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OPINION

The Electoral College Will Destroy America

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Former vice president Joe Biden (left) and President Donald Trump (right).New York Times (custom credit)/Associated press (left)

And no, New York and California would not dominate a popular vote. Last week, Nate Silver, the polling analyst, tweeted a chart illustrating the chances that Joe Biden would become president if he wins the most votes in November.

The “if” is probably unnecessary. It’s hard to find anyone who disputes that Mr. Biden will win the most votes. This isn’t a liberal’s fantasy. In a recent panel discussion among four veteran Republican campaign managers, one acknowledged, “We’re going to lose the popular vote.” Another responded, “Oh, that’s a given.” The real question is will Mr. Biden win enough more votes than President Trump to overcome this year’s bias in the Electoral College.

Mr. Silver’s analysis is bracing. If Mr. Biden wins by five percentage points or more — if he beats Donald Trump by more than seven million votes — he’s a virtual shoo-in. If he wins 4.5 million more votes than the president? He’s still got a three-in-four chance to be president.

Anything less, however, and Mr. Biden’s odds drop like a rock. A mere three million-vote Biden victory? A second Trump term suddenly becomes more likely than not. If Mr. Biden’s margin drops to 1.5 million — about the populations of Rhode Island and Wyoming combined — forget about it. The chance of a Biden presidency in that scenario is less than one in 10.

I don’t know about you, but this makes me really angry. Yes, I am aware that the United States has never elected its president by a direct popular vote; I wrote a whole book about it. I still cannot fathom why, in a representative democracy based on the principle that all votes are equal, the person who wins the most votes can — and does, repeatedly — lose the most consequential election in the land.

It happened in 2016 to Hillary Clinton, who won nearly three million more votes than Donald Trump — a margin of more than two percentage points — but lost because of fewer than 80,000 votes in three states. Two months away from Election Day, the odds of something like this happening again are disconcertingly high. That’s a bad thing. The presidency is the only office whose occupant must represent all Americans equally, no matter where they live. The person who holds that office should have to win the most votes from all Americans, everywhere.

The Electoral College as it functions today is the most glaring reminder of many that our democracy is not fair, not equal and not representative. No other advanced democracy in the world uses anything like it, and for good reason. The election, as Mr. Trump would say — though not for the right reasons — is rigged.

The main problem with the Electoral College today is not, as both its supporters and detractors believe, the disproportionate power it gives smaller states. Those states do get a boost from their two Senate-based electoral votes, but that benefit pales in comparison to the real culprit: statewide winner-take-all laws. Under these laws, which states adopted to gain political advantage in the nation’s early years, even though it was never raised by the framers — states award all their electors to the candidate with the most popular votes in their state. The effect is to erase all the voters in that state who didn’t vote for the top candidate.

Today, 48 states use winner-take-all. As a result, most are considered “safe,” that is, comfortably in hand for one party or the other. No amount of campaigning will change that. The only states that matter to either party are the “battleground” states — especially bigger ones like Florida and Pennsylvania, where a swing of a few thousand or even a few hundred votes can shift the entire pot of electors from one candidate to the other.

The corrosiveness of this system isn’t only a modern concern. James Madison, known as the father of the Constitution, was very disturbed by the state winner-take-all rule, which he considered one of the central flaws of the Electoral College as it took shape in the early 19th century.

As Madison wrote in an 1823 letter, states using the winner-take-all rule “are a string of beads” and fail to reflect the true political diversity of their citizens. He disliked the practice so much he called for a constitutional amendment barring it.

It’s not only liberals who understand the problem with winner-take-all. In 1950, a Texas representative named Ed Gossett took to the floor of Congress to vent about the unfairness of a system that gave some voters more influence in the election than others, solely because of where they live. New York was at the time the nation’s largest and most important swing state, and the voters who decided which way it swung were racial and ethnic minorities in large urban areas.

“Now, please understand, I have no objection to the Negro in Harlem voting and to his vote being counted,” Gossett said, “but I do resent the fact that both parties will spend a hundred times as much money to get his vote and that his vote is worth a hundred times as much in the scale of national politics as is the vote of a white man in Texas.”

“Is it fair, is it honest, is it democratic, is it to the best interest of anyone in fact, to place such a premium on a few thousand” votes from racial and ethnic minorities, he went on, “simply because they happen to be located in two or three large, industrial pivotal states?”

