Monthly Archives: July 2016

Electoral Math

So, last night, after Herr Trump finished his speech, I tweeted that I did NOT want to hear from anyone about voting for Jill Stein. To start with, full disclosure and all that, I am voting for Hillary Clinton, because I want to. Happily. With enthusiasm. I have done so before (in the 2008 primary). So I wouldn’t be voting Green regardless.

That said, the reason I don’t want to hear from people voting Green out of “conscience” because lesser of two evils, blah blah blah, is this: it is incredibly unethical, even immoral, to do so if you: 1) Believe that Donald Trump should be allowed nowhere NEAR the Presidency, and, thus, would never vote for him, and, 2)Live in a state where the election will be even remotely close.

Yes. Voting your conscience can be immoral. Because, well, math.

If you are not a Trump voter (and if you’re reading my blog, you’re probably not, unless you’re a masochist of some sort), I can see only four reasons to vote 3rd party. I’ll take each in turn:

  1. You live in a state where it won’t matter and want to cast a protest vote. For example, if you live here, with me, in sunny California, where Clinton averages a 20-point lead over Trump, then, yeah, your protest vote will be lost in the sea of Clinton votes, and, hey, whatever. You do you. I don’t care, really.
  2. You believe HRC is just as bad as Donald Trump. Okay, if this is you, you’re flat-out wrong, but you’re also so disconnected with reality that I know better than to try and convince you otherwise. A reasonable, rational person comparing the two party platforms will see the obvious differences. That same person knows that platforms matter, because parties matter, and what the party says they want should be taken seriously. The GOP platform is incredibly regressive. It calls for making abortion illegal, rolling back marriage equality, allowing conversion therapy of gay children, and repealing Obamacare. But, sure, HRC is just as bad. We just witnessed what may be the most racist and hate-filled political convention this nation has ever seen, but HRC is just as bad. One of last night’s speakers thinks women having the vote was a mistake, but HRC is just as bad. Whatever. If you think they’re the same, then we’re done talking to one another. For real.
  3. You know that Trump is a fascist strongman, that he’s WAY worse than HRC, but you don’t like the Democrats, either, because they haven’t successfully changed the reality of American politics enough to suit you, so because you think both sides are corrupt, you think, “Let’s just burn it all down and start over.” If this is you, then, seriously, fuck you. That’s an incredibly privileged position to take. It pretty much says, “I am in a secure enough position in society that this result, though it will suck, won’t be all that bad for ME, personally, and I’ve decided not to care what the end result will be for all the not-white, not-male, not-straight folks mentioned above.” Well, great. You can roast marshmallows over the dumpster if you want. The rest of us will be working on trying to prevent the actual end of freedom in America. And, no, after last night, I don’t think that’s all that much of an exaggeration.
  4. You think that it’s morally correct to vote your conscience, and you think Jill Stein would be a better president. Or you just CAN’T make yourself vote for HRC, because feelings. This I’m a little more sympathetic to. Honestly, I would hate to have to vote for Bernie Sanders (but I would, if he was the candidate). But I’m here to tell you that this is NOT the morally or ethically correct choice. Because, like it or not, one of these two people WILL become POTUS. There’s no way around that. It’s Trump or Hillary. And while a vote for Stein isn’t directly a vote for Trump, it IS a partial equivalent of a vote for Trump, mathematically. Because it: 1) reduces the overall number of votes that actually count towards the election, and 2) shifts the balance of those votes towards Trump. Period. It does. And you should know this.

So, the math. Many of you know all of this, but it bears repeating:

We don’t elect a president directly. We elect electors to the Electoral College, and THEY elect the President. There are 538 electors: one for each Congressional district, and two for each state, plus three for Washington, D.C.

Electors are awarded on a winner-take-all basis for all but two states (Maine and Nebraska, which between them have 9 votes). Meaning if a candidate wins the popular vote for that state, they get all that state’s electors. In Maine and Nebraska, electors are awarded by Congressional District, plus two for the popular state vote. So…of the 538 electors, 98% are elected in a winner-take-all fashion, and for the 2% you’d still have to win at least one Congressional District to win a single electoral vote. No 3rd party candidate is polling above 9% in any Congressional district, as far as I know, and certainly nowhere near the number needed to win a district. Anywhere. (And it’s not Jill Stein. It’s Gary Johnson, when it’s near 9%. Stein is polling so low that doesn’t even include her in their models.

So, math, Part 1: no 3rd party candidate has a reasonable chance of winning even a single elector this year. So any vote for them is, truly, a protest vote.

Next: to win the Presidential election in the Electoral College, a candidate must get an absolute majority of the electoral votes. That’s 50% +1, which is 270 votes. If no candidate gets 270 votes, the election is thrown to the House of Representatives to decide, where each state delegation gets a single vote. All states are equal. All pretense of caring about how many people voted in each state disappears.

