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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Presidential election system

There are those who offer defenses of the current system of presidential elections that they believe disclose some kind of deep, pure motivation by the drafters of the Constitution.  And the centerpiece of their disclosure is that those putting together the first workable version of a democratic republic wanted to guard against certain dangers.  The claim is that a truly, pure democratic election needed to be protected from itself.  While people claimed to desire democratically elected leaders, they really only wanted only certain types of truly democratically elected leaders, those who agreed with them.
The earliest cited fears were that the power office of the total nation could be captured by those beholden to “regional factionalism”.  And where would such factionalism arise? It would be in the cities, the urban centers of the more populous states.  The gentlemen farmers like Jefferson and Washington could count. They knew that there were more people, and thus more voters
packed into the crowded neighborhoods of Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Richmond than resided on the plantations and farms of Maryland and New Hampshire.  And yet when they studied maps they could see (as do today’s patriots) that our vast nation covered much, much more landmass than the actual acreage that housed those cities of the day.  And this realization produced the initial fear and desire that those city people not be allowed to render judgments which might be different than what the plantation owners knew was best policy for the new land.  Rural people did not want to be dictated to by city folk. 
And the Great Compromise which had shaped the bicameral Congress with the small states having equal representation in the Senate ended up bleeding over into a similar small state advantage (read that “rural” advantage)   for presidential elections. And in the early years the agrarian advantage was even more pronounced since there wasn’t that great a difference between the electoral votes of larger states to the smaller ones. But added together the smaller states totaled quite a few more votes in proportion when the votes counted in the Electoral College.
All of this brings us to contemporary times. Defenders of the status quo electoral system still love to point to the map, color every county that had a Republican plurality red and counties with Democratic pluralities blue and smugly declare that any idiot can see how much red covers the nation. And that seems to fuel their belief and assertion that hordes of voters packed into urban areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle did not possess votes as worthy as voters from smaller towns and rural areas. So even though Mr. Trump lost the overall popular vote, those in charge of current rules are quite comfortable allowing Republicans to believe and claim legitimacy since the existing rules declared them the winner.
There is another, separate issue that most citizens and observers simply don’t understand or don’t credit with enough importance.  That is the fact that the Constitution and the Electoral College do NOT require states to employ the “unit rule” whereby states seek to maximize the impact of their votes by assigning all their electoral votes to the winner of the mere plurality in their state.  This allowed all 38 electoral votes available in Texas to go to Republican Trump even though 47.4% of Texas voters picked other candidates. Such an inequity exists for 48 of the nation’s 50 states. On both sides. A more egregious example of the distortion for Trump would be Pennsylvania where a mere 68,000 voters out of 6 million, little over one percent, threw all 20 PA electoral votes to the president elect. And, of course, similar corresponding examples of Democrat Clinton winning a closely contested state could be cited, but this isn’t a lengthy grad school treatise on the topic, merely a lament.  And it is noteworthy that the two states that do allow their electoral vote to be divided (NE and ME) are small and pretty inconsequential, at least in the presidential election arena. 
But this whole side issue merely avoids the bigger point. Elections using the Electoral College, with or without the “unit rule”, are simply undemocratic, pure and simple.  The idea that a person’s vote is devalued for choosing to reside in an urban area is wrong. All votes should be of relatively equal value. Owners of broad swatches of countryside should not have weightier votes than those living in a four story walkup tenement. Newer voters, be they recent immigrants or young people attaining voting age, should not be discounted merely because they happen to live in cities.
This, I believe, is closer to the democratic ideal and understanding that infused the work of our nation’s framers than an approach that denies equal voice to some based on where they live and work.  
I do believe Donald Trump’s assertions that had the rules been different, had he needed to win the popular vote in order to win the presidency, that he would have run a significantly different campaign and might have indeed pulled off a popular vote win. I have no idea why this is true or possible. But I don’t discount it. Had Trump done campaign rallies in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston in addition to where he did rallies, he well might have pulled some disinterested voters his way and eaten into Clinton’s urban advantage.  But regardless, I do wish we simply used the popular vote to settle on our national leader. We deserve to be assured that the winner, the leader for four years indeed has a mandate.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

