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ELI5: the American electoral system

August 19, 2013, 12:23 PM

On Reddit, there is a forum (“subreddit”) called “Explain Like I’m Five” (ELI5).  It’s not intended for literal five-year-olds, but rather, it’s a venue for people to ask questions, and (hopefully) get a response explaining it all in plain English, with any jargon defined plainly, and complex concepts explained as clearly as possible.  Post titles typically begin with “ELI5” with the topic following.

Today on the ELI5 subreddit, this question came up about the American electoral system, as far as presidential elections go:

I’m Australian and having seen a lot about the election last year I couldn’t really find an explanation that I understood about things like swing states, etc.

I feel quite a bit of sympathy for this person.  The presidential electoral system in the United States is unique, and let’s admit it: the average American doesn’t even understand how our electoral system works, and many of them have lived with it for their entire lives.  For someone who does not live in the United States and is used to a different electoral system, I can imagine that trying to figure out our system can be headache-inducing, to say the least.

So I did my best to explain how it works, including the discussion of how swing states work into it all.  The guidelines for this subreddit say that while discussion of politics and controversial topics are allowed, “try to remain textbook-level fair to all sides, for both questions and answers.”  I think I did pretty well on that, but I’ll let you decide for yourself.  So here’s my (somewhat long-winded) explanation, in plain English:

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Categories: National politics, Reddit

Driving in Virginia on Thanksgiving morning…

November 22, 2012, 7:04 PM

First of all, greetings from Stuarts Draft, where I will be through Sunday.  And so far, so good.  The drive went surprisingly well, and then Thanksgiving dinner was absolutely wonderful.

Considering how well my drive went today, though, I don’t know why anyone would want to go driving on the day before Thanksgiving.  Seriously, this was one of the easiest drives to Stuarts Draft that I’ve had in a long time.  I left the house around 8:45, and it was more or less smooth sailing the entire way.  Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County, from my house to the Beltway, was no problem.

On that note, by the way, does anyone know what’s going on with the Freestate gas station on Georgia Avenue at Layhill Road?  This is how it looked this morning:

The Freestate station on Georgia Avenue

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My thoughts on the election now that it’s finally over…

November 9, 2012, 12:35 AM

First of all, aren’t you glad it’s just over with now?  Our election cycles run for far too long, especially when you consider that the New Hampshire primary was on January 10 this year, which meant that candidates started running well before that.  The 2012 election cycle started up right after dust settled from the 2010 midterm elections.  That’s far too long, in my opinion.  Considering that this year, Mitt Romney became the presumptive nominee in May, I think we could safely adjust the schedule a bit.  Basically, imagine the primaries in the summer.  Have New Hampshire in May.  Then have nominees by September.  Skip the conventions, because all they are is a coronation for the nominee that is known months ahead of time, and then vote in November.  The goal in this compressed schedule is to give the American public some peace and quiet in between elections.

Now as far as the contest itself goes, I think this was the biggest dog and pony show that I’ve ever seen.  The moment that I laid eyes on the Republicans’ field of candidates, I knew that President Obama was getting a second term.  Realize that the Republican Party didn’t want to “put out the good silverware” for a race against a popular incumbent president.  I’m sure that’s really why the likes of Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, etc. didn’t run.  The party didn’t want to dirty up its better names on a race against an incumbent.  Then once the crazies that did run on the Republican side actually opened their mouths, I really knew that they had no chance.  Thus I felt confident for just about the whole season that the end result of the contest was settled.  Basically, barring a major scandal or a major blunder on the Democratic side, President Obama was in, bottom line, end of story.  Thus my view that the whole campaign was basically a dog and pony show.  I was pretty sure that the Republicans knew that they had no chance in 2012, but they still had to put on a good show and run someone to at least make it look like they were interested to keep their faithful engaged.

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Hurricane Sandy, early voting, etc…

October 30, 2012, 12:16 AM

First of all, hello from Aspen Hill, Maryland, where I live, and where the power is still on (as of this point in the writing at least) despite the pounding we’re getting from the wind and rain of Hurricane Sandy.  This was the view off my balcony about two and a half hours ago:

View off my balcony during Hurricane Sandy

Note the blurry areas on the trees.  As this was a fifteen-second exposure, the blurry areas are where the trees were moving around in the wind.  I just hope that the lights continue to stay on, and that the 22 cans of food that I bought at Shoppers on Saturday are just my being paranoid about this, and that I won’t actually have to open them with a manual can opener and prepare them on the stove.  So I guess we’ll see how that goes.  I’m rooting for no power outage, but that might be a tall request considering that this is Pepco we’re dealing with, and that the power grid in the Washington DC region is amazingly fragile.  My parents, who live out in the sticks, never lose power, and where I live in the suburbs of Washington DC, you can just look at a power line funny and the entire street goes dark.

