SocraticGadfly: 2016

December 30, 2016

Hail, hail, Fredonia — and Nacogdoches

Texas history was made in this area 190 years ago. That's when one Benjamin Edwards rode into Nacogdoches and proclaimed the Republic of Fredonia. 

“Hail, hail Fredonia!” 

Well, yes, but not for that reason. 

Approximately 90 years later (the date is uncertain), national comic history also started in Nacogdoches. And, that “Hail, hail Fredonia” eventually became a song because of it. 

You'll hear it in a “classic,” well, no, not quite that, but, a groaner of sorts of a movie called “Duck Soup.” A movie by a certain Groucho Marx and other members of his family. 

The story's been told plenty a time before, but it doesn't hurt to retell the basics. After all, Groucho Marx is one of my two main inspirations for bad puns, along with Alan Alda in his persona as Hawkeye Pierce on “M*A*S*H.” 

Sidebar: There is no such thing as a “bad pun.” The worse they are, the better they are. And, people who are around me regularly know that I love to tell them. 

About 1910, the Marx Brothers were still in their relatively young, salad days, on the vaudeville circuit. And, they were scheduled to play the Nacogdoches Opera House. 

At that time, the Marx Brothers weren't the people we know from the movies. They did a lot of barbershop quartet-type singing, a few skits, and other similar things. A comedy troupe they were not, though.  

So, they took to the stage, and reportedly, were not quite “knocking 'em dead” in the aisles. Then, what may well have been the first automobile in Nacogdoches backfired. A mule tied outside the opera house broke its tether, somebody yelled “Runaway mule,” and the crowd, or less than a crowd, inside the opera house decided the ruckus outside was more entertaining than the vaudeville act inside. 

But, when they came back in, eventually, Groucho started showing his comic chops. “Nacogdoches is full of roaches” is a rhyming ditty he reportedly hurled at the audience in his next song. He then started changing other lyrics, singing, “The jack-ass is the finest flower of Tex-ass.” 

And things went downhill from there, right? No. The crowd reportedly ate it up. 

And, Groucho, along with the rest of his brothers, started thinking that maybe their future was in comedy as well. 

“Our act was so lousy,” Groucho said in his memoir decades later, “that when word passed through the audience of numbskull Texans that a mule had run away, they got up en masse to go out and see something livelier. We were accustomed to heckling and insults, but that made us furious, so when those guys wearing ten-gallon hats over pint-sized brains came back, we let them have it.”  

And the rest is indeed history. 

For those not totally familiar, Groucho (Julius) is the third brother, not the oldest. Chico (Leonard) came first, then Harpo (Adolph, later known as Arthur), then Gummo (Milton), who didn't appear in any movies, then finally Zeppo (Herbert), who played a straight man in some of the earlier movies. 

By the end of the 1910s, with the help of their uncle, himself a vaudeville comic, they had crafted the personas that would lead to Broadway, and then the movies. 

“Duck Soup” is the highest-ranked Marx Brothers movie by the American Film Institute. And, while Nacogdoches may have laughed at the original joke, and appreciated the hat tip in the movie, the town of Freedonia, New York, most certainly did not appreciate the Republic of Fredonia as skewered in the movie. 

Meanwhile, Alan Alda had “M*A*S*H” provide his own hat tip to Groucho. A Capt. Spaulding, played by Loudon Wainwright, does some some introductory/set-up work for various scenes in the first year of the show. The original Capt. Spaulding was a Groucho character in “Animal Crackers.” 

And, with both Groucho Marx and Alan Alda, I've thought that good puns were a sign of good intelligence. 

Hail, hail, Fredonia indeed!


Hail Fredonia!

December 29, 2016

My thoughts on #BearsEars

For the new national monument, a great starting point is Jonathan Thompson's piece at High Country News. And, a great backgrounder piece, plus a showing of his chops as a writer, is Jonny Peace's article from this summer.

So, that's our starting point.

Here's some sidebar and backgrounder cold takes from me.

