Category Archives: Politics

Life will appear to go on

There is a misconception that if we lose our rights life will grind to a halt. It’s not true. As we lose the right to collectively bargain, the right to have our votes counted, the right to say what happens to our own bodies, everything will still seem almost normal. As we lose the right to a clean and healthy environment, the right to safe food and water, the right of a free press, the right to not be discriminated against because of whom we love or what religion we believe in (or not at all), life will go on. Reality shows will continue to air, the latest fashions will still be in the stores, and pop stars will still lip-sync forgettable ditties. Life will go on. We’ll hardly notice the important things we’ve lost until it’s too late.

Urgently needed travel ban doesn’t seem all that urgent

The new travel ban signed by President Trump takes effect in 10 days. This on top of the delays since the White House announced a new executive order was on the way.

Previously, the president had tweeted:

travel ban tweet

This doesn’t lend credence to President Trump’s insistence that the travel ban was urgently needed because “thousands” of “bad dudes” were pouring into the US with plans to carry out terrorist attacks.

Who benefits?

Things I learned from reading Malcolm Nance:

Vladimir Putin seeks to rebuild a Russian empire for the enrichment of himself and his fellow oligarchs.

A weakened and dismantled USA and EU are essential to his goal.

An America distracted by chaos and instability serves the Russian leader’s purpose.

The one person who benefits from everything that’s happening in American politics right now is Vladimir Putin. And he seems like he’s getting everything he wants exactly the way he wants it.

With this election, Vladimir Putin, the former director of Russia’s intelligence agency, sees the election of Donald Trump as the fastest way to destabilize the United States and damage its economy, as well as fracture both the European Union and NATO. These events, which start with the election of Trump, would allow Russia to become the strongest of the world’s three superpowers and reorder the globe with a dominant Russia at the helm. — Malcolm Nance, “The Plot to Hack America”

plot

WATCH: Bad Lip Reading does Inauguration Day

All we can do now is laugh. All we can do now is laugh.

How to reform the Electoral College to avoid another “loophole president”

A recent poll shows that a majority of Americans who voted in this year’s election want to do away with the Electoral College, that archaic holdover born at a time when the founding fathers wanted to placate southern slave states so they’d get on board with the new Constitution.

The founding fathers had different ideas for the Electoral College. For some, the idea was to ensure smaller population states (like slave ones) wouldn’t be outvoted in every election. (It’s also the genesis of the infamous “three-fifths clause.”) It wasn’t so much about states’ voting power as it was protecting the south from the north.

Another idea was that the College could be a fail-safe mechanism in case the people voted for a criminal, an idiot, a fraudster, or someone who wasn’t qualified to lead the nation.

Whatever the intent was, it’s an idea fraught with problems. The most glaring fault is when the EC goes counter to the popular vote, as it did this year with Hillary Clinton receiving some 2.8 million more votes than Donald Trump, not a small margin. Many feel the current mechanism violates the principle of one person one vote, as it gives people in smaller states much more voting power than people in larger states.

lawrence-lessigProblematic as it is, getting rid of the College would require a constitutional amendment, and that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. But it can be reformed. It can be made fairer. It can be amended so that it more accurately reflects the will of the people.

Last week I spoke to Lawrence Lessig, the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the former director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. He acknowledged that the Electoral College won’t be consigned to the dustbin of history in the near (or maybe far) future, but he shared a couple of ideas for reform that might correct the faults.

The first way is for states to abolish “winner take all,” the principle where the state popular vote winner (even if it’s just by one vote) gets all of that state’s electors. He said there’s already a group of people preparing litigation to challenge the principle immediately after the election. If the Supreme Court rules that it’s a constitutional violation, and Lessig thinks it would, then the EC and the popular vote would more fairly align. So far, only two states have done away with “winner take all.”

But Lessig was more excited by another idea for change, one that could reform the EC without litigation or a constitutional amendment. He explained:

[…] that change is advanced by the National Popular Vote Project. What that project is, is a compact among states, and what the states have basically said is when states representing at least 270 electoral college votes all join a compact, what they promise to do is to allocate their electors to the person who has won the national popular vote. So if you can get 270 votes together into one, then they will switch their votes to whoever wins the national popular vote automatically and therefore avoid any more questions about the person winning the national popular vote not being sworn in as president.

Lessig said he has high hopes for this idea.

