Is the electoral college past its time or is it just not doing its job? How about a parliamentary system?

December 7, 2016

NOTE: I continue to have great reservations about Donald Trump becoming president, although I realize it is all but a done deal (current challenges aside). Time Magazine has named him Person of the Year. But that is not necessarily good, it just means he has had the most impact — and I cannot argue that. Adolf Hitler made Man of the Year in 1938. And I will say that despite the more distasteful aspects of Trump (his bullying, his ignorance, incivility, sexism, acceptance of bigotry if not his own bigotry itself, to name a few) sometimes when I read about what he is doing I wonder if there could be some positive aspects to his chaos theory-driven method that seems at times to displease all political factions — right and left and middle and Democrat and Republican. I know as a former professional journalist it is said if both sides of an issue think you have written an unfair story then you probably have done your job correctly.


Either the electoral college has outlived its time or usefulness or maybe it is not being conducted properly so that it can be useful.

The Founding Fathers thought in terms of a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy. They were afraid that factions would take over and one group of citizens would seek advantage for themselves at the expense of others. Better to have elected representatives who represent the people as a whole run things, that was the idea. Unfortunately I think the way it works out is that the elected representatives as often as not represent factions or special interests at the expense of the people as a whole or minorities.

The framers of the Constitution provided for a system of electors chosen by each state to cast votes for the presidential election. Supposedly the people’s desires are to be considered by the electors, but the electors, being wise men (or women too nowadays) have the final say and responsibility as the final filter against the unworthy or unqualified, or too dangerous.

The thing is, the way it has evolved all the electors do is rubber stamp what the people voted in each state. All but two states, Main and Nebraska, allot all of their electors (the number based on the size of their congressional delegation) using the winner take all (electors) system. Seldom does an elector vote any other way, although he or she could. There is a movement afoot currently to get electors pledged to Donald Trump to not vote for him. Electors could face penalties for breaking pledges or state laws in doing so, but as I understand it all this has never been tested in court.

If an elector cannot vote his conscience, then what is the purpose to have electors?

The electoral college system has allowed smaller population states to have as much or more power to elect presidents than the larger ones.

(In addition, in the days of slavery the southern slave states wanted to have some equalizer over northern free states who had different economic and social interests.)

Yes, it is ironic that an original fear was that the larger more populated states would hold sway to the detriment of the lesser populated ones. Not necessarily true, especially in 2016, or in 2000 (Bush v. Gore). We have now seen two elections in recent times where the candidate with the most votes does not win (Al Gore and then Hillary Clinton).

To make matters worse, we now have a president-elect who in any other time in our history or at least in my lifetime would have been seen as wholly unqualified for office due to his lack of experience and knowledge, insulting manner, recklessness, unabashed disregard for the truth (actual evidence means nothing to him), his luring or tacit acceptance of racist organizations to his side, conflicts of interest between personal and government business, and sexism, and more.

There is a recount going on in battleground states but it is being challenged and does not have much chance of changing anything anyway, even by the admission of those who called for it.

And as I mentioned earlier, there is also a movement to get pledged electors to not vote for Trump, the president-elect. I doubt there is a chance there will be enough of them to change the outcome (although, as I must note, my record of political predictions is maybe something like 0 for whatever).

As far as I know, in all of this Mrs. Clinton still has no chance to win — she has lost. Possibly the election could go to congress —  or the high court?

It seems a bit late in the game, even though the electors don’t vote until Dec. 19.

But I ask again, if the electors are not free to vote their conscience, why have them?

It would take a Constitutional amendment to completely abolish the electoral college and that would be difficult. There is at least one scheme floating around that involves a compact between the states to circumvent the electoral college, but there are questions as to the constitutionality of it and whether enough states would agree.

I have not formed an opinion on whether we should keep the electoral college. It seems it is true that if we simply went by majority vote, then candidates for president would just go after votes in the high population states to the detriment of the smaller ones. But as said before, now they concentrate on battleground states. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

But if we are talking about change, why not figure out some way to get beyond the stodgy old two main parties? Maybe Mr. Trump is a step in that direction, but a perilous one for sure, it seems.

Should we look to a parliamentary system where there could be more than just two political parties vying for or sharing power? I think it would be useful to have more points of view because despite the labeling of the Democrats as left of center to left and the Republicans as right wing, over the years the elites from both parties have seemed to have agreed an awful lot, maybe to the detriment of the majority and minorities among the populace. That is kind of what led to the improbable election of what appears to be a demagogue of the first order who has scant knowledge of the world beyond his gold-plated chairs and tables and sinks and luxury golf courses.

