Friday, December 06, 2019

The Problem of the Electoral College

Since the 2016 election, when the current president won the election despite a nearly three million vote deficit in the popular vote, there has been a lot of outcry on the left that we need to eliminate the Electoral College. To be sure, there is some cause for concern. After all President trump won the Electoral College with the largest popular vote deficit -- in absolute numbers as well as percentage of the electorate as a whole -- in history.

However, calls to eliminate the Electoral College are far too simplistic and open up the floodgates to unintended (or perhaps "intended" on purely partisan grounds) consequences. To begin with, if the Electoral College is simply eliminated and we rely purely on the popular vote, it's a safe bet that no Republican will hold the White House again for I don't know how many years due to the fact that, according to voter rolls, there are simply more Democrats than Republicans. And while some may view this as a salutary situation, it actually is doing nothing more than taking the pendulum that is at one extreme and pushing it to the other as well as doing nothing to address the increasing, nearly paralyzing, polarization that exists in this country.

There has also been a lot of agitation, mostly from the left, about disparity in Congressional representation. The common example used is that Wyoming has only one Representative and two Senators to represent 579,315 people (note: all population numbers used in this articles are 2017 estimates obtained from the United States Census Bureau) people, whereas California has 53 Representatives and two Senators to represent 39,536,653 million people, or roughly one Representative for 745,974 Californians. However, for a true illustration one need only to look at Rhode Island and Montana, the two states at the extreme ends of the representation spectrum.

Rhode Island has two Representatives, representing a total population of 1,059,639 people, or 529,819 people for each Representative. Compare that to Montana, which has a population that is nearly identical (1,050,493, a difference of only 9,146 people) yet only has one Representative.

The reason this situation exists is because we are Constitutionally constrained to keep Congressional districts completely within a single state. This made perfect sense in the agrarian society of the late 1700s and early 1800s, when the vast majority of the population was spread out over millions of acres of farmland.

To give a sense of scale here, New York City has been the most populous city in the United States in every census. In 1790, the United States population as a whole was 3,929,214 and NYC was 33,131 -- 0.84% of the total population. Compare that to 2017 estimates of 325,150,000 for the country as a whole and 8,623,000 for NYC (2.65% of the total population), and we can see that cities have been gaining in influence. In addition, in 1790 the United States population was 5.1% urban, compared to 20000 (around 81%).

The problem is the constraints that have been placed on apportionment:

  • Each Representative must represent only people in his or her home state.
  • The total number of Members in the House of Representatives is capped at 435 due to the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929. This was passed into law to address the fact that, if we had remained with the procedures described in the Constitution of one Member for every 30,000 people, we would have a House of Representatives with over 108,000 members.
  • Our current apportionment methodology is that of the total population of the United States divided as equally as possible among the 435 Representative seats, with a provision that each state is entitled to at least one seat.

Various other methods have been proposed, in ever-increasing mathematical complexity. And while these methods do address the problem -- somewhat -- they all far short of achieving true representational parity.

There is a single solution that will address both of these issues, and it does not involve elimination of the Electoral College. It will require a radical shift in how we apportion representation, and will also require that the functions of the two Houses of the Legislative Branch be redefined slightly.

Stick with me here.

The first thing that needs to be done is to define what it is we wish to accomplish. If our goal is to maintain partisan gridlock, then by all means we should continue on our current course. If, however, we aspire to make elections, free, fair, and more closely respondent to the population, then we need to take the following measures.

Eliminate "winner take all."
Under our current system, a presidential candidate wins all the Electoral College votes for a state, even if he or she only wins the popular vote by one vote. This servers to artificially inflate the influence of rural, sparsely populated areas of the country over urban areas ... or, to put it another way, it takes more votes to earn a single Electoral College vote in Montana than it does in Rhode Island, a disparity that can cause a candidate to win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote.

There are two states that do not follow this framework and instead use proportional voting: Nebraska and Maine. In these states, a presidential candidate gets two Electoral College votes based on the statewide total, and one Electoral College vote for each Congressional district in which he or she wins a popular plurality. Incorporating this approach in the country at large is a fairly simple matter in that it does not change how vote are cast, only how they are counted.

Eliminate the requirement that a Representative only represent people from a single state.
If we do this, each Representative would represent roughly 747,500 people (based on 2017 population estimates) while maintaining the 435 Representatives mandated by the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929. For example, in the case a state like Wyoming, with less than this number, the Representative can "borrow" constituents from neighboring Montana to reach this number -- simultaneously bring Montana closer to parity as well.

