Steve Coon Blog

A detour around the Electoral College

caricature-of-steve3 2Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren yesterday said she wants to scrap the Electoral College.

That’s not going to happen because we would have to amend the U.S. Constitution—a nearly impossible task.  Instead some folks are campaigning for the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC).

NPVIC is an interesting concept. It may even be a good idea. After all, as proposed it would assure that the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes would be elected.

Yes, Electoral College would remain intact. But the NPV promises that states would award their electoral votes to the candidate with the most popular votes.

That’s appealing—especially to those—who were angered that Al Gore lost the presidency to George W. Bush despite having more popular votes that Bush. Likewise, the fact that Hillary Clinton lost the presidency to Donald Trump although Clinton also had more popular votes that Trump.

But I’m still not clear how everyone’s voted is protected if the majority of Iowa voters—for example—cast ballots for Candidate A but the state’s Electoral College votes all go to Candidate B because B had more popular votes nationally. Aren’t Iowa voters, in fact, denied true representation in the Electoral College?

I may favor this idea but someone has to explain the math to me. And how exactly this truely protects everyone’s vote.

Is there a constitutional protection for stupidity?

caricature-of-steve3 2Nevada lawmakers may not have asked that question when proposing a measure to allow law enforcement authorities to use technology that would detect whether persons are using their cellphone while driving.

But the question seems relevant.

The objections are inevitable and they are always the same—this is a violation of privacy.  Those are the same fools who oppose traffic cams that capture photos of vehicles crossing an intersection against a red light.

Opponents of traffic cams and the Nevada proposal against cellphone abuse while driving simply have no good reason for opposing such technology. Their sole objection is that they don’t want to be caught breaking the law.

Well, that’s too bad. If you’re a lawbreaker, you should pay the consequences.

The Constitution is a brilliant document that assures rights and blessings for Americans.  But protection for stupidity is not one of them.

To Nevada lawmakers—and others considering similar measures elsewhere—I say, “Pass the law!”

It seemed like a Fab idea at first

 

 

 

 

 

“Good morning, Beverly,” I greet our waitress cheerfully.

“Yes, howdy,” joins John equally enthusiastically.

Beverly stares at us unknowingly. “Margaret, would you card these two guys who just came in. I don’t recognize them!”

“Wait, it’s us,” replies John.

“That should be ‘It’s we’…the verb to be requires the nominative case,” I correct.

I’m on your case all right,” retorts Beverly. “Margaret, and where is that sign I asked you post yesterday. The one that says, ‘No littering, loitering or lingering permitted. Management reserves the right to kick you to the curb.’”

“Ok, ok, I’m sorry,” I apologize.

“Me, too,” adds John. “Whatever it was?

You’ve been absent that’s what,” snaps Beverly. “What’s up with you dudes, anyway?”

“I’ve been checking entries in my high school year book,” John opens the book as he lays it on the table.

“OMG, don’t tell me you’re running for office again!” Beverly moans.

“Yep,” I note. “And you better bring us two pots of your daily special. This could be painful.”

“Margaret, bring both the Cauvery Peak and the Monsooned Malabar,” urges Beverly.

“Thanks,” worries John. “I feel a bit marooned this morning looking at my yearbook.”

“It’s monsooned, John. It’s….oh, never mind,” I surrender.

“Open it up, man,” Beverly instructs as she joins us after pouring each of us a cup of the daily special. “Let’s see how you screwed up in high school.”

Fabian Forte “Tiger” playing on jukebox.

“Uh…no…I don’t think you really want to do that,” I caution.

(YEARBOOK) “Dear, Fabian! Between Mr. Jones, your Bermuda shorts and your wonderful singing, we’ve had quite a year!

 “Fabian! You were called Fabian in high school!” Beverly gasps.

“You mean like that Laverne & Shirley show with Fabian!” shrieks Margaret.

“Good grief, girl! Get a grip!” orders Beverly.

“I categorically deny that…that…I ever wore Bermuda shorts in high school!” John stammers.

“Fabian…uh…John, that could be trouble for your presidential campaign,” I warn.

“And I never, ever sang” John protests.

(YEARBOOK) “Dear, John (or is it Fabian?) I imagine you can sing better than he. Well, we’re finally done with that dull Spanish class. What a drag it’s been!”

