Category Archives: Politics

Sound of Silence

Well, there’s only one thing I can say about the war in Viet Nam.
Sometimes when people go to Vietnam, they go home to their mommas without any legs. Sometimes they don’t go home at all. That’s a bad thing. That’s all I have to say about that.

– Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) at speaker podium. (Forrest Gump, the movie — used here under US Copyright Fair Use law)

In the 1994 box office smash and critically acclaimed movie “Forrest Gump” there is a re-enactment of the massive May, 1970 Anti-War Rally, at the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting pond, on the Mall in Washington, DC. In the movie, the eponymously named lead character is inserted into the speakers’ program, and he gives a short speech. 

Most of the speech was not heard by the crowd.  Movie viewers didn’t hear it either.  That’s because – per script – the sound system was disrupted by an anti-anti-war protestor, disguised as a part of the security detail, just before Tom Hanks, as Forrest Gump, stepped up to the microphone. [Forrest Gump’s unheard speech before the Reflecting Pond anti-war rally, in DC, with the whole scene. — early link was taken down, I suppose for copyright issues.]

That doesn’t mean he didn’t have anything important to say. The words above are what Tom Hanks claims to have said into the dead mike.

I recently came across some old essay notes that reminded me what happened when Wes Studi – a Viet Nam war Veteran, accomplished actor, and full Cherokee Indian – spoke at the 2018 Academy Awards.  The reaction of “the Academy” was if he hadn’t spoken at all.  Hardly louder than crickets.  He was only asking for recognition for films that honor those who fought for freedom around the world – especially when it wasn’t at home.

Much of the US population dealt with Viet Nam war veterans rather disrespectfully, especially from 1968 until about 1980.  Instead of treating them as youthful wide-eyed 18 to 20 year olds, sent off to do their country’s dirty work in a proxy war of the Cold War era, they were spat upon and derided as “baby killers.”  This was most unfair.

Hollywood and the media treated them rather shabbily and ungraciously as well, usually depicting them as damaged goods and misfits.  This is well-documented, and doesn’t even touch upon the disturbing “Full Metal Jacket” and “Coming Home.”  From last year’s Oscars … it seem the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still feels that way.  [I stopped watching awards shows a while ago].

I touched on this in an earlier essay, but it was longer and the treatment of Viet Nam vets, particularly with regard to Hollywood, was part of a broader context.

I don’t have much more to add. But: Now that we have learned that the Pentagon has been lying about progress in Afghanistan for 18 years, we can justifiably cite the refrain of the 1970 protest at the Lincoln Reflecting pond: it’s time to bring our boys home.  Dying in Afghanistan it appears is as worthless as dying in Viet Nam. 

Staying in a war 6,000 miles away for 18 years? “You break it, you bought it” is not an intelligent foreign policy. Stupid is as stupid does. [H/T to Rep Barbara Lee (CA), the only person in either House to vote against the Afghanistan War Resolutions (2001), which she did on the basis that it was too broad, and had no “end game.” Even Ron Paul voted “Yea.” Astonishing.]

By the way, Hanks’ co-star in Forrest Gump, Gary Sinese, is doing wonderful things for veterans and first responders through his actions, words and foundation. Bravo, sir.

That’s all I have to say about that. 

Joe Girard © 2019

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] Screen Play for “Forrest Gump.” http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Forrest-Gump.html

On the Border — a Library in Defiance

The US-Canada Border Runs Through this Tiny Library.

Meet the only library that operates in two countries at once.

by Sara Yahm (c) of Atlas Obscura

Rumor has it the 18th-century surveyors who drew the official line between the U.S. state of Vermont and the Canadian  province of Quebec (*) were drunk, because the border lurches back and forth across the 45th parallel, sometimes missing it by as much as a mile. But the residents of the border towns didn’t particularly mind, mostly because they ignored it altogether.

The Haskell Free Library and Opera House stands athwart the US-Canadian border, on the Derby Line

{Link to the entire article here.  For copyright purposes I did not want to cut and paste the entire piece.}

Enjoy

Joe

To contact Joe just email him at joe@girardmeister.com

You can add yourself to the “New Essay Notification List” by clicking here.

* Editor note: actually the British colony of Lower Canada.  The line was to be surveyed as the international boundary per the Treaty of Ghent at the conclusion of the War of 1812, which was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814, and formally ended the war.  We will never know what would have happened if Col Andy Jackson and his ragtag army, allied with locals and pirates, had not defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans, just a few weeks later.

On State Sizes and Power

Anyone who has glanced at a map of the United States has had this thought: Look at all those big states with straight lines, something like Tetris assembly blocks.  Perhaps you’ve expressed it out loud: What’s that all about? — All those straight lines?

All US States have at least part of their borders made up of “straight lines”

Perhaps none draws your attention more than my home state of Colorado, and not just because it is somewhat large; in fact the 7th largest of all states south of 49 degrees.  It’s because its boundaries are four perfectly “straight” lines (as is Wyoming): two east-to-west, spaced exactly 4 degrees of latitude apart; and two north-to-south, spaced exactly 7 degrees of longitude apart.  [Since the world is curved, the east-west lines are, of course, not perfectly straight].

Tetras Blocks

Now why is all of that?

The history of state shapes — and straight line boundaries — long precedes the incorporation of western states into the union.  It’s a fact that the shapes of each of the original 13 states also had straight line boundaries, mostly along lines of latitude. And each of those, in turn, got their straight lines from charters issued by the Monarchs of England, in the 17th and 18th centuries.

All of the original 13 colonies that made up the original US had straight lines in their colonial borders

Those original colonial charters, issued well before the Declaration of Independence, laid down much of the DNA for the political conflict we suffer today, now well into the 21st century.

Hearkening back to those original charters, with boundaries following straight lines as well as hill crests and river channels, led to colonies of vastly different size and population.  When the colonies’ representatives assembled in the Continental Congress – eventually to seek independence from England – the smaller colonies (think Delaware, Rhode Island, and 9 more) were wary of the potential political power from larger, more populous and economically more brawny, muscular colonies, especially Virginia and New York.

Once independence was attained – de facto after victory and Yorktown in 1781 and officially by the Treaty of Paris 1783 – the 13 independent states hammered out their differences by many compromises to became a single nation, which we generally respect today as the Constitution of the United States; it became the federal rule book on March 4, 1789.

When the Paris Treaty was signed the new government immediately had some very important questions regarding states’ relative powers to address.  How to administer all the new land west of the Appalachians, and what are the details of how new states are to be transformed from territories to state stauts?

A top criterion for this evolution was that no state should have excessive power over the others.  This was a lesson learned through the tribulations of the Continental Congress. Sadly, this is largely unwritten and not in any legislation that I know of or could find.  Nonetheless, upon entering the Union, a state would necessarily be comparatively weak, since only 60,000 residents were required to apply – most original states had many times that.  But, by allocating a fairly consistent amount of land area to new states, their power could be constrained to reasonable limits as their populations grew. Expecting that it would take many generations to populate “the west”, and believing that the climate was consistent with reports of “the vast American desert”, most of the western states were allocated larger areas.

In short, new states were allocated area commensurate with the expected ability to grow a population that would make them all roughly equal in political power.

There were a few errors made here, including: 1) the westward emigration occurred much more rapidly than expected; and 2) without a full understanding of various western climates, they could not accurately forecast what the full and final population of these new states would be. Spend much time in the vast lands between the Pacific coast and the Appalachians and you can attest that they are much more varied than anyone in 19th century DC could expect.

To address these needs of expansion, new states and balancing state powers:  there was first the Land Ordinance of 1785 followed by its sister legislation the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which allocated five states in the new Northwest Territory (north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River). These eventually became, in order: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.  Removing the quirk of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula we can compare their landmasses and today’s Electoral Vote power as shown in the table here.  I’ve also included the first two “western states”, Tennessee and Kentucky, which joined the Union before Ohio, under the same general guidelines.

Land Area and EC votes of first 7 States admitted after independence (but not Vermont: a freak of history)

Although there is certainly some variation, it is not nearly as wide as the original 13. Among those, Virginia had area of 67,000 sq miles* to Rhode Island’s 1,500sq mi.  And an Electoral College weight of ten to R.I.’s three votes.  In fact, Rhode Island was so put off and fearful that they did not ratify the Constitution until 1790, and hence their Electoral Votes, although it mattered little, were not counted in George Washington’s first election. [* – This is not the exact area of the original Virginia; I have stripped off most of the lands west of the Appalachians that was removed as part of the 1st Bank of America compromise; this also happened to other original states, especially North Carolina and Georgia. These sizes can be seen in the second map, above].