Two hundred years after James Madison’s letter, the state winner-take-all rule is still crippling our politics and artificially dividing us. Every four years, tens of millions of Americans’ votes magically disappear before the real election for president happens — about six weeks after Election Day, when 538 electors convene in state capitals across the country to cast their votes for president. “Blue” states give all their electors to the Democrat, no matter how many Republicans voted for their candidate; vice versa in the “red” states.

Given that abolishing the Electoral College is not on the table at the moment, for a number of reasons, the best solution would be to do what Madison tried to do more than two centuries ago: get rid of statewide winner-take-all laws. That can be achieved through the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement among states to award their electors to the candidate who wins the most votes in the whole country, not just within their borders. When states representing a majority of electoral votes join, the compact takes effect, making all Americans’ votes relevant, and all of them equal to one another. The popular-vote winner then automatically becomes president.

If you think this is a plot by bitter Democrats who just want to win, consider this: Texas is going to turn blue. Maybe not this year, maybe not even in 2024. But it’s headed in that direction, and when it gets there, Republicans will be in for an unpleasant surprise. In 2016, Donald Trump won about 4.5 million votes in Texas. The moment the Democratic nominee wins more, all those Republican voters suddenly disappear, along with any realistic shot at winning the White House. As Ed Gossett asked, how is that fair?

Every time a new national poll on the presidential election is released, it’s followed by a chorus of responses along the lines of, Who cares? The national popular vote is meaningless. Well, I care. So do tens of millions of other Americans.

And so does Donald Trump. “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy,” he tweeted on election night 2012. Why? Because he believed Mitt Romney would win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College. Not only has he never taken that tweet down, but he continues to claim that he won the popular vote in 2016. Why does he care so much about making that case unless he believed in his heart, like the rest of us do, that the person who gets the most votes should win? (HuffPost)

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Mr. Wegman is a member of the editorial board HuffPost

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OPINION

2018 Golden Globes Red Carpet and #MeToo Movement

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Bella Hadid attends "The Unknown Girl (La Fille Inconnue)" premiere at the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 18, 2016. GETTY IMAGES

It seems so painfully obvious now, in the #MeToo era, that to ask a woman only
about what she’s wearing, and then to turn to the man next to her and ask him nothing about his clothing, and everything about his work, is sexist, reductive and diminishing.

And yet, before we launched #AskHerMore in 2014, it was de rigueur red carpet tradition.

Over the years the campaign did its work on the red carpet — Hollywood women from Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes joined in, the internet exploded and the hashtag trended. Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic changed their tune and asked more substantive questions. Chris Rock even highlighted us in his opening Oscar’s monologue in 2016.

But #AskHerMore was never just about the red carpet. It was always about our larger culture — a culture that never celebrates a woman’s accomplishments as much as her looks.

Women who walk Hollywood’s red carpets are some of the most well-known women in the world. They’re the best at their craft and make a ton of money — though perhaps not as much as their male counterparts — and still cannot be taken seriously. And it’s not just, “Who are you wearing?” But also: “What’s your morning routine?” “How did you lose the baby weight?” “Who’s at home watching the kids?

As the Harvey Weinstein fallout and the numerous #MeToos that followed showed us, the reverberations of that kind of culture are profound. Not even the most well-known women in the world are immune to the sexism, discrimination and violence that follows.

But in the wake of #MeToo, people understandably wondered whether the red carpet even mattered at all anymore. The 2018 Golden Globes was proof that it still does – perhaps it’s even more important than ever.

These women have always had something to say, but were systematically silenced – told by the subtle and not so subtle signs of our culture that what she had to say didn’t really matter. At least not as much as what she looked like, and definitely not as much as what the man standing next to her had to say.

So what happens when you really value what a woman has to say instead of what she is wearing? When you allow women to take the lead and set the stage? Something quite extraordinary. The night was dominated by the conversation that women demanded we have.

A good majority of red carpet coverage went to the eight activists who were brought by A-list actors – Saru Jayaraman, Ai-jen Poo, Tarana Burke, Rosa Clemente, Marai Larasi, Mónica Ramírez, Calina Lawrence and Billie Jean King – bringing a national primetime spotlight to issues that never get the spotlight. Some of these issues include domestic care work, the One Fair Wage campaign and farmworkers’ rights.

On the red carpet, celebrities were asked, “Why are you wearing black?”and we were treated to incredible moments as a result. Ava DuVernay tweeted: “I am wearing black today because balance and inclusion and diversity is not some kind of allowance to be made to accommodate people. No, sir. It is a correction of an error. It is a righting of a wrong. And it is going to be done. Now.”

