The Number of the Counting Shall be Three

There’s basically one important date left in the 2020 election cycle prior to Inauguration Day: January 6, 2021. That is the date when Vice President Pence presides over the official counting of electoral college votes. Republicans in the House have already indicated they will object to the results in multiple states. A few Republicans in the Senate have left the door open to whether they will join in. So what will January 6 look like in that event? Let’s walk through it – but first let’s start with some relevant motives.

There have been plenty of objections raised in past elections – including by Democrats – but they’ve always been symbolic, meaning there was no real intent or expectation of overturning the results. To be clear, that will be the case this coming January 6 as well. It’s not at all clear how intelligent the objecting Representatives in the House are, but it’s probably safe to assume they can follow the rudimentary logic as to why the election can’t be overturned – we’ll get into that in a moment. Any process surrounding objections will be entirely about political grandstanding. This is where it is important to revisit the difference between Representatives and Senators. Representatives are voted into office by their districts, while Senators are voted into office by entire states. Representatives also have to come up for re-election every two years, whereas Senators are re-elected every six. These are the major reasons why the position of Senator generally holds more prestige: you have to convince a much broader range of people that you’re the answer, and you have to convince them to live with that choice for three times as long. Senators must therefore be much more careful about pandering to any one political base. Representatives, on the other hand, are forced to do the opposite – they MUST pander to the dominant political base in their districts, otherwise they will be gone in two years. Yet another reason I shall remain opposed to the concept of re-election until I issue my final breath.

The House Republicans that latched on to the Texas election lawsuit earlier this month like so many red barnacles did not do so because they thought it had any chance of succeeding. They did so because they wanted the most fervent Trump supporters in their districts to see that they were “fighting to the very end” for Trump. This was a political calculation and nothing more for each and every Republican in the House – and that will be similarly reflected on January 6. House Republicans with a sufficient percentage of fervent Trump supporters in their districts will throw their hats in the ring for objections, and House Republicans with sufficiently centrist voter percentages will not.

Meanwhile, for the Senators, it will come down to a state-wide assessment – meaning only the reddest of red states have Senators that would even consider it. It is important to note that while many House Republicans have already expressed their plans to object, not a single Senator has done so as yet. The question there is, why? Why wait? What could possibly change between now and January 6 that would tilt their decision one way or the other? They can’t possibly believe any evidence of widespread fraud will pop up between now and then, when nothing has popped up in the past two months. No, the only significant remaining event between now and January 6 is the Georgia runoff election on January 5. And Republicans are desperate to keep Trump supporters engaged enough to retain the Senate for them on that day. If at least a few Senators keep the door open, it gives the most fervent Trump supporters hope that they can still get their wish for an overturned election – even though they can’t (and a troubling many of them don’t understand that). In terms of whether Republican Senators will join in the objections on January 6, will it even matter who won the runoffs? Probably not – especially since there is a fair chance we won’t know the winners that quickly. But once January 5 passes, there will be no more political reason to keep Trump supporters’ hopes alive. That leaves open the distinct possibility that no Republican Senators will join in the objections, sparing us hours of pointless speeches and pre-determined votes.

So how would it unfold if an objection is raised for a particular state’s results? Someone from the House would object, and someone from the Senate would need to join in. If no one from the Senate joins in, the objection dies right there – and this has happened many times in our past. If someone from the Senate does join in, then the two houses convene amongst themselves for a couple of hours, and then they vote on whether to “sustain” the objection. This has happened recently as well – when Barbara Boxer joined in on objections to the results in Ohio in 2004 – again, as a symbolic protest, in that case against voter suppression. The only way the objection is “sustained” is if both houses vote in favor of it. And here is where the inevitability sets in. The Democrats have the majority in the House, meaning they will vote the objection down, probably with Republicans in more centrist districts joining in, meaning it won’t even be close. Meanwhile, in the Senate, even with a Republican majority, enough Senators have already made it clear that they view Biden as the President-elect, there is little chance even they will support the objection. In fact, it may not even be close. So the House ensures the election results won’t be overturned in that state, and the Senate probably underscores it.