The allocation of most subsequent new states was intended to keep a balance between the states more or less in order.  Using lines of latitude and longitude, a long and established practice dating back to the monarchs, was continued with each and every new state (with the exceptions of Hawai’i and Alaska: the latter’s eastern border was established by treaty) as this was a convenience in the drawing of territory and state lines.  Although this approach had very little regard to geography (for example, the towering Rocky Mountains run right through the middle of Colorado) it was easy to assign areas in this way.

[A coincidental oddity: the border between Colorado and New Mexico, along the 37th parallel, passes within a few feet of the peak of Raton Pass]

There were certainly some anomalies, and in some regard, they curse us today.  Of course, Hawai’I and Alaska, admitted in 1959, were freaks of history.  But, they are quite small with regard to population and will forever remain that way.  But there were others.  “Free” West Virginia was split off from Virginia during the Civil War.  Virginia’s area was further reduced to 42,700 sq miles and West Virginia comes in at a relatively puny 24,200 sq mi.

Before the bloodletting of the Civil War, two other states were admitted under relatively “unplanned” circumstances.  States that bore no resemblance to the unofficial rule of keeping states’ powers relatively balanced.  Those two were Texas and California.  And the circumstances were directly related to haste — and in trying to cement the United State’s ownership of these lands during and after the Mexican-American War.  The California Gold Rush (“In a cavern, in a canyon, excavating for mine; dwelt a miner, 49er and his daughter Clementine … “) added to the urgency of speeding California into the union, in 1850. The government played up the urgency of admitting them rather quickly without regard to (and without understanding) how large their populations could grow.

These two, Texas and California, came in massively at 268,600 and 163,700 square miles.  Wow. So much for planning and vision. Their populations have since swelled so (California far more than Texas) that they carry much more sway on national politics than was ever envisioned in our country’s long history.

At the time those states (CA and TX) could conceivably have been split into 3, 4 or even 5 territories, each slated to become a state at some point.  However, that would have disrupted the delicate balance between the number of slave and free states.

So we carry these historical relics and artifacts with us today in our national politics.  The impacts on things like the Electoral College and political clashes is huge.  Most people have a complaint about how it is working out.  Many workarounds have been suggested.

As of today, eleven states, plus DC (Colorado is now on track to become the next) have passed legislation to join a Compact wherein they are committed to giving all their Electoral Votes to whoever wins the national popular vote.

As during the Constitutional Convention, most small population states will remain wary of the larger states, especially California — especially as the size of the Compact grows — and as the Compact threatens to drown out their their Whoville voices. At some point, perhaps only Horton will hear them. As of now, the 18th century constitutional compromise that protects smaller states from the massive vote generating capability of the larger states still protects them … at least for now.

Anyway, that’s the short story on all the straight lines, how we got them and how it affects us today. Thanks for reading — and there’s a final note below with plots showing that, overall and excepting CA, TX, HI, AK and the original 13, the allocation of state sizes and shapes was actually done pretty well.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2019

To contact Joe just email him at joe@girardmeister.com

You can add yourself to the “New Essay Notification List” by clicking here.

Final Thoughts.

  1. I must acknowledge a fun little book by Mark Stein that gave me some factoids and insights, called “How the States got their Shapes”, Smithsonian Books, (c) 2008
  2. For completeness and visualization: Below I have plotted the states’ area vs their number of electoral votes.  In the first plot, all 50 states are included.  The visually obvious Electoral outliers with extraordinary power according to the founders, are (in order) California, Texas, Florida and New York.  California and Texas — and to a certain extent Florida — are freaks of historical circumstance.  New York is of course one of the original states.  (California currently gets 55 votes; New York and Florida 29, and Texas 38).

In the second plot, the original 13 have been removed (as have West Virginia and Maine, since they were spin offs of original states) and the historical freaks.   Florida is retained.  The 2nd plot is on the same scale as the first, so that one can see that these remaining states make a nice little cluster and one can deduce that, odd historical circumstances aside, the federal gov’t did a pretty good job of controlling and normalizing states’ relative power.  A few states have very low Electoral Votes (e.g. the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana), and that’s understandable, as the government did not really understand how these areas could not support much population.

Scatter of State sizes and Electoral Vote Compared: 2nd Plot does not include original 13, TX, AK, CA.

I contend the Electoral College method of choosing presidents and Veeps would be nearly bullet proof with a few changes; and the first change would be to make the total cluster plot of states population and power look like the second plot, and not the first. It can reduce the likelihood of winners losing (and losers winning), and respect the choices of smaller states without completely doing away with the Electoral College, which is effectively what the States Compact does.

 

 

Olympischer Nationalismus

It’s Olympic time again.  The athleticism and elegance have been, so far, most extraordinary.  Most memorable.

Her name is Aliona Savchenko, and I suppose it’s possible to forget her name.  Even her story.

His name is Bruno Massot, and I suppose the same goes for him.  Sigh.

____________________________________________________________________

The modern Olympic games were founded mostly on the energy and vision of Pierre de Coubertin. He sought to improve international relations and harmony through the (supposedly) non-political path of sports competition. It was certainly a beautiful vision; but I’m not sure he’d be quite so happy with how things have turned out.

I’m also not sure how or when the Olympics became so nationalistic.  I personally find all the nationalistic shouting a bit embarrassing and – considering Baron de Courberin’s vision – a bit shameful. It pains me to hear of nations’ medal counts, and the focus on athletes’ nationalities.

In the first few modern Olympics – 1896, 1900 and ’04 – athletes competed only for themselves, and perhaps their local sports clubs. Like “The Milwaukee Swimming Club.” There was clearly no nationalism.

So, how did it start? Perhaps the first inkling came at the 1908 London Olympics.  The Games had first been awarded to Rome.  But Italy was struggling and in recovery from a massive eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 1906.  The games were reassigned to England.  It was the third consecutive time that history had contrived to put the Olympics in the same city as the World’s Fair.  In those days the World’s Fair was a much bigger deal than it is now; much bigger than the Olympics.  They almost didn’t survive.

In those early years, when the Olympics were held alongside the World’s Fair (1900 in Paris; 1904 in St Louis), it was often not clear to spectators and competitors what sort of event it was. An Olympic event, an Olympic demonstration, or even a World’s Fair competition? Decades afterward, Margaret Abbott went to her grave never knowing that she had won an Olympic Championship in 1900, as discussed here: Olympic Lyon and Abbott.

That’s when the first “Parade of Nations” in an Opening Ceremony occurred. It seems to have been a pageantry and marketing ploy to make the Olympics standout against everything else going on around.

In that “parade”, the American flagbearer Ralph Rose – a shot putter and giant of a man at over 6’-5” and 250 pounds – refused to “dip the flag” as the American contingent passed before King Edward VII. Throughout the games the British judges and referees were perceived by many to be more than a bit biased against the American athletes.  So petty.

I suppose some flames of healthy patriotism will naturally spill over into blatant nationalism.  Consider the Cold War, and the heavy, boot heeled Soviet oppression behind the Iron Curtain, and especially upon the states of Hungary and Czechoslovakia – the brutal suppression of pleas for freedom there in 1956 and ’68. Or anti-colonialism, as teams from around the world competed against, say, the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, thumping of chests over medal counts, and hoping for a victory by someone – an otherwise nameless and faceless person – who wears the colors of your country, or the country of your ancestors, strikes me as out of bounds.  Strikes me as unsportsmanlike and well outside of what Baron de Courberin envisioned for all of us.

And worse, shouts of “U-S-A!! U-S-A!!”, accompanied by fanatic flag waving, bring, for me, visions of 100,000 Germans singing “Deutschland über Alles” in Berlin, 1936, under countless Nazi flags, their right hands extended in salute to their Führer. All this as German athletes – whether they ascribed to the Nazi political philosophy or not; and many did not – racked up victory after victory.

Even with Jesse Owens and “The Boys in the Boat” participating, a united pre-war Germany overwhelmingly “won” the medal count at the Summer Games in ’36. There were plenty of opportunities for nationalistic and enthusiastic German sports fans to throw out their right hand, show off their Nazi tolerance – if not complete sympathy and allegiance – and shout “Deutschland!!!!”

