the racialization of the electoral college

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Today (and the past few weeks), millions are casting a ballot for President of the United States, and nearly as many will be asking one simple question: Does my vote count?

For many of us, the answer is probably, “No.” It’s not that our votes won’t be counted—in lieu of hanging chads, malfunctioning voting machines, and good old fashioned election fraud, our vote will tabulated and tallied in precincts across the country—but what we really want to know is, “Does my vote matter?”

Civics lessons across the country proudly push the mantra that every vote counts, that “one person, one vote” is the basis of a democratic society, but from New York to California, Texas to the Dakotas, nearly every state is already classified red or blue, its outcome a “foregone conclusion.” In the electoral college we seemingly have a voting process that is truly Orwellian, where some votes truly“are more equal than others.” (And I won’t even get into the issue of money in politics.)

Though he made some changes based on recent polls, a week ago Nate Silver’s 538 blog (published by the New York Times) classified only 9 states as “competitive”: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. These are the “states that matter”, and even the candidates have no qualms about focusing their time and money in the swing states; in fact, according to fairvote.org, of the 252 campaign visits by the presidential and vice presidential candidates since the Democratic National Convention, 251 have taken place in one of these nine states, including 72 in Ohio alone. (The lone outlier was a stop by Congressman Ryan in Michigan.)

This sense of voter disenfranchisement isn’t anything new. While the swing states shift from election to election, many have probably lived their whole lives in states considered a “sure thing” for one political party or the other and felt like they really had no say in who was elected President.

However, examining the effect of the electoral college on the impact of one’s vote in relation to a person’s race leads one to discover a hidden world of voter disenfranchisement of people of color.

One obvious examination would be to look at the racial makeup of the “competitive” states. Based on the 2010 Census, there were approximately 237 million people in the United States 18 and over (the age necessary to vote), approximately 67.2% white. But the population of the 9 competitive states is approximately 71.9% white, a difference of nearly 5%—a significant difference, especially if the race ends up being as close as many predict it will be

However, looking at only these swing states unnecessarily skews the data. This is because, of the 110 electoral votes “in play” in these states, it is predicted President Obama would need only 33 (about a third) of them. So while these are the states in which candidates are still vying for individual votes to win electoral votes, these states will not decide the president in the normal sense of “receiving the greatest number” and thus brings about some mathematical ambiguity.

The true way to see the effect of the electoral college on people of color is to look at the electoral college on a national scale. As noted, the US 18 and over population is approximately 67.2% white; however, based on state populations in relation to their electoral college weight, the electoral college votes are distributed to a population that is the equivalent of 68.1% white. And while this may not seem like a significant difference, it is equivalent to adding 6.6 million whites age 18 and over to the population.

It is not simply the electoral college that cause the voices of people of color to be diluted in elections. Because most states have some form of voting restrictions for convicted felons (a population disproportionately made up of people of color), the number of people of color eligible to vote is reduced, increasing the distribution of white voters.

Also, some ambiguity comes into play because the census counts citizens and non-citizens (green card holds, those here on visas, undocumented residents) alike, with congressional districts and electoral college votes distributed not by the number of citizens but by the population. Thus, the voices of non-citizens—many who pay taxes—are repressed, again disproportionately affecting people of color living in this country.

There is much to be done in regards to election reform in this country to create a system where every vote bears the same weight and every citizen feels they are truly heard. Such reform includes the elimination of the current electoral college structure, a system that continues to disenfranchise millions of people every four years—whether they are aware of it or not.

Visit the National Popular Vote website to see one campaign to end the electoral college.

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When it “getting worse” is a privilege

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Over the course of this election season, I’ve at times taken a Zen approach to it all and said to more than a few people, “Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.” And there is definitely still a part of me that believes this may, in fact, be true—sometimes I don’t think anything will change some people’s minds about how our society needs to be run except them experiencing hardship themselves, though I also know that experiencing hardship in and of itself does not produce the same outcomes of belief in all people and can sometimes more deeply ingrain stereotypes and biases…

But aside from all the little spins I can put on the argument to make it seem like a good one, as I’ve thought more about this in the past few weeks, I’ve come to conclude it’s a dangerous outlook for me to have for one simple reason: I’m speaking from a point of privilege.

