What’s so super about superdelegates?

In case you just regained consciousness from that beach party last August, you may have heard that we’re in presidential primary season.  This is the opportunity for voters to select the nominees for each party; to participate in the democratic process; to have our voices heard!  Oh, wait.Screen-Shot-2015-11-17-at-9.38.31-PM

Among the peculiarities of nominating process is the use of superdelegates.   You can look at the Wikipedia definition, but the short version is this:

  • In the Democratic party they’re delegates who are selected on the basis of their role in national or state party leadership, or because someone in the party says the should be.  There are about 717 Democratic superdelegates (compared to about 4000 regular delegates) in the race
  • Republicans have superdelegates, but they’re small in number, state-appointed, and must stick with the results of the primaries in their respective states.  As far as I can tell, the only thing they do is give states with small delegate counts a little more power.

So 1/6 of all the Democrats’ delegates are superdelegates.   That’s OK, right, since they’re unaffiliated and can vote for anyone they like?  Here’s the problem:  We’re still not that far into primary season, and 467 superdelegates have already put themselves in Hillary’s column.  Here’s how the Democratic race looks, with and without superdelegates:

Without superdelegates

With superdelegates

Clinton Sanders Clinton Sanders
768 542 1235 580
59% 41% 68% (!) 32%

How many delegates does a Democratic candidate need for the nomination?  2383.  So the fact that Hillary has 20% of the superdelegates pre-baked into her number seems, uh, a little unfair.

polls_superdelegate_5748_415361_poll_xlarge-1Superdelgates can change their vote anytime they want, which is exactly what happened in 2008, when Hillary’s superdelegates mostly marched into Obama’s camp.  But that year, Obama was a juggernaut.  Sanders is doing very well, but why does he have to overcome this hurdle that she does not have?  How does it represent the democratic process?

Here’s the thing:  we already use a republican form of democracy to select our candidates and eventually our president.  Safeguards are built into the system to save us from ourselves, at least in theory.   Superdelegates take it a step further, obfuscating the process and further diminishing the power of the voter.

Of course, we can look across the isle for a compelling counterargument.  But as abhorrent as the likely Republican nominee may be, he is also the leading vote-getter; in other words, he’s the embodiment of the democratic process.  I most definitely do not want him in the White House, but I would never want us to break the system in order to avoid it. Similarly, I don’t want to be attacked by terrorists, but I would never want the government listening to all of my phone calls or reading all of my emails.  Sorry – replacing something bad with something worse does not make sense.

So let’s dispense with the notion that the Democratic party knows what we want better than we do.  Let us vote in the primaries, and how about having our votes count for 100%, not 83%? The Constitution used to count certain Americans as 3/5 of a person;  is that how we want to be represented today?   And by the way, if the majority of Americans really want a reality TV star to run the country, Canada is looking awfully appealing these days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gerrymandering is not an ice cream flavor

Gerrymandering is not an ice cream flavor.  It is not a deceased member of the Grateful Dead.  It is not the governor of California, and it was never a member of Stealers Wheel.  It is, however, a scourge that explains a lot about our crappy political system.

Gerrymandering is a term originated by the foes of  Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts politician who, among other things, was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and the fifth vice president of the United States under James Madison.  However, his legacy was cemented while he was governor of Massachusetts, during which time he signed a Republican-sponsored bill to reshape the state’s voting districts and elect more of his party’s candidates.  The oddly shaped redistricting map looked like a salamander, so an opposition newspaper decided to call it a gerrymander.  The rest is history.

gerrymander

The gerrymander.  He must work on his posture.

 

What does gerrymandering have to do with politics today?  A lot.  According to the Constitution, it is left up to the states to determine voting districts.   Not surprisingly, these districts are typically manipulated by incumbent political parties to maximize the number of party-affiliated officeholders.  Ever wonder why Mitt Romney won North Carolina in 2012 by a mere 2%, and yet 10 of the 13 members of the North Carolina House delegation are Republican?  You got it – gerrymandering. Ever wonder why Massachusetts, a state with 40% Republican voters, hasn’t had a Republican in Congress for two decades?  Gerrymandering.

“Sucky” is the most polite word I can think of to describe gerrymandering;  I can think of many more graphic ones, however.  There have been many implementations of gerrymandering over the years, but it was perfected by the Republicans in the 1990’s and then coopted by the Tea Party in 2010.  It’s why, in a country in which religious observance is declining, the power of evangelicals is so strong, and why, even though more than 50% of the population supports a woman’s right to choose, Congress spends an inordinate amount of time trying to defund Planned Parenthood.  In short, gerrymandering enables politicians to disregard the will of American majorities to advance their own interests.