(Of course, Norway easily “won” the medal count in the ’36 Winter Games, hosted also in Germany, in beautiful Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria. For some reason the IOC allowed the same country to host the winter and summer Olympics in 3 of the first 4 Winter Olympics.  The only exception was 1928, when Amsterdam hosted the Summer Games; clearly The Netherlands was an inappropriate Winter Games host. The games were held in St Moritz, Switzerland.  Then, both Olympics were suspended for ’40 and ’44 for WWII. After that, each has been hosted in separate countries. Since 1994 they are not even in the same years)

The games are for the athletes and their performances are for us to admire.  Period. The end. Unless you are from very, very tiny Liechtenstein, I don’t see any need for particular pride for a country’s medals.  [Per capita, Liechtenstein has certainly won the most medals in Olympic history.  At a population of under 40,000 they have gained a total of ten winter games medals, two of them gold, over the years.  Astounding. If the US had won at the same rate, they’d have about 90,000 medals, all time. “We” have fewer than 300 Winter medals; and only 28,000 if you tally Summer Games – which are heavy on track and water events and in which Liechtenstein has never seriously competed.)

______________________________________________________________

Aliona Savchenko is a world-class figure skater.  At age 35, she is “ancient” compared to many of her competitors. As her name suggests, Aliona Savchenko is Ukrainian, competing for that nation in the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics, as well as the Goodwill Games.  Before that she won the pairs competition Nebelhorn Trophy “for the Ukraine” in 1999.

A new coach and a new partner led Savchenko to move to Chemnitz, Germany.  After initial struggles, they soared to German and European prominence.  She earned German citizenship and won bronze medals at the 2010 and ’14 Olympics (in Vancouver and Sochi).

Again, she changed partners and coaches, hoping to beat the “biological clock”, and perhaps give gold one last shot. 2018 would be her 5th Olympics. Her new partner was a Frenchman, from Normandy, Bruno Massot.

Yet again, after initial struggles with a new partner and coach, the team blossomed, earning the German championship and gaininig world recognition.  However, their participation on the great world stage was hindered: As nationals from two different countries, they could not be a team, unless the native’s country would permit it.

Of course, France would not simply let Massot skate for Germany; they eventually made him pay 30,000 euros for a release.  Blatant blackmail if you ask me. The French say they let him off easy: they first asked for 100,000. But the Olympics would be something different.  How much would that extortion cost? So, Massot applied for German citizenship. It was approved just last November.

So here we have Germany – who will long be remembered for their ancestors’ hateful attitude and treatment toward outsiders – long be remembered for their horrible occupations of France and Ukraine – long be remembered for Nazi atrocities – today accepting over one million Middle Eastern Refugees.  And now accepting a mixed French-Ukrainian figure skating team as their own.

Massot is a strong, powerful and graceful skater.  Six feet tall and solid muscle.  Savchenko is a bit of a “doll” at a full foot shorter.  But all five feet of her is dynamite.

Savchenko & Massot: Beauty, elegance, grace and athleticism

Of course, they won: a Ukrainian and a Frenchie ironically competing under the German flag. Sorry to repeat: It was Savchenko’s Olympic fifth try — with two different countries and three different partners. That’s persistence.

When the final scores for the Russian team went up (the last team to skate), and it was clear Savchenko and Massot had won, the bronze-winning Canadian team – led by the adorable and ebullient Meagan Duhamel – rushed over to congratulate and hug them. Yes, there were tears of joy all around – they don’t call it “kiss and cry” for nothing – and for a moment I felt like joining them in a “tissue moment.”

Yes!! This! This is what the Olympics should be about.  We don’t care which countries win the events; or the most medals.

The athletes are showing us what it is about.  Breaking down barriers.  Ignoring international boundaries.  Ignoring politics.  And simply admiring the human spirit… in ourselves and in each other. And demonstrating what that spirit can lead athletes – what the human spirit can lead all of us – to accomplish. Isn’t that why we loved and remember Nadia Comaneci?

Tomorrow the women’s teams from Canada and the US will compete for the gold medal in hockey.  Personally, I win (and lose) either way; I have allegiances both ways.  And, yet, I’m sure that after a very hard-fought re-match they will sincerely hug and congratulate each other.  And many will probably cry.

And that will be in keeping with the hope, spirit and intent of Baron de Courberin. Or, in other words: something we can all aspire to.

As to the French? Well, we will be in Caen — Bruno Massot’s home town in Normandy — later this spring. My guess is they will have a plaque or a sign up, trying to steal away a little of Bruno’s glory. And M. De Courberin will toss in his grave.

Thanks for reading

 

Joe Girard © 2018

 

 

 

 

Supreme Thoughts

Supreme: 1) Highest in rank or authority; 2) Highest in degree or quality; 3) ultimate or final
–  Merriam-Webster

I recently read a fun and interesting article by Jonah Goldberg.  (Yes, I know – that Jonah Goldberg – please don’t roll your eyes and give up on me). At once randy and riveting – sending insults in many directions –  he does cite and make some interesting points.

After starting out on the topic of the weird magic of orbs, he quotes an Annandale Public Policy survey that determined 75% of American adults cannot identify all three branches of government. (Yes, I know – shocking).  And more than one-third of Americans cannot name a single right conferred by The Bill of Rights.  (As my wife and I say at this point: “And they vote.”)

Trump touches “The Orb” in Riyyad, Saudi Arabia, with Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President al-Sissi.

It’s a good enough starting point for me, but I’ll go off into theory and conspiracy-land instead of slinging poison-dart words.

The US Constitution’s first three Articles deal with the three branches of government.  Article I – The Congress; Article II – The Executive Branch; Article III – The Judicial.

Digging into Article III, it is interesting to note that the Constitution does not – I repeat: the Constitution does NOT – set the number of Supreme Court Justices.

Seal of the Supreme Court of the United States

In fact, the number we have come to know and grow accustomed to – specifically, nine – has not always been the total number. The number is set by acts of Congress. And can be modified by acts of Congress.

When the Supremes first sat, in 1790, the odd number was six. [1].  Why is six odd? It is not, generally speaking, a good idea to have an even number of people deciding things.  Ties can result, and in the Supreme Court, ties lead to no action at all.  Whatever was law before is law after.

In 1807 they judiciously raised the number to seven.  In 1837 it was raised to our familiar nine (perhaps some sort of north-south compromise … I’ll have to look into it).  Oddly, in 1863 it was raised to an even ten.  [At this time the South had virtually no representation in Congress, they bolted to their own government, and it was pretty clear that the North would probably win the war. Not sure if that’s why a seat was added.]

Finally, in a fuss over President Andrew Johnson (Lincoln’s successor … remember, he was impeached and avoided getting removed from office by a single vote), the number was reduced back to seven.  This precluded Johnson, a Tennessee southerner, from appointing any judges.

Then in 1869, with Johnson out and Grant in office, the number was raised back to nine – I suppose to re-enforce the government position on Reconstruction. Or to spite Johnson.

And there, at a total of nine, is where the number of justices has remained for nearly 150 years.

The Supreme Court has had its own building, shown here, since 1935.

Upshot #1 is that Roosevelt’s plan to “pack the court” was not the least bit unconstitutional; although it did represent the sort of power grab that was a hallmark of the his presidency.  Roosevelt believed in “go big, or go home”; he attempted to jack up the number to fifteen, thus giving himself a slam dunk on any issue before the court. Probably no other president did more to establish the tradition of a very powerful executive branch.  [After Obama, and, especially, now Trump, it looks like people in both parties have recognized this danger].

Upshot #2 is a wild long-shot prediction – or perhaps observation of the possibility – that something supremely weird could happen, most likely in 2021: Expansion of the court to 11 members, or more.

My thought process. The backlash against the Republicans for painting themselves into a corner: first with Trump, and then with Moore. These will yoke their general popularity numbers in the ditch for years – and will almost surely result in Congressional seat losses in 2018.  Even popular presidents lose seats in off-year elections (see Obama in 2010).

Unless the Reps can bump Trump and field a Knight (or Dame [2]) in shining armor for 2020 – or the Dems run another truly “horrible” candidate, as in 2016 – there is a good chance the Dems will hold the Whitehouse and both branches of congress come 2021.

Here’s where current events come into play.

  • The Senate has gone “nuclear”. That means the good old days of needing 60% and plenty of compromise to get anything passed (used to be two-thirds) are basically gone.  No one plays nice anymore.  Could blame Harry Reid, but there’s not enough mud or ink for all the villains.  Now it takes only 50-50 (if you have the Whitehouse … the VP casts tie-breaking votes in the Senate).

