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Outdated voting machines and a complicated registration process are also cause for concern.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.
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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 Nightmare of Hillary Clinton

By PATRICK WOOD

Hillary Clinton is a nightmare for American leftists.

How many Sanders supporters and peaceniks happily hopped, skipped, and jumped over to the Clinton campaign when it become apparent Bernie Sanders was not going to win the Democratic nomination? Surely not as many as had serious reservations, flat-out refused to support Clinton, or only made the switch because of the grotesque spectre of a Trump presidency.

This is partly because Clinton doesn’t have nor does she deserve the same reputation for honesty and political integrity that Sanders does. Clinton’s statement that she “never received nor sent any material that was marked classified” on her private e-mail server while she was Secretary of State was not true and her recounting of landing under sniper fire in Bosnia was either a sign of a very faulty memory or a straight-up fib.

Mostly, however, it’s because Clinton has embraced policy positions that most progressives in 2016 do not support. Clinton has rejected the idea of pursuing single-payer healthcare, instead she wants to work to improve the ObamaCare system. Clinton has refused to encourage a ban on fracking or an end to the Drug War. Wall Street banks like Citi Group and Goldman Sachs liter her list of top contributors over her political career. Her foreign policy views have been labeled “hawkish” and include a threat to go to war with Iran if it breaches the nuclear agreement and a promise to immediately attempt to remove the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad from power.

Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine as her running mate will do little to herd in fleeing progressives. Kaine is a boring centrist, with a lackluster record on reproductive rights and staunchly pro-Israel foreign policy views. To his credit, Kaine is surprisingly progressive on gun control for a Virginia senator, and that is perhaps the one issue where this ticket presents any hope for progressive change.

The progressive vote is going to be divided in many ways this November, but most progressive voters will fall into one of four categories: voting for Clinton, writing-in Bernie Sanders, voting for Jill Stein, or staying home because they are disillusioned with the two major party candidates.

Jill Stein, who barely cracked 0.3% of the vote last election, is poised to have a much, much bigger year. In her, progressives see an opportunity to vote for an agenda they agree with that doesn’t exist with Hillary, and they don’t have to forgo voting for a female candidate for President of the United States.

Of course, this presents the same old bitter debate over third party candidates. Many, like George Takei, are encouraging former Sanders supporters and progressives to “vote blue no matter who,” deeply concerned about what a Trump presidency would mean for the United States. These are the voices that especially in this election view a vote for Jill Stein or another third party candidate as a wasted vote, or worse yet “a vote for Trump.”

IT’S A TRAP.

The Democratic Party has produced one of the most disfavored nominees in the party’s history. If all of America’s progressives fall in line to support Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party has no incentive to cease running hawkish centrists with honesty problems, corporate backing, and mediocre records on the environment and fighting poverty. Unless the Democratic Party begins losing a little support on the left, they will feel free to continue this drift to the right. Already they have come up with a ticket other countries would likely view as more conservative. American progressives deserve a better choice, one that aligns with their views and values. That is why I offer a battlecry intended to counter “Vote Blue No Matter Who”, with all due respect to the magnificent George Takei, and that is “Have A Spine, Vote for Stein.”

You Should Have to “Opt In” To Access Porn on Your Computer

Sounds crazy, right?

But consider the kind of pornography that’s available on the internet. Much of it contains brutal and degrading sexual violence against women, sometimes in the form of theatrically created rape, assault, or molestation scenes. This is behavior that is societally impermissible.  Now think about how easy it is for children and teenagers to access pornography on the home computer.

Roughly zero percent of “romantic encounters” in pornography resemble anything that would actually happen in real life, and a minor who views porn might come away with some very wrongheaded ideas about women, sex, and love.

This isn’t about censorship. All graphically explicit material on the internet will be accessible to those who opt in. While opting in might seem embarrassing, especially with the default set to “opt out,” the embarrassing effect is ameliorated by the millions of other people who will opt in. By referring to the materials at issue as “explicit and potentially disturbing material,” it will at least be plausible that those who are opting in aren’t doing it just for pornography. Shocking and controversial art, film, and other explicit media can be nicely wrapped up into the same package.

