How Can Anyone Still Be Supporting This Guy?

It boggles the minds of some how Donald Trump still has support among the electorate. After all the things that have come out about him, from being beholden to foreign banks to the bragging about committing sexual assault, surely at this point his support should be in the single digits…. But there’s still a significant portion of America that still wants the least suitable major party candidate we’ve ever had to be President.

Why? What are they thinking? What can their reasons possibly be?

Let me try to put myself in their shoes.

I’m not talking about the Deplorables – those who agree with his racist and xenophobic demagoguery. One hopes that their numbers really are an insignificant component of his supporters. There are also the die-hard Republican loyalists. These people would vote for a dead squirrel if it was a GOP candidate. There’s nothing that can be done to convince them to vote otherwise. Nor can anyone really do something about the rabid Clinton haters. They’ve been brainwashed by the “Right Wing Conspiracy Machine” and have totally fallen for the Anti-Clinton line. Nothing you can say to promote Clinton as even just a worthy candidate will change their minds.

But that cannot account for all of Trump’s support. There’s got to be something more going on here.

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Book Review: Ballot Battles

BALLOT BATTLES: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States
Edward B. Foley
Oxford University Press
(c) 2016

While all the hubbub over our elections and voting (so far) has to do with access to the ballot box, Foley argues that what happens after the votes have been cast is just as important.

A professor of constitutional and election law at Ohio State, Foley has chronicled all the disputed elections of national importance since the 1790s. Doctored ballots, bogus returns, stuffed ballot boxes, the works. And not just that sort of shenanigans, but cases where the result was so close that there absolutely had to be a recount. When the first count was done in Virginia’s attorney general election in 2013, the margin of victory was a mere 32 votes….

His style, as befits a law professor, is rather dry and tedious at first. It’s not an easy read, but you’ll get used to it after a while. The long slog through history is important to his thesis – disputed elections are not as rare as one would think (or hope), so we had better be prepared for the next one.

Foley notes that we do not have a standard system in place to resolve disputed elections. We’ve had them too often for it to be done on an ad hoc basis. Having a high office go unfilled while the recounting goes on and on deprives people of representation, and can even have the government come to a halt. The Senate election in Minnesota in 2008 wasn’t resolved for seven months – and that, according to Foley, was one of the ones that was handled properly.

Reading Foley’s accounts of recent disputed elections makes it clear (at least to this reader) that absentee or mail-in ballots (which some advocate as a way to increase voter participation) is most definitely NOT the way to go. Not only are those types of ballots the most susceptible to chicanery, they are also the most problematic when it comes to figuring out the voter’s actual intent. They depend on people accurately and completely following instructions. The 2004 gubenatorial election in Washington, which when the dust settled had a margin of victory of just 137 votes, should serve as a case study of everything that can go wrong with mail-in ballots.

Foley does propose a solution. Mandate an automatic recount whenever the margin of victory is below a certain threshold. Have rules and deadlines covering challenges and appeals. Select a tribunal (and he really does mean a panel of only three people) to supervise the entire process. He admits it won’t be perfect, but it’s better than the “playing-it-by-ear” that we have now. Given how partisan our politics have become, there’s no doubt that we will continue to have disputed elections for the foreseeable future.

On the Electoral College – 2

Last time, for those of you not paying attention or somehow reluctant to scroll down and see the last post, I discussed the Electoral College and its historical background, and how it means we don’t elect our president by a direct popular vote.

There are two things to keep in mind when contemplating a reform of the system. First, changing it would require a Constitutional Amendment. You’re just not going to get enough small states (the ones that benefit from the current system) to go along and voluntarily give up influence.

Secondly, though, nowhere in the Constitution does it say how a state must choose its electors. So if one wants to try to reform the Electoral College, the way to do it is in the selection process in the individual states.

There are a two proposals that have been getting serious consideration.
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On the Electoral College – I

As Election Day gets closer and closer, we’re starting to see more and more references to “polling numbers”. “This candidate has a six point lead, up from four a week ago.” “A new poll narrows the gap between the candidates.” Things like that. But these polls and their numbers are grossly misleading. In addition to the inherent biases in the polls, they all overlook one simple but important thing.

