Category Archives: We’re the Federal Government and We’re Here to Help

Ronald Reagan’s classic description of the dangers of government seems more true today than in 1986. Churchill famously said democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Someone much less famous (Alexander Tytler) opined: “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until a majority of voters discover that they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury.”

Clearly, Congress and the President have made that discovery already.

Are we at the tipping point and what do we do?

Biggest Manatee Count Yet

[This was originally posted in 2017. Manatees are no longer “endangered,” but remain listed as “threatened.” Management of the critter remains mired in 1990s theories — which were wrong then, and even more wrong now. We’re working on new data analysis tools to help foment new thinking about waterways management.]

Bob Atkins of Citizens For Florida’s Waterways and I had queried the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), about this year’s manatee count just this past weekend. The results were released today. 

It’s the first time we’ve ever gotten turnaround THIS fast!

Another record “minimum population” count — 6,620*. Yet, manatees remain on the endangered list, with the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), violating yet another court order to update its official classification. WHY?

We are now firmly in the world of the surreal. The FWC press release doesn’t say “record number counted”. They are simply “encouraged” by the count.

Manatees have more than doubled in 15 years and
have more than tripled in 30 years.

By comparison, Florida black bears number 4350, and are no longer on the FWC imperiled list AT ALL. http://www.tampabay.com/…/florida-black-bear-popula…/2270659

In support of removing bears from its list, FWC noted the bear population has grown 60% in the past 14 years. They allowed bear hunting in order to reduce the rate of growth! Curious minds will note than 60% over 14 years is less than 100% over 10 years. A lot less, in fact, although still quite robust.

Also by comparison, there are 1800 giant pandas. They are now OFF the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) endangered list, and are considered “vulnerable”, akin to our “species of special concern’ in Florida.
http://www.worldwildlife.org/…/giant-panda-no-longer-endang…

WWF says the panda population has increased 17% in the past decade. Curious minds note again…. 17% over a decade is barely one-tenth the rate of growth of our Florida manatees.

It took 14 years for wildlife managers at FWS and FWC
to act on their recommendations to reclassify manatees
as “threatened” from endangered. 

We have been waiting since 2003, when FWC first recommended reclassification, and since 2007, whenFWS did the same — for….. nothing. Seriously, what is WRONG with these people? WWII began, was fought, and won by us in LESS TIME than it’s taken FWS to fulfill its own recommendation.

Years ago, before the Manatee Forum started, Ken Haddad of FWC and Sam Hamilton at FWS, came up to me — and, I suspect, others — and asked, “If we update all the studies you think are not accurate, what will you do if the science says that boats are an extinction threat?”

I responded, “We will find a solution. We will follow where sound science leads.” We have kept that pledge.

Dammit, I should have demanded they agree to do the same!!

Sam, a good guy who ran the Southeast Regional FWS office, died at a young age a few years back. Ken, also a good guy who headed FWC, retired a couple years ago — in part because he was disgusted with the political interference over this very manatee issue.

This is just plain ridiculous. This is an all-too-perfect example of why we are fed up with government.

_______
* Applying recently developed peer-reviewed abundance calculations to this “minimum count” is a bit of a stretch, but just a little bit. I estimate there are at least 8,000 manatees in Florida and likely close to 10,000. But, whether it’s 6620, 8000, or 10,000, there has never been this many in the state. Never. In some places, it’s accepted there are likely too many, drawn to places they shouldn’t be, such as warm water discharges at power plants, by good-intentioned but wrong-headed regulations. No one in the regulatory world ever imagined there could be this many manatees in Florida.

Award Presidential Electors by District? Who Wins?

Pretty much everyone recognizes that the Electoral College is not going to be removed from the Constitution in time for lunch. Or the next election. Or the one after that.

One option: Minnesota is considering a bill to apportion its electoral college votes by congressional district, as Nebraska and Maine already do.

What would happen if all states apportioned votes by congressional district?

Trump still wins.

Using data from the Daily Kos, Trump won 241 congressional districts to Clinton’s 194.  (There are 435 congressional districts.)

Clinton also picked up 3 electors by winning the District of Columbia, which doesn’t have representation in Congress, but gets three electoral votes.  So, the tally is 241 : 197.

