their political views. I believe we have to change the way everyone speaks about politics. We have to create a less hostile and more understanding environment so that people are more willing to present their beliefs. Once we have reshaped the way everyone talks about politics, then our society will be more accepting of people’s views and celebrities will be more forthcoming with their stances on political issues.

On "Please Vote": Your three points in response to “ He doesn’t like politics” are three important arguments. The right to vote is something people too often take for granted. I agree it is our right, our civic duty, to vote in the elections. I have encountered many people, particularly during the most recent election, who said they were not going to vote. I would start by asking why and most would respond with “I don’t like either candidate” or “it doesn’t matter if I vote” or “I don’t know I don’t really care.” All of these responses are needless to say absolutely ridiculous. Our generation has done a disservice to the country. As the youngest generation of voters, we had a significant influence in the most recent election. I cannot help but think how this election could have turned out differently. If our generation had spoken its mind and filled out a ballot, would the election turned out the way it did? Would we have Donald Trump as our 45 president?

From The Morgan Post
On "Please Vote": I definitely agree with you about the importance of voting. I came across many people around the November presidential election who did not want to vote because they weren't fond of either Clinton or Trump. Feeling that way is understandable, but it doesn't mean you should just give up and withdraw from the democratic process. Voting is perhaps the staple of democracy, and if someone truly has no preference between candidates (which is hard to believe), they should look up the policy platforms of each candidate and choose a candidate based on what they agree with most. I find it hard to believe that after actually knowing what candidates stand for, a person would still have no preference. Another point to keep in mind is that there is more to voting than just voting for the President every four years. There are ballot measures and congressional races, as well as local political races that are even more likely to affect citizens on a day-to-day basis. Besides the worn and incorrect "one vote won't change anything" argument, there aren't many arguments against the value of voting. However, the problem here is how to we motivate people enough to take time out of their day to care enough to go look up the information or go physically vote?

On "Why Celebrities Can't Be Political": I agree with you and Hamdah when you say that celebrities are unlikely to voice political opinions because they don’t want to alienate their fans. The entire basis of celebrity is having a large, public fan base that observes a person’s work and behavior and chooses to follow them and contribute to their business. Simply put, if celebrities do something unlikeable, it’s bad for business, and that’s why they have publicists to manage damage control. Political opinions tend to be controversial because they are always going to have people who disagree with them on varying degrees, making it risky for people who make a living off being likable to contribute to discourse. However, I think it is important for us to encourage anyone with a platform to bring issues important to them and larger society to light, regardless of whether we necessarily agree with them or not, because it encourages discourse that has the potential to lead to progress on an issue.

On "What Keeps Me Up at Night": I agree that unconditional patriotism is dangerous and generally that unconditional support of anything is dangerous. Obviously, unconditional support of an institution can be dangerous if the institution acts in a way that does not merit support or encouragement. But even something that you would normally think is good to support unconditionally, such as unconditionally loving your family, can be problematic. There are abusive families and partners and family members who do despicable things that should not be supported and enabled. On some level, we can love family, but not agree with their actions and work to help or change them. The same should go for our country: we should have some level of patriotism, or love, for our country, yet not necessarily always support it and remain aware of problems within it that we need to solve because we love it.

From Statements of the More or Less Obvious
On "How We Lost the Future of Our Internet Privacy": The New Age of the Internet has disrupted the long-standing policy of the  "Right to Privacy" guaranteed by the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Various sectors such as the government, private corporations, and private individuals have access to our emails, texts, search engine, the list can go on and on. While various technological and network services disclaim that users’, privacy is protected overall. However, as avid consumers of advanced technology we are both over trusting and over eager disregarding the fine print in terms in conditions which state the privacy policies of the service and devices we use. We trust that these services will protect our conversations and searches even if we feel we don't have anything to hide. However, the concern is what is the point of collecting our personal data.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Paris Agreement and the Future of Climate Change [Part 2]

To continue the topic of America, climate change, and the Paris Agreement I began in this post, I will answer the last question I posed: what happens when America refuses to embrace clean energy?

