29 June 2008

Trendlines, those pesky trendlines

The following is a white paper for The Jacksonian Party.

Now, I will point out that I do get wrong predictions, but I don't mind being wrong in some instances if things head in the general way expected. So, while the New Iraqi Army did not get a hold of the situation by the end of 2006 as I expected, it was beyond predicting the sort of incident that could set off a last and largest wave of post-war bloodshed in that country. The trendlines, however, pulled together with the Anbari tribes getting disgusted of al Qaeda and banding together with Coalition support to start ousting them there.

That said a bit of analysis later is one that I have stuck to in the overall term of things:

In Iraq the trend-lines have been going solidly in our favor since the standing up of the New Iraqi Army, and there is not a single trend-line pointing to defeat. Failure by lack of political will is possible, but as the trends continue, it will be harder and harder to justify leaving Iraq to fall into chaos. And the naysayers should be warned, the Jacksonians just *left* the political scene after the betrayal of Vietnam... this will bring them back with fire in their eye as treachery will be seen.

And the trend lines in the US Population is demonstrating this as the MSM falls further and further downwards and both political parties hover in the Used Car Salesman area of trustworthiness. Like any supersaturated solution, it looks extremely stable until just one minor thing happens... and then there is a sudden change of state as a new form crystallizes nearly instantly.

THAT is where the electorate stands today.

Just one little thing.

It doesn't take much to change the state of a supersaturated solution to one of crystalline with the water being forced out of it, or from solute to a sudden gelatinous state completely with just one minor disturbance. Dust, vibration, the smallest change in temperature that is just a bit too rapid and you go from something liquid to something definitely not liquid.

Trendline analysis is a very useful tool, so long as you don't fetishize on a single trend. The global warming crowd seem to fetishize on carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, ignoring the overall point that the planet is in one of the lowest points for that in its entire history. And when pointing at a miniscule century of temperatures, they ignore the 800 million year climate record found by geologists over decades. Concentrating on the wrong scope, wrong numbers, wrong time-frame and, finally, ignoring that the data, itself, is being undercut by processing errors and instrumentation errors doesn't help. When you want to analyze trendlines, like say Iran's oil production and its capacity to export, you not only have to ask yourself 'what do the trends signify?' but then ask yourself 'what are the things pushing these trends?'. From Roger Stern's article released online at 26 DEC 2006 on The Iranian petroleum crisis:

You don't get the capability to leave things out, but as the idea of how to get oil out of the ground, transport it, refine it, sell it, and then look at marginal expansion are *all* far more than a century old (and since the oil industry is an offshoot of mining, that puts those concepts back thousands of years to the first human mining experiences) you do not get to wave your hands around claiming much and citing little. A process of under-investment, over-utilization and subsidies on refined products all leads in one direction for energy use and the ability to export: the variables are known, the trendlines obvious and the ability to counter them requires years if not more than a decade.

When talking about a larger society, however, the trendlines are not in any one place: society covers a wide gamut of human interactions and trying to see if a suite of them has any sort of defining impact is difficult. So, when looking at the trends of the US starting in the Vietnam era and onwards, I take a broader sweep of things, due to the inability to actually *measure* these trends in any objective way. There is no thermometer reading for foreign policy or nationalism amongst a population, no wind-force scale for popular opinion to compare across eras, and no Richter scale to measure the impact of events on a society as a whole. If there *were* I would use *them*. So the empirical and 'high water mark' sort of evidence is necessary:

The death toll that accrued to America's unwillingness to stand for her values, stick by an Ally and retreat with mere scratches when entire societies were threatened was enormous. The media conveniently under-reported such things and so retreat was seen as a 'low cost option' against military aggression in far off lands. Mind you, the mightiest economy of the planet was expending less than 10% of its economy and more on the order of 8% to deal with this, continue a build up of thermonuclear weapons, heavily increase its industrial capacity, raise its standard of living by leaps and bounds, put a new era of agriculture in place that would further reduce the manpower needed to feed the Nation, and put forth new science and technology at a phenomenal rate. The USSR, meanwhile, was spending 15-25% of its economy on war material, creating substandard housing, inventing very little, and repressing its people continuously through secret police, gulags and imprisonment without fair trial for stating 'political dissent'. The layer of 'Mutual Assured Destruction' was used to cement the 'balance of power' in place and KEEP IT THERE. Those who had put forth that Foreign Policy had so inculcated the power structure of the West to it, that there was no other option ever put forth that got a hearing on trying to do something different. Grand Strategy had, indeed, become based on fantasy and those holding wonderful reports from the CIA in the late 1980's about how the USSR would be around at least until 2010 and most likely 2030-50 should have been seen as *frauds*: they had so weakened the Nation to respond to *any* attack and counter threats to the Friends and Allies of the United States that the US was no longer seen as a reliable power of any sort.

