The Electoral College

the Electoral CollegeIt comes up every four years: we do not directly elect the President of the United States. The winner of the election can be the loser of the popular vote. Both John Quincy Adams and George W. Bush lost the popular vote and still won the election. (Interestingly, they were also the only two Presidents who were also the son of a President.)

How can this happen? What do you think of it? What do you think the Founders would think? How upset would they be to know that the person who got the most votes didn’t win the election?

One of the great fears of the Founders, demonstrated over and over in our early years, was that larger population areas would dominate smaller areas. That means both larger states over smaller states and urban areas over rural areas, which are sometimes (but not always) the same thing. Worries over this also arguably contributed to the Civil War with the more agrarian Southern states worried about the power and influence of more industrialized Northern states.

Why do you think they feared this so much? Do you think it is still a valid fear? Do you think there has been a time when urban areas have been able to dominate our rural areas, or vice versa?

Many people would like to see the electoral system changed to eliminate the Electoral College. They prefer a system where each person gets one vote. Removing the Electoral College system requires a Constitutional Amendment, as would some changes. The most common argument I hear for this is that our country is a democracy, which means that the person with the most votes should win. The Electoral College system is just one aspect of our nation that ensures that we are actually a representative democracy, and a republic, not a true democracy. This doesn’t mean that people are wrong for wanting to change it or that they don’t have other reasons. When our nation started, the Vice President was the candidate with the second most votes in the Presidential election, making it just a bit closer to a true democratic election than our current system. (The 12th Amendment changed that in 1804.)

How easy do you think this change would be to accomplish? What states do you think would be for and against ending it? What are the benefits and drawbacks to this change?

Another way to change it is to follow the lead of Maine (1972) and Nebraska (1996) and use the Congressional District Method. One electoral votes is awarded for each Congressional District plus two per state, just like the number of Senators per state. Essentially, the Congressional District method awards the winner in each District the vote for that District. The candidate who gets the most votes for the entire state gets the two “Senatorial” votes.

What do you think of this plan? Would it improve the system, make it worse, or make no difference? How and why?

Find a picture showing the voting results of the last election by county. Then find one that shows them by state. Compare them again, thinking about Congressional Districts. Several “swing states” really just have a small area with a high population density that often carries the entire states. In Florida, it’s the Miami-Dade area. In Pennsylvania, it’s Philadelphia (primarily) with the addition of Pittsburgh. In Virginia, it’s the northern counties of Fairfax, Prince William, and Loudon. Other states that are dependably Republican or Democrat have areas within them that are not. Orange County and the Central Valley in California are much more Republican than the rest of the state. The southern part of Texas is Democratic.

How might changing to the Congressional District method affect the outcome of Presidential elections? Would candidates still target the same states / areas? Would changing it encourage them to try to convince more, or fewer, areas to vote for them?

The next time someone brings up the Electoral College, what will you bring to the conversation?


Why are we still talking about health insurance?

Why are we still talking about health insuranceAs a nation, I believe that most if not all of us agree that our health care system in general and our health insurance in particular needs reform. We do not agree on what that should be or how much is needed, but the fact that we agree it is needed is a starting point. Rather than starting our national conversation with this starting point, politicians and the media seem to be trying to start it with our preferred ending point, whether that is a state-run national health care plan or something else. And we are following their lead.

Our inability to agree on an end point, and unwillingness to discuss anything except the end point, means there is no progress.

The first and most basic point that needs discussed, and that is not being discussed, is whether the health insurance industry as we know it is even worth keeping. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is like the internal combustion engine of the mid-twentieth century that has been tweaked and improved to give us greater efficiency and less pollution. (Yes, I know – it still pollutes; this is a relative statement.) But perhaps health insurance is more like the steam engines that powered early horseless carriages (cars). There is a reason they aren’t used any more: steam engines work great for certain applications, but cars are not one of them.

If you believe that we cannot have decent health care without health insurance, how might the system be improved? (I do not know anyone, on either side of the issue, who is truly satisfied with the current system.) What can we do to reduce the amount of money going to insurance company administration instead of health care? How can we change things so people and their doctors are more in charge of health care than the insurance companies? How can we make sure doctors are earning enough to pay back their student loans, the cost of running their office (including office staff, insurance, rent, and all the other costs), and still have enough income to be worth the time, effort, and worry? How can we change the system so doctors are spending their time on patient care instead of jumping through health insurance company hoops?

