The Electoral College: Affirmative Action for Smaller States

In a previous post, I argued that the Electoral College is unrepresentative, unfair and inaccurate. In another recent post, I argued that affirmative action has come a long way over the past forty years and has outlived its utility.

Today I highlight some common themes expressed in these posts by equating the Electoral College as a form of affirmative action for small states. Our country’s framers were tasked with convincing 13 disparate colonies to form a union. The main hurdle to the Federalist agenda was ensuring small states (eg: Delaware and Rhode Island) that they would not be overpowered by the larger states (eg: Virginia and Massachusetts).

The clearest way in which smaller states were given guarantees of their own limited sovereignty was in the equal representation among states in the US Senate. Although membership to the House of Representatives was agreed to be allocated by population, each state, whether small or large, gets two Senators. This means that today, Wyoming’s 570,000 people have the same Senate representation as California’s 38 million.

Giving small states more power may make sense in Congress, but not in quadrennial national elections.

This overrepresentation makes some sense in the Congress where laws are created. In the complicated mess that is the legislative process, state interests can be clearly defined and it can be difficult for smaller states to fight for their interests – yes, some forms of affirmative action are OK.

The election of the President, however, Continue reading “The Electoral College: Affirmative Action for Smaller States”

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The Slutty Pumpkin

Why are sexy Halloween costumes only for women? I discovered a great tumblr the other day, entitled Fuck No Sexist Halloween Costume. It doesn’t matter whether the theme is Star Wars, angels or zombies – men are made to look the part, and women are made to look sexy and barely look the part. My favorite are the mummy costumes – she’s either a mummy or really injured.

Halloween is just another example of asymmetric gender roles. As adults, we’re placed into this clever/sexy gendered dichotomy. As children this works similarly, but in a less provocative way.  Instead of clever/sexy, it’s usually something along the lines of superhero/princess. Continue reading “The Slutty Pumpkin”

White People and Obama

Obama with A LOT of white people*

Barack Obama’s ascendance to the Presidency nearly four years ago sent a signal to the world that Americans were ready to accept a non-White person as their leader. In the eyes of the world, this mostly meant that White Americans were ready to accept a non-White leader.

I have argued for years that the rest of the world considers the US to be a lot whiter than it actually is. Phrases like “he looks American” only really make sense to non-Americans, and by this logic, Obama does not “look” American.

I was surprised to find out how much of this “real” America actually supports the President. In 2008 candidate Obama garnered 41 percent of the White vote. To put that into perspective, he won nearly 44 percent of the vote in Texas and 43 percent of Mississippi.

This year, Obama’s prospects among Whites are looking much worse. The most recent polls indicate that less than 38 percent of Whites support Obama against Romney – nearly 56 percent support Romney. To put that into perspective, in 2008, 45 out of 50 states supported Obama by more than 38 percent. Continue reading “White People and Obama”

Human Development Index among red and blue states

It’s easy to get confused by the endless red-state blue-state rhetoric during this election season (which is to say, the past six years). It’s worthwhile to take a look at how people live across the divide.

In this week’s New Republic, Jonathan Cohn’s Blue States are from Scandinavia, Red States are from Guatemala explores the historical roots of this great American divide. Cohn argues that there are affectively two countries in the United States. In one, government is seen as a mechanism to ensure that as many people as possible have their basic necessities taken care of. This is expensive. In the other “country”, government costs very little and provides very little.

What are the consequences of this divide? As Cohn points out “by nearly every measure, people who live in the blue states are healthier, wealthier, and generally better off than people in the red states…The four states with the highest poverty rates are all red: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. And the five states with the lowest poverty rates are all blue. Since it’s difficult to measure “nearly every measure” the next best thing is to look at the American Human Development Index developed by the Social Science Research Council, and inspired by the global HDI commissioned by UNDP. The AHDI takes into consideration things like health, education and overall standard of living.

The following is a list of the states (and DC) with the highest AHDIs and the states with the lowest AHDIs.

