Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sue the Bastard!

Among the many lies Trump tells is that he never settles lawsuits because that only encourages more suits. In truth he has settled many of the thousands of lawsuits in which he has been involved. A nasty litigant like Trump with perceived deep pockets and a stable of lawyers on call can refuse to pay his legitimate debts and force people to sue him, then drag it out and starve the other party into agreeing to pennies on the dollar. One drawback for Trump is that the other party to the suit can take a recorded deposition of Trump and if Trump is unable to get the deposition sealed, then his incriminating testimony under cross examination can legitimately harm his image.

Now that he has unexpectedly, even to him, been elected President, his image has suddenly become important to everyone, even those who could care less about him before. That is why he settled the Trump University fraud case that was coming to trial this month.  So now it is time for those with viable claims against Trump to rush to the nearest courthouse and file suit and proceed with as much haste as possible. I would not be surprised if there are numerous attorneys who would be delighted to handle such suits. Trump has every reason to settle such suits in his own self-interest, even as he claims as he did in the Trump University fraud case that he is putting the interests of the American people first.

Efforts by Trump to use the Presidency as an excuse to have the cases put on hold will run into the US Supreme Court Ruling in the Paula Jones case against Bill Clinton which said such suits can proceed. Ironically one of the lawyers dogging Bill Clinton in that case is reported to be the husband of Kellyanne Conway, the last campaign manager for Trump.

Digesting the Numbers

Three weeks of digesting the results and a little historical digging have helped me understand a little better how we got into the mess of DJT being elected. As this is being written, the Clinton popular vote lead is approaching 2.5 million, but the Electoral College perversion, which is covered in another posting, gave Trump the victory.

America may be the oldest democracy in the world, but our low voter turnout is not a ringing endorsement. About 6 out of 10 voters were participating in our Presidential elections in modern times until the Watergate scandal caused one more voter to drop out. Presidential elections without an incumbent running usually produce a higher turnout, but this time around the drop in percent of voters from the percent voting in the previous election was the largest in almost 100 years. Both candidates had historically high unfavorability ratings. It was a "change election" and the "change" candidate for the Democrats, Bernie Sanders, was not quite able to knock off the "anointed" insider Hillary Clinton. Some "never Trump" Republicans and a lot more Sanders and Obama voters sat it out or went third party. But the simple fact is that most voters have a party preference on which they base their vote. So even though the particular candidate is not liked, he or she gets the party line vote. Among many mistakes made by the Clinton campaign was trying to peel off Republicans because of Trump being so disagreeable, without realizing that Clinton herself was seen by many Democrats as an undesirable candidate compared to Sanders and Obama.

Changing demographics are supposed to be giving Democrats a growing advantage, but Democrat voters need to be motivated to turn out and vote for the Democrat candidate. One slippage in traditional Democrat party lines has been with white non-college educated voters who Trump peeled off with talk of protecting them from threats to their jobs by trade agreements, immigrants and factories moving out of the country. Clinton allowed herself to be portrayed as not really caring about these workers and her campaign failed miserably by disregarding them. I do not recall her actually visiting a factory and talking to workers; in fact she did not make even one campaign stop in Wisconsin.

In the primary run, Sanders beat Clinton in a dozen states that Trump won in the general. Ten of those were solid Republican, while two were part of the supposed Democrat "Blue Wall", Wisconsin and Michigan. Assuming Sanders had been the nominee and won every state Clinton did against Trump, adding Wisconsin and Michigan would have produced 26 more electoral votes, but Trump would still have won the Electoral vote 280 to 258. 

Though Trump got less than 50% of the popular vote, seven other Presidents have received even a lower percent than Trump in the 48 elections held since popular vote totals were first reported in 1824, when John Quincy Adams in a split field got just over 30%. Others with a lower winning percent than Trump include Lincoln, Wilson, Clinton and Nixon in their first terms, all of whom were elected by higher percentages for a second term, Buchanan considered by many our worst President and Grover Cleveland the only man to win then lose then win again. In fact, there were eleven more Presidential elections where the winner got a higher percent than Trump, but still under 50%, including Cleveland, Wilson and Clinton on their second election, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and George W. Bush who was outscored by Al Gore.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Losing the Electoral College

For over two hundred years of US Presidential elections only one time did a candidate win the popular vote but fail to be chosen as President by the Electoral College, Democrat Samuel Tilden in 1876. But then came the 21st Century and in the last five Presidential elections this anomaly has happened twice. If you think this is a fair way to choose our Presidents then you do not truly believe in representative democracy; and you probably live in a state like Wyoming.

In addressing this problem here, I think it is necessary to go into a fair amount of history. If you do not have the time or patience to read through this, you can cut to the chase by going to the last paragraph which links to the most probable way the Electoral College will be effectively eliminated.

There were basically two reasons the Electoral College came into being, one unanimously elitist and one compromisingly elitist. The colonies, the Revolution and the resulting US Constitution were all run by wealthy and powerful white male elites. These men would not give the vote to black slaves, women and many poor and uneducated white males. The elitists decided even those who would be allowed to vote were not capable of doing so intelligently, supposedly because they were so tied to their immediate locale they could not have knowledge of national candidates for President and Vice President and they were so uneducated and inexperienced as to be incapable of discernment. So the elites decided the voters would vote for their local elite who would then make the final decision on the President and Vice President. This was the unanimous elitist reason.