But the U.S. has built a history around strong presidents or at least the need for strong presidents to lead the executive branch independent of the legislature.

But back to the electoral college. Trump’s actions and his demeanor portend danger for the public and the world. Certainly responsible electors should take note and vote accordingly.

p.s.

And this is Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day. Pearl Harbor Day and 9/11 remind us all of the need for someone fit and responsible to be at the helm and ready to act and act correctly at a moment’s notice. And unlike in the days of Pearl Harbor (1941), in this fast-paced world, with instant electronic connectivity and nuclear weapons, we don’t have the luxury of time and two oceans that can still form a defensive barrier.

 

 


Lots of noise but how will Trump react in a real-world crisis?

December 5, 2016

So, President-elect Donald Trump is making news even before he assumes office, what with his twittering about things as silly as complaining about Saturday Night Live satire on him, his possible cabinet appointments, and his upsetting of the world order by contacting what used to be called “Nationalist China” or referred to as “Formosa” and now is called “Taiwan” via phone call, thus angering what we used to call “Communist China” (but now just “China”).

(Of course the reality is that Communist China is China because it incorporates the huge land mass, and the other China is but an Island and would never likely be able to reclaim the mainland. The U.S. tries to balance everyone’s feelings by recognizing Communist China as the real China and only informally recognizing the other China — and to think we once were willing to go to war to protect that other China.)

And meanwhile Trump is bragging about the deal he made with the Carrier Corporation to save some of the jobs (not all) that were headed for Mexico. He did this by a combination of pressure via his status as the next president and promised government giveaways to the corporation (tax incentives).

But the real test I think will be how he handles his first crisis — and I assume it would be some type of foreign policy crisis or international incident (or attack on the U.S.?).

Then all of his bluster will be meaningless. What will he do?

And I am not saying that he would not perform well. We just don’t know. Would he overreact? Would he be flustered and not know what to do? Would he under-react? Would he be calm and handle it correctly?

Through the magic of the computer I tried to do some quick research on how other presidents in my lifetime handled things — but I am relying mostly on my own memory here.

Early on President John F. Kennedy was faced with the Bay of Pigs in Cuba (seems like that is apropos to mention here being as Fidel Castro has just been put into the ground after a life of 90 years that included taunting the U.S. among its highlights).

Kennedy had inherited a secret mission from the Eisenhower administration. I suppose he could have cancelled it but I imagine that would have been against his own policy. In fact he had criticized the Eisenhower administration during a debate with Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard Nixon, who was JFK’s opponent in the 1960 presidential contest, for not being tough enough on Cuba, which was becoming a Soviet satellite nation under Castro’s leadership, just 90 miles off the coast of the U.S. Nixon could not disclose that the Eisenhower administration had a plan in the works to assist anti-Castro forces in overthrowing Castro.

But because Kennedy was trying to keep up the charade that it was totally the work of anti-Castro forces with no help from the U.S., he refrained from providing enough assistance, particularly air cover, to the invaders. The Bay of Pigs invasion was a disaster and a major embarrassment to the U.S. because it was clear the nation had backed the miserably flawed and failed invasion.

Kennedy, quite understandingly, did not want a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union.

So on the one hand, Kennedy did not handle the crisis well. I mean if you are going to invade someone you better use the strength you have and If you are not willing to do that then you should not even try.

But he averted that nuclear confrontation and it probably prepared him for an even bigger challenge, the Cuban Missile crisis, where he stood up to the Soviets and in my estimation the Soviets blinked. But he did not do this with bluster. It took calm, calculated thinking on the part of Kennedy and his staff to pull that one off. The historical record now shows that the world was a hair-trigger away from nuclear holocaust.

This is the point where we all have to wonder how Trump, so used to bluster, would act.

I would say that George W. Bush outwardly displayed a cool demeanor in his public appearances during the 9/11 crisis (that famous shot where he was being informed in his ear while reading a story to kindergarteners). But it seems he overreached and went after the wrong enemy.

