Independent Country

James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Elect the Electoral College for Real

Every Presidential election year, there's a call to get rid of the electoral college. Supporters of Hillary Clinton this year can point to her winning the popular vote by 2 million votes over the presumptive winner, Donald Trump.

I'm loath  to suggest a fix to something I'm opposed to in principle. I think America would be great if the federal government, including the Presidency, was abolished completely. It's like taxes. Taxation is theft. Immoral. But if there are to be taxes, there are ways I'd prefer they're raised.

Electing the President is similar. There are some ways that are less bad than others. And I think "we" should choose the Presidency the same a bill becomes a law.

A bill must pass the House, which represents the people in districts of roughly equal population. Then it must pass the Senate, which is represented by two per state, regardless of the state's population.

Few ever complain about this, even though there's some imbalance to it. In strict, representative democracy terms, it's imbalanced toward less-populated states. But that's how a federation works.

The Electoral College is constituted the same way as Congress. A state's Electoral College delegation, that elects the President, is equal to its Congressional delegation. The President that signs a bill into law represents the country in the same way Congress represents the country.

The question, however, is: why should we the people even indirectly cast ballots for the President? Why should the Electoral College be constituted that way? If anything, it makes the Presidency too powerful. The President often acts with reckless abandon because he has the stamp of democratic legitimacy. But his job is largely administrative, not legislative. Neither "democratic" nor "republican" theory implies or demands the people elect their law enforcement officers, chief diplomat, or top military commander. To do so is to invite demagogues to run for the office.

But if not the people directly, then should vote for President? People that "the people" trust. Not just once, for for the long haul: elect Electors of the Electoral College to six-year terms.

To begin, there would be adjustments where some electors would be limited to two-year or four-year terms. But over six years it would adjust. To project forward, here's what we'd see:

2028: Electors representing each Congressional District would be elected by the people. They would vote in the Electoral College in 2028 AND 2032. Their obligation ends there, but their terms "expire" in 2034.

2030: One elector representing each state is elected. They would vote in the Electoral College in the 2032 and 2036 elections, after which their terms expire.

3032: Another elector from each state is elected. They would vote in the Electoral College in the 2032 and 2036 elections, and their terms formally expire in 2038.

2034: Electors representing each Congressional District would be elected by the people again. And so on.

The people wouldn't be electing the President, but would elect people to elect the President, and trust them to do it twice. The circumstances of the country, the rising stars and flashes in the pan, the politicians who fall from grace --  the Electors would be considering all of that. And just like we theoretically do with Senators with economic and geo-strategic changes, we would trust the Electors to adapt to these changing circumstances when they consider the next President.

How would this be better than the current system?

For starters, the person elected President by the Electors would probably be more "qualified" without the stench of scandal, demonstrated incompetence, or inexperience.

As the Electors' terms would be staggered, representing shifting political winds from the time they were elected, "compromise" candidates would probably come forward. The President may be both more competent but with less ability to command popular consent. He'd have a less ambitious agenda. And because he wasn't popularly elected, he'd be more accountable to Congress. The people would be more willing to see a President impeached because the President doesn't really represent "them" or their favorite party.

And most importantly, we'd build more local interest in "who do we trust to be an Elector" but no national money drain of Presidential debates and primaries that waste our time for 18 months.

A President elected by Electors, and not "The People," would probably be less powerful and less ideological. He'd take care that the laws would be faithfully executed and then get out of the way. That would be a victory for liberty.

But I'm not married to this idea either. I'm just speculating that it'd be better than the system we'd have now, and far better than a direct popular vote.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The power of inexperience

Last week, I predicted Mrs. Clinton would beat Mr. Trump. Two trends seemed to offset each other in the contest. One is that the ticket with more Ivy League degrees wins, and the other is that the "outsider" wins.

While wrong on the prediction, I underestimated just how great a handicap being a Washington "insider" is. The fact is, people don't like a lot of Washington experience in their President.

Only four times in the last fifteen years did someone with more Washington experience prevail in a Presidential election, and all of them were incumbents. They are in bold. Three were incumbents and the other was a sitting Vice President.

