Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day

Saturday, April 29, 2017

April 29, 2017
Tax farming — tax collection by private individuals — is a system subject to abuse. A limited version of it — private collection of delinquent taxes — has been tried by the U.S. government, twice, with poor results. Nevertheless, and true to its privatization obsession, Congress tucked a clause into a highway bill which requires the IRS to "enter into qualified tax collection contracts to collect outstanding inactive tax receivables," i.e., to farm out tax collection to private collection agencies. The IRS has selected four companies to pursue those delinquent accounts.
One might think that increasing the IRS budget, allowing it to hire more agents, would be a better plan than giving 25% of collections to the debt collectors, especially as their record at collection during prior trials is unimpressive. Also, the new program opens up opportunities for fraud and abuse, both by the designated collectors and by others posing as such.
The IRS announced that it would begin using the debt collectors in April. One of the companies selected by the IRS is Pioneer Credit Recovery, a subsidiary of Navient Corporation. Two years ago, Pioneer was accused by the Education Department of misleading borrowers about their loans. In January of this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed suit against Navient, accusing it of "systematically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment," and cheating "many struggling borrowers out of their rights to lower repayments, which caused them to pay much more than they had to for their loans."[24]  The same month, the States of Washington and Illinois sued Navient; the Washington Complaint accused it of a number of unfair and deceptive practices, including "aggressive and misleading collection tactics."[25]
Privatization is a dubious idea in any area of government activity. Privatizing tax collections is worse. Selecting a company with a bad reputation, one other government agencies accuse of wrongdoing, is difficult to explain. Of the four companies approved, two are from New York, including Navient-Pioneer, and one is from Iowa. Senators Schumer (New York) and Grassley (Iowa) are supporters of private tax collection. Apparently their viewpoint allows them to see an advantage invisible to most of us.


Friday, April 21, 2017

April 20, 2017
As The Washington Post informed us late last year, "It's official: Truth is dead. Facts are passe." The basis of that cynical statement? "Oxford Dictionaries has selected ‘post-truth’ as 2016's international word of the year," because the Brexit referendum battle and the presidential election "caused usage of the adjective to skyrocket, according to the Oxford University Press."[19]  Is selecting a word of the year important, or even meaningful? Recent words of the year are such additions to discourse as locavore, hypermiling and refudiate, the last made notorious by Sarah Palin. Oxford Dictionaries defines post-truth as an adjective "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,"[20] which is as awkward as the yearly word routine is meaningless; neither hypermiling nor refudiate have been added to the OED. On the other hand, the Dictionary has just added "sticky-outy."
Leaving aside whether dictionaries should describe rather than prescribe or, as Fox News puts it, report, not decide, the state of our political discourse, in which facts and truth are discarded, indeed is worthy of note. (In the Age of Trump, examples are not necessary; read any account of a press conference). What is the source of this intellectual decline?
One suggestion is that we should blame philosophy. On the cover of the April 3, 2017, issue, Time Magazine, apparently not yet convinced, asked "Is Truth Dead?" An article on Salon offered this comment: "Whether deliberate or not, the cover headline alludes to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who is best known for proclaiming the death of God, but also for rejecting the idea of objective truth (‘there are no facts, only interpretations’). For the philosophically inclined, then, our ‘post-truth’ era can be traced back to Nietzsche . . . ."[21]