There are two aspects to this question that offer vastly different answers: domestic and international. Domestically, where President Trump obviously has extraordinary power, efforts against global warming and other environmental concerns will suffer markedly, as they already have been. In my last post, I mentioned pesticide and pipelines, but the injury runs much deeper. We have an EPA chief who does not believe in human-caused climate change or Obama-era clean energy initiatives. A joint resolution from Congress revoked the "Stream Protection Rule," which aimed to protect waterways from mining waste. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke overturned the ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle to prevent lead poisoning in plants and animals.

The administration is doing plenty, but we cannot forget about Trump's own executive orders directed at environmental issues: "Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth," "Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the 'Waters of the United States' Rule," and "Expediting Environmental Review and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects." All three carefully address in one way or another that while "it is in the national interest to promote clean and safe development" of energy and other environmentally-drawn resources, they should not disrupt economic growth. Whatever the intentions of these executive orders are, they are short-sighted and damaging to the environment. The first revokes an Obama executive order and three memoranda on clean energy and climate change, rescinds the President's Climate Action Plan and Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions, and begins to tear down the Clean Power Plan. The second targets the addition under Obama to the Clean Water Rule, defining "waters of the United States" as including smaller streams and wetlands that are not necessarily "navigable." The third calls for expediting federal infrastructure projects at the expense of more thorough environmental reviews. Coal, oil, even water as we know it will not last forever. Even if the Trump administration continues to support non-sustainable resources and decrease major environmental protections, it is a huge mistake to not invest in clean energy and environmental protections.

The U.S. under Trump will most definitely not reach Paris Agreement targets, whether or not Trump officially tries to withdraw. An analysis by Climate Advisors, a company dedicated to clean energy policy and solutions, found that our country could add up to half a gigaton of carbon dioxide by 2025. That is 500,000,000 tons. Moreover, since our "emissions trajectory... cannot be quickly reversed," the effects of this administration will actually be more strongly felt the years following his term.

One positive note rings out from the Climate Advisors analysis: despite the harm this administration is doing to federal environmental regulations, it "will not be able to reverse existing market trends that favor a low-carbon economy." One of the big contributors to carbon emissions is, of course, transportation. A great example of the low-carbon approach becoming more acceptable and even popular is the success of the Toyota Prius. The Prius has enjoyed consistent sales and reputation, and I know from my own personal life the surprisingly significant presence of Priuses. The Prius is probably the most well-known car model among my peers. Entire families exclusively own Priuses. People struggle to find their Uber or Lyft because all the drivers use Priuses. Beyond cars, even some of the biggest companies of the energy industry are advocates. The CEO of General Electric Co. went so far as to say that companies should create "their own 'foreign policy'" to commit to climate change efforts, and Exxon Mobil, an enormous gas and oil company, said America should remain in the Paris Agreement. Hopefully, Americans will remain motivated to pursue a clean-energy future even if the Trump administration continues to slash emissions and energy restrictions and environmental protections.

Internationally, it looks like other countries will not be deterred by what happens here. Executive Director of Greenpeace International commented that the U.S. administration "[stands] completely alone on being climate deniers." Considering that every recognized country or political union signed the Paris Agreement, those concerned about global warming can be comforted by the fact that the international trend is clear: climate change is real, and every country needs to do something about it.

What could potentially push America back on the right track with regards to global warming and environmental protection is, interestingly enough, what we like best: competition. Experts have been looking specifically to China as the new leader in climate change. The country with the highest carbon emissions has been suffering from extensive pollution of air, water, and soil, and the mounting risks, including millions of people dying from polluted air, have kicked the government's focus on climate change efforts into high gear. Hopefully, the rest of the world will continue to stay strong on the climate change front, and America will eventually jump back on the wagon, if not for the sake of our future planet, then for the sake of not being left behind by the international community.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

How We Just Lost the Future of Our Internet Privacy

Last October, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules protecting broadband consumer privacy, a victory for Internet users across America. This Monday, the tide turned to the side of the telecommunications industry; in his latest jab at everything that occurred under the Obama administration, Trump signed the FCC order's repeal.