But gerrymandering doesn’t explain our current conundrum, in which P.T. Barnum is perilously close to the power-gasm of his life.  Or does it?  When Americans feel that their representatives don’t represent them, and instead  follow the whim of their most influential corporate sponsors, an ethically challenged pied piper populist B9320607428Z.1_20160121163416_000_GVFD7P0IF.1-0whose bald-faced, pandering lies foment their greatest fears and prejudices is just the elixir they’re looking for.

It’s too late to stop that bombastic buffoon from monopolizing our airwaves (if not our executive branch), but it’s exactly the right time to re-empower American voters with a real voice in the selection of our lawmakers.  What can we do? It’s simple:  tell our politicians to pass a Constitutional amendment to remove redistricting power from the states, and instead institute proportional representation in its place.

What does proportional representation do?  It ensures that our elected officials reflect the demographics and interests of their voters.  If a state has 48% Democratic-leaning voters,  proportional representation makes sure that Republicans will no longer have 10 of the 13 seats.  It ensures that minorities, poor people, and other underrepresented voting blocs have a full voice in our electoral system; that the rights of all constituents are more likely to be represented fairly.  If you want to find out more about proportional representation, I suggest you check out this video, which describes it nicely.

Bottom line:  the era of letting self-interested, cynical politicians make this country a device for their agendas must end.  But of course, we all have to take action, and that means letting our elected officials know that gerrymandering must stop and proportional voting must begin.  Which of course means that I also have to get off of my lazy ass and follow my own advice.

If I do, will you?

 

 

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Women are the problem

You know, there are lots of problems in America.  The poor are spending our money like it belongs to them, we’re being attacked on a daily basis by Muslims, and Mexicans are stealing our high-paying jobs.  But what do these things all have in common?  Women, that’s what.  redneck pregnant woman

I mean, women are Muslims, and they’re Mexicans.  And a few other things that if I mentioned them the pc police would get all in my stuff.  And all they do is cause problems.

Let me give you an example.  What happened in Colorado Springs is horrible.  I mean, women went in there to cut up fetuses for money!  Some idiots think they were getting medical care or making sure that they wouldn’t get pregnant.  Tell me another joke.  I mean, no wonder that everyone is up in arms (literally, get it?).  It’s time for us to do something about all these women, and here’s what we should do:

  1. First, we have to knock them down a peg or two.  I mean, how valuable is a woman to society, anyway?  I say women are worth about 3/5 of a man (Right men?), so let’s just put that in the Constitution.  That means they have to spend 40% of their time serving men – who really run this place – and then they can spend the other 60% on household chores or whatever menial labor they can find.
  2. Taking care of their medical needs has gotta stop stop right away.  It only leads to bad stuff.  Doesn’t matter what they want, what’s growing down there or how it happened; just let it be.  That’s what Jesus would do.
  3. If women do something stupid and get pregnant, we shouldn’t have to pay the price for it, even if they can’t work because they have a kid.  Cut off all financial assistance for women.
  4. And why should we pay for their dumb kids?  Cut off all early childhood education as well.  While we’re at it, let’s dump funding for public schools.  Half those kids – and you know which half – are racially dumb, and we shouldn’t have to pay for them.  If you’re not white…I mean, rich enough to pay for the kid’s education, just teach ’em about Jesus at home.

If we care about America – and I care A LOT – this is what we’ll do.  We’re gonna help all those women to help themselves, because that’s the American way.  Oh, and build a big frickin’ wall to keep out all those lazy Mexicans who steal our high-paying jobs, and the Islamic terrorists who keep shooting people in abortion clinics and all.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Go Trump! Let’s make America great again!

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The war Christians…I mean, Christmas

I’m a Jew in a Christian country.  According to the results of a Pew study released in May of 2015, over 70% of U.S. citizens identify themselves as Christians.  So when people call it “Christmas break” or wish me a merry Christmas, I recognize where it’s coming from and don’t take offense.

Huckabee's war on christmas

Nothing brings out the Christmas spirit like war metaphors.

I also understand that towns and school districts sometimes change “Christmas break” to “winter break” in the name of being more inclusive; an admirable objective, although not a big issue with me.  I also wouldn’t care whether Starbucks decided to put a picture of Jesus on their cups, or if Santa was seen sporting a yarmulke.