1. I'm not a total fan of BLM and Forest Service national monuments. Haven't been since the Slickster made Grand Staircase-Escalante the first one, or at least the first of any size, on the BLM side, and Giant Sequoia the first of any size on the USFS side. (Doesn't Fish and Wildlife get a National Wildlife Refuge upgraded at some point?)

That said, I've been through portions of Giant Sequoia once, at night driving. Not sure how much the additional protections there are, or the additional values added.

Grosvenor Arch at GSE Nat'l Monument.
Photo by Steve Snyder
I've been to GSE twice, or rather, somewhat through it, especially on the first trip, as well as nibbled around its edges a couple of other times. I've been to Carrizo Plain and Klamath-Siskyou (rumored to be on Obama's list for expansion).

And, as for our newest site, I've done some putz-around hiking on Cedar Mesa and at the start of Grand Gulch as well as other spots at the edges of the new monument. So, I'm not a total stranger to the area.

That said, let's dive in.

First, protection, even under the BLM and its different philosophy on Western lands, as well as the tradeoffs with these things, is better than the older, less adequate protections within the same agencies. And, elimination of new grazing leases is part of the enabling of the monument. Francis Biddle, FDR's attorney general, issued a 1938 opinion that a future president cannot kill a previous president's national monument created under the Antiquities Act. (That said, Woodrow Wilson DID cut TR's original Olympic National Monument in half in 1915.)

Second, as of my most recent visit to GSE just over a year ago, I noticed that the BLM has a new, pretty nice, pretty informative visitor center replacing the old one. And, the workers there seemed to be a couple of old-time desert rats from somewhere on the Plateau, whatever state's BLM office they started in.

They'll tell you some gossip about the creation of the marina towns on Lake Powell, some serious talk about dinosaur sites in the monument, and more. Nice bookstore there, and some nice dinosaur displays. There's still the Old Paria movie set, etc. Oh, the famous "Wave"? It's only a couple of acres.

In other words, the BLM has shown that it's not a horrible steward of such sites. And, per the staffers above, they might be more down-to-earth at times than Park Service rangers.

The Abajo Mountains, in background, from Canyonlands National Park.
Photo by Steve Snyder
2. Re compromises, per Jonny's main piece at the first link, and the BLM official map, now that boundaries have been set, I don't like all the compromises in the final package. Most notably, I think the Abajos should have been included, both for a higher general natural beauty protection, and given the American Indian background to the monument as a whole, their Ute history.

Incorporating the Abajos could also, in theory, have addressed another issue, by transferring the Manti-LaSal National Forest lands involved to the BLM.

Still a bit of Kumbaya in Obama, and it probably popped up there.

That said, I'm not sure, but is this maybe the first of the new national monuments that has both BLM and Forest Service land inside the same monument? I know the two agencies already do bits of work coordination on adjacent lands, but, how well will this work out?

The pristine night skies of the new Bears' Ears National Monument are clear
in this picture of the Big Dipper. / Photo by Steve Snyder
3. That said, in light of No. 1 and 2, I can defend, or even praise, Obama doing this, while still noting that in many ways, including violations of our civil liberties, foreign bombing campaigns, no national health care and, re the National Park Service, a weak, neoliberalized centennial celebration, he's not the bees' knees as president. (On the Great Blue Satan, in a closed group, not all are of the same mind, as far as praising this while remaining critical in general. Vis-a-vis those folks, while I agree that, versus Preznit Kumbaya, you don't compromise away the compromise in advance — along with his other issues — there is a right time to compromise in some way.)

In short, this isn't a zero-sum game.

As for the blathering of San Juan County, Utah, residents? The land most productive for farming and ranching was either homesteaded by Mormon pioneers before the old General Land Office took federal control — in actuality, not just theory — or else sold off by the GLO. There's plenty of other places to do ORV driving, anyway. As for mineral rights and leases? Well, BLM is often too lenient. Besides, especially if it's coal, it needs to be kept in the ground anyway. And, of course, existing grazing as well as mineral leases remain operative, per a BLM FAQ. The land size is little different than the likes of Randy Bishop proposed, too. The Indian tribal consultation that's part of the monument surely is a difference, though (Those tribes involved are the Hopi Nation, the Navajo Nation, the Zuni Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray.)

