Thursday, December 1, 2016

OPEN LETTER TO MY REPUBLICAN FRIENDS




Dear Republicans,
Although no longer resident in the United States, my wife and I follow the news closely. We do so by faithfully scanning internet sites that aggregate news and opinion. We believe that this gives us a broad view of current events from a variety of perspectives since Flipboard, for instance, draws from sites as diverse as Fox News and Huffington Post, CNN and Al Jazeera and Business Insider and Forbes. And every November, we vote.

My point? I’m at arm’s length from the hurly-burly of the 24-hour news cycle but I’m still a reasonably knowledgeable news junkie. I am aware of the outlier sites, the ‘alt right’ and ‘progressive’ sites that claim to be presenting the real skinny on current events. I just don’t pay them much mind. Take my opinions for what they are worth but understand that they are the product of serious thought and not from having drunk someone else’s Kool-Aid. 

Trump is my President just as GWB was my President and Obama was yours. I say this even though Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016 both lost the popular vote. I say this not because I think that Trump’s election win was illegitimate. I say this because I am tired of hearing Republicans talking about the will of the people. As of today, 2 million more people voted for Hillary than voted for Trump. The will of the people has been thwarted by a Constitutional compromise reached over 200 years ago for reasons that had nothing to do with protecting the democratic process and a great deal to do with keeping slave-holding states in the union. 

And speaking of losing the popular vote, where is the consistency in claiming that you lost the popular vote due to massive voter fraud, then damning Stein in a series of late night tweets for calling for a recount in the closest battleground states? And speaking of late night tweets, if SNL skits and actors speaking to his Vice President from a Broadway stage enrage Trump, wait until he attends a G12 summit and real heavyweights get on his case. 

But far worse, Trump is blaming the media for ‘inciting’ protest marches. He’s called in media bigwigs to excoriate them. After using the media as a puppet to provide hundreds of millions of dollars of free publicity, the worm turns. And we know what sort of leaders around the world, as their first acts in office, attempt to cow or muzzle a free press.

Trump continues to make it known that he doesn’t want the US to be spending money to address climate change at the same time that he claims to understand the importance of the availability of clean, potable water. It’s hard to reconcile those two positions. How do you protect the southern Florida aquifer from salt water incursion without addressing rising ocean levels? How do you secure potable water for the American Southwest without doing what’s necessary to ameliorate atmospheric heating conditions that have led to severe and persistent drought? And how will Pence, a notorious denier of climate change, effect Trump’s thinking?

And how can you refuse national security briefings and tell Pakistani’s head of state over the phone that he’s a terrific guy? 

So while I am willing to give Trump a chance, I am not encouraged. He has a steep learning curve to climb. He needs to demonstrate the seriousness due the Presidency.

Let’s see if the equity markets move as high as they moved under Obama. Let’s see if the dollar strengthens against the euro even half as much as it did under Obama. Let’s see if the annual deficit is reduced by the same measure and as inexorably as it has been reduced under Obama. Let’s see if he builds a wall and makes Mexico pay for it.

And for all the fear of terrorism on our shores, let’s see if the record under Obama of fewer Americans annually dying from terrorism than dying from having appliances fall on them remains intact.

Or will Trump follow the legacies of his Republican predecessors. GWB was President when the worst recession since the Great Depression began as measured by decline in GDP. Eisenhower was President at the beginning of the second worst. Nixon was President at the beginning of the third worst. Reagan was President at the beginning of the fourth worst. Republicans all. Now Trump…

I’ll be watching. I won’t be the only one.

Affectionately,
Ira


Saturday, November 26, 2016

THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE - HISTORY VS MYTH

The guy who makes my Friday night pizza here in the south of France had a question: If Clinton received the most votes, why will Trump be the American President? Try explaining that in a language in which you are not fluent. Here's the answer in (relatively) plain English.

Even as Donald Trump was announced winner of the American Presidential election, we knew that Hillary Clinton had a slim lead in the popular vote. As I write this, that lead may exceed two million votes. Why was Hillary not declared the winner? Because Trump had been deemed to have won the majority of Presidential electors, those who vote for President as members of the Electoral College.