The math whizzes among us recognize that 241 is not 270, the number needed to win. What’s going on here?

Example
From the Daily Kos

The policy wonks among us recognize we also need to count the 100 more electoral votes that represent senators. Each state has two senators, so each state gives two electoral votes to that state’s winner. Trump gets 2 for Florida, Clinton got 2 for California, etc.

Clinton carried 20 states and Trump 30, so 40 more for Clinton, and 60 more for Trump. Therefore, if we had apportioned electoral votes by congressional district, the final total for each candidate would be:  Trump 301 and Clinton 237.

301 + 237 = 538.  Electoral votes are 435 for Congress, 3 for DC, and 100 for Senators: 538.  538/2 = 269.      270 to win!

Compare that to the election results “as written” — that is, with our current electoral college system, where all but two states (Maine and Nebraska) are winner-take-all. The original electoral college tally (before some faithless electors took away 2 Trump votes and 5 Clinton votes) was 306 : 232. Because seven “faithless electors” changed their vote — 2 did not vote for Trump, and 5 did not vote for Clinton — the “certified” 2016 electoral college vote was 304 for Trump and 227 for Clinton. In short, if we had been apportioning the electoral college votes by congressional district, President Trump would have received 3 fewer electoral college votes and he would still win with a big margin of victory.

But.. There’s More!

Here’s the intriguing part. Almost no one keeps track of presidential races by congressional district. Votes are counted at the county level, and many counties are part of more than one congressional district.

The Daily Kos — no fan of Trump — and a similar group called Polidata, which is partly sponsored by the Republican National Committee — are the only ones out there that have delved into the precinct-level votes and broken them out by district. Who knew?

Their research reveals that changing to congressional district electoral college votes wouldn’t have changed much in this past election, but the Washington Post worries the findings spell trouble ahead for Dems. And it does. Lots of “safe” Dem districts appear to be at risk!

What’s a Clinton supporter to do? Some out there see direct popular vote as the only “real” choice — meaning the choice that presumably would have elected Clinton. But, remember, too, that while Clinton won the popular vote, but she did not win a majority of votes. She got about 48%, Trump 46%, which doesn’t seem nearly as impressive as saying she got “millions” more votes. So…..what do we have,  a runoff between the two leading vote-getters?

Oh, lordy.

Another option. Some states are considering bills that would award their electoral votes to whomever wins the national popular vote — a pathway that would have given Clinton the win — and, presumably for other Dems whose futures increasingly depend on heavily populated zip codes — without changing the electoral college. No need for a run-off in this scenario, and pantsuits would be making a comeback!

Well, Minnesota legislators also considered this option. The idea failed 10-6 in committee.

Such a bill might conceivably be adopted in New York, California — even maybe Florida. But states with populations under 10 million are not so full of small-minded small-towners that they don’t realize throwing their electoral votes to a national outcome would be a very bad idea indeed.

 

 

 

President-elect Trump

Congratulations to President-elect Trump.

Six quick takeaways on WTF just happened.

1) most media will lack the guts to admit what a colossal stink emitted from their coverage and will try to wipe the blame on pollsters.

2) speaking of whom– I told you so. I see this constantly, as too many assumptions in polling questions, methodologies and modeling won’t match reality. The ‘new reality’ can probably be modeled into 2020 polling, if Trump runs for term 2, but 2024…..probably back to guessing.

3) the spectrum of people who voted against Clinton’s barbaric support of an absolute right of women to abort babies will emerge as a key reason for Mr Trump’s win, likely bigger than Obamacare. This is also something that media don’t like to discuss, as it is perversely and inaccurately dismissed as ‘anti-woman’s rights.’

4) arrogant elitists. I may be as stupid as a surprising number of HRC supporters have called me, but, really, calling me stupid does not mean they are any smarter. Another big reason for the HRC loss — pre-election gloating. And now, post-election pouting, at seminal centers of intellectual heft like the huffington post, with its headline, “Mourning in America”.