A more recent reference also might support the theory. Richard Rorty observed that, under modern analytic philosophy, statements are "no longer thought of as expressions of experience nor as representations of extra-experiential reality." Truth "is simply a compliment paid to sentences seen to be paying their way." As long as the story sells, it can be called truth.
The intellectual fad known as postmodernism has helped to undermine respect for truth and fact; it includes "an excessive interest in subjective beliefs independently of their truth or falsity; and an emphasis on discourse and language as opposed to the facts to which those discourses refer (or, worse, the rejection of the very idea that facts exist or that one may refer to them)."[22]
Not many people keep abreast of trends in philosophy or literary criticism, so any influence must be by way of absorption into the culture. A different and less arcane source has been suggested, one which would have direct influence on many: conservative (usually called evangelical) Christianity. A recent article in The New York Times [23] observed that "two compulsions have guided conservative Protestant intellectual life: the impulse to defend the Bible as a reliable scientific authority and the impulse to place the Bible beyond the claims of science entirely." The result is a view that any statement must be false if it contradicts or challenges biblical stories taken literally. Rejecting much of modern science, to which this leads, is an anti-factual stance with a vengeance.
For some, this is based on a theory burdened with the almost unpronounceable name "presuppositionalism," which reflects this idea: "We all have presuppositions that frame our understanding of the world." However, not all presuppositions are equal: "one worldview, the one based on faith in an inerrant Bible, does have a claim on universal truth."
The Times article referred to a biologist who also is a creationist; he "calls himself a ‘presuppositionalist evidentialist’ — which we might define as someone who accepts evidence when it happens to affirm his nonnegotiable presuppositions." Although accepting some parts of science might seem an advance, a scientist who rejects inconvenient science is even more defensively blinkered than the outright denier.
Whatever the source or terminology, denial of reality, dressing up lies as "alternative facts," and contempt for the very notion of truth pose a serious problem in a complex, rapidly changing, menacing world.




