California’s Stupid Top Two Primaries

Ballot BoxEd Kilgore is right to noted that here in California we have a really stupid primary process, Top Two Follies. Because of a stupid voter approved change in the California Constitution, there are no more party primaries. Everyone is just on the ballot and the two candidates who get the most votes run in the general election. Not surprisingly, this can lead to some very undemocratic results.

Kilgore points to two, but I think he’s wrong about one. Let’s talk about one where we came less than a percentage point away from a totally ridiculous result: House of Representatives District 31. In that race, 53.3% of the people voted for a Democratic candidate and only 46.7% of the people voted for a Republican candidate. But there were four Democrats running and only three Republicans. The winner was Republican Paul Chabot with 26.8% of the vote. Second place went to Democrat Pete Aguilar with 17.4%—barely beating Republican Lesli Gooch with 16.5% of the vote. If Aguilar had lost just one percentage point of his vote to either of the Democrats Joe Baca or Danny Tillman, the general election would have been between two Republicans, even though the people showing up in the general election would overwhelmingly prefer a Democrat.

In the other case, District 25, I think Kilgore is wrong. The only way a Democrat on the general election ballot had a chance in hell was if the demographics of the general election voters skewed far more to the left. The top two Republican candidates together got 57.7% of the vote. And there were two other Republicans with a total of 7.0% of the vote. Plus a libertarian with 1.8% of the vote and “independent” Michael Mussack, who sounded very conservative to me, who got 1.4% of the vote. All totaled, that is 67.9% of the vote going to conservatives. The two Democrats got a total of 32.2%. If there had only been one Democrat on the ballot, this might have ended in an anti-democratic situation, although at least the final election voters would have a party choice.

We already have a fairly undemocratic system with our First Past the Post voting. That’s what gives us our limited two-party system. But this “top two” primary system turns our elections here in California into First Past the Post on Steroids. Now the spoiler effect is even bigger than normal. And since older and more conservative voters are the ones most likely to show up at these off-year primaries (I saw an estimate than only 30% of registered voters were expected to actually vote), we are much more likely to end up with situations where a large majority of general election voters want to vote for a Democrat but simple can’t. This is nonsense.

It’s interesting that this new primary system was made law by a relatively small margin in the 2010 election primary. So the law itself came into effect because of the anti-democratic nature of our whole system where the vote is skewed toward those for whom voting is easiest: the rich and the retired. We really should get rid of this law. And I say this noting that sometimes it will work to the Democrats’ advantage. Even if it always worked to the Democrats’ advantage, I would be against it. Kilgore mentions what is more or less this kind of case in District 17. In that district there will be only two Democrats on the ballot in November. But this is a district that saw on 24% of the voters going for Republicans; 75.9% went for Democrats. So just as in District 31, the “top two” vote doesn’t skew anything any more than gerrymandering already does.

I think it is unforgivable the way the people of the United States have allowed our democracy to wither due to our lack of attention. Instead of doing things to make voting easier and for the process to be more democratic (for just one example, the alternative vote), we go the other way. This is how democracy dies.


Here are some districts which could have been problems: 15, 25, 31, 33, 45, and 48. Luckily none of them where. But there are lots of races that the general election voter has only one party to pick from. Even though that only happens when districts are really Democratic or Republican, I still think people should have a choice in the general election.

Ken Burns’ Cold War The War

Ken Burns The WarAfter suffering through little bits of The World Wars, I picked up Ken Burns’ documentary, The War. I’d heard great things about it, but I didn’t even get half way through the first episode. Maybe it’s just that I’m in a bad mood. Or it could be that it is so much not what I expected. I mean, the thing is something like 14 hours long. I thought it was a history of World War II. But it isn’t. It isn’t that at all.

To begin with, I was shocked that it started in the Fall of 1941. Really?! I mean, Burns didn’t start his documentary The Civil War with the attack on Fort Sumter. And then the narrator said something that made me so angry. I won’t find the exact quote, but it was more or less this: the country was finally climbing out of the decade of the Great Depression. While that’s true, there is no context here. The reason the economy was coming back was because of military Keynesianism. For the few years before that, the federal government was building up its military because of the threat of war in Europe and Asia. So the improving economy was due to the Second World War that was already going on, even if America was not yet fighting in it.