The FCC, an independent government agency overseen by Congress regulating U.S. communications, implemented the order "Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services" to fortify data security, transparency, and choice in how internet service providers (ISPs) use customer proprietary information (PI). This measure did become law under Obama, but privacy should not be a partisan issue. Even for the average American that just watches cat videos and follows celebrities on Twitter, the repeal of this order does not bear good news. The commodification of everyday communications is a dangerous step towards losing basic privacy rights.

I admit I am no technology expert, but I can read the FCC order. What exactly are we losing from the order repeal? For starters, ISPs will not have to give data breach notifications within 30 days. We will not have fundamental definitions laid out in the document, meaning our Social Security numbers may technically not qualify as "proprietary" information. We will not have strengthened transparency and safety measures such as requiring telecommunication carriers to draft clearer privacy policies and recommending better data security procedures. In short, our information – everything from geo-locations to web application usage history – has lost a significant promise of protection.

In privacy debates, this argument always surfaces: if you aren't doing anything illegal, you shouldn't care who accesses your information. The problem isn't hiding information; it's protecting. This 2013 Pew survey found that the very last parties Internet users try to avoid are law enforcement and the government. Who made the top two? Hackers and advertisers. Without stricter regulations of how our data is used and how we are notified about it, we are more vulnerable to having sensitive information stolen and used without consent. Let's not forget that just two years ago, AT&T employees were found to have stolen names and Social Security numbers of 280,000 customers and sold them to third parties.

Secondly, the order aims to protect basic Internet privacy on the principle that Americans believe we have the right to it. The same Pew survey found that an overwhelming majority of Americans think it is "very important" to have control over their information, and that "if the traditional American view of privacy is the 'right to be left alone,' the 21st-century refinement of that idea is the right to control their identity and information." Basically, we don't need everyone knowing our guilty pleasure shows and credit card numbers.

Now, the FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, says that this is simply a move to "shift responsibility" from the FCC back to the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission, and fix disproportionate regulations in this "fractured privacy framework." Yet, no order was ready to replace or improve upon what the FCC promised at the time of the repeal, and Pai's new plan for net neutrality has already been getting backlash. Furthermore, Pai reportedly expects "internet providers to voluntarily agree to not obstruct or slow consumer access to web content." In what world would companies voluntarily agree to something that would decrease their profits?

As for the FTC's role, a contributor to The Hill, Katie McAuliffe, writes that the FCC "stole the Federal Trade Commission's ability to create regulations for ISPs." However, in McAuliffe's own words, "the FCC still has authority over broadband providers if they violate existing established privacy standards." Most importantly, the order states that "common carriers subject to the Communications Act," passed by Congress to protect customer privacy regarding telecommunications, "are exempt from the FTC's Section 5 authority." The order extends into areas not covered by FTC jurisdiction at all. Additionally, the order makes a point to be consistent with existing FTC policies. McAuliffe then claims "the rules never went into affect [sic], which means no one lost any of the protections that were vacated." This is a convenient way of saying the FCC order was stayed the day before it was supposed to go into effect, and we can't miss what we didn't have.

If you still think the repeal is not noteworthy and was with good intentions, take a gander at the partisan shenanigans. The giant that is the telecom industry donates to Democrats and Republicans alike, and yet, it was sponsored and voted for by Republicans only. Privacy is one of the only things all Americans can agree is a fundamental right (don't touch our religions, guns, speech, or property), so why did Republicans just make this sacred American tradition into yet another partisan issue? I'll leave those speculations to you. However, I will say that Americans should definitely be afraid for the future of Internet privacy – or the lack thereof.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Trump, the Planet, and the Paris Agreement [Part 1]

Since the start of President Trump's term, American efforts for environmental protection have been taking hits, to say the least. From permitting the notorious Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines to allowing the continued use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, the Trump administration has been indiscriminately weakening various aspects of the fight against climate change and environmental degradation, a fight the United States had been gaining footing in under the Obama administration.

