Inauguration Day

Today is a solemn day for the American people. Today is the day we swear in the President of the United States. No comic today. Just the words of the inaguration. And imagine saying them out loud. Imagine meaning them. Imagine being given the responsibility of leading one of the greatest countries in the world. Imagine the chill down your spine as you stand on the steps while the cameras and microphones are hyperfocused on your every move.

If you’re a person of religion, pray for our president, will you please? And if you’re not, at least think good thoughts, eh?

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The Electoral College

Many of my fellow American citizens are confused about how Donald Trump won the presidency. Hillary Clinton got more votes, so how did he win? America is a democracy after all, right?

The answer comes down to a fascinating little quirk of our government and a truth that most people don’t realize. The shocking truth first: the United States of America is not a democracy.

I can hear the confusion collecting in your consciousness, so let me hasten to explain. The United States of America is not a democracy at the national level – it is a federal republic.

I expect that this has made things about clear as mud for most of you, so let me explain more.

When American citizens go to the voting place every November (as I have done every time I could since I turned 18), many (most?) of the representatives and laws they vote for are elected/chosen by a simple democracy. That is, whoever/whatever gets the most votes, wins.

But not so the president. When American citizens vote for the president, they are voting for a representative. Each state has a certain number of representatives (with California having the most at 55). Those electors are usually chosen in a “winner take all” scenario, but Maine and Nebraska divide it up by percentage of votes. (So, 60% of the vote goes to Candidate A, so Candidate A gets 60% of the electoral votes). A majority of the 538 electors (270, to be precise) is required to become president. How the representatives are chosen is a whole other basket of bananas, so another day on that topic, perhaps.

You might be thinking this is all a little convuluted and a ridiculous way to choose a leader. To that, I have but one image to share with you from On Sizzle:

now-imagine-living-in-the-gray-zones-and-the-blue-6343378

If this map still doesn’t make sense, let’s review a couple of facts.

Fact the first: the United States is HUGE. The distance between San Francisco (one of the western most points in the continental US) and Washington DC (the nation’s capital) is 3,928 kilometers or 2,441 miles. Mapquest says you could make the drive in 40 hours with $200 for gas; the reality is you would just barely make it out of California for the first day. I leave as an exercise for the reader what gas might cost.

Fact the Second: The population of the United States is not evenly distributed over the landmass. There are lots of different reasons why this is – geography, history, culture, jobs. The fact is, people tend to congregate. And in the United States, they’ve congregated in the blue areas seen in the above map.

Fact the Third: the United States has a HUGE population, currently at around 320 million people. And while a large number of them do live in the blue areas, a large number also live just about everywhere you could imagine (and probably a few places you couldn’t).

Fact the Fourth: the United States is diverse in a way very few countries are. I don’t mean merely in terms of geography (though there is that too); I mean that two people born and raised in America can still end up with issues understanding each other’s accents, much less cuisine choices, politics, or religion.

(These four facts are also why a large number of social programs that work in other counties never take off here).

Further, we need to discuss a few historical facts about America.

Historical Fact the First: America was a country born out of too much government interference without representation. The people who drew up the Constitution were well aware of what happened when the government got too involved.

Historical Fact the Second: Countries that are pure democracies (purely ruled by the majority) tend to fall apart. I forget which philosopher wrote that “the masses are easily swayed”, but if you have any doubt of its veracity, just check the trending hashtags on Twitter some time. The founders were also well aware of this problem.

Historical Fact the Third: There are certain groups in America that have been exploited and mistreated. Well, actually, pretty much every group has been exploited at some point. But some groups more than others. The people who live outside of the blue areas tend to be economically disadvantaged. They don’t have access to the kind of political power that those in the cities have.

So, if we put all these things together, what do we get? We get a lot of people living in a few places with one set of ideas who tend to have power and we get a lot of people spread out over a lot of places with a different set of ideas without a lot of power. So the electoral college is the attempt to balance out that problem.

Also, you can direct your ire to Alexander Hamilton. He’s responsible for plenty of other ire anyway, so he’s used to it.

Check, please!

You have to feel really low if Trump is chastising you.¹, ²,³

As the year began, behind closed doors the Republican Party voted to weaken the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. Now the story has, mostly, blown over with the Republicans walking off stage, tails between their legs.

If you did not know, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) was established in the wake of a lobbying scandal in 2008. It was set up to investigate corruption allegations against members of Congress.

The secret vote had it come to fruition would have led to the OCE falling under control of a House committee – specifically there would have been a name change (the Office of Congressional Complaint Review was top pick), and it would have become a subordinate body to the House Ethics Committee, which in this political climate is ruled by the Republican majority. The proposed new body would not have allowed anonymous tips from members of Congress, and nor would it have made its findings from investigations public.

Had this made it through, with the Republicans controlling all three branches of government, another layer of constraint on their powers would have been removed as such a vote would have seriously restricted the power, and ultimately purpose, of the OCE. What this means is that another check would have been dismantled.

Checks and balances allow for the separation of power in government, thus ensuring that no one branch may have too much control. In most cases this divides the Government into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.

Checks and balances are essential to the security of liberty. John Adams phrases this more eloquently as he speaks of the balancing of these branches of government: “It is by balancing each of these powers against the other two, that the efforts in human nature toward tyranny can alone be checked and restrained, and any degree of freedom preserved in the constitution”.

