“Closer” – 2016’s Answer to “Somebody That I Used to Know”

If we look “closer,” we notice that these two hit songs have striking similarities.

Structurally, “Closer” parallels “Somebody That I Used to Know” closely. The male singer sings the opening verse and the first chorus by himself. Then, the female vocalist sings the next verse by herself. Together, they sing the second chorus.

Lyrically, both songs allude to a breakup between the singers. Gotye laments the fact that the girl “changed her number” and the Chainsmokers sing that for four years there were “no calls.” In “Somebody That I Used to Know,” both singers express how badly they felt about the situation and don’t want to see them ever again. In “Closer,” the male singer doesn’t want to see the girl’s friends ever again. However, in the chorus of that song, the vocalists request from each other another passionate encounter. They want to put all the past stuff behind them and reconnect, at least for one more time.

Harmonically, both songs both make use of similar chord progressions, albeit in reverse order and in different keys. If both songs were done in E minor (which they weren’t), Gotye’s chorus would go from Em to D to C. On the other hand, the Chainsmokers would go from C to D to Em.

Melodically, the prechorus in this song is similar to the verse that Kimbra sings before the second chorus in “Somebody That I Used to Know.”

Commercially, both songs peaked at #1 in the U.S. and have both been covered by Walk Off the Earth. In a YouTube search, the top three covers include these two songs. Walk Off the Earth also covered Adele’s “Hello,” which is incidentally another song about the aftermath of a breakup.

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On Trump Winning

First of all, I would like to congratulate Mr. Trump on his victory. It was a tough, brutal campaign, and I am glad that process has come to an end. I am faithful in the legitimacy of the votes, and I am thankful that we will be having a peaceful transition of power.

For months on end, we have viewed Hillary Clinton and/or Donald Trump as a tough pill to swallow. I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary and tepidly supported Hillary Clinton in the general election. I was still absolutely shocked to see that Trump was winning in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

However, this was a huge wake-up call to the Democratic Party. I will admit that my party deserved to lose because we did not do right by the people of these states. We have spent so much time trying to win the votes of wealthy, educated suburbanites that we have taken the working-class citizens of our great country for granted. We have abandoned our progressive roots by supporting unbalanced trade deals and cozying up to big corporations.

My hope is that Trump will adopt a positive and cooperative tone. I hope he will resolve the issues caused by ObamaCare (about which people on both sides of the aisle have complained). I hope he will reform federal education law regarding Common Core and allow schools to do what they do best.

I hope he bridges the deep divides in our country. I have never defriended anyone for being a Trump supporter. If you are a good person who cares about others, that is good enough for me. I hope he cracks down on sexual assault to show that he is serious about his self-professed respect for women. He could also do much of what his daughter Ivanka said he would do at the RNC this summer.

All I have left to say is good luck, Mr. Trump. You are our president-elect now. The world is watching.

Our Real Problem? The Moderate Always Loses

By PATRICK WOOD

In 2010, one midterm election was enough to unseat half of the so called “Blue Dog Democrats” (more moderate/conservative Democrats) from Congress. This statistic is pretty amazing for a few reasons. One, as an advantage of incumbency, members of Congress have extremely high reelection rates. They are reelected roughly 90% of the time. Second, this happened when there wasn’t even a presidential election occurring. People generally don’t give a damn about these elections, voter participation is lower than it is during presidential election years, and one would think this would boost the incumbency advantage for members of Congress.

But 2010 saw blue dog after blue dog fall.

In 2012, the Republican Party flirted with more extreme conservative candidates before nominating Mitt Romney, who struck many as a much more vanilla, centrist choice. Romney was initially perceived as a wise pick, as it was thought he had the greatest chance of appealing to voters who identified as anything other than “very conservative.” Romney ended up losing his bid to Barack Obama, and in truth, the contest wasn’t that close.

This was reminiscent of 2004 when the Democrats did the exact same thing with John Kerry, who mounted an unsuccessful bid to defeat George Bush. “Boring,” “lackluster,” “flip-flopping,” “calculating,” centrist Kerry lost both the popular vote and the electoral vote to a vulnerable incumbent president.

So, who does win elections? Extremists, populists, hard party-liners, and those who appeal to the party’s base. People like Donald Trump. Why? They’re exciting. They bring out their supporters on election day.

For moderates, like Kerry and Clinton, this is much harder to do. Soaring ideals are simply more inspiring than calculating pragmatism.

While more people might align more closely with a moderate and not care for the more extreme candidate, these people need an additional reason to come out to the polls. Their emotions and passions are not stirred by vanilla establishment candidates.

Meanwhile the extreme, populist/demagogic, or hyper-partisan candidate enjoys the advantage of soaking up most of the media attention. We have to concede they’re exciting, and we’re hanging on every word.

So what does this mean? – It’s bad, bad news.

The level of partisanship in Washington is only going to get worse. To illustrate this, take this year’s senatorial elections. The Democrats managed to unseat two Republican senators. Maggie Hassan just barely eeked out a win over Kelly Ayotte, a somewhat moderate Republican from New Hampshire. The only blowout against an incumbent Republican was Tammy Duckworth’s victory over Illinois senator Mark Kirk, the most liberal Republican in the entire Senate.