21. in-his-post-truth-politics-and-maybe-in-postmodern-philosophy/

Sokal and Bricmont, Intellectual Impostures

23. post-truth-society.html

Saturday, March 18, 2017

March 18, 2017
Labeling Donald Trump or his administration "fascist" doesn’t, in itself, help us to understand the gang in power because, among other reasons, the terms "fascist’ and "fascism" are ill-defined. However, it’s worth noting that the conditions which gave us Trump bear some resemblance to those which have preceded the rise of authoritarian governments and far-right parties, including to those now appearing in Europe. That may be useful in explaining how Trump garnered almost 63 million votes (46% of those cast) and why polls show that 40% approve of his performance.
"Making America Great Again" is a slogan that excuses right-wing nationalism. The extreme example in this genre is the term "Third Reich," coined before the Hitler era to appeal to the desire to make Germany great again, imagining a rebirth of the glory days of the Holy Roman Empire and the Prussian Kingdom/German empire.[13]  Contrast the alleged weakness of the democratic Weimar Republic and the Obama administration.
Several writings on right-wing populism offer interesting insights. None refers to the rise of Trump or the recent election; each sets out characteristics that seem to be present in those phenomena. One is a small book on fascism [14] (in which the author more or less abandons an attempt to define the term): "[S]ome situate the emergence of the radical right in the context of the 'revolt against reason', which was said to characterize the last decades of the 19th century. Certainly, many fin-dc-si├Ęcle thinkers opposed rationalism and its ramifications: liberalism, socialism, materialism, and individualism. They were pessimists who refused to see history as progress, and instead saw it as a desperate struggle against degeneration." The make-America-great-again slogan in effect complains of degeneration. Many of Trump’s followers are opposed to liberalism, socialism, and, at least among his evangelical followers, materialism. Their attitude toward individualism is mixed, but to the extent they are individualistic, it consists of resenting government regulation. That makes support for an authoritarian leader ironic.
"In Germany, various strands of spiritualist thought, descended from Romanticism, informed the idea of the German ‘volk’—that is the people defined as an ethical, socially united, patriarchal, ethnic, and linguistic community." The white nationalist element of Trumpism dreams of an American volk.
"The radical right did not . . . derive simply from ultranationalism or anomie. It was rooted in daily contests for jobs, financial reward, educational success, and political honour against socialists, ethnic minorities, feminists, and liberals, in a context of nation-building and imperialism, and interest in improving the quality and efficiency of the race." Trump’s position on imperialism isn’t clear, except that he expects the U.S. to give orders; most of the rest applies.
In a study a few years ago of postmodernism’s connections to the right,[15] the author considered the social and economic forces behind the emergence of the European New Right. He found generational differences, but both the old and more recent right show similarities to Trumpism. "Historical fascism was able to draw upon a fairly large middle-class electoral base: small town dwellers and farmers, small proprietors, the lower middle classes, and white-collar workers. Often, this group has been collectively characterized as the ‘losers of the modernization process’: individuals most vulnerable and exposed to the social dislocations involved in industrialization. . . . The constituency of the New European Right is also heavily comprised of potential ‘losers of the modernization process’."
Fear of loss is the key. The far-right parties do not appear to draw support primarily from the ranks of the unemployed, but from "those social groups who feel in danger of being left behind by new developments in a globalized, postindustrial economy . . . ." Putting it more broadly, "[s]tatistical breakdowns of the New Right's constituency abound with examples of how ‘feelings of anxiety and social isolation, political exasperation and powerlessness, loss of purpose in life, and insecurity and abandonment’ provide social conditions conducive to the success of far-right political views." As here, "New Right politicians are skilled at playing on such feelings and fears."
According to a recent article,[16] contemporary right-wing parties in France, Denmark and The Netherlands present a picture different from Trumpism and the old European right, in general and as to some particulars. "These parties . . . have made a very public break with the symbols of the old right’s past, distancing themselves from skinheads, neo-Nazis and homophobes. . . . They have effectively claimed the progressive causes of the left – from gay rights to women’s equality and protecting Jews from antisemitism – as their own, . . ." However, here’s the point of contact: they have done that "by depicting Muslim immigrants as the primary threat to all three groups. As fear of Islam has spread, with their encouragement, they have presented themselves as the only true defenders of western identity and western liberties – the last bulwark protecting a besieged Judeo-Christian civilisation from the barbarians at the gates."
There’s another parallel: "These parties have steadily filled an electoral vacuum left open by social democratic and centre-right parties, who ignored voters’ growing anger over immigration – some of it legitimate, some of it bigoted – or simply waited too long to address it." They respond to "economic anxiety and fear of terrorism by blending a nativist economic policy – more welfare, but only for us – and tough anti-immigration and border security measures."