But I didn’t start writing this entry to talk about Hurricane Sandy, though I certainly hope that everyone in the storm’s path is in a safe place to wait out the storm, and that everyone who still has their power keeps it throughout the storm.  Tonight, I want to talk about the election.

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One of my photos goes viral… sort of.

October 24, 2012, 11:12 PM

So apparently one of my photos has gone viral.  Remember this photo?

Code Pink demonstration on July 4

I took this photo on July 4, 2006 in front of the White House.  It first appeared on Schumin Web in a Journal entry posted July 5, 2006 about a trip I made to DC on July 4.  It also ran as the Photo Feature later in the same month.

Then a few years later, in 2009, that photo got morphed into this:

IF OBAMA DOESN'T END THE WARS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN, CLOSE GUANTANAMO, AND STOP BOMBING PAKISTAN, WE SWEAR TO FUCKING GOD WE'LL VOTE FOR HIM WITH SLIGHTLY LESS ENTHUSIASM IN 2012."

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The death of the world’s most wanted man brings out a number of emotions…

May 2, 2011, 11:50 PM

Well, I’ll be. They actually captured Osama bin Laden. I did not expect to see such a thing happen. I always figured that bin Laden would die of natural causes, and we would never find out about it. But they actually managed to capture him, though not alive.

First of all, I think it’s probably a good thing that we did not bring bin Laden in alive. For me, this is not any sort of kill-that-bastard vengeful line of thinking. It’s that we very much need to be able to move on as a country. If we had brought bin Laden in alive, then he would have to stand trial. The question would have been how do we try him, choosing between a civilian court or a military tribunal, and all of the discussion related to that. Then a trial would reopen many painful emotional wounds in too many people. With bin Laden dead and without a trial to reopen all of those 9/11 wounds, perhaps now we can move on as a country. Nothing anyone can do will ever bring back the lives of those who were killed on 9/11, and nothing will erase the pain of losing a loved one, but perhaps bin Laden’s death will help bring closure to some, and help with the healing process.

I am, however, disgusted by the behavior that I’ve seen exhibited by many Americans after bin Laden’s death was announced. First of all, there is no doubt in my mind that Osama bin Laden is the scum of the earth. There is no doubt in my mind that he was instrumental in the commitment of many atrocities against innocent victims. However, for Americans to be dancing in the streets celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden seems a bit barbaric. There are certainly times to dance in the street and celebrate (the overthrow of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak being one), but in this instance, it seemed wrong. I for one don’t feel any joy in bin Laden’s death, just as I don’t feel joy when anyone dies. The problem is that this action by Americans seems to erase any outrage that we might have been able to claim about people who will celebrate publicly when bad things happen to Americans. We just proved that when people we don’t like are killed, we will do the exact same thing. There goes our claim to the moral high ground, since as a country, we just did what we had expressed outrage about when it was done about us. Rick Telfer put it best on the Twitter when he said, “Always the same stupidity. When ‘they’ cheer for death, it’s barbaric. When ‘we’ do, it’s cathartic.” I believe it’s barbaric when either side does it.

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Categories: National politics

Now this is what civil disobedience is meant for…

March 9, 2010, 7:21 PM

I read an article on The Washington Post‘s site on my lunch hour at work today, where Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has urged Virginia state colleges to rescind policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Basically, Cuccinelli contends that the colleges have no legal right to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and that only the General Assembly can ban such discrimination. According to the article, the General Assembly has declined to make that move numerous times, including this week.

I took a few things from this. First of all, Virginia apparently got the administration that it deserved. They voted for these knuckleheads, and they got exactly what they deserved – people who want to take Virginia a few decades backwards on social issues. Bob McDonnell certainly got high points from me during Virginia’s gubernatorial race last year for the privatize-the-liquor-stores bit, and the reopening-the-rest-areas bit. And Creigh Deeds was certainly a weak candidate. But considering that McDonnell wants to cut spending on public education and the attorney general wants to roll back protections for gays and lesbians has me really annoyed. We don’t want Virginia to turn into a state as backwards as South Carolina, where a state lawmaker actually introduced legislation to ban paper currency. I like to say that Virginia can produce an educated citizenry. However, if you can’t pay your professors…

Additionally, this is what civil disobedience is meant for. I’ve thought for a while that a lot of the civil disobedience that happens at protests and such is just for show. I don’t quite see how sitting in the street until you’re arrested (in a pre-arranged arrest, no less) and things of that nature get much accomplished. However, these state colleges should respectfully tell Ken Cuccinelli to go shove it, and that they will continue to maintain their non-discrimination policies that protect people based on sexual orientation regardless. After all, the heart of civil disobedience is in protesting an unjust law by blatantly disobeying it.