The moderate always loses in the USA. Senator Kirk had a strong record on LGBT rights, reviled Donald Trump, and voted with the Democrats on numerous issues.

With Kirk gone, are any remaining Republicans going to compromise and work with the Democrats? It seems very unlikely. The Democrats have eliminated their only friend from across the aisle. Expect countless strict party-line votes once the new Congress begins.

While Kirk was defeated, a senator in Wisconsin managed to defy the expectations of forecasters and hold on to his seat in Congress. This man is Ron Johnson, who defeated progressive darling Russ Feingold in the purply/blue state of Wisconsin after suggesting that impeachment motions should be brought immediately if Clinton were to win the presidency.

The extremist wins, the moderate loses, and the country suffers.

Unity

ICYMI: The debate night started out with Trump being rather calm but then Hillary and Trump went back and forth between policy positions and personal attacks. I thought Chris Wallace was respectable as the moderator, giving each candidate a chance to defend their records. He also mainly focused on broad policy questions, but he wasn’t able to get better economic answers from them.
That being said, I am not only looking forward to November 8th, I am also looking forward to November 9th. These are the two least liked presidential candidates in modern American politics. I’m hoping the division spawned by this campaign will turn to unity. Personally, I believe that whomever we elect will face an American populace that will rooting for them to fail. The next president’s first term will be brutal. I believe this election should force us to reconsider our electoral system and how we go about choosing our leaders. We want a leader who will unify us because we are tired of the country being torn apart.
We need to spend less time on wedge issues and start discussing things we actually agree on. Although I’m sure the media would prefer insulting soundbites over statesmanlike conduct which the focus groups don’t find interesting. What does that say about our culture? We have to be entertained 24-7? I’m heartbroken. America has done so much good for the world, and we’ve done it as a team. We’ve built spectacular skyscrapers, put a man on the Moon, and invented so many great things. And yet, we are forgetting those achievements. Instead we often live a culture of hate disguised as brutal honesty and greed disguised as rugged individualism. We idolize people who write lyrics that insult women, and we prefer short Tweets as opposed to profound, thought-provoking words. The next time you say #YOLO, it better be for a cause as in “I supported my local community by helping people achieve success in life #YOLO.”
There is a world bigger than any single individual. That makes me feel big, and anyone reading this should feel the same way. We are capable of doing such amazing things. We can start anytime we want. Do something good. I know many of you already do. But please remember that love is still real; there is still good in the world. We just have to remember to let it guide our lives. That is what I try to do in my job every day. I don’t see myself as a teacher. I see myself as doing the often challenging job of lifting people up. I believe we are all here to do that actually.
So, what are you going to do to lift up the lives of others?

The Problem with Donald Trump’s Words

By JOE McMAHON

Donald Trump has recently come under fire, yet again, for appearing to suggest that supporters of the 2nd amendment should take matters into their own hands and “stop” Hillary Clinton. While much of the country was, unsurprisingly, outraged by his comment, the Trump campaign tried to paint it in a less threatening light. Spokesperson Jason Miller claimed that the quote was just supposed to encourage people to vote in order to prevent Clinton from becoming president in the first place. On CNN, Trump’s aide Paul Manafort argued, “Most people did not see it as a threat.” Which, honestly, is probably the case. The problem is, Paul, what about the people who did?

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Trump might have meant exactly what Jason Miller said he did. Like most of Trump’s comments, this one was beautifully vague and ambiguous. The fact is, though, that it doesn’t matter what he meant.

While much of the media attention has been on the intent of Trump’s words, the far more important thing to consider is how those words were perceived by his audience. More importantly, how those words were perceived by the darker, more impressionable subset of his audience. The angry, down-on-their-luck audience, perhaps with violent tendencies just looking for someone to blame for their misfortune. Because, believe me, Mr. Trump, that audience did not hear that and think “Well, darn, I better show up in November and vote.” No. What they heard was a man they idolize cavalierly validating those dark thoughts in the back of their minds. What they heard was a man of incredible influence and power making them think that maybe those violent ideas weren’t as wrong as society made them out to be. Maybe, after listening to Donald Trump, they decided that they did have a right to do something about the “Clinton problem.”

The thing that you need to learn, Mr. Trump, is that you cannot choose your audience. You cannot make a dangerous claim and then defend it by saying that you intended it in a different way. Because that doesn’t change how people interpret it. That didn’t stop the racists in this country from jumping all over your incendiary remarks about Mexicans as validation of their racist thoughts. And it’s not going to stop your violent, angry, gun-toting supporters from interpreting your recent comments in a way that could lead to tragedy.

Now, I’m not saying that politicians need to make sure that their words have no dangerous interpretation. That would obviously be possible. But Donald Trump has made a habit of saying intentionally vague and ambiguous things and then hiding behind the excuse of “That’s not what I meant” while watching the world tear itself apart fighting over it. Donald Trump loves saying things that have both a benign interpretation that can protect him and an incendiary interpretation that can capture headlines. His entire campaign has been built on saying things that enrage half the country and excite the other half, while riding the resulting tension and strife all the way to political stardom.