Please humor me and think about health care without health insurance for regular care such as flu shots, regular check ups. (Catastrophic care such as cancer could be specialized insurance like home owners insurance or auto insurance, neither of which cover regular maintenance costs.) This would be a radical change in how medical care is done, not a small change. It would make patients and doctors the decision makers for health care, not insurance companies or review boards. If you felt you needed a test, such as an MRI, you would need to convince your doctor, not your insurance company. Then you would need to pay for it. If you felt you needed an MRI and your doctor agreed, you would not need to waste time and money trying other less expensive (but still not free) tests first, in an attempt to avoid the MRI – unless you and your doctor believed those tests were necessary.

People would need to learn to make their own decisions about healthcare and to have real conversations with their doctors. To be honest, I frequently don’t know what exact tests are being done when I have “bloodwork” done. If I was paying for them, I’m pretty sure I would want to know more specifically what I was paying for and why. In this particular case, I’d almost certainly still have it done, but I would be more informed.

Do you think requiring extra testing is really efficient in terms of time, money, or resources? What is the benefit of it, and to whom does that benefit go? What is the benefit to having someone else review the decision before undertaking expensive tests? Is it really a benefit if the reviewer has no medical knowledge? If they are knowledgeable, but in a different area? What if they are actually an expert in the area being evaluated? How do you think it would feel to know that your doctor was making their decisions based on their medical expertise, not on what an insurance company dictates? Who would you prefer to have review your doctor’s decision – another doctor, or someone with much little to no medical training? How could doctor’s be incentivized to review other doctor’s decisions?

The next time someone brings up Obamacare, what question will you bring to the conversation?


Executive Actions

In writing this blog, I focus on facts and historical information. In recent months, I have regularly seen articles about President Obama signing “Executive Orders” on a variety of topics, including immigration and gun control. Upon further investigation, many of these are actually Executive Actions, which are different.

It is extremely difficult to find the text of these Executive Actions because there is no requirement to make them public. The complete text of Executive Orders must be published in the daily Federal Register. Publishing the text of Executive Actions is entirely optional, so of course most are not published.

The logic behind this is that Executive Orders are just – orders – and as such are not optional, so they are similar to laws and are made public in the same way. Executive Actions, on the other hand, are more advisory and not mandatory. As in, the President thinks it would be a great idea if you did__________, but it’s your choice. That logic sounds fine, but I find it concerning.

When your boss or teacher “suggests” that you do something, what is your response? Do you go do that thing? If you don’t, do you expect to get a negative result – written up, bad grade, in trouble – for not doing it? In short, does it really feel optional?

In 1961, something called Groupthink led to the Bay of Pigs disaster under President Kennedy. That is a different subject, but it does show how subtle pressures can cause an individual or individuals to do something that they believe to be wrong.

What do you think of Executive Actions? Do you think government employees will truly view them as optional, or do you think they will act as if they are orders? Why? Why is it potentially dangerous to have documents that the public cannot read but that employees may treat as orders? What do you think the point of Executive Actions really is? If the POTUS simply wants to give his opinion, why does he need to do it in this “official” manner?

Some recent examples of these include an Executive Action on or near June 16, 2012, related to young illegal immigrants and twenty-three (23) Executive Actions (plus two Executive Orders)  in January 2013, related to gun control. After much searching, I finally stumbled across the complete text of these and all other Presidential Actions on the White House website. I have done multiple online searches for the text of these in the past, so they aren’t easy to find.

The next time Executive Actions are being discussed, what question will you bring to the conversation?


Common Sense? Where?

There is a reason for government regulation, at all levels, but I think we can all agree that there are limits to what the government should be regulating. (Do you really want them telling you what to eat and the style, brand, and color of your underwear or when to sleep? If not, then you agree that there should be limits.) There are large areas where both sides have valid arguments for and against regulation, but there is also a place for common sense in the issue. Some people need less sleep. Some days you exercise more and need more sleep. If the government set bed times, then those simple facts that even a kindergartner knows would be ignored.

garden girl

The link above goes to an article about a four year old girl growing vegetables on an unused space for her family to eat. Common sense tells us that (1) eating vegetables is good, (2) fresh vegetables are probably too expensive for them to buy, (3) even an unkempt vegetable garden (which this was not) looks better than a bare weed patch, (4) this is a great learning  experience, and (5) it’s not even a tiny bit electronic or video game oriented. All of these are  to be applauded.