5) which brings us to social media being used for bad purposes, largely driven by monetized websites — and artful ‘redirection’ of taxpayer or ratepayer money (I’m thinking Amendment 1 in Florida — and also those rabid Planned Parenthood SOBs who stalked one of our instructors). I have some thoughts on how to fix this…

Really, I do! Serious, legitimate thoughts.

6) it is OK to rate men and women on a scale of 1 – 10. I mean, good grief….

Triple Match? By Who?

Every email inbox is deluged by requests, and often demands, for campaign contributions.

Many of them promise to MATCH, DOUBLE MATCH, or TRIPLE MATCH my contribution. Here are just three from today.

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-4-08-31-pm screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-4-08-57-pm screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-4-09-13-pmSo: who, exactly, is making the “Match?”

Inquiring minds want to know.

I get the idea behind the match — I tell my kid that if he saves $100, I’ll give him $200 more. A good incentive!

But, this isn’t Dad teaching Junior how to be responsible. This is someone who wants my money telling me that someone I don’t know is promising big bucks to their candidate, if the candidate can squeeze out some greenbacks from folks like me.

cj9hjrhuyaeel-iWho is offering the match?  What does the “matcher” get for their big wad o’ dough? SHOW ME THE MONEY! TELL ME WHOSE MONEY IT IS! HOW MUCH WILL THEY MATCH?

Today’s FaceBook invite was, therefore, somewhat refreshing. Donald Trump Jr wants me (and everyone) to contribute — while specifically noting that his dad will match for up to $2 million!

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-4-20-43-pmThis is the first time I’ve ever read who is offering the match, and how much they’ll add.  No matter what else you may think about the candidates, amid the trashy stink of campaigning, this little whiff of clean air is refreshing.

 

 

Pinellas County Manatee Rule

Pinellas County is on Tampa Bay, Florida. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is proposing a bunch of new manatee speed zones in Pinellas, with the goal of reducing the number of manatees struck and killed by boats. This concern first emerged in 2007. It took seven years for FWC staff even to distribute a set of draft rules. Seven years. Without spoiling the outcome (OK, we’re opposed to the new zones), readers need to realize that all this effort, put toward something that just plain is not needed, is due to one big problem: the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act were written decades ago, and are oftentimes — thisentimes — detrimental, even downright dangerous.

The Fish & Wildlife Commission has almost unlimited power to regulate boats. And because its power is unlimited, it is always fearful of being sued for not doing enough. (Yes, I even have that in writing from them!) In this case, the Federal Fish & Wildlife Service issued “comments” to the Army Corps, which issues permits for marina and dock construction. Based on the negative comments (in 2007), the Corps denied the permits. The comments kicked the ball downstairs to FWC to do something about it. So FWC — after seven years — is proposing more speed zones.

The trouble is — a lot has changed in seven years.

This piece was written on behalf of Citizens For Florida’s Waterways, a boating group whose membership includes a bunch of bonafide Cape Kennedy rocket scientists.

CFFW has repeatedly stated, where sound sciences leads, it will follow. The following four objections are firmly grounded in science:

1)       The original reason given to support the need for more zones in Pinellas County has been disproven.

A 2007 Biological Opinion from the Fish & Wildlife Service, which led to Army Corps denial of several Pinellas County permits applications, concluded that since the manatee population in Southwest Florida appeared to be declining, adding more boat slips in Pinellas would adversely impact the manatee. FWS’ Dave Hankla opined that until more speed zones were added, permits would not be issued.

That was seven and a half years ago.

Nothing was done until last year, 2014, when FWC staff advised Pinellas County to form a Local Rule Review Committee to consider more zones.

But, before the Commission convened the local rule review committee, new information released by FWS and the US Geological Survey showed that the Southwest manatee stock is NOT in decline. It’s growing rapidly. Indeed, manatees are growing rapidly in all four Florida stocks, and are being seen much more frequently beyond Florida, too.

The 2013 Runge, et. al. findings project a zero possibility of manatee extinction in 100 years, and show that boat mortality is – these are our words – so insignificant a threat that they are a distraction from what we should be doing to ensure a healthy and sustainable manatee population.

CFFW asked the US Geological Survey author, at a Manatee Forum meeting, if the improvements were because of better protection. He said, NO. It’s because of better data and methods, not better protection. Moreover, he said that if the current methods and data had been available in 2007, the results would have been positive back then, too.