Under President Obama, American proponents of clean energy and sustainability celebrated successes such as the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Water Rule, and federal tax incentives for wind and solar power. One of the most notable, if not the most momentous, of these actions has to be America's entry into the historic Paris Agreement.

To understand the Agreement's significance, we must first discuss the Kyoto Protocol. The parent plan of the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, sets targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction as well as several measures aiming to assist Parties in more easily implementing the Protocol and staying on track with their targets. One such mechanism is the use of international emissions trading. Essentially, if a country beats their target, or produces less emissions than its set maximum amount, it may sell "assigned amount units" (AAUs) to countries over their targets. This procedure of trading AAUs works as a constant correction mechanism, allowing countries to work together and observe exactly how well or poorly they are following their goals. Parties no longer need to wait years down the line to accurately evaluate the collective effort of the countries involved. Secondly, by making carbon more of a commodity in this context, Parties are economically incentivized to reduce emissions even more. Although the Kyoto Protocol was a crucial step, it was really just that – a step. The protocol, held by 192 parties, exhausted its first commitment period in 2012, and world leaders were already itching to do more just as the protocol was coming into force.

After the disappointing summit in Copenhagen in 2007, during which details of a new Accord were not adequately fleshed out or given a quantified aggregate target for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction, the Paris Agreement was nothing short of a miracle. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) hosted 197 parties in Paris, France to craft the Paris Agreement, a landmark plan to combat climate change. This is the first universal, legally-binding climate agreement, and not only is it revolutionary in nature, but it is also incredibly ambitious in content. Most notably, the Paris Agreement set the global temperature increase limit to not 2˚C above that of pre-industrial times, the standard number that is often quoted, but 1.5˚C instead. To one-up the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement also asked that states submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are customized plans by respective countries to help keep the global temperature increase below 2˚C. Formulated in December 2015 and opened for signature on Earth Day, April 22, of last year, the Agreement reached the threshold for entry into force in a mere six months and officially entered into force November 4, days before the U.S. presidential election.

What is particularly monumental about the United States' involvement with the Paris Agreement is that although the state signed the Protocol in 1998, the U.S. never actually ratified the protocol or entered it into force. So, the US immediately signing the Paris Agreement and having it ratified by September was definitely a cause for celebration.

The Paris Agreement, unfortunately but unsurprisingly, has found little encouragement since then. As a presidential candidate, Trump famously vowed to dissolve the "war on coal" and specifically promised to retract U.S. commitment from the Paris Agreement. As of this past Thursday, President Trump has decided to make the final call in May. The reality of the situation is that staying in or withdrawing from the Agreement is not the issue. The formal process for withdrawing can take years, and the Trump administration can just choose to flout our INDC. The real question is this: when one of the highest carbon emission producers in the world, per capita and over all, refuses to embrace clean energy, what happens?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Starting the Party (System) [Part 1]

The popular thing to say when it comes to American political parties is that none other than our esteemed first President, George Washington, was against them. In light of the mounting tensions between the parties, I thought this would be a great time to introduce our political party system on this blog.

Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of American politics knows that they come down to two main parties: Democrats and Republics. The existence of such groups was one of the most confusing aspects of my introduction to politics. I had come into politics on the principle of issues only to learn that political parties divided the people in two. Entire families restrict themselves to a single party! Presidents run on party platforms! People check Democratic or Republican candidates all down the ballot without even researching them! It's hard to not wonder how a two-party system, or a party system at all, is an adequate way of representing the multitude of perspectives held by the American people. George Washington said it well in his farewell address:
All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations... are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction... to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.
Political parties distract us from individual issues and the diverse opinions of the people by packaging the interests of powerful minorities and forcing the people between them, otherwise known as party platforms. This attitude, the simple game of win or lose between the two parties or the "projects of faction," is what makes everyday citizens despise politics. It's what makes politics not about the people.