Over the past few months I’ve also talked to many about how I’m a straight, young, white male, and how that pretty much puts me at the top of the “Privilege Olympics”. So I continue to work toward equality and equity for all people. But continually recognizing and “checking” one’s privilege is a 24/7 job, and it’s easy to let your guard down.

Whenever I’ve said that maybe “it has to get worse”, I’ve subconsciously been confident that whatever “worse” means, it doesn’t mean worse for me:

  • If Roe v. Wade is reversed, I won’t be the one who has to suffer the consequences it would have for the control of my body and reproductive choice.
  • If salary inequality continues such that women are paid only 70-80% of what men are paid, or if that percentage decreases, I won’t be losing any money from it.
  • If voter ID laws that disproportionately affect the poor, elderly, and people of color continue to be rolled out and applied, I won’t have to worry about losing my ability to vote.
  • If the movement of equal rights of homosexuals is halted, and gains made in the past years reversed, I won’t experience the consequences of any of those changes.
  • If Obamacare is repealed or amended, I’ll still have health insurance or be able to afford coverage.
  • If the economy takes another downturn, I’ll probably still have a full-time job. And even if I should lose it, I have significant savings that could last me for a while and have everything working in my favor to help me get a new job faster than others in a similar position. And even if worst comes to worst, I have grandparents who own their homes outright that I could live with (in addition to parents with a partially paid off home).
  • If religious rights of non-Christians are curtailed, it won’t affect how and if I want to worship as I see fit.
  • If we continue to fight wars, allow drone attacks, and permit oppressive governments to bring about terrible lives for people around the world, it won’t be my life that’s affected.

So while it may not matter to me personally if “it has to get worse before it gets better”, it sure does matter for many others (well over half the country, actually). If I’m going to be fighting for the rights of ALL people, to be striving for equality for the oppressed and marginalized, then I need to be taking a stand toward creating a better country for us ALL to live in and recognizing that when changes for the worse happen, even if they don’t affect me directly, they still matter and aren’t just “collateral damage” for some eventual change that may happen some day.

So when you and I go to the ballot box and vote (and even those who choose not to vote), it’s important to remember that it’s not all about “me” but about all those we know and don’t know who will be affected by the very real consequences of decisions made by those we elect to positions in our government. Our choices matter and directly impact the lives of other around the country and around the world. It’s not to be taken lightly; I’m going to continue to try to remember that, and I hope you do, too.


globally, women anything but equal

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Sunday night, I posted about the wealth inequality for women of color here in the U.S.  Another report I was turned on to is from October 2009, and it tells the tale of women in general, in the U.S. and around the world.  The 2009 Global Gender Gap report of the World Economic Forum provides a ranking of countries around the world.  According to the report itself:

“The Index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education- and health based criteria, and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups…

“There are three basic concepts underlying the Global Gender Gap Index. First, it focuses on measuring gaps rather than levels. Second, it captures gaps in outcome variables rather than gaps in means or input variables. Third, it ranks countries according to gender equality rather than women’s empowerment.”

Using their methodology, they created rankings for 134 countries around the globe.  The top five in their list were Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand.  Before you get to the U.S. at #31, you pass by South Africa (#6), Lesotho (#10), Sri Lanka (#16), Mongolia (#22), and Cuba (#29), to name a few.  (Remember — it measures gaps, not levels, so this doesn’t mean a woman’s life in Cuba is necessarily better than that of a woman in the U.S., but the gap is greater.)

According to the U.S. country profile, education and health are strong points, with equality more or less being established (ranking #1 overall for educational attainment). However, economic and political equality leave something to be desired (the U.S. ranked #61 in political empowerment, with 1 female for every 5 males in “parliament,” as they denote it).