Eliminate electors as separate entities.
In 2016, the following people were appointed to serve as presidential electors:

  • Bob Asher (convicted of racketeering, conspiracy, and bribery in 1987; his co-conspirator, Bud Dwyer, committed suicide on live television a week before his sentencing by putting a pistol in his mouth and pulling the trigger during a press conference. He was 47 years old.)
  • Mary Barket
  • Robert Bozzuto
  • Theodore (Ted) Christian
  • Michael Downing
  • Margaret Ferraro
  • Robert Gleason (former chair of the Pennsylvania Republican party)
  • Christopher Gleason
  • Joyce Haas
  • Ash Khare
  • James McErlane
  • Elstina Pickett
  • Patricia Poprik
  • Andrew Reilly
  • Carol Sides
  • Glora "Lee" Snover
  • Richard Stewart
  • Lawrence Tabas
  • Christine Toretti (Republican National Committee member from Indiana, PA)
  • Carolyn Bunny Welsh (sheriff of Chester County)

Out of this list, the only person who is an elected official is Welsh, who was elected sheriff in 2000 and has held the office since.

By making the casting of an Electoral College vote part of the duties of members of Congress, and enforcing a legal requirement that they vote according to their district (for Representatives) or state (for Senators), we introduce a level of accountability that has not previously existed. For example, in Pennsylvania in 2016, the 17th Congressional District voted for donald trump, 53% to 43%, yet elected Democrat Matt Cartwright to the House of Representatives. Under this new scenario, if trump wins the PA-17 in 2020, Cartwright (who won re-election in 2018) would be legally required to cast an electoral vote for trump -- despite his personal feelings about the matter.

Obviously, this is a back-of-the-envelope idea, and I am sure that there is no shortage of flaws in the plan as it is stated here. However, it is someplace to start.

I gotta lie down.

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Friday, November 15, 2019

Overture, Light The Lights ...

There is gonna be a lot of ink spilled about the impeachment hearings. Fox News is going to parrot trump's line that it's a witch hunt, that it's illegitimate, and so on. MSNBC is probably going to argue that the evidence is incontrovertible and impeachment must happen.

I'm not going there. Instead, I want to talk about how the hearings are presented, and what individual members are trying to accomplish. Naturally, there are two broad camps here, Republican and Democrat, and members are staying in their lanes, but I want to address the style of these questioning sessions.

For the most part, when members are questioning witnesses in this hearing, they are not really trying to uncover the truth or elide information. Instead, they are trying to reinforce the points that have already been made. Unfortunately for trump, the Democrats have a distinct advantage here in that Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is far more telegenic and clear-spoken than his Republican counterpart, Devin Nunes.

Consider today's opening statements. Schiff laid out what had happened to date, and what was expected from today's hearing. Nunes chose to read the transcript from trump's congratulatory call in May of this year to Ukrainian president Zelensky. Throughout the hearings, Republicans have been trying to shut down witnesses when they try to explain their answers, preferring to take a marginally accurate "yes" instead of a more accurate "yes, but only in these very specific ways."

The Democrats have a clear edge in terms of presentation here, and this has to do with the fact that ... well, the facts are on their side. The Republicans know their case is weak to nonexistent, and as a result we are seeing the following:

  • Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) interrupting Chairman Schiff to complain about being interrupted.
  • Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) trying to make the case that, since the military aid was eventually release, then there was nothing wrong.
  • Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) loooking really confused pretty much all of the time and making the claim that publicly televised hearings are "secret depositions."

In short, these hearings are theater, and the Democrats are just better at it.

I gotta lie down.

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Thursday, June 27, 2019

Changing tack

About a week or so ago I announced that I was taking a break from politics. As it turns out, this is not entirely true.

In fact, I am taking a break from two very specific things:

  • trump.
  • Mitch McConnell, and the harm he is doing to the reputation of turtles the world over.

Seriously, my focus is merely shifting from arguing about Republican hypocrisy (kinda like being upset that water is wet, but whatever) and instead putting my attention on the Democratic primaries and the merits/drawbacks of each candidate, as well as more theoretical ideas in the realm of political science, economics, etc.

I am also trying to be more positive in general. On that note, since it has been quite a long time since I did one of my "Ten Good Things" lists, here goes.