“See, I took Spanish in high school. That should help with the Latino vote!”

“Yeah, I’m sure they will be real happy that you thought it was dull!” Beverly cautions.

“You were Fabian? “Margaret asks faintly and passes out.

“Hey, I never said Spanish was dull! Someone else wrote that!”

“But at least the phrase ‘..better than he.’ was grammatically correct,” I stress.

“Oh, yeah, right! Like proper grammar is going to trump angry Latinos,” asserts Beverly.

(YEARBOOK) “You’re just one swell guy. However, as the old saying goes—“Flattery will get you nowhere.”—I guess I’m beating my head against a brick wall! I’ll never get you—woe is me!”

 “See, see, there!” John gestures triumphantly. “I can get the women’s vote!”

“Oh, Fabian!” Margaret whispers unconsciously.

“Not the #MeToo movement, Fa-bi-en!” Beverly snarls sarcastically. They’ll interpret that entry as toying with and objectifying females!” Beverly stands up and takes the coffee pots back to the counter.

“Wait! read this one,” John begs.

“Too late, your presidential campaign is toast!” Beverly shouts.

“Speaking of toast, do you have any of those cinnamon rolls left,” I query.

“I’ll vote for you, Fabian,” sighs Margaret.

“I think you’re the only one,” concedes John shaking his head.

“Don’t be sad, Fab,” Beverly laughs as she plugs a quarter into the jukebox. “This will always be our song.”

Jukebox plays Fabian “About this thing called love”

 

 

 

 

 

Is this cross too much to bear?

caricature-of-steve3 2The Supreme Court entertained oral arguments February 27, 2019 in the case of American Legion v. American Humanist Association.

This is the latest in a periodic series of legal challenges to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In this iteration, the specific question is whether the 93-year-old Bladensburg Peace Cross at the Bladensburg, MD World War One memorial violates the First Amendment’s prohibition against government-established religion.

It’s clear to this observer that the Blandenburg Peace Cross does not violate the Establishment Clause. The structure is not an overt government promotion of Christianity at the expense of other religious faiths that all Americans can freely observe.

One could interpret the cross as honoring those WWI fallen soldiers who believed in God and Jesus Christ.  But such an inference does not bar recognition of American Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, Hindus or even atheists and agnostics who may also have given their lives.

Would opponents of the cross be equally intense if there were a Jewish Star of David or Menorah and Islamic Crescent also standing at the memorial? Or would this ameliorate only arguments from those who argue for universal pious parity?

The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has an opportunity to clarify the so-called “Lemon” standard for determining Establishment Clause violations. Lemon v. Kurtzman revolved around a Rhode Island law that approved salary increases for teachers at non-public schools because most instructors earned less that public school teachers. At issue was whether the state law—that benefited primarily Catholic parochial school instructors—violated the First Amendment’s separation of church and state mandate.

The Supreme Court ruled that Rhode Island’s law created excessive “entanglement between government and religion.” 

At last week’s SCOTUS oral arguments on American Legion v. American Humanist Association, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch expressed displeasure with the Lemon standard as the prevailing test for Establishment Clause rulings.

Several observers predict the Supreme Court will decide there is no infringement of the Establishment Claus—Bladensburg Peace Cross will remain standing.

That would be the correct ruling. One based on the original intent of the Founding Fathers and a refreshing endorsement of common sense.

Who should be America’s next president?

caricature-of-steve3 2Who should be America’s next president? We have more than 530 official candidatesso far and there will be others before the campaign season gets into full swing.

Most of these hopefuls stand no chance of appearing on the ballots in all 50 states let alone being elected. After eliminating 500 wannabees that leaves us with a crowded field of relatively well-known names.

But how many of the candidates most-mentioned by the news media are actually qualified?

Up to the task

The presidency of the United States is one of the most challenging jobs in the world. Too many aspirants presume they have what it takes in terms of intelligence, skill, temperament, strength and wisdom to lead this republic. Frankly, their undeserved hubris in an insult to the greatness of our republic.

Recent occupants of the White House, likewise, often have failed the test of leadership. So why should we believe the current contenders are any better?

Demands of the job

The president presides over a cabinet of 22 agencies and individuals. The 15 principal departments are Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs and the Attorney General.