This “opt-in” approach is currently being used in Britain and has inspired Republican State Senator Todd Weiler to push for something similar in the state of Utah. As someone who identifies as “left-wing” politically, I can’t remember ever being so supportive of proposed legislation from a Republican official. While some minors will of course be successful in finding other ways to access porn, this idea will protect our children using the home computer or tablet while preserving the right of adults to view sexually explicit content on the internet. It’s a rare opportunity to get something for nothing.

Rethinking “Gender Queer”

By PATRICK WOOD

By accommodating those who feel that they were born into the wrong sex and wish to live life as the opposite sex, we do trans individuals a world of good. Using preferred pronouns and treating trans individuals with warmth and understanding helps them feel comfortable, gives them courage to take steps regarding transition which they feel are appropriate, and likely dramatically decreases the elevated risk of depression, suicide, and other social ills that trans people experience.

The worst possible course of action, which happened in North Carolina, is an approach that treats people as stuck with their sex at birth. The law requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate even if they have had sex reassignment surgery or otherwise appear to others as their self-identified gender, i.e, “You have a beard but you were born female? Legally you should be using the ladies’ room.”

As a society, we have at last largely accepted the fact that some people are born homosexual and that it’s okay. Our willingness to take that step followed our recognition that some people simply can’t or shouldn’t have to conform to  behavioral norms for sexual orientation.

It seems prudent to extend this recognition to the trans community, but just how far is this line to be extended? In addition to those who identify with the sex opposite that of their birth, there are some individuals who openly identify with both genders or neither.

Perhaps you have seen the video of this individual who was born a human female but identifies as a cat.

She is a clear example of someone who should not be afforded the same kind of accommodation as other members of the trans community. This girl (I am calling her a girl because I don’t feel it is beneficial to her to call her a cat) may suffer from a specific mental illness. This may just be extreme narcissism and an attempt to attract attention. However, this may also be the serious and rare disorder known as species dysphoria.

In my view, some self-proclaimed “gender queer” individuals are in a similar position. While some people are born with both male and female parts, identifying as both male and female or neither may otherwise be a call for attention, or it may be a way for naturally androgynous people to cope with a negative body image.

The majority of gender queer individuals, however, illustrate to me a larger problem — identifying as “gender queer” may simply reflect the stigma from not fitting into society’s perceptions of “male” or “female.”

Just as it is not beneficial to call someone with species dysphoria a cat, it may be a wrong-headed approach to accommodate someone’s pronoun request when that request is to be referred to as “xe” or “they” instead of “him” or “her.” The better approach is a long-term systematic strategy in which we collectively promulgate a view that accepts that males can have feminine qualities and do feminine things, and vice versa. Eliminating gender roles and gender expectations helps allow people to feel comfortable presenting themselves as male or female regardless of their interests or favorite activities, their social behavior, their appearance, or their sexual orientation. We can create a society in which “male” and “female” encompasses everyone and requires no one to change their behavior to fit into those categories.

Clintrump and You

Let’s face it. We’re looking at the worst presidential election match-up in history — cold, calculated, corrupt Hillary Clinton vs. brash, bombastic, bumbling Donald Trump. I admit it. I’ve thought about voting for a third-party candidate. Jill Stein shares most of my views, but she has some downright implausible ideas. She won’t win. Gary Johnson shares my views on social issues and even some economic issues. He’s positive and seemingly reasonable, but libertarianism is simply too inflexible to respond to changes in our world. My guy was Bernie Sanders but he simply won’t be the nominee. And maybe he would be too soft and get steamrolled by Republicans just like Obama had happen to him.

Now a lot of people are saying the lack of indictment for Hillary Clinton regarding the emails is politically motivated. FBI Director James Comey was a registered Republican but he later said he is no longer so. Perhaps Comey realizes there’s something more important in the greater scheme of things. Perhaps Comey has been so turned off by the idea of Donald Trump becoming president that he left the Republican Party. And maybe that is why he is letting Hillary off the hook. I’m sure Mr. Comey is aware that she is vulnerable to anything that would damage her reputation and such damage would give an edge to Trump.