We do not choose our president by direct popular vote.

We never have.

There’s this thing called the Electoral College. When you vote, you are actually choosing a set of electors who have sworn to vote for the candidate you have chosen. Not that big a deal, except there’s a distinct imbalance in the Electoral College. Smaller states have a disproportionate amount of electors, and therefore slightly more influence than they should based solely on population.

How that came about is a matter of history, and reveals something about the true nature of the United States.
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Questions for the Presidential Debates

We’re just a couple of days away from the first Presidential Debate. They’ve become a regular feature of the campaign. They’re not just good theater, and a flub in one can ruin a candidate – but they provide the only direct comparison between the main candidates. In the rest of the campaign, they don’t face each other. It’s all speeches and ads.

True, they are formal and stage-managed. But consider them to be the “job interview” portion of the task of applying for the job of President. Just like a job interview, you get to see the candidates in person, in a format where they aren’t the ones in control of the situation.

As always, I have questions I’d love to ask the candidates if I ever had the chance.

First, some questions for both of them:
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In Sickness and in Health

This past weekend, while the press was once again ignoring all the many scandals surrounding and – to put it mildly – all the “misstatements” from Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton decided that being at a 9/11 memorial ceremony was worth toughing out a mild case of pneumonia.

She wasn’t able to do so and had to be helped off the scene, leading to yet another round of questions about her health and “fitness” for the Office of President.

In all the hubbub, shouldn’t one be asking why we care about a candidate’s health in the first place?
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MOVIE REVIEW: My Neighbor Totoro (Japan, 1988)

You know, I’m finding it difficult to understand why this animated kids’ movie is so well-liked by both people and critics. It’s got none of the things you expect and love from both animated films and kid movies. It’s billed as a fantasy, but even the non-fantastic elements reveal that it takes place in some crazy Bizarro World.

Let’s take things from the top, shall we?

The movie opens with a really lively and bouncy theme song, so you are deluded into thinking all will be right. But that’s the only song in the movie! There’s no other singing or musical number that they can sell to the kids (or their parents).

It goes downhill quickly from there. We see a father and his two daughters in a dangerously overloaded truck as they move to a new home in a small farming village. If this were a normal movie, the kids would be bickering amongst themselves, and whining to their barely tolerated dad about how they hate leaving all their friends behind and moving to someplace out in the middle of nowhere. But they are actually a happy family! Insane!

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You’ve Forgotten Them Already, Haven’t You

Assuming you knew about them in the first place….

One top medalist from every country that won a medal at the Rio Olympics.

If you won your country’s only medal, you’re in.

If you won your country’s highest medal (gold > silver > bronze), you’re in.

After that, it’s pretty much personal preference. I did try to choose a good variety of sports, and those athletes who won multiple medals.

I tried to be consistent with the captions. It’s not really easy when you’re trying to put this together as quickly as possible so it doesn’t get dated. I hope I at least got everyone’s names right.

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First Time Gold

In a lot of ways, the Olympics is about Firsts. First to cross the finish line, coming in first place in a tournament…. There are also the first times a sport has been played at the Olympics.

Some of the best “firsts” happen in the medal ceremonies, when a nation’s anthem gets played for the first time to mark that nation’s first gold medal. In Rio, this happened nine times. Ten, if you count the “Independent Olympic Athlete” team.
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So, Who Won the Olympics?

So, Who Won the Olympics?

This question pops up every two years at the conclusion of the Games (either Winter or Summer). The simple answer is whichever nation got the most medals. Usually, as was the case this time, it’s the United States. This achievement is crowed by people who seem to believe that success in an international sporting competition somehow validates a nation’s greatness. Or that individual athletic achievement only matters when your name is Michael Phelps or Simone Biles.

Let’s be fair. The United States is one of the most populous nations in the world. We have a truly vast pool of talent to draw on. And our large, vibrant, and robust economy means that when talent does appear, we can offer the best in training, technology, and equipment to help those aspiring athletes reach greatness. Well, at least in the sports we care about….

Gee, if only there were some way to take population size and economic factors into account. I wonder what the Medals Table would look like then… Continue reading