A successful president should be an effective administrator with adequate knowledge about each of these 15 departments. Administrative experience and departmental knowledge comes from experience leading either public or private sector enterprises, choosing the right people for departmental responsibilities and delegating authority to those appointees.

Without prior executive experience, the next president will have to learn on the job. America has too many pressing problems to be in the hands of a novice to domestic and international affairs. We have witnessed more than once the misfortunes of inadequate leadership in the Oval Office.

Grading the contestants

Who among the most prominent candidates has the requisite background to be president of the United States? Let’s look at the official Democratic hopefuls in alphabetical order.

New Jersey Senator  Corey Booker  was mayor of Newark for seven years and has been in the U.S. Senate for six. Does his limited time as mayor of an East Coast city persuade us that he’s prepared to move into the Oval Office? His strident performance during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh raises questions about his temperament. Compared with other candidates I’m skeptical of his qualifications.

The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, 36-year-old Pete Buttigieg has reached the minimum age of 35 to be American’s chief executive. And he is one of the few current candidates with military experience. That’s a plus. But has he reached a level of maturity, experience and wisdom in other areas to lead the greatest nation on earth? His youth concerns me.

If elected, Juan Castro would be America’s Latino president. He is a former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama as well as mayor of San Antonio, Texas for five years. His ethnicity is a potential attraction for Latino voters and his experience as a U.S. cabinet member is noteworthy. But he is relatively unknown among a crowded field of better-known contestants. We’ll see what mark he can make during the long campaign season.

John Delaney founded three companies before he was elected to the House of Representatives from Maryland. On paper his business acumen looks good. But members of the lower chamber of Congress have a poor history as presidential candidates. And Delaney has generated little excitement or media coverage since his announcement nearly 18 months ago. It’s difficult to see that changing anytime soon.

Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard has served in the military, on the Honolulu City Council and is former aide to Senator Daniel Akaka. She probably is campaigning either for a cabinet appointment or some other executive post with the next president. She herself has no realistic chance to prevail in the 2020 primaries.

Two-term New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is another candidate with limited experience. She has had a varied legal career but nothing in her background gives confidence that she can be an effective president. Furthermore, she has stumbled coming out of the starting blocks when asked to reconcile her past conservative views as a member of the House vs. her liberal stance in the Senate. Should we consider her change of mind as uncertainty or flexibility? It matters neither way. Barring some major surprise, she will not be the Democratic nominee.

California Senator Kamala Harris has generated the most excitement among progressive democrats and liberal news media. Her mixed Asian, black and Native American racial identity makes her an attractive candidate with potential broad ethnic and minority appeal. She was California Attorney General before her election to the U.S. Senate two years ago and drew national attention during the Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearings for Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. But will her charisma translate into effective presidential decisions and actions?  Our most recent travels down that path were disappointing.

The Midwest has a candidate from Minnesota—a state with a rich history of fielding strong presidential contenders. Amy Klobuchar, in her third Senate term, is the latest politician from her state to make the run. But her administrative credentials do not appear strong. Despite her calm demeanor during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and her interesting presidential announcement outside during a cold, snowy day in the Twin Cities, the question is how can she emerge from the crowded field. Yes, she has grit. But is she presidential?

In 2016, Vermont’s Independent Senator Bernie Sanders challenged eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. His outspoken promotion of socialism attracted a large following of young Americans tired of the usual bromides of professional politicians. Can he perform the same magic in 2020? Probably not.   The presidential arena is filled with younger progressives ready to snatch his socialist credentials and positions. At 77 Sanders is too old and his bid should be sidelined.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has been considered a serious presidential possibility for several years. A former Harvard University professor, she is considered a leading progressive voice in the Democratic Party. But she brings no apparent administrative experience to her campaign and her misstep claiming Native American heritage has dogged her campaign to date. Her response to questions about her ethnic background backfired and demonstrated her tendency to rise to the bait when confronted with the often personal attacks she will face during the campaign. We already have a president with such a weakness. Warren enjoys name recognition but is light on necessary credentials to lead America.

Among those who also considered potential candidates is Joe Biden. The onetime Delaware Senator has decades of congressional experience and served eight years as Barack Obama’s Vice President. His extensive knowledge of the inner workings in both Congress and the White House makes him far and away the most qualified of those prominently and frequently cited as potential candidates.