1. I am grateful that my health is improving. After suffering a stroke in February 2017 I was put on blood thinners, cholesterol meds, blood pressure meds ... the whole bit. They left me so lethargic and drained that it was all I could do to get up in the morning. What made it worse is that I was also put on medication to deal with GIRD (gastrintestinal reflux disease) as well as antidepressants. This last "neurological event" (I covered this in some detail here) was sort of the last straw ... I decided I had to go off the meds to get back to a baseline blood chemistry. As it turns out, now that I am off all meds, I am feeling pretty good. I have much more energy (I remodeled a bathroom and built two flowerbeds in the past month or so, and I just started demolition on our mudroom for a full-scale makeover), I am not experiencing the digestive issues I was under the meds, and it is beginning to look like I may survive the year.

2. Turkey Hill All Natural Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. It's what's for dinner.

3. My lawn is rockin' this year.

4. The past year or so has been filled with people close to me losing one or both of their parents. Not surprising, given that we are all in our forties and fifties. That being said, I am extremely grateful that my adopted parents are not only still with me but just as active and engaged as they ever were ... more so, even (my birth mother passed away in October 2012, though, which really sucked).

5. Five and a half years later and I still really like my car.

6. I can now get Wawa delivered through Uber Eats.

7. Being able to work from home means I get to be here when my kids get home from school. Granted, they are now surly, unpleasant teenagers, but still.

8. Streaming "The Goldbergs" on Hulu.

9. My wife actually likes spending time with me. I know. Surprised me too.

10. Medical marijuana. Because of that, I am able to get a full night's sleep for the first time since 1983.

And on that note, I am going to get started enrolling for school. Don't know what my next degree is going to be yet, but it's gonna be a fun ride finding out.

I gotta lie down.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

There's A Reason I've Been Away

With thanks to Mark Bryan

So I've been away for a while. But y'all prob'ly already knew that. So here's why.

Every day. Every goddam day that orange idiot does something else expressly designed to outrage, to infuriate ... and to obfuscate. The result? The chattersphere gets their collective panties in a twist. On the left, gallons of ink are spilled detailing the hypocrisy of the Republicans (kinda like issuing a press release stating that water is wet, but whatever), the fact that donald trump is essentially a sulky toddler on the world stage, and that the religious right is neither. This fires up the right wing version, who spend their time shrieking MAGA phrases, calling liberals "leftists" to try to paint them as dangerous European revolutionaries, and crowing about how good the economy is doing (it really isn't, but that's another topic entirely).

All of which seems to be on an endless loop, repeated day after day after day after day after day after day after ...

And this vitriol, this venom directed at our fellow citizens, our neighbors, in some cases our families, has spread down through the masses. The result being that the online world is full of people yelling at each other, demanding that they provide incontrovertible proof of their opinions (not possible ... such is the nature of opinions, after all) ... it's depressing. It's sad. It's sickening.

Above all, it is beneath us. As Republicans and Democrats, as Americans ... hell, as people. We are better than this infernal sorting.

Unfortunately, it seems that the only time we come together as Americans is in times of dire crisis. 9/11. The Challenger disaster. Pearl Harbor. These events brought us all together. They were not partisan issues (until politicians tried to make them such, but again, a different topic). The afternoon of 9/11, the full Congress -- House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats -- gathered on the Capitol steps to sign "God Bless America," and eleven days later George W. Bush delivered the best speech of his career -- and the one we all desperately needed to hear -- to a joint session of Congress.

And within a matter of hours, the partisan sniping had begun anew. Republicans attacked Democrats for having the temerity to question why we were going to invade Iraq when it had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Democrats attacked Republicans as profiteering warmongers who were only interested in enhancing their stock portfolios at the expense of the American people.

I finally reached a saturation point. I don't go online much any longer, simply because it is full of various Shriek Factories squawking about how their opponents are horrible people who should be put to death in as unpleasant a manner as possible, and donald trump is a master negotiator/classless knuckle-dragging idiot, and Nancy Pelosi is a shrewd, cautious manager/shrill harpy, and Melania is the epitome of class and grace/an empty-headed whore, and on and on and on.

I just can't take it any longer. Every time I see a headline about trump, or the 2020 race, or the roughly 87,000 Democratic candidates for President, or the constant will they/won't they of impeachment, I can feel my chest tightening, my stomach sinking. My energy level goes way down. I start feeling the beginnings of a panic attack, and I think longingly of my medical marijuana and counting the minutes until I can dose myself to sleep.

So I have come up with a new strategy, a new way of dealing with trump and Congress and politics and the election and Mueller and Russia and obstruction and the Emoluments Clause and ... it is this.

I'm not gonna do it.