[The lower house of Representatives has always been designed to go fast: only a simple majority has ever been required … except to commence the Amendment process]

  • Some Supremes are destined to retire, or pass away, soon. So, look for good odds that Trump will get to appoint at least one more judge, securing the Right’s slight advantage (currently approx. 5-4, even noting that Kennedy and – in a few cases – Roberts have swung left a few times).
  • Anthony Kennedy is 82. Although the left sees him as a hateful ideological enemy, he sides with them frequently and is always the “swing” vote in closely decided 5-4 cases.  He probably isn’t sure about Trump (who is?), and, as a relative moderate among right and left sharks, might be hanging on to see what happens in 2020.
  • Even older is Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She is 85 years old and looks 105; her energy is visibly dwindling to all court observers.  A true Progressive/Leftist believer, she is surely hanging on, hoping that Dems win the Whitehouse in 2020.  But she could pass any day, and no one would be surprised.
  • Steven Breyer, at 79-1/2 could keel over too.

If Trump gets to appoint even one more judge, look for the Left and Dems to get super energized. Even more than the hornet’s nest we are observing now. Why? This could “lock in” a perceived rightward slant for at least another decade (even though this court did uphold “Obamacare”, AKA The Affordable Care Act, and Same Sex Marriage rights).

They will seek to overturn any perceived disadvantage by adding at least two seats to the court.

That’s my Far-Out-From-the Center-Field-Peanut-Gallery prediction for now.  Call me out on it in a few years if the Dems take the elections in 2018 and 2020.

Well, the future beckons.  Let’s be careful servants out there!

Cheers and best wishes for 2018.

Joe Girard © 2018

 

[1] Actually the number was five, although Congress set the number at six.  The sixth justice was not confirmed by the Senate until a few months later.

[2] The equivalent of Knight for females is Dame. When she receives her title, she is said to be “daymed”, not “knighted.”  Link

Another Love Story

Another Love Story

“There’s no tick-tock on your electric clock,
But still your life runs down”
— Harry Chapin (song: Halfway to Heaven)

The Long Island Expressway is often called by its acronym LIE, and seldom  by its assigned number ID: I-495.  It is also often called the Long Island Distress-way, a tribute to its notorious snarly traffic jams that can go on for miles and miles and several hours each weekday.

Monday through Friday the expressway turns into a slothful snake, slithering on the cold concrete as it stretches from the Queens Midtown Bridge out east to Suffolk County.  Late in the morning and early in the afternoon, the LIE wakes up.  The traffic drops below a volume threshold, and — voila! — cars can often zip along at 65mph (105 kmh), sometimes even with a few car lengths between them.

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I have a confession to make.  During my high school and college years, I didn’t like the contemporary popular music as much as I let on.  Sure, I learned the words to many of the more popular songs and was, thereby, able to fit in.  I faked it.

The songs that attracted me were more earthy.  Songs with words that could be understood; songs with words that told stories; songs where the words were more important than the music.  The music was simply the walls upon which murals were painted; murals that told stories of a vast range of “ordinary” people, trying to do their best, survive the world’s vagaries, and just – somehow – get along.

Thirty or forty-five years ago a guy would rather die before admitting that Barry Manilow’s songs about a washed up show girl (Copacabana) or a man who mourns that he is no longer in love (Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again) were his preference.  Include Gordon Lightfoot’s saga of a doomed freight ship (Edmund Fitzgerald).  Or maybe worse, “chick” songs: Judy Collins singing a ballad about someone who did all the right things in life, except the important things (Send in the Clowns), or acknowledging that everything important we think we know about life might be wrong (Both Sides Now).

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At lunch hour the LIE offers an enticing route for mid-day errands.  Clients to meet.  Lunch with friends.  Errands to run.  Doctor appointments.  In the summer, pick up or drop off kids at camp, make an early get away to – or late return from – the outer beaches.  Trucks are out making deliveries and pickups.  Noon hour traffic usually zips, but it’s a crap-shoot: sometime it’s a bit tight for 65mph, and – with just one accident, or breakdown, or a little precipitation – it can return to “the Distress-way”, slowing to a sudden and unwelcome complete stop.

_____________________________________________________

Shoot, I even liked some ballads, like Marty Robbins’ cowboy ditty “West Texas town of El Paso” and Simon & Garfunkle’s “The Boxer.”  Among the “story teller” singers and songwriters, by far I liked Harry Chapin the most.  He wrote and arranged his own songs.   His voice was just bad enough that anyone could convince themselves they could sing them.  But the stories — the lyrics — captivated me.

Harry Chapin, Album cover: Heads & Tales

By Chapin’s own admission, he was a delusional dreamer.  His first songs (he often joked) went something along the lines of “If only everyone could hold hands and hum along to the wonderful songs I am singing, the world would be a wonderful place and we’d have peace and friendship and boundless goodwill.”

Born to a musical and theatrical family, Chapin even made a brief yet successful foray into movie making, writing and directing a documentary for which he earned an Academy Award nomination.[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legendary_Champions]

Harry found his stride in music in his own form of ballad, telling stories of life.  His breakthrough song, in 1972, was Taxi, a story about a taxi driver who has lost his life’s dream and purpose — and then, without warning one night, he picks up a fare who turns out to be a former lover needing a ride home.  Her life has also not turned out so well.  They briefly reminisce.  Among his many studies:

  • Sniper – a confused and frustrated young man seeks notoriety ·
  • Better Place to Be – a midnight watchman fills his empty life for one night, and then, maybe, for the rest of his life. ·
  • WOLD – a washed up DJ is still trying to make something of his life and career
  • Mr Tanner – A dry-clean shop owner with a talent for singing ·
  • Corey’s Coming – an aged railroad worker still hangs out at the rail yard
  • What Made America Famous – Hippies living in a communal hovel survive the scare of a life [which he also wrote into a full length musical play,The Night that Made America Famous; it ran a full season at the Ethel Barrymore Theater in Manhatten]
  • Dance Band on the Titanic – title tells it all
  • 30,000 Pounds of Bananas – a young truck driver negotiates the hills of eastern Pennsylvania
  • Dogtown – Life in the old whaling town of Gloucester, MA ·
  • Mail Order Annie – Life on the North Dakota Plains
  • Vacancy – A Motel Keeper’s Life
  • Six String Orchestra — Harry makes fun of his guitar abilities
  • Tangled up Puppet — A father’s love for his daughter is clouded by the mystery of transition from young girl to young woman

It was in telling the stories of simple salt-of-the-earth people’s lives that Harry made his mark, but it took a while before he made it really big.  Most of his good songs were quite long, six to ten minutes.  That makes good concert material, but doesn’t get you on the radio. After a few years, with the help of his wife, Sandy, he finally made it really big.

Sandy had already been in an unhappy marriage and divorced with three children – and nine year Harry’s elder – when they met.  [Of course, Chapin adapted their meeting and falling in love to a song: I Want to Learn a Love Song]. When they married, Chapin adopted her children and became the loving father that they never had.

The Chapins’ marriage and coming together as a family began a happy story just as it ended a sad story for Sandy — a sad story she wrote into a poem … and Harry turned into a song.  All at once the story describes both the relationship between her first husband and his father, as well as the relationship between her first husband and her children.  The song was poignant, touching and of the right length, under four minutes.  Harry had his only #1 hit with Cat’s in the Cradle.  Now he wasn’t just famous and well off, he had a substantial cash flow.

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There is a lot to do to set up a benefit concert.  Especially when you have to — okay, maybe when you insist on — doing most of it yourself.  Better leave plenty of time, just in case the LIE gets all jugged up.  After a few hasty phone calls and a quick check to make sure that the contracts, music and guitars are all packed – oh, and a fast food lunch – it’s time to hit the road.  The LIE is remarkably smooth.  To heck with that silly 55mph speed limit, 65 is plenty safe.  And besides, the oil crises are long over.

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Born exactly one year after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, perhaps Harry Foster Chapin was destined to great things. He surely had great visions. Great aspirations. Harry was out to change the world. He received a commission to the Air Force Academy. But he dropped out: the military was certainly not his style. He transferred to Colgate in his home state of New York to study music and theater, through which he — of course — intended to change the world. He soon learned it wasn’t so easy. When his music couldn’t change the world, he figured out another way: he would use the money and notoriety that his musical success provided to change the world.