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Sometimes I don’t know why I bother…

January 20, 2010, 10:47 PM

Sometimes I don’t know why I bother. I try to get a little discourse going on a political issue with a known hostile crowd on Facebook, and their arguments become so nonsensical that it finally becomes pointless to continue. But then again, it’s also kinda fun. Most recently, it started with this as someone’s status message:

[Name] is lifting up prayers that this healthcare bill DOES NOT PASS

Okay, so we’ve got an opinion. They want to see the healthcare bill fail. So let’s dig in:

Ben Schumin Why don’t you want to see it pass?

So I’ve started the discussion. Why don’t they want to see it pass? Personally, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I won’t get what I really want out of this health care thing (single-payer for all), but it’s still better than nothing, as it outlaws a number of the health insurance industry’s dirty tricks, like denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions and recission of coverage. We can then build on this later to ultimately end up where we really ought to be down the road.

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The 90-day campaign promise has begun…

January 17, 2010, 10:12 PM

How appropriate that I am writing this from my parents’ house in Virginia where, in traveling to get here, I passed three shuttered rest areas. While my sister was out getting married (more on that later), Republican Bob McDonnell was being sworn in as the 71st Governor of Virginia.

The reason I mention this is because during the gubernatorial campaign, McDonnell made a promise to reopen the rest areas that were closed last summer. I certainly could have used one or two of those on the way down here. It is very convenient to exit the highway into a rest area, get out of the car, go in, do one’s business, and then hop back in the car and go. Compare that to the alternative. That involves taking an exit to a local road and finding a place, and you’re never sure what you’re going to get, plus having to battle local traffic. I got off at Woodstock to use the restroom on the way down, and battling local traffic was not exactly a walk in the park. And if you’re stopping just to take a potty break with no intention of buying food or gas or otherwise, that’s what rest areas are for. Otherwise, you’re just clogging up local roads and such and eating up parking spaces for a non-revenue (for the private operator) visit. If you are also buying food or gas or what have you, then by all means, take the exit and use the restroom while you’re at it. But otherwise, that’s what rest areas are for. Get off, use the restrooms, stretch your legs, and then get going again.

So Mr. McDonnell has 90 days – until April 16th – to hang out the welcome sign on the rest areas that were closed. It appears that he intends to honor that promise (he’d better).

Either way, the clock is now ticking. McDonnell had better get cracking.

It’s not often that I agree with Republican candidates’ ideas, but…

August 30, 2009, 10:47 PM

I’ve been kind of halfway following the gubernatorial race in Virginia this year, even though I’m no longer a Virginia resident. Part of that is because I did most of my growing up in Virginia, part because my parents still live there, plus half of the Washington Metropolitan Area, where I now live, is Virginia.

And Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell has been saying a few things that resonate with me that seem to make sense. For one, he wants to reopen the closed rest areas within 90 days of taking office (though to his credit, Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds also wants to reopen the rest areas, promising 60 days). The other thing that McDonnell wants to do is privatize Virginia’s liquor stores.

THANK YOU!

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I understand saving money, but when six of the facilities you are closing were renovated less than three years ago…

August 9, 2009, 8:40 PM

New Market rest area, one of the rest areas that was not closed.Virginia recently executed a plan to permanently close 19 rest areas in order to save money and help close a state budget shortfall. I can see closing a few rest areas, because there are admittedly some places where the rest areas are fairly close together, such as Mt. Sidney and New Market, which are 29 miles apart – most certainly the close spacing referenced in this article in The Washington Post. Now, the state is aiming for rest areas every 120 miles, or roughly two hours’ driving time.

Among the rest areas that I’m familiar with, on I-81, both Mt. Sidney (near Staunton) rest areas are now closed, as is the southbound rest area near Troutville (Botetourt County), as well as the southbound New Market rest area (northbound, pictured at right, remains open). On I-64, both Goochland County rest areas (near Richmond) are closing, and on I-66, both Manassas rest areas are closing, though due to the presence of a tourist information center on the westbound Manassas rest area, the facility remains open until mid-September. Then on I-95, both rest areas in Ladysmith are now closed, as well as both car rest areas in Dale City (truck facilities remain open at Dale City). That leaves no rest areas between Richmond and DC traveling northbound, and one southbound.