There was also a moment in what I watched that talked about how during the war we were never really attacked, so we basically had no civilian casualties. And even our military casualties were relatively small compared to the other great powers involved in the war. But then it added that we were critically important in the war. I wondered, “Really?” I know we were important in the war. Because we were not under attack, our industry was really important. And almost a half million soldiers were killed. But would Germany and Japan have won the war without us being in it? I really don’t know, and I didn’t like the line thrown out there. It just seemed like pandering to the worst instincts of Americans.

The documentary itself looks at the effect of the war on four towns in the United States. And it is what it is. On its own terms, I suppose it is as good as anything that Ken Burns has ever done. But there is a problem from my perspective: I don’t care. My entire life I’ve had this kind of America-centered vision of World War II fed to me. I hardly need more of it. The parts of the war that are most interesting to me are the parts that I don’t know as much about: Japan and the Soviet Union. Growing up in our Cold War infused public education system, it wasn’t until I was in college that I had much more than the vaguest of ideas that the Soviet Union had been an important part of the war—much less a more important part of the war than we were.

So it just seems weird to spend all the time and money and energy on making a documentary that tells America the same old myth that it has always told itself. By focusing on these four towns and the men who went to war there, the series will necessary avoid, just like grammar school history class, the efforts of the Soviets. And there is absolutely no discussion of why the Japanese bombed us or why Hitler came to power and why he did what he did with that power. Neville Chamberlain, obviously will never be mentioned, since he had been dead a year by the time this documentary started. Really, I don’t see why I should care to see this story told from this prospective yet again.

But I’m not surprised that people were so impressed with the series when it came out in 2007. For one thing, we were fighting two wars at that time with none of the clarity of The War. And of course, Burns does good work. And he’s very good at determining what it is Americans want to hear. But in the same why that the Iron Man franchise is bad for American children, I’m afraid that The War is bad for American adults. Regardless, I don’t have the time to spend wallowing in a 14 hour discussion of a war that we were an important, but small part of. And that is to take nothing away from the people who struggled through it.

Conservatives Just Hate Everything Obama Does

Charles KrauthammerI just got back from work and I am exhausted. But I happened across a bit of Fox News and I saw Charles Krauthammer talking about what a bad precedent Bergdahl sets and how Israel had to release over a thousand terrorists for one guy. At first I thought, “Yeah, and that was a deal that the Israelis were willing to make to get Gilad Shalit back. Who are you to second guess them? They obviously thought it was a good deal!”

But then it occurred to me. The right wing in American politics would not have been okay with us trading these five Taliban soldiers for President Obama. A couple of things are crystal clear. One is that there is absolutely nothing that the Obama administration could do about anything that they would not find fault with. Second, is that they just hate Obama. Of course, after he’s out of office and another Democrat is in, they will talk about how he wasn’t that bad but whoever is in at that time is just terrible, although admittedly, not from Kenya.

The right in this country has no credibility. It isn’t that their ideas are bad. It is that they have no ideas. All they stand for is whatever opposes what the Democrats stand for. That’s a lot more dangerous than is commonly understood. Because I don’t know where they go from here. If they regain power, they will not do what they now claim to want to do: all the silly Tea Party stuff about the government not interfering with anything except for abortion rights. For one thing, such a government would destroy the red state base of the Republicans’ power. If they really did that, they would be voted out as quickly as possible. So they will just go back to their usual crony capitalism.

But when that doesn’t work out, what then? Are they going to turn on a dime yet again and be for “liberty”? I don’t think so. I think there is a real crisis going on in the Republican Party but we won’t really see it until it is far too late. And that’s when the right wing nuts might just start a new civil war. But I hope we deal with this one better. I say life without parole for all such traitors. The last thing we want is wingnuts a hundred years from now celebrating another wave of traitors.

But that is my question to Charles Krauthammer, “Would it have been a good deal to give up those five prisoners for President Obama?” I’m certain he would say no, just as I’m certain that if it had been eight years earlier, he would have said yes. Consistency is not something that matters to Krauthammer, or pretty much any conservative.

Can We Wait About Bowe Bergdahl?

Bowe BergdahlCharlie Savage and Andrew Lehren over at The New York Times wrote a really interesting article yesterday, Can Bowe Bergdahl Be Tied to 6 Lost Lives? Facts Are Murky. Through this whole thing, I’ve tried to stay away, because it is more of a technical matter. I’ve never been in the military and I don’t know much about how wars are run. What’s more, the Republicans are playing their usual outrage game by pretending that these five Taliban prisons of war were really “terrorists.” But I have had my suspicious about Bergdahl.