Three other incumbents had, even when counting their first four years in office, spent fewer years overall in Washington than their opponent. They all prevailed. Three other incumbents lost, all to candidates with no DC experience.

Three sitting vice Presidents also lost to candidates with fewer year in DC.

The only elections without an incumbent or a sitting vice President were in 2008 and 2016.

2016: Trump over Hillary Clinton
2012: Obama over Romney
2008: Obama over McCain
2004: GW Bush over Kerry
2000: GW Bush over Gore*
1996: Bill Clinton over Dole
1992: Bill Clinton over GHW Bush
1988: GHW Bush over Dukakis
1984: Reagan over Mondale
1980: Reagan over Carter
1976: Carter over Ford
1972: Nixon over McGovern
1968: Nixon over Humphrey
1964: Johnson over Goldwater
1960: JFK over Nixon

Going further back would take more research than I desire. (Who ran against Harding?) But it seems that unless the Presidential election has an incumbent, the "fresher face" has always been preferred for decades.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Election Follies: Other states are dumb

I voted today against the death penalty in Nebraska, against a tax hike/bond question, and for Gary Johnson as President of the United States. I also voted for a consolidation of two county offices.

State legislative, judicial, and local elections are formally non-partisan. Unlike Johnson for President, I knew of no Libertarian Party member, or philosophical libertarian, running. I did not vote in those races.

The voting tools were a pencil and a paper ballot. I was to color the oval beside my choice. Then there was a covering to hide my choices from the election official who deposited my ballot into the box.

And I had to wonder...

What's this about Russians or others hacking the election? While I have no doubt that computers will scan these ballots, there's a definite paper trail backing it up that can be audited.

How do other places not keep things simpler and more tamper proof?

If the election can be hacked in other states, they were inviting it. This isn't blaming a rape victim for wearing skimpy clothes; a state that doesn't have a paper trail invites the hacking. You could say intended it.

I don't know if there will be concerns about how these votes are counted. I have as much confidence in my vote being properly counted as I ever did. That's not to say I have a lot of confidence. I know error or fraud is possible. Maybe all elections are rigged.

But I prefer the false sense of security in a paper ballot to no security at all.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The Third Party Vote Fallacy

Originally published: http://fromthepew.blogspot.com/2016/11/the-third-party-vote-fallacy.html

by Steve Scott

We've all heard the claim that a vote for a third party candidate is a vote for the least desirable major party candidate. A related claim is that not voting at all is a vote for the least desirable major party candidate. Well, these claims are fallacies and I will show that here.

I will set up an election with candidates A, B and C, voter V, and claim maker K. A and B are the major party candidates, and C is a third party candidate.

Let's say voter V votes for candidate C. The claim is made by K that a vote for C is a vote for A. V casts a vote for C, so C gets one vote. But A also gets a vote? How did that happen? A vote must magically appear out of nowhere for this to be true. One vote is cast, but two are received! K needs to convince V of the mathematical equation 1 = 2. But this equation is false, and so is the claim that a vote for C is a vote for A.

Similarly, let's say V does not vote for any candidate. The claim is made by K that not voting is a vote for A. No vote is cast but A gets a vote that, again, magically appears out of nowhere? The equation that must be true is 0 = 1. But this, too, is false, and so is the claim that not voting is a vote for A.

As a result of the above, I would propose the following axiom: Candidates only receive votes that are actually cast for them.

Now, for a slightly different claim, I will add a piece of information that says that both candidates A and B are very undesirable candidates, and that B is "the lesser of two evils" in the eyes of KK makes the claim that not voting for B is a vote for A. The error that K makes here is that K has already attributed V's vote to B according to K's own election plan. K is then guilt-tripping V (because K is attempting to be the lord of V's conscience) for failing to vote according to K's plan. Because a vote is already attributed to B, K believes he can take liberty to subtract a vote from B and claim that it goes to A. This is similar to the bookkeeping practice of subtracting from one column and adding it to another on a ledger. The money was already in the first column and was transferred to another column. But if no money was in the first column to begin with, it cannot be transferred to the second column. This claim is especially pernicious as K need to convince V that both equations of 0 = -1 and 0 = 1 are true. But they are both false, and the claim that not voting for B is a vote for A is doubly false.