So what does all this mean for us here in the States?  Well, for starters, it shows that while we may say men and women are equal, the end results don’t point that out.  We may educate women equally, and they may even live longer (on average) than men, but women here do not possess the same economic resources  and wealth as men and are not represented in government even close to equally.  We must again recognize the systematic structures in place creating these disparities and work to truly make women and men equal, in this country and around the world.

(As a side note, I found out about this report though an article that appeared in The Nation.  As readers wrote in response to that article, there are some areas for critique of that article and the report itself, but regardless of comparing the U.S. to other countries, the fact of continued inequality in certain areas of society here in the U.S. still needs to be noted and addressed.)


the neverending palestine/israel show continues! (pt. 3)

Thursday 25 March 2010

So while the U.S. continues to talk about the health care reform bill(s) (my comments come next week), the p/i show continues!  First, some recent news articles on the issue:
Mon 22 Mar: Clinton accuses Israel of hurting U.S. credibility (AP)
Wed 24 Mar: Israel approves new building in East Jerusalem (AP)
Thurs 25 Mar: U.S. Fails to Persuade Israel on Housing Dispute (NY Times)

On to today’s post!

Both the blogs in pt. 1 and pt. 2 on this topic talked about Israeli policy in relation to Palestine and Palestinians, and in this blog I want to focus mainly on whether or not those policies are actually positive for Israel’s future, brought about by an Op-Ed by Uri Dromi, who was spokesman for the Israeli governments from 1992 to 1996, titled “Will Israel Join the March of Folly?

Dromi begins this way:

“Barbara Tuchman, in her classic book “March of Folly,” examined four cases in history when governments acted contrary to their own best interests: the Trojans who let the Greeks bring the fatal horse into their midst; the papacy, which allowed and even brought about the Protestant secession; the British who lost America, and America, which lost the war in Vietnam.”

He continues shortly after with his thesis at hand:

“By expanding settlements instead of separating from the Palestinians while we still can, we Israelis are dooming ourselves to lose the Jewish and democratic state that has been won with so much sacrifice. In other words, we are immersed in our own march of folly. And we are doing it with our eyes open.”

I went to a session last fall that detailed some strategies for talking with members of Congress about the Palestine/Israel issue and conflict, and one of the main points to suggested to use was that a sustained people, involving a Palestinian state, was in the best interests of the the U.S. and Israel.  And that is Dromi’s point, too.  However, the current Israeli policies are running counter to that objective and leave Israel open to continued critism and possibly, in the end, it’s own downfall.

This week continued the dispute of the last two, and Britain joined in the criticism, too (see Israel Absorbs Twin Rebukes From Top Allies).

Dromi’s point comes to a head this way:

Consider the following scenario: The Palestinians decide to do nothing, just wait patiently until there is no way to divide the land anymore. The country just becomes one, binational state.

Then, assuming that the Israelis wouldn’t dare or wouldn’t be allowed by the rest of the world to run the country as an apartheid state, the Palestinians start voting in elections and running for Parliament.

Thus, the existence of a Jewish national state, which many people do desire (I’m not against it, actually; I just want justice for all), is no more.  Do you see why the U.S. needs to continue it’s rebukes?

So while the settlements in the West Bank may pose the most problems for a Palestinian state, as I said in pt. 2, Jerusalem is likely the final sticking point for any agreement.  It may be that Palestinians will not even begin peace talks until settlement construction and home takeovers in East Jerusalem cease, and with the current Israeli policy of a unified Jerusalem, can peace ever happen?

This Map of Settlements Around Jerusalem shows one reason the Palestinians are so mad.  If you click on the map, you can see a red dotted line that demarcates what Israel claims to be Jerusalem, much of which is on the Palestinian side of the 1967 Green Line.  I counted a dozen settlements Israel considers part of Jerusalem that are on what many would consider the Palestinian side of the boundary for a future state.  There are also Palestinian towns inside this boundary, and even one in the bottom left corner you can see that is planned to be encircled by the wall/barrier Israel is constructing.  (Read about that town, the village of Al-Walaja, here.)