But this time, he’s gone too far. This time, an obvious interpretation of his comments wasn’t just racist or sexist or Islamophobic. This time it was dangerous. This time, the possible repercussions are much more severe. Maybe Trump doesn’t care. Maybe he likes the idea that millions of people interpreted his remarks as a violent threat against Hillary Clinton that could put her life in danger. But hopefully that’s not the case. And if Donald Trump has even one moral bone in his body, that will be the last time he ever makes that kind of a statement.

Why a Third Party Vote is Not a Wasted Vote

By JOE McMAHON

The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world. This “nation of immigrants” has people of all different religions, ethnicities, cultures and ideologies co-existing in the melting pot we call home. And yet, with all this variety, the United States is still one of the few developed countries in the world with only two major political parties to represent such a broad array of people.

With significantly more differing viewpoints and ideologies than there are parties, people have been told for decades not to pick the candidate who represents their views the best, but to vote against the candidate that represents their views the least. If you’re a far left liberal who only agrees with half the platform of the moderate Democrat who’s running for office, you’re told to suck it up and vote for him/her anyway because at least it’s not as bad as the Republican option. If you’re a fiscal conservative who believes in limited government but is appalled by socially conservative views of the religious right, it doesn’t matter. You have to vote for the Republican anyway because the Democrat is even worse. In a system where two parties have to try and represent vastly more ideological viewpoints, a large number of people are forced to compromise on their values to support the candidate they dislike least.

Never has this been more apparent than in this election cycle. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have two of the highest disapproval ratings for presidential nominees in American history and, because of this, they have spent more time arguing against their opponents than arguing for themselves. This is why the major theme of the Republican National Convention was not “Donald Trump will fix this country” although that message was half-heartedly touched on. The major themes were “Crooked Hillary” and “Lock her up.”  The Trump campaign correctly realized that the best way to win the presidency was not to convince the American people that their candidate was the best man for the job but to convince them that Democratic nominee was even less fit to be president.

This strategy is a depressing reflection of how far our political system has fallen, but it’s also a strategy that has a good chance of working. All you need to do is read the comments section of any political story that mentions third party candidates and you’ll find a litany of comments arguing that a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote and that the country needs to do whatever it can to keep Trump/Hillary out of office.

We can’t have a political system where people are discouraged from voting their conscious out of fear. We can’t have a democracy where we tell large groups of people to suck it up and vote for a candidate that they don’t believe in because the single alternative offered is terrifying. We need to have a system where there is a large enough number of viable candidates that Americans can go to the polls and cast their vote for a candidate they believe in. And the options are out there. For those far left progressives who feel that Hillary is too moderate of a candidate, Jill Stein’s Green Party is a competent alternative. And for fiscal conservatives who are more socially progressive than mainstream Republicans, look no further than Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party for a candidate who more closely represents your views.

Whatever you, as an individual, happen to believe in, the goal of a democracy should be to make sure that you have representation in government. And to do that, there needs to be an adequate number of parties to represent the vast number of ideologies and beliefs that the people of this country have. No more can we endure what we’ve seen over and over again in this election, where members of the two political parties try to scare people who don’t believe in their platforms into supporting them by demonizing their opponents. We can’t call this a strong, representative democracy if large numbers of voters are going to their polls with the mindset that they need to vote against a certain candidate rather than for one. We need to change the mindset in this country that settling and compromising on our values out of fear is acceptable. We need to stop trying to convince the far left that they are betraying Democratic principles by refusing to fall in line behind Hillary Clinton. We need to tell Republican voters that it’s okay to be appalled by the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump and want to look for another option. First and foremost, we need to make sure that every American can go to the polls in November and vote their conscience; that they can vote for a person who they think represents them. We need to make sure that no one is bringing fear to the ballot box.

Because if we, as a nation, send the statement that it doesn’t matter who the major parties pick as their standard bearer, then it’ll just get worse. If we tell the Democrats and Republicans that all they have to do is terrify us and we’ll vote for whomever they want us to, the American people lose their power to ensure that competent candidates lead their parties into November. 2016 brings us a unique opportunity to show the two major parties that our loyalty is dependent on nominees that reflect the values of the parties they’re supposed to represent. If we don’t now, when will we?

For all those undecided voters trying to figure out for whom to cast your ballot this fall, don’t let anyone tell you that a vote for a fringe candidate is a wasted vote. To summarize Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, the only wasted vote is a vote for a candidate you don’t believe in. Vote your conscience this November; vote for the candidate you think will be the best for America and let the chips fall where they may. Maybe one of the fringe candidates will be competitive. Maybe they won’t. But at the very least, the major parties will know that our support has to be earned. And that’s a victory in and of itself.

