The Electoral College is a good idea

The are many people who question the need for the Electoral College. After all, the popular vote lost.

Hamilton originally proposed the idea in 1788. He offered it as a safeguard against the election of populists and demagogues, who having hoodwinked the voters, might prove unsuitable to be President of the United States of America.

His idea was that electors be citizens

“most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”

Hamilton argued that the

“electrical college affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.”

It was a time when civil intellectual debate about politics was common, and opposite views were encouraged, so that differing opinions could be fully understood. That time is gone. The debate is no longer intellectual nor civil.

Worse, many states legally bind the electors to the voters’, and the choice of electors is constrained more by who they should not be, rather than their eligibility to make an informed decision about the suitability of the voters’ choice for President of the United States of America.

The idea is a good one. It is sabotaged by the people implementing it who didn’t see how important it might be.

Trump is about to conduct the lesson.

More at:
About the Electors
The Mode of Electing the President
State Laws Regarding Presidential Electors

Congress Should Investigate Russia Along With Donald Trump’s Finances

Daniel Benjamin
Benjamin was Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department and is director of The John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College.

It should be made illegal for presidents to hide their business dealings

Gettyimages 630075966Donald Trump’s refusal to take seriously Russian interference in the presidential election is darkening the clouds that already hang over the legitimacy of his victory. Without question, a special select Congressional committee is required to investigate the Kremlin’s work to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign and secure the White House for her opponent. Senator Mitch McConnell’s effort to bury the investigation in the usual committees is a recipe for slow-rolling an urgent inquiry.

But the inquiry can’t stop at Russia’s actions. It must also ascertain whether the Trump camp colluded in any way with Vladimir Putin. Equally important, it must further ensure that Trump’s financial entanglements do not threaten U.S. national security. Each of these points is connected.

Congress can start by enacting legislation that requires Trump and all future presidents to disclose all financial documents necessary to establish the full scope of their business dealings, including their tax returns. That there isn’t already such a requirement can be chalked up to the fact that there has never been a need for such legislation. Previous—and poorer, less avaricious—presidents approached such matters like Caesar’s wife, so they would be beyond reproach on issues of conflict of interest. Trump has spurned these concerns with the nonsensical remark that “the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” That line, which recalls his idol Richard Nixon’s “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal,” suggests that for Trump, there can be no distinction between his interests and the nation’s.

Which is exactly why legislation is necessary—and Republicans should support it.

So much should be obvious. But Republican glee at capturing the White House seems to have smothered what should have been an instinctive horror at the Russian hacking. Republicans, who have spent decades portraying Democrats as soft on national security and themselves as hardheaded realists, are exposed on the issue of Putin and Trump. Moreover, there is nothing guaranteeing that future outside interference in our elections will benefit only the GOP. Yet to date, only a few Republican senators, led by John McCain and Lindsay Graham, have been prepared to call the Kremlin’s meddling the outrage that it is. (Though more GOP officials are reportedly wondering how they became the party of Putin.)

Russia—and the Soviet Union before 1991—has been employing “information operations” for decades to undermine ideological opponents in elections outside their borders and to turn the tide in national debates over strategic issues. The advent of the Internet—and with it the ability to gain access to years of confidential email correspondence and deploy thousands of fake news stories—has given Russia and other hostile powers an advantage unlike any they had ever dreamed of. That’s why in this year’s presidential race, the Kremlin saw its wishes come true on an unprecedented scale. Our elections are more integral to our sovereignty than our rule over any patch of territory. Right now, one would have to judge we are not in control of them.

No one can provide forensic proof that the release of the Democratic National Committee’s and Hillary Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta’s emails (the latter of which were released just hours after the Access Hollywood tape of Trump bragging about his sexual predations surfaced) and the deluge of fake news, which got more than 225 million views, made the difference on November 8 because no one can establish with certainty what impelled voters to pull the lever for Trump. But given the incredible amount of press attention to such minor scandals as Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s scheming against Democratic contender Bernie Sanders or the pullulating stories about Clinton’s health, no serious observer could think otherwise. To repeat the facts: Trump’s margin of victory was a mere 80,000 votes out of 14 million cast in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania—a little more than a half of one percent, an electoral whisker. Of course the Russian intervention made that difference—along with some independent assistance in driving down Clinton’s support by FBI Director James Comey.

As the wide disparity in polls about the issue suggest, the American public is bewildered by the hack and unable to assess its importance, in part because the leaked material was treated as fair game by the press and because we don’t have a lexicon for grading cyber events the way we do acts involving the use of force. But as a longtime national security official, this covert operation qualifies for me as unmistakably hostile and too close on the continuum to an act of war to let pass. My former colleague and former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell went even further and called it “the political equivalent of 9/11.” It is staggering that Republicans, who from the Russian Revolution until their party’s last national convention, prided themselves on being the steel in American resolve against Russian expansionism, are so slow to bestir themselves.

So why tie this to Trump’s finances? Because Trump’s reaction to the hack and his unrelenting admiration of Vladimir Putin are so out of line with prevailing views about Russia and reasonable expectations that everyone should wonder what is going on. Any half-thoughtful response from Trump would have at least noted the gravity of the charge and that our electoral process is a vital U.S. interest. Instead, Trump rejected the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment of Russian involvement and accused it of politicization. (That alone strengthens the argument that the man is fatally cavalier about American national security.) Shooting wildly like this only feeds the suspicion that Trump and Vladimir Putin are in cahoots.

