Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day







Tuesday, October 15, 2019


October 15, 2019
 Does anyone have any idea what Trump is up to regarding Turkey, Syria and the Kurds?  The mystery began when Our Leader decided — if any of his blithering outbursts can be described as decisions — to allow Turkey to invade the Kurdish area of northen Syria.  As an article in The New York Times summarized it, “the White House said on Sunday [October 6] that President Trump had given his endorsement for a Turkish military operation that would sweep away American-backed Kurdish forces near the border in Syria.”  American forces which have protected the Kurds would have been in the way. “Administration officials . . indicated that the 100 to 150 United States military personnel deployed to that area would be pulled back in advance of any Turkish operation . . . .” 
 In the sanitized language of the press secretary, "Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial 'Caliphate,' will no longer be in the immediate area." Turkey proceeded to invade.  Later, most of the American forces were scheduled to leave Syria.
 The withdrawal was in aid, supposedly, of Trump’s desire to reduce our involvement in the Middle East.  Then, again, accommodating Turkey may stem from his personal financial interests. In December, 2015, he admitted that motivation: “I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers . . . .” [74]  Or, he may have decided to reward his buddy Putin; Russia is among the winners in this debacle.  With the Donald, there are various possible rationales for his actions; only the good of this country or our international reputation seem to be ruled out.
Perhaps Saudi Arabia, where we are sending more troops, doesn’t qualify as Middle Eastern in his geography.   He justified deserting the Kurds by pointing out inanely that they didn’t help us on D-Day.  I doubt that the Saudis were there either, but they were very much in evidence on 9-11, which conveniently is forgotten, as is the murder of a Saudi-American journalist.
The willingness of Congressional Republicans and conservative Christians to support Trump has been and remains a puzzle, but it seemed to have reached the breaking point for many, who condemned his desertion of the Kurds.  They may now return to fawning, as Trump, in a characteristic flip flop, threatened to punish Turkey for doing what he allowed it to do.  
As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch over...
 ....the captured ISIS fighters and families. The U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!
        8:38 AM - Oct 7, 2019

Trump signed an order on Monday, October 14, imposing sanctions on Turkey.  He issued this statement at 12:55 p.m.:
This Order will enable the United States to impose powerful additional sanctions on those who may be involved in serious human rights abuses, obstructing a ceasefire, preventing displaced persons from returning home, forcibly repatriating refugees, or threatening the peace, security, or stability in Syria.
However, continuing to demonstrate that he has no clue, at 12:10 p.m. that day he had returned to justifying his original act, in this tweet:
After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria. Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land. I said to my Generals, why should we be fighting for Syria . . . .
....and Assad to protect the land of our enemy? Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!

(Actually, Syria is about 6,000 miles from Washington DC, and Saudi Arabia is about 6,700, so distance doesn’t have much to do with his affinities).  He seems unaware that our forces were not fighting for Assad.  Leaving aside whether ISIS is entirely defeated, and what Trump had to do with it, abandoning the Kurdish area resulted in losing control of ISIS prisoners, who may be free to do more damage.  
A dumber move, even given his supposed priorities, hardly could be imagined.  Apparently someone pointed that out to him, for at 4:14 a.m. on October 14, he tweeted this regarding the prisoners, adding incoherent comments for good measure:
Kurds may be releasing some to get us involved. Easily recaptured by Turkey or European Nations from where many came, but they should move quickly. Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!
If this episode, underscoring Trump’s incompetence and his dire effect on American reputation and security, doesn’t cause large permanent desertions from the fold, nothing will.

___________________

74.  https://www.huffpost.com/entry/conflict-of-interest-donald-trump-syria-kurds-turkey_n_5d9bb7bfe4b0fc935edf 5be0



Thursday, October 10, 2019


October 8, 2019

On June 27, the Supreme Court decided Rucho v. Common Cause, in which it declared, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, that it will not interfere with partisan gerrymandering.  That probably should not have been a surprise; the Court already had declared its lack of interest in protecting the right to vote. 

