I Pledge Allegiance

From the NYT:

Federal immigration authorities yesterday unveiled 100 new questions immigrants will have to study to pass a civics test to become naturalized American citizens.

That got me thinking. How many natural-born Americans could pass the test?

From 2006 using the old test in downtown Roanoke:

QUESTION #1: What do the stars on the flag represent?

Michelle McGee said, “The freedom… the freedom of… uhhhh.”

Melissa Richards answered, “Stars represent colonies. I don’t know.”

And after a few minutes of thinking, Bethany Gramm said, “Isn’t that the amount of the states?

There we go. Finally. Old Glory’s 50 stars do represent the 50 states of the Union.

Let’s stick with numbers for our second question.

QUESTION #2: How many senators are there?

Daniel Colton of Roanoke said, “50.” Carol Conway, also from Roanoke, said, “There’s two from each state. So that would be 102 or 104.”

Roanoker Anne Perrin came in a little lower, saying, “Uhhh. 45?”

Dina Daniels from Boones Mill didn’t even give it a guess. “I have no idea.” Shirley Wright did have a guess, although it was a little high, saying, “125… maybe.”

And the right answer is, given to us by Matt Wiram from Roanoke, is 100. There are two senators from each state.

And from Jay Leno several years back:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUmviuceomk

Think you can answer these questions? Test yourself here. Good luck with #19. That should be the only one you miss!

A Change of Heart

Jerry Sanders, the Republican mayor of San Diego, who has a lesbian daughter, has reversed course and now supports gay marriage. Watch this incredibly moving announcement:

All I can think of while watching this is contrasting the father-of-a-lesbian Republican mayor’s heartfelt and poignant message with the less-than heartfelt messages of the father-of-a-lesbian Republican vice president.

Score one for reason, equality, and social justice.

(Nod: The DailyDish)

California Dreamin’

Bob Herbert at the New York Times has an editorial today discussing the proposed California initiative to split the state’s electoral votes by congressional district.

The proponents of the initiative understand completely that a constitutional crisis could damage the nation’s democratic process and undermine the legitimacy of a presidential election. In their view that’s preferable to a Republican defeat.

The interesting tidbit in the article is this:

Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor and one of the nation’s pre-eminent constitutional scholars, believes the initiative is blatantly unconstitutional. “Entirely apart from the politics,” he said, “this clearly violates Article II of the Constitution, which very explicitly requires that the electors for president be selected ‘in such manner as the Legislature’ of the state directs.”

Yep. California voters can’t change how the state allocates electoral votes. The legislature has to. Here it is, Article II, Section I, of the U.S. Constitution:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress

This isn’t going to go away without a fight. Let’s hope reason and constitutionality win.

Blowback

Three generations of America’s Middle East involvement:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ezz6XVECZA

And yet Rudy Giuliani questions America’s foreign policy consequences.

Counting California’s Vote

At the end of July, it was reported that North Carolina was flirting with moving from a winner-take-all method of allocating electors for the Electoral College to a district method, where candidates receive electoral votes based on the number of Congressional districts they win, and the winner of the state’s popular vote gets the state’s remaining two electoral votes. The North Carolina bill died in the state legislature. I noted that past presidential elections at the state-level would have been altered had this proposal been enacted in the past, but likely without much nationwide alteration.

Enter California, with its 55 electoral votes, more than any other state (Texas is #2 with 34). GOP strategists in California want to move the state to a district allocation method, like Maine and Nebraska, and away from the winner-take-all method. The result? From a New York Times editorial:

If California abandons its winner-take-all rule while red states like Texas do not, it will be hard for a Democratic nominee to assemble an Electoral College majority, even if he or she wins a sizable majority of the popular vote. That appears to be just what the backers of the California idea have in mind.

So forget about actual Electoral College reform. This ballot initiative is only after trying to prevent a Democratic candidate from winning the White House in the future. The Democratic candidate is usually assured to win all of California’s electoral votes and needs to win California in order to either win the White House or have a shot at it.

The group behind the initiative is called Californians for Equal Representation and has ties to a major donor to the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. We can only hope the citizens of California realize this rosy-sounding group is up to shameful and divisive tactics. Otherwise, presidential politics will surely change for the foreseeable future, and not in a positive way.

As I did for the North Carolina article, here are the results of past presidential elections with this proposal applied, as computed by my thesis:

2004
Kerry: 33
Bush: 22

2000
Gore: 35
Bush: 19

1996
Clinton: 38
Dole: 16

1992
Clinton: 38
Bush: 16

1988
Bush: 25
Dukakis: 22

1984
Reagan: 39
Mondale: 8

So as a hypothetical, let’s say in 2000 it was Al Gore who won the Electoral College 271 to 267 rather than the opposite way it turned out. Had California allocated its electoral votes with the district method, the election would have been overturned, giving George W. Bush a 286 to 252 majority (CA had 54 electoral votes in 2000 if you’re checking my math).