So how will this play out across the 50 states and the District of Columbia on January 6? First, an interesting twist: the count is always done alphabetically by state, and once a candidate hits 270 votes, it’s basically over – that candidate is declared the President-elect by Congress. The latest reports suggest the House Republicans plan to initiate the objection process in as many as six states – coincidentally (not) the same six states in which the majority of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election have taken place since Biden was projected as the winner on November 7: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – leading to as many as 12 hours of pointless debate along the way to the inevitable result. If this is truly their plan, perhaps my estimation of their logic skills earlier was a tad high. The count will never make it to Wisconsin – Biden will cross the 270 vote threshold when Vermont’s 3 electoral votes are counted. In fact, this is often the fate of the “W” states, the poor bastards.

But let’s back up from that for a second. The next “disputed” state up the alphabet from Wisconsin is Pennsylvania. But by the time the counting reaches Pennsylvania, there will only be a total of 30 electoral votes remaining between Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, meaning even in an alternate universe where one could imagine those states “flipping”, it would still leave Biden with 276. So objecting when Pennsylvania counts makes no mathematical sense. Backing up even further from that to Nevada – that state has 6 electoral votes, meaning the total of that plus Pennsylvania and Wisconsin is 36 – which still leaves Biden with 270. The last “disputed” state where it makes any mathematical (but again, not logical) sense to object is therefore the state of Michigan. Once that objection is resoundingly squashed, there aren’t enough electoral votes remaining to overturn, even in Fantasyland. Now – perhaps the House Republicans will want to keep objecting anyway, but my guess is that any Senators that might have been onboard will say “enough” at that point, and so we will only spend six hours listening to this nonsense instead of twelve.

Backing up even further from that – how willing will the Senators be to have this debate more than even once? That would seem to be sufficient as a symbolic gesture to the Trump supporters in their states. When the House makes it clear they will not flip Arizona’s results, and when the Senate likely does the same, will any Senators be on board for repeating the process two more times? What could possibly convince them the votes would be any different with respect to the Georgia or Michigan results?

So, to sum up: House Republicans seem to think they will make this process last twelve more hours than it should. But the last two hours (Wisconsin) will never occur, leaving us at ten hours. And Nevada and Pennsylvania won’t make mathematical sense, likely leaving us at six hours. And Georgia and Michigan would just be repeats of Arizona, leaving a fair chance the Arizona objection is the only one we’ll have to endure. It all boils down to how far any Senators are willing to go. We could even spend zero hours on debates, if the few potentially rogue Senators are only holding out through the Georgia runoffs.

However many hours are wasted, none of them will change the result: Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on January 20. But we might want to set our “DVRs” to record the proceedings on January 6, to let future generations of Congresspeople know just how silly they can be made to look.

Fear Itself

How do we “turn down the temperature” and come together again as a nation in the wake of the most polarizing and divisive election cycle since the Civil War? First by targeting a familiar enemy: fear.

Polls (liars in their own right) suggest the overwhelming majority of Republicans think Biden “stole” this year’s election from Trump. This despite zero evidence of widespread fraud, as determined by courts of law often presided by Republican and even Trump appointees, all the way up the highest court in the land. The most incredible part of all this? Giuliani and others have specifically avoided saying there was fraud in courts of law – and there can only be one reason for that: because there is no evidence, and claiming fraud would mean lying under oath and probably getting disbarred. The only time they use the word “fraud” is during press conferences and make-believe “hearings” in which they are not under oath. All of this logic is right out in the open, under the bright light of the daytime Sun. And yet the overwhelming majority of Republicans think the election was stolen.

This state of affairs has been orchestrated all the way back to 2016 by Trump, with willing and often enthusiastic abetting by Republican leaders. Had he lost in 2016, Trump had already teed up the notion that it would have been because of fraud. He claimed fraud even after winning, because he lost the popular vote. In 2020, he claimed all year that if he lost, fraud would be the only plausible reason. Meanwhile, Republican legislatures in battleground states ensured the election would proceed in a way that made it look like votes were being “found” by the Democrats. Had these legislatures allowed the early counting of mail-in ballots, Biden would have been in the lead (or close to it) from start to finish. But having them be counted later fed the conspiracy theory that votes were magically being “found” after Trump initially “won”.