In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the Court, again speaking through Roberts, struck down part of the Voting Rights Act which imposed restrictions — known as pre-clearance requirements — on changes in voting procedures by jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination.  The Court’s ruling had the predictable effect: “A new report . . . from The Leadership Conference Education Fund examined 757 of the 860 counties that were covered by pre-clearance requirements. They found that since Shelby, nearly 1200 polling places in those counties, mostly in minority communities, have been shuttered.”[73]  The Court’s facilitation of that step backward was based on a misreading and misapplication of the Tenth Amendment, the last refuge for states-righters.

In Rucho, the Chief Justice was joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and  Kavanaugh.  Justice Kagan wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ginsberg, Breyer and Sotomayor, forming a conservative-liberal split.

The case involved gerrymandering in Maryland (favorable to Democratic candidates) and North Carolina (favoring Republicans).  Each disfranchised voters by deliberately placing them in districts in which the candidate of their chosen party could not be elected, in effect denying them a vote. “Voters and other plaintiffs in North Carolina and Maryland challenged their States’ congressional districting maps as unconstitutional  partisan gerrymanders. . . . The District Courts in both cases ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and the defendants  appealed directly to [the Supreme] Court.”  Should such maps be ruled invalid?

The Court ducked the question, first holding it to be beyond its authority and ability, i.e., nonjusticiable:
Sometimes . . . “the  judicial  department  has  no  business  entertaining  the  claim  of  unlawfulness — because the question is entrusted to one of the political branches or involves no judicially enforceable rights.” Vieth v. Jubelirer, 541 U. S. 267, 277 (2004) (plurality opinion). In such a case the claim is said to present a ‘political question’ and to be nonjusticiable — outside the courts’  competence  and  therefore  beyond  the  courts’  jurisdiction. Baker v. Carr, 369 U. S. 186, 217 (1962).  Among the political question cases the Court has identified are those that lack “judicially  discoverable and manageable standards for resolving [them].” Ibid.

Both citations are misleading.  The Vieth opinion, of four Justices only, is not precedent on the issue of justiciability.  (Later in his opinion, Roberts acknowledged that Davis v. Bandemer, 478 U. S. 109 (1986), held such claims justiciable). 

Baker v. Carr  (which established the one-person, one-vote rule) found a “political question” to be justiciable. A Tennessee law apportioned the members of the General Assembly among the state's counties. Plaintiffs claimed that, because of a failure for many years to reapportion, despite changes in population, they were “denied the equal protection of the laws accorded them by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States by virtue of the debasement of their votes." 369 U.S. 186 at 187-8.  The Court held “that the complaint's allegations of a denial of equal protection present a justiciable constitutional cause of action upon which appellants are entitled to a trial and a decision. The right asserted is within the reach of judicial protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.”  369 U.S. at 237. 

If the Chief Justice had followed Baker v. Carr — rather than relying on a rule Baker found inapplicable — he would have found the present claim to be within the Court’s powers.

The next argument against action, which distinguishes Baker rather than misquoting it, is that “political gerrymandering” is per-missible:
Partisan  gerrymandering claims have proved far  more difficult to adjudicate. The basic reason is that, while it is illegal for a jurisdiction to depart from the one-person, one-vote rule, or to engage in racial discrimination in districting, ‘a jurisdiction may engage in constitutional political gerryman-dering’. Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U. S. 541, 551  (1999).

Hunt did recite the supposed rule, but it added a footnote stating, “This Court has recognized, however, that political gerrymandering claims are justiciable under the Equal Protection Clause.”

Leaving justiciability aside, what is Roberts’ position on partisan gerrymandering?  What does he mean by “constitutional political gerrymandering?”  His comment last quoted continues:
See also Gaffney v. Cummings, 412 U. S. 735, 753 (1973) (recognizing that ‘[p]olitics and political considerations are inseparable from districting and apportionment’). To hold that legislators cannot take partisan interests into account when drawing district lines would essentially countermand the Framers’ decision to entrust districting to political entities.