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“The color coded alert system was security theater at its best, and blatant fearmongering at its worst.”

July 16, 2009, 9:45 PM

July 15 poll resultsSo said “BFS” in the Express. And for those of you who have been following this site, “BFS” is me, as I usually post comments for Express using my initials. And my comment got published again, as seen at right in this excerpt from page 28 (56 in the PDF file) of Express.

According to an article on page 4 of the July 15 edition, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has “appointed a task force to determine in 60 days how effective the current system is.” The idea is to either overhaul it or do away with it entirely.

I’m surprised that they’re even appointing a task force for it. I’d just ditch the thing outright. After all, if you step back, what did the terror alert system do? It was propaganda. It told people when to be scared, and what to be scared of. And it was no secret that the system was used by the Bush administration to score political points. Every time they wanted you to be scared, they just looked into the camera, and said…

ORANGE

It’s “orange”! Oh, no! Grab your duct tape and plastic sheeting and head for the hills!

And looking at the history of threat level changes, it seems to prove that the Bush administration wanted you to be scared at times that were advantageous to them. What officially tipped me off is when they raised the threat level to “orange” at the beginning of the Iraq War, and left it there until just after they took Saddam Hussein down. They worked long and hard to make you scared of Iraq, and so when they went in and invaded an unarmed nation, they wanted to make doubly sure that you would be fearing the terror boogeyman. Apparently, wetting your pants was patriotic, and if you didn’t wet your pants, the terrorists would win.

And once people stopped paying attention to the terror alert scale, Homeland Security stopped using it, as we never saw an alert above “yellow” nationally after August 2005. And we never saw a “green” or even a “blue” threat level. You’d think that they would have dipped it down into “blue” a time or two just to make the public think that they were doing a good job. After all, if you’re going to manipulate it to make people scared, you might as well manipulate it to make the people think you’re doing something right (even if you aren’t). But instead, the two bottom levels were simply decorative.

So in the end, I think that the Homeland Security task force will scrap the alert level system entirely. Its main purpose is to make people afraid of things they can’t do anything about. And you know what they say – why worry about a problem you can’t solve? Like I said in the comment, it’s security theater at best, and blatant fearmongering at its worst.

Categories: National politics, News

Friends don’t let friends wear mullets…

April 2, 2009, 9:26 PM

The fashion faux pas of the century:

Mullet lady on the Metro

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“Use $1 coins: They last for decades and save our nation money.” Okay, but…

March 1, 2009, 5:27 PM

So I saw this advertisement as I was leaving the Metro on Friday:

Dollar coin advertisement

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Categories: National politics

So I have completed my service to the circuit court system of Montgomery County, Maryland.

February 11, 2009, 12:33 PM

So today, I had jury duty, which involved sitting and doing nothing for a shade under three hours over at the Montgomery County Judicial Center in Rockville.

According to them, they had a small docket today judging by the number of jurors that they called. So I got in and found the jury waiting room, where they gave us our little juror badges. Then we watched an orientation film, where the late Ed Bradley, as well as Diane Sawyer, explained why jury service is such a high calling, and how it basically works and what happens. Then it was time to play the waiting game. I found a nice place to park myself and pull out the Lappy, and I took care of some odds and ends while waiting to see what happened. I did some work Email, I fooled around on Wikipedia for a while, and watched some videos on YouTube.

Then after about an hour, my number, 73, was called up, along with the numbers of about 30 other people by my best estimate. I went up to Courtroom 14 on the sixth floor with the other prospective jurors, and we sat down in the gallery. At the front of the courtroom, the attorneys for the prosecution and the defendant were seated at tables, as was the defendant himself. Then the judge, the Honorable Mary Beth McCormick, came in, and things began. She explained that this was a criminal case related to an alleged violation of a protective order. The jury’s job was to determine guilt by the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, and sentencing would be up to the judge. We were all sworn in, and things got started, as the process of voir dire began. The judge asked a number of questions to us related to disclosure of information that might affect our service as a juror in this particular case, and in the event that anyone had something to disclose, those individuals were called up, one at a time, to make their disclosure to the judge and the attorneys for both sides. While disclosures were going on, the judge activated a “husher”, which turned off the microphones and played white noise over the sound system.

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