And, many people, like Friends of Cedar Mesa, got tired of Bishop's sandbagging, and that of others, and called on Obama to do exactly what he did.

Finally in this vein, I wonder if tribal management consulting will get tied to enforcement of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, for theft of potsherds, etc. And, will such consulting allow law enforcement of the various tribes to wield their badges inside the monument? (Update: Jonny says the Archaelogical Resource Protection Act, or ARPA, is what to look to, and that it's unlikely tribal police will patrol inside the monument.)

It may not be a lot, but anything in this regard would be better, for those who know the history of the largely Mormon pothunters in the county.

Speaking of that, per Obama's proclamation, the area is potential as much a fossil trove as GSE, and needs more protection for that reason too.

4. Some broader thoughts on the Park Service, vis-a-vis comments on another High Country News story to another commenter, are next.

No, we do not need mega-sized national parks in all 50 states. (This person was behind an earlier version of what is now the Maine Woods National Monument. He wanted 3.5 million acres, far, far bigger than its actual size. If you're wondering, that's one-seventh the entire state of Maine, or the same size as Death Valley National Monument.)

Second, we do NOT need more NPS units until we address not only the well-documented maintenance backlogs, but also continue work on purchase of private inholdings at current NPS units.

Third, in that situation, and if private entities can't come together for an actual plan, not a Randy Bishop-type head fake like his over Bears' Ears, then a BLM or BLM/Forest Service, national monument is better than nothing indeed.

5. Speaking of BLM, more photos, and information, about both Bears' Ears and Gold Butte on its Tumblr.

So California wants to secede ...

It's for different reasons than Republic of Texas nutbars, as the homepage of "Yes California" makes clear.

That said, it's almost as dumb as RoT.

My take on the bullet points:
  1. They might attack an independent California. Besides, you should still fear domestic white rights folks more than al-Qaeda et al.
  2. What if we killed the Electoral College?
  3. So, you seem to want free trade yet oppose the TPP at the same time? Hmmmm …
  4. No, Prop. 13 is the primary reason for your debt problems. Clean your own house.
  5. You might be surprised at how many “liberals” want tighter immigration.
  6. True dat.
  7. Talk to those in-state water wasters down in the Southland while you're at it. Oh, and don't forget that the Southland might not want to be a part of the rest of the state, if we go down that road. Oh, and speaking of? You'll lose all that Colorado River water with independence.
  8. You think neoliberal Jerry Brown favors single-payer national health care, or a Cal version? I got beachfront property in Fresno to sell you.
  9. Education? Primarily a state problem See Prop. 13, above.

December 28, 2016

Updating “The Devil’s Dictionary” (updated)

A while back, I did a blog post called "Observations about life." I still occasionally update it, primarily with real-world observations, no fluff or New Ageyness, about the real world.

Well, being the editor, writer and language maven that I am, I'm now starting a blog post with a slightly skewed set of fake word definitions.

These won't be "cutesy" ones, at least I hope not. Rather, think of a kinder version of Ambroise Bierce's magnum opus, The Devil's Dictionary. (Some of this is taken from another blog post, called "Daffynitions."

To allow for updates, until my cup overflows, I'll alphabetize the words and phrases, starting with:

American Exceptionalism: The idea that America's collective shit doesn't stink, or, in more extreme versions of the idea, the theory that America doesn't have any shit to collectively stink anyway.

Capitalism: The worst of all economic systems, except for the others that have been tried from time to time. Except that, by itself, without strong (and true) regulatory restraining, the moderation of at least a reasonable amount of social democracy and more, it IS the worst of all economic systems.

Conservative: A person whose most important item of conservation is his or her personal advantage in life.

Employment: Winning a ticket for the lottery of eventually being fired.

Evolutionary Psychology: The quasi-religious belief that the explanation of the evolution of human nature from our Australopithecine ancestors can be explained by an appeal to John Gray's "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" covered with a veneer of pseudoscientific special pleading.