Think for a moment how many general issues are involved in the running of a country. Power of federal versus state government, taxes, education, social justice and equality, environmental sustainability, foreign policy, to name a few. And just in one of those issues are a multitude of sub-issues. Take education for example. How much should government, especially local government, have a say in how schools teach their students? What kind of programs (after-school, art, physical education, etc.) should or should not be funded? What about foreign languages in schools? How can postsecondary education be made more affordable? Bring in all the countless other issues in politics. There is simply no feasible Venn diagram in which half the country can have the exact same stance on all of these issues.

But parties did not start with the extensive platforms of today; that is what parties have become, and it's an effect we feed into in every election. Political parties, which had their birth in this country during our very first election in 1796, to the disappointment of Washington I'm sure, were very different from the parties we know today. They did not have the range of controversial topics we have now such as abortion and other healthcare matters, LGBT rights, police brutality. The Federalists were staunch supporters of the Constitution, a strong federal government, and pro-business and pro-banking, and the Democratic-Republicans were more diverse in ethnicity and background and against these grand commercial ideas. But when it came down to it, who really defined these interest groups? Alexander Hamilton, whose economic policies defined the Federalists, and Thomas Jefferson, who rejected these policies. It really was a smaller set of interests for smaller groups of people. [For a more detailed timeline of our party system, see here]

The approach to party politics was also much more delicate then because the country had just come out of a war. It only makes sense that something as divisive as political parties would not be recommended, but as Jefferson astutely noted,
Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers form them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depositary of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves.
There is definitely some bias written into point 2, but the message is clear. Essentially, the question comes down to how powerful we want our government to be. There is a key lens to this problem that is missing here. It isn't just a matter of where to place the power but how to protect the power. In democratic societies, we want to protect everyone's rights, ensuring our life, liberty, and property/pursuit of happiness. Everyone gets freedom of speech. Everyone can own private property. Everyone can vote. But at the same time, someone needs to be able to enforce these rights, to come in and say, "Hey, you've infringed on this other person's rights, so back up." That necessitates government oversight.

So if we acknowledge that this pro or against strong government idea will always be a part of our political discourse, and we somehow get our parties to not define themselves by that, is there a way we can have a diverse party system based on just where voters stand on individual issues?

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Political scientists put this situation under Duverger's law, which says "the simple-majority single-ballot system favors the two-party system." He follows this by saying "the simple-majority system with second ballot and proportional representation favors multi-partyism." As this paper in The American Political Science Review suggests, in single-winner plurality countries, the end game is simply getting a majority of the votes. The most efficient way to do this is to align with one of two main parties at the cost of more complex platforms.

Think of it this way. In a perfect world in which everyone votes, the majority would be 50+% of the people. If voters feel constrained to only two parties, then it is easier to achieve this majority. 100%/2 = 50%, so you are starting closer to the goal. The more equally strong parties there are, the harder it is for any of them to a) overtake competing parties and b) hold a simple majority at all. 100/3 = ~33%, 100/4 = 25%, and so on. Here's some data that supports this idea:

Solutions to this problem of a two-party lock have of course been offered: runoff voting, proportional voting, range voting. The questions that necessarily follow are: is it worth it in America, and is it feasible? I hope to discuss this further in a future post.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

1 Like = 0 Effect?

Slacktivism (noun): actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, for example signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on social media; blend of "slacker" and "activism"

The Oxford Dictionaries define slacktivism and clicktivism as essentially the same word, but clicktivism is often considered a subcategory of slacktivism that limits the relevant actions to just mouse-clicking, such as simply opening certain sites or liking and sharing posts. Facebook users are all too familiar with the infamous "1 like = 1 prayer" posts, which are picture posts accompanied by one-sentence descriptions, grossly overgeneralizing an issue, and the phrase "1 like = 1 prayer." In its simplicity, these posts are often most effective (if effective at all) in drawing shock and pity rather than sympathy or any deeper, lasting sentiment. Images mocking this trend like the one below have become very popular.