What I find so perplexing is why so much time is wasted conducting witch-hunts on minor blunders and even victimless crimes. Sure, that is politically motivated. Republicans want to see Hillary fall apart. The death of four Americans at the embassy in Benghazi, Libya, sure doesn’t make Hillary look good. And I haven’t read the emails that the State Department and WikiLeaks released. And sure she shouldn’t have used a private email servers to send and receive classified information. Nevertheless, did storing her emails on a private server threaten national security or aid terrorist efforts? Has anyone died or suffered physically as a result of her using a private server as opposed to that of the State Department? I don’t know. This angle of the story doesn’t seem to reach many people when it should. There seems to be this obsession with the letter of the law when it comes to Hillary.

What I find more troubling about Mrs. Clinton is that she supported the overthrow of dictatorial regimes in Iraq and Libya. Trump recently said that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, despite being a “very bad guy,” was good at killing terrorists. Well, he killed a lot of people because there was no due process and he wanted firm control. Because he was Sunni, the minority Sunnis felt they were important too. With Hussein out of the picture and the majority Shi’ites in control, many Sunnis couldn’t join the military because of their connections to Hussein’s Ba’ath Party. What else were these disaffected Sunnis going to do other than join ISIS? You see, dictators are very bad, inhumane people. However, their rule by predictable terror squashes unpredictable acts of terror.

Libya is similar. Gaddafi was a pretty terrible guy. He wasn’t the kind of guy to take home to mom and dad. Trump even said the U.S. should topple Gaddafi and that it would be very easy. Then, Trump flip-flopped on this issue because he realized this overthrow destabilized Libya. Gaddafi’s demise resulted in a power vacuum, allowing ISIS to establish a colony on the central northern shores of Libya. “Accidentally strengthened terrorist organization” does not look good on a political resumé.

When voting, Americans should know that Clinton and Trump have both made horrible decisions regarding foreign policy. However, a President Trump’s careless, impulsive, and insensitive approach to diplomacy and military interventions would present a greater threat to American national security. He too thought toppling Gaddafi would be a good idea. It hasn’t been good in Libya since. He even said ISIS should be allowed to topple Assad’s regime in Syria. Seriously?! Assad (and the American-backed Kurds) are the only reasons ISIS hasn’t taken over the entire freaking country!

If ISIS were to take over all of Syria, that would strengthen their claim to country status and legitimize them as the new caliphate for Muslims. We can’t do that now when they are losing territory day by day. The Iraqi army is making ISIS fighters retreat like never before. And yet, we’re seeing ISIS commit more terrorist acts as they lose more and more territory. They can only win right now with the element of surprise and hiding in plain sight. We need a strategy that protects us from terrorism. We need to realize that military intervention is not the only option, that Sunnis and Shias are never going to get along in Iraq, that we need a nuanced and conscientious approach that protects the lives of Americans wherever they may be. That includes diplomacy, more responsible nation creation (e.g., a three-state solution dividing Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds), and not toppling dictators just because we can.

Barmy Britons: “Bugger Off, EU”

Yesterday, the United Kingdom voted in a referendum on whether to remain in the European Union or leave it. While close, the Leave side won by about 3.8%. There are a number of driving factors for this result, and a number of implications from this result.

The strongest proponents for the Remain movement were mostly younger voters and those that reside in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London. The strongest proponents of the Leave movement were low-income working class individuals in England outside of London. Why? Most research shows that, in the short term, a 1% increase in migrants only contributes to 0.3% reduction in wages on average, but for the bottom 5% that number rises to 0.6% (Source: The Guardian). This along with the erroneous notion that immigrants claim more in welfare than native citizens (and general xenophobia) have dragged Britons into the Leave side. The far-right political party UKIP is “chuffed to bits” knowing that it has increased its exposure through a win for the Leave side. Well, “chuffed to bits” sounds a tad innocuous for a party that is just as unwelcoming toward immigrants as Donald Trump is. This party might as well be the one that establishes a fascist police state in V for Vendetta.