The thirteen colonies had great differences in size, population, slaves, wealth and means of production; but they wanted to unite for mutual protection and benefit. The elitist compromise was a legislative branch of government with two chambers. The Representative chamber would be composed of people actually chosen directly by the voters in a local district of a state, with the number of districts determined based on population and adjusted after every ten year census, and with each state getting at least one Representative regardless of how small the state population.

The second chamber would be called the Senate. The smaller states did not want to get trampled by the bigger states so they won a compromise to have each state get two Senators in that chamber. The elitists also decided the voters were not even sharp enough to be able to select Senators statewide, so the Senators instead would be chosen by state legislatures who in turn had been elected at the local state district level. If this sounds a bit like trickle up democracy, it is. The people eventually wised up and the Constitution was amended in 1913 to allow voters to directly elect US Senators, a change that did not favor any one State over another.

In the Electoral College, each state gets a vote equal to its number of Senators and Representatives, so the smaller states have a disproportionate voice in choosing the President. This was a compromise the large state elites were willing to make, because the office of the Presidency was expected to be a weaker branch of government, with more power concentrated in the Congress and particularly in the House of Representatives. Over time the Presidency has become more powerful than anticipated and the Congress continues to try to rein it in, especially when controlled by a different political party than the President.

The original concept of the benevolent elites looking out for their local voters quickly ran into the reality of partisan politics. The method of conducting elections and choosing electors was left to the states. State political parties soon were able to devise state legislative schemes for getting electors to pledge to vote for a particular party Presidential candidate, typically the candidate gaining the most votes state wide. This was usually done on a winner takes all basis, though rarely some states award electoral votes by Congressional district. Thus the Electoral College morphed into the current mechanical way of whoever wins a state being awarded all the electoral votes of that state.
There has been talk of changing the Electoral College to drop the 100 Senator votes. However, those with power rarely give it up voluntarily, so the small states will not agree to surrender their Senatorial Electoral College advantage. But even if the 100 Senator votes had not been included in the 2016 Electoral College, Hillary Clinton would still have lost.

Ironically the US as the oldest representative democracy in the world and the self-proclaimed shining city on the hill is the only country in the world with the concept of a "popular vote". All other countries simply have elections with a "winning vote", whoever gets the most votes is elected. No other country has been foolish enough to emulate our Electoral College.

Demographers and political pundits tell us the Electoral College now works to the advantage of democrats because they control so many states with larger populations. But the results from recent elections tell us otherwise. Democrats have won the popular vote in six of the last seven Presidential elections, but only won the Electoral College four of those times. In the long term the demographers are undoubtedly correct, which should be a persuasive argument to get Republicans ultimately to agree to scrap the Electoral College.

Having the President elected by popular vote should make more people inclined to vote in Presidential elections; as it is now, some people feel voting for President is a waste of time if their state is solidly in the column of one party or the other. Choosing the President by national popular vote should make us feel more united in choosing our President, diluting the feelings of regional differences and the disillusionment of not having a say on President if you are a minority in your own state.

Some political scientists argue that small states having a greater voice in the Electoral College creates some sort of healthy diversity. I totally reject that idea; in a representative democracy those elected are representing people not acreage. It is bad enough we are stuck with a Senate giving unequal representation because of the dated compromise that was made to form the union, The way both chambers of Congress are elected is overdue for re-evaluation, something I hope to be visiting in future Sense postings. Trump now says if there was no Electoral College he would have campaigned more heavily in populous states and won more popular votes. Maybe, or maybe his campaigning more would have produced even more Hillary votes. The point is we will never know until we change the rules to be truly democratic.

Fortunately there is a workaround to effectively put the Electoral College out of business. It is called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. In a nutshell under the Compact individual states can vote to require their electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote. When enough states to compose an Electoral College majority have approved the compact, it will become effective and we will have Presidents chosen by the actual wining vote of the people. The Compact arose out of the 2000 election and to date has been adopted by states totaling 61.1% of the number of Electoral votes needed to elect our President. So far only Democrat states have adopted the Compact. As demographics swing more states Democrat, the prospects for the Compact will grow. The DNC should make this a priority agenda item. Maybe once the Compact kicks in, the small states will agree that since they have no Electoral power advantage left to lose we might as well "clean up" the Constitution by eliminating the College altogether. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Gwen Ifill 1955-2016

I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn yesterday that PBS journalist Gwen Ifill died at age 61. Gwen had fought a private battle with cancer over the last year, giving no indication of it as she continued to appear on camera with her joyous smile and positive professional attitude. I highly recommend people watch the heartfelt tribute from The News Hour last night. My sense of personal loss takes me a bit by surprise, but I quickly realize what an excellent journalist Gwen was and what a wonderful person. If Gwen was on a show you knew it would be a worthwhile watch and you felt personally welcomed by Gwen and were joyful to be in her presence. Gwen was not able to cover the final days of this brutal Presidential election cycle and her death and absence from covering the Trump administration is a great loss for our country.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Maxime Absurdum