These are all blatant and easily identifiable ways to shape a narrative. The problem is, human beings – even intelligent and compassionate ones – are extremely gullible, to the point where if you just say the same thing over and over again, despite having no credible evidence to support it, eventually people will believe it to be true. But there are two key and necessary elements to make that work. The first is that people need to want your lie to be true. That was easy in this case – of course Republicans wanted it to be true that they lost the election because of fraud, and not just because sometimes people win and sometimes people lose. The second necessary element to get people to believe an obvious lie is a visceral emotion upon which you can seize – and more often than not, that emotion is fear. And conveniently, there is one fear that grips the hearts of most Republicans, wherever they may be: socialism.

That fear is nothing new. The Republican Party began stoking it in earnest shortly after World War II, culminating in McCarthyism. And while McCarthyism seemed to fade away after a few years, the stoking of the underlying fear did not. Every election, Republicans cast the vote as a last line of defense against descent into an oppressive socialist regime, despite the fact that of all fourteen previous Democratic Presidents in our history, exactly zero have descended us into socialism. Some Americans have actually lived in oppressive regimes – which is why this fear helped Trump take Florida through the votes of Cuban Americans, for example. But most Republicans have simply been told that this is where the Democrats want us to go, and they’ve been told for decades and generations.

“Socialism” is an easy word to throw around, and sometimes it’s replaced with “communism” just to mix things up. Either term is automatically equated in Republican minds with oppression, while capitalism is hailed as the central tenet of freedom. But there are three fundamental truths ignored in these lines of thinking. First, even capitalism has flaws to go with its strengths; for example, it requires inequality in order to work – which breeds unequal access to basic freedoms. This flaw of capitalism is precisely why communism and socialism even exist. That leads to the second fundamental truth: in practice, capitalism is always necessarily tempered to some degree by elements of socialism, including right here in America. And finally, because all “isms” are flawed, they all are capable of supporting an oppressive regime. Putin has demonstrated that very effectively in post-communist Russia, and Trump would like nothing more than to lord over the same situation in America. Oppressive regimes – and more pointedly, dictators – don’t care what the underlying socioeconomic system is; they will exploit it as needed to establish and maintain power and control.

But Republicans have been continually beaten over the head by their party leadership with so many false equations: capitalism with freedom, socialism with oppression, Repubicans with capitalism (and therefore freedom), and Democrats with socialism (and therefore oppression). Hence their deep-seated fears that rear up every single election cycle, upon which Trump and his enablers have voraciously preyed. And hence it inevitably comes to pass that the vast majority of Republicans have brought themselves to believe the 2020 election was stolen, despite zero credible evidence to that effect. Fear, desire, and repetition. It’s all depressingly easy.

The polarization accompanying these fears also means that arguing about the complete lack of evidence for fraud will have no effect. Even high ranking Republicans can’t have any effect here – including Trump-appointed judges, the Supreme Court, and the leader of the Republican Senate. They all just get labeled as “RINOs” and absorbed into the conspiracy.

The only way we have any chance of returning toward some semblance of reasonable debate over the course of the nation is to get back to addressing the underlying fear that precipitated all of this. We need to have a sensible dialogue about the balance that must exist in any free nation between capitalist ideals and the necessary regulation of those ideals. We must stop throwing words and sound bites around about the extremes – and that is true of both Republicans and Democrats alike. Some of the rhetoric from the progressive arm of the Democratic Party has certainly helped fan the flames of Republican fears. Deep down, I would like to believe that most Americans want to live a peaceful life somewhere in the center, where fear loses its teeth and gives way to reason, compassion, and common goals. Living there starts with having the conversation there.