Our governments need systems, entities, and bodies to question, investigate, and check the branches of power. Because in a world where bodies such as the OCE lose their power, we might be looking at a world where corruption and tyranny can run free.


 

¹By no means do we suggest that the Trumpster should be anyone’s moral compass, after all his concerns were based on what he perceived to be of greater value and not one on ethics: tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance…than the OCE which the Donald thought to be unfair

² I did try to find a link to the original tweet, but seven tweets into the Trumpster’s feed and I was starting to feel a tad queasy

³ Instead, here is Trevor Noah’s take, and here are some quick facts about the OCE

 

 

Back, Yay

So unless you’ve been living under a rock on Mars somewhere, I’m sure you’ve all heard that the United States managed to elect the 45th President and that, somehow, it was Donald Trump. (Hey, I can almost say it without throwing up in my mouth a little bit! Wait, no. Nevermind). If you have to ask why I don’t like him, well, he’s racist or, if he isn’t, he appoints people who are, doesn’t like women, or really, people who aren’t him (wealthy, white, males). His vice president, Mike Pence, has a record of wanting to shock people out of being gay.

It was not that Clinton was any better as a candidate, mind you. (I’ll go on record as stating I voted for a third party write in just because I couldn’t stand the thought of anyone else). But Trump? Huh?

Yeah. If you’re a person of faith, send prayers for the USA, eh?

So clearly, the blog which has wasted due to lack of energy, has now become seriously important (while still silly, mind you). Take, for example, this picture from The Week: 20150805edcmc-a_0

See? Silly, Civil, Liberties.

We’re coming BACK baby. Every Friday at 8:00 CA time and other times maybe sometimes!

Links:

2016: The year of whimsical hair pieces and a Key

Good morning. Or afternoon, evening, or noon where ever you all are.

My, my, did we ever have an entertaining year. Though I suspect many will have more colourful phrases to describe the year that was 2016. Below I briefly touch on only two of our shock moments in 2016: one which involves a whimsical hair piece on an orange head, and the man after Obama’s heart.

Mr Donald Trump, if you had not already heard¹, is all geared up as the 45th POTUS. This was ground-shaking news across the globe. Even days following the Trump victory people walked around the streets in a dazed disbelief. One of the great² things that the 2016 USA Presidential elections highlighted was how non-democratic the land of the free was. As you’ve already read elsewhere, Clinton had the popular vote but Trump snagged the electoral college (come back on January 13th to see more on this!).

In other news, with the wake of Mr Trump’s election victory, came Prime Minister (of New Zealand) John Key’s resignation. By no means am I suggesting that Mr Trump’s victory is the reason for Key’s resignation, but here Dr Bryce Edwards suggests that it, and Brexit, bring some additional stressors, so maybe it played a small part.

In my lifetime this has never happened before: a Prime Minister stepping down early. Strategically this works well for the National Party to trial out someone else in the top job and for the nation to gain some familiarity with a new leader before the general elections in 2017.

Key more or so says that he would not be able to give the job his all to complete his term and carry on into another term, and so he has chosen to leave. This is considerate, strategic but considerate. Though I wonder if we should we let a man who has put his hand up to serve the nation just step down because it’s gotten a bit hard? After all it is a hard job to be a leader to a nation. Aren’t our leaders expected to be made of harder stuff? To stand up and continue, to hold us up, and keep the nation going? But then again is it not right for a leader to step down should he or she feel that they are no longer able to give the nation their 100%? After all what use is a leader who cannot fully support the nation?

So what happens now for New Zealand? Do we have to put up with some replacement who we did not vote for? Ultimately, yes. Under our constitutional conventions the resignation of a Prime Minister between elections does not change the composition of the Government. Currently the New Zealand Government, whilst a representative government, is led by the National Party (the majority) and it is the leader of the National Party who serves as the Prime Minister. With Key’s resignation, the Party has  already selected a new leader for their Party who is now the 39th Prime Minister of New Zealand, as appointed by the Governor-General.

The New Zealand and American governments are built differently. Our politics are different, as are our needs as nation states. With the change in the air I look forward to seeing how New Zealand balances it’s relationship with Trump’s USA, in the face of a new Prime Minister and New Zealand’s growing economic relationship with China. Conversely what will Trump’s America look like as an ally to nations who are not Russia.³

¹ P.s. Please give us the address to that rock, we would much enjoy curling up under it too

² The definition of great used here is not to suggest that it was a good thing, but maybe more along the lines of a ridiculously crazy flaw in the system

³

Lithuanian mural depicts Trump and Putin in liplock

Lithuanian mural depicts Trump and Putin in liplock;  Source: CBS News http://www.cbsnews.com/news/lithuanian-mural-depicts-donald-trump-and-vladimir-putin-in-liplock/

 

 

 

The Ebola Czar

I know this blog has been away for some time. In my defense, I got a full time job and I moved. Right about at the same time.

I’m not sure if I can start writing again Monday-Friday until, perhaps, the new year. For now, expect occasional updates.

The most amusing story in the news about ebola has been this: http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/17/politics/ebola-czar-ron-klain/index.html. Yes, that’s right folks. Only in America can a man with no medical degree, no medical experience, become the ebola czar. Which is almost like one of those “find the error” sentences – just how many things ARE wrong with that?

The good news is that Ron Klain was Al Gore’s and Joe Biden’s chief of staff, so he is well used to working with people who are not, shall we say, particularly dexterous.