It would be impossible to simply reverse the last 40+ years since the 1967 Six-Day War.  However, if Israel continues forward with it’s current policy, Israel as a Jewish state may soon cease to exist.  If that’s not how you want the future shaping up, I suggest you make your voice heard and do something about it.

(Also, I have here a link to another Op-Ed I thought I’d want to write more on by Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States which mainly just says that the U.S. and Israel are best buds and it needs to remain that way (especially from an Israeli perspective).  Read his take on things here:
For Israel and America, a Disagreement, Not a Crisis)


the neverending palestine/israel show continues! (pt. 2)

Sunday 21 March 2010

OK, so if you haven’t read pt. 1 yet, please do that now…

Ready for part 2?

If you’ve been keeping up with the news the past two weeks, I’m sure you’re at least semi-familiar with this whole U.S./Israel “spat,” “feud,” or whatever you want to call what’s been happening these past couple of weeks.  In case you’re not (or to get you back in the mood), here are two options:

The situation in news articles (I’m big on the AP and NY Times these days) (please click at least one — it’s time consuming to link all these articles!):
Tues 9 Mar: As Biden Visits, Israel Unveils Plan for New Settlements (NYT)
Thurs 11 Mar: Biden to Leave Mideast Amid Unease (NYT)
Fri 12 Mar: Clinton Rebukes Israel on Housing Announcement (NYT);
Clinton slams Israel on housing announcement (AP)
Sun 14 Mar: Israeli settlement action ‘an insult’: Obama aide (AP)
Mon 15 Mar: Israel Feeling Rising Anger From the U.S. (NYT);
US Israel criticism ignites firestorm in Congress (AP)
Tues 16 Mar: US envoy cancels Mideast trip, Israel feud deepens (AP) ;
US, Israel try to back away from the brink (AP)

Fri 19 Mar: Clinton Calls Israel’s Moves to Ease Tension ‘Useful’ (NYT)
Sat 20 Mar: UN Chief says Israeli settlements must be stopped (AP) (OK, so this one is a little off topic, but still in the vein of all the rest, perhaps the best to read!)
Sun 21 Mar: Israel: No building restrictions in east Jerusalem (AP)

What brought about the curious events of the past two weeks was simply an announcement of  a planned building project that occurred when Joe Biden was visiting prior to planned mediated peace talks scheduled for last week.  Then Biden, upon hearing the announcement, condemned the plan, and the spat began.  Members of Congress and pro-Israel groups in the U.S. criticized the criticism, and the back and forth began.  When you break down this whole fiasco, though, it really comes down to the issue alluded to in that last article: Israeli building in East Jerusalem.

Just as the West Bank was land Israel took control of during the Six-Day War in 1967, so were the lands we currently refer to as East Jerusalem.  While most people can understand and accept that Palestinians living in the West Bank desire this land for a future state.  However, the issue of Jerusalem is definitely much murkier, specifically because it’s hard to think of a city being divided between two countries, as it was between 1948 and 1967.  However, it is also unacceptable for either Palestinians or Israelis to give up what was under their control during that 20-year span.

However, this quote speaks volumes:

“As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv” and there would be no restrictions, Netanyahu told his Cabinet.

Later in the article we here this:

Netanyahu has always opposed compromise over Jerusalem. Israel captured the city’s eastern sector from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it, a move not recognized by any other country. Over four decades, Israel has built a string of Jewish neighborhoods around the Arab section of the city.

Jerusalem may, in the end, but the one sticking point that can’t be overcome.  One past plan included Jerusalem being an “international” city, belonging to no country in particular but under unified control by a body such as or similar to the United Nations.  However, with Jerusalem the current capital of Israel and East Jerusalem usually declared the capital of any future Palestinian state, we seem to have a problem.