Mark Your Calendars

With the Safe Harbor deadline now in the rear view mirror, and a bunch of red states now suing a bunch of blue states, I thought it would be worthwhile to list important remaining events on the calendar as they pertain to this whacky (and still getting whackier by the minute) election cycle. So, here ya go:

Dec 11: Supreme Court Issues One Sentence Denial to Texas Suit
Dec 14: Electoral College Vote
Dec 16: Every State Sues Every Other State
Dec 17: Supreme Court Issues Response with Nothing but a Facepalm Meme
Dec 20: Trump Sues the United States
Dec 23: Electoral Votes to Congress
Dec 31: Trump Sues the World
Jan 6: Congress Counts Electoral Votes
Jan 8: Trump Sues the United Federation of Planets
Jan 20: Biden Sworn In
Jan 25: Trump Sues the High Council of the Multiverse
Feb 4: Trump Sues God
Feb 11: God Denies Injunction
Feb 12: Trump Tweets God is Corrupt
Feb 15: President’s Day

The Forest for the Trees

President Trump and his ardent supporters are unable to see any other reason that he possibly could have lost the election than widespread voter fraud, which of course is being repeatedly shown in courts to have no basis in fact. Meanwhile, something that’s both widespread and replete with basis in fact – COVID-19 – is almost certainly the main reason Trump lost the election.

Elections in the United States are often quite predictable. It is extremely difficult for an incumbent to lose, and equally difficult for a party to hang on for more than eight years. The elder George Bush bucked the latter trend but couldn’t secure a second term. Since then, we bounced back and forth between three eight-year stints – the Democrat Clinton, the Republican Bush, and the Democrat Obama. That alone made it likely that whoever the Republicans ran in 2016 – including a ham sandwich – would win. And the data suggest that the ham sandwich should have won a second term as well.

Trump has a troublingly extensive “base”. And beyond that, partisans invariably vote by and large for their party. So going into 2020, Trump was the favorite to win a second term. The economy, myopically defined by the size of tax refunds and various stock indices, was doing well enough that any crusade to bring more compassion and reason back into the White House was likely to fail in favor of personal interests – per usual in American politics. And then came COVID-19.

To be fair, COVID-19 has proven a formidable enemy to the entire world. Nobody was going to combat it without experiencing some level of failure. But the degree to which our nation has failed is staggering. I don’t need to go into numbers here – common sense makes the series of missteps by the current administration abundantly clear. Dismantling an office that was dedicated to this very type of crisis before it ever hit. Failure to establish firewalls on international travel for months after the first stage of the outbreak in Wuhan. Failure to invoke the right measures to make testing and PPE widely available early in the spread, which derailed any hopes of successful contact tracing and containment. And politicization of simple things like masks and social distancing.

These failures allowed the outbreak to get sufficiently out of control that the economy began to suffer – and THAT is why Trump lost the 2020 election. It’s the economy, stupid – a cliche for sure, but cliches rarely become cliches unless they’re true. If Trump had handled the COVID-19 crisis even marginally adequately, the electoral map in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin, and maybe even Michigan would have looked a lot more like 2016. It might have been nothing more complicated than delivering the consistent message to wear a mask. Trump Nation would have responded, lives would have been saved, fewer businesses would have gone under, and vote margins might have shifted just a few hundred thousand votes.

At this very moment, we are again nearing a terrifying hospitalization crisis I wrote about months ago. Despite the good news about the vaccines, their widespread availability is still months away. Meanwhile, Trump is spending all of his time bouncing between Twitter and whichever attorneys are being asked on this particular day to make fools of themselves in court. And his devoted supporters are gearing up for big Thanksgiving get-togethers, where they can commiserate and spray saliva over multiple bottles of cheap wine about how the election was rigged and COVID-19 is no worse than the flu. All the while ignoring that their completely and continually wrong response to COVID-19 is the singular reason they won’t be celebrating a second Trump term.

Over the river and through the wood, to Grandmother’s house we go…

The New Green New Deal

As the responses of President Trump and his enablers have become more comical each day, I began to daydream…

One of the more chuckle-inducing claims that made its way ’round the World Wide Web of Deceit is that over ten thousand dead people voted in Michigan. This claim has, of course, been debunked many times over. Not that it should even need debunking – wouldn’t that be a pretty easy thing to discover, and therefore a pretty dumb way to try and steal an election?