Does “taking partisan interests into account” mean that redistricting to gain partisan advantage is permissible?  If so, why?  The lack of clarity in Roberts’ position, and in the comments in some of the cases, may stem in part from a tendency to confuse “political” and “partisan,” as shown by the preceding quote.  Conflating them suggests that, because political entities draw district lines, they have a license to put a partisan thumb on the scale.  “It  would be idle .  .  .  to contend that any political consideration taken into account in fashioning a reapportionment plan is sufficient to invalidate it,” Roberts declared, quoting Gaffney.

Even if partisan intent, identified as such, is a predominant factor, there is no constitutional issue:         
       [D]etermining that lines were drawn on the basis of partisanship does not indicate that the  districting was improper.  A  permissible  intent — securing partisan advantage — does not become constitutionally impermissible, like racial discrimination, when that permissible intent “predominates.”

Something (undefined) more than a predominant partisan motive is required.  Again, why?  What is the basis for putting partisanship in a protected category?

Even assuming that some degree of partisanship is inevitable and permissible, where do we go from there?   “The ‘central problem’ is not determining whether a jurisdiction has engaged in partisan gerrymandering.  It is ‘determining when political gerrymandering has gone too far.’ Vieth, 541 U. S. at 296 (plurality opinion).” (Note again the confusing use of “political”and “partisan”).  Or, as Roberts puts it without quotation, “At what point does permissible partisanship become unconstitutional?”

We don’t know.  The Chief Justice noted that the Maryland and North Carolina cases “involve blatant examples of partisanship driving districting decisions.” Is blatancy of partisan gerrymandering enough to attract the Court’s attention?  No. It wouldn’t know how to react; it wouldn’t have any rule to follow; there is no test for excessiveness.

His argument on that issue at first was that no test proposed by a court could be legitimate, “because the Constitution supplies no objective measure for assessing whether a districting map treats a political party fairly.”  That can’t be taken seriously.  Courts routinely make judgments for which there is no explicit measure in the Constitution.  Perhaps realizing that, Roberts turned to a critique of the methods proposed in this case. “Appellees and the dissent propose a number of ‘tests’ for evaluating partisan gerrymandering claims,  but none meets the need for a limited and precise standard that is judicially discernible and manageable.  And none provides a solid grounding for judges to take the extraordinary step of reallocating power and influence between political parties.”  
The first sentence raises a question of fact, or judgment, to which the dissent answers: there are tests which will determine, in the words the Chief Justice adopted from Vieth, “when political gerrymandering has gone too far.”  The second is misleading; the effect of applying the tests proposed is not to reallocate power and influence, but to prevent such power from creating future partisan advantage. 

In another evasive move, — citing a non-majority opinion — the Chief Justice asserted that the plaintiffs were, in effect, applying an improper reference point:
Explicitly or implicitly, a districting map is alleged to be unconstitutional because it makes it too  difficult for one party to translate statewide support into seats in the legislature. But  such  a  claim  is based on a ‘norm that does not exist’ in our electoral system — “statewide elections for  representatives along party lines.” [Davis  v.] Bandemer,  478 U. S., at 159 (opinion of O’Connor, J.). Partisan gerrymandering claims invariably sound in a desire for proportional representation.

Here is the dissent’s reaction to Roberts’ declaration that there are no manageable tests and its response to the proportionality issue:
[I]n throwing up its hands, the majority misses something  under  its  nose:  What  it  says  can’t  be  done  has  been  done.  Over  the  past  several  years, federal courts across the country . . . have  largely converged on a standard for adjudicating partisan  gerrymandering claims . . . . The  standard  does not use any judge-made conception of electoral fairness — either proportional representation  or  any  other; instead, it takes as its baseline a State’s own criteria of fairness, apart from partisan gain.  And by requiring plaintiffs to make difficult showings relating to both purpose and effects, the standard invalidates the most extreme, but only the most extreme, partisan gerrymanders.

