holy shit!

i have a vague recollection of how it felt when i received acceptance letters from the handful of colleges to which i applied. this is more exciting. for years now, i’ve wanted to go back to school. i’ve wanted to advance my career in politics. just as importantly, i’ve wanted to prove to myself that i could do well in college studies (i didn’t fully apply myself in undergrad).

the final product of my application i thought was ok, but i wasn’t completely satisfied. reluctant to say much, i really wasn’t confident that i’d get accepted. after two failed attempts for a couple of different graduate programs at the university of hawaii and pretty embarrassing college transcripts, part of me was sure this attempt was another wishful effort.

in the end, the many hours spent on the various application parts, not to mention the three individuals who supplied my letters of recommendation, paid off. and i’m thrilled. i can attend a top “politics” school in washington d.c. and never have to leave hawaii!

but as the saying goes, “be careful what you wish for,” because now i have to decide if it’s worth the heavy financial debt load i would have to take on in order to pay for it. unlike undergraduate loans, i cannot defer any loans for this program. no, i wouldn’t have to make payments until six months after i graduate, but the “juice” will be running from the first day.

if i could be assured a high five-figure salary as soon as i graduated, there would be no question about what to do. but i’ve been in serious, stifling debt before. i remember that feeling of being trapped and it took me years to get out from under it. the program is exactly what i’ve been looking for, but can i honestly say it’s worth the financial burden i’d be taking on? i’m just not sure.

a quick and dirty calculation suggests i could be saddled with a more than $600 per month bill that i’d be paying for the next decade…. admittedly, i’m fishing a bit for words of encouragement. but i’m also looking for honest, sober advice.

i also want to offer my thanks to the three people who helped me get to this decision by writing recommendations that i have no doubt tilted the scales in my favor.

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five or six weeks ago, about a month before the ghastly and depressing result of election day, i wrote a little about the electoral college.

why the electoral college

since trump’s victory, there have been more than a smattering of posts on facebook, commentaries in magazines and news papers decrying the electoral college as an old, undemocratic, and broken system for electing the president of the united states.

i’ll admit, my inclination toward the electoral college waned a bit, “maybe we should take a serious look at getting rid of it.” so, i’ve been reading as much useful content as i can find on the subject. historical articles and commentary on both sides of the issue. i’ll attempt to lay out both sides as i see them.

even the historical context for the creation of the electoral college seems to be steeped in controversy. whether you support the system, or not, there is a historical theme for you.

why the hell do we have this system in the first place

the constitution is the result of negotiations between representatives from the 13 original colonies. the election of the president is no different. some suggested the president should be elected by popular vote. others thought it better that the congress be tasked with the job.

for the founders, a direct democracy raised cause for concern. they feared the “tyranny of the majority.” and they worried that the average citizen would be unable to reach an informed, untarnished decision.

on the other hand, an election of the president by congress was also problematic. there was a concern that a president elected in the fashion would be beholden to congress, thus potentially tipping the balance between the three branches in favor of the legislative branch.

underpinning all this was a tension between the more populous “free” northern colonies and the less populous “slave” southern colonies.

in the end, a compromise was reached: election by the electoral college. included in the compromise was how representation in congress and the electoral college would be determined.

“according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

so, congressional and electoral college representation is identical and based on the census. every state gets at least three members in congress (one representative and two senators) and at least three electors in the electoral college.

why we should abolish the electoral college

the most immediate and obvious reason to do away with the electoral college is that for the second time in less than 20 years the popular vote result differs from that of the electoral college.

with the overwhelming majority of states apportioning their electors on a winner-take-all basis (except for maine and nebraska), even narrow popular-vote victories in a state result in massive electoral wins. this year, narrow trump wins in florida, ohio, pennsylvania, wisconsin, and michigan led to his decisive win.

because of this winner-take-all dynamic, candidates tend to focus their energy on a handful of states. they otherwise ignore any states they are either certain to win, or have no hope of doing so. and so the election is decided by a handful of states and voters who receive all the attention.

also, the structure of the electoral college creates lopsided voting strength for those who live in lower-populated states in comparison to the larger states. california, the state with the largest population, receives 55 electors (equal to the number of senators and representatives in congress). wyoming, on the other hand, receives just three.

according to the 2010 census, california had just over 37 million residents to wyoming’s 560,000. so, in california, each elector represents 677,000 residents. in wyoming, each elector represents just 188,000 people. voters in wyoming have nearly four times as much power as voters in california.

the electoral college operates contrary to the democratic “one person, one vote” principle.

so, the system by which we choose our president today is a result of concerns and political compromises made by the founders over 200 years ago. neither are relevant in the modern age.

why we should keep the electoral college

despite the flaws described above, there are good reasons to keep the system we have now. or, at a minimum, any attempt to do away with the electoral college should be carefully considered.