Tuesday Talks: Drugs & Criminal Justice

On Tuesday, August 9, Greater Scheme contributors John Buterbaugh and Patrick Wood discussed drugs and criminal justice with guest contributor David Liggera.
JOHN BUTERBAUGH: Okay, so, we’re discussing Drugs & Criminal Justice today. David, why don’t you start off by touching on some of the issues you’re seeing and some potential solutions to those problems.
DAVID LIGGERA: I suppose the first example that comes to mind is Obama’s recent commuting of… 214 drug-related sentences? The idea that a minimum punishment exists for possession, and that it’s as byzantine as it is, is truly worrying.
JOHN: I think Obama commuting sentences is a good step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the problem is that there are so many more of these cases at the state level, and I haven’t heard of many instances of governors commuting drug-related sentences other than Terry McAuliffe in Virginia. His motivation was different though. He wasn’t trying to eliminate non-violent offenses from a felon’s record but rather he wanted to restore voting rights to people convicted of a crime, many of whom were African-American.
DAVID: That too – current drug laws seem to disproportionately affect minority populations. It really is worrying, especially with regards to voting rights. Does possession really warrant surrendering such essential civil liberties?
JOHN: Absolutely not. I mentioned in an article earlier that the War on Drugs was a deliberate attempt to discriminate against the black community. It’s simply destroyed their community rather than stop drug addiction. We need to focus on treating it as a public health issue, and we need to put the pressure on our elected leaders to change it.
PATRICK WOOD: I agree. The Drug War is deeply racist in its implementation and enforcement. Some of the evidence is extremely clear. For instance, whites and blacks use marijuana at very similar rates, yet black Americans are punished for it 3-4 times as often. Stiff penalties for drug use do very little to curb addiction. In fact, jail time lowers one’s employment prospects after release, which may lead to more drug use, or perhaps violent crime. I think all drugs should be decriminalized, if not legalized.
John is absolutely right, it’s time to treat drug use and drug addiction as a serious public health problem, not a criminal one.
JOHN: I wanted to ask either of you guys how there is such a high incarceration rate in America. There surely is no way all though inmates are in there for drug-related “crimes,” but is there? What am I missing here?

DAVID: Absolutely! I think such a change in public perception would be vital to bringing forth positive changes.

Don’t use this in a paper, but this page suggests that the prison population exploded in the 1980s, and that most offenders (60%) are nonviolent. (The Facts about American Prisons: Separating economic myths from economic truthsreason.com)
PATRICK: I think Ending the War on Drugs would decrease our inmate population by over a third. I believe about a third are currently there for drug-related offenses. Others may be there for something they did as a result of their inability to make a living in an honest way – a criminal record hampering employment opportunities.
JOHN: There are still 40% of them being violent offenders. Was law enforcement creating harsher sentences for less serious violent crimes? And would eliminating the drug offenders from our prisons knock us off from having the #1 highest incarceration rate in the world?
PATRICK: I imagine lowering the population by 33%+ would do so, absolutely.
JOHN: I think Patrick brings up a good point. The recidivism rate, or the rate at which people continue to commit undesirable behaviors, is an issue.
PATRICK: I think the Drug War actually induces people to engage in illegal activity they otherwise wouldn’t. The clearest example is someone who is a nonviolent hard drug user or seller who is mixed with violent inmates in prison and emerges without job prospects. S/he may turn to violent crime after release.
JOHN: If we use the data from PrisonStudies.org, it looks like the U.S. would drop down a few places but it would still be the industrialized nation with the highest incarceration rate. But that recidivism rate could be an indirect result of drugs and that would go down more if we help those on parole get a job and move on with their lives.
DAVID: Pretty much – I mean, compare our prisons to those in, say, Norway. We seem to focus much more on punitive methods (Ie, we’re going to punish you as hard as possible) rather than, well, more restorative methods. I agree with both of you, prisoners simply aren’t given tools to move toward another path.
JOHN: And the Netherlands has such low crimes they are taking prisoners in from Belgium, I think! Why don’t we do that? If we’re addicted to incarceration because it does provide jobs, why don’t we just import prisoners, like, I don’t know, from Guantanamo Bay? (And they were taking in prisoners from Belgium because they wanted to fill in prisons.)
PATRICK: Can I just butt in to say how sick it is that we have private prisons? This is a whole industry that wants/needs a high incarceration rate.
JOHN: But how do we challenge that? How do we get rid of that? It’s a big money deal. It’s quite a Goliath, and I feel like David without a stone.

PATRICK: Raising our voices is a start. And David beat Goliath. Progressive outrage over this system has even gotten Hillary Clinton, a centrist Democrat, to say it’s flawed.

DAVID: Admittedly, I don’t have a stone right now! And yes – I do think that public perception about private jails and drug sentencing is starting to change in a more progressive manner. It really just does seem like something that will just take some time to change.
JOHN: And what is the real difference between privatized prisons and public prisons? It sounds like taxpayers are still paying for the privatized ones. So, what? Is it like a 5% discount? Buy one prisoner, get one free? And I’m partly joking, but I think that’s fair because the whole system sounds like a real joke.

PATRICK: It is. And not only do we have people in prison for silly reasons, we have placed them in uncaring hands. The more the private company that owns and runs the prison skimps on providing for the inmates, the more money they make.

DAVID: It’s truly disgusting.