The details are discussed below.

The Chief Justice offered three more reasons for avoiding a decision. First, intervening in gerrymandering issues “would be unlimited in scope and duration—it  would recur over and over again around the country with each new round of districting, for state as well as federal representatives.”  This is the time-worn flood-of-litigation excuse, which becomes no more convincing with repetition.

Another excuse for inaction is that there are ways other than Supreme Court decisions to combat gerrymandering.  The  states (which apparently can find standards invisible to the Court) are actively addressing the issue. “One way they are doing so is by placing power to draw electoral districts in the hands of independent commissions.” This exercise in passing the buck is surprising, given that Roberts argued, in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (2015), that redistricting commissions are unconstitutional.  Apparently he had forgotten that by June of this year.  

Finally: “Consideration of the impact of today’s ruling on democratic principles cannot ignore the effect of the  unelected and politically unaccountable branch of the Federal  Government assuming such an extraordinary and unprecedented role.”   Such modesty seems to appear only in cases the Court wishes to avoid.  However, Roberts wanted us to be aware that, although the Court will not act, it recognizes the problem. “Our conclusion does not condone  excessive partisan gerrymandering,” he said, making an evaluative comment for which he claims there is no basis.    

Neither opinion in Rucho is a model of legal draftsmanship.  The majority opinion is less an analysis than a list of reasons not to perform one.   The dissent could have presented its argument more clearly in fewer words and, at one point, it doesn’t entirely make sense.  This is the passage in question, referring to the District Courts in this case:
Both . . . courts (like others around the country) used basically the same three-part  test to decide whether the plaintiffs  had made out a vote dilution claim. As many legal standards do, that test has three parts: (1) intent; (2) effects; and (3) causation. First, the plaintiffs challenging a districting plan must prove that state officials’ “predominant purpose” in drawing a district’s lines was to “entrench [their party] in power” by  diluting the votes of citizens favoring its rival . . . .  Second, the plaintiffs must establish that the lines drawn in fact have the intended effect by “substantially” diluting their votes. . . .  And third, if the plaintiffs make those showings, the State must come up with a legitimate, non-partisan justification to save its map. 

The second set of three doesn’t match the first.  The second is the operative set; its second element in effect combines the second and third elements of the first set.

The first element was not even in controversy: those involved in the schemes made no secret of their partisan aims.  Even the majority acknowledged that the “districting plans at issue here are highly partisan, by any  measure.” 

As to the second element (second set), the dissent described a test:
The  approach—which also has recently been used in Michigan and Ohio litigation—begins by using  advanced computing technology to randomly generate a large collection of districting plans that  incorporate the State’s physical and political geography and meet its declared districting criteria,  except for partisan gain.  For each of those maps, the method then uses actual precinct-level votes from past elections to determine a partisan outcome (i.e., the number of Democratic and Republican  seats that map produces).  

Suppose we now have 1,000 maps, each with a partisan outcome attached to it.   We can line up those maps on a continuum—the most favorable to Republicans on one end, the most favorable to Democrats on the other.  We can then find the median outcome—that is, the  outcome smack dab in the center—in a world with no partisan manipulation.    And we can see where the State’s actual plan falls on the spectrum—at or near the median or way out on one of the tails? The  further out on the tail, the more extreme the partisan distortion and the more significant the vote dilution.

The dissent then applied that to the present case: “Using that approach, the North Carolina plaintiffs offered a boatload of alternative districting plans — all showing that the State’s map was an out-out-out-outlier.”

That the second element was satisfied in Maryland seems clear on its face.
The 2010 census required only a minimal change in the Sixth  District’s  population—the subtraction of about 10,000 residents from more than 700,000.  But instead of making a correspondingly minimal adjustment, Democratic officials re-configured the entire district. They moved 360,000  residents out and another 350,000 in, while splitting some counties for the first time in almost  two  centuries.