One last scenario, the one in which we find ourselves today. We have two candidates, A and B, that are each perceived as being very evil, but with differing opinions as to which is the greater evil. Voters are taking such a stand against the candidate they perceive to be the greater evil that they create a motto such as #NeverA or #NeverB. They will voluntarily vote for a known evil just to prevent another evil from being elected. What is missed in all this is that #NeverA and #NeverB combined is a guarantee that an evil candidate is elected. No such guarantee exists for voter V that does not vote for either A or B, or who votes for a third party candidate. So, #NeverA and #NeverB are greater promoters of evil than the one who refuses to vote for a known evil. It is my hope that people can recognize the common fallacies presented to them each election season and reject them.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Election Prediction: More Ivy-er or more Outsider-er?

[Note: this is a prediction, not advocacy.] 

I see two trends in Presidential elections among the Democratic and Republican nominees:

1. The ticket with the most Ivy League degrees wins. (The Ivy League is Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, & Brow;n, although half of them aren't mentioned here). 
2. When there's no incumbent, the more outsider-ish candidate wins.

Here's the evidence.

1. The first list is updated from JulyHere are the universities that the Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees since 1980 attended. If two schools are listed, the first is the undergraduate school. The Democrat is on the left, the Republican on the right. The winning ticket is in italic. Ivy League schools are in bold. Data from before 2004 and earlier is copied from this 2008 blog post.

2016:  Wellesley, Yale (law) v. Pennsylvania
vp:   Missouri, Harvard (law)  ???  v. Hanover, Indiana U. (law)


2012: Columbia, Harvard (Law) v. Brigham Young, Harvard (Law, MBA)
vp: Delaware, Syracuse (Law) v. Miami (OH)
2008: Columbia, Harvard (Law) v. Naval Academy
vp: Delaware, Syracuse (Law) v. Idaho
2004: Yale, Boston College(law) v. Yale, Harvard(MBA)
vp: NC St., North Carolina v. Wyoming
2000: Harvard v. YaleHarvard(MBA)
vp: Yale v. Wyoming
1996: Georgetown, Yale (law) v. Kansas
vp: Harvard vs. Occidental
1992: Georgetown, Yale (law) v. Yale
vp: Harvard vs. DePauw, Indiana (law)
1988: Swarthmore, Harvard (law) v. Yale
vp: Texas v DePauw, Indiana U (law)
1984: Minnesota v. Eureka
vp: Marymount Manhattan, Fordham (law) vs. Yale
1980: Naval Academy v. Eureka
VP: Minnesota v. Yale


2. Here's updated information from a 2008 post. An "outsider" is considered an outsider relative to the other candidate, usually a governor or former governor with little to zero experience in Washington. They don't usually win against an incumbent, but always beat non-incumbents with more DC experience.

2016: Outsider vs. Insider: Winner: ? 
2012: Outsider vs Incumbent. Winner: Incumbent
2008: Outsider-ish (short-time Senator) vs. insider (longtime Senator): Winner: Outsider 
2004: Insider (longtime Senator) vs. incumbent. Winner: Incumbent
2000: Outsider vs. Incument VP. Winner: Outsider
1996: Insider vs. incumbent. Winner: Incumbent 
1992: Outsider vs. incumbent. Winner: Outsider
1988: Outsider vs. incumbent VP. Winner: Incumbent VP
1984: Insider (recent VP) vs. Incumbent. Winner: Incumbent
1980: Outsider vs. incumbent. Winner: Outsider
1976: Outsider vs. incumbent. Winner: Outsider
1972: Insider vs. incumbent. Winner: Incumbent
1968: "Outsider" (former VP eight years removed from DC) vs. incumbent VP. Winner: Outsider 

Based on these trends, the election between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump looks like a toss-up. Her ticket has more Ivy League degrees, and Mr. Trump's is the outsider. In fact, his"outsider" status is a little too outside in that he's held no elective office or had any government experience at all. Only Wendell Willkie in 1940 is similar, and he lost to the incumbent. 