And then of course, there was Oprah. Need we say more.

Yes, the silence of men was disappointing, but that’s not the point. The women shined brighter than any shadow the silent men cast.

Our job now is to ensure, with precision and purpose, that this movement doesn’t just benefit the most powerful women in the most glamorous spaces, but also the most marginalized women in spaces and workplaces that don’t make the news. Because feminism that only benefits women at the top — famous, wealthy and predominantly white — isn’t feminism at all.

The women of Hollywood have stepped up to that challenge in commendable ways. In addition to their stunning show of solidarity on the red carpet, famous women are leveraging their spotlight to highlight injustice and change it. They’re banding together to say “Time’s Up.” This collective is leaderless, collaborative and efficient.

They’ve created a legal fund to support women in much less powerful industries who are coming forward with harassment accusations. In joining together, hand-in-hand with the activists on the ground, they’re publicly acknowledging and declaring that their future and equality is bound to the equality and prosperity of others. That none of us are free until all of us are. In the words of Oprah — “a new day is on the horizon.”

This moment isn’t about the red carpet. It’s not about black dresses or about the actors wearing them. It never was. Instead, this is a moment about a movement. A movement that’s uplifting women’s voices, valuing women for their whole humanity and demanding justice. This movement is about creating a different culture — a better culture — and a more just and equitable world for all.

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OPINION

I’m a Conscientious Objector, Long After the Vietnam Draft

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Students in Boston protest the Vietnam War, which drove a deep wedge into the American public. GETTY IMAGES

“Let’s play guns!” There were giant mounds of dirt on Mabie Street in New Milford, New Jersey. It was 1955. What was once a farm was now being turned to a middle-class housing development. My immigrant father had moved our family of seven out of the Bronx to a better life in the suburbs. A good place for a 6-year-old kid to run around play baseball, football, and guns. Like so many families back then it was a new start in a better place. The future was bright, there were kids my age all over the place. We were happy and living on Mabie Street, USA.

We took sticks, toy guns, pistols, shotguns, machine guns, derringers, Lugers, water guns, and an occasional rubber Bowie knife, and we spent the day playing…guns. There were rules. You couldn’t just go shooting guys. When my friend Barry’s father was laying down the rules for the upcoming engagement (dads played too), he’d explain: “If you can see even part of the guy’s head and you point your gun and yell, ‘DA! DA! DA! YOU’RE DEAD!’ Then you are dead! No arguing!” Kind of final but we got the point: if you’re dead, you’re dead. That was a fixed rule. No exceptions. Kinda like life. Except you could get up again for the next battle.

In 1960, my oldest sister, Marianne became a young Democrat. JFK was running. My Italian Catholic family was beside itself with excitement. At Sunday mass, Monsignor Curry, ordered all Catholics to vote for Kennedy. It would be a sin not to. Kennedy was our guy. He played football and swam a hundred miles to save his buddies on PT 109.

JFK was coming to the Teaneck Armory, just a couple miles from us and the entire family was going to see him. I’m behind a rope at the armory with thousands of people. I look down a broad driveway and a giant convertible comes around the corner. The crowd breaks through the ropes to surround his car. I’m 10. People are going nuts. They finally clear the crowd. The great man is coming my way. At last, he gets to me. I wave. He looks me right in the eye, smiles, and waves back. He knew me… he said hello just to me. Three years later he was shot dead. Dead is dead. There was no arguing. He would not get up again.

I didn’t leave the TV those three days in November ‘63. I saw Oswald get shot dead by Ruby on TV. Saw the riderless horse leading the funeral parade, saw that beautiful little boy salute his daddy and Jackie lighting the eternal flame. I believe those events forever changed me. Took away my confidence, my security, and my invincibility.

When I started high school in 1963, no one had heard of Vietnam. By graduation in ‘67 it was a different story. More than 11,000 guys died that year, most of them were 19, 20, 21. Kids. By the end of 1968, 16,592 more would die. Back home there were marches, and cities burning, and Panthers, and lynchings, and Ali. Students were protesting and getting beat up in the streets, some died. Then Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy get shot. What the hell is going on?

There was no draft lottery yet but lots of talk of one. Nobody wanted to go to wherever the hell Vietnam was. We were kids. We just got our letter in football! Then in December of 1969, Congress thought a draft lottery would be a good idea. I end up No. 36. This couldn’t be possible. I met Kennedy for God’s sake. How can this be? 36. I’m dead.