The result was that the district changed from 47% registered Republicans, 36% Democrats to 44% registered Democrats and 33% Republicans. “That reversal of the district’s partisan composition translated into four consecutive Democratic victories . . . .” 

The dissent did not indicate how the Maryland case fits into the methodology which it states District Courts have followed recently.  It probably doesn’t so fit, and the decision that the gerrymander of the single Maryland district is unconstitutional is based on an evaluation which has no stated scientific basis.  The redistricting seems no less obviously unlawful for that, but the lack of a statistical measure lends some weight to Roberts’ claim that there is no objective standard.  

In addition, it isn’t clear that the North Carolina test fit that methodology either.  Plaintiffs addressed the second element by means of computer-modeling techniques which “randomly generate a large collection of districting plans that incorporate the State’s physical and political geography  and  meet  its  declared  districting criteria, except for partisan gain.”  For each of those maps, votes from past elections are applied to measure potential partisan outcomes, and the plan at issue is placed on the continuum.  This is the dissent’s summary of the result:       
      One expert produced 3,000 maps, using the criteria that the redistricting committee had used, other than partisan advantage.  Each of the 3,000 maps “would have produced at least one more Democratic House Member than the State’s actual map, and 77% would have elected three or four more.”  A second expert used “more generic districting criteria (e.g., compactness and contiguity of districts). Over 99% of that expert’s 24,518 simulations would have led to the election of at least one more Democrat, and over 70% would have led to two or three more” The North Carolina map was an outlier; plaintiffs’ votes were substantially diluted by reference to neutral models.

That description of the process omits any reference to a median outcome.  Reference to a median may not be necessary to a valid test, but the dissent’s inconsistency doesn’t aid its argument or clarify its proposed test.

The third element presumably was satisfied by default in each case; there is no indication that the states could justify their maps. 

The dissent labeled the result in both states as “extreme partisan gerrymandering,” and the majority called them “blatant,” but that is not enough to prod the majority into action.   Here is another statement by Roberts of its claim that the dissent hadn’t shown where to draw the line:
Even if we were to  accept  the  dissent’s  proposed base-line,  it  would  return  us  to  “the  original unanswerable question (How much political motivation and effect is too much?).”  Vieth,  541  U.  S.,  at  296–297  (plurality  opinion) . . . .  The dissent’s answer says it all: “This much is too much.” . . .  That is not even trying to articulate a standard or rule.

Ignoring for the moment the inconsistency of that statement with the majority’s position, we could conclude that it has merit.   As to North Carolina, the dissent offered a method and demonstrated that the present case is unacceptably extreme, but hasn’t shown where the line is to be drawn, other than under a statistical “outlier.”  As to Maryland, it has shown to any unbiased observer that the manipulated district is unacceptable, but the test seems to be subjective.

However, the majority had no basis for criticism of the dissent’s conclusions, because the majority contend that there is and can be no way to measure excessiveness, no way to measure how much is too much.  They concede that by describing the question as unanswerable.  The only logical response to the dissenters, given the majority’s position, is that they have wasted their time seeking an answer to a phantom question.

If the majority believed that partisan gerrymandering is a serious issue, they would have constructively critiqued the dissent’s position, and a solution might have appeared.  Instead, the majority are so anxious to avoid the issue that no demonstration of partisan excess will move them.
     
The Court’s indifference toward partisan gerrymandering is analogous to a policeman’s watching a robbery and doing nothing because first, he doesn’t think that it is in his district and besides, he thinks that the law prohibits only serious robberies, and he can’t tell how serious this one is.  Also, robberies have been part of American culture from the beginning.  Even if robberies are a bad thing, there will be many more, and he can’t be expected to deal with them over and over.  On the other hand, he’s glad that other towns are defining serious robberies, even though he doesn’t approve of the way some of them are doing it.