What is the actual, bureaucratic response? It isn’t permitted. The property managers are the ones actually forcing her to pull it out, but they are citing USDA regs. The USDA has come out and said it isn’t forbidden in the rules, but the property manager insists it is. Given the scope of the rules for these agencies, it may be buried in there somewhere. And the USDA, which helps pay their rent, hasn’t insisted that they be allowed to keep it. Both groups are simply hiding behind their rules and procedures.

We have all heard / read about many examples. The bloated bureaucracies that make up too much of our government are out of touch. They sit in their offices and make rules. These rules – not laws, which are made by elected officials, but rules by bureaucrats who are often virtually unfireable – can make the lives of law-abiding Americans miserable. Businesses aren’t much better, and let’s not even talk about the TSA. Most of these agencies and individual people aren’t really doing anything wrong or trying to make life difficult for others – they are simply following the rules.

There are also companies, like this property management company, and organizations, like soccer teams, that hide behind rules because they can and because it makes their life a tiny bit easier. I’m not saying we don’t need rules, I am simply advocating we use common sense.

On purpose, out of habit, out of fear (of getting in trouble), through laziness, or for some other reason entirely, when a group allows a set of rules written in an office to govern how they behave in specific circumstances without any regard to individual differences, we end up with problems. We need to bring back common sense. We need to start looking at individual instances. A child or family putting a small cage for tomatoes or other vegetables to grow on is not the same thing as building a storage shed, even if both are technically “structures.” A child with a spent casing in their pants pocket following a weekend of hunting  is not a threat, even if that spent casing is technically “gun related” and thereby majorly verbotten. (School rules tend to forbid any “weapon” or anything “weapon related” or similar vague, over-arching terms that result in kids who clearly had no ill intent getting strong penalties.)

As individual citizens, we need to start speaking up and arguing back when we see common sense being ignored in our lives and in our society. And we need to use common sense ourselves. As long as we let ever-increasing sets of rules in every organization (some written and some unwritten, like all the “political correctness” rules) govern our every action, movement, and communication, we will no longer be The Land of the Free.

If we want to return to being The Land of the Free, we must bring back common sense.

The next time regulation (especially government, but other institutions too) is being discussed, what will you bring to the conversation?


“News”? What Happened to “Journalism”?

I know that the news media has to at least be reasonably close to breaking even, if not making money, to survive, but they have done it in the past. Why not today? According to, “news” is “a report of recent events; intelligence; information.”  “Journalism” is “the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business. While the two are very similar, they aren’t the same. At the very least, journalists are supposed to do some minimal research to make sure what they are reporting is factual.

Are there still outstanding journalists working in the field, at many different networks? Yes, there are. Are they allowed to do their job, and do it well? No comment – it might offend someone, and that just isn’t OK. And isn’t that part of the problem?

The job of journalism.

Journalism isn’t about making people happy.

Sometimes people need to be offended, or even hurt. Sometimes a teenage kid needs to hear that other kids won’t stop making fun of them until they start taking a shower (yes, including washing your hair) and using deodorant EVERY DAY, even if it makes them mad to hear it.

Sometimes politicians need to be called out by the media because they are taking lavish vacations while their constituents are forced to decide between paying rent and paying utilities, no matter how angry they get. Heck, sometimes entertainment figures need called out because their behavior has become so unacceptable, even if it offends them to “be told how to live their lives.”

Just as the cartoon shows, the internet is to network news as the giant asteroid was to dinosaurs: end game. I asked my friends, liberal and conservative, what they thought of the neutrality of news from the mainstream media. The unanimous response was, unsurprisingly, that no one thinks the media is unbiased. Most seem to end up primarily watching the outlet whose bias is closest to their own. Others simply tune out and give up on keeping up with the news.

Internet research.

The internet makes it possible to do your own research on a topic, but clearly not everyone has the time and / or skills to do this. End result: a poorly informed populace. If they did, Brian Williams could never have gotten away with his lies for as many years as he did. And he is, himself, more proof that journalism is being treated more as entertainment / business than as a source of truth and facts.