What now? My only hope is my terrible hay fever. My sniffling and sneezing would be dangerous to the troops. My older brother escaped just months earlier by going completely nuts at the draft board. They classified him 4F. Unsuitable for war. I could try that but I was never as good an actor as my brother. Things had changed considerably at the draft since my brother’s award-winning 4F performance. No more BS. You could be bleeding from the eyes and you were going in. No escape. I was completely trapped. I just wanted to go home, lean on my Mom’s shoulder and watch TV with her like I used to. How am I gonna get out of this mess?

Sometime during my physical, I heard two words that changed everything. Conscientious Objector. All I have to do is explain my position in writing, have a personal interview with the Selective Service Board and convince them that I should not be in Vietnam with everyone else. My appointment day with the draft board came quickly. When I went into the small office in Hackensack, a kind-looking man probably in his 40s was behind a desk. He had my file in front of him including my epic essay on why I shouldn’t fight in Vietnam. This is the man who would decide my fate.

“We’ve all killed and been killed many times in our past lives!” I said. Oh Lord, this can’t be going well, did I just talk about past lives? Boot camp here I come! I continued, “We have been killing each other since the beginning of time. We don’t learn anything, and our Karmic burden on this planet gets worse and worse.” Then finally: ”I can’t in good conscience continue this endless cycle of killing boys my own age and collecting more bad Karma. My load is too heavy as it is.” The man looks at me… and says… ”Karma”… then after what seemed like forever… “I’m gonna put this through. You have six weeks to find alternative service. Good luck!”

Almost 50 years have passed since that karmic day in Hackensack, and by any measure, I’ve had plenty of good luck. I found my alternative service at NYU medical library working in the stacks. That’s right, I was putting med students’ library books back on their shelves. I found a small room in Astoria, Queens, to live in, complete with a hot plate and toilet in the hall. Not fancy but a lot better than living in the jungle in Vietnam and getting shot at every day.

It’s 2019, and I’m back here in Astoria. I knew about the old Paramount studios that were just a few blocks away from my luxurious 32nd Avenue Astoria address back then. They made 90 films there in the 1920s, with people like Valentino, The Gish sisters, W.C Fields, and the Marx Brothers. Now Murphy Brown, a show I first filmed with Candice Bergen in the 1990s, released the first season of a reboot, made at the Kaufman Astoria Studios.

And we’re dealing much of the same national madness and division that sent me to Astoria as a 20-year-old. Being here, how could I not be reminded of the guys born on August 24, 1949 who never heard of Alternative Service. Didn’t meet a kind draft board guy. Had no clue they could object. And never saw their moms again. I’m so sorry. We were all just scared little boys. I got the chance to grow up marry the gorgeous woman I’ve loved for 46 years, and have three kids of my own. They didn’t.

It feels like the world is falling off its axis again. Kids are still killing each other in some war or other. African Americans continue to be shot in the streets. People in power hurl nasty nicknames. Nazis have crawled back out from under their rocks. And anger infuses every public space. People say that they have not seen anything like this in their lifetimes. But if you’re my age, you have seen this madness before. And that’s scary. Where are we heading? What will my four beautiful grandkids have to face? Will some leader ask them to pick up a rifle and go kill somebody else’s grandkids in a war somewhere? Sadly, history tells us that might be the case.

Our little ones will discover the terrible things we do to each other on this planet soon enough. They don’t need to learn any pre-school war games from grandpa. So I’ll teach them a different game. There will be no talk of guns. When they find big dirt hills, like the ones we had on Mabie Street, they can play on them as much as they want. And there are still rules: You can climb up the hills and run down them as fast as you can. You can play a lot of stupid but very funny games. You can build huts with speakers and WiFi, get filthy dirty, laugh till you’re breathless, and then go home to mom for cookies and milk. Rules are rules. No arguing. Because what’s the point of any game unless you get to go home at the end?

Correction, Feb. 19

The original version of this story misstated whether there was a military draft before 1969. There was a process for conscripting men into military service, but not a draft lottery.

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OPINION

Angelina Jolie and Geraldine Van Bueren on Children’s Rights

Jolie: We’ve known each other for several years, but I’ve never actually heard how you became involved in drafting the convention.