Anyway, the United Kingdom is going to face a lot of problems because of this. First, the UK will have to spend at least two years negotiating the terms to a departure from the European Union. This is going to be a time-consuming nightmare. Second, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU and now have more reason to have independence referenda from the UK. Third, the UK would lose access to EU-negotiated markets and hurt its own economy. Within 24 hours, the British pound dropped so much in value that France surpassed the UK as the fifth largest economy in the world. Inflation would rise, and many economists project the UK would face an even greater recession than the 2008-2009 recession. The worst part of all is that the UK would not get any of the money back from the EU that it lost in the first place.

TL;DR The UK really shot itself in the foot by voting Leave, but if their motivations were racist and xenophobic, maybe they deserve it.

We Need Relief from the Political Crap in North Carolina

It’s really absurd how this entire North Carolina bathroom law is even a political issue. The North Carolina legislature decided that people would go to the bathroom corresponding to the one on their birth certificate. Opponents argued that its apparently discriminatory components prohibited transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice. As a result, businesses decided not to open new sites in North Carolina, concerts in the state were cancelled, and even state governments decided to stop official travel to the Tarheel State.

Supporters of this new bathroom law are saying the backlash is just a politically correct reaction and that their sentiments ignore common sense. They add that the law would maintain the level of comfort people already have when going into gender-segregated bathrooms. However, a Republican governor didn’t see what the fuss was all about. “I don’t believe it’s necessary,” South Carolina governor Nikki Haley said. Even “Macho man” Donald Trump says that transgender people should be allowed to use the bathroom corresponding to their self-identified gender.

If men and women going to their respective bathrooms is common sense, why make a law at all? Conservatives lament the “nanny state” in which the government has to step in and solve everyone’s problems. Conservatives want individuals to be responsible for solving their own problems. Yet conservatives want the government to make them feel more comfortable by prohibiting transgender individuals from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender. Sure, there are people who fear that pedophiles will molest children if pedophiles can exploit a relaxed bathroom assignment policy. However, if male pedophiles are required to only use the men’s room, they can still use the same bathroom as young boys. If we are concerned about molestation, we need to think less about gender segregation and more about age segregation of bathrooms.

If someone has an issue with another person being in the wrong bathroom and making them uncomfortable, this person needs to advocate for themselves or suck it up. Moreover, many average Americans would identify a transgender individual with their gender identity not with their sex by birth. This is simply because many transgender Americans simply look like their self-identified gender. Additionally, the share of the transgender population is so small (about 0.2%-0.3%) that any issues regarding bathroom assignment are unlikely to emerge.

Everybody has to use the bathroom and relieve themselves. Why don’t we relieve ourselves of this political crap and use some common sense? We don’t need the government to micromanage our bathroom choices.

This Democratic Primary Wasn’t Very Democratic

By PATRICK WOOD

I’ve become very disillusioned with the Democratic presidential primary process after reading, researching, and participating in it during this primary cycle.

The first issue, which caught the attention of quite a few people, was the debate schedule initially presented by the DNC. They significantly reduced the number of debates to be held, all the way down to a mere six debates. The Republicans also reduced their number but still planned to have twice as many debates as the Democrats.

It was widely believed the reason for this limited debate schedule was that it would help the one candidate the Democratic establishment wanted to see prevail: Hillary Clinton.

Hillary’s initial competition consisted of four (remotely serious) candidates:

  • Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee, governors with little name recognition and very few diehard supporters.
  • Jim Webb, a military man and one-term Senator with some views far too conservative to earn the Democratic Party’s blessing.
  • Bernie Sanders, who made the decision to run as a Democrat after years of successfully winning against them as an Independent.

None of these four opposing candidates were going to receive much love from the Democratic Party. The party had every reason to favor Mrs. Clinton, and the best way to give institutional support to Clinton, already the betting-man’s favorite to win the nomination, was to see that absolutely nothing interesting happened during the primary cycle. A quick and quiet primary season would be beneficial to the Clinton campaign, and fewer debates would mean fewer opportunities for a Clinton slip up that might knock her out of her frontrunner status.