EDIT: Consider the Brexit. As I understand it, cities voted REMAIN but not by enough votes to counter the LEAVE vote in rural areas. Very similar in the US Presidential election but with the added layer of the state-by-state Electoral College to consider. Clinton may have won New York State and California by huge margins but the margins make no difference. She still only gets the votes of their allotted number of electors. Trump won enough states, regardless of the margin, to earn the victory.

First, how does the Electoral College work?

The choosing of electors and the manner in which they are to vote is a question left up to the individual states. Each state is apportioned electors equivalent to their Congressional delegation. Washington DC participates and has the same number of electors as the least populous state. In 48 states and DC, electors are all expected to vote for the candidate who gets the most votes state wide...winner take all. Two states apportion electors by vote within each Congressional district with two additional at-large electors representing those states' Senators.

In essence, when an American votes in a Presidential election, the vote is cast for a slate of electors representing that candidate and not simply for the candidate. The candidate winning a majority of electors wins the Presidency.

There have been what are called 'faithless' electors, electors voting for a candidate other than the one that has been certified as winning that state or district. Some states have laws that would punish faithless electors after their vote. One state would void the vote of a faithless elector. Many states don't address the issue. And there is no certainty how the Supreme Court would rule on faithless elector laws. They have never been invoked against a faithless elector, primarily because faithless electors have never changed the outcome of an election.

A tie in the Electoral College leads to a vote in the House of Representatives. A tie in the House leads to a vote in the Senate. As is the case with any tied Senate vote, a tie in the Senate would be decided by the sitting Vice President acting in his Constitutional capacity as President of the Senate.

Those are the mechanics.

What drove the Framers to create such a system? Some would say that the Electoral College was designed protect small states from larger ones. Others argue that the Electoral College ensures that an unqualified candidate would not become President. While both arguments have some merit and quotes from Founders can be cited in their defense, the overwhelming evidence points to a different cause - power politics wielded by the slave holding states during the Constitutional Convention.

Prior to adopting the Constitution, the thirteen British colonies were in essence sovereign countries with their own chief executives, their own legislatures, and their own armies (militias). The necessity of maintaining a strong union while waging a war for independence was a relatively easy sell. After independence had been won, the benefits of a federal union were not so apparent. Such a federation inherently meant that the sovereign states would be ceding a certain amount of their sovereignty to the new federal government. Two intertwined questions came to the fore as the question of the power of individual states to influence the new federal entity was negotiated. How would we elect a nationwide President? How would we apportion representation in the House of Representatives?

Although some like Madison favored direct election of the President by vote of the people, the Framers did not have great faith in pure democracy. They were, after all, the elite of their time - tax-paying, land-holding free men, one and all. The first proposal brought before the Constitutional Convention was that the House of Representatives would elect the President. That idea failed due to concerns that the Chief Executive would be too beholden to the Legislative Branch under such an arrangement. There was also worry that the House, a small group of men that met regularly, might devolve into a cabal, electing a President through nefarious, secret dealings. Thus, the The Great Compromise that included the Three-fifths Compromise prevailed.

The Framers decided that a national census would be conducted every ten years. House delegations would be apportioned by population. More populous states would have larger delegations. Less populous states would be protected by a Senate that gave each state two Senators - large state or small, the same number. Simple? Not so much. What about slaves?

According to the 1790 census, there were approximately 700,000 slaves in a total population of just under 3,900,000 - 18% of the population. The slave states wanted those slaves to be counted the same as free men and women to beef up their House delegations. The free states didn't want them counted at all. Thus the Three-fifths Compromise.

 ...[representation] shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
           ~Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution

So, slaves accounted for about 11% of the population used to determine Congressional representation and electors. Is it any wonder that nine of the first fifteen Presidents came from slave states, that seven of those nine came from Virginia with its 300,000 slaves in 1790, and that after the Civil War the first Southerner from one of the original slave states to be elected President who wasn't first elevated to the job by death or assassination was Jimmy Carter?

The Electoral College. Power politics, played skillfully by slaveholders.

So there you have it. The Electoral College was designed to protect the Executive Branch from the Legislative with a composition mirroring the Legislative, structured as a compromise between the slave states and the free in order to preserve the nascent union. A check on the democratic process? Not so much. Of course, the reason for its founding over two centuries ago does not preclude a new mission for the Electoral College today. But that's a discussion for another time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

OPEN LETTER TO MY FELLOW DEMOCRATS



Dear Democrats,

Having moved to France a couple of years ago, I have had the benefit of following the recent Presidential election at arm’s length – no television news, no mailings, no robocalls. Just internet sites like Flipboard that allowed me to pick and choose between such sources as NPR, Fox, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, AP, CNN, and such. I’m invested, though. I voted.