The loss of identity of the American People to its Foreign Policy strategy is not new. It is traced directly back to Korea and Vietnam where the disenchantment of the American People with supporting dictators, appeasing aggressors and, generally, giving up the ideals of Liberty and Freedom to a 'balance of power' that they started to walk out on the system ITSELF. By the late 1970's the mass movement of the American People was no longer along standard political and ideological axes, but was a growing disenchantment with the political system that would *support* the deterioration of National Sovereignty and the Preceptual belief in the Declaration and the limitation of Government seen in the Constitution. The end of the Cold War did not start this trend which was in full swing by that point in time. The American People believed that the Nation should stand up for some things and the political class was telling it that those things were not worth standing up *for* or doing anything to *continue* them. To have a sense of the lost security on the Global Scale one must first *start* with that sense which America has not had since the middle of the Cold War.

After Vietnam, the destruction of Cambodia, Laos, and the reprisals taken against South Vietnam were huge with death tolls as a result of American cowardice rising into the tens of millions. The USSR saw this as a vital way to undermine the West and the very conception of Western Liberty because their sympathizers in the West had shown an ability to redirect outlook away from Preceptual basis to one of 'no blood now for any reason, ever'. This was not helped by the US non-response to the overthrow of Iran by Islamic Fundamentalists, the botched hostage rescue attempt, the Embassy bombing in Beirut, the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut, the Second Embassy bombing in Beirut, the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing, the Berlin Disco bombing... The continuous hit parade against the US and its Allies by foes both Communist backed, like the various 'Red' factions/legions and the Pan-Arab to Islamist groups led to further deterioration in the concept that the US would actually address anything outside of herself. The retaking of Kuwait was seen as a validation *of* that because the US would no longer dare to act *alone* in her own interests. And promises given to people wanting to over throw a dictator were not fulfilled and so 300,000 Shia Arabs died due to Saddam Hussein because they actually had this strange belief that the US would actually stand FOR anything it said.

Those are the trendlines of disenchantment of the American people with its government, political class, foreign policy institutions and, in the end, self-alienation from the concept of a Nation supporting liberty and freedom both at home and abroad.

A fertile place to examine how trends can be seen is via 'alternate history' or 'counter-factual history' which both utilize things that did not happen and then look and see what the ongoing trends across societies and nations were and how they would be effected by them. This I did in my piece looking at how Azar Gat postulated a slightly different outcome to world affairs if North America was not that rich in resources or in any given subset of them (say fresh water or iron ore or fertile land). A United States with the natural resources at lesser degrees or far harder to get and support would not have been able to sustain the industrial output necessary to fight two World Wars.

Going a bit further, as I am an alt-history fan, I postulate an even smaller change to Germany pre-WWI that would have long-term and large scale ramifications globally... actually a trivial change historically speaking. The overall analysis, however, is that of 'contingent effects' being predominant in history: things that are unrelated to societal trends, say natural resources or transportation lines, can impact a wide swath of peoples and the course of nations. This goes against Marxist views of 'mass-movement historical trends' because those very same mass movements are based upon contingent effects. Without the basis to get those masses, the movements either don't show up or they show up in a scattered way and exert little overall force.

With any consequential petroleum resources held by Germany and threat to take more of same, plus a stalemate in the Euoropean theater, President Wilson would be forced to put the economic needs of the US aside and join the Allies or to fully fight *all* of the Allies of Germany. There would even be the case made that supporting Germany so as to *influence* it and its allies was in the US interest for the long-term spread of democracy and liberalization of those regimes. That was a case hard to put forth with Germany relatively isolated, but a Germany with more resources and active in the Middle East then puts Germany combat expertise in support of the Ottoman Empire.

World War I was not foreordained to be the US coming in to save the Alliance bacon and then fouling up its handling of the Middle East for 90 years thereafter. With one relatively simple shift in outlook, one that the Kaiser could easily have taken umbrage to, the entire geo-strategic basis for World War I would have changed and harshly. If the Aussies had problems at Gallipoli with Ottoman Turks there, imagine the problems they would have with Germany supported Ottoman troops with more modern weapons and tactics. And securing victory against the Ottomans by the British from the south would have to be concentrated on attempting to regain natural resources and be faced with German troops attempting to isolate Persia and threaten Arabian oil supplies and other Middle Eastern natural resources. Not to speak of the Suez Canal.