Following the release of this new and better information, the appropriate conclusion should have been for FWS to issue a new Biological Opinion finding there would be no “adverse affect”. FWC’s plan to create more speed zones is an unnecessary and inappropriate action, given the new data showing the Southwest population is not in decline.

2)       FWC data is based on a flawed approach that ignores and violates the long-established Law of Large Numbers, a fundamental principle for research. In simple terms, FWC’s data plays fast and loose with statistics, using small numbers to generate dire-sounding percentage-based findings.

Jacob Bernoulli first described the LLN as so simple that even the stupidest man instinctively knows it is true (Ars Conjectandi: Usum & Applicationem Praecedentis Doctrinae in Civilibus, Moralibus & Oeconomicis, 1713, Chapter 4).

FWC attempted to show that watercraft mortality in Pinellas County – more specifically, Western Pinellas County – is rising at a faster rate than in other counties. However, the sample size – a handful of manatee mortalities – is so small that no trend can be established, and no comparison to other, larger, samples, can be made. FWC has not established a viable reason to implement more zones.

Science strongly cautions against the use of rates and percentages based on small numbers. The National Center for Health Statistics advises against the use of statistics based on a numerator of less than 20, which is consistent with standard CDC (Centers for Disease Control) practice. Moreover, it’s recommended that rates (percentages) be suppressed when using small numbers, to avoid the kind of statistical inflation that happens when a number increases from 1 to 2 (that’s 100%!). A good review of these issues is available for the Washington State Department of Health and from CDC.

FWC ‘s report authors never heard about the LLN, or ignored it.

3)       There is no good evidence to suggest more zones will be effective in reducing watercraft mortality, nor any evidence to support the premise that a reduction in watercraft is needed.

When speed zones are proposed, the result has always been the addition of new zones. As manatee population continues to grow (doubling every 12 years), more and more zones follow. Several years ago, CFFW, working with then-Executive Director Ken Haddad, asked FWC staff to develop a “black box” that would help inform decisions on where zones should be located – where they are most likely to have a positive effect. The result was the “fast overlap” maps used in Pinellas and elsewhere. (When this method was used to review changes in zones proposed by CFFW in 2004, and supported by a Brevard County resolution that was co-authored by CFFW and the manatee club, this rather primitive tool clearly showed that several Brevard zones were unnecessary; nonetheless, the zones remain in place.)

Haddad was dissatisfied with this new tool, as were we, given that it uses agglomerated data that seeks to put manatees and “fast boats” in proximity, but ignores both time and water depth. That is to say, the boat may have been in the area at 5AM, and the manatee at 6PM, yet the “dots” coincide. The manatee may be in deep water (and thus able, according to peer-reviewed studies, to dive safely beneath recreational watercraft), but the charts are only two-dimensional, ignoring depth.

We have recommended improvements to the model several times, but without success. The existing situation is that we have no goal for the new zones, other than a hope that more zones will somehow reduce watercraft-related mortality.

Moreover, the very process of selecting zones is at best part scientific, and part political. There is give and take.

In its review, the local rule review committee voted against some zones in channels. FWC staff’s proposal includes those zones in channels, including another half mile of the intracoastal.

Because FWC has not developed a reasonable tool for determining zone placement, and has not developed a means to evaluate the effectiveness of its zones, we are left with a question: what possible evidence is there that the proposed zones will reduce watercraft mortality? And, if the LRRC recommendation was allowed to stand – no zones in channels – how would that change the effectiveness of the zones? We don’t know, because FWC does not have the ability to tell us, other than to opine that more zones is always better (which, in itself, is often not true).

FWC and FWS admit they do not know if speed zones work, or what zones are most likely to reduce mortality. But, even if zones do work, what’s being demanded here in Pinellas County will reduce watercraft mortality by one per year at the most.

One.

At a minimum, FWC staff should abide by the LRRC determinations and not add more zones than the LRRC supported.

4)        Even if the Commission establishes more zones, there is no guarantee that any of the denied permits – or future permit applications – will be approved. CFFW has asked for that assurance, in writing. It has not been forthcoming.