As in the U.S., so in Europe: "nostalgia for an older, whiter France has become a potent political force." The Dutch new right, by "framing its anti-migrant politics as a battle against imperious elites and political correctness, . . has been able to capitalise on a panoply of grievances, from anger over asylum seekers to Euroscepticism." There is "a strong anti-PC tone to the Dutch right: do not tell us what to say, what to celebrate and who we must live next to." How did this happen? "The Dutch Labour party . . . gave up on its working-class base." In Denmark, the attitude was summed up thus: "Immigrants can’t do right. When they’re unemployed they’re a burden to society. When they’re in a job, they just stole the job from a Dane."
Finally, Britain: "Not least among the lessons of Brexit was that, for millions of disaffected voters, immigration is just one more thing nobody asked them about. This is what makes the issue an especially potent weapon: it combines the resentful energies of nativism, economic instability, and hatred of a remote and unaccountable political elite."
In all this we can identify several public attitudes common to the rise of authoritarian governments and the election of Donald Trump. Prominent is resentment of immigrants, which derives, at least in part, from fear of terrorism and from a sense of threat to jobs, prosperity and status. In addition, there is a sense of political powerlessness; resentment of elites who allegedly run everything, including government; and social attitudes forced on an unwilling citizenry, i.e., political correctness. Underlying these developments is economic inequality and the power of the wealthy. One of the ironies of the American version of right-wing populism is that it leads to the election of those who will protect and expand such inequality.
How do we deal with this? One solution was offered by Tony Blair, writing in The New York Times on March 3. The new wave "is a revolution that is partly economic, but mainly cultural." It is caused by "the scale, scope and speed of change." That occurs "economically as jobs are displaced and communities fractured, and culturally as the force of globalization moves the rest of the world closer and blurs old boundaries of nation, race and culture." In other words, the nationalism of the new right blames globalization for lost jobs and immigration.
To Blair, it would be a mistake to respond with a wave of leftist populism. Left populists, as he sees it, also revolt against globalization, and they "agree with the right-wing populists about elites, though for the left the elites are the wealthy, while for the right they’re the liberals." Should there not, then, be a revolt against the conservative elite, especially now that the wealthy and the government have merged? He says not: left populism, he thinks, has no chance of success and "dangerously validates some of the right’s arguments. This only fuels a cynicism that depresses support for the more progressive parts of the left’s program." He doesn’t elaborate on, and I don’t see the merit of, that argument. If, in rejecting populism, Blair is proposing a policy of polite, patient advocacy, with no enemies and no demonstrations, he’s out of touch with the times.
He’s correct in saying that left populism is a response to the failure of the liberal establishment or, as he puts it, the paralysis of the center. "The parties and politicians of the center have become the managers of the status quo in an era when people want change. So, the center — in both its center-right and center-left camps — is marginalized, even despised." A focus on the center is not surprising in an advocate of the third way but, at least in this country, the center-right has vanished; the "center" is the Democratic establishment, which has failed to address the issues that give rise to right-wing populism, such as concern about immigration and globalization.
One aspect of his centrism has merit, the toning down of certain liberal arguments and, better yet, reconsideration of some of them, in his words learning "the difference between being progressive and appearing obsessive on issues like gender identity."
Populism can be an elusive subject. The term is more often used than defined, and definitions aren’t consistent. Some definitions are useless; my unabridged dictionary [17] defines "populist" as "a member of the People’s Party," which expired a century ago; "populism" is simply a derivative with no separate definition. Some definitions include negative aspects, such as anti-intellectualism, prejudice or mob mentality. That may be why Blair avoids it. However, there are more neutral, useful definitions, for example: "A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite."[18]  That is what Trumpism purported to be during the campaign.
A liberal populism, that is, a movement focused on improving the lot of ordinary Americans rather than the one percent, is, despite Blair’s concerns, the way forward. The anti-Trump rallies show that many people are ready. Bernie Sanders demonstrated populism’s appeal and force, and it could succeed if it had the support of the Democratic establishment. The goal must be to convince people, including many who currently support Trump, that there is a better way than his — and better than anything mainstream Republicans have offered in years — and that Democrats understand them and will work for their benefit. Democratic dithering won’t do it and Democrats beholden to Wall Street can’t. It’s time to choose sides.