What that means, right now? There are at least 31 states where there is a clear majority Republican delegation in the House. There are 11 with a clear Democratic majority. 8 are split more evenly. So…best-case scenario, then, is that 31 votes go to Trump, and 19 go to Clinton.

So. Say you get a 3rd party candidate who does well enough to win some states, and thus get some electoral votes. If that results in a true 3-way race, odds are nobody gets 270 votes, it goes to the House, and, hey, Trump. Because, don’t forget: Congressional delegations are NOT voting for a Green party candidate. Once it’s in the House, it’s a two-party race no matter what it is on the outside of the House, at least in America this year.

So: your 3rd party candidate either throws the race to Trump by competing really well and winning states, OR your 3rd party candidate has no chance and just shifts the balance towards Trump. These are your options, as predicted by math.

So. Realistically, if you’re in, say, Ohio, and you vote for Jill Stein, what you’ve done is: reduce the overall number of votes that count for anything (because your vote will NOT count, fair or not, if you vote 3rd party, not in America in 2016, because of the Electoral College). You have also shifted the balance of the remaining votes towards Trump, because, as I established above, you are a not-Trump voter making a protest vote for someone other than HRC. You have moved a fraction of a vote away from her, and towards him. In Ohio, that fraction is a LOT bigger than it is in California.

Given this math, it’s actually not ethical, if you know and admit that Trump is basically a neofascist (and aren’t okay with that), to vote for any 3rd party candidate. And the math is the same if you sit the election out, too. You’re not changing the system. You’re just helping the wrong side. And that’s why Bernie endorsed Hillary. Because he knows how the math works.

Yup, Nader voters ARE partially responsible for George W. Bush. It’s just a fact. I get why they don’t want to admit or believe it, but these people made a “principled” choice that was founded on mistaken principles.

The math is what it is. The two-party system is baked into the Constitution. You have to get rid of the Electoral College to fix it. We won’t be doing that before November.


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Yes, of course it’s plagiarism. There’s no doubt that the bits of speech we’re referring to were, ahem, recycled into Melania Trump’s 2016 RNC speech from Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech. It doesn’t matter how much of the speech was copied. ANY use of someone else’s work without crediting or citing them is plagiarism. The words didn’t just fall into the same order by accident – and any reasonable person listening to the two excerpts has to admit that it’s the same damned speech (for a minute or so).

It was also detected in the classic way, the way college professors like me detect plagiarism: 1) Those words sound really familiar…I think I’ve read/heard them before. 2) Suddenly, your writing/speech changes tone. It’s not your writing anymore. I wonder who wrote this paragraph, really?

So, this is how the discussion with Melania Trump would go, if she was one of my students:

Me (via e-mail to Melania and her team members): “I have given you a zero on the RNC Speech assignment due to academic dishonesty. You plagiarized parts of the speech. Turnitin indicates that some paragraphs are almost entirely copied from a work entitled “2008 DNC Speech by Michelle Obama. Please see me in my office hours.”

A week or two later, in office hours, after I have not responded to several pleading e-mails from Melania:

Melania: Dr. French, I didn’t plagiarize my assignment! It probably just sounds similar because we were using the 2008 DNC speech as a reference.

Me: The sections in question are nearly identical. Using another person’s work without crediting them is plagiarism, and plagiarism is academic dishonesty, which university policy says I must report.

Melania: But it’s only two or three sentences. The rest of the assignment is original work. I shouldn’t get a zero over ten percent of the assignment.

Me: You’re lucky I’m JUST giving you a zero. I could give you an F for the entire course, but because I have no previous evidence of academic dishonesty in other areas, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt.

Melania would get a zero for cheating on the assignment. Her group mates, the others who were working on this assignment with her, however, would likely get the course F I was discussing. Because, well…for them, I have other examples of academic dishonesty, and so I know it’s a pattern of cheating, not just this one example of poor judgement.

(Also, let’s just note the inherent white supremacist racist crap here. An entire evening of “rah rah white culture is great” punctuated by the theft of the work of a person of color. Perfect. ARGH.)

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Okay. Where to start?

How about here: In the past week, there have been two very high-profile murders of black men by police, accompanied by video evidence. In the first case, Alton Sterling was selling CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Someone called the police and said he pointed a gun at…someone. The police arrived, and we have cell phone footage of most of that encounter, for people with the fortitude to watch it. What appears to NOT be in question: the police had Mr. Sterling on the ground, one officer shouted, “he has a gun!”, and a different officer pulled his weapon and shot Mr. Sterling in the chest at point-blank range. A witness (the owner of the convenience store) says the police were aggressive from the start, and that Sterling never had a gun in his hand. The cell phone video appears to back up a lot of the witness’ statement. Hence my use of the word “murder”. This appears to be (another) murder of a black man by police, which they will almost certainly not be held accountable for, because it is legal, apparently, for police to use unnecessary lethal force against someone who is resisting arrest, and because they are going to claim “miscommunication” – “he has a gun” but not in his hand, oops, our bad.