On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton is herself four years removed from holding any office. If her opponent was a sitting Senator, she would be the "outsider" of the two.

So who will win?

What it comes down to is I see no reason for people who voted for Mr. Obama in 2012 to not vote for Mrs. Clinton. They may be disappointed that a seemingly less shady person like Joe Biden didn't run and get nominated instead, but concern about Mrs. Clinton's ethics likely won't cause one to switch to Mr. Trump, who has his own ethics issues.

There's really nothing that transpired in the last four years to change one's mind about Mr. Obama or the Democratic Party that wasn't known in his first term, and there's nothing about Mrs. Clinton that represents a radical departure.

So if this is about "Obama's third term," Mrs. Clinton has the advantage. The only counter-argument is that Mitt Romney failed to inspire Republicans who failed to vote in 2012 and Mr. Trump may attract them. At the same time, he's lost other Republicans and there is now a stronger third-party and fourth-party presence on the ballot since 2000.

My guess is that Mrs. Clinton wins. But I don't bet.

  


Friday, October 28, 2016

October 28, 2016: What it takes for morality

October 28 in history (via Wikipedia)

1922 – Italian fascists led by Benito Mussolini march on Rome and take over the Italian government.

I wonder if they took offense at being called fascists.

Birthday quote

“As part of 'moral philosophy,' the concept of 'natural liberty' clicks easily into place. Man, as an ethical integer, is either free to choose between good and bad courses within the limits of his circumstances, or he is not. If he is not free, if he can only accept what is handed to him from above (by fate, or by decree of the human agents of fate), then there is not much use in talking about morality or ethics. To make any sense of the idea of morality, it must be presumed that the human being is responsible for his actions-and responsibility cannot be understood apart from the presumption of freedom of choice.” 

John Chamberlain (October 28, 1903 – April 9, 1995)


Happy Birthday songwriter Desmond Child! 


"I couldn't push the button myself."

The conversation at a dinner party last night turned to a question on the Nebraska ballot: the death penalty. It had been abolished by the legislature in 2015 over the veto of Governor Pete Ricketts. Ricketts, a wealthy man, helped fund the ballot initiative to get it restored.

There was no particular moral objection to the death penalty. For me, it's not about "life for life" or vengeance. We kill rabid dogs, don't we? Killing people who have demonstrated they're a threat to others is self-defense.

But that theoretical justification for the death penalty doesn't outweigh the practical concerns which led this conservative state to abolish it for a conservative reason: it doesn't work.

There's the number of innocent people who get convicted of capital crimes, plus the length and cost of the appeals process.

Then someone said this: "I can't support it because I couldn't push the button myself." I don't think she meant she wouldn't do it out of doubts over guilt or innocence. The prisoner could indeed be guilty. She meant she couldn't bring herself to deliberately take a human life.

Fair enough.

If you eat meat, you should be willing to work at a slaughterhouse. And if you support the death penalty, you should be willing to be the executioner.

That's not to say you should want to do it. It might not be your first choice for a job. But if you believe in it, your conscience would permit you to do the work no matter how unpleasant it is.

Just as it's fair to ask death penalty supporters if they'd push the button themselves,  I think it's fair to demand anyone who says "there ought to be a law" to affirm that they'd be willing to personally enforce it. That includes the threat of violence, and the use of violence, up to and including lethal force.

Is your neighbor selling jars of jam from her house without a health inspection?

Is she charging for haircuts without ever having gone to cosmetology school?

Is the street vendor selling in the wrong zone?

Does a freelance repairman accept cash only for his work, which you suspect he doesn't report in his tax filings?

Would you be the one who would, at minimum, ruin their day with an investigation?

Would you be willing to kill them if they resist arrest?

Do you really believe the laws that could get them into trouble are necessary for a peaceful, orderly society?

If your conscience prevents you from being the one to push the lethal injection button, then you don't really believe the death penalty is necessary.