What does offend me is people getting up in arms and calling an attempt at inclusiveness a “war on Christmas,” particularly because they really mean that there is a war on Christianity (which of course is ironic, because Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in the world).  Even ignoring the blatant use of hyperbole in these assertions, the idea that Christmas is under threat because someone wants to be more inclusive is, well, imbecilic.   In fact, this umbrage is really a thinly veiled burst of venom from social conservatives who are desperately worried that their tenuous hold on power – along with their ability to legislate our morality – is evaporating.  War-on-xmas-4

And it is.  According to that same Pew study, the number of ‘Nones’ – that is, people who identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated – jumped almost 42% between 2007 and 2014.  Another Pew study showed that as a whole, the United States is becoming less religious.

Even so, Christianity is neither under assault nor is it a dying faith; in fact, it’s alive and well on a global scale. So when  Ted Cruz pretends that there is a war on faith, he’s full of it.  And Donald Trump’s war on Christmas is a fabrication,  and Ben Carson’s  “war on the  pc police” is really a war on inclusiveness.   These guys aren’t worried about the importance of religion; they’re just using it as a lever to scare the crap out of (read: capture the vote of) disaffected middle-aged or elderly white people by preying on their fears.  It’s the same pretzel logic that’s used to stir up fear and hatred of Mexicans, Muslims, and even African-Americans.  And it’s shameful.

So when someone says Merry Christmas, I’ll probably just return the sentiment, because they’re just being friendly to me.  But if they tell me there’s a war on Christmas, I’ll know there’s nothing friendly about what they’re saying.

 

 

 

 

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A grammar colonic for the feisty

Some people think I complain too much.  Those people bug me, and let me tell you why (just kidding;  I’ll save that one for another post).  AndyRooney
Rather than taking the low road and calling my persistent grumbling a personality defect, I like to think of it as a foible, an idiosyncrasy, or even a positive attribute that demonstrates my unique approach to life.

In that positive spirit, here is today’s list of common grammar gaffes that bug me:

  •  “Every” and “day” don’t automatically go together because they’re next to each other.  The everyday misuse of those words bugs me every day.
  • Don’t capitalize stuff just for yuks.  Like most things in life, there are actually rules to capitalization, and Your Emphasis has not been increased just because you incorrectly capitalized the first letters.  ALL CAPS ARE A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT STORY, HOWEVER!
  • Advertisers of America, take note:  “Less” and “fewer” mean different things.  The fewer times I see them misused, the less I’ll complain.
  • So do “further” and “farther.”  If I see any further misuse, I’ll have to go farther away from the offender.
  • “Anyways” is not a word.  If it was a word, it would mean exactly the same thing as “anyhoo.”
  • “Myself” and “me” are not interchangeable.  I myself wouldn’t have noticed if it hadn’t happened to me just the other day.
  • When it’s more than one, get rid of the apostrophe.   It’s not just true for my friend; even my friend’s friends make that mistake (OK – that’s a reach,  but I was stuck on it and I just wanted to move on).

You know, that felt great, like a grammical colonic.    I’m feeling more verbally regular already.

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The Republican clown car hits a tree

The clown car of Republican presidential candidates for the 2016 election has created a lot of angst among people who are seriously concerned that Donald Trump, Ben Carson, or Ted Cruz might be elected president.  I understand their concern, but  is it even possible for anyone among this field of Republican candidates to satisfy the base during the primaries and then win the general election?trump-carson-cruz

The Republicans have come (or sunk, depending upon your point of view) a long way from the party of Lincoln to the party of Cruz, but there’s a clear historical context for the change.  Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” helped shape the constituency that controls today’s Republican party by capitalizing on Southern Democrats’ hatred of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, luring racist Democrats to vote the other way.  The strategy worked, as Nixon won the South and the election that year.  Reagan was able to consolidate support of the new and traditional Republican voters by creating a strong coalition of social and fiscal conservatives, which turned into the Republican juggernaut that dominated federal politics well into the 2000’s.

Today’s challenge for Republicans is that their increasing reliance on social conservatives – many of the same people who became Republicans through the Southern Strategy – alienates the vast majority of ethnic minorities and social moderates.  The Republican base – no longer the “big tent” of their heritage –  is a homogeneous group that has grown increasingly isolated from the rest of the country. Anti-immigration policies have generally shut out Latino minorities, the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country, while opposition to same-sex marriage and women’s rights have alienated large swaths of the rest of us.  All that’s left in the party, it seems, are angry, disaffected white men, and fringe religious groups.