I am not going to get sucked into fighting with strangers over politicians on either side that, quite frankly, don't really give a furry rodent's posterior about us anyway. I am not going to get into "debates" that are nothing more than an excuse for some pinheaded douchenozzle to hurl insults at me and others. I am not going to try to defend policy positions that don't exist and are fabricated by the right solely for the purpose of sowing discord. I refuse to justify my stance to those who don't give a damn and are only looking for an excuse to start a fight (and yes, this is directed at one specific individual, who knows damn well who he is).

So, for the time being, my online presence will consist of:

  • Today's Earworm. Every day I wake up with some piece of music playing in my head. It has happened every day, without fail, since I was a small child. It's a 50/50 chance as to whether or not it's something I like, and a couple of months ago I decided that it wasn't fair that I suffer through Steve Perry squalling "Oh, Sherrie" by myself. You can find these by searching for the hashtag #eotd (Earworm Of The Day).
  • The occasional recipe. The latest was butter steak that, while quite tasty, just wasn't worth the amount of work involved.
  • News stories that are NOT dealing with politics. Science, the arts, human interest, yes. Politics, no, unless it's a particularly good bit of satire.
  • Updates on home improvement projects. For example, in the past few weeks I have built two flower beds (one raised) and remodeled the downstairs bathroom.

What I will not be doing is getting sucked into another endless back-and-forth with some right-wing brainstem who only wants to convince himself he is well-endowed by belittling others. It's counterproductive, it's not fun, and I can think of roughly 450,000 other things I could be doing (many of which involve food, some of them are centered around playing evil music really loud, and at least three involve both).

I gotta lie down.

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Monday, April 22, 2019

A Path Forward

The Democratic primaries are heating up, and I am already seeing purity tests of various stripes filtering across the intertubes. Bernie supporters are claiming they will sit out the election if bernie doesn't win the primary. Same from Kamala voters, Warren voters, Biden voters. Booker, Gillibrand, O'Rourke ...

None of that is helpful, and all of it will guarantee another four years of the mango nightmare.

So here's the deal.

During the primaries, if you want to suit up and go to battle for your candidate, then by all means do so. However, make your approach positive. Instead of pointing out where all the other candidates fall short of your fave, why don't you instead point out what your guy (or woman) has going for him or her that will best serve the country? Make the case that your person is the best, instead of trying to make all the rest of them the worst.

Now, I understand that some people have difficulty with the whole concept of "opponents are people too," so below is a quick primer with some examples of what not to do ...

Pointing out that your candidate has a Medicare for All plan, for example, and discussing the various aspects of that. Pointing out that some of the others have not signed on to this plan and accusing them of being shills for corporations/Republicans/trump/North Korea/Russia/aliens from the planet Zontar.
Stating that you do not want to support a candidate that takes corporate donations, a perfectly valid stance. Declaring that, if the nominee turns out to have accepted corporate donations, you will not vote for him or her and will instead vote for Yosemite Sam, Donald Duck, donald trump, or some other cartoon character.
Reposting a story from a reputable source that highlights sketchy behavior of one of the candidates during a campaign event (the actual nature of the misbehavior is unimportant to this example). Reposting a story with a lurid headline about one of the candidates sexually assaulting an underage dolphin because it's sensational and it will generate likes for your post, only to discover a couple of hours later that it was pure bullshit ... something that could have easily been avoided if you had just done your due diligence.
Allowing that the other candidates have perfectly legitimate ideas that, while not your first choice, are a drastic improvement over our current situation. Demanding complete and total ideological purity and throwing a tantrum if that is not met.

The long and short of it is this: regardless of who your candidate is in the Democratic primaries, we will not prevail in 2020 if we are continually engaging in circular firing squads. So yes, Cory Booker might not be your cup of tea, or you may be enamored of Kamala Harris or Mayor Pete (and I'll be damned if I'll ever be able to spell his last name without looking it up), or you might think Elizabeth Warren has the best ideas, or Beto O'Rourke, or you may want to go old-school and vote for Biden.

All that's fine. You do you. What I am saying is that, during the primary season, we need to focus on what these candidates say they will do. We need to run positive campaigns, in which we discuss ideas for the future, not negative campaigns in which the goal is to destroy the others and leave them writhing in agony in the smoking shrapnel of an ugly campaign.

We definitely don't want to Al Franken these people. Sure, if they engage in disreputable behavior, call them out on it. But immediately resorting to hysterics and demanding that they step down/resign/commit seppuku will accomplish nothing of substance and will simply drown out the things the other candidates are saying that we need to hear.