The question is whether, knowing this and all the other issues needing to be resolved, the U.S. will show some force in using its power of influence politically and monetarily (or withholding money from Israel, as the case may be) to make true change happen.

I have more to say, but since I like to keep these pretty short, I’ll hold off for a part 3.  Before I close, though, I wanted to pull a few quotes from a NY Times feature, “Room For Debate,” which features multiple people talking about a particular subject.  In this case, the issue was titled, “Israel’s Challenge to the U.S.”  Read on, and click the article title link here for more on this topic.

From Amjad Atallah

The United States has been sending its messages with carrots and great diplomatic restraint. The current Israeli government, in stark contrast, has been responding like a petulant child, outraged that it hasn’t been able to get U.S. acquiescence to its own short-term political strategy.

There is a great deal at stake in this public and private dispute between Israel and the United States. President Obama should consider responding in a similar manner, by creating his own facts on the ground, and ending all forms of U.S. cover and support of the settlement enterprise and other policies that sustain the occupation.

From Daoud Kuttab

All attempts to appease and reward Israel for its acquisition by war has resulted in pushing peace away. If President George W. Bush truly believed, and President Obama truly believes — as they both publicly stated — that an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state is in the “national interest” of the United States, Washington must resolve once and for all that any Jewish settlement built on Palestinian territory forcefully taken in 1967 will not be tolerated.

Once America regains its resolve in this area, the peace train can proceed to its destination.


the neverending palestine/israel show continues! (pt. 1)

Friday 19 March 2010

Well… This blog post has been a long time coming. I starting compiling articles to link and use for this post over a week ago, and I’ve been trying to continue to keep up with them ever since, but it’s been a challenge.

I wanted to write some of my thoughts on the whole U.S./Israel “dispute,” and the commentary and articles written on the subject just kept on coming!  However, in looking at all my articles, I realized that this “spat” has overshadowed and not really included an event that happened a few weeks before the U.S./Israel “issue” began and which has caused much more concern for Palestinians but not such a”sexy” news story for Americans — thus, the reason you’ve likely not heard of it!

On 21 February 2010, Benjamin Netanyahu issued a list of Israeli national heritage sites that included two West Bank sites of importance to Palestinians (Muslims in particular, though they’re significant for Jews, Christians, and Muslims).  As the NY Times said,

“[Mr. Netanyahu] said he intended to include the Cave of the Patriarchs, also known as Ibrahimi Mosque, the Hebron shrine revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians as the burial place of Abraham, on the list of about 150 sites. In 1994, a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, fatally shot 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers inside the shrine.

“Mr. Netanyahu said he also planned to include Rachel’s Tomb, a shrine just inside the West Bank city of Bethlehem.”

(The full article is titled “Israel’s Plans for 2 Sites Stir Unrest in West Bank.” — I actually couldn’t find an article solely about the announcement, only was an article written once the “unrest” began… interesting.)

Oh, and did I mention that this announcement came the very same week as the anniversary of the Goldstein rampage mentioned?

Which leads to this: Israel Seals Off West Bank

“JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has sealed off the West Bank for 48 hours, preventing Palestinians from entering Israel because of fears of unrest.

“There have been clashes after Friday prayers at mosques in Jerusalem and elsewhere in recent weeks, sparked by deadlock in peace talks and Israel’s inclusion of two West Bank shrines on a list of national heritage sites.

“Several Palestinians have been badly wounded and dozens of protesters and Israeli policemen have suffered light injuries.

“Police say only men over 50 will be allowed to pray Friday at the shrine at the center of the disturbances — the Jerusalem compound Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary. There are no limitations on women.

“The closure began at midnight Thursday and will end at midnight Saturday.”

Right, so Israel basically makes an announcement that they’re going to continue to impose themselves in the West Bank, it riles up Palestinians (and shouldn’t it?) for a few weeks (likely a bit more than those summer health care town hall meetings, I’d think), and then Israel, out of  “safety concerns,” shuts down the West Bank for the weekend (for men under 50).