JOHN: Now I’d imagine at least one of you has seen Orange Is the New Black. What do you think of the show presenting an accurate picture of the system? Do you think it’s a truthful depiction or is it simply a show that aims to be entertaining? I know it’s based on a book about real events so…
PATRICK: Interesting you should mention that. In OITNB, Litchfield prison goes from public to private and the quality of living of the inmates goes from poor to abysmal.
DAVID: I’ve actually never seen it! I don’t watch much TV.
JOHN: I mean, I know for sure they took some liberties with the characters and all…
DAVID: I hate to say it, but it makes sense. Now every liberty and luxury the prisoners have is a hit to your bottom line.
PATRICK: I like that they included “Crazy Eyes”. A staggering percentage of gen pop in our prisons suffer from mental illness.
JOHN: And they probably don’t do enough to treat those people.
DAVID: Or anything at all, really.
JOHN: It really seems like an excuse not to take any responsibility for other human beings. And they just play it off as criminals being criminals and deserving everything they get
DAVID: Yep – gotta love the Just World fallacy.
JOHN: Are either of you familiar with Bryan Stevenson’s work? He just published Just Mercy — it looks really interesting.
DAVID: I am not!
PATRICK: Sadly I am not either.
JOHN: It’s a memoir about his experience defending an innocent man on death row. He touches on the issues with criminal justice. One example is that we don’t treat veterans with PTSD when they come back to the states and they up having either health or behavioral issues, get locked, become homeless, what have you. And it’s a greater cost to society to have people without homes. They had a housing first program in Utah that eliminated the costs of law enforcement and health interventions when they simply gave people homes.
PATRICK: Ah, yes, that was initiated when Jon Huntsman was governor. There are few Republicans I’d be happy seeing in the White House, but Huntsman might be one. It seems obvious in a way. I’m glad someone actually did it.
DAVID: It definitely was a step in the right direction!
JOHN: All right, I gotta go get dinner, guys. Let’s meet again next Tuesday.
PATRICK: Thank you for hosting this, John. This is a hugely important topic, and I’m optimistic positive change will arrive soon.

Electoral Reform Suggestions

Streamlining Vote Counting
*People sign into a polling place.
*You bubble in a paper ballot.
*You scan the paper ballot with a voting machine.
*The voting machine prints you a Voting Verification Number (VVN) receipt. The VVN matches the number that was on your paper ballot.
*Absentee ballots would also have a VVN. This would come with a CR code (linking to the online Excel spreadsheet) and could be turn off along a fold from the rest of the ballot.
*The voting machine sends your voting data to an online Excel spreadsheet.
*This spreadsheet is visible to the public when polls close.
*Voters can verify the Excel data by searching their VVN online and seeing if there are any discrepancies.
*News agencies can get electoral data instantaneously.
*People can correct discrepancies by texting or calling the County Board of Elections with their VVN. They may also make an in-person complaint.
*The Board of Elections can then review the paper ballots corresponding to the VVNs, especially if the number of complaints exceeds the margin between the winner and other candidates.

Voter ID
*Sure, there is some voter fraud, but it’s minimal and it’s not the reason that mostly Republican state legislatures are pushing voter ID laws. Pennsylvania did it because its Republican state legislature wanted to swing the vote in favor of Romney in 2012. That has since been struck down because people who cannot get voter IDs are often minorities or they are economically disadvantaged. These people generally vote for Democratic candidates.
*In 2015, Alabama closed numerous DMV offices in mostly majority-black counties to favor Republican candidates. That has since been turned around. It’s very clear they don’t want these African-American voters to verify their identity at the polls. Just because the Civil Rights Act was passed in the 1960s doesn’t mean there aren’t still problems.

Voter Registration
*Voting registration should be automatic and should pull data from the DMV once a citizen becomes 18.
*People would be registered as independent. They can change their party affiliation by filling out a form either online or on paper. They can register for a party or they can remain an independent but be given the option to vote in one party’s primary elections.
*People should not have to renew their voting registration. Voting is a right, not a Netflix subscription. We need to do everything we can to prevent people’s right to vote whether it’s in a primary or in a general election.

Long Voting Lines
*Election data by precinct is now available so that Boards of Election can find the precincts that vote a certain way and force the residents thereof to go to one polling place. This can manipulate the results because voters who might have strongly supported Candidate A might be discouraged by the long lines or have to be turned away because they were 300th in line and the polls already closed. Meanwhile, Candidate B could have won even when popular support was with Candidate A.

Gerrymandering
*Why we don’t have independent redistricting commissions in this day and age is beyond me. Then again, the people who have the power to improve their reelection chances will do anything they can not to lose that power. Anywhere citizens can start an initiative to have independent redistricting

Tuesday Talks: Electoral Reform

Tuesday Talks will be an ongoing series of discussions among the contributors to Greater Scheme. We will discuss of variety of issues, mainly political, but we will discuss other topics as we see fit.

JOHN: All right, let’s talk about electoral reform. There are a number of factors that determine how the current electoral system in the United States operates, and Patrick and I will discuss those factors and address potential solutions with the hope of promoting and protecting democratic values. Patrick, would you like to start with some issues you’re seeing with the current system?