Fauxtrage: A fake outrage over some President  Barack Obama or general Democratic Party or general liberal political action or news event, as "reported" by Fox, er, Faux, News, or some other public relations organization.

Fourth Estate: The fourth branch of unelected American government, the newspapers and other news media. The other three branches are lobbyists, capitalism-supporting theorists, and general, otherwise politically unidentified prostitutes of various sorts.

Liberal: Someone pretending to be a leftist, who's actually afraid of being mugged by reality. 

Libertarian: An elitist who thinks his lucky ascent into a highly valuable position of employment or social standing is proof of the existence of meritocracy. Illustration: Being born with a silver spoon in one's mouth, then thinking that people without silver spoons must have lost or thrown away theirs.

Life: A struggle between two dung beetles for the same small piece of half-dried horse shit.

National Intelligence: 1. A set of interpretations of various aspects of happenings outside the United States, regularly offered up by various agencies of the United States government, in order to keep their jobs, get more money from Congress and otherwise bolster their standing inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway. See also National Security.
2. The belief by Americans that they, individually and collectively, have a degree of insight about the world and its needs unpossessed elsewhere. A subset of American Exceptionalism, qv, and part of the Dunning-Krueger Effect, qv.

National Security: The constitutional exception to the bar against yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, as long as that theater contains 300 million or more Americans.

Newspaper: A set of sheets of paper that is nearing obsolescence and that, in its fiscal prime, was the first version of what is called today social media, which see. From its fiscal prime, it passed into an alleged Golden Age, which may or may not have actually existed. From this Golden Age perch, it claimed for itself the title of Fourth Estate, qv, which it soon had to share with other news media.

Pine Time: A would-be-in-his-own-mind sports god, "gifted" with even more ego than the actual Prime Time, Neon Deion Sanders, but about half the talent and hence, at some point, when his ego not only can't cover lack of skills but actually becomes an irritant to his manager or coach when said skills slippage becomes apparent to everybody but him.

Racism: The cold-sweat fear that someone with a different skin color than yours might just be your equal socially, and even your better intellectually or psychologically. In a modern world demanding evidence, this is usually followed by invoking one more more discredited ideas from a constellation of such called racialism, in an attempt to convince yourself that your own skin tone is, in all ways, superior.

Revenge: Traditionally called “a dish best served cold.” But, with modern culinary tastes and modern technology, we can do much better. Revenge is “a dish best served cold, in terms of a wait time, but stuffed with habañeros and microwaved right before being served.”

Social Justice Warrior: a person who is not particularly social, does not understand justice, and has never set foot on a battlefield.

Social Media: Various Internet forums for sharing information and alleged information which usually are not that social, and often become even less social over contentious issues, and are not media in the sense of what news media theoretically are. See also newspaper.

-Splaining: A suffix attached to certain nouns wherewith the user, at least in his or her own mind, attempts to simultaneously prove the social elitism of the target and disprove the social elitism of the user.

Wasted vote: 1. Any vote not cast for a Republican or Democratic candidate, according to Republican or Democratic candidates. 2. Any vote cast for a Republican or Democratic candidate, per those who know better.

December 27, 2016

Building Green Party power for 2018 and beyond

The Green Party of the United States is the largest party of the left, and the growing number of independent voters show there's a desire for more than the duopoly. And Bernie Sanders showed that many of these people desire the offerings of social democracy.

But, none of this means squat if Greens don't build on that for 2018 and beyond. As Mark Lause noted recently, per my blog take on him, the national party needs to better relations with various state parties, many of the state parties need to become more than paper parties, and other things, with those other things including better, more professional candidate recruitment, as I noted here.

Some of that is already being addressed, per this initial Green Party Power statement.

The bullet points/subheads are all important.

• Building Green Independence means moving past Jill Stein and David Cobb footsies with Democrats and the Green Party standing for itself.

• Pursue electoral reforms includes, but is by no means limited to, Maine's planned use of Ranked Choice Voting in 2018.