. See Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (2003), p. 121.

. Passmore, Fascism: A Very Short Introduction (2014), pp. 28, 35

. Wolin, The Seduction of Unreason
(2004), 275-77

. Sasha Polakow-Suransky, "The Ruthlessly Effective Rebranding of Europe’s New Far Right, " europes-new-far-right

. Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language

. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

Thursday, March 9, 2017

March 8, 2017
Trump’s renewed effort to bar entry to Muslims, including refugees, should remind us that this is not the first time that the country has barred entry or flight. Referring to the plight of German Jews in the 1030s, an historian described the situation as follows: "[T]he United States was neither willing nor able to provide refuge for more than a handful of those fleeing Nazi persecution. The 1924 law permitted a total of only 150,000 immigrants a year, of which the Jewish quota was a small percentage. . . . Roosevelt stretched the law as best he could to admit more refugees. But the only real answer was a basic modification of policy, and at a time of continuing high unemployment there was little inclination to do that. Thousands of Jews were stranded at transit points across Europe. Some made it on ships to the Americas only to be denied permission to land."[11]
Another occasion was noted by Eric Foner in a recent issue of The Nation. "President Trump’s executive order . . . and his frequent threats to deport millions of undocumented immigrants bring to mind another era when the federal government acted forcefully to apprehend men, women, and children fleeing oppressive conditions. In 1850, Congress passed and President Millard Fillmore signed the Fugitive Slave Act. The law authorized federal marshals to capture people who had escaped from the slaveholding Old South, federal commissioners to order their return to bondage, and federal troops to carry out these orders."
On February, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 "authorizing the secretary of war to designate military zones within the U.S. from which ‘any or all persons may be excluded.’ The order was not targeted at any specific group, but it became the basis for the mass relocation and internment of some 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, including both citizens and non-citizens of the United States."[12]  Fear of foreigners again was the basis for the action.
That this country has turned away refugees and other unwanted persons or interned them, even under a far better President, does not justify Trump’s action. It does show that his idea of making America great again is to relive some of its worst moments.
Lady Liberty went dark this week. Perhaps it was from embarrassment.