Not too long after this, there was another startling development, but this one did not get nearly the same level of attention. Lawrence Lessig, after declaring his candidacy and raising sufficient funds, reached out to the DNC in the hopes of appearing in a televised debate. The DNC refused to recognize Lessig’s candidacy. It then set a requirement that to appear at the first debate, a candidate must receive at least 1% support among likely voters in three or more national polls. Lessig wound up excluded from most polls because of the DNC’s withholding of recognition for the candidacy.

After being excluded from the first debate, Lessig set his sights on appearing at the second and appeared primed to do so. Lessig registered at 1% in two national polls and only had one more to go.

Then, the DNC changed the rules.

They added a stipulation that any polls conducted within six weeks of the debate would not count.

That was the end of Lawrence Lessig’s campaign to be the Democratic nominee.

I live (and vote) in New York, and while my voting experience in this year’s primary went smoothly, I can’t say the same for many of my friends in the state. My cousin, an 18-year-old first-time voter, received a piece of mail acknowledging her registration as a Democrat and informing her of polling location for the presidential primary. When she showed up, she wasn’t on the poll workers’ list and was turned away. I instructed her to demand an affidavit ballot which she did. I do not know if it will ever be counted. I instructed her to refuse to accept provisional ballots, as these simply do not count (Democratic Party Election officials acknowledge this). Anyone who submitted a provisional ballot this year appears to have simply wasted their time. Perhaps the same is true for the countless voters like my cousin forced to submit affidavit ballots. A friend told me she knew seven different people who were all forced to submit affidavit ballots for one reason or another.

Voting irregularities in Arizona and Brooklyn (which happens to be where Bernie Sanders grew up) are also cause for concern.

An examination of the kinds of things reducing voter access this primary cycle demonstrates an interesting pattern.

Some registered Democrats were taken off voter rolls because they had not voted in seven or more years. Voting rules stipulated that wearing pro-candidate clothes or accessories to the polls was illegal electioneering and anyone doing that should not be allowed to vote. Taking pictures of one’s ballot was deemed grounds to invalidate the ballot.

Voters falling into all three of these categories are in my view more likely to be Sanders supporters (Millennials excited about their first vote, wearing “Feel the Bern!” tees and snapping pictures of their first-ever vote, and older people so disillusioned with politics they haven’t felt inspired to vote since this fiery outsider showed up).

Finally, lets look at Wyoming. A state where Bernie Sanders won the popular vote by more than 10%, but received fewer delegates than Clinton. Granted, Bernie Sanders did agree to the rules which produced this result when he was recognized by the DNC and ran as a Democrat, but this result is wholly undemocratic.

If we vote for a candidate and give him or her a 10 point win in our state, but our candidate is awarded less delegates and comes out in a worse position to win the election after this result, how much should we really believe our votes are worth?

 

 

Nick Kristof v. Ben Shapiro – Who is Right on White Privilege?

By PATRICK WOOD

Watch Ben Shapiro‘s argument here. Read Nick Kristof‘s argument here and watch him elaborate upon the argument and respond to questions here.

White privilege. Of all the topics you could choose to discuss with others, this is one of the most likely to ruin friendships and draw frowns and snarls from those who disagree with you.

A very charged political, social, and racial issue, the question of the existence and/or extent of white privilege is a question that easily gives way to strong, impassioned opinions. Strong opinions and passion can be good things, but absolute certainty of the correctness of one side of the argument creates problems. When we are not willing to listen to those we know are unlikely to persuade us, we miss out on the opportunity to be surprised and turned around by arguments we didn’t understand or know before. If not persuaded to entirely switch sides, at least the opportunity to understand the other side and to recognize the limitations and weaknesses of our own viewpoints and arguments is important.

This problem is especially prevalent on the issue of white privilege. So, I encourage all readers of this article to consider the competing arguments of two very intelligent men before I provide my own analysis of their arguments.

Have you checked them both out? Good. Let’s begin.

Ben Shapiro Point #1

Shapiro suggests that the bias against people of color by law enforcement and the criminal justice system is imagined, and there is no evidence of white privilege to be found in these fields.