One minor rail line that was discontinued but near completion just before the war, could have changed the entire history of WWI with the pre-war plans adjusted to that economic parameter: Germany was very capable of doing that. The trends of war, in that case, would not be 'mass movement' affairs predicted by socialists, but highly variable affairs based on tiny accidents of history. Some broader sweeps do happen, say the shift to agricultural societies, but the final forms of those societies winding up into anything like our modern world are not pre-ordained. If the volcanic island of Thera had not exploded for an additional century, the movement of that early civilization based on Crete and Thera would have been able to thwart Mycenaean attempts to overcome them. Without that you get no Trojan War. Indeed, a more highly coherent multi-island society becomes a palpable force with time to spread and the entire history we know after the dawn of the Bronze Age would not have happened as it would shift Egypt and Babylon, too, via trade and intellectual discourse. Given a century, that early civilization with hot and cold running water to individual homes, indoor siphon based plumbing and other things that would have to wait until Roman times, would have spread faster. Greater public health via good sanitation saves countless lives daily, and is a simple thing to do. With agriculture, sanitation and time to build up trade, our world would not be here as we know it... probably we all would be speaking some form of Greek.

That is a contingent effect having a mass movement outcome: it is a necessary mental tool for trendline analysis to be able to postulate a minor change (a change in outcome that is randomly distributed) so that a wider spectrum of subsidiary changes can be examined using our knowledge of how such changes have impacted other societies. With that being said, when large scale trends do start moving societies, then they continue moving until something else acts upon them. That is part of the supersaturation concept. And my best trendlines are actually measurements, although they are direct, like the declining export capability of Iran, they are a bit darker because of what they are showing:

The above taken from US Census datasets.

Voting requires that one be over 18, a citizen of the US and not otherwise stopped from voting via previous convictions for crimes. We have concepts, in a representative democracy, that include words with attendant ideas:

Majority - the majority of the voting population.

Plurality - a large segment of the voting population that is sub-majority, but not minority.

Minority - generally sub-plurality, to the point where it is non-competitive with a plurality, generally placed under 40% and usually under 30%.

For representative democracy, starting in 1964 for Presidential cycles, the Majority came out to vote in numbers that would allow the winners to claim Plurality status. In the years between 1976 and 1992 the ability to claim a Majority voting is still in effect, but the resultant government could no longer claim Plurality status and can be considered a Minority with Majority voting. These are given considering non-'landslide' elections where contests are in the 52% winner and 48% loser arena. Most elections have been closer to 50/50 with the Nixon and Reagan 'landslides' the exceptions. The historical trendline for Presidential election years has been downwards with a spike in 1992 and an upward trend between 1996 to 2004, but with 2004 being a high water mark for absolute turnout though a relatively low turn-out considering the 1964 high in that area. We have not had anyone who can even claim to be a Plurality President since 1972 with the sole exception of President Clinton barely clearing that in 1992 and then falling into Minority status in the next election cycle.

If all underlying societal circumstances remain the same over this period for commitment to representative democracy, then the overall trend can be said to indicate a drifting from utilization of the franchise right by a minority, at first, and then by a Plurality. With the exception of 1992, the Plurality of Americans who can vote have voted with their feet and non-exercise of their franchise as a demonstration of their commitment to representative democracy. Or in this case non-commitment to that concept. That underlying trend, if it has no mitigating factors would then trend for the next Presidential election cycle to 'regress towards the mean' or average indicated by the ongoing trend downwards. I examine that concept of how a mean or average trend via a slope in a graph depicting such things as batting averages, average temperatures and other things has a powerful mathematical backing to it.

Here the interim Congressional election cycles demonstrate the operative slope clearly, with the 1966 high water mark for Congressional turnouts being in 1966 with a slight fall-off in 1970, allowing Congress to claim Majority turnout but to be Minority in representation with close elections as an operative concept. Starting in 1974 and with every subsequent interim election, there has been a Plurality turnout with Congress moving into pure Minority status for representation. Dropping below 45% in 1998 and subsequently has cemented that Minority representation and would indicate a decided lack of support from the American voting population. A slope on the Congressional graph, only done by eye and pure estimation, sees a 12% drop over 9 interim elections after the start of the graph or a general 1.3% drop per interim election cycle election cycle on the Congressional side. A similar slope dropping approximately 20%, again done by eye, over 10 Presidential election cycles after the start of the graph yields a general 2% voter turnout decline per cycle. Not having the 2006 turnout information handy for Congress I can't say if that holds up, but as there was no indication of a massive spike in voting that would draw inordinate media attention, the norm may have held. For the next Presidential cycle that slope would indicate a 54%-56% turnout to return the turnout rate to its declining slope to its mean.