RNC "New King" Christmas Declaration

RNC Exhibits Genius in “New King” Christmas declaration
Whether or not it was calculated, the Republican National Committee produced a Christmas declaration that benefited them at least four ways with little or no down side.  The statement they issued was as follows:
 "Over two millennia ago, a new hope was born into the world, a Savior who would offer the promise of salvation to all mankind. Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King.
For starters,  it does make one wonder why the national committee of the political party that recently won the White House for the first time in eight years chose to issue such a statement.  Is this routine? Do they always acknowledge universally commemorated religious events? Or were there specific causes of this year’s effusion?
Of course, the RNC claims innocent motives and surprise at the reaction on social media, in the mainline media, and among their political opponents. The notion that they issued this statement to draw any kind of comparison of their president-elect to the Son of God gives them several ways to try to profit from the controversy. I would suggest they get to benefit as follows:
1.     For those Americans inclined to make the same connection between Trump and Christ the RNC statement becomes a validation or affirmation.
2.     The RNC is seen as “pro-Christian” if anybody had doubted it.
3.     They get to position themselves as victims of petty, small-minded opponents who appear to protest every Republican utterance.
4.     They get to keep alive the fiction of religious persecution in this country without having to address any legitimate religious issue.  

If this was calculated, it was truly genius. If, as the RNC claims, it was innocent, then their streak of positive, lucky benefits continues unabated.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Waiting in an Airport

{This was first penned years ago when I was working full-time and traveling some.  It's apparent at least by the reference to airplane meals.}

      Waiting in an Airport
Some people sit and read.
Others sit and stare about.
Some march purposefully down the concourse.
Others stand as if waiting in a line,
But not in a line, instead scattered throughout.
The ticket agent drones on declaring
who can board, who must wait.
She makes a “Pre-boarding” announcement.
Those with young offspring or personal frailties
get to “pre-board”. How does one “pre-board”?
It appears that they never really “pre-board”. 
They simply board before I do.
To “pre-board” would be to engage in some activity
and then to board.
I never “pre-board”.
When my offspring were young we stayed home, or we drove.
And my frailties are not the sort to get me special treatment.
In fact, I fear “pre-boarding”.
If I “pre-board”, then at mealtime they might decide to “preserve” me.
Don’t know how long I’d last.
Upon arrival would I be “pre-deplaned”? Or “pre-disposed”?
Should my data cause confusion, their computers might even precurse me.
But if we did safely reach our destination, would I then have made
“pre-arrangements” for transportation from the airport?
I would presume so. For that would mean I would arrive in time
to watch a pre-recorded program.
You know, that’s one where they recorded it once and then decided

to go back and pre-record it previously.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Newspaper writing for the public

Not sure why, but I feel compelled to criticize the writing of some professional newspaper reporters and writers. This Washington Post article with a tri-person byline concerned Trump’s transition and selection of Whitehouse aids. It included the following sentence. They said:

“As the seriousness of governing subsumes the vitriol of the campaign, a dozen national security experts interviewed said they believed experienced people will resume their roles as apolitical professionals and be willing to join the administration.”

Did whichever writer who penned this sentence actually believe that most of their readers or even ANY of their readers actually talk like this? “The seriousness of the campaign subsumes the vitriol of the campaign . . .”   REALLY?

Rather than trying to impress their colleagues, they should work harder on using plain language that clearly makes their point.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fall Semester_Campaign Season

This coming fall semester should prove to be unique and exciting. For starters there is only a presidential election once every four years. But with the two major candidates being as detested as they are, the coming final weeks of the campaign should be one for the history books.  I won't be spending as much time as usual on the typical  actions by candidates and parties and resulting news media coverage because none of the usual is happening. Perhaps we will compare and contrast what the text declares as typical with what we see occurring.     