And then, next summer, when the nominee is named, we -- all of us, without exception -- need to get behind that person 100%. Sure, the odds are there are going to be some policies this candidate espouses that aren't your first choice. They may be too grumpy for your liking, or too glib, or too ... something. The fact remains, that no matter who the Dems pick in 2020, they will have one salient quality that cannot be denied, and that has to be factored in:

They are not donald trump.

We outnumber Republicans. The fact is that trump only got into office through a quirk of the Electoral College (and for all those shrieking that we need to abolish the EC, stop for a second and think it through. Take a moment and think of how that could come back to bite us on the ass later, a la eliminating the filibuster for judicial nominees ... that worked out well for us, didn't it?). If we show up at the polls, and present a united front, then the GOP will be sent scurrying back to the depths from which the likes of trump and Mitch McConnell emerged and we can actually start repairing the damage of the last two years.

And once that person is in office, we can hold them accountable to stick to their promises and govern all of America, not just the "base."

I gotta lie down.

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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

And The Oscar Goes To ...

Yeah, yesterday's column? Um ... no.
Yesterday I posted that I had undergone a change of heart, a radical shift in my political leanings, and that I was supporting trump in the 2020 election. This was partly an April Fool's gag, but also an experiment to see a) who believed it, and 2) what the subsequent reaction was.

And the results are in: very few people bought it.

This was kinda what I expected. It turns out this probably would have worked a lot better if I had spent a couple of months building up to it ... but then it would have been a whole thing, and I would have had to get the cooperation of the mainstream media (who, as you well know, follow every word of this blog slavishly) it just ain't worth the trouble.

So, as far as the "let's see if they believe this" thing, well ... they didn't. And as far as April Fool's pranks go, it kinda fizzled and fell flat.

Better luck next year ...

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Monday, April 01, 2019

The Time Has Come

Well, it's happened.

Let me start by saying, despite it being April 1, this is not an April Fool's gag.

There may be one or two of you out there who have been wondering where I've been and why my usual firebrand style of liberal rhetoric has been quite blatantly missing from my posts. The reason for this?

I have been having doubts.

This has been fueled in large part by the Democratic Party's unwillingness to be straight with me. They have been so caught up in anti-Trump propaganda that they have lost sight of their mission to govern effectively, and have actually worked against the best interest of the country simply to spite the president.

Don't get me wrong. The Republicans have been just as bad in many ways (especially Mitch McConnell, a lying, propagandizing hack of such monumental proportions that he makes Joseph Goebbels look like a failed use car salesman). However, at least they have remained true to their core principles, whereas the Democrats have pretty much been about nothing else than being against President Trump.

Don't get me wrong. There is still a lot about our president of which I disapprove -- the constant lying, the petty bickering, and so on. But I dare you to point to a politician who doesn't lie ... it can't be done. It's almost a job requirement.

And after seeing the hysterics and mental gymnastics performed by those on the left who refuse to give the president any credit for anything, combined with recent polling data, and culminating in the release of the Mueller report and the subsequent revelation that there was no evidence of collusion, I have been forced to re-evaluate my position.

it wasn't easy, let me tell you. One of the most difficult things any person -- right, left, male, female, black, white -- can do is to utter the words "I was wrong." History is replete with examples of people who were willing to accept extreme punishment and abuse -- sometimes even death -- in favor of saying those three words.

Therefore, I will be supporting the re-election of Donald Trump in 2020. There's simply too much at stake, economically speaking, to do otherwise. Since he has taken office, we have seen the Dow soar to unprecedented heights, falling unemployment, and increases in take-home pay for average Americans. These are all salutary effects.

We have also seen foreign policy positions that are unprecedented (or "unpresidented," since people like to make as much hay out of slips of the tongue as possible) in American history. From negotiations with North Korea to shutting down Iran's nuclear program, President Trump has staked out positions that are bold, fearless, and with a tenacity and fierceness never before seen in our history.

Look, the guy's not perfect. I get that. He's coarse. He plays fast and loose with the truth. He doesn't seem like a very happy person. But he is very clear on where his interests lie and what his goals are, and that lack of ambiguity is refreshing.

Now, I know this will engender screaming vitriol from my friends on the left. It's unfortunate, but it is what it is. Sadly, there is no litmus test, no magic bullet to which I can point that will help them understand that this was not something I undertook lightly. Also sadly, this will likely spell the end of some friendships, given the highly polarized state in which we are currently embroiled. I wish it wasn't so, but such is the nature of America in 2019, I guess.

I gotta lie down.

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The Problem of the Electoral College

Since the 2016 election, when the current president won the election despite a nearly three million vote deficit in the popular vote, ther...