As a young man following political news and dreaming of making movies, I envisioned a script about a small town where the same two bickering men were perennially running for Mayor but nothing ever improved regardless of which one was elected. One year people decided individually in private to lodge a protest vote for the town Communist who always ran but never got any votes other than his own. When the votes were counted and the Communist actually won, everyone was shocked, most notably the newly elected Mayor. Hollywood made a version of my movie in 1972, The Candidate, with Robert Redford elected as a US Senator. Americans may have just taken the story to maxime absurdum by electing Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Being a few years older than Trump, I have had the misfortune of hearing about him all his public life. Learning early that he was a silver spoon born self-promoting philanderer, I always tried to avoid hearing about him. Through the years, talk of Presidential ambition was obviously a delusion of grandeur so I laughed it off. As his TV show The Apprentice gained fame, I also avoided it; when surfing channels and seeing him with his ridiculous hair pontificating in a board room set, I moved away quickly.

Then as the Presidential campaign started in 2015 and I began watching, here was Trump actually joining the overloaded Republican circus. Like many people I was a bit dumbstruck by what I saw. It was like watching another show I try to avoid on channel surfing, The Jackass Show. Because the Republican Party nomination for the US Presidency was at stake, I followed their quest, hoping to be there when the Jackass Trump splatted. I got up to speed on the Trump background by reading materials on line and in biographies and documentaries. Though I am mercifully skipping details of the campaign here, they may come up in later Sense postings.

Fast forward through the Conventions, the debates, the final campaigns and the related aspects, some of which may also come up in later postings, to election night. Quickly it became clear something was off and then that the unthinkable might be happening. Visions of driving around with a billboard on my car top saying Americans are [expletive deleted] fools, followed by a visceral deflating and then a strange involuntary laugh. Is this what it is like to watch The Jackass Show, seeing someone risk personal safety by doing something dangerously stupid? First the feeling of sickened empathy for the fool and then the laugh at the consequences he brought on himself. But this is not one voluntary jackass; it is our whole country and the world for which we profess to be a shining example.

As the Civil Rights movement was charging forward in the US, white people would often offer an ignorant complement to an impressive black man, "He is a credit to his race." President Obama has been a credit to The United States Presidency, regardless of and because of, his race. This morning President Obama welcomed to the White House for an orientation Donald Trump, a man who appears to be the most unqualified and unfit man ever elected to the office. The two men had never met before. Trump in the picture above seems as shocked and unprepared as the Communist in my script.

Sense Resumes

After a seven year onscreen absence, I have decided to resume the Sense blog. The reason is simple – somehow Donald Trump has become President elect of the United States.

When Barack Obama became President, I stopped this blog and explained my reason:
"Now that Barack Obama has taken over, I do not feel the need to follow his administration closely or to comment here on developments. President Obama is someone I believe and trust and I have confidence in his intelligence, judgment and demeanor. Any disagreements I may have with him are not likely to spur me to comment here, as I felt compelled to do by the continuing Bush/Cheney outrages. I have embarked on a much needed break from intensely following and commenting on political news."

As we embark on the Trump administration, I feel compelled to follow events and post my comments. I do not believe or trust Trump, nor do I have confidence in his intelligence, judgment and demeanor.

For the past seven years I have continued to follow political events and been particularly dismayed by the rise of the Tea Party and the commitment of Congressional Republicans to blocking everything President Obama tried to do for the American people. The Republican goal was to keep Obama from being re-elected, a goal they thankfully failed to achieve, as he became the first President since Eisenhower to be elected twice with a majority of the votes.

I use this blog as a place to be able to express my thoughts in writing, in part to reduce the burden on those who may be susceptible to having to hear them verbally. Referring back to my earlier postings gives the opportunity to see how they hold up over time. With admitted immodesty I am usually pleased with the validity of what I have posted in the past.

Over the past few years I have done a pro and con analysis of whether to resume Sense. One concern was a fear of being overwhelmed, agitated and obligated to write. So control, temperance and balance should be my guidelines on resumption. However, because of the dramatic nature of the election results, there could be a few quick postings soon.

The Sense blog is more like a personal journal than a forum, though there were some reader comments and dialogues the last time around. No effort is being made to encourage or discourage participation by others, though family members will probably be told it is back.

On a housekeeping note, after seven years some old picture links no longer work and the topical index link had to be updated. The index is to topics, not people names. If you can see a search box in the upper right of your browser when you read Sense, you can use it to search for names. I searched Hillary and got eleven postings, all discussing the 2008 primary race. For some reason the results are not in chronological order. You might also want to consider resizing the way Sense appears in your browser. Most browsers allow you to zoom the Sense page in and out by holding down the control button on your keyboard and pressing plus or minus on the keypad. Once you get a size you like, your browser should remember that each time you return.

My desire is that this blog, any readers, our country and the world do well in spite of the current trepidation of an impending Trump Presidency.