Herring, From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776, pp. 516-17

12. americans/100132/

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

February 14, 2017

One of the challenges in evaluating Donald Trump, or predicting what he will do, is deciding what he is. Is he power-hungry or merely narcissistic? Are his falsehoods deliberate or does he simply not know the difference between fact and fancy? Are we dealing with a clever manipulator, a sociopath or an adolescent? In a sense, it doesn’t matter; whatever the diagnosis, his egocentrism, ignorance, short attention span, disinterest in detail, emotional outbursts and childish language render him unfit for the office.
It’s clear that his focus is on Donald Trump, not on governance, policy, or even politics in the sense of party or theory. Some of his impulses mesh with Republican aims, such as restriction of immigration and cutting taxes, but those similarities seem almost accidental. His sympathetic attitude toward Russia and Putin, if expressed by a Democratic President, would lead to impeachment.
Trump’s disinterest in governance recalls the theory expressed during the campaign that he didn’t expect or intend to win the nomination, still less the presidency. John Lewis declared that, because of Russian interference in the election, Trump is not a legitimate president. His loss of the popular vote is another reason to conclude that. More importantly, he is not a competent or stable president.
His selection of cabinet members and counselors is another indication that he is unfit and, especially as to the latter, to wonder who is in charge. One of his campaign advisors predicted that a Trump administration would be "basically a blank slate that needs to be filled in." Another way to put it is that he can and will be manipulated. His failure to control his administration is a source of danger, given the character of his team, but it may be a blessing, if causes Republicans to realize, in time, that he has to go.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

February 5, 2017
"President Trump" is a title, a phrase, that sounds false, that sounds like a bad joke or a bad dream. However, it’s all too real; the joke may be on those who voted for him, but disaster looms for all of us.
"We actually had a very good day yesterday," he said on Monday, having selected, among Muslim nations, those whose citizens would be barred from entry in to the U.S., thereby establishing a policy of religious discrimination and causing chaos at airports. That ban allegedly was in aid of preventing terrorism. However, he omitted Saudi Arabia, though fifteen of the nineteen 9-11 bombers were Saudis. In this he follows a Republican tradition; George W. Bush invaded Iraq, which supplied none of them. The Seattle Times ran an editorial on the Trump edict, appropriately captioned "A morally bankrupt, inept executive order on immigration." Those adjectives could have wider application.
Already there is talk of impeachment. It seems unlikely, given a Republican Congress, but Robert Kuttner, in an article on The American Prospect was optimistic: "Impeachment is gaining ground, because Republicans are already deserting this president in droves, and because the man is psychiatrically incapable of checking whether something is legal before he does it. The dossier of impeachable offenses will only grow."[10]  He’s probably right about all but the Congressional response. Various members have criticized Trump’s policies and statements, but it would take a good deal to produce a repudiation. Today’s Republicans do not resemble those who opposed Nixon. We could hope for a Democratic victory in 2018, but it isn’t likely in the Senate, where far more Democratic seats are in play.
Thus far, most Republicans seem content to support Trump. It’s been amusing, though ominous, to see them fall in line behind the man many of them thought unfit. Apparently they can swallow a little insanity if it will result in tax cuts for the rich and fewer regulations on business. However, Kuttner’s prediction could come true. Dissent on specific issues such as the Muslim ban or coziness with Putin may grow into a realization that the man is a menace. Also, pressure from home about Obamacare may cause desertions.