Oh, and then, days later, the big U.S./Israel spat begins, and the world forgets about this issue — but the Palestinians don’t.

Now for my opining: That seems to be how things work in the Middle East.  There’s a lot of slight of hand, “Quick, look over there!” happening on and it just leads us to forget about what really happening — Israel is slowly making the “facts on the ground” such that removal of Israel and Israelis from the West Bank will simply be unfeasible, and then what?  Either it’s an Israeli/Palestinian joint state (rights of all TBD) or Palestinians are somehow forced out.  Either way, this “two-state solution” everyone seems to think is the way to go isn’t the outcome.

I’m convinced there’s more than one way to peace in the Middle East, just as there’s more than one way to crack an egg (a nice non-violent alternative to that “other” euphemism).  But if the U.S. and the rest of the world continue to turn a blind eye to the oppression and injustice occurring in the West Bank, the bigger the challenge will become.

Have the events of the past 2-ish weeks shown that maybe the U.S. is taking notice to Israel’s slow infiltration of the West Bank?  Come back for pt. 2 of the Palestine/Israel show late Sunday — it only get’s better!  (And now with a part 3!)

(And if/while you’re waiting, read some comments to the NY Times article about restricted access to Muslim holy sites.)


textbooks and their impact on our ideologies

Sunday 14 March 2010

Ah yes, school textbooks.  Where would any of us be without hours and hours of reading and learning from these wonderful books.  Perhaps one of my favorite parts of textbooks was covering them with brown paper bags and drawing mazes on them (and now they have pre-made plastic or even “mesh” covers — the shame).  I even remember keeping my desk so full and organized in 3rd grade that I had no room for some of my textbooks and had to sit on them!

Perhaps the fact that my memories of textbooks are not of their contents is a good thing after reading this article, Texas Conservatives Win Vote on Textbook Standards, though sometimes the more harmful items of learning is actually the indoctrination that you DON’T remember.

Basically, the article talks about how the Texas Board of Education recently voted to approve the state curriculum for the coming decade.  A panel of teachers had proposed curricula in each subject, and then the TX Board of Ed. offered their own amendments to deal with the “liberal bias” they said they found in the curricula of certain subjects, such as history and economics.

This is an interesting subject to me because what it really comes down to is the question, “Who should decide what our children learn in school?”

We all know children are impressionable, and people of different ideologies, be they economic or religious or political or sociological, of course what children to grow up to believe the same things they believe and thus propagate the ideology further.

Two amendments noted in the article that the Tex. BOE made stuck out to me:

“Dr. McLeroy pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent approach.”
“… an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians were interned in the United States as well as the Japanese during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.”

(My note: if you follow the link, you’ll see that 10 times as many Japanese Americans — about 110,000 — were interned than whites, and an act of congress in 1988, signed by Reagan, mentioned “race prejudice” as one of the reason for internment of Japanese Americans.)

I’ll simply leave those for you to ponder as well.

The reason Texas’s decisions matter is because their have stringent textbook rules which ultimately dictate what is printed in textbooks that are then used in schools across the country.  I’ve heard of high school history teachers supplementing textbooks with Howard Zinn‘s (RIP) book, “A People’s History of the United States,” looking at events from another point of view that surely would not go over well with the conservatives on the Texas Board of Education.

I’m all for people getting all the information possible, but we all understand that there is limited amount of time in a school year, so someone has to decide.  Who and how is obviously not an exact science, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.

For me, it just further affirms the need for continuous education as we get older and a never ending quest for the truth, obtaining all the information we can get our hands on — whether it’s in a textbook or not.

Updated: you can check out The Colbert Report’s take on this subject, as well — looks like I broke this one people!
Update 2: Oh, and apparently Jon Stewart on The Daily Show got wind of this, too.

(Another much longer article on Texas’s textbook-making process was in the NY Times last month, too — How Christian Were the Founders? — if this subject particularly interests you?”)