The main thing I’ve thought is that Bergdahl deserves the presumption of innocence. If it turns out that he did nothing wrong, will Fox News later have weeks of blanket coverage about how they were wrong? But more than that, the complaints I hear sound like soldiers who had a problem with Bergdahl before this incident. And I really wonder about military pride that so many soldiers are willing to speak anonymously on this subject that they may know little or nothing about. Don’t they think that the military has the ability to deal with this young man if he did anything wrong without fueling political operatives who are using the incident for their own purposes?

The Times article goes into what is the most damning allegation against Bergdahl: that six other servicemen lost their lives looking for him. The article treads lightly on the subject, but it is clear the the situation is totally different from what has been portrayed in the media. What most people think is that Bergdahl went missing so a search and rescue operation was launched and six people died as a result. That’s not it at all. More or less, Bergdahl’s detractors are just blaming him for all the deaths that happened in the two months after his capture.

It seems that Bergdahl was culpable in as much as orders were given, “Go do reconnaissance in that area, and pay attention for any signs of Bergdahl too.” Well, people fighting in a war get killed. And that seems to be what happened here. Blaming Bergdahl for their deaths is far less reasonable than blaming George Bush. The fact that this idea has come from anonymous soldiers makes me come back to the original idea that some people just didn’t like this guy. And that in itself could have caused him to desert, if that is in fact what he did.

Add to that, the reporting by Democracy Now! Reporter: Bowe Bergdahl’s Fellow Soldiers Questioned Afghan War More Than He Did. This is information from five years ago, but at that time, other members of that unit were quite vocal about their criticism of the mission. Even if true, it doesn’t absolve Bergdahl, but it certainly points to the fact that there were morale problems in the unit and perhaps in the entire theater of operation.

In the end, what we should be doing is what we should have been doing all along: moving forward slowly and carefully. All the allegations against Bergdahl are as helpful as all the speculation about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Maybe Bergdahl was abducted by space aliens and then returned to the Taliban. Who can say? But at least in this case, I’m sure the Army will get to the bottom of it. And all the ranters and anonymous sources don’t really help.

H/T: Susie Madrak

Abstract Expressionist Fernand Leduc

Fernand LeducOkay, I’ll bite. You see, I have a bit of a problem. Last year, for the birthday post, I did Rosalind Russell. And I would do her again this year. The problem is that wasn’t the only time I’ve written about her. She is one of the great crushes of my life. I have such a crush on her, that I have a residual crush on Jennifer Jason Leigh because she basically did Russell in The Hudsucker Proxy. And I could have done King George III, but about the only thing I have to say about him is that he was not actually cured and lived his whole, very long life, as mad as a hatter. And of course, there is the great Freddy Fender, but really, what do I have to say other than that I really like “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.”

You all know that I’m no fan of abstract expressionism. I’m not one of these fools who think it is easy. In fact, in many ways, it is the hardest form of painting because you have so little to work with. And I think I can tell the difference between reasonable work and total crap. Take Jackson Pollock, for example. Anyone can flick paint on a canvus. But you’ve got to know what colors to flick where and most of all when to stop. I’m actually rather a fan of some of his work.

On this day in 1916, the Canadian abstract expressionist Fernand Leduc was born. And, in fact, he only died earlier this year at the age of 97. In my experience, there are two kinds of artists: eclectic and non-eclectic. The non-eclectics can be very great. I see Pollock as a non-eclectic. He worked on the same idea over and over again. Paul Klee is another who of think of that way. I would even say that Picasso was largely non-eclectic. Leduc was eclectic. All of his work fits very neatly into the abstract expressionist movement, but his renderings were often distinctly different.

With the abstract expressionists, I’m most often interested in how they deal with edges. Leduc was most inclined toward sharp edges, often with naturalistic shapes. But sometimes whole canvases are the same cover, with only subtle changes throughout the canvas. These are the sort of things that photographs can never really capture. He also did more “messy” work while maintaining the same conservative approach to color. Here is one I especially like, Retention Bleu-vert (Retention in Teal?):

Retention Bleu-vert - Fernand Leduc

Happy birthday Fernand Leduc!

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