for starters, it’s important to point out that in the more than 200 years since the founders established the electoral college, it’s result has failed to mirror the popular vote just five times. that’s a 91% success rate. prior to the 2000 election, it hadn’t happened since 1888.

at both the state and federal levels, we are a representative democracy. and that representation isn’t directly proportional to “one person, one vote.” the house of representatives is based on proportional representation, but the senate is not; each state gets two senators regardless of population. remember, the united states is a federal republic. though imperfect, the electoral college is an integral part of that federalism. to do away with the electoral college would arguably leave little reason to retain the senate, since it’s creation is tied to the creation of the electoral college.

since it is mostly democrats, progressives who are calling for the abolition of the electoral college, consider what congress would be like without the democratic minority in the senate serving as the only bulwark against the republican majority.

with one exception, the electoral college has only contradicted the popular vote when the election has been within three points. despite clinton’s growing popular vote lead, the result is still less than one percent of the total. so, only when the election is a near tie does the electoral college become a frustrating aberration. and in these circumstances, it is indeed the smaller states that end up deciding the election.

the electoral college forces presidential candidates to have broad appeal across different regions of the country. a candidate cannot win by the south, or northeast, or west coast alone. they must establish their appeal beyond their “safe bets.”

though frustrating at times, the “winner-take-all” system that is currently in place further forces candidates to focus their attention beyond the large states. once a candidate reaches 51% in any given state, it makes no sense to continue to campaign in that state. instead, they must move on to other states. this mechanism further guarantees a candidate has broad appeal across multiple states and regions.

in a similar vein, were the electoral college abolished for a nation-wide popular vote, there’s little reason to believe candidates would campaign to everyone. instead, candidates would either focus all their attention in large cities (democrats) or in rural areas (republicans). in either case, direct campaigning would likely be replaced by even greater television campaigning via ads and interviews and by mass mailings. this shift of focus would also likely result in even more attention paid to fundraising and large donors.

another potential problem to consider with a popular nation-wide vote is the potential for a candidate to win the presidency with a plurality (unless run-off elections are established). the current system makes it virtually impossible to reach this result. however, in a popular vote, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that a candidate could win with 30% of the vote. or even less, if more candidates are in the race.

finally, despite the sorry, fear, and frustration democrats and progressives feel in the wake of this year’s election, it’s important to keep a couple of points in mind. one, had clinton focused more on white, working-class voters in wisconsin, michigan, and pennsylvania, she’d have won and this debate would be going on.

two, more than half the country didn’t vote for either of the two major candidates. opponents of the electoral college might blame frustration with the current system as a cause for the turnout. but remember, both candidates had high disapproval ratings. nearly 30% of the most cast in hawaii, a safe “blue state,” went to trump.


though i remain open to the debate and think having a thoughtful conversation on the subject is both important and healthy, i return to my original position. replacing the electoral college is both impractical and unlikely to lead to a perfectly fair, flawless presidential election.

also, the united states isn’t the only “democracy” that doesn’t directly elect its head of state. great britain is another example.

its important to remember how difficult it is to amend the constitution. given the added weight afforded the smaller-population states, it is highly unlikely enough states would ratify any constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college.

in the end, i view this argument against the electoral college similar to that of enacting term limits. i think it is far more important and effective to focus on cultivating better candidates and focus on organizing. progressives and democrats need to do a better job of convincing voters of the virtue of their positions and candidates, rather than trying to change the system.

and, of course, the democratic party needs to realign its messaging and priorities with those of working people.

in the end focusing on these solutions, i believe, will have benefits that go far beyond problems in the process of electing the president of the united states.

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i’ve been struggling since last night with what i should write about today. now it’s 2:30pm and i still haven’t settled on anything.

this is partly because when i think about it, my mind races with too many topics. and this is partly because most of the topics that come to mind would require some background reading. don’t get me wrong, i’m not opposed to doing the necessary reading and google searches. i just haven’t done them to this point.

also, i’m having to give larger amounts of time to an ongoing project or two.

all this is the long way of saying that there won’t be a substantive post today.

in the meantime, here’s a list of potential topics for the next several days. if there’s enough feedback from my relatively small audience on one or two, maybe i’ll know where to go from here.

  • a follow-up on my previous electoral college post
  • 3 questions from my therapist to contemplate
  • how the hell did we end up with trump
  • my photography aspirations (and how to get there, maybe)
  • what do we do next

of course, i’m also open to requests.

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as i laid in bed last night, hoping for sleep to come, (one thing) i wondered if i’d be able to sit down and write a post today. and what i might say.

well, it turns out, there will be a post. but, no, i’m not sure yet what to say about it all.

i’ve spent a fair amount of my day so far reading various commentaries, explanations about how we ended up here. i’ve been talking to friends and family commiserating and consoling.

i don’t know if i’ll be able to put into words how i think we ended up with trump as our next president, but i hope to.

jokingly, i’ve talked about moving. not to canada but new zealand (or london). but hawaii is my home. plus, it’s not in me to walk away, to toss my hands in the air and give up. the work is too important.

for now, let me say this. all you progressive warriors, you champions of working people, defenders of love and equality and fairness, take some time. crying can be good for the soul. read a book, watch a movie, take comfort in friends and family. go for a walk, swim in the ocean. recharge.

so, perhaps now more than ever, we need to suit-up, get together, organize, and work. 2018 isn’t far off and we need to get started.