Then it occurred to me – people that believe this will believe anything. So then it further occurred to me – what if somebody planted a new idea in the hive mind?…

Attention Trump Nation! Our fearless leader has finally completed his own personal purchase of Greenland! But – and this is CRITICAL – he has commanded all of us to immediately begin colonization, so that we can build a new wall of ice (better than the crappy one in Game of Thrones) and establish a new utopia free of all liberal socialist commie godless bleeding heart Jedi scum. Fire up the RVs! It’s time for a road trip to the biggest island on Earth! I mean, just look at it on a map – it’s huge! Biggest island ever! And it’s ours! All ours! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA….

Probably would need some word-smithing, but stay with me on this. If we plant this message, I guarantee more than zero people will start their mouses a’clickin’. If it truly catches fire, we could kill a whole lotta birds with one stone. People that don’t believe tens of thousands of dead people vote would be happier, and so would the new residents of Greenland. Eventually, Trump would realize all his friends have left, so he’d concede the election and move there too. And then he’d be UNEMPLOYED. In GREEN-LAND.

Meanwhile, back in Murica, we’d formally rename ourselves back to America, and the Biden administration would be able to move ahead full steam with transition planning while our still completely stupid Electoral College process plays itself out. Republicans in Congress would finally be able to stop saying things like “well the President has a point about all these dead people voting”, and the two sides of the aisle might even eventually start working out the occasional deal here and there like old times. Approval and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine would be governed by adults, and we might start to find some form of normalcy by mid to late 2021.

Mean-meanwhile, the new citizens of Greenland would eventually discover through the melting of their beautiful new glaciers that climate change is real, and then they’d realize maybe they went a little overboard the past few years. They would send Trump to the Greenland Penitentiary for income tax evasion and move back home like so many millions of prodigal sons and daughters, where they would happily discover that for the fifteenth time in the past fifteen Democratic Presidencies, we did not turn into a communist regime. And America would live happily ever after, especially the dead people, who would never again have to show up in court to testify that they didn’t vote.

The End

(cue patriotic exit music)

Extraordinary Claims

If you’ve read a fair number of outputs from the Machine, you know Carl Sagan is a personal hero of sorts. One of the topics on which he was most outspoken was the question of whether aliens had as yet visited Earth. He never categorically dismissed the notion, but he stated “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. That phrase actually dates back in another form to the French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace, who said “the weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness”.

“Strangeness” is indeed a word that could be applied with reckless abandon to the way the Trump campaign has approached this election. And one of the extraordinary claims made by the campaign is that the whole thing is corrupt, with Philadelphia as the epicenter. In particular, the campaign has spoken of Philadelphia’s “reputation”. These claims are extraordinary, because there has never been anywhere near enough widespread fraud in a U.S. Presidential election to flip the final outcome. Thus far, no real evidence has been produced to support the claims. But if something uniquely Philadelphian were going on here, one would think the raw numbers would support that. So I took at look at the percentages for a dozen established left-leaning counties, Philly included, to see if the City of Brotherly Love jumps out. Here is what I found:

County (City)BidenTrump
Boston (Boston)82.5%15.6
Cook (Chicago)72.6%25.8%
Dane (Madison)75.5%22.8%
District of Columbia (Washington)92.6%5.2%
Denver (Denver)81.5%16.6%
Fulton (Atlanta)72.6%26.2%
King (Seattle)75.7%22.2%
Los Angeles (Los Angeles)71.4%26.8%
Manhattan (New York City)84.5%14.5%
Philadelphia (Philadelphia)80.5%18.6%
San Francisco (San Francisco)85.6%12.2%
Wayne (Detroit)68.1%30.6%
Current percentages in votes for Biden and Trump across a dozen left-leaning metropolitan counties.

Some thoughts here. First, Philly ranks 6th out of 12 on this list. So that doesn’t jump out much. Sure, I cherry-picked the more liberal cities in the U.S., but Philly has always been known to be one of those, so the question is whether it jumps out as an anomaly against that backdrop. Its ranking here doesn’t support that notion. Second, Detroit, also a target of Trump campaign accusations, is actually last in this list. Third, Denver. Not exactly a city people think of when they think of corruption – yet the Biden ratio is even higher there.

