Friday, November 11, 2016

Slavery and the Electoral College

Few Americans understand why the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College phenomenon:  it can literally be traced back to James Madison and his fellow Southerners' concern that their influence in selecting the nation's chief executive would be diminished because of the North's greater population.  Hence, they came up with what was called The Three Fifths Compromise:  the 1787 Constitutional delegates allowed states to count each slave as three-fifths of a person.  Essentially, this guaranteed that the more rural states, namely the Southern states, would not be at a disadvantage: they could use their sizable ownership of slaves to influence a Presidential election (we must remember that even Thomas Jefferson, the primary architect of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, owned slaves).

Moreover, the Founders also had concerns about what they termed "qualified" voters:  they feared that uninformed citizens--certainly not themselves--would not make intelligent decisions when casting votes for President and Vice President.  Consequently, what eventually became the Electoral College was viewed as a means to control who gets to vote and how much weight should be given to such votes.  Thus, less populated states were given more input in the national election process despite their smaller number of "qualified" white voters (they benefited from slave labor and slave ownership).  Of course, the Electoral College has been modified since its inception, but the initial impulse that drove its creation has prevented America from becoming a true democracy:  We can never become a "one person, one vote" reality until we do away with the Electoral College.

Some defenders of the Electoral College suggest that the institution's existence acts as a safety valve to prevent or save the country from electing a potential tyrant or dictator (though a number of states have passed laws that literally require their Electoral College electors to vote for the winners of their states' popular votes; only two states, Nebraska and Maine, require proportional electoral votes based on the popular vote tallies).  But, considering what we've witnessed so far from President-Elect Donald Trump, his insulting, divisive campaign rhetoric could easily self-define him as probably the most tyrannical, dictatorial-driven President-Elect to ever surface in America.  Even the most recent Republican Presidents, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr., and the last Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, couldn't endorse Mr. Trump.  When a person like Mr. Trump embodies racism, sexism, and xenophobia, those "qualified" electors can do their fellow citizens a public service by denying their imprimatur and finally illustrate why the Electoral College can be useful.

But the chances of those electors saving us from Mr. Trump are nil--and hence why Americans should demand an end to the Electoral College.  We should finally grow up and trust the public to directly elect our Presidents--we already do so with respect to governors, senators, and literally all other political leaders.  After all, even Russia elects their President via a popular vote.  If we can't do likewise, then how can we promote democracy around the world without sounding like hypocrites?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How to Ease Tensions Between Police and People of Color

We're witnessing an odd phenomenon:  Police officers are promoting the slogan "Blue Lives Matter" in the face of the Black Lives Matter movement.

What some fail to understand is that police officers historically since America's inception should have been promoting the notion that all lives, including black lives, matter.  Sadly, that has not been the case-and in many cities and counties across America, people of color fear for their lives whenever a police officer stops and questions them.  Rather, all police officers should focus on saving lives and serving the public, not on taking lives and harassing people of color.  All one has to research is how often people of color are stopped by police versus whites who are stopped by police officers--the numbers that President Obama mentioned in a speech should alert anyone who thinks that racial profiling doesn't seriously impact the lives of people of color to the point of losing their lives.

To minimize such stops, all states should issue bar codes to be placed on the front and rear bumpers of all vehicles; officers would then be issued bar code readers that can read such bar codes from a reasonable distance from their vehicles, note the offending vehicle for a minor problem like a broken taillight, and submit it to a central computer that would issue a "fix it" notification to the registered owner, all without the need to pull over such motorists.  Such reduced interaction between police and the public would certainly result in the saving of lives, especially lives of color.  How often do we see whites killed by white officers as a result of trivial traffic stops?  Hence, one way to save lives immediately is to reduce the number of police stops.

Moreover, police departments need to hire more diverse officers who might actually empathize with the plight of people of color.  One way to do this is to require all police officer applicants to prove that they have diverse personal lives:  If applicants can't list at least three people who come from racial groups different than their own as friends, then what's the problem?  Why can't these individuals foster personal relationships with people who come from different racial backgrounds?  Will such people bring their segregationist tendencies to the job?  Will they see others who are different as "dangerous"?  If anything, such a requirement would spur those with non-diverse relationships to reach out to those they normally shun or ignore.

When the Miami Heat basketball players took a group photo to note their support for the slain Trayvon Martin, they made clear their unified concern that far too many people of color are needlessly killed because of racial profiling.  

In a similar vein, police departments need to ask themselves why they have not posed for similar photos of support to help end the senseless killing of people of color at the hands of other police officers.  If police officers want the public to embrace the "Blue Lives Matter" cause, these officers need to join hands with movements like Black Lives Matter--to do anything less is to condone the ruthless, criminal acts by officers who have taken--and will continue to take--the lives of people of color.

The way to end a nightmare is to confront it, dissect it, and take positive actions to end the causes for the nightmare.