Among Harry’s many concerns were the inanity and the evil of Hunger.  And not just hunger, but hunger on a global scale.  Harry founded and funded the WHY (World Hunger Year, which is now called Why Hunger … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Hunger_Year).

The foundational beliefs of WHY are: 1) that the world produces every year more food than we can all possibly eat and, yet, people suffer in hunger around the world, and 2) that most causes for hunger are local, and therefore can be solved locally.  But he didn’t just think globally; he also founded the Long Island Food Bank.

Harry was in love with the human race; and wanted to make a huge positive impact.

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I saw Chapin in concert only once — at Arkansas State University.  I think it was April, 1977.  He was alone.  Perhaps one of his brothers Tom or Steve came out to do a few songs with him.  He had a rather large band and following at that time, and I wondered why he was mostly alone.  Well, it turns out that by this time most of the concerts Harry did were benefits, usually supporting a combination of local charities (philharmonics, theaters and food banks were often favorites) as well as his world causes.  He was WAY ahead of his time; before FARM-AID and LIVE-AID he was putting together concerts with other save-the-world types like John Denver and Elton John. Turns out he often had a falling out with his band, and they wouldn’t perform with him – sure his causes were great, but they wanted to be paid.  Harry didn’t care about the money and couldn’t figure out why they did.

At least two of his songs were views of his own life.  One an overview: the appropriately named Shooting Star, in which a man lost in his own visions is given meaning to life by his wife.  And another song was a portent: 30,000 lbs of Bananas, in which a young distracted driver must negotiate a potentially deadly situation while driving a truck.

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Harry lived fast and hard, always on a mission.  He wrote and performed constantly.  Even with a large income, he gave so much money away that he had no idea how much money he had.  He lived simply, driving a 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit, eating quickly and horribly.  Nonetheless, he had the ear of President Jimmy Carter, and lobbied congress on the president’s behalf to get support and funding for the Commission on World Hunger.

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The LIE is really moving now.  Not much farther now.  The concert will be just past the next exit; from there to East Meadow, near Levittown, the humble first post-war planned community — the one that set the model for suburban sprawl.

The 1975 Rabbit has moved to the center lane, preparing to exit soon, as it shoots down the expressway, when — suddenly — it slows from 65 mph to 50, then to 40, then to 30.  The emergency flashers come on.  Cars are whizzing by on both sides.

The driver is trying to make it to the right shoulder.  Something is terribly, terribly wrong.  Its slows to 20, then 15 mph.  Is there a chance to slide into the right lane?  No, a car is there and the Rabbit nearly collides with it; the Rabbit’s driver over-reacts, veering to the left.  It hits the car to its left. Careening and over-correcting again, it turns to the right, entering the right lane ahead of an 18-wheel tractor-trailer semi-truck, en route to a delivery at a Long Island supermarket.

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<updated> Thirty-six years ago this summer, on a glorious, sunny and beautiful Thursday noon hour, July 16, 1981, Harry Chapin made his way down the LIE, as he had so many times before.  Heck, New York City was his hometown.  Along the way he passed signs and exits (“that he should have seen“) for parks, buildings and humanitarian institutions that would one day bear his name.

He was a man with a big heart and big dreams.  He had spent his adult life giving from his heart, sharing his dreams.  Now, his big heart had little left in it; on that sunny afternoon Harry Chapin had a massive heart attack right there on the LIE, and at that moment it became, truly, a Distress-way.

His car came to a nearly complete stop, directly in front of a grocery store delivery truck.  The truck was unable to stop.  In a cataclysmic collision, the truck not only rammed the tiny Rabbit, it ended up on top of Chapin’s VW Rabbit.  Ironically, he was under a truck carrying 30,000 pounds of groceries. Miraculously, brave passersby, together with the truck driver, were able to extract him from the car, through the window, just before it erupted into an inferno.  To no avail.  Harry left his heart and dreams behind and moved on, aged only 38.

_____________________________________

When I heard the news that night, where I lived with two friends in a rented house in West Seattle, I got physically sick.  This was a punch to the gut.  My intestines roiled and their contents emptied out.  As was our custom, when someone famous died, we would have an Irish wake – which meant drinking.  For me it was a drowning of sorrow.  And at that time, I didn’t know the half of it.  I just liked Chapin’s music.  I had no idea of what a big dreamer and doer he was.

_____________________________________

I don’t think I would have liked his politics much.  As a dreamer he had the opinion that every problem should be fixed with a big societal toolbox.  He was hanging out with Michael Moore before he was famous, helping keep his little protest-print-shop in Flint, Michigan alive.  I’m sure Harry would be touring the “Occupy” protests, going from city to city, country to country, putting on free concerts and offering encouragement.

But Harry was way better than that.  He didn’t just demand that somebody else, or government, fix problems.  He set out to do it himself.  He poured himself into his beliefs and humanitarian causes.  And THAT I admire.

My lessons from Harry:

  • Life is short, sometimes tragically short.  Get over it.
  • Get a dream and just do it.
  • Tell your stories.  Share your dreams.
  • Be in a bit of a hurry.
  • Enjoy the Music of Life, whatever it sounds like to you.
  • Make no excuses for whatever inspires you, no matter what others may think.
  • Pick causes greater than yourself
  • Listen to your wife

 

Don’t let this be you:

Oh, I’ve got something inside me —
Not what my life’s about.
I’ve been letting my outside tide me
Over ’til my time runs out

— Harry Chapin (song bridge lyrics: Taxi)

Joe Girard ©November, 2011 (republished, slightly edited ©2017)

Notes:

(1) this essay’s title “Another Love Story” is derived from the title of Chapin’s Album: Sniper and Other Love Stories.
(2) Long Island Expressway: I don’t know why it is I-495.  The rule is that the first digit (“4”) is supposed to indicate a loop or bypass to the nominal route (I-95).  Not only is it not a loop, it is a spur and doesn’t even formally connect to the I-95.  Those crazy New Yorkers.
(3) Disclosure: “Even though Chapin was driving without a license, his driver’s license having previously been revoked for a long string of traffic violations, his widow Sandy won a $12 million decision in a negligence lawsuit against Super Markets General, the owners of the truck.” — Wikipedia
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Joe Girard’s other older essays at essays

 

Final thoughts: Some choice songs:

 

Modest Proposals for American Football and Elections

Somethings need to change.  And I’m not shy about making some suggestions from an “originalist” point of view.

American football and American elections are dying. Let’s make some changes.

Football first.  The games are too darned long. And unnecessarily violent.

Does anyone remember why there is a two-minute warning?  Well I’m old enough to remember that the remaining time shown on the stadium clock was unofficial.  It was just the best guess of a skilled guy up in the booth.  Imagine the home team driving for a winning score with 30 seconds left.  They could try for a field goal, or try to get a little closer and score a touchdown.  And then — shockingly and suddenly — the head referee blows his whistle and announces the game is over. They never got a chance to do either one.  The game — just — ended. Because the time on the stadium clock was unofficial.

The two-minute warning was just that: a warning.  The stadium clock might show 1:32, or 2:32, left in the game.  But no worries, the head referee would stop the game, walk over to each head coach, and announce that there was precisely two minutes remaining. Plan accordingly. Then the game would resume.

Now, decades later, the two minute warning is just a chance to sell more commercial time.  It’s a waste of fans’ time. And a free time out for the team that should probably lose anyhow.

More wastes of time.  TV timeouts.  Team A scores a touchdown.  What happens? TV timeout. Then there is a kickoff.  What happens after the kickoff (which is usually a boring touchback) … another TV timeout.  That’s about 5 minutes of wasted time for a score.

Plus, most punts are followed by several minutes of TV timeouts.  Yes, TV and commercials pay those insanely stupidly high salaries.  I guess that’s why there’s Tivo; to tolerate those 4 hour games.

If you’ve ever been at a football game, you’ll notice all these awkward moments when the teams are just standing around for several minutes.  What’s up? They are waiting for the TV commercials to end. That’s one of the main reasons real Football fans (read: soccer) just don’t “get” American Football.  All that standing around time; all those commercials.

I have more ideas, but will stop with this.  Who really cares if the receiver gets two feet in-bounds? That concern leads to more replay reviews, which can take several minutes a piece.  Go with one foot, like college.  It leads to more scoring, more offense and a faster clock.  That’s what fans want anyhow.