The bottom line is that based on the above table, if Philadelphia is corrupt, then it would appear all left-leaning cities are corrupt, and of course a lot of Trump supporters will believe exactly that. But when you start taking these accusations to a national/conspiratorial level, you start to sound more and more like the crazy uncle. Bipartisan observers have been dispatched to all of these cities to ensure the integrity of the process, and bipartisan volunteers have been working insane hours under intense scrutiny to do the actual counting. The likelihood that all of these people are in on some sort of con game is about the same as the likelihood that President Trump will ever admit that he could actually lose a fair game.

Zero

Welcome to the post-25-word-limitation era of the Parallax Machine. As I write this, the American election is still (not surprisingly) in limbo. So let’s divert ourselves for at least a couple of minutes by completing the countdown, with a post dedicated to the number zero. Back at the turn of the year, which seems like ten years ago, I talked about how we count decades, centuries, and millennia. As part of that discussion, I noted that the Romans had no designation for the number zero, and I threatened to eventually talk more about the number. Let this be proof that my threats are not idle.

We have evidence that the concept of zero dates back to the Sumerians around five thousand years ago. It was not dealt with on its own, but rather to help build up other numbers – for example, the number 504 indicates four ones, zero tens, and five hundreds. So zero’s introduction into the world was strictly a practical matter, and was only dabbled with toward that end for quite some time. The symbol for zero as a placeholder in other numbers was crystallized by the Babylonians around 300 BC. The Mayans did something similar around the same time.

As we approached the BC/AD transition, the Greeks, philosophical nuts as they were, began to debate amongst themselves about how to treat zero. Should it be a number? How can nothing be something? This got tied up with philosophical discussions about the analogous thing in nature: a vacuum – and also with even deeper conversations about how the universe itself came about. If everything had a beginning, then it was preceded by nothing. How can nothing have turned into something? If the answer is God, then there wasn’t a nothing, there was God. But how did God begin? Excuse me for a moment, I need a drink.

Zero has had a lot of different symbols over the ages, but our modern beloved donut originated primarily from the Chinese. The concept of zero as a number, however, we owe to the Indians, somewhere in the middle of the first millennium AD. Europe didn’t get on the zero train until the 12th century AD, but it played a crucial role in the mathematical advances that took place a few centuries later by Isaac Newton and others. Once we devoted a lot of attention to math, and particularly in how to use it to represent the real world (like with Newton’s laws of motion or Kepler’s laws of planetary motion), zero became crucial.

Mathematically, zero is a weird animal indeed. For example, it is the only number that can’t be in the denominator of a fraction. Although if you divide the number one by smaller and smaller numbers, you’ll get a larger and larger number as a result – which makes it look like you would eventually end up with infinity if you actually divided by zero. But infinity isn’t a number, it’s a concept. Yet it too plays a crucial role in mathematics – lots of things end up “approaching infinity” as a means of describing the behavior of the world around us. Calculus (invented independently by Newton and Gottfried Liebniz) doesn’t work without this kind of seemingly nonsensical thinking, yet calculus helped put us on the Moon. Excuse me while I take another swig.

Zero also defines the dividing line between positive and negative numbers. Profit and debt mean nothing without the definition of zero as the break-even point. Zero multiplied by any other number equals zero – no other number can do that. Zero added to or subtracted from any other number equals that number – no other number can do that either. Absolute zero is the coldest that any object in the universe can become – although it’s a little like infinity in that it requires the complete drainage of all energy and motion down to the tiniest of scales, which is practically unachievable. And, perhaps most importantly, zero is usually the number you hit when you want to be transferred to a real live human being at your bank or internet service provider.

I believe I now have zero left to say in this post.

Time is up.

One

One candidate cares about one person. One candidate cares about one nation. One will win. Every vote will help determine which one. One last chance.

Two

Whatever happens this week, our two party system is more broken than ever. We must come together, or Rome will fall again. Oh, and vote.