No, I’m not sympathetic to the police in this case. A man is dead. AGAIN. There’s lots of evidence that police across the U.S. often jump to “shoot him dead” when dealing with black men.

Which brings me to the next case: Philando Castile. Mr. Castile was pulled over for a busted taillight. (In fact, the inevitable look at his “criminal record” reveals it to be entirely traffic stops over small things, bringing me to speculate about harassment by police generally.) Mr. Castile had a gun on him. A LEGAL, permitted weapon. He did what he had to do, by law: he told the cop he had a gun. And the cop shot him. Through the window of the car.

Now, there’s some debate about the ensuing events; the video here starts after the shooting has already happened. The officer may have been telling him to keep his hands where they could be seen, and he may have been reaching to get his wallet, leading to confusion when he said he had a gun. That said…miscommunication with the police shouldn’t get you murdered during a routine traffic stop. If you’re arguing that this was the expected outcome, then you’re arguing that “being a black man” is sufficiently threatening ALL BY ITSELF that he should have expected to be shot for reaching for his wallet. Because, fellow white people, whether you want to admit it or not, white people don’t get shot for reaching for their wallets. EVEN IF they say that they have a gun.

Why? Well, I’d say white people get the benefit of the doubt. We’re assumed to be…not-dangerous. If a white person said to a police officer, calmly, “I have a gun in the car,” would the officer panic and shoot them? Be honest.

Philando Castile should infuriate everyone. He was shot for NOTHING. He did nothing wrong. He was doing what he was supposed to do to the best of his ability, and he’s dead now. He was a law-abiding, well-loved, and well-respected citizen of his community, and he’s dead now.

Why? Well, I’m not sure. Best-case scenario: people see black men as threats, inherently, and overreact to innocuous things, and police are no exception. In which case: I want the police to be an exception. I want the police NOT to overreact in that situation, as much as possible. This needs to be addressed. Stop pretending the problem isn’t real, because it is real.

Okay. Now for some less-nice observations. Not all police are good people. Not all PEOPLE are good people, and the police are no exception. But there ARE data that says that there are a higher proportion of both really good AND really bad people among police. By this I mean:

  • Really good people: people who are self-sacrificing, who see it as their life’s duty to protect others, who are willing to put their lives on the line for others, for STRANGERS, are more likely to be attracted to police work. And this is wonderful.
  • Really bad people: unfortunately, psychopaths are also more likely to be attracted to police work (and the data backs this up), because you get cover to be a psychopath. There is an organization that will protect you when you indulge in psychopathic behavior, whether that behavior is taking bribes from local businesses, or beating up suspects, or raping young women (see the recent Oakland PD scandal for some lovely material in this area, or a couple of SJPD stories from a few years back), or murdering black people – you’re more likely to be able to do it and get away with it if you’re a police officer. This part is horrible.

So. Some of these incidents are probably NOT about miscommunication, or being trained by a racist society to view black men as a threat, but are, in fact, deliberate psychopathic acts. We have to admit THAT, too, and deal with it.

Okay. Dallas.

This post wouldn’t be complete without discussing the five police officers murdered in Dallas this past week, either. These officers were helping with a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. They were shot dead by a sniper who, it appears, had been planning to murder police for some time. (I mention this because it’s clear that he was NOT inspired by the events of last week.) It’s important to note that the murderer was not affiliated with Black Lives Matter, an important fact that appears to be getting lost in the media coverage of the murders.

However, as awful as this is, as horrible as it is, and as close to home as it is for people whose loved ones are police officers…it pales by comparison with being afraid to DRIVE because you’re black. It pales by comparison with being afraid to let your son carry a toy gun outside because the police might even shoot a child with a toy gun. It may compare personally, if you are the spouse of a cop. I get that. But on the larger scale…one of these things is a large-scale societal problem, and the other really isn’t.

My heart hurts for the families of these officers. I can be horrified by the murder of police officers AND innocent black men at the same time. I can acknowledge systemic problems within many police forces AND the fact that the Dallas PD is one that has already started to (successfully) address these problems. I can do all of this AT THE SAME TIME.

I can also point out, again, that we make it awfully easy for potential murderers to get weapons that are designed with the express purpose of killing other humans. And that we are militarizing our police force, which makes it harder for those of us who aren’t police to relate to them. The police are scary. Even if you’re not black, the dude in the body armor driving an armored vehicle…that’s making it harder for me to relate to the police. I don’t like having a small army occupying my city, frankly.

It would really be lovely if people would stop thinking that the world has to be binary. It’s not “either/or”. You can be pro-2nd Amendment and pro-gun control. For example. You can be pro-police and anti-militarization of the police. In fact…you should be all of these things, in my opinion. At the same time.

Okay. I have to get back to work. I’m sure there’s more, especially with the aforementioned militarized police and the protests going on right now, but this will have to do for now.

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