American Human Development Index 2010/11
12 Highest 12 Lowest
Connecticut  6.30 
 North Carolina  4.64
Massachusetts  6.24  New Mexico  4.56
Washington, D.C.         6.21  Montana  4.49
New Jersey  6.16  South Carolina         4.36
Maryland  5.96  Tennessee  4.33
New York  5.77  Kentucky  4.23
Minnesota  5.74  Oklahoma  4.15
New Hampshire  5.73  Alabama  4.09
Hawaii  5.73  Louisiana  4.07
Colorado  5.65  Mississippi  3.93
Rhode Island  5.56  Arkansas  3.87
California  5.56  West Virginia  3.85

With the exception of two swing states, every single one of the top AHDI states is blue. There are zero red states at the top – the highest ranked red state is Alaska, coming in at number 17. Continue reading “Human Development Index among red and blue states”

Affirmative Action Hurts Minorities the Most

While the Supreme Court is currently deciding the constitutionality of race-based affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas, it’s worth taking a look at the effectiveness of the practice.

In a new book Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It, Richard Sander, a law professor and economist at UCLA and Stuart Taylor Jr., a Washington-based journalist, argue that the affirmative action policies of the past four decades have hurt Black and Latino students more than anyone else.

The argument is simple – by lowering the standards of admission, we are sending millions of Black and Latino students to universities that they are not prepared to be in. Instead of going to “less competitive but still quite good schools”, these minority students are admitted to elite universities where they are at a competitive disadvantage as compared with their White and Asian peers. In an excerpt published in The Atlantic, Sander and Taylor show mounting evidence from the past decade:

  • Black college freshmen are more likely to aspire to science or engineering careers than are white freshmen, but mismatch causes blacks to abandon these fields at twice the rate of whites.
  • Blacks who start college interested in pursuing a doctorate and an academic career are twice as likely to be derailed from this path if they attend a school where they are mismatched.
  • About half of black college students rank in the bottom 20 percent of their classes (and the bottom 10 percent in law school).
  • Black law school graduates are four times as likely to fail bar exams as are whites; mismatch explains half of this gap.
  • Interracial friendships are more likely to form among students with relatively similar levels of academic preparation; thus, blacks and Hispanics are more socially integrated on campuses where they are less academically mismatched.

The most damning piece of evidence though is from California where, in 1998 Continue reading “Affirmative Action Hurts Minorities the Most”

Are you not entertained?

And the Winner of the Vice Presidential Debate is…

I don’t know. Fox News does. So does MSNBC. And they can’t wait to tell you all about how their guy won. Conservatives have long decried the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media. Not only is this wrong, but it misses the point. Political news coverage is almost unapologetically about entertainment, and occasionally, about fear mongering and pushing a political agenda.

Following last night’s Vice Presidential debate, the initial impulse of the news media was to determine a winner by awarding style points. Who looked stronger? Did Biden smirk too much? Did Ryan seem arrogant? Which outfit is more likely to appeal to women voters? Politics is part sport, part fashion show. Continue reading “Are you not entertained?”

How to drink beer in India

As many of you know, I live in Delhi now. In case you ever visit, here’s a little tip for drinking beer that I wrote for my lady’s Delhi blog.

Delhi Days

Anyone who has been to India, or any developing country for that matter, can attest to the difficulties and pleasures of having a nice cold beer. Drinking in India is more complicated than it is in the North America or Europe. Although it’s certainly possible to have a good beer here, one is much more likely to get a bad brew.

The single most important factor when purchasing beer in India is deciding between bottles and cans. In the US, bottled beer is typically more expensive than canned beer – it is also supposedly tastier and of better quality. The reason for this is that the aluminum used for making most cans oxidizes and slowly contaminates the beer with which it is in contact (sidenote: stainless steel cans and beers using nitrogen gas instead of CO2 (think Guinness) avoid this problem, but are much more expensive). Usually this is not…

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