__________________________

73. https://shareblue.com/southern-states-1200-polling-places-6-years-supreme-court-voting-rights- act/


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

September 11, 2019
Is conservatism, as a political posture in this country about to self-destruct?  Conservatism fell from Eisenhower to Reagan to Gingrich to Trump; there isn’t much further to go, and no sign of reversal.
American conservatives aren’t alone in declining.  The degenerate, authoritarian form has surfaced in the United Kingdom as well.  Recently, The Seattle Times carried two related articles about the maneuvering of Boris Johnson which revealed the similarity between conservative politics here and in the UK.
There the issue is, of course, Brexit.  It forms a parallel with the situation here: rejection of  peaceful, organized, beneficial ties to other countries, the pretense that we can go it alone, an economic isolationism.  The Brexit referendum vote was, like our electoral result, a national declaration of backwardness, but Trump and Johnson have gone further, Trump with — among other follies — tariffs,  Johnson with a no-deal exit.   Here are a few quotes from one of those articles which unintentionally point out the similarities:
Opposition lawmakers argue that Mr. Johnson’s strategy is tempting a disastrous and unpopular no-deal Brexit that could tear apart the United Kingdom, cripple some British industries and throw the economy into a recession, while setting off shortages of food and medicines.

We may not lack for food and medicine, but the effect of Trump’s tariffs on industry and the economy are the same. 
Johnson has arranged to suspend Parliament until just before his exit deadline, stifling debate, showing a contempt for the legislature that matches Trump’s.  As a result, “An immediate challenge to the prime minister’s action has been filed in Scotland . . . . A former Conservative prime minister, John Major, joined a prominent businesswoman and opposition leaders in another legal challenge . . . .”  Here the UK is copying our tendency to thrash out political issues in court.
The Scottish court ruled today that Johnson’s reason for suspending Parliament was a pretext, concealing the real reasons for the five-week hiatus, and that the move was “unlawful because it had the purpose of stymying Parliament.”  The judges termed the government’s behavior “a clear failure to comply with generally accepted standards of behavior of public authorities,”[70] an apt description of the Trump administration.
The situation in London is serious.  “Still, some analysts say there are ways for a restive Parliament to regain control — namely by voting out Mr. Johnson’s government — if only it stopped dithering.”[71]  Does a dithering legislature sound familiar?
The second article focused on anti-Johnson demonstrations, including one in Northern Ireland, where Johnson is blundering into a fortified border (while Trump attempting to construct one here).  “In Belfast, protesters gathered outside city hall. Brigitte Anton, 52, said that people think Johnson is ‘a bit of laugh and a buffoon’,“ a perfect parallel.
She went on: “I think he thinks he can get away with things, that people won’t notice, or people will be too surprised or scared to do anything . . .”  Again, the description fits our Leader. “Dictator? I would say not yet but it is developing toward that.”[72]   As to that comment, consider Trump’s order, by tweet, of course —what a timid dictator — to American companies to leave China.
The demise of the Republican Party has been predicted from time to time, and a new book by Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, renews the forecast: RIP GOP: How the New America Is Dooming the Republicans; he thinks that a blue wave in 2020 will shatter the Republican Party. (He is not the first to use that title; RIP GOP: The Decline and Fall of a Once-Great Party, by Martin Schram was published in 2017).  Greenberg repeated the prediction in a New York Times column entitled “The Republican Party is Doomed.”
However, the GOP has a powerful ally in the electoral college.  Predictions by Democrats that demographics would bring them to power were at least partly delusional and helped to misdirect attention toward ethnicity and away from economic inequity.  They need to stop helping the GOP to survive by ignoring working people and middle America.