In discussions with FWS, the issue seems to be that a “carte blanche” letter of support could open the gates for other applications that may not be advisable. This avoids the core issue: FWS should provide a letter listing those permits that will be released if the rule is approved; a list of those that may be approved; and a list of those that will not.

 

Summary

 

In conclusion: the original justification for these zones is disproven. We don’t know that these zones will be effective. Even if the potential decrease in mortality is achieved (one fewer death per year), the net benefit will have no effect on a manatee population that is doubling every 12 years already! And we have no assurance that permits will be released.

FWC should advise FWS that no additional zones are necessary, and that permits withheld now for more than seven years – seven years – should be released.

Oysters are Habitat-Forming

Credits to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for the headline. It was spotted on a sign in Charleston Harbor, pointing out a local oyster restoration project.

Oysters on the half-shell at Amen Street Bar in Charleston.
Oysters on the half-shell at Amen Street Bar in Charleston.

The importance of oysters as more than a mouth-watering delight is sparking  renewed interest in the bivalve. Oysters filter and clean vast amounts of water. Put them in a tank of typical Florida estuary (near shore) water, wait a day, and the water will be clean. Move oysters from dirty water to clean water, and in two weeks, they are completely safe to eat (a very neat trick; tainted nutrients we eat tend to stay in us a long time, even forever. Not the oyster. What goes in, really does come back out).

Oyster bars — the kind in the water, not the Amen Street bar in Charleston — are hugely significant environmentally, doing everything from blunting the force of bad weather and providing food and shelter to other marine critters, to capturing CO2. That’s right, even “climate change” is aided and abetted by the oyster, which removes CO2 from the water and turns it into calcium carbonate — literally the oyster shell.

Not surprisingly, for a long time, we have done not been doing right by oysters. New York Harbor, for example, used to be almost brimful of them. Apalachicola Bay in Florida, one of the most southerly oyster harvest sites, has been suffering for years, as far-upstream Atlanta siphons off more and more of the freshwater oysters need to thrive.

While it’s certainly true that a desire to make a buck from oysters was at the root of the significant declines we’ve been seeing in oyster production, it’s equally true that the decline could not have happened without the help (or hindrance) of government. Pretty much everyplace you care to look where oysters have suffered, government has permitted the problem, usually with the best of intentions, but oftentimes not.

oysterrelay
Oystermen working an oyster “relay,” where oysters are moved from conditionally closed areas to open water where they can be harvested in a few weeks. Relays can be good employment when many oysterbeds are seasonally closed.

Now we’re in a time when rebuilding oysters is the marine ’cause du jour’. Lots of proposals are seeking funding — including one of ours — and many groups, from the Ocean Conservancy to the Nature Conservancy to SeaGrant, are urging action to restore oysters. In September, the US Department of Commerce finally declared a “fisheries disaster” for Florida panhandle oysters, largely in response to the collapse of oystering in Apalachicola Bay, which was already hurt by reduced water flow and then hammered by the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

But — there’s hardly any funding yet for any of the proposed projects. The bit that’s been made available, through the National Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA, a Federal-state program that funds restoration of resources damaged by oil spills and the like), has yet to be spent. Three years into what’s called “early restoration,” and nothing’s happened so far.

Eventually, funds will flow and some improvements will be made. Unfortunately, for too many of the men and women who have been struggling to make ends meet in the oyster industry, too little will come too late.

We’re trying to help speed things up. Wish us — and the people whose livelihoods depend on it — luck.

Primaries? Who Needs ‘Em?

Why did a political party’s choices for candidates for office become a government-run process? In short, why must we have primaries?

Most readers will conjure up images of smoke-filled rooms where sacks of money are exchanged for slots on a party’s slate of candidates, and conclude that’s a bad way of running a country. If every party did that, we’d end up with a bunch of scalawags and worse on the election ballot every time.

Or would we? Refer to other articles here for the mantra:  Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama.

Have government-run primaries improved the quality of candidates and officeholders? Or does the “smoke-filled rooms” scenario simply take place much earlier, followed by the long, tortuous, ridiculously expensive primary season?