Here’s another one, but not so much about wasted time.  When a player commits a personal foul he should get red-carded, like in soccer.  Then his team must play with only 10 players (or less if more players commit such an egregious foul). Ok, maybe it’s like hockey and it’s only for two or five minutes.

Dead ball personal fouls completely mess me up.  Apologies to non-football people, but consider the following situations.  Team A punts to Team B, who returns the ball a few yards after a tackle. It’s first and 10.  After the play is over, a player from Team B commits a flagrant personal foul for a 15-yard penalty.  Why is it not then first and 25 when the offense comes on?  Nope, first and 10.

Also I’ve seen where team B’s offense converts a first down, and then there’s a dead ball personal foul.  The ball is moved back 15 yards, but it’s first and 10.  Why?  Penalize the malicious penalty. The current process is going way too easy on violence.

Politics and elections have gotten way too divisive.  Yet, the electorate has told us something. Mrs Clinton received 48% of the popular vote; Mr Trump 46%.  We are divided.

Yet Mr Trump won 58% of the electoral votes.

The problem is not the Electoral College system, per se, but the way most states choose to allot their Electoral College votes: winner take all.  Even if the winner gets less than 50%!  For example, in my home state of Colorado, Mrs Clinton took 48% of the popular vote, Mr Trump only about 43%. And yet Mrs Clinton was awarded ALL 9 Electoral Votes (although at least one “faithless” EC voter from Colorado tried to cast votes for someone other than Clinton; and were thrown out by the Colorado Secretary of State).

As Electoral College voters are not permitted to vote their conscience in most states, and the division of votes in most states clearly does NOT reflect the balanced concern of the voters, I make the following suggestion.

Simply: award each states’ Electoral College votes according to how that state votes on a pro rated percentage basis. Assigning only whole numbers of votes, and using the Girard-system, this past US presidential election would have ended up: Mrs Clinton, 261 votes.  Mr Trump 261 votes.  The remainder would have gone to Gary Johnson (14), Jill Stein (1) and Even McMullin (1).

For example: Instead of ALL California’s 55 votes going to Clinton, Trump would’ve gotten 18; Gary Johnson 2; and Jill Stein 1. Further, amazingly, in Wyoming Clinton would’ve gotten 1 vote, and another 3 in Alabama and 7 in Georgia.

In such a situation where no candidate receives a clear majority (270 required out of 538 total) the House of Representatives must decide among the top 3.  Almost certainly they would have eventually chosen Trump. But he would’ve had to negotiate with the likes of Paul Ryan, and he certainly would have been much less of a braggart about his “electoral landslide.” (In the final actual tally, Trump had 304, and Mrs Clinton 227.  There were 7 “faithless electors”; 2 fled Trump, and 5 left Clinton).

Speaking of the House of Representatives, I have one final modest proposal for these bi-annual elections as well.  We all know that many Congressional Districts are highly gerrymandered by political parties to give themselves as many seats in congress as possible. And we know that many Representatives have been in their seats for decades.

Here is my proposal. It has two parts.  First, award a state’s seats proportionally.  Suppose a state gets 10 Congressional Seats. Each party submits the name of 10 candidates.  There are no districts. There is no gerrymandering — at least for CD (Congressional District) seats. Award the seats just like for the presidential electors.

And here is the kicker.  Pick the “winning” names randomly from the original slate.

For example: In Colorado the seats would have been awarded 3 Democrat, 4 Republican and 0 Independent  (the same as the final turned out). Now the excitement starts: Have a lottery show!!  Pick the names from ping pong balls.  No more safe seats.  Even if your party wins 6 out of 7 seats, there is no guarantee that your #1 candidate gets picked. Eventually a de facto term limit kicks in.

Have fun with that.  And it’s all constitutional!!

The two-party system, with entrenched and loud-mouthed politicians, will certainly kill us.  I could at least have football as a distraction as we swirl down the toilet bowl, but they need to fix that too!

cheers

Joe Girard (c) 2017

 

Collegial Codes and Conspiracies

November 20, 2016

A few Tuesdays ago – a day we will all recall for decades to come, if we live that long – I just couldn’t bring myself to watch the election returns. I was disgusted by the campaigning, the candidates, and the pompous potshots by everyone from ants to asshats.

After reading that Nate Silver had the chance of a popular vote/electoral mismatched vote as high as 10% [1] – and hoping to dear God that would not be the case – I squirreled myself safely away from outside earshot of the TV and commenced to thinking about the Electoral College.  Its birth.  Its history.  What it means today.  Then I tapped out a pretty good rough draft of an essay.  A Joe Girard classic format.

The essay was overtaken by destiny. As Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogard) said in Casablanca: It seems destiny has taken a hand. Maybe someday I’ll finish it and publish it.  Here’s what happened.

I tapped my notes out on my ASUS tablet, onto which I’ve installed the Politico app (a well-regarded and usually considered slightly left-leaning news source).  Politico feeds news headlines – usually very, very occasionally – across the bottom of my screen.  After a couple of hours I took a peek.

Virginia for Clinton.  Of course.

Florida for Trump.  Odd, but Okay, not totally unexpected.

North Carolina for Trump.  Less unexpected.

Then the feed that Ohio was looking like a Trump win.  And possibly Pennsylvania too.

Now to Central Time Zone.  Wisconsin looks like a Trump win.

Oh… My… God.  This could really be happening. It IS happening. I saved the draft essay and browsed to the CNN and Fox sites for maps shaded red, pink, purple, sky blue and navy blue.  Some quick math showed Trump with a very plausible path to 270, well before 10PM Mountain Time.

And THAT was the end of the Electoral College essay.

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Soon, on December 19, 2016, the 538 Electors from the 50 states, plus DC, will meet in their respective states and District, and cast their votes for President and Vice President of the United States of America. Presumably at least 290 will vote for Donald Trump, and 232 for Mrs Clinton, with the destiny of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes STILL not determined at this writing (although it is looking like a slim margin Trump win at the time of this writing).

This is the “Real” Election for President and Vice President.  When we voted for Clinton or Trump (or whomever) on November 8, we were actually voting for an entire slate of Electors who are pledged to vote for those candidates on December 19.

Some people are saying it ain’t over til it’s over; it ain’t over till the fat lady sings; and other such mixed metaphors. Well, they’re right.  That’s how the system works and Mr. Trump is not officially President-elect until those votes are cast.

Before discussing that, let’s talk about who these Electors are.

They are not just Joe and Jane average-citizen who have signed a pledge to vote a certain way, if they should themselves get elected.

They are party loyalists.  The life blood of their respective parties. Almost always they’ve been very active in their state’s political parties.

For example, an elector from California is Christine Pelosi.  The daughter of Nancy Pelosi.

An elector candidate from Maryland is Michael Steele, the (black) former head of the Republican National Party.  [Maryland went for Clinton, so Steele will not be voting as an Elector on December 19].

All potential candidates for Elector are screened by their state parties well in advance of the election. It’s obvious that the main qualification is party loyalty, and the bar for party loyalty – as you can surmise and see from the examples – is very high.

Can you imagine a Pelosi voting for anyone other than Mrs Clinton?

No, of course not.

But for those who simply fall ill at the very thought of a President Trump, let me offer an alternative outcome.  It involves my own wildly conceived conspiracy.

The Electors were chosen, in most cases, well before it was clear that Mr Trump would be the Republican candidate.

Since their selection by their state parties as Electors, an astounding number of Conservatives and Republicans have gone quite public with their disdain for Mr. Trump.  So much, that they did not support or vote for him.  From the ranks of politicians there is, for example, Mitt Romney and all the Bush families. Karl Rove considers Trump “a complete idiot.” Three term South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler didn’t support Trump. Neither did former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman (who lost his seat to comedian Al Franken by a few hundred votes in 2008). John Huntsman.  Christine Todd Whitman.

It’s actually quite a long list, which I will spare you the tedious task of scanning.These are big name Republican politicians who openly did not support Trump.  Trump was publicly shunned.

And then there’s the “conservative” intelligentsia.  Jonah Goldberg, chief editor at at National Review (William F Buckley’s magazine!! For crying out loud) lambasted Trump every chance he got.  Glenn Beck ran far away from the “idiot” Trump.  George Will brilliantly pointed out on a Sunday Talking-heads news show this summer that Trump “has been a Republican for all of about 15 minutes.”

These were the “Never Trump” folks. Their cast was large, significant and influential.

That Trump won without much support from the faithful Right is truly astounding.