PATRICK: Absolutely! Thank you for discussing this vitally important topic with me. I think one of the biggest problems with our current electoral system is that it is a pretty firmly entrenched two-party system. It results in similar candidates, lack of meaningful choice, and allows parties to put forward increasingly unpopular candidates – this has culminated this year in the major parties presenting the two most disfavored candidates in any contemporary American presidential election.

Outdated voting machines and a complicated registration process are also cause for concern.

JOHN: What I find interesting about this argument is that the two-party system is nothing new. The current two-party system dates back to the 1850s when the Republican Party was formed. And we’ve had some solid presidents and statesmen come our way since then. Abraham Lincoln was part of that system as was Teddy Roosevelt and FDR. I think the problem with the current two-party system is its relationship with campaign finance. The Koch Brothers, of course, don’t fund Libertarian candidates because they don’t win. They spend most of their campaign funds on Republican candidates. As a result, the Republicans get most of the money. The Democrats have their fair share of corporations and special interests that fund them. Don’t get me wrong.

People’s discontent toward government has grown because the politics is getting more polarized. That wouldn’t have happened if Newt Gingrich didn’t have 24-7 news as his soapbox so that he could speak out against Bill Clinton and his policies. Polarization wouldn’t have happened if Fox News didn’t become the conservative network, if MSNBC didn’t become the liberal network, if CNN didn’t become the establishment Democrat network. People get to customize their news, and the news customizes itself to boost its ratings. That’s a very tricky problem that doesn’t have a clear governmental solution. Requiring certain news to be more neutral or punishing news corporations for not being truthful is very dangerous if we want to preserve the First Amendment. How does one define neutrality? How does one define truth? The truth is that it is somewhere in between, and we need to change as a culture, think critically, and move toward a society that is open to cognitive dissonance.

And sure there is bipartisan corruption, but I think instead of the parties being opponents, they have become even more like enemies. And it’s trickled down to regular people.

PATRICK: I agree! It is very interesting how two parties that in the grand scheme of things aren’t that different ideologically, have become almost childish in their relations with the other party, often refusing to compromise and saying pretty awful things about members on the other side.

Americans have been quick to follow the example they set, and we seem to enjoy demonizing our neighbors who belong to the other party.

JOHN: I think a big thing we’ve seen is that lately the Republicans have been the ones that are better at sticking to their guns than Democrats. The Democrats will generally support something in name only, but often won’t get to do much about it. And of course, who will support a party who tries to emulate the center-right in the name of ending gridlock when that gridlock never actually ends?! The Republican Party currently thrives on gridlock because ideologically it supports their ends. The government can’t grow if new laws aren’t passed. And it’s very hard politically to repeal laws once they have come into effect. So, they stick to gridlock because they are trying to prove that government doesn’t work and that we should have less of it. It’s a fairly brilliant strategy because, along with gerrymandering, the Republicans continue to control both houses of Congress. It’s an awful strategy because disapproval of Congress is even worse than that of cockroaches, and people have begun disliking the two parties even more.

And yet, approval of individual candidates is stronger. People like their House Rep or Senator because they bring funds into their home states. It’s sort of like rooting for the Bears if you’re from Chicago but disapproving of the NFL for all the concussions. The Bears are part of a system of constant concussions that the NFL won’t acknowledge. Politically, the system is more corrupt, because individual politicians try to do the right thing, but the system is stacked against them (money, egos, etc.)

PATRICK: I think new restrictions of pork barrel spending are going to gradually reduce the popularity of individual lawmakers and Congress over all while making gridlock even worse, but your Chicago Bears analogy is apt. Some people will support whoever represents their hometown. Without pork we’ll see less quid pro quo compromise. And I think we are already starting to see that.

JOHN: That’s an excellent point. I believe Lincoln was the one who realized that pork was necessary to get anything done. And it’s easier to advocate for more spending in your state if you’re a longtime incumbent.

And there’s an argument that we need term limits, but then there’s the issue of having constantly inexperienced people coming into the system and then leaving without making much of an impact. I think a big issue with these Congressional terms is that they are too short. Two years is not enough time to get anything done in the House of Representatives. You cajole people into giving you campaign funds to get elected, and then a year later you’re already campaigning again. There’s no time to actually do your job. I realize that the Founders wanted that turnover for the sake of common people having a say more often, but it doesn’t take into account the rising costs of campaigns. If we wanted to fix that, four-year or even six-year terms would be better. We want our leaders to focus long term, not on the current election cycle.

PATRICK: I think you’re on to something. If you listen to former congressmen talk about the fundraising aspect of their job they all absolutely detested how much time they spent doing it. A lot of them came in wanting to make a difference, only to find themselves spending huge chunks of time on the phone asking for money from people they really didn’t know.

JOHN: But I wanted to jump back to that polarization conversation. The polarization and gridlock in Congress makes people leave their respective political parties and become independents. Often, the people left behind are even less sane, the groupthink gets groupier, and the gridlock gets worse. And now you have all these independents who don’t have a say in who gets to be the Democratic or Republican nominee. If independents actually got to vote in these primaries, I think Bernie Sanders would have squeaked by and John Kasich might have actually had a fighting chance.