To bolster this argument, Shapiro begins by pointing out that more white people are killed by police than black people, and that police are less likely to kill black individuals in the same circumstances.

Next, Shapiro addressed alleged racial profiling while speeding. A study conducted in New Jersey found that black people sped disproportionately compared with other races. Moreover, while black individuals constituted 25% of all the people speeding, they only made up 23% of all the people getting speeding tickets.

Finally, Shapiro addressed the sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine, which is often used to argue the existence of white privilege because possession of a drug more frequently used by white people (powdered cocaine) leads to more lenient sentences. Shapiro says that the reason the disparity exists is because black legislators in inner cities pushed for harsher punishment for crack cocaine because they felt pressured to keep people from selling and using crack in their communities.

My take: While these are all interesting points, I find this to be the least persuasive part of Shapiro’s talk. To begin, while black individuals may speed more frequently than white people, there is no significant difference in the rates of marijuana use by whites and blacks, yet black individuals are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for it.

Furthermore, even if black people aren’t receiving a disproportionate number of speeding tickets, this does nothing to disprove notions that police officers will occasionally pull over black drivers for little or no reason (even if these encounters don’t result in speeding tickets).

Even the conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal reports that prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years.

Prosecutors are almost twice as likely to bring charges carrying mandatory minimums against a black defendant as a white defendant committing the same crime under the same circumstances and with an identical prior criminal history.

Shapiro Point #2

Shapiro argues there is no white privilege when it comes to university admissions, saying “If it’s white privilege to sit on the side because you can’t go to college because the black guy took your spot [even though] he had a lower SAT score – and it didn’t matter that he grew up rich and you grew up poor – if that’s white privilege, then nobody would want to be a member of the white privileged class.”

I am in agreement with Mr. Shapiro on this point. Whites are at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to university admissions. This is why white prospective law students all across the country “prefer not to disclose race” on the demographic section of their applications. Mr. Shapiro raises an incredibly important point when he mentions that the affluent black student is more likely to be accepted than the white student who has struggled in a low-income family in a rough neighborhood with poor public schooling. It is my view that the affirmative action programs used by universities should be based solely on the applicant’s socio-economic background and should be race-blind. This preserves the system as more of a meritocracy, while taking into account that students from poorer areas with less educated parents may struggle more to get the same grades and other achievements as students from more well-off families.

Nicholas Kristof Point #1

To illustrate the disparate conditions of whites and blacks in America, Kristof opens with some facts relating to the races’ respective economic standing. He reports that the net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, and points out that the black-white income gap is roughly 40 percent greater today than it was in 1967.

These figures are shocking and difficult to believe, but the statistic that the value of a white person’s home is on average 18 times greater than that of a black person originates directly from U.S. Census data.

Although black households make less income than white households, that does not entirely explain this difference in wealth. Indeed, even when blacks and Latinos are earning the same salaries as white people, they aren’t accumulating as much wealth.

There are significant differences in saving and investing behavior among the races. Some research has suggested reluctance to invest on the part of African Americans may be related to culture and the fact that previous generations of African Americans were less experienced in investing in stock and mutual funds than whites. This does not necessarily show any prejudice or force working against dark-skinned people at present.

Kristof Point #2

In his Facebook video, Kristof is asked if conscious decisions to promote racial diversity in a company’s workforce may pose a threat to its meritocratic nature. He responds that it probably does not, depending on what measures are taken. He goes on to say that studies on decision-making have shown that the best decisions are made “not by a pool of the most qualified people, but by the more diverse pool and people with more diverse experiences.”

I would really like to see these studies. It seems counter-intuitive that the most qualified group of people is not the one to make the best decision. Without seeing these studies it is hard for me to say more. I came into Mr. Kristof’s video believing merit was far more important than diversity, but perhaps it is diversity that yields better results.

Conclusion

Even Ben Shapiro acknowledges that America has a deeply racist past. This is important to recognize as we try to make sense of the present. It is my view that a large part of the economic disparities between whites and blacks are the result of this past system of forced inequality. The side-effects of this are unquestionably lingering, but whether whites still unconsciously hold up this system to rise above blacks as the racial hegemon invites debate.

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