But could it also be his undoing?  As most of the Electors were chosen before it was certain that Trump would be the Republican candidate … could they turn the tables on him since so many “Conservatives” and “Republicans” don’t consider Trump a true Republican? Not a qualified representative of their “party of values” to serve as President.

That’s the genesis of my conspiracy theory.

Now, don’t presume that ANY Republican Electors will vote for Mrs. Clinton.  Not gonna happen. Mrs Clinton is stuck at 232 and no petition is going to get her to the 270 needed to be President.

But … What if 37 or more Electors conspired to cast their Presidential vote for someone more … uh, digestible… than Trump?

That would reduce his tally from 306 to 269, or less.  A person cannot be elected President outright by the Electoral College with fewer than 270 votes.

But whom would these 37 (or more) unfaithful Electors vote for, and how would they choose such a person?

Well, consider the Constitution’s provision in such a case. The House of Representatives chooses the next President, and they can only choose from among the THREE candidates who receive the most Electoral votes. [In 1824 John Quincy Adams ran second to Andrew Jackson in the Electoral tally, but was chosen by the House as 6th President, since Jackson did not secure a majority of Electoral votes and was considered, by many, to be too wild and uncivilized to be President.  He eventually did win outright in 1828 and 1832).

Here’s how the House of Representatives chooses: Each state gets only ONE vote.  And a clear majority, that is 26 states, is required.

When the new Congress is seated, next January, the Republicans will have a majority of Congressional seats in about 33 states, the same as now.  Suppose … now just suppose, a band of unfaithful Republican Electors spoke secretly with Republican House leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan (WI) and decided to bump Trump.

In this conspiracy, 37 Electors (who are sworn and pledged to vote for the Republican candidate, Donald Trump) break their pledge.  Most vote for the pre-arranged preferred candidate, let’s say it’s Joe Girard.  Ha!! Just kidding.  Let’s say Mitt McCain (another fictional character). Who then comes in third place.

When the votes are sent to Washington, no single candidate has a majority.

The top three candidates are sent to the House for consideration.  And John Romney is chosen.

Yes, this is the stuff of cheap fictional novels.

And it’s not going to happen.

But it IS possible. Trump COULD still be thwarted.

Sincerely, I am your conspiracy theorist …

Joe Girard © 2016

[1] Nate Silver has become something of a highly regarded prognosticator in election season.  I think he’s more of an eccentric and talented statistician.  A wizard with numbers.  Here are a couple of his newsfeeds in the last week before the 2016 election.

(a) http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-odds-of-an-electoral-college-popular-vote-split-are-increasing/

(b) http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/election-update-the-campaign-is-almost-over-and-heres-where-we-stand/

[2] Politico is highly regarded. I take it to be slightly left leaning by this review, and that it’s editorial leadership came from Washington Post. http://www.allsides.com/news-source/politico

Also slightly Left per this research (as well as NPR’s taxpayer funded slight Left lean):

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2011/03/22/science-settles-it-nprs-liberal-but-not-very/#414296f499e8

 

Election 2016

Here it is election eve, November 2016.

For the most part, I’ve bit my tongue — and muzzled my keyboard — with regard to politics this election season. And I promise to go easy now that I’ve loosened my leash a little bit. I’ve certainly had a lot go through my mind. I’ve often felt like sharing it here. But this election season has been so terribly awful and disappointing that I decided to exercise considerable restraint rather than subject anyone to even more abuse.

What follows is brief, and based mostly on a short email that I sent to my good friend Kevin, who in turn included it in his daily Good News Today newsletter.  I wish it had more good news, but sometimes the truth is not all good.

This is regarding election choices and exercising your right to the franchise.  And the fact that many of us, Kevin included, dared to share their decisions and the reasons for them.

There are obviously going to be differences of opinion. It is a difficult year for many of us.  Recent exchanges of banter and bickering have spawned several thoughts in my busy little head. Mostly, I try to not be critical of people’s selections and thinking.  Voting is a personal choice and I realize we are all of us individuals.  And that means “different.”  But there are some cases where I can’t help myself, I grow critical and judgmental — although I try to keep these thoughts to myself and would not squelch such people even if I could.  There are two such cases.

One is voting for someone because of what they have between their legs, even if it is only one of many criteria. That’s sexist and shallow. Intelligent votes are based on what’s between their ears and their resume’.

The second is when people attack a candidate they don’t prefer on non-policy grounds (e.g. Trump is a sexist pig who can’t string two simple sentences together; Clinton is a lying criminal who got rich without ever producing anything of value that Joe-or-Jane average US citizen can relate to). This second type of opinion that causes me to be judgmental only applies when it is pretty obvious that the argument is made by someone who almost certainly would have voted for the other candidate anyhow.

I cannot help but see such attackers as draped in their own self-made mantle of sanctimony while sitting on their imaginary throne of self righteousness. “News” provider people who do this are even worse. (e.g. Sean Hannity, Don Lemon). I’m not proud that I do this judging. Maybe it’s my own form of sanctimony and self-righteousness.

99% of the attacks on Trump (and there are many good reasons for them) that you see and hear are from people who would have voted Democrat anyhow.  And vice versa. Probably 100%.   I wear myself out with restraint when I read or hear someone criticize a candidate that they wouldn’t vote for even if that person were a saint.

So, finally, at long, long last, this will soon be over.  This squabbling over candidates only increases the chance that we as a nation will continue to grow ever more fragmented and distrustful of one another — a Grand Canyon growing between us.  Neither Mrs C or Mr T have demonstrated an ability to unite us; let’s not make it worse by doing the work for them, and tearing ourselves apart.

It’s okay to praise a candidate. Even the other side once in a while.  It’s okay to respect others’ voices.

When it’s all over, Clinton or Trump in the White House makes no difference to your happiness, your health, your human dignity and your relationship with others.  They can’t make you happy, successful, pleasant, magnanimous, rich or generous.  You have to own all that yourself.

So, no matter what happens tomorrow, November 8, go out there everyday and make it a point to not just be nice to people who voted differently than you. Take time to listen when they dare to share their points of view, their logic and their passions. If they “attack” your candidate, this is a great opportunity.  “Yes, I can see that.  Of course. But what if it weren’t Trump or Clinton?  What if they were a truly decent human?  How would you vote then? What is important to you?” Listening is the most important quality. If you haven’t really learned anything, then you probably weren’t genuinely listening.

Really try.  Otherwise this election will just drive us farther and farther from each other.

Wishing you peace.

Joe Girard (c) 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decision 2016: Not Lard Dump

 

Not Lard Dump

 “He (Donald Trump) is a good and honest man.”
– Larry Arnn (President of Hillsdale College)

“… I will never look at that fleshy pile of vanity, crudity, and deceit and say: ‘There’s a good and honest man.’  ”
– Jonah Goldberg (senior editor of National Review)

Fairly regular readers will note that I’ve pretty much avoided politics for quite some time.  I’ve ventured slightly into that area occasionally; for instance last month I risked a brief walk into the mine field, touching on the issue known as “Citizens United”.  [We are all citizens, not united]

Discussing politics turns people off; drives readers away.  So I only dabble in that arena.   And then Donald Trump happened.

I was searching for the right words to describe The Donald. I had an overly long list going: boorish, crass, braggart, childish.  He’s … he’s … and then I came across an essay by Jonah Goldberg with the words in the header.  [Jonah Goldberg will not “come around” to supporting Trump]

“Fleshy pile of vanity, crudity and deceit.” Concise, descriptive and complete.  That’s why Goldberg is the professional writer, and I am not.

I have no horse in this race.  I could go off on Clinton, Sanders or Cruz ad nauseum with facts – chapter and verse – to justify my loathing.

Yet, I’m aware that each of these candidates has loyal followers who are decent people; who can rationalize their support.  Yes, the rationale ranges from shallow and simple to deep and profound.  In fact, a good reason to support any one of them is that they are not the other three. I generally don’t criticize other citizens for whom or for what they support; but I feel completely authorized to analyze and criticize candidates, parties and issue positions.

This one is for Donald Trump.  Sure he’s smart.  He’s rich. He’s slick and irreverent. To some extent I “get” the support for him (which I see as rather similar to Sanders’ support): people are angry.  But, as Goldberg writes: “Let me ask you something: How many times have you been justifiably angry in your own life yet still let your anger lead you to a bad decision?