PATRICK: Maybe. The primaries aren’t very democratic. They put independent-minded populists like Bernie Sanders at a disadvantage. Trump falls in that category too. In Louisiana, he got more votes than Ted Cruz, but fewer delegates!! The deck was stacked against him, but amazingly he still won.

JOHN: I think a big thing with that GOP primary was that all these billionaires could buy their own presidential candidates. The dumbest thing for the GOP to do was allow 17 candidates to run. At least in hindsight. They had no idea Trump could actually come into the scene and win. If they had known what was going to happen, the GOP could’ve sat down with potential candidates and try to talk them out of running for president by offering them support for a different position instead. I don’t know if their efforts in that case would have been fruitful, but having that many candidates fractured the voice of whatever sanity was left in the party.

And sure, Trump had the cards stacked against him in a way. The GOP traditionally picks the tried-and-true establishment candidate. But all Trump had to do was win the plurality of the votes in many states and take all of those states’ delegates! 60% of the voters in a state could have voted against him and yet he is 100% the Republican nominee today.

PATRICK: That’s a good point. The “moderate” Republican vote was pulled every which-way during the primary.

JOHN: Maybe preferential voting could have helped, but that might just encourage more people to run. I’m a special ed teacher, and I don’t think people need that risk of candidate ADHD in their lives.

PATRICK: I hear that argument invoked sometimes when I bring up how terrible the two-party system is, which plagues not only the presidency, but Congress as well. Perhaps its effect on Congress is even more damaging. Congress is not representative of the electorate.

JOHN: Of course it’s not. Only a third of registered voters even bother to show up for midterm elections.

PATRICK: When they do, they are often presented with just 1-2 choices for a given office. And those choices are often not a great match for the voter.

JOHN: I know some countries mandate voting with the penalty of a fine so that the leaders are representative of the electorate. I believe Australia is one of these countries. I’m concerned that many politically inactive would just vote randomly and not take the process seriously. What do you think?

PATRICK: I agree. I don’t think voting should ever be mandatory. Not only do you risk random voting but I think not voting makes a statement too. I support a really right not to vote, ha ha ha. I do favor a parliamentary/proportional representation system for our Congress. But participation in that process shouldn’t be compulsory.

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Image 1.

JOHN: If we really want to increase turnout, I think it would be smarter to stop making voting access worse. Often, polling places are put in an area that poor people can’t access because they can’t drive to the location. We also really need to hammer home the fact that people can send an absentee ballot. But the sad thing is that a lot of people don’t vote because they don’t think the candidates are any different or because their vote doesn’t count. Well, maybe if we got these people together (which is often the majority of voters!) and we said to them, “Take a look around you. These people stayed home just like you because they thought their vote wouldn’t count. If all of you voted, your vote would count. Big time.” (Image 1).

PATRICK: A proportional representation system would increase the differences in the views and backgrounds of candidates. I think it would do a lot to stifle the view that all politicians are the same. A belief that a vote doesn’t matter isn’t helped by undemocratic primaries. A lot of people feel that way because of the Electoral College too. But I see the utility in the electoral college (making sure a candidate is popular across a wide geographic range).

JOHN: I mean, the number of swing states seems to have gotten smaller historically. So, in theory, it would be easier for presidential candidates to only have to campaign in those states. But then they pander to those states only, and campaigns still get more expensive.

I know voting equipment was an issue for you. What are some issues you’re seeing there, and what should we do to address them?

PATRICK: For starters, some polling locations are still equipped with machines from the 1970s. At least some of these machines will lose its record of all the votes cast if its battery depletes. This is unacceptable. If there is one thing most people would agree is worth investing in, it would probably be safeguarding our democracy by ensuring our votes are counted.

And it’s not just equipment! Purging someone from the rolls because they haven’t voted in X years is ridiculous. A lot of New Yorkers ended up unable to vote in this primary after discovering on election day they had been purged in this way.

JOHN: It’s important to keep our equipment updated. Nothing lasts forever. I’m not sure I’ve heard of the equipment being as old as the 1970s. I don’t think they had touchscreen machines and Scantron machines back then. I have heard of equipment that hasn’t been updated in 10 years, which makes sense, because there was a huge exodus from punch cards toward electronic equipment. And then we just stopped bothering to keep them up.

I made sure to check online to see if my dad or I had been removed from the polls. We weren’t, but it’s important that people know these online resources exist!
PATRICK: I think I saw machines from the 1970s on an episode of the Daily Show this year. I’ll look up the video later tonight, I think it’s on youtube!
JOHN: I think John Oliver brought that up as well. Maybe, maybe not.
PATRICK: A lot of people are totally unaware of online resources to expedite voting. And even I’m not sure how absentee ballots work. I’ve changed my address with the election board each time I’ve moved, even if the move was just for school.
JOHN: I’ve used absentee ballots on numerous occasions. I’ve kept my address the same as that of my parents even though I don’t live with them for work reasons. It’s because I enjoy voting in the village elections in Skaneateles. I’ll probably change it to Binghamton in a few years though. But absentee ballots are fairly straightforward. I just went online, looked at the due dates for when everything had to be sent and received, filled out the form, and sent it to the Onondaga County Board of Elections.
PATRICK: Painted Post elections aren’t very exciting. Our mayoral elections are often uncontested. My father ran in 2006, and was the first Democrat to seek that office since the 1940s. Most things are pre-destined here.
JOHN: Oh, before we forget… There is a huge, huge issue that we need to talk about… And that is voter ID laws.