Although he has yet to declare his intentions, he has made no secret of his interest in the job. He would be a moderate voice among democrats. However, age and a Democratic shift toward progressive policies and presidential aspirants may eclipse any hopes that he will carry the party’s banner in 2020.

To date it’s disappointing to view the presidential contenders and see virtually no one with a strong executive background. No one with extensive military or diplomatic knowledge. Too few with proven legislative records of promoting bold and sometimes controversial yet necessary policy initiatives.

We are two years away from the start of the next presidential term. I hope someone emerges from either the Democrats or Republicans who can get America moving in the right direction again.

Someone who has run a private-sector enterprise successfully for a minimum of five years and served at least two-terms as a state governor with a proven record of accomplishment.

I’m still waiting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We need more persons of color everywhere

caricature-of-steve3 2I’ve written about this before and as I watch the Super Bowl today I think about it again.

Why doesn’t corporate and institutional America look like the players representing today’s Super Bowl competitors?  Seventy percent of National Football Players (NFL) are black and that is true of the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots.

The statistics are similar for the National Basketball Association (NBA).

The explanation is equally simple and sad

Many young poor blacks and Latinos don’t see faces like theirs among America’s professional, educational, and government elite. Instead they see persons like them excelling as athletes.

Professional athletics are acceptable professions, of course. But when–as a young person–you see most of your race or ethnicity in these activities and too few in other fields, it’s not surprising that you accept a world of limited opportunities.

Furthermore, too many colleges recruit young athletes for their teams but provide very little academic support. The college graduation rate of young black male student-athletes compared with their fellow classmates is disgracefully low.

This is wrong

We need more persons of color like Astronaut Leland Melvin among America’s institutional leaders. The son of black educators in Virginia. Melvin’s inspiring Ted TALK should remind us and especially today’s young people of the many paths open to all regardless of color, race, religion or sexual orientation. Our universities need to do a better job of encouraging all young people to excel academically and give realistic counseling on career opportunities.

I will enjoy today’s Super Bowl contest between two good NFL teams and marvel at the gifted athletes who will star in the game.

But at the end of the contest tonight, I’ll think of role models like Leland Melvin and ask how many NFL players might have chosen his journey if given the chance?  Especially those who dreamed of athletic glory but never made the cut and never received their degree.

Tom Brokaw was correct. He was also wrong.

caricature-of-steve3 2Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw sparked controversy Sunday when he said on NBC’s Meet the Press that Latinos should be more assimilated into American society rather than remain codified within their own communities.

Let’s begin with why Brokaw is right

No immigrants will truly be assimilated and comfortable in America without a command of English and understanding of United States culture. And every immigrant family wants that for their children.

I write children because the older parents are the more difficult it will be for them to speak English. The older the immigrants, the more they will be attracted to spending time with others of their nationality or those who speak the same language.

That’s because they are limited in how freely they can interact with English-only speaking citizens and the type of work they can do. They retain many of their linguistic and cultural ties and—not surprisingly—willingly isolate themselves from their host country.

It’s true for us, too, for the identical reasons.

American ex-patriots living abroad where English is not the official language usually form U.S. communities and social groups with fellow compatriots. They spend time with other Americans–often more frequently than with citizens of their adopted country. They all share the same language, grew up with common cultural values and have a common history.

What Brokaw got wrong

Immigrant children assimilate more quickly than their parents. Yes, they speak the language of their elders at home but learn English easily playing with other children in their neighborhoods and at school.

Scores of studies document how these bi-lingual family flow easily from one culture to another—one at home; the other outside.

These children most likely will choose friends and mates from both within and without their own nationality. And they are just as likely to speak only English to their own children. They will have more and better job opportunities.

By the third generation, these grandchildren of the original immigrants will speak little if any of the first generation language. Their cultural ties and loyalties decline and they will think of themselves first as Americans and only secondarily as children or grandchildren of immigrants. They will be among American’s leaders in business, government and education.

We all are immigrants

If we look at our own family histories, we know this is true.

Tom Brokaw was correct when he spoke to the importance of Latino assimilation. He failed to realize, however, that is already happening to second and third generation Hispanics. Just as it happened for all of us.