And it is, indeed, justifiable anger.  The “system” has not worked.  Blue collar jobs are waning.  Average is synonymous with mean. And average wages are mean: adjusted for inflation mean wages have decreased for the middle class (and below) over the last 25 years. Virtually all of the Fed’s Quantitative Easing money has ended up with the 1%, with the banks and financing mergers.  Banks are bigger than ever.

And there’s confusion, and frustration, and complexity. The world is complex.  The economy is complex.  There’s creeping evil and chaos in the world.  Trump (and Sanders) offers catchy slogans for responses (although few valid solutions). For Trump: Let’s Win!  I’m smart and rich; trust me!

Looking at the larger world milieu, we can see that Trump is not unique. In a world context, the “right wing xenophobic reactionary anger” that Trump seems to represent is on the rampage, like Rommel racing across the open fields of France.  In Germany and Austria the xenophobic “Alternativ” parties are very vocal (AfD and AfÖ). In Great Britain, it’s the anti-immigration Euro-skeptic UKIP. In France, it’s the National Front (FN).  Netherlands? Geert Wilders leads the xenophobic nationalistic Party for Freedom (PVV).

Not to be outdone, such parties have not just come to prominence; they’re running the country in Poland and Hungary. And more: populist right wing xenophobic parties are running countries from Finland to Macedonia, from Switzerland to Norway, from Estonia to Norway.

So, Trump and the US are not unique here.  Accepting that Trump is rich and smart, and accepting that he is a clever media-playing populist, let’s go just a bit deeper.

Going a bit deeper we find, as Gertrude Stein famously said: “There is no there there.”

Insofar as intellectual depth, intellectual breadth and even intellectual curiosity are concerned – I submit that Trump is a lightweight.  A self-loving, bombastic, emotional simpleton.

I submit three examples.

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  1. I’ve watched a majority of the debates and town halls. [Yes I have a disease.]

In a recent CNN Town Hall Trump was asked: what are the 3 most important duties of the federal government?

This is a classic “softball question.” It is the sort of question that any thoughtful person – and especially a candidate for any national office (let alone President) – will always have a ready answer for.

Here’s what happened. Via my paraphrasing Trump said “the most important thing the government can do is protect its citizens.  So security is number 1.  It’s so important, that the top three duties are security, security and security.”

Good start. Security. Then … completely feeble.

Anderson Cooper tried to help him.  “Is there anything else the government should do?”

Trump: “Well there’s Health Care and Education, and you go on from there….”

You go on from there?  Is he a statist?  At this point, Trump has clearly knotted the noose, tied it to a branch, climbed up on a stool, and stuck his neck into the loop – at least to any thinking Republican voter.

Cooper tried to help him again.  “So you’re saying that the Federal government should be more involved in Health Care and education?”

Trump then kicked the stool over: Yes.  What’s being done now isn’t right.  We can do better. Security, Health Care and Education.”

For the next 30 minutes Trump continued to display ignorance and lack of thought. He pouted and smiled.  He has more facial expressions than Jackie Gleason. And more one liners than Henny Youngman.  He swayed gently in the breeze, hanging from the tree.

As a populist Republican, Trump could have said something like:

“Every nation must protect itself and its interests.  Every citizen of every country has a reasonable expectation of safety to be provided by their government. So priority #1 is security.  It’s the only ethical and common reason for any government to exist since the beginning of time.

“Moving on we have to consider what makes us unique as Americans.  So #2 you have the defense of individual rights.  We can start with the enumerated rights of the Constitution’s Amendments, especially the Bill of Rights: freedom to assemble, freedom to worship, speak, … and legal rights like fair legal processes.  And, for #2, we expand to rights that we’ve come to expect that are not in the amendments.  We have a reasonable expectation of privacy, to travel, to conduct commerce,  … Because really, this is a beautiful country.  I love this country.  And it’s often called a free country. The 9th Amendment basically states that rights of people not listed in the Constitution are still rights. So #2, we protect the citizens’ rights from government.

“And now #3, which is consistent with the spirit of American expression.  Government must do all that is practicable to ensure a level playing field.  All individuals have gifts, skills and intellect; and it’s in our DNA to desire to grow these, to use these, to contribute these gifts to the greater good of society, the good of ourselves , the good of our family, and for our posterity.  If a bright hard working young man in Detroit can’t have a reasonable path to individual actualization – similar to a young lady, say, from Beverly Hills – then we are all being cheated.  That young man is worse off.  Detroit is worse off. America is worse off.  We are all worse off when all of us – in all of our diversity – do not have as level a field as possible to aspire, grow, contribute.

“So the top 3 responsibilities – and not by any means all government responsibility – are security,  rights and a level playing field.”

FAIL

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  1. Trump recently fielded a hypothetical question from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about abortion (Matthews is hard left and always eager to trap any Republican). It is mind-boggling that any candidate – especially a Republican candidate for national office – would not be well-coached and well-prepared for such a question.

    The paraphrased question was: If abortion becomes illegal, should the woman be punished?

Trump’s simplistic answer (which he made several attempts to walk back later): Yes. You need to have some punishment.

Matthews actually tried to help him!  What punishment?  10 cents?  10 years?

To which Trump had no answer other than: I don’t know.  It’s complicated.

Really? Complicated?  This was such an easy trap to avoid. If he gets the party nomination, this video will haunt every Republican candidate come November.

Let’s start with Trump’s own words and try a better response.

“Abortion is complicated.  It’s because life is complicated.  Look, reproductively speaking, it’s unfair that woman carry the burden – literally – of carrying a baby to term.  Of giving birth.  And since life is complicated, pregnancy is complicated.  I’m sensitive to the myriad stressful and inconvenient circumstances that could lead a woman to consider abortion. Really, I am sensitive.  I’m sympathetic. My heart goes out to them.

“Look, this is a hypothetical question.  Right now the law of the land has been established by Roe v. Wade.  And that says woman have the right to confront life’s complications armed with the option of abortion.  As president I will enforce the law of the land.

“If and when abortion becomes illegal, I would never push for any punishment for the woman who’s made that choice.  In many cases, most cases I’ve been told, she will likely carry a psychological burden for years, if not the rest of her life.  That’s punishment enough.

“Do I like abortion?  No.  It is a violent option.  It ends a beating heart.  That’s why I support so many wonderful organizations – not Planned Parenthood – organizations that help women struggling with problem pregnancies. They’re encouraged to carry the baby to birth.  We give them financial and health resources.  Sometimes they abort; mostly the don’t. They baby is adopted – there are so many loving couples who’d love to adopt. Sometimes she keeps the baby to raise as her own.  We provide more financial and health resources so that the child can grow up in a healthy and loving environment.

“Chris, there are no easy answers.  We do what we can.  Even though I said I’d enforce the law as chief executive, I’d never enforce punishment on a woman who decided that abortion was the right option for her unique situation.”

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  1. Number 3 is a bit shorter. In a recent interview with the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame), Trump predicted that we’d soon have a major economic meltdown.  The system is screwed up.  Fair enough.

But he went on to say that if he’s elected president, the federal debt of $19 Trillion (a truly mind-boggling amount) would be eliminated in 8 years.   HA!

In the shadow of disaster he’s going to eliminate a debt that took almost 90 years to amass? [Here, I’m dating back to the dawn of the Great Depression].

When pressed how he’d eliminate the massive debt (let alone the annual deficit, which is currently running at one-half trillion dollars per year, and projected to run at least that high through 2020) Trump said simply that he would re-negotiate all of our trade agreements.  Citing an annual balance of payment trade deficit with China of about $500 Billion, Trump offered no other explanation, except “I’m a great negotiator.”

[Actually our entire worldwide trade deficit is about $500 Billion [1]; our deficit with China is about $360B [2]]

Evidently Trump seems to think that if the trade imbalance were removed – trade that occurs between corporations and individuals and has little to do with the government  – all of that money would somehow end up in the federal treasury.  And that wouldn’t even extinguish the annual deficit, let alone the Everest-sized total debt.

And how in the world could this be achieved in an atmosphere of imminent financial doom?

Trump may be a genius in real estate, media manipulation, reality TV, getting people riled up, and bankruptcy law.  But he is not intellectual or thoughtful or careful enough to be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office and the Executive reigns of power.

The more he talks, the stupider he sounds.  Keep talking.

Joe Girard © 2016

Note: the subtitle “Not Lard Dump” is an anagram of “Donald Trump”. Of the many options, I did not use “Damn Turd Pol” or “Dump Lord Ant.”

 

[1] https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/historical/gands.pdf

[2] https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/balance/c5700.html