PATRICK: Ah, yes. There is no real need for them. But they are great at keeping poor people of color away from the polls. “Voter fraud” the reason given for their existence by their proponents, almost never happens. Almost no cases of double voting whatsoever.

JOHN: It’s very obvious that they are discriminatory. I think it was a majority leader from Pennsylvania’s state legislature that said that they were solidifying Pennsylvania’s electoral votes for the GOP presidential candidate. Awful. In reality, that would have only swung it 1% in favor of Romney in 2012, but that is still WAY bigger than the 0.0001% or whatever votes that are fraudulent.
PATRICK: Yes!!
JOHN: And I’m reading about Alabama which is closing down DMV offices in mostly counties that are majority black and that voted for Obama. If you really want to crack down on fraud, that’s one thing, but it’s very obvious that you are manipulating whatever Democratic votes are left in Alabama instead of actually cracking down on voting fraud.
PATRICK: That’s sickening.
JOHN: Fact check — Those DMV closures in Alabama happened in 2015, and the state reopened them. But it’s still horrendous.
PATRICK: Agreed.
JOHN: Clear violation of the spirit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
PATRICK: Gerrymandering though is often racial. Racial barriers are everywhere.
JOHN: North Carolina has realized that. They’ve gerrymandered a district such that it has a significantly African-American electorate and as a result an African-American representative. But then the rest of the state’s representatives are disproportionately Republican even as the state has gotten more purple. That’s because the Republican state legislature realized that they could pack a ton of Democratic voters into that district and not have to worry much about them elsewhere.
Anyway, I think we should wrap up this discussion. I’m getting sleepy! Any final thoughts?
PATRICK: The two-party system is awful, especially for our picking our representatives in the legislative branch. We need to make voting easier, but not compulsory. The decline of pork barrel spending means an increase in gridlock in Congress. Finally, voter ID laws are terrible, and their proponents have a pretty obvious ulterior motive.
JOHN: And there you have it! Our first Tuesday Talk has come to a close. We’ll see you next week, folks!
PATRICK: Thanks for having me!
JOHN: Always a pleasure.

Vape Culture: Safer Than Smoking?

More and more, you will hear about this activity known as vaping, the act of inhaling vapor from e-cigarettes. Since 2014, young Americans were more likely to vape than they were to smoke. There is a great deal of debate over whether vaping should be subjected to the same laws that cigarette smoking is, i.e., whether it should be banned in public spaces such as restaurants, bars, etc. Before making a decision on policy, people should learn about the health effects of e-cigs compared to those of traditional cigarettes.

Regular cigarettes contain 600 ingredients, which turns into 7,000 chemicals when burned. 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer (like arsenic, lead, and formaldehyde), and many more are poisonous (ammonia, carbon monoxide, etc.) The tar in cigarettes blackens the lungs in just one puff. Much like smoking meats to preserve them, cigarette smoke dries out the air passages in the lungs, making it harder for them to open up and let air through. Don’t think you’re safe from secondhand smoke either. Non-smokers who live with a smoker increase their risk of lung cancer by 20 to 30%. Secondhand smoke has an even higher percentage of carcinogens and toxins than that which is inhaled by the smoker. This is nasty, nasty stuff.

Unlike regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes (or e-cigs) contain a fluid that generally consists of a fairly simple mixture of nicotine, propylene glycol, and glycerine — none of which are carcinogens — as well as flavorings, which may or may not be carcinogenic. However, carcinogens like formaldehyde and lead do find their way into e-cigs, albeit in trace amounts much lower than those found in traditional cigarettes. One study says that e-cigs are 95% safer than traditional cigarettes. However, some studies say that the long-term health effects are inconclusive. Research has focused on whether e-cigs help people quit tobacco cigarettes, with varying results.

However, e-cigs present a new problem that traditional cigarettes don’t — the risk of exploding. 80% of e-cig explosions occur during battery charging, 12% occurring while in the possession of the user. Batteries were most likely to explode when people used incorrect chargers, charged the battery while it was still connected to the atomizer, or overcharged the battery. This page suggests eight tips to avoid e-cig explosions.

Either way, more research should be conducted on the health impacts of e-cigs compared to those of cigarettes. A scientific consensus states that smoking tobacco cigarettes increases the risk of cancer. We have yet to know the true impact of e-cigs. Health experts say that there is no safe level of any carcinogen. However, there are numerous foods that contain carcinogens that continue to remain legal. French fries, sugary sodas, and salty snacks are horrible for your long-term health. People need to understand that the best way to reduce long-term health care costs are preventative measures.

What I am curious to know is the exact chemical composition of tobacco smoke compared to that of vapor. Does vapor really have a lower percentage of carcinogens? And how much does convection reduce the risk of cancer compared to that of combustion? Until people become truly aware of the chemical composition of vapor, we will not have much to say about the bigger picture regarding the health effects of vaping.

The bigger picture of a shrinking world.