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my good friend shawn asked me several weeks back to explore…

why politicians ought to consider pushing for a more medium platform rather than pushing far to one extreme or another. this may not be your belief, but it is an idea i’d like to see explored.

i’ve been ruminating off and on about his question since he posed it to me in a comment to another post. shawn’s one of the brightest people i know, but his framing of the question exposes a misframing of the issue i think he’s trying to get at.

most people see the problem with government and politics today as a question of the right and left not being able to get together on common ground to address important issues of the day.

i’d argue the problem is a result of the entire political spectrum in d.c. (and elsewhere) shifting to the right. in public political discourse, there is no “left” represented. instead, the “left” shawn refers to isn’t represented at all.

the public, i think, sees democrats and republicans arguing over how best to maintain the political and corporate elite while addressing critical issues affecting working and middle-class folks. seeing this battle play out via the news media pitting the middle-democrats and right-republicans against each other. democrats blame republicans. conservatives blame democrats and nothing gets done. the public is fed up.

they’re fed up because the system has stopped working for them. and they’re fed up because no one in government or politics is standing up to champion them first.

so, political debates today are framed with democrats on one side and the republican/tea-party on the other. the problem is the democrats represent “the medium platform” shawn refers to. and the gop represents the “right.”

you can look at any debated issue and see this played out.

the budget: in the last several years, there has been some press coverage on budgets proposed by the president, the republican leadership, and the tea party. did you know that in each instance the congressional progressive caucus (the “left”) also introduced a budget? my guess is no.

guns: republicans blame criminals, crazy people, and terrorists for gun violence. they advocate for fewer (or no) regulation or oversight of firearms. and they love conceal-carry laws. democrats, representing the counter position by the news media, want some increased regulation, generally oppose conceal-carry laws, and want to use the terrorist “no-fly” list as a basis for denying people the right to buy a gun.

there’s virtually no discussion about a broad ban on hand guns and assault weapons, purchase of ammunition, etc.

healthcare reform: there was obama’s middle position of public-subsidized private insurance versus…. well, the republicans didn’t have an alternative other than to let everyone fend for themselves. but the “left” position, where was it? it didn’t exist. neither politicians in d.c. nor the news media discussed a single-payer (medicare for all) option.

climate change: the gop, tea-party folks won’t even acknowledge that it exists. democrats decry republican denial on the issue, but obama has done little strengthen international agreements on emissions reduction. exploratory drilling in domestic waters has increased during his administration.

and both obama and clinton have, implicitly if not explicitly, been supportive of ongoing coal mining and “fracking.” and this year the planet reached the 400 ppm atmospheric co2 milestone for the first time in 4 million years.

again, no serious discussion of “left” solutions have received any attention or debate.

economic justice: democrats nibble around the edges. $12 minimum wage. paying lip service to organized labor in election years, while pushing (or quietly supporting) trade agreements that undermine labor law and hand huge concessions to the corporate elite. bailing out wall street and “too-big-to-fail” banks, while doing little to nothing to bail out working-class america.

republicans want everyone to make their own way, unless they’re filthy rich, in which case they get tax breaks and slack regulations.

only here, because of bernie sanders’ presidential bid, have we seen the needle move just a little to the left. $15 instead of $12 minimum wage. free college tuition, opposition to the trans-pacific partnership and strong labor protections. and these received minimum coverage during the primary season. but from where i sit, those are all squarely on the “left” of the political spectrum.

it’s not a “medium platform” that people are clamoring for. it’s not a “medium platform” that will realign american politics and institutional politicians. rather, it is a corrective shift back to the left that is needed.

this year we’ve watched as the gop has imploded under the weight of donald trump as their nominee. we’ve see anemic enthusiasm for hillary clinton among democrats (except as an alternative to trump). one article i read referred to this year’s presidential race as an “unpopularity contest.”

from the beginning, you had donald trump (and ted cruz) representing the far right. you had hillary clinton representing the center. you had bernie sanders (and jill stein) representing the left.

network news media was basically all trump all the time, because he was so “entertaining” hillary received little coverage because it was just a given that she was going to be the democratic nominee. and bernie only seemed to receive coverage when the media covered an over-flowing-crowd event, or commented on his record-breaking fundraising. his issues were cast aside as crazy or so far afield as to be barely worth mentioning.

so, the problem with american politics isn’t an uncompromising left or right. the problem is there’s no one representing the left anymore. they’ve all been squeezed out by disappointing corporate moderates and right-wing… racist-fascists.

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