10. removal

Monday, January 23, 2017

January 23, 2017
The recent election has stimulated a good deal of discussion about the Electoral College. It’s tempting to say that the conclusive argument against it is that we ended up with President Donald Trump, a symbol and product of the country’s decline. However, let’s consider another serious argument in favor of it. Google Alert has turned up numerous comments, about equally divided between pro and con. One of the more ambitious of the defenses of the electoral system appeared on the web site of The New American, authored by Steven Byas.[3]  Its approach is scholarly, with emphasis on the Founders’ intent. Here is the gist:
1. The popular vote might be too close. Mr Byas imagines a situation in which the candidates are separated by only 4,123 popular votes. (He put "popular vote" in quotes the first time he used the term, as it were some foreign or dubious concept). He envisions chaos as a result of the close vote. The chaos — recounting — occurs now. It would be worse under his scenario, but the popular vote margin has not been that low since 1880, when there were far fewer voters; the total vote that year was 9,217,410, compared to 137,079,706 last year.[4]  He thinks that the electoral vote would avoid the recount, and it might, but it could be tied, which would lead to another anti-democratic mechanism in the Constitution, election by the House, voting as states.
That paper-thin margin isn’t likely to recur; it would be even less likely to occur if there were more votes. Ending vote suppression by the states would help to increase the total.
2. The electoral system was supported by Hamilton. That is true, although Mr. Byas cites Federalist No. 83, when the passage quoted occurs in No. 68.
3. The Electoral College was "an important element in [the Founders’] overall goals of creating a republic, not a democracy. . . ." Citing Madison in Federalist 10, Mr. Byas draws a distinction between a "pure" democracy which, according to Madison, is "a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person," and a "republic," by which Madison means "a government in which the scheme of representation takes place."
Madison and Byas each sometimes refer to "pure" (direct) democracy, and sometimes drop the qualifier; as a result it’s a little difficult to follow their arguments. There was and is no prospect of this nation’s ever having the pure form, so it isn’t clear what Mr. Byas has in mind in positing an opposition between republic and democracy. Madison was, in part, justifying the size of the Union; to him, one of the differences between a democracy and a republic was "the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended." He wasn’t discussing the Electoral College. In the present case, I suspect the supposed dichotomy has something to do with states’ rights.
The best case that can be made on this point is that choosing the President through the Electoral College is analogous to making laws through representatives; each places a decision-maker between the people and the ultimate decision. However, the electoral system contemplated in the Federalist no longer exists, and the analogy isn’t persuasive; we can’t make laws for the nation by an assembly of citizens, but voters can select a president.
Mr. Byas quotes another Founder in support of his anti-democratic definition of a republic: "Upon leaving the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what form of government the delegates had given the United States. Franklin’s response was, ‘A republic if you can keep it’." However, in its simplest and least tendentious sense, a republic is a form of government in which the head of state is in some fashion chosen by the people, as opposed to a monarchy.[5]  Franklin so used it, as his comment was an answer to this question: "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?"
Even Madison, in Federalist 39, more or less adopted that definition: "If we resort for a criterion to the different principles on which different forms of government are established, we may define a republic to be . . . a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people . . . . It is ESSENTIAL to such a government that it be derived from the great body of the society. . . . It is SUFFICIENT for such a government that the persons administering it be appointed, either directly or indirectly, by the people . . . ." The electoral college is an undemocratic institution within a republican government; it does not define the latter, nor is it essential to it.
4. The government need not consider the will of the majority. "Perhaps the most serious misunderstanding about this entire issue is the mistaken belief that the purpose of government is to create the conditions for the will of the majority to prevail. . . . The very reason that government should even exist is to advance liberty, and to protect the lives and property of its people." (Even if true, what of it? That isn’t made clear). Mr. Byas concedes that "for a government to be legitimate, it must obtain its ‘just’ powers from the consent of the governed." However, "the only powers government can justly exercise, even those granted them by the governed, are those that carry out the legitimate purposes of government."
What has that to do with the electoral college? "So in choosing the president, like every other action taken in connection with government, protecting the life, liberty, and property of the people is its purpose, rather than making sure the will of the majority prevails." The Electoral College can cause the will of the majority not to prevail; it has nothing to do with protecting life, liberty and property unless the people are equated to a radical mob and the electors are assumed to be from the propertied class. There is more than a hint of such an attitude in the creation and promoting of the Constitution but, like toleration of slavery, it is an attitude we need not honor.
5. Popular election would lead to authoritarian government. "If the United States were to replace the Electoral College with a national popular election, we could expect an intensification of the current drift toward an imperial presidency." Mr. Byas’ article was written on January 12, but he doesn’t seem to detect any authoritarian tendency in the most recent product of the present method of election.
"The president would be the only public official chosen by a national popular vote. This would dangerously tilt the powers of the federal government even more so in favor of the executive." How? "With a national popular election ‘mandate,’ presidents would make the argument that they represent ‘the will of the people,’ and that Congress should fall in line." (This runs contrary to the usual justification of the electoral vote, that it provides a mandate). Some presidents receive only a plurality of popular votes; doesn’t the electoral vote then provide a dangerous, undeserved mandate?
6. Popular election would cause administrative problems. "Elections of the president by a direct and national popular vote would raise many serious questions — such as what to do about recounts and voter fraud, and even the question of who would count the votes." All of those concerns exist now, but they might be magnified under popular election. "No doubt a national election commission of some sort would be required, and the states would likely not accept that." He’s right about the need for national supervision of federal elections, and probably about state resistance. At present, the presidential vote is at the mercy of the states, and there is no right under federal law to vote for president. That is a ludicrously backward situation. Federal oversight of federal elections is needed, to prevent vote suppression, bring uniformity to registration and to vote counting, and to prevent gerrymandering.
7. "The Electoral College Preserves Federalism." Mr. Byas argues that "[b]ecause the government of the United States was to be a federal republic — or what is sometimes called a compound republic — the states were expected to elect both the Congress and the president." I’m not sure what he refers to; the states, even in the unamended Constitution, elected Senators only. "The selection of electors followed this pattern created in which the people in the states elect members of the House of Representatives, and the state legislatures of each state choose the members of the Senate."