Friday, August 12, 2016

Term Limits

It sounds reassuring and comforting to hear that term limits would be more good than bad. One can believe that limiting terms would allow us to return to a time of “citizen legislators”, people who take a brief sabbatical from their chosen career to contribute to society in guiding how the ship of state should steer its course. Arguments are that this would rid us of power grabbing “career politicians”, possibly “promote new ideas”, and “eliminate corruption”. Nice work if we could get it, but it ain’t that easy. 
Two of those goals are elusive and, in my mind not necessarily fulfilled with a mere return to simpler more honorable times. Term limits will not eliminate all those who wish to grab and hold power, who want to have their way. Nor will term limits eradicate corruption in the public sphere. And thirdly, I don’t deny that the odds are good that new and different people could produce “new ideas”. However, the fact that things like public policy change slowly hasn’t necessarily been due to a lack of new ideas. The vast majority of new ideas just never survive the labyrinth of all the competing goals and wishes of the general body politic.  
But more on “career politicians” and “eliminating corruption”. To say that elected officials quickly or invariably become power hoarders is first of all unfair to so many of them. There are many modest, thoughtful members of the Senate and the House as well as most state legislatures who serve to improve the lives of their constituents, not to build an empire. Yes, there are some who do act as the poster children for the cliché. And most op-ed essays and letters to newspapers spend most of their time describing the exceptional horror stories of those who do game the system. But that doesn’t make it so. I believe we are mostly well served by the true “public servants” who devote their lives to doing good, or trying to.
As for “corruption” by elected officials, there are just too many safeguards and checks and balances for corruption to be as rampant as term limits advocates assert occurs. Yes, the occasional elected office holder is caught accepting a bribe or promoting favoritism within the sphere of their power. But percentagewise, such “corruption” is miniscule. Would we prefer it be zero? Of course! But we also tend not to want to pay for the higher cost of control and prevention. So again, we get what we want to pay for.
But I’m torn. Too many Americans like and want to keep their Senator or Congressman. They also want to term limit yours. They believe the villain is the Speaker of the House or the Senate minority leader. They wonder how the voters in those districts or states keep voting them back in. Wouldn’t term limits solve “the problem”?
There are two strong arguments against term limits. One is that such a restriction would take away the franchise, the choice from voters in the district or state that would, given a chance, returned them to office. It is un-American to restrict my freedom to vote for whom I wish. The other argument addresses institutional continuity. Do we really want to take away the imbedded memory of how and why laws were passed as they were? This would seriously skew the playing field in favor of the lobbyists and Executive Branch bureaucrats who are not term limited. Do Fortune 500 companies term limit their boards of directors? Their top management staff? Mostly no.
I am unaware of any studies addressing what has been the impact on state governments of specific states giving term limits a try. But I have yet to see a report that the voters of any state have stepped up and declared adopting term limits to be the best, wisest decision they ever made.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"Some People"

“Some People”
Is he going to be allowed to use this transparent sham the entire campaign? I can’t count the number of times presidential candidate Donald Trump has dredged up the “some people are saying” phrase to hide behind as he spouts bigoted and perverse opinions against his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Once or twice was annoying but understandable. But done repeatedly this trick becomes obvious for what it is. Did Trump think this vague, unattributable term, “some people” was necessary to protect supposed real people from having to take ownership of their statements? Or was he merely trying to expand the sentiments of one isolated person to seem like more “people”?

I could offer numerous examples of Trump’s use of this device. He seems to do it several times a week. But my more immediate heartburn arises from the media, his, hers and “objective” media permitting this to go unchallenged. At press conferences, debates and the like nobody ever presses Trump to name names. “Some people” includes specifically who, Mr. Trump?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Movie Review: Jason Bourne

Movie Review                          Jason Bourne

Matt Damon
Tommy Lee Jones
Julia Stiles
Alicia Vikander

The Mrs. and I took in a movie today. I enjoyed “Jason Bourne” as a reasonable expenditure of two hours of escapism time. MCN? Not so much. She didn't hate it. But now I owe her one.

I had enjoyed the first three Bourne flicks and had been interested to see how the movie producers, directors and writers would carry on after his creator, Robert Ludlum passed. I had not thought much of the fourth film, “The Bourne Legacy”. It had just barely paid passing homage to the franchise and didn't even feature Matt Damon as the real Bourne. So when ten years after the “Bourne Ultimatum” had left the story line satisfactorily concluded but open for other developments, I had let my hopes rise that Matt Damon's return would allow us to forget and forgive the “Legacy” detour.