My hunch is not necessarily that money is flowing one way or the other between these two, but that Trump’s financial exposure—in the form of Russian investment in the Trump Organization or debts that Trump has to Russian oligarchs close to Putin—has conditioned his thinking about Russia. I’m hardly the only one wondering about this bizarre relationship. From former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who called the real estate mogul Putin’s “useful idiot” just before the election, to New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, who called him the Russian strongman’s poodle this week, the astonishment is spreading.

I don’t know if I’m right about Trump and the Russians. But I do know we shouldn’t leave this in the realm of the conspiracy theory. During the campaign, Trump tweeted, “I have nothing to do with Russia,” and “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.” But his son Donald Trump Jr. observed in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” adding, “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Whatever became of all that cascading money? These are questions we should not need to ask. But we do, because Trump, despite winning the presidency, has shown himself unable to walk away from his business through divestiture. With the increasing dominance of the rich in politics—and in both parties—this is a problem that won’t end with him. So Congress must act to ensure that U.S. national security isn’t a secondary concern of American leaders.

This article originally appeared on Time’s web-site on December 23, 2016.

Tragedy

Monday December 19, 2016 saw three unrelated tragedies. Then there was a fourth.

In Ankara, an off-duty Turkish policeman shot and killed Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, who was making a speech at an art gallery. The perpetrator was heard to shout “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) and “Don’t forget about Syria, don’t forget about Aleppo. All those who participate in this tyranny will be held accountable.” The killer died in a shoot-out shortly afterwards. The assassination of the Russian Ambassador is unforgivable. So too are the war-crimes that Russia is perpetrating in Aleppo.

In Berlin, a truck plowed into a crowded Christmas market, killing 12 and injuring 49 more. The suspect, Anis Amri (24), was reportedly monitored previously on suspicion of planning a robbery in order to pay for guns but surveillance was lifted for lack of evidence. Before entering Germany, he had served four years for arson in Italy. He is still at large.

In Zurich, a 24 year old Swiss man opened fire on the congregation at a Somali-Islamic centre close to Zurich station. His body was found a soon afterwards, a short distance away from the centre. At the time, the man was being sought for a murder perpetrated the previous evening.

Donald Trump’s reaction to these events was to tweet “Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany – and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking!”.

Trump’s team released a statement expressing condolences to Karlov’s family, also saying “radical Islamic terrorist” violated “all rules of civilized order.”

In a later statement, referring to the Berlin massacre, Trump released a statement saying “ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.” Of the three attacks, only one was on a place of worship, and there the victims were Muslim.

The residents of the asylum are in control.

More at:
An ambassador’s murder may push Russia and Turkey together
Berlin attack: Tunisian fugitive ‘had been under surveillance’
Donald Trump Says ISIS & Other Islamist Terrorists Continually Slaughter Christians
Mevlut Mert Altintas: Turkish policeman who shot Russia’s envoy
Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov shot dead in Ankara
Swiss shooting: Gunman found dead near Zurich Islamic centre
Trump Condemns ‘Slaughter’ Of Christians In Berlin
Trump quick to blame terrorists for attacks in Ankara, Berlin, Zurich
Trump Suggests Berlin Attack Affirms His Plan to Bar Muslims

The house of cards

Screen Shot 2016 12 05 at 4 08 18 PMWith unemployment below half of what it was at the peak of the great recession, and the American economy growing slowly but steadily since the Great Recession, most people feel that a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930’s has been avoided.

The Great Depression had some key elements that were in danger of happening again in the Great Recession. The stock market crash of October 1929 and that October 2008 had similar effects on the American economy. Stage two of the great depression was the collapse of the banks, and the Federal Reserve’s drastic Quantitative Easing (QE) strategy averted a bank crash in 2009/10.

The collapse of the banks in 1933 contributed directly to the third stage, a massive loss of purchasing power, as consumers lost their savings and their jobs.

But the slow recovery from the Great Recession is in part caused by businesses that have cut back on investment. The reason: they’re scared that the crises has not been averted. Why?

The value of businesses on the World’s stock exchanges are the an estimate of their future earnings calculated as a lump sum today. With all the variables, it’s a complex calculation. At the heart of the calculation is the expected return rate (discount rate), and that is key figure that QE has changed downwards. That has increased the value of stocks worldwide.

Using a simple example of a $100 annuity forever: at a 10% return rate is worth $1,000. At 5% it’s worth $2,000.

The world’s stock market values are at historical highs relative to earnings, confirming that the discount rate has been lowered. But when the discount rate increases again, those values will drop. So care needs to be taken in dealing with factors that will affect the return rate.

The people with their fingers on that button are the decision makers at the Federal Reserve.

That’s if they’re still there. Donald Trump has set his sights on the Federal Reserve.

The fourth step of the Great Depression was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930. That act’s tariffs decimated international trade, and precipitated reciprocal barriers from America’s trading partners, causing further damage to the economy. Trump intends repeating that mistake.

And the fifth factor, the devastating drought of 1930, is the last step that Trump is trying to repeat, albeit with limited control. His refusal to support the Paris accord is a credible attempt to affect weather change for the worse.

It was the depression, not America, that was great in the 1930. Trump seems determined to repeat the mistakes and tip the house of cards.

And the people who will suffer most, as in the Great Depression, will be the poor.

More at:
Did the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Cause the Great Depression?
Fed-bashing Trump has chance to remake central bank
Top Five Causes of the Great Depression
Trump transition memo: Trade reform begins Day 1
Unemployment Rates by President, 1948-2016