Who really benefits from primaries anyway? Certainly not candidates who, egged on by media, tear into each other so vigorously and viciously that almost no one casts a ballot without a bad taste in the mouth. Certainly not we voters, whose choices are limited to the folks willing to hustle for the kind of bucks needed to buy the advertising to — well, to buy the election.

Here in Florida, even a State House district race — where the winner brings home about $30,000 a year — costs a quarter million to stand a chance.

Perhaps that’s why this article is on a website not supported by advertising. Whether primaries are a good thing or not, the news and advertising industries sure aren’t going to endorse a different nominating process.

What could that process be? For starters, parties should have the option of participating in a primary or not. If they prefer to gather in a smoke-filled room — or a vegan resort, whatever — to select their candidates, fine. As long as they qualify for the ballot, life is good.

For parties that want the added exposure, as negative as that always seems to be — sure, stay in the primary process. But if there is one law for all primaries that ought to be  created, let’s allow  independent voters (not registered with a particular party) to vote in the party primary of their choice.

This path would likely (hopefully) improve the process in three ways:

For parties that opt out of primaries, the cost to run would be much less, which hopefully would mean more (and more qualified) candidates would seek office.

For parties that stay in the primary, independent voters would almost certainly moderate the views of the winner. This means the kowtowing to a party’s “core” that goes on during primaries, which is then replaced with strained explanations of how Ms Candidate is not really in favor of government financed abortions for all illegals (ooops, undocumented workers), while Mr Candidate wants antennae implanted in everyone’s heads only after they’re arrested — well, it probably won’t go away, but there should be less of it.

For parties that just plain really want the a candidate on the ballot because of that abortion  / antennae thing, they can opt out of the primary to ensure the candidate with their views is on the ballot.

The downsides? The one we’ll hear most is that the public won’t have as much time to “assess” candidates. Maybe there’s substance to that, but given the big story in late July — did someone on Romney’s staff use the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ — c’mon already.

Of course, New Hampshire will still have its primary in January and Iowa will still hold its caucuses months before any of us should be seriously thinking about this stuff. And, except for the early date, they probably should. But any large state like California, Florida, Texas, New York, Illinois, would do well to reconsider.

 

Take the Balanced Budget Amendment Pledge!

Everyone knows that politicians take more pledges than a frat house during Rush Week.

So let’s ask ’em all to take one more:

“If elected, I will return each year to the Treasury my family’s share of the National Debt,  except during a time of war, or in any year where Congress passes and the President signs, a budget with a surplus.”

Copy this succinct little sucker and email it to your local candidates! Ask them to sign on.

Think how many Republicans took Grover Norquist’s “no taxes” pledge. (In the 112th Congress, 236 House members and 41 Senators have taken the pledge.)

Consider this pledge Version 2 of the Norquist Pledge. Some folks have issues with Norquist’s approach, arguing, “It asks politicians to outsource your principles and convictions,” as former Florida Gov Jeb Bush put it.

Not so this pledge: it puts politicians’ money in the same purse or wallet as their principles and convictions. (Another carefully parsed analogy, by the way.)

Let’s hope this idea catches on. If candidates step up, there would be no need for a constitutional amendment, a US law, or even a Congressional rule to require what we’re proposing here, although all three of these would be completely legitimate and legal approaches.

Congress has become so bad at managing our affairs that current members should offer to repay their family’s share retroactively from their first day in the hallowed halls, exempting those years of declared war (none in office would be so affected) or a balanced budget. Maybe that will be Version 3.

 

 

Making Votes Count — Part 2

Voting is a right, not a requirement, in the US and in most of the world. However, some 30 countries, ranging from Australia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, require adults to cast a ballot.

There are arguments pro and con to a compulsory vote. The greatest factor in favor is that elections are decided by a true majority of the population, rather than the slice that makes its way to the polls. The biggest factor against is that voting can be a real pain in the butt — and what to do if you don’t, in fact, like any of the candidates?

Another argument against compulsory voting is it would “dumb down” the election, as many people forced to vote might do so in spite, or ignorance, or (as in the case of some honest-to-goodness ballots), use the dots to create pretty patterns.