Not to be. The co-writers of the screenplay simply are not the reincarnation of Ludlum. What they cooked up was a storyline reminiscent of books two and three, “Supremacy” and “Ultimatum” with only a tiny bit of new ground covered. The new ground dealt with our need to come to grips with advancing technology. Could the CIA spy on everyone they wished?

The main efforts to recreate the Bourne magic, though, involved trying to ramp up the chase scenes and fight scenes to new levels. The Las Vegas car chase might have been a bigger deal if it had not already been done in “Con Air”. And the fight was pretty much like fights in “Supremacy” and “Ultimatum”.

But I also thought character development was wanting. The story offered nothing concerning Bourne's ten year gap. They must not have wanted to dwell on that. Get right to the rock'em sock'em action instead.

Or take the Tommy Lee Jones character, CIA Director Dewey. I believe this was a newly developed character needed because Bourne had taken out the people in charge during his first three books. Yet Dewey implies to Bourne he's been around the entire time. Don't think so.

Finally there's the Nickie Parsons character. After surviving four movies, she gets killed off in this film. But prior to this there are vague facts indicating she has become some kind of CIA counterinsurgent. She reaches out to Jason Bourne to fill in the last gaps in his original memory lapse and encourage him to seek revenge on Dewey and the CIA for wrongs done to him and his father. I would have liked more on Parsons as to how and why she does what she does. Also how does she know what she knows if she's been on the outside?

So, bottom line, I enjoyed Jason Bourne. A film doesn't have to be perfect to be somewhat enjoyable. And based on the previews we watched, I wouldn't have wanted to spend my August movie money on anything else.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bring him home, Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart vacated his pulpit too soon. And I understand why. I accept his declaration of fatigue. Unfortunately, neither Steven Colbert in his current iteration or Noah Trevor as Jon's replacement have the same glimmer of genius that Jon displayed during his years on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. And in my opinion those who dismissed Jon as way too liberal are wrong. He is what I would call a "Radical Moderate". (My kids and some friends will recognize a term I've long used.) Nevertheless, it is what it is. Still waiting for your sabbatical to end and a substantive return to your microphone, Jon!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Era of Trump?

I have not felt motivated to blog in over four months. And most prior topics have been event or issue driven. I have mostly eschewed using this venue for political musing. But with no class to absorb my venting this Spring, I thought I'd break tradition and share a few of the voices I entertain in my head.

I can think of scenarios where Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination if not the presidency could end up being something other than a “worst case scenario” (my personal designation as an extinct political moderate).

  • Trump has voiced some positions on some issues that are not consistent with the far right drift of his party in recent years. To the extent that his policy thoughts are more moderate, this could produce interesting clashes with a Republican controlled Congress if that is what is elected along with him. For example, what Congress is going to pass Trump's tax reform ideas? Maybe a Democratic Congress, but surely not anything like the current 114th. And how will Trump enforce his immigration control notions? As I understand them, they will require some international treaties or agreements. They would also require Congressional agreements if not highly contentious executive orders.
  • In fact, some of the most extreme Teaparty Republicans might not win their Congressional seats with Trump as the top name on the party ticket. That is to say that the Congress elected along with Trump would possibly differ from a Cruz or Rubio Congress.
  • One policy area that could become “worst case scenario”-involves the third branch of government, the judiciary. Who would Trump agree to “hire” onto the Supreme Court? How would the confirmation process go with the next Senate? And what about all the other federal judgeships? Would he throw some bones to Senate Republicans and senior Republican House members? Or would there be Apprentice-like scenarios to select loyal judges?
  • And what would the Executive Branch look like under Trump? Would he eschew typical Republican insiders to run State, Defense, Treasury and Justice? If so, who would these “best and brightest” he picked instead be and how would they get confirmed?
  • So to the extent that I think of myself an objective outside observer I say, bring it on. Something has to step up and replace Downton Abbey. As a teacher of political processes, it would certainly be interesting to watch and analyze.