The 1st Amendment wasn’t written to make it easier to keep up with the antics of the latest out-of-control celebrity. The Founders knew the importance of being educated about the world around us.

How do you think the news helps us reach that goal of being educated? Where do you still find journalism? Do you listen to the news on the radio (talk radio, or other channels?) watch the news on tv, or read it? If you read it, do you read newspapers or online sources? Why do you choose that source – convenience, timing (i.e., listening to the radio during drive-time), trustworthiness, agrees with your own beliefs? What is most important to you in choosing a news source? Do you primarily read outlets with similar views, or do you seek out a variety of viewpoints? 

The next time someone brings up journalism and / or the First Amendment, what will you bring to the conversation?


My (Female) Perspective on The Second Amendment

I’m female and I have young children. Perhaps that skews how I look at the objects governed by the second amendment. Firearms, weapons, guns, whatever it is you choose to call them, size doesn’t matter terribly much to them. The size of the person wielding it doesn’t matter, and neither does the size of the person at the other end of the barrel. Sure, some have grips that are too large or too small to handle comfortably, the recoil on some can be painful, and I have no doubt that if I went looking for a long gun many would be too long for me to handle. But really, size just doesn’t matter to a firearm.

When it comes to violence, guns are the great equalizer. A toddler with a loaded gun with the safety off could kill the biggest meanest hombre out of an old spaghetti western. Guns protect the smallest and weakest among us more than the largest and strongest. Without any weapons at all, the largest and strongest would have no reason to fear, but the smallest and weakest would have no way to feel safe.

Why do I say that, and why does it matter? Because I’m not an Amazon, and your average attacker isn’t an elfin little 90 lb 4’10” female with no muscle or fat on her. If we were both unarmed, I wouldn’t have so much of an issue going up against someone like that. Going up against the more realistic full-size male (teen or adult)? I’m kind of screwed. Add in a weapon of any sort – hammer, sharp wooden stick, pretty literally ANY weapon – and my chances get even worse. Unless I’m armed.

My Smith & Wesson revolver only holds five bullets, but I can add crimson (laser) sites to it. With laser sites, a red dot appears at the spot that will go splat if you pull the trigger. Veterans have told me that even in Afghanistan, seeing that little red dot on their body makes some bad guys stop. Clearly, some attackers are out of their mind from drugs or mentally illness, but my having a gun, maybe even one with laser sites, could mean the difference between my kids seeing their mom shoot someone or seeing the cops walk that person away in handcuffs. To be clear, I’d rather them see their mom shoot someone than see someone shoot their mom, but having no one get shot at all is by far the best outcome.

Unarmed, my kids and I would be easy for a full size man to overpower and then we would be completely helpless. (Just to be very clear, I’m not advocating kids carrying firearms – it is, as it always has been and always will be, the responsibility of adults to protect children.) My husband and I are the first line of defense for our family. All people, all parents, need to be allowed to choose for ourselves what tools they need to fulfill that very basic obligation for their own family. Some will conclude that they need a firearm for that purpose. Many will not. In either case, no government bureaucrat sitting in an office will ever know all the considerations, specific to that family, that go into that decision.

If we are deprived of our right to bear arms, how can we protect ourselves and our families against criminals who have guns whether it is legal or not? If parents cannot protect their own children, who will do it for them? As the saying goes, in a situation where seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

The next time someone brings up women / mothers / children and the second amendment, what will you bring to the conversation?


DC could learn A LOT from these teens

When we turn on the news, tv shows, even advertisements, we are bombarded with images of poor sportsmanship in every aspect of life. The worst of it, sadly, is often displayed by our politicians, and the main stream media encourages them. No matter what happens, it is entirely the fault of the other party.

I read once that when you receive flowers, you should look at the faces of others around you as you walk past carrying them or they walk past and see the flowers sitting there. You will notice a lot of smiles when other people see them. They don’t just brighten the day of the recipient, they brighten the day of of a lot of people, even if only for a few moments. While this video isn’t directly related to the Constitution or our government, like a vase of flowers, watching this video can brighten up your day, even just for a few moments.

It is a reminder that people do nice things sometimes, just because it’s the right thing to do. If only we could get our government (the bureaucrats as well as the politicians) to follow the example of these teens.