• Accountability? That's those "paper party" issues, independence from Democrats and more.

I have signed the statement, and encourage others to support similar ideas through their signature, their involvement and their action.

At the same time, I fear that the Stein is haz cheezburger claque may be an ongoing issue. And, of course the alt-pseudo-medicine tribe will remain an issue. If it gets worse, I can choose to bail.

December 26, 2016

TX Progressives have your post-Christmas wrap

Off the Kuff looked at presidential voting results in two Congressional districts with an eye toward future elections.

Socratic Gadfly punctures bits of East Texas, and general Texas, historical mythology with a look at the history of Nacogdoches. (Part Two this coming Friday.)

(And, he offers you a bit of Christmassy color at right.)

Grits for Breakfast watched the video of Fort Worth police officer baiting, and then arresting, the woman who called 911, and wonders right alongside the police chief if it was rudeness or racism.

In a 24-hour period last Thursday, Trump managed a trifecta: antagonize US-Israeli relations, start a nuclear arms race with Russia, and knock Lockheed Martin around for a discount on F-35s by threatening to have Boeing build a 'modified F-18' in its place.  PDiddie at Brains and Eggs says that if we don't get his Twitter account suspended, he's going to kill us all.

jobsanger reprints a FWST op-ed that points out that the Texas Lege still plans on defunding Planned Parenthood.

The Lewisville Texan Journal reported on the Texas Education Agency's final school ratings for the year, and quoted some administrators as calling them a crock.

South Texas Chisme says that in the wake of the Corpus Christi public water emergency last week, that city's manager says there's "a lot" of non-compliant users of city water.

Neil at All People Have Value took a picture of Houston's excellent Christmas Tree of Tires.  APHV is part of


And still more Texas news from a variety of contributors!

From space poop to Jupiter, the Houston Press recounted their ten best 2016 stories about NASA.

The Rivard Report spotlights on San Antonio's mental health care network, a national model.

The Longview News Journal exposes the East Texas judges who pay themselves a $25,000 bonus just for showing up for work.

The Texas Observer posts the worst of 2016's social media offerings from the likes of our elected 'representatives' such as Robert Morrow, Konni Burton, and Sid Miller.  Basically all of Sid Miller's Facebook timeline.

Equality Texas sees North Carolina buckling under the economic pressure of their 'bathroom bill', and watches as Texas charts a similar ill-fated course.

Ashton Woods at Strength in Numbers excoriates 'Pantsuit Nation" in his semi-regular series on intersectionality and the problematic white gaze.

And Houstonia has the Texas state park camping trips you need to book now.

December 23, 2016

Nacogdoches ... really the oldest town in Texas, or not?

Nacogdoches is supposedly the oldest town in Texas. Founded in 1716, it celebrated its tricentennial this year. 

There's just two or three problems with this, which included Texas history, Texas myth, privileged viewpoints and more. 

First, there were towns older than it, or villages, or whatever, by settled Indian tribes. They don't exist today, true. But, they were older. (Indeed, per its Wiki page, Nac is near the site of an old Caddoan village.) 

Second, Nac itself has not been continually inhabited over those 300 years, as Wiki also makes clear, and as Nac historically-minded folks know. Per Wiki, Gil Y'Barbo got it to get official Spanish designation as a pueblo, or town, in 1779 after resettlement at the site. 

Third, it ignores that El Paso, whether town, village or whatever — and yes, on both sides of the Rio Grande, or Rio Bravo del Norte, not just on the south/west side that became Ciudad Juarez — are older and continuously older. 

I guess that means that the Republic of Texas claims to the Rio Grande as its border all the way up to its source in southern Colorado, as staked on the post-San Jacinto treaty under duress with Santa Anna, actually weren't true and that Texans of today are admitting that. 

Or else, outside of Nac boosters, they're more clueless of their own state's history than I previously thought. 

Meanwhile, it's got other "issues."  Even before Mexico had finished seceding from Spain, rebellion problems were happening with Anglo settlers in the area, as well as some of the earlier Hispanic ones. Hence Nac's claim to outdo places like Six Flags of America amusement parks with its Nine Flags. 

I'll have more on one of those, the Fredonian Rebellion, and its relation to some modern comedy history, in a second column, which will be an adaptation of an editorial column of mine.

December 21, 2016

No, the Electoral College was NOT all about slavery

In the wake of Monday's electors gathering in various states to officially vote for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, Bernie Sanders, Ron Paul, John Kasich, and Faith Spotted Eagle, we've seen a new round of liberals (and even a leftist like Doug Henwood) claiming the Electoral College is a vestige of compromises with slavery.

Erm, not quite. To the degree that it is so, it's only indirectly so. In other words, people like Michael Moore, in points 3 and 4 of this Facebook post, are a mix of simplistic and flat wrong. In this case, it IS Michael Moore. Are you surprised?

And today, the New York Times, though less egregiously than the likes of Moore, also gets it wrong with its own historical (and intellectual?) shortcuts.

Unfortunately, as the "I blame Putin" whiff of the vapors continues, many Clintonista types relish such simplistic ideas. Unfortunately, on this particular issue, a few Greens do, too, I think.

(I'm setting aside the issue that all state laws that ban, on paper, "faithless electors" are unconstitutional and one of them needs to be take to the Supreme Court for a clear ruling as such. That, in turn, would get Greens, Dems and others who are concerned to realize the only sure-fire way of getting rid of the Electoral College is, per John Roberts, to get rid of it. By amendment.)

We need to start with the three-fifths compromise. The Wiki article at that link is pretty good.

Not all about slavery, but very much about conservative elite control.
"Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States." (Wikipedia)

The compromise, at the Constitution, was not to count slaves as three-fifths of a person for voting purposes only, but also for property taxation as property. Which, of course, they were. That is, of course, disgusting, but it is the nature of slavery, whether race-based or not.

This compromise, as Wiki notes, carried over from a Northern attempt under the Articles of Confederation government to count them as whole persons, for taxation purposes first. It must be remembered that, under the Constitution,  until the 16th Amendment, federal income taxes were supposed to be assessed on a state-by-state basis relative to a state's population.

(And, per delinking the three-fifths compromise from the Electoral College, it must be remembered that the Articles of Confederation government, without a president, had no Electoral College.)

In 1783, the Confederation government tried to move in that direction. The three-fifths ratio, once the South rejected a whole-person definition, was put forth for amendment. But, under the unanimity needed then, the amendment failed by two states.

The same idea was revised in 1787 Philadelphia. Since small states, primarily in New England at that time, had their vote power boosted over direct population ratios by the Connecticut Compromise and equal voting in a Senate, they signed off on the three-fifths compromise with little dissent. Indeed, the two proponents of the issue were both northerners.

Let's also not forget that slavery was legal in all 13 original states, not just "the South," and Philadelphia-including Pennsylvania (though already working toward abolition), New York and New Jersey had substantial numbers.

Now, and only now, can we talk about the United States' Electoral College system, since this method of electing presidents was adopted after, and separately from, the three-fifths compromise.

First, Congress batted around several ideas for the presidency, including a plural executive similar to the dual consuls of Rome, before settling on a single person.

Then, not wanting direct popular election because of fears of "the mob," it considered various options to select a president

One was election by Members of Congress, or more specifically, the House. But, that was seen as voiding the vaunted separation of powers.

The other two methods originally proposed were direct popular vote, quickly dismissed, and election by state legislatures. And that method would either have had to have a one-state, one-vote system similar to the Articles of Confederation Congress, or something else. (Hold on to that thought.)

So, eventually, an Electoral College system was adopted — even though many founders thought that, after Washington, most elections would wind up going to the House anyway, as per the adopted constitutional procedure. (Note: As Wiki observes, though the Constitution talks about "electors," it never uses the phrase "Electoral College." In fact, because the founders stipulated each state's electors had to meet separately, they likely would reject such an idea.)

Discussion over the Electoral College never made explicit references to slavery, nor did Northern delegates express great opposition to it over this reason.

Beyond what Wikipedia says, good books on the Constitutional Convention will tell you that, while there were bits of friction over slavery, there was nothing huge, overall. Things like the 20-year period for legal slave importation weren't contentious at all. And, while the musical "1776" does go over the top at times, New Englanders were running slaver ships. And, due to that and other things, they dealt with the Deep South on the 20-year period for importation, after the three-fifths rule was accepted, in exchange for not creating a two-thirds rule on Congress passing navigation laws and other things favorable. (I.e., tariffs, per today's Trump trade wars and Congress surrendering most of its trade power to the president after WWII.)

In turn, the Upper South, namely Virginia, would have to wait 20 years before profiting off the sale of surplus slaves.

(This is also why Abraham Lincoln said exactly what he did on March 4, 1865, about not judging. He knew the North's own past degree of involvement and more.)

Oh, that "something else"? The Constitution doesn't specify that electors must be chosen by direct popular vote. Until the Civil War, South Carolina had theirs chosen ...

By the state legislature.

The degree of federal power, the degree of presidential power, and large-state/small-state issues were all more serious bones of contention.

As for elections? Gary Wills and others may be right that Jefferson beat Adams in 1800 because of the three-fifths compromise. But, Wills ignores the Connecticut Compromise. And, Wiki says Jefferson was a massive popular vote winner. So, all "liberty loving" historians doing ax-grinding over the three-fifths compromise while not also complaining about the electoral college in general are rank hypocrites, rank idiots or both. Per Wiki's link above about the election of 1800, it's no shock that Akil Reed Amar is among them. (Corey Robin identifies Amar, along with Larry Tribe and Jack Balkin, as "liberal originalists." That explains enough about his idiocy.)

With the possible exception of 1848, where Taylor had only a plurality in the popular vote — but, as a Whig, more of his support came from the North — the three-fifths compromise when connected with the Electoral College never influenced a pre-1860 election. Other than the 1824 runoff, where nobody had a majority of either popular or electoral votes, but Adams was second in both, every plurality or majority winner of the popular vote was elected president.

It DID influence that one, 1860, with the note that Lincoln was the plurality winner of the popular vote. Without the Electoral College, a popular vote runoff would likely have gone to Stephen F. Douglas over Abe Lincoln; ditto if we kept the constitutional provision of sending a no-majority election to the House.

So, stop it, people. Stop making untrue claims about the Constitution. Read first. And also, per my review of The Frozen Republic, learn just how many problems the body of our Constitution has.

This is also probably another reason I call myself a left-liberal. (That said, I'm not ready to call myself a straight-out leftist.)

Finally, Trump is NOT the worst popular-vote loser to win the Electoral College. By percentages, not raw numbers, Quincy Adams in 1824 and Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 were both bigger popular vote losers. And this one will get mentioned again in another blog post.

This also ignores that pre-TR, the United States, with the exception of Jackson and Lincoln, was largely a nation of Congressional government. The presidency just wasn't that big a deal.

That said, a case can indeed be made that the 3/5 clause highly influenced Congress, at least the House. When Democrats were in the ascendancy, they couldn't elect a Speaker and make committee assignments without Southern concurrence.

As for the Presidency? When the Jacksonian Democracy adopted the 2/3 rule for presidential nominations, for the presidency, that had far more influence than the 3/5 Compromise. Van Buren was blocked in 1844 because of it, as was, of course, Douglas in 1860 until, in this case, Northern Democrats refused to lay down for the South any more and the party split.

It gave Southern Democrats a veto of sorts after the war, though, until it was finally abolished in 1936.


Various other updates to the original:

First, while Paul Finkelman is generally right (with some quibbling) that the Second Amendment was not done to protect slavery, he's generally wrong in claiming the EC was created for that reason, especially with the word "explicitly" in the header. And I don't care if he wrote a law review journal piece to this end, he's still wrong. (Lots of people write law review journal pieces that are wrong, of course.)

The part about governors electing the president? Kind of a red herring. It and similar one-state, one-vote ideas had little traction, relatively little discussion. The claim to be able to read the inner mind of Charles Pinckney? Poor historiography. Semi-laughable.

And, like Wills, Finkelman ignores that the three-fifths compromise was at least partially offset by the Connecticut Compromise. And, he doesn't even discuss the Articles of Confederation background. Other errors of his, too, are basically covered in my original post.

It's interesting how someone can be half right or more about the one issue, but certainly more than half wrong about the other.

December 20, 2016

Ranked Choice Voting — should Greens embrace it or be concerned?

Ranked Choice Voting, also known by many as Instant Runoff Voting (please don't claim there's technical differences; I know that IRV is one of several ranked voting systems) will be how Maine conducts its state elections in 2018.  (Unfortunately, though I know of no U.S. Constitution bar to the idea, per that second link, it does NOT cover the presidential election. And, that's not because this is a trial for 2018 only; the ballot measure stipulates elections after Jan. 1, 2018, and not JUST in 2018.)

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and the party both touted Maine voters approving this on Nov. 8. But, some Greens think it will actually hurt them. The fear is that this will co-opt Green voters into becoming accommodationist to Democrats. Given that the issue of how much Stein and others in one wing of Green leadership, like David Cobb, already may be doing this, this is a legitimate concern — if it's legitimately grounded. 

But, is it? 

I do appreciate the concern, but think it's overblown. 

First, a foot in the door is a foot in the door. Unless it's an openly accommodationist foot, it's a foot that shouldn't be looked in the mouth, to mix metaphors. 

And, I don't think it's an openly accommodationist foot, and I certainly don't think that's its primary intent. 

Second, it IS a foot in the door. Some people, especially in narrow races, who see “lesser evilism” and “greater evilism” in the two major parties, as in this presidential election, may be afraid of rewarding “greater evilism” in our current voting system. I voted Green; I didn't vote for Donald Trump by doing so. Nonetheless, I understand the concern, even the fear, and think it's a greater concern than some Greens have about RCV being accommodationist. 

Third, if that IS a concern, the accommodationist issue, there's a way to avoid that. 

RCV, of course, has voters rank candidates.  

A typical election with the four largest parties having candidates on the ballot might see a Green, or Green leaner, do:  
1 = Green 
2 = Democrat 
3 = Republican 
4 = Libertarian. 

Well, who says you have to do that?  

You can not only not give a 3 to the Republican or a 4 to the Libertarian, you can also choose not to give a 2 to the Democrat, at least hypothetically. (Note: I do not know if Maine's law requires a voter to rank every candidate. However, per the Ballotpedia link, the second from top above, this does not appear to be the case. Feedback is appreciated.) 

In that case, as soon as the Green candidate misses the cut, so does your vote. 


That's no different than the current system. 

So, RCV may not be perfect. And, it may not even be the best ranked voting system, though it's very arguably the easiest to understand.

And, it's better than the current, IMO. 

That said, I do agree with the Green Party Power statement that RCV, or any ranked voting or plural voting system, is not in and of itself a cure-all, or close to it. (And, in case it's not clear, that this needs to be across the country, not just Maine.)

And, having been in extended discussion in a Facebook group about Greens and RCV in Oregon (group is "open" so not violating confidences), while I'm not wedded to any one alternative system of voting, I am most certainly wedded to opposition of people who seem to think that their particular ranked choice system is the best even when they claim it's not. And, to the degree that approval voting does tend to elect more moderate candidates, I am wedded in opposition to it. Approval Voting on Wiki.

I need ConservaGreens no more than I need ConservaDems. 

That said, I did freely admit that it would surely be easier to recalibrate voting machines for approval voting than RCV. But, the idea that RCV is a possible dead end, possibly harmful to the whole idea of alternative voting or that only RCV is vulnerable to what happened in Burlington, Vermont (Bernie-ville!), rather than noting that NO alternative voting system to our current voting plurality system can guarantee a majority winner? I am wedded in opposition to that, too.  I stand by my observation, otherwise, in discussion here.

Update, Dec. 25. Range Voting, with its problems as well as goods, at Wiki.