________________________________

70. https://beta.washingtonpost.com/world/scottish-court-rules-johnsons-suspension-of-britains- parliament- was-illegal/2019/09/11/84265a36-d40a-11e9-8924-1db7dac797fb_story.html?wpisrc=nl _most&wpmm=1

71. Preceding quotes from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/31/world/europe/uk-johnson- constitution-brexit.html?searchResultPosition=6

72. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/anger-over-brexit-push-without-parliament- reaches-boris-johnsons-doorstep/2019/08/31/89e04762-cb67-11e9-9615-8f1a32962e04_story.html



Saturday, August 24, 2019


August 24, 2019
Are popular votes a good thing?  When it comes to deciding issues or making policy, we could cite examples pro and con.  The Brexit fiasco is an argument against referenda.  My state uses popular votes freely, by initiative and referendum and to authorize property levies. That system produces mixed results.  A negative example is the repeal, some years ago, of the state inheritance tax.
On the plus side is Initiative I-1639, passed last year, which imposed gun controls; it accomplished something important which the Legislature had failed to do.  However, it also demonstrated the limitations of legislation by initiative; the proposed law was far too complex for most voters to fully comprehend and, unlike the legislative process, there was no forum for clarifying discussion.[67]  As to legislation, it’s better, on average, when the will of the people is expressed through representatives.  Is indirect voting best as well in choosing a president, or should we trust and empower the people?
The question can be posed by two quotes attributed to, or borrowed by, Winston Churchill: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter,” but “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried.”  To frame the dilemma another way: On August 16, I noted the deficiency in public political knowledge revealed by surveys.  That hardly is a basis for arguing that we need more democracy, but we can’t wait for better education to decide whether the people should vote for president directly or through an undemocratic filter, the electoral college.
When I’ve seen or heard the terms “populism” and “populist,” I’ve thought they were misused, often in a sense evoking white nationalism or something equally reactionary.  However, we usually think of our nation as populist in the sense that the people rule.  Do they?  The fact that twice in sixteen years the electoral college canceled the popular vote demonstrates that we do not have a system in which the people genuinely choose their President.  The advent of Donald Trump is sufficient proof that we need more democracy, notwithstanding the shortcomings of the electorate; their choice was better, as it was in 2000.
The electoral college reflects the structure of Congress, which is only a semi-democratic institution.  Although allocation of House seats is based on population, adjusted every ten years by the census, each state has two Senators regardless of population, which varies widely, so representation in the Senate is anything but equal; one person, one vote does not apply there.  Senators are, since adoption of Amendment XVII, elected by the people of their states, so a popular vote is involved, but that does not eliminate the inherent inequality of representation.
California, with 39,747,267 people has two Senators (one per 19,873,634 people), as does Wyoming, with 572,381 (0ne per 286,191).[68]   If the states were significant entities or had historical status, the iscrepancy might be justifiable.  That argument can be made for the original thirteen, but west of there, boundaries often are arbitrary. Whatever the reasons for the size, shape and topography of the states, the makeup of the Senate distorts the electoral college.
The electoral system allocates to each state votes equal to the total of its Senators plus Representatives, thereby copying, in diluted form, the anti-populist bias of the Senate.  California has 55 electoral votes, one per 722,678 people, Wyoming 3, one per 190,794.  The ten smallest states by population (including the District Of Columbia) have 8,748,783 residents combined and 32 electoral votes,[69] one per 273,399 people.  The ten largest have 178,350,729 residents and 256 votes, one per 696,683.  It makes no sense.
However, we’re stuck with the makeup of the states and the Senate, and probably with the electoral college, all of which have constitutional status, so three programs are crucial to restoration of democracy; the first is adoption of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) to neutralize the electoral college.
  The member states of NPVIC pledge to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, thus converting the electoral college into a populist institution.  The compact will take effect when adopted by states possessing 270 electoral votes, a majority of the total, 538.  It has been enacted into law in 16 states (including DC), possessing 196 electoral votes, and will take effect if states with 74 votes are added.  The chances are difficult to evaluate; several states have gone part way, for example by passing the bill in one house, but Colorado now will vote on a referendum to repeal its adoption.
The other two changes necessary to government by the people are recapture of the Senate and the White House by Democrats and major restrictions on filibusters and holds, so that the Senate can come closer to conducting the people’s business.