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Children Stage Mass Protest Parade Highlighting World Issues
Children march around Southbank Centre in London to celebrate children and young people's rights on Oct. 22, 2015. Ben Pruchnie—Getty Images

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When the Charter of the U.N. was signed in San Francisco in June 1945, it promised equal rights for all, but made no specific mention of children. Thirty years ago, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted, recognizing for the first time that children have their own rights, distinct from adults. The distinction is vital to the millions of children who still live with conflict, poverty, violence and abuse. Professor Geraldine Van Bueren was one of the drafters of the convention. I asked her if it has lived up to its promise, and what her message is to children fighting to be heard today.

Jolie: We’ve known each other for several years, but I’ve never actually heard how you became involved in drafting the convention.

Van Bueren: I was invited by Amnesty International to represent them at the United Nations in the drafting process. I was only in my 20s.

What compelled you to say yes?

When I was young, we lived with my grandparents, who were refugees. My grandmother was a young child, one of 13 siblings, when she walked across Europe from Lithuania to the English Channel. It was in the days before aid agencies, mobile phones or instant food. I never heard her talk about how hard this must have been. Most of my Eastern European and Dutch family, including young cousins, were murdered in the Holocaust. From the age of 11, I wanted to be a human-rights lawyer to prevent the same thing happening to other people.

When we first met, I told you my children had a summary of the convention on the wall of their schoolroom, but that I had explained to them that so far, the U.S. hasn’t ratified it.

America’s refusal to ratify is puzzling as the country was one of the leading drafters. It protects children’s right to free speech and religious freedom, the founding principles of the Bill of Rights. It’s based upon the best interests of the child, which has been a fundamental principle of American law since at least the 19th century. But it does a lot more. The convention tells us to look at the child’s right to participate in decisions affecting them through a child’s eyes, and to provide information in a format appropriate to a child. So it also helps build an educated citizenship.

What difference does the lack of ratification make to children in the U.S.?

Because childhood was invisible to the Founding Fathers, the Constitution makes no provision for children. America was not alone in this, but other countries have added legal protection for the rights of children by accepting the convention. It also provides a safety net, which all children need to have in case their government fails them. Incongruously, the leading United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, has always had an American as its head, but UNICEF’s work is based around a treaty which America hasn’t ratified.

Two American children, Carl Smith and Alexandria Villaseñor, have joined Greta Thunberg and children from 10 other countries in filing a complaint arguing that carbon pollution violates their rights. Is this an example of the convention at work?

Their petition concerns all children, and generations yet unborn, so it is generous and compassionate. Under what is known as the Third Protocol, a treaty additional to the main convention, children can petition the U.N. Committee, but only after they have exhausted all possible national remedies. In other words, if America were party to it, state and federal legislators and state and federal courts would have opportunities first to remedy the violation.This is just common sense.

Could children apply the convention to other areas?

Absolutely. It’s a Bill of Rights for children. The main aim of the convention is to act as an early warning system, so that children and adults can point out that any particular policy or law, or lack of policy or law, has a detrimental impact on children—for instance, social media and the right to privacy.

We’ve discussed the importance of children’s being made aware of their rights. What is your message to them?

The convention is for the children of the world. Children participated in the drafting. American schoolchildren lobbied governments to persuade them to include the abolition of the death penalty, and Canadian First Nation children successfully called for the protection of indigenous children’s rights. Children can use the provisions in the Convention to call for their rights to be protected. Children can help other children and prevent their rights being violated. But to do this, children need to know their rights and be supported in how to use them.

There is a disconnect between what the U.N. Convention says are fundamental rights for children and the way governments pick and choose which ones they will or will not uphold. How do we get to the point that upholding children’s rights is seen as an absolute responsibility?

You are right that there is often a disconnect between what children are entitled to and what is happening to them, particularly to child refugees and children caught up in armed conflicts; situations for which they are not responsible. What the Convention does is to provide an avenue for children not to be targeted. But it requires political will. The challenge is to make children the central plank of our policies. Childhood cannot wait.

Do you ever despair at the gap between the ideals of U.N. and the selective way they are applied?

It’s not helpful to children to be despairing when so much more still needs to be done. Despair is a paralyzing emotion. We do not focus enough on the Convention’s successes, whether it is reducing infant mortality, providing necessary healthcare or creating ways in which children can and have effectively participated in policy—from children’s parliaments to children contributing to the shaping of budgets. If we keep in mind the successes as well as what needs to be done, then it gives us the energy to do more and to do it better. The U.N. system is imperfect but it is the best we have, and better than its predecessor, the League of Nations. Children deserve the best we have to give, so we have to work with what we have, whilst simultaneously trying to improve it.

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