On the domestic side of crises, I would credit President Barack Obama with presiding over a recovery from the Great Recession (although in economic matters it may often be more of a matter of the markets working through things on their own — but the president gets both the credit and the blame). On the foreign policy side it would seem “indecisive” would be the most appropriate description of Obama actions. He did have a big win with the snagging and killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden. In my opinion he failed miserably with his drawing of a line in the sand over the use of chemical weapons against its own people by the Assad regime in Syria, only to let that regime cross the line without further challenge. In my estimation he also blundered in Libya by letting the U.S. take a back seat approach. Seemed like a prudent approach at the time maybe. And I am so tired of writing that there is seldom any success in limited military action, especially if you are committed to permanent limitation.

Trump, clever, if dishonest too, in some things, such as using other people’s money and the bankruptcy courts, has demonstrated that when it comes to world affairs he is ignorant. He would have to depend on those around him (kind of like George W., and we know what happened there). And, narcissist that he is, he would be subject to his own over-sized ego.

But we will see what we will see — Heaven help us.

 

 

 

 

 


On burying Fidel Castro rather than praising him…

December 4, 2016
To paraphrase William Shakespeare, I say: “I come to bury Fidel Castro, not to praise him” — well I come to this keyboard anyway.

When I wrote the post on the death of Fidel Castro I just did it out of memory and thought maybe I’d research a little and say more, but I think I said all that was worth saying in the original, in fact in its headline, something like a dictator of the left replaced a dictator of the right (that is Castro replaced the military dictator Fulgencio Batista).

But I add a few thoughts here:

I’m not Cuban. If I was I would likely have a more personal or intimate reaction. I know he is both loved and hated among Cubans (in and out of Cuba). The hardliners who fled in Castro’s early days, many of the middle class I think, despise him for his anti-capitalist ways and for the fact he took away the private property of a lot of people and nationalized industries. But those people are either dead or getting quite old and a younger generation does not have the history and may even be indifferent to him. In Cuba, people younger than I have known nothing else.

And in one interview I heard, a Cuban said that although she did not like Castro’s politics she admired his swagger and his brand of Cuban pride (and I am paraphrasing).

But for someone like me, and I imagine a whole lot of others, there is just one thing I cannot get past: the man was a murderer. He shot adversaries, sometimes personally I imagine, and via firing squads without trial, even reportedly people who had tried to support him.

In short he was ruthless.

And he left political prisoners languishing in jail — some are still there, ones who have not died after all these decades.

Oh he had charisma, he had style. Loved to wear 1950s-type olive drab military fatigues and had that beard and big Cuban cigar. In later years he took to wearing track outfits (what’s up with that?)but he was a dictator. Dictators and democracy don’t mix. I mean how come only he was in charge for all those decades since 1959 (until he handed it over to his brother a few years ago)? I think they needed term limits.

I understand his two achievements are supposedly improving education (upping the literacy rate) and health care in Cuba. As far as his state-run economy, a disaster.

If some Cubans want to hail the fallen leader as a hero, well fine. But anyone outside of Cuba who thinks he was, is as far as I can see not seeing clearly.

It is interesting how in this country, as an unknown quantity, he fooled so many with his freedom fighter man-of-the people masquerade (and/or charade).  I even ran across a video clip of Ed Sullivan giving him a softball interview and gushing over the dashing young man fighting to save his people from a cruel right-wing military dictatorship.

And I recall a cozy interview with Castro by none other than Edward R. Murrow. Watched that on television as a kid with my family. The young Castro was playing the part of a democracy-friendly-to the-U.S. revolutionary fighting to free his poor land from the grip of a harsh military dictatorship (little did they know Castro’s own harsh dictatorship would follow).

You know, the bullets from a Castro left-wing firing squad are just as deadly as from a right-wing firing squad. And the lack of freedom is just as bad in any kind of dictatorship.

But sometimes in desperation or in uncertain times people think a strongman is the answer. And they often will follow one with charisma or chutzpah. And sometimes if one class of people despises another enough or has fear or suspicions of another group and they think somehow the strongman represents them, that brings on tyranny.

Sound familiar?

Anyway, like an elderly relation of Castro said of his death: “it had to happen”.

He really was not larger than life, but he was colorful I will admit, and deadly.

They are putting him into the ground today (Sunday).

Not to worry, brother Raúl is in charge these days anyway. But with him it has to happen too.

So Cuba might evolve into a modern democracy or who knows? The trend in the world today seems to be toward so-called right-wing populism, which at times seems close to what was once called fascism (just another type of tyranny).