An Amazing Display of Good Sportsmanship

The next time someone brings up sportsmanship (good or poor), what will you bring to the conversation?


The Capitol Building

When was the last time you visited your state capitol building? You know – the building  in the state capital where the State Legislature meets. The Governor’s Mansion is probably nearby. Have you visited that too, if your state allows? If you have kids, have you taken them to visit and to watch our government in action? For that matter, have you ever visited the federal Capitol Building in D.C.?

Yesterday, I visited my state capitol building and the governor’s mansion. It’s about a two hour drive from my house. Growing up, I was never more than about 20 minutes from the state capital and could easily have visited. For that matter, it would still be super easy to visit when I visit my parents’ house. I have visited  D.C. many times and seen the outside of the Capitol Building but never toured it. My visit to the state capital yesterday had nothing, really, to do with any interest in politics. I just went along on my son’s field trip. In short, I have no excuse for not visiting.

Growing up, I saw the state capital for that state all the time and the building is beautiful. While I was thinking about what a beautiful unobstructed river view it has, I realized that I do not remember actually being in the building.  I have been in the capital city for two other states I lived in, but never the capitol building. I simply never took the time – it didn’t seem interesting enough, I suppose.

To be fair, listening to the legislators speak was very very dull, but I was also able to speak to my representatives in person and tell them my concerns. What do you think will carry more weight with them, sending an email or taking the time to go to their office in person? They may not always be able to meet with you, but it’s worth a shot.

States take pride in their capitol buildings. They are generally beautiful old buildings full of history and artwork. They are worthy of a visit just for that. They also frequently have some lovely landscaping and other historic buildings and museums to visit nearby. If you have visited yours, please post about your experience! If not, maybe it’s time to start planning a visit. At the least, if the state capital is too far away, you can visit the town hall or mayor’s office for your city, or the County Seat where your county government is headquartered.

The next time someone brings up your state capital (or the state Capitol Building), will you be able to tell them that you’ve actually visited it?

Note: A capital is either an UPPERCASE LETTER, or the city or town that is the official seat of government for that area. It has two “a”s. The Capitol Building (with an O at the end instead of an A) is where the United States Congress meets and many states adopted the name for their state legislatures’ buildings.

Our national capital is Washington, D.C. and contains the Capitol Building where Congress meets.


The Speaker of the House

The highest ranking member of the House of Representatives is the Speaker of the House. The Congress specifies that the House “shall choose their Speaker and other Officers.” It does not specify that they must be a member of the House of Representatives, but every one so far has been.

The simple fact is this: A person who used to be in the House but was defeated in the last election or retired could be chosen to be Speaker.  A previous Speaker could be brought back as Speaker, again, even if they were retired. A popular news anchor could be chosen. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger could be chosen. Quite literally, any person could be selected as Speaker of the House.

The Speaker is actually a powerful position. The Speaker decides what bills get to the House floor for a vote, for example. If the Speaker had opposed Obamacare, they could have kept it from going to the floor for a vote – that’s how much power they have.

The Speaker is also third in line for the Presidency. In the unprecedented event that the President and Vice President both die (or are forced out of office, as Nixon was), the Speaker will become the new President, as long as he or she is a “natural born” US citizen.

This has never happened, but what would happen if someone like the foreign-born Arnold Schwarzenegger was Speaker and the POTUS (President of the US) and VP were both dead or forced out of office? Do you think more consideration should be given to this aspect when a Speaker or chosen, or do you think it’s so unlikely that it would be silly / a waste of time to consider it at all?

Since it has never happened and is extremely unlikely to ever happen, this aspect is generally ignored when the Speaker is chosen. The Speaker is the winner of a majority of votes in the House at the start of a new session. In practice, this means that the party with the most members chooses the Speaker. Once chosen, they are normally re-elected until they choose to step down or their party stops being the majority.

They are addressed as Mr. Speaker or Madame Speaker even after they leave office, just as former Presidents continues to be addressed as Mr. President.

The next time someone brings ups the position of the Speaker of the House, what will you bring to the conversation?



When she retired, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wasn’t done with the Constitution. She was instrumental in developing the iCivics website to help kids learn about the Constitution and how our government is meant to work.

There are tons of fun games to help you learn. Go check it out!