That doesn’t quite track; also, the latter provision hasn’t applied since 1913, when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified. What he seems to be saying is that the electoral college is legitimate because it mirrors the makeup of Congress in that each state has two electoral votes (and two Senators) regardless of population, plus additional electoral votes equal to its membership in the House. That serves structural neatness, but not good government.
8. "Electors Are Chosen for Their Independent Judgment." That was the original idea, but it certainly isn’t true now. Many states require electors to vote for the candidate who carried their state, and the expectation is that all will. Last year, seven electors did not do so, the first time since 1912 that more than one has strayed. This argument is inconsistent with the previous one, which emphasized the role of the state.
9. Candidates would ignore small states. "If the president were chosen through a national popular vote election, the campaign would look much different than it does now. Instead of candidates paying so much attention to small states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Maine, they would instead camp out in large urban centers, where there are lots of voters." That might be so, but would it be a bad thing for candidates to go where voters are?
That focus "would, of course, tilt national policy away from the interests of what many on the east and west coasts of the United States presently dismiss as ‘flyover country.’ " That doesn’t necessarily follow and, in any case, many states are ignored in campaigns now. Six states, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan, none of them small, received 68% of presidential campaign visits last year; twelve states received 94%; twenty-five saw none.[6]
10. Counting a popular vote would cause problems. "Determining a winner in a national popular vote election might even prove impossible." This returns to the issue raised in item 1, but here Mr. Byas’ argument reflects the same confusion found in Judge Posner’s article: his example of a counting problem concerns the electoral vote. "The 2000 election is particularly memorable, since it took 36 days after the election before a winner was finally declared — and that delay was solely because of disputes concerning the popular vote in one state: Florida." Its popular vote was at issue solely because of its electoral votes.
11. Opportunities for fraud would increase. "With a national popular vote election, in which fraud can no longer be ‘contained’ within the borders of a single state, or a handful of states, the temptation to stuff the ballot box would be obvious." Voting fraud, in the sense of false or ineligible ballots doesn’t appear to be a serious problem, but let’s assume that it might be. "And with a national popular vote, states would likewise be tempted to increase their vote totals." The state-by-state advantage, and therefore temptation, is peculiar to the present system, in which votes by state are important. Also, it would require a far more massive voting fraud to produce a plurality of 2.865 million votes than to swing 77,774, the actual and effective margins this year.
The federal oversight of elections that Mr. Byas fears would reduce the chance of any sort of fraud or error.
12. Suggested reform: assign (some?) electoral votes by district. "While the Constitution left the actual selection method of states’ electors in the hands of state legislatures, Madison and Hamilton were disappointed when Pennsylvania and Maryland opted to use a ‘winner-take-all’ method. They had apparently assumed that each congressional district would choose one elector, with the other two then picked directly by the state legislature. . . . Today, only two states — Maine and Nebraska — use the congressional district method favored by Madison and Hamilton."
I haven’t found any reference to that assumption by Madison and Hamilton. However, Hamilton proposed a Constitutional amendment in 1802 which involved creating electoral districts equal in number to a state’s Senators plus Representatives,[7] i.e., two more districts per state than the Congressional districts, and necessarily different in configuration. (Madison proposed an amendment in 1823 which appears to follow the Hamilton pattern). Maine and Nebraska assign one electoral vote to the winner of each Congressional District, but award the two "Senatorial" votes to the winner of the state total, so they conform neither to Mr. Byas’ understanding of the history nor to Hamilton’s amendment.
"If every state adopted this [Maine-Nebraska] method, it would better maintain the federal character of the presidential election as envisioned by the Founders than the present winner-take-all system prevalent across the country." That doesn’t square with his concept of federalism, which emphasizes state power; he returns to the latter shortly. "Had this system been in effect in 2012, Mitt Romney would have been elected president over Barack Obama." Oh, good; we’d have had elected the loser again.
"Opponents of this suggested reform argue that this would lead to state legislatures drawing congressional district lines so as to increase their state’s clout in determining the winner of the presidential election, much as they now influence the makeup of Congress through gerrymandering. Actually, increasing the power of state legislatures in the selection of the president can be argued to be a good thing, because it would help restore some of the power of the states in their relationship with the federal government." That’s the real argument for maintaining the Electoral College: power to the states. What’s a little gerrymandering?
It should be noted that Madison initially favored popular election. Below is an excerpt from Madison’s notes made during the Constitutional Convention (He refers to himself in the third person).[8]  It is important not only to note his preference then for popular election,[9] but to show one of the origins of the electoral compromise.
After rejecting election of the President by the Congress, Madison said this: "He was disposed for these reasons to refer the appointment to some other source. The people at large was in his opinion the fittest in itself. It would be as likely as any that could be devised to produce an Executive Magistrate of distinguished Character. The people generally could only know & vote for some Citizen whose merits had rendered him an object of general attention & esteem."
However, he was forced to compromise: "There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of the Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to fewest objections." In other words, slaves could not vote, and the Southern white population worried that it would be outvoted. Using the electoral system and counting a slave as 3/5 of a person in allocating electoral votes solved that.
If original intent or original expectations are significant, then the Electoral College would not be of great importance, as it was assumed that most elections would end up in the House. As Madison put it in Federalist 39, "The eventual election, again, is to be made by that branch of the legislature which consists of the national representatives; . . ."
A political process can be judged by its origins, which does not speak well for the electoral system, and it must be judged by its results, which returns us to the recent election. Here is Hamilton’s expectation, in Federalist 68, for the electoral college: "The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. . . . It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue." Does that describe the new President?
Abandoning the Electoral College would not be without potential problems, but they are soluble, and it is time to acknowledge that we are a democratic republic.



Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language (1989) refers, in its version of this definition of a republic, to "a state, especially a democratic state."




9. In a letter of 1826, Madison reversed course and expressed a preference for the electoral system over popular vote.