(Nod: ThinkProgress)

Tiptoeing in the Right Direction

Michigan wants to move its Democratic primary to 15 Jan 2008, one day after the Iowa caucuses and before Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. In addition, the Florida primary is on the same day as South Carolina, 29 January. The DNC has decided to strip Florida of all its delegates, and is encouraging presidential candidates not to campaign in Michigan or any other state that holds a primary or caucus before “the four”: IA, NV, NH, and SC. Richardson, Biden, Dodd, and now Edwards and Obama have signed the pledge not to campaign in Michigan and any other like-state.

I wrote a while ago on the dangers of the primary schedule we face next year. It is encouraging to see some body with power fighting back against this system that has spiraled out of control. More, however, needs to be done.

Donna Brazile, Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign manager and member of the rules and bylaws committee of the Democratic National Committee, writes in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on why Florida was stripped of its delegates and that the system needs a massive overhaul for the future. Quote:

Our nominating process is supposed to yield the best possible candidates for the most powerful position in the world. Unfortunately for all of us, it is a deeply flawed system in desperate need of reform. Recent proposals to create a regional rotation system in 2012, or the “Delaware Plan” to allow smaller states to go first, should be on the table for discussion starting this fall.

As we begin to contemplate the calendar for 2012, and the rules that will govern that process, both major parties must craft a system that makes sense for voters and candidates. We can begin by setting a reasonable starting date I suggest the time when the snow gives way to tulips and daffodils. We can make sure the nominating schedule does not unfairly favor the rock stars of politics. And we must make sure the campaign finance laws allow more than just the candidates with deep pockets and ties to big donors to be competitive.

That last statement in her article is becoming more and more concerning. From the NYTimes blog:

[…] to campaign in large states like Michigan and Florida, while also stumping in the approved early states, would probably require significant ad buys in expensive media markets. The campaigns of Senators Obama and Clinton may be able to afford that the others can’t, regardless of strategic priorities for either retail politics or mass messaging.

Any overhaul of the primary schedule in the future MUST be met with overhauls in campaign finance. Not just reforms. Overhauls. So far in this election cycle, all the presidential candidates have raised a combined total of just under $300 million. There is absolutely no reason this amount of money needs to be collected, and certainly not this early into the cycle.

The Founding Fathers certainly didn’t envision nor want running for political office, and surely not running for president, to be about who can raise the most money. Running for office is supposed to be about the most qualified candidate, regardless of anything else.

Unfortunately, gone are the days when just anyone could decide to run for office. Now you need money, money, and more money. In today’s system, only those with money or those with connections to money can run and win. A very sad reality, one which will likely get worse, because money is power. Those with money have the power. Those without want it.

Until Congress and the major political parties can wake up and act on both the primary system and campaign finance, we’ll continue living in the same corrupted system, a system bankrolled by millionaires, corporations, and other wealthy, politically-inclined organizations.

Counting North Carolina’s Vote

On the topic of Electoral College reform, North Carolina is headed towards altering how the state awards electoral votes. Constitutionally-speaking, it is up to the states to decide how they wish to allot electoral votes. Except for Maine and Nebraska, every state and D.C. currently award all electoral votes to whichever candidate receives the greatest plurality of popular votes in the state, a method known as the winner-take-all method.

Maine and Nebraska employ the district allocation method. With this plan, each candidate is awarded one electoral vote for each congressional district won in the state. The winner of the state popular vote is awarded the state’s final two electoral votes.

Since Nebraska adopted this plan in 1972 and Maine in 1996, neither state has ever split their electoral votes even though they are set-up for such a scenario. North Carolina, though, would likely split their electoral votes.

As computed by my thesis, here are some past results:

2004
Bush: 11
Kerry: 4

2000
Bush: 11
Gore: 3

1996
Dole: 11
Clinton: 3

1992
Bush: 9
Clinton: 5

1988
Bush: 12
Dukakis: 1

1984
Reagan: 13
Mondale: 0

So, things could get interesting next year. Although North Carolina splitting electoral votes isn’t likely going to change much in the national electoral count, this little experiment could prove interesting for the future of the Electoral College.

Counting the Vote

I’ve finally completed my Masters thesis project, entitled “Counting the Vote: An Interactive Study of Electoral College Reform.” Viewable at: www.joehribar.com/countingthevote

thesis

In the project, users can learn about the Electoral College, several reform proposals to alter the system, and finally in the last section, users can select a past presidential election (2004-1984) and a reform proposal to see if or how that proposal could have changed the outcome of that election.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the outcome. Eventually I’d like to add more elections to see if or how they could change. Until then, enjoy.