Here’s what I think, free of charge and worth every penny.

Progressives are now on the march. Trump is not their President. Well, I beg to differ. Trump is indeed their President, and mine too, just as Obama was the President of the Trump voters who so despised him. It is our job now to hold Trump’s feet to the fire with the same intensity that has led to Obama being criticized relentlessly from both ends of the political spectrum.

Never in my political life spanning over 60 years have I witnessed a torrent of obvious lies spoken by Presidential candidates and accepted by their devotees equivalent to the lies spoken almost daily by all four of the major party candidates. I include the Bobbsey Twins because there were those, as few as they were, who actually voted Green or Libertarian as though either of those clueless twerps represented an alternative. I don’t know if those votes affected the outcome of the election. As we all now understand, polls only have value to the elegantly coifed men and women who read the news or opine about the horse race without any connection to electoral reality. But the idea that voting for either Stein or Johnson was acceptable, either as a protest or because they deserved serious consideration for the Presidency, is ludicrous. I have in the past, when confronted with unacceptable choices, written in Sandy Koufax, a man of unquestioned character, unquestioned talent, and an aversion to the limelight. Can anyone say the same for Stein or Johnson?

Progressives in the Democratic Party are now complaining that Bernie was the better candidate and would have won the Presidency had not the DNC favored Hillary. To that argument, one never to be resolved, I would offer three points.

First, suppose that you are a lifelong member of a club. You work hard, invest time and money. Then one day, a man who for decades had every opportunity to join the club, but who refused to do so, suddenly enrolls for the sole purpose of becoming the leader of the club. His opposition for leadership is a long-time, committed member. How could anyone expect the membership of that club not to have an obvious preference between the two? It’s simply childish to suppose otherwise. We are talking politics here. And politics ain’t beanbag.

Secondly, having spent the entire primary season trashing Hillary and the DNC mercilessly, Progressives have argued that Hillary was a flawed candidate. Their vitriol lasted throughout the primaries and general election campaign. Could their constant, vicious attacks have had a bearing on the manner in which Hillary was viewed by those observing the carnage from the outside? I would certainly think so. For those on the fence, the rancor demonstrated by people purporting to be members of her own party even after the primaries were over had to have been a consideration.

Finally, marching is bullshite. Petitioning is bullshite. Only voting in an election counts. Man up. And if that phrase is too sexist for you, tough patooties. Man up.

Moving forward, we need to be asking several questions, with one voice, loudly and with conviction.

Has a wall been built along our southern border? Has Mexico paid for it? Have 11,000,000 illegals been deported? Has Trump deported even as many people as Obama has? How many Muslims are on the new national registry? (These aren’t my priorities at all but they were campaign centerpieces.)

On November 8, 2008, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed at 930.99. On November 8, 2016, it closed at 2,139.56, worth 130% more. That’s Obama’s record. How do the markets compare under a Trump administration?

In January, 2009, when Obama took office, the unemployment rate was 7.8%. In October, 2016, (most recent available numbers) the rate is 4.9%, a decrease of about 60%. That’s Obama’s record. How does unemployment compare under a Trump administration? (It’s true that the workforce participation rate declined from 65.7% to 62.8% during the same period. We’ll track that too.)

Of interest to an expat like me is the strength of the dollar, the exchange rate against the euro. On January 1, 2009, it cost $1.40 to buy a euro. On election day, I could buy a euro for $1.09, meaning that the dollar is 30% stronger against the euro since Obama took office. That’s Obama’s record. Let’s see if Trump’s dollar fares as well.

There are other indicators that we could use – decline in the deficit, inflation near zero, exports up. But let’s focus on just a few, easily determined, generally accepted statistics.

Let’s hold Trump and the Republicans in Congress accountable. If we have lost because the electorate has been pulled to the right, let’s start pulling back from the left. Let’s demonstrate why the better educated electorate votes Democratic. Let’s learn.

Affectionately,
Ira