All this means that by appealing to the base, Republican presidential candidates must alienate so many potential voters that by the time the general election rolls around, they don’t have the votes to win.  By the time Romney won the nomination in 2012, calling himself  “severely conservative” along the way (that’s a good thing?), he tried unsuccessfully to win back the more moderate voters whom he had alienated.  The same strategy is in place today, with Jeb Bush relabeling himself the “most conservative governor” and several candidates toughening their positions on divisive issues like immigration.  But it gets worse, as the leading candidates are either political neophytes (Trump, Carson, Fiorina) with no track record to use against them, or so extreme that they’re isolated within their own party (Cruz).   The base no longer wants someone to move way right; they want someone who’s never been anywhere else.

Most American voters don’t share the beliefs that are now central to the Republican party.  For example, research by the non-partisan Pew Institute found that more than 70% of Americans believe that we should not deport undocumented workers, a stark deviation from Republican dogma.  A Qunnipiac University poll found that over 90% of all voters believe in universal background checks for gun buys.  In another Pew poll, 55% of Americans support same-sex marriage. And according to an AP poll earlier this year,  2/3 of Americans say that the rich are not taxed heavily enough.  By sticking to unpopular, divisive stances, the Republican party is marginalizing itself on a national scale.  Yes, individual candidates can still win in gerrymandered voting districts, but even this engineered success will be challenged as hard-line Republicans become minorities in their own voting districts.

Even prominent Republicans are disgusted.  David Brooks calls Republican leaders “The Incompetence Caucus.”  John Meredith, a prominent African-American Republican, is concerned about “The Republican Civil war” overtaking our country.  Colin Powell sees a dark vein of intolerance in the Republican party.

So can a Republican be elected president in 2016?  Do we even have a two-party race for the presidency anymore?  It’s looking increasingly doubtful that either of these questions can be answered positively by Republicans unless they take a long, hard look at who their base is today, and who they want it to be in the future.

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Have a nice day!

“Romeo????  Romeo!!!!  Wherefore art thou!!!!!!”

bigstock-Angry-man-screaming-32404904

Ouch!

Screwing up the punctuation can turn an amorous inquiry into something your mom might say when you leave your skateboard in the hallway ( “Get your butt down here at once, Romeo Montague!” ). Replace a period with a question mark, say, and a valid question turns into a line from an a Abbott and Costello routine:

  • Where is the 2 PM meeting.
  • Who is responsible for this.
  • What is the next step.

Another assault on the punctuation mark is the misuse of the acme of urgency:  the exclamation point.   As you know, exclamations are meant to express sharp cries or emotions (Notice how they cleverly encapsulated the word “exclaim”  in “exclamation.”).   For example:

  • It’s a boy!
  • My pants are on fire!
  • You just drove over my foot, as$h%$&!

Now, which of the sentences below – all retrieved from my inbox – is an exclamation?

  • I don’t know, but I believe So-and-so does!
  • Just took a look but I don’t see any!
  • See you on Monday!

You’re right!  I mean, you’re right – none of them is an exclamation.  That’s the problem: the exclamation point has become so overused that real exclamations can go unnoticed.  Imagine a world in which every mundane statement sounded like a life-changing event:

  • It’s a boy!
  • I am joyless and devoid of feeling!

You wouldn’t know whether to hand out cigars or kill yourself.  Of course, emotions are much easier to understand in person:  the raised voice, the sweat, the fire licking under the door.  But if you completely misuse an exclamation point when you’re writing, the purpose of your communication is obscured so that you are no longer able to convey emphasis where it’s needed.  For example:

Hi Joe,

Great to see you today!  I’m glad things worked out!  If you don’t sign the contract by tomorrow, I’ll be fired!  Have a great evening!

Alex 

On top of thinking that I’m a dimwit, Joe may not pay attention to the most important sentence in that email: about him having a great evening.   That would be a shame.

Using exclamation points inappropriately isn’t cute or friendly; you don’t seem like a nicer or more cheerful person because you use them indiscriminately.  Instead, you diminish the value of what you’re saying and maybe even run the risk of casting yourself in a negative light to your audience.  So if you want to close the deal or get that promotion, don’t misuse exclamation points!  I mean, don’t use exclamation points.

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