__________________________

67. My comments on the initiative are in the post of 12/30/18.

68. State populations:
http://worldpopulationreview.com/states/
69.  Electoral votes: https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/allocation.html




Friday, August 16, 2019


August 16, 2019
Orwell’s 1984 is a fantasy, but this country under Trump is beginning to have an eerie and worrisome similarity to Oceania under Big Brother.  The novel described the mind set of a citizen:
In the ramifications of Party doctrine she had not the faintest interest.  Whenever he began to talk of the [party line], she became bored and confused and said that she never paid any attention to that kind of thing.  One knew it was all rubbish, so why let oneself be worried by it?  She knew when to cheer and when to boo, and that was all that one needed. [58]
That could fit anyone at a Trump rally; this could describe the Base:
In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it.  They could be made to accept the most flagrant violation of reality, because they. . . were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.[59]
The parallel is not complete; the political situation in Oceania more nearly resembled that of the USSR under Stalin than of Trump’s America.  Big Brother had control the Donald only can dream of.  However, his faithful do seem to be limited to knowing when to cheer and when to boo.
The Appendix to 1984 describes the principles of Newspeak: “words such as honour, justice, morality, internationalism, democracy, science, and religion had simply ceased to exist. . . .” Without much exaggeration, we can say that they have been suppressed in Trumpland as well, with the exception of “religion,” which has been redefined into a category of politics.  In addition, “all words grouping  themselves round  the  concepts  of  objectivity  and  rationalism  were  contained  in  the  single  word oldthink.”[60]  That certainly fits.  “Ultimately  it  was  hoped  to  make  articulate  speech  issue  from the  larynx  without  involving  the  higher  brain  centres  at all.”[61]  Appled to written speech, that could describe Trump’s tweets.
Why do Trump’s followers swallow his lies?  There are several factors: fear, bias, resentment of the “elitism” of liberals, a sort of class solidarity, but also ignorance about history and political concepts, a failing shared with much of the population.
As to the public’s ignorance, various studies have found the following:
• only 13 percent knew when the U.S. Constitution was ratified, even on a multiple-choice exam, with most thinking it occurred in 1776.
• 60 percent didn’t know which countries the United States fought in World War II.
• 57 percent did not know how many Justices serve on the Supreme Court.
• 37 percent believed that Benjamin Franklin invented the lightbulb.
• 12 percent thought General Dwight Eisenhower led troops in the Civil War; 6 percent thought it was the Vietnam War.[62]
• only half of adults could name the three branches of government. [63]
• more than a third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place.
• half believed that either the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 were before the American Revolution;[64]
• 41 percent could not identify Auschwitz as a Nazi concentration or extermination camp.  As with other surveys, young people were less well informed than their elders: among millennials, 66 percent could not identify Auschwitz.[65]
Does a college education help?  Not much, apparently.
• One-third of college graduates were unaware that FDR introduced the New Deal.
• Nearly half did not know that Teddy Roosevelt played a major role in the construction of the Panama Canal.
• Over one-third could not place the American Civil War in the correct 20-year time-frame.
• Nearly half could not identify correctly the term lengths of U.S. senators and representatives. [66]
There’s more, and it’s all depressing.  How can a democracy function, how can rule by a demagogue be avoided if so many citizens know so little?  The internet can’t be blamed for all of this; the educational system, top to bottom, needs attention.

________________________________ 

58. 1984, Part II, Chapter 5; in the omnibus George Orwell, p. 836
59.
Ibid.
60. Id., at 921
61.
Id,. at 923
62.
https://woodrow.org/news/national-survey-finds-just-1-in-3-americans-would-pass-citizen ship-test/
63.
 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-much-us-history-do-americans-actually-kn ow-less-you-think-180955431/#Aim8aA7mLsEUFsHX.99
64.
 https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/06/americans-vs-basic-historical-know ledge/340761/
65.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/04/12/two-thirds-of- millen nials-dont-know-what-auschwitz-is-according-to-study-of-fading-holocaust-knowledge/
66.
  https://www.goacta.org/news/the-danger-ignorance-of-history-poses-to-the-future-of-a-free- society