Aside from the obvious facts that a prayer can be made without liking a post and a like on a Facebook post will not actually change the situation pictured, these kinds of photos are a prime example of the negative side of slacktivism. In this age of social media, the politically engaged question more and more often whether slacktivism/clicktivism a) has any effect at all, b) positively impacts movements, or c) actually hurts activism.

Micah White, co-creator of Occupy Wall Street, wrote a piece featured in The Guardian called "Clicktivism is ruining leftist activism." Clearly, White is in the (c) category. He compares clicktivism to the marketing of everyday products, demeaning the importance and profundity of political activism by packaging it into palatable portions.
Exchanging the substance of activism for reformist platitudes that do well in market tests, clicktivists damage every genuine political movement they touch. In expanding their tactics into formerly untrammelled political scenes and niche identities, they unfairly compete with legitimate local organisations who represent an authentic voice of their communities. They are the Wal-Mart of activism: leveraging economies of scale, they colonise emergent political identities and silence underfunded radical voices.
Essentially, slacktivism is activism meets capitalism, using advertising knowledge to maximize and prioritize participation and reach over depth and complexity of issues. The "mainstreaming" of political movements has been especially contentious recently, especially with feminism. This could be its own post, so I will save that conversation for another time. The important thing to note here is that while getting the word out about different political issues and movements is a necessary part of progress and democracy, there comes a point where just trying to spread awareness in a thin, blanketing manner compromises content. A single hashtag, petition, or video simply cannot comprehensively discuss the multitude of contributing factors and outcomes of a huge, complex, long-standing problem, and as White says, the millions of posts that are following a trend can drown out the "radical" and marginalized voices social media is supposed to support.

 As social media becomes a greater part of political activism, more people have been willing to come forward about the various drawbacks of slacktivism and, even more specifically, hashtag activism, or the use of hashtags to represent and support certain political movements. In this Washington Post article detailing the history of hashtag activism is a response to #BringBackOurGirls from 2014. Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole tweeted about the gross simplification of issues hashtag activism proliferates: “Much as we might wish this to be a single issue with a clear solution, it isn’t, and it cannot be. It never was. Boko Haram killed more human beings yesterday than the total number of girls they kidnapped three weeks ago. Horrifying, and unhashtagable.” Indeed, the way issues are presented on social media are rarely comprehensive, and from my own Millennial perspective, most people buy into hashtag movements because they are trendy and not because they are truly invested in the topics.

However, perhaps this is too much of an elitist or purist approach. The main benefit of slacktivism is, after all, its laziness, convenience, approachability. Of course, it is not the hardcore, grassroots, tangible movement that politically involved people would prefer, but don’t things begin with awareness?

The Washington Post piece goes on to discuss other hashtag movements and points out two important differences in successful hashtags: effectiveness of awareness in that particular issue and specific demands from the movement. The article uses #StandwithPP as a good example of this. When Planned Parenthood was losing funding in 2012, the hashtag gave a voice to those who had personally benefited from their services, increased awareness, snagged mainstream media attention, and eventually restored funding. Meanwhile, all the notorious #Kony2012 seemed to do was tout Western interventionism, and yes, Kony is still at large.

In regards to successful slacktivism, we cannot ignore the enormous imapct things like sharing videos, retrweeting, and hashtags did for some of the biggest movements of this century like Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter. And while experts still disagree about whether or not social media involvement actually leads to more substantial engagement in the future (see here, here, and here), there is no denying that slacktivism can at least raise awareness. Now that we've defined the terms and seen slacktivism at work, the job of political activists in this Internet age is to encourage people to get legitimately invested in issues and look for sustainable solutions. Slacktivism's pull is in its convenience and low level of commitment, but the initial exposure that activism brings should be inspiring people to do more, not less.