That latter is worrying as, to truly get back in synch with the slope, the amount of area covered by the variation would have to be made up by actually going under 54%. If the mean has a draw to it then that would seem to be indicated, giving the highly spikey turnout changes in Presidential election years. For that to happen, both parties would need to nominate individuals that would depress their own voter turnout and the turnout of 'independents'. A 2% total percentage drop-off would be a minimum expected with a mean drawing the percentage back to historical turnout declines, while a 4% would be the average drop off (thus to just over 54%) and 6% would start to bring the overall trend back into line for a slight recover in 2012. What happens at 6%, however, is that nearing the 50% turnout line starts to dance with the turnout rate changing from Majority to large Plurality. A drop to between 50% to 52% starts to be a test of the actual adherence of the American voting age population to representative democracy. For a representative democracy to claim any legitimacy under majoritarian standards, then a Majority must turn out for elections to be considered as 'representative'. A slight drop to Plurality turnout then calls into question the actual validity of a representative democracy as representing the 'will of the people' when their will has been demonstrated by not voting.

There is no 'out' in that function: if you believe in the concept of representative democracy, then there is no plea to 'only the interested vote' or the 'smarter people voting represent those who don't'. That is patently not the case as the former is actually citing that representative democracy is not working and the latter is suggesting some form of authoritarian outlook by a Minority to rule the Majority. The glib answers like that must end when representative democracy founders with such low turnouts. If there is no interest in common government, then government is no longer able to serve the common man and must guess at what that common man wants. And do notice that every social program, every educational program, every pork barrel project, every enticement, every bribe, every payoff to the people with their own money has not brought out more people to actually *support it*.

The longer term artifacts of this have been showing up in other, derivative data sets based on Congressional votes. Looking at that in Running the numbers: Polarized America, I found the following:

What is more troubling than that, and being witnessed this election season, is the two parties fielding presumptive candidates that are, inherently, starting to cause party faithful to waiver. If candidates in both parties cause a minor drop in their own base participation, say 10%, then the percentage voting drops very close to 50%, just nudging over it by a bit. At 15% it drops just below 50% turnout. At that point representative democracy goes from plurality government to true minority government, representing a sub-part of plurality. Even with minority government status being reached de facto for many years, the absolute shift where true plurality of the voting age assent is given is no longer in hand.

Gridlock is actually not a problem but the solution being given by the political center in the US: it is the only ready means at hand to keep the two parties in mutual check so that they can not run an activist government. The ability to actually be wealthy and not have that pathway to wealth put in danger is a sub-marking point of the larger demographic shift by the center. As government is a user of wealth, not a creator of it, the political center is now saying to both parties that what they created during the Depression to mid-1970's is not what is wanted by them, and they are willing to let the two parties drift hard apart from each other by not participating in representative democracy. We hear much from the two party activists, but the quiet and dead silence from the middle is attempting to marginalize both parties into ineffectual stalemate.

For all the activism being seen, those very same activists ignore the fact that more and more people are no longer voting. If said activist views towards government 'helping people' were correct, turnout would have been on the rise for the last four decades, and yet just the opposite has happened. That growing Plurality is using its right NOT to vote as a negating power by pitting activists against each other into 'gridlock'. If that Plurality had wanted *either side* to dominate, it would dominate, and yet we have 'gridlock'. That 'gridlock' indicates a bankrupt outlook by the two parties that has gotten worse and continues to do so, on average, for every election since 1964. There is also no support for 'bipartisanship' as the polarizing process has driven that out of the political arena: it has not served a purpose to this growing plurality and so it is nearly gone from politics. Bipartisanship has not yielded something useful to the non-voting Plurality and so they continue to grow in numbers as more and more are turned off by 'bipartisanship' and party 'activism' for 'causes'.

As I said way back when: things in Iraq have good trendlines and have seen those increasing since 2006, while things in the US have been going downwards for decades heading into troubled waters. You start to see this effect now being cited by a few others, like Ralph Peters in an article at the NY SUN on 28 JUN 2008, looking at the lies told by the political elite and the media about Iraq, terrorism and the condition of things in the US and globally:

Every single significant indicator, from Iraqi government progress through the performance of Iraqi security forces to the plummeting level of violence, has changed for the better - remarkably so.

If current trend-lines continue, it may not be long before Baghdad is safer for Iraqi citizens than the Washington-Baltimore metroplex is for US citizens. Iraq's government is working, its economy is booming - and its military has driven the concentrations of terrorists and militia from every one of Iraq's major cities.

While the US is trying to ignore a growing insurgency problem south of the US border.

Not that either of the two parties will address that, nor the spillovers that are now happening in the US because of it. The first teams of hitmen roaming the Southwestern US have already started to arrive. But 'activist' candidates won't address that.

Which is a symptom of failing democracy in the United States.

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