The question of fraudulent voting — which is attracting a great deal of attention of late as Republicans pass laws to require photo IDs to cast a ballot, and the Democratic US Justice Department files lawsuits to prevent this — is likely the greatest challenge to compulsory — therefore universal — voting.

All of that said, would not we as a nation be a more democratic republic (and please take note of that careful phrasing) if more of us took part in the process?

Based on the 30 or so countries that require voting,  whether compulsory balloting is good for the country (or not) is unclear.

Perhaps that is because they only require voters to cast a ballot, nothing more.

Finally, the idea

On each ballot, include  three questions:

  • Who is the president of the US (Carter Reagan Bush Clinton Bush Obama: pick one).
  • Who is your state’s current governor? Pick from a list of recent candidates.
  • Does the US Government run at a deficit? Yes or no.

It would need to be multiple choice. And fairly simple. There’s a “civics test” making the rounds of the internet (click here to try it out) that’s tough — and also subject to quibbling over what answers are correct. These questions are clear-cut. Create a list of 20 similar ones and spit out different questions on different ballots.

Here’s the deal: For a ballot to count, the voter must answer at least two of the three questions on his or her ballot correctly.

Not an especially high hurdle, and maybe the bar needs to be higher. Then again, look at what we got with our current system:  Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama. Hmmmm.

And one other requirement: for national offices, there should be a “none of the above” choice. And if “none of the above” prevails, elections are held until someone takes the prize.

Jeffersonian Democracy is based on this notion:  democracy demands an educated and informed electorate. Would it even matter if voters took the answers to the questions into the booth with them? They can take a sheet saying whom to vote for with them now, after all. And would it even matter if “illegals” voted, as long as they are “educated and informed?”

Would educated and informed voters have changed “Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama?” Would this idea help make votes count?

Hmmmm.

 

 

 

Making Votes Count — Part 1

On Father’s Day, ABC News aired photos of presidents and other celebrity dads with their kids. The photo of JFK and daughter Caroline was just plain adorable. The one of Nixon (do you prefer RMN?) and daughter Tricia — he looked angry and she looked scared.

That’s how JFK and Nixon are always — always — portrayed.

Make no mistake about it, media didn’t hate Nixon: they loved him. They loved to ridicule him, attack him, portray him as the ugliest American. In a weird way they probably loved Nixon more than JFK, whom they could only cover in that dog-loyal to the point of drooling on your leg sycophantic kowtowing that even today requires a handsome Jack and shadowy Tricky Dick.

So what’s that go to do with voting? Quite a lot. Long before JFK made media swoon, pundits fretted that granting women the vote would turn elections into popularity contests — like voting for homecoming king and queen, as women would be unaware of the real issues of the campaign. An insult, to be sure.

The same’s been said about African-Americans (and pretty much any immigrant). In the nation’s early days (ending about 1850), only those white men with property could vote, because arguably they were the only ones with “skin in the game”, and thus motivated to vote intelligently.

Insults, to be sure. A slap in the face to the bedrock concept of inclusiveness in a democracy.

Just look at who those white men elected President back then. Washington. Adams. Jefferson. Madison. Monroe. Another Adams.  What a bunch of losers!

Compare that to whom we elect now:  Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama.

Hmmmm.

Let’s be honest: Those who sought to disenfranchise everyone but themselves may have  been correct — albeit for very, very wrong reasons. They argued that (insert group here) should be denied the vote because (repeat group name) is insufficiently informed to vote responsibly.

Prejudice, of course, is BS. The truth is, people of any and all groups who are ill-informed cannot vote responsibly. Still, we cajole and plead for people to vote, despite all the hoopla about “purging” voter rolls, then ridicule the fools who cast a vote for (insert candidate here).

Voting has become a right detached from responsibility. Which goes a long way toward explaining that Carter-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama electoral report card….

And, just as truthfully, too many of us form opinions and cast ballots based on infotainment: such as pictures of cuddly presidents and kids. Take a look at pre-TV Presidents. Who would vote for a shocker like Lincoln? With a madwoman wife? And those kids! And Washington — he had wooden teeth for cryin’ out loud.

Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Bush. Obama.    Hmmmm.