And if you're not willing to kill for a law, you don't believe it's necessary.


















  






  



Thursday, October 27, 2016

October 27, 2016: Post about junk

October 27 in history (via Wikipedia):

2014  Britain withdraws from Afghanistan after the end of Operation Herrick which started on June 20, 2002 after 12 years four months and seven days.

And the U.S. is still there why?

Birthday Quotes

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

“A gentleman does not boast about his junk.”  

- Emily Post (October 27, 1872 – September 25, 1960)

Happy Birthday Simon Le Bon!




Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Flag Follies: Kaepernick, Patriotism and the Patriot Act

National flags do two things: 

  • Identify a nation and its people; for instance, you can tell where a soccer fan is from by the flag he carries with him at the World Cup.  
  • Represent the government of a nation, including its good and bad policies and its wars past and present. 

I could be wrong, but my perception is that the U.S. flag has more militaristic connotations than most. The National Anthem isn't about the nation, but its flag in a battle. Any "insult" directed at the flag, or political protest involving the flag, is perceived not as an insult to the government, but at servicemen and veterans. 
And as if the Star-Spangled Banner isn't enough, children are pressured in public school to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to that flag.   

That's not my relationship to the flag. I'm American born, but most of my childhood was in Canada. When I saw the flag, I didn't think about wars that supposedly freed the slaves or ended the Holocaust. I didn't think about the flag standing for "freedom." When I saw the flag, I thought of the nation and its people; I thought of home.    

I've been moved by ceremonies involving the flag. All were at funerals of veterans, where current servicemen folded that flag and presented it to the widow. It was a reminder that the deceased, someone I cared enough about to attend the funeral, could have easily been killed. The ceremony causes one to think of all those who were not fortunate to come back alive. But that's different from attaching any thought that those wars were actually necessary or were fought for high ideals.  

Thus, when anyone, foreign or domestic, "insults" the flag by burning it, or by kneeling during the national anthem, I don't take personal offense and I don't pretend to be offended on behalf of veterans. These are protests against American governmental policy. 

I've been thinking about this since August when 49ers qb Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem in protest of police treatment of blacks. I probably wouldn't have done it. Usually, I'm dispassionately respectful of such proceedings. I stand during pregame performances of the National Anthem. I don't see the upside of calling attention to myself by staying seated. 

But I also think it's a stupid waste of time to play it. It's not performed before concerts or plays or the unveiling of art exhibits, is it? You don't stand at attention and hear it played when you show up at work, do you? So why at sporting events?   

Since the flag does represent the government and its policies, why is it wrong to protest the government by peacefully protesting the playing of the anthem? 

Today is the 15th Anniversary of the signing of the Patriot Act, which provided legal "authority" for the FBI and other law enforcement to infringe on our free speech, privacy, and liberty. If a prominent singer announced she would no longer sing the song about the "land of the free and the home of the brave" until the Patriot Act is repealed, I'd applaud that choice. 

If NFL players and other athletes kneeled at the playing of the national anthem, or otherwise protested the Patriot Act, I would have cheered them on. 

And I would have been even more enthusiastic if they protested the countless wars the U.S. has engaged in over those 15 years.  

After the Edward Snowden revelations, I would have loved to see the Tom Bradys and Aaron Rodgers refusing to stand. More celebrities protesting the Surveillance State might have led to progress in repealing it. 
So what am I to do, tell the Kaepernicks of the world they shouldn't stand because they don't like a system where the "law" has an itchy trigger finger? 

Anyone with common sense understands that such protests are not about veterans or current servicemen. And if you claim that peacefully, quietly taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem is an "inappropriate" form of protest, I'd suspect that what you're really angry about is that there is a protest at all, that you don't agree that there's anything to protest. 

But I'd think it'd be patriotic to protest the Patriot Act by protesting the national anthem. I can only assume that Kaepernick's protest is also for patriotic reasons.
       
And if more Americans surrendered their quasi-religious attachment to their national flag and instead related to it as normal human beings in other countries do, perhaps they would be less offended by the protest and more concerned about what it is that's being protested.