[…] they’re actually on their way to getting to 270, and I’m sure this election cycle is gonna re-energize the movement towards that solution. I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time we get to the next election the possibility of this “loophole presidency” will have been removed.

Both of these plans are more workable than abolition, though I must say the best idea is to do away with the Electoral College. Every other elected office in the United States is chosen by popular vote. The presidency should be, too.

(There are some who defend the EC despite its inherent unfairness. The three most common defenses are debunked here. I present the link for additional reading.)

Standoff between China and the US over seized underwater drone

UPDATE: The Pentagon says China has agreed to return the underwater drone. The original post is below.

China has seized a US underwater drone and the standoff is escalating. The US says the drone was a scientific research vessel, the Chinese say it was spying on their submarines in Chinese waters. It’s another in a series of escalating actions China is taking.

Is this because of Donald Trump accepting a phone call from the president of Taiwan and his increasing anti-China rhetoric? Maybe. And it’s interesting to note that a retired Chinese admiral, speaking at a conference sponsored by a state-run newspaper, called out the president-elect by name:

“If Trump and the American government dare to take actions to challenge the bottom line of China’s policy and core interests, we must drop any expectations about him and give him a bloody nose.”

More from the New York Times:

According to a Pentagon account, a Chinese Navy vessel that was shadowing the Bowditch — a common practice in the South China Sea — pulled up not far from the vessel. It then dispatched a small boat to seize the drone as the American crew was recovering it from the water, the Pentagon said. The Pentagon described the vehicle as an unclassified “ocean glider” system used to gather military oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature and sound speed.

An American naval expert did not disagree with Mr. Wu’s notion of what the Americans were probably doing. “Warfare and surveillance in the age of drones has not yet developed an agreed-upon set of rules,” said Lyle J. Goldstein, associate professor at the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College, in Rhode Island.

“This is increasingly a major problem as both China and the U.S. are deploying ever more air and naval drones into the contested waters and airspace of the Western Pacific,” he said.

The seizure was possibly another demonstration by Beijing that it can irritate the United States in a gray zone, just under the threshold of actual hostilities, Mr. Goldstein said. He said it was a time for “cooler heads to prevail,” to halt a cycle of escalation that “cannot end well for either side.”

What if the electoral college chose Hillary Clinton?

Lawrence Lessig is a professor at Harvard Law School and the author of “Republic, Lost: Version 2.0.” He argues that when the electoral college meets to cast votes, the electors should choose Hillary Clinton.

(Clinton, by the way, is currently ahead in the popular vote by 2 million, and will likely be up by 2 and a half million when the counting is done.)

Lessig writes, “Conventional wisdom tells us that the electoral college requires that the person who lost the popular vote this year must nonetheless become our president. That view is an insult to our framers. It is compelled by nothing in our Constitution. It should be rejected by anyone with any understanding of our democratic traditions — most important, the electors themselves.”

He cites precedents:

Only twice in our past has the electoral college selected a president against the will of the people — once in the 19th century and once on the cusp of the 21st. (In 1824, it was Congress that decided the election for John Quincy Adams; likewise in 1876, it was Congress that gave disputed electoral college votes to Rutherford B. Hayes.)

In 1888, Benjamin Harrison lost the popular vote to Grover Cleveland but won in the electoral college, only because Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall turned New York away from the reformer Cleveland (by fewer than 15,000 votes). In 2000, George W. Bush lost the popular vote by a tiny fraction — half a percent — and beat Al Gore in the electoral college by an equally small margin — less than 1 percent.

In both cases, the result violated what has become one of the most important principles governing our democracy — one person, one vote. In both cases, the votes of some weighed much more heavily than the votes of others. Today, the vote of a citizen in Wyoming is four times as powerful as the vote of a citizen in Michigan. The vote of a citizen in Vermont is three times as powerful as a vote in Missouri. This denies Americans the fundamental value of a representative democracy — equal citizenship. Yet nothing in our Constitution compels this result.

It’s a moot point because I’m sure the electors will choose Trump. Well, most of them will, anyway. But it’s an interesting intellectual exercise, because if they chose Clinton instead, constitutional law and precedent back them up.

One thing that is slightly more likely to happen is if some huge scandal surrounding Trump breaks out before the electors meet, like revelations of more dirty dealings, enough electors might withhold or change their votes that it would send the election to the House, and Republicans might choose Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney.

Are any of these things likely to happen? Probably not. But then again, a lot of smart people were telling us how unlikely it was that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee, much less that he would win the presidency.