Money Matters

The New York Times has a really cool interactive map detailing contributions to the 2008 presidential candidates.

We’ll Give You a Call

Refreshing spin on vote-for-me ads from Democratic presidential hopeful and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson:

Moral High Ground

Finally a high-ranking official speaks out against torture: a letter [PDF] from General David Petraeus, commanding general in Iraq, to American troops in Iraq. I sincerely hope a copy was hand-delivered to the president, vice president, and attorney general.   Quote:

Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we not our enemies occupy the moral high ground.

Morally Opposed

I heard this story on NPR on the drive home today: the Bush Administration is manipulating science. While I was listening to the story, I thought to myself that I’ve heard this before about the administration. So when I got home, I decided to do some digging. Well, a quick search on The Internets came up with these stories:

Quote from the last article:

In my more than three decades in the government I’ve never witnessed such restrictions on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public.

James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2006

Why is the Bush Administration seemingly at war with science? Simply because they don’t believe in science? This not only is shockingly irresponsible but it’s alarmingly dangerous. We’re talking about the future of our planet and life on it.

This reminds me of other service professionals refusing to do their job because they have a moral objection to something: pharmacists who deny customers birth control. I understand that not everyone can agree with everything and everyone else’s opinions, but if you refuse to do your job, that’s stepping way over the line, as that Slate article rightfully illustrates. Quote:

But if a pharmacist doesn’t have to dispense birth control, or an EMT can refuse to drive someone to an abortion clinic, or a nurse can refuse a rape victim emergency contraception, none of us can really trust in the professionals around us at those moments when we need them the most.

So let me put this in perspective with myself. I abhor Internet Explorer because of its developers’ refusal to follow web standards. You might say I’m morally opposed to it. So as a web designer/developer, does that mean I can refuse to cater to viewers of my sites who are using IE? Does that mean I can embed some script that detects if my users are browsing with IE and instead of showing them my site show them some heinous personal message lecturing them on why they shouldn’t be using IE? Absolutely not.

Do I hate that people use IE? Yes. Do I still serve them with a begrudging smile? Of course. Do I wish they were using something other than IE? You bet. My job, like pharmacists and government officials, is to serve my customers. I may not like what they like or even believe in what they believe in, but that’s not what I’m here for, and it’s certainly not what service professionals and government officials are there for.

Iowa Caucus Movin’ On Up

It seems that the madness of the ever-creeping-forward primary and caucus schedule for 2008 keeps growing and growing. Iowa is likely to move their caucus forward from 14 January to 7 January, with this move coming after California, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Hampshire, and many other states have all moved their primaries or caucuses forward.

The pushing forward of these elections is a serious and dangerous trend facing American politics. Gone are the days of the so-called “retail” politics, where candidates literally meet as many voters as possible in the early primary states. This system was allowed to flourish because the primaries were spread-out over several months.

Today, though, candidates must engage in “wholesale” politics, where instead of having face-to-face meetings in voters’ living rooms, candidates must spend their resources on tv, radio, and internet ads, both positive and negative, in order to reach as many voters as possible in the shortened primary season. More ads means the candidates have to raise more money; more money needed means candidates have to start campaigning earlier and earlier, hence the absurdly early presidential race we currently are trudging through.

Not only does the shortened, front-loaded system of today increase the money necessary to mount a presidential campaign, it discourages and almost inhibits anyone who is not either financially well-connected or personally well-off. Are these the people we necessarily want running the government?

In addition, the front-loaded system perpetuates a never-ending, vicious, distracting, and otherwise excruciatingly-too-long general campaign that is far more likely to turn-off voters than it is to engage them. Next year, by the end of February, over 30 states will have held their primary or caucus. That means that in both parties, the presidential nominee will have been unofficially chosen. That means that the 2008 general election campaign will last from March to November. That means that if one or both of the major parties’ candidates falter during the general election campaign or the party has second thoughts on their choice, it will be too late to choose someone else.

If American voters are already apathetic towards politics, next year will only serve to drive them further away from caring who is elected. Can America afford this? Can the future of our democracy afford this? Can the rest of the world afford this?

Something needs to be done, and it needed to be done yesterday. An astronomical 84% of eligible voters in France voted last month in the French presidential primary. In the United States, 60% voted for president in 2004, 54% in 2000. If we worry about voter turnout, a front-loaded, national primary-esque system is not the answer. The political system has gone for a long walk off a short pier, and it has taken the rest of us with it.

Campaign Kickoff

I present to you my favorite presidential campaign advertisement: