SocraticGadfly: 12/18/16 - 12/25/16

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.

December 19, 2016

TX Progressives say Brrr and talk politics ....

All while offering a salute to the end of fall and the start of winter:

Here's this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff analyzed Fort Bend election results with an eye on 2018.

Socratic Gadfly looked at the ongoing post-election Wikileaks fallout, and addressed issues about what constitutes both journalism and democratic process, along with side issues about elitism.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is tired of Texas Republicans harassing and humiliating women and the poor. Fake abortion requirements and drug testing of benefit recipients serve no other purpose than to make Texas white nationalists feel superior.

Neil at All People Have Value said it is a mistake to follow the bright lights while ignoring the abyss beyond. APHV is part of

With Rick Perry and Rex Tillerson tapped to join Trump's cabinet, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs found the two Texans too oily for his taste.

Jobsanger goes after Congressman Sam Johnson for his proposed new bill that would make Social Security less secure.

Houston Press looks at Harris DA-elect Kim Ogg's plans to drain the old Republican swamp.

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

BOR looks at the coming legislative attack on Texas unions.

Adam Tutor suggests giving the gift of non-profit support this holiday season.

Better Texas Blog highlights income inequality in Texas.

The TSTA Blog calls Greg Abbott "clueless" on special education needs.

The Texas Election Law Blog points out a few recent election stories you may have missed.

The Lunch Tray is not optimistic about current healthy school food nutrition standards.

Murray Newman eulogizes longtime Harris County courthouse figure Rick Johnson.

Texas Observer takes a look at Democratic National Chair candidates after the five spoke in Austin.

Somervell County Salon is ready with big plans for 2017.