Indian Rest Stop

On the road this week so no time to write a full post, but I felt like sharing this moment a few hours out of Delhi.

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What’s in a country’s name?

Will Mexicans rename their country Mexico? What do Chinese people call China? Just how Bolivarian is Venezuela?

You may not have known it but Mexico’s official name is the United Mexican States (Estados Unidos Mexicanos). Following independence from Spain in 1810, according to outgoing President Felipe Calderòn, Mexicans were emulating their neighbors to the north who were seen as a beacon of democracy and liberty breaking away from European colonialism.

In the last days of his Presidency, Calderòn has sent a piece of legislation to the Congress to officially change the country’s name to “Mexico”. The country’s official name is seldom used – only for official documents and diplomatic protocol. The President feels it’s time to make official what everyone already calls the country and stop emulating the USA.

Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen, but it got me to wondering, what other countries are commonly known by something other than their formal name. Plenty of countries have a longer formal form:

  • UK: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • Venezuela: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
  • Bolivia: Plurinational State of Bolivia
  • Macedonia: former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Virtually every country in the world has the common name preceded by “Kingdom of” or “Republic of” or god forbid, “Democratic Republic of”, or anything with the word “People” in it – those last two usually means you’re in a bad place.

What interested me more were those instances in which the English version of a country/territory’s name was totally different than the one used in indigenous language(s). Here are some that came to mind.

  • Bhutan: Bruk Yul
  • China: Zhunggua
  • Egypt: Miṣr
  • Finland: Suomi
  • Germany: Deutschland
  • Greenland: Kalaallit Nunaat
  • India: Bharat (or something similar) and sometimes Hindustan
  • Japan: Nippon
  • Korea: Han Guk
  • Scotland: Alba
  • Switzerland: translated into English as the Helvetic Confederation
  • Tibet: Bod

If you know of others, leave them in the comments section below.

Also, a special shout out goes to Barbuda. Everybody always forgets about it. It’s not just Antiga people – it’s Antiga and Barbuda. Poor Barbuda, always in the shadow.

The Importance of Texas

Yes Virginia, there are liberals in Texas, and not just in Austin. 

Quick question (and don’t look it up on Wiki) – what percentage of Texas voted for Barack Obama in 2008? Given that Texas is often seen as the “role model for red states”, it may surprise many to know that four years ago, Obama won nearly 44% of the vote. While Obama’s numbers declined by about 2% in 2012, this level of support still shows a state that is much more complicated than the caricature that it is often presented as. Convincing a small percentage of the state to turn blue can change the country for decades.

Let’s not kid ourselves – Texas is most certainly a conservative state. But even in the most ideologically extreme states, at least a third of the electorate goes against the prevailing wind. When we say that a state is really red, that just means that the state isn’t a tossup in the election. A shift of a few percentage points can change all of that. In Texas, the margin of difference is small enough to flip the state, or at least color it purple.

Texas is the second largest state in the country and has 38 electoral votes – almost 20% of Romney’s electoral vote haul. If a big blue state like New York flipped, it would be a big deal too. But electorally speaking, New York is much bluer than Texas is red (Romney won only 36% of vote there) and more importantly, the demographic trends do not bode well for future Republican gains.

Texas on the other hand is at the heart of one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in our nation’s history. I hate breaking things down in terms of white and non-white, but for what it’s worth, much of the country votes that way. As Texas becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, the greater the likelihood of a flip.

I doubt any monumental shifts will occur by 2016, but beyond that, it’s certainly a possibility. It would be foolish for Democrats to ignore Texas, and it would even more foolish for Republicans to take it for granted. With Texas, Dems are more or less guaranteed Presidential victory; without it, Republicans are guaranteed defeat. There are plenty of skeptics, but for the first time in more than a generation, Texas is being viewed as a real battleground for national elections.

Read more:

The Bitter Bluff of Secession

If the secession petitioners actually got their way, they’d be a lot worse off and the rest of us would be a lot better off.

For a brief moment after the recent election, I had hope. Prominent conservatives had publicly admitted that Obamacare is the law of the land (given the electoral results, its repeal could no longer be a priority) and that raising the top marginal income tax rate would not be the end of the world. It seemed as though we might actual have a period of bipartisanship. Some folks just didn’t get the memo.

The White House’s website has a section called We the People which allows people to start online petitions. Any petition that garners more than 25,000 signatures will get an official response from the President. There are currently petitions in all 50 states to secede from the Union due to the “unfortunate” results of the election. Other than Florida, which voted for Obama, every other state that has accumulated the requisit 25,000 signatures (Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina) voted for Romney.

This is yet another case of red state blue state foolishness. The Romney states want to leave? If they did, the rest of the country would be better off (financially at least). With the exception of Texas, every single one of those other states get more from the federal government than they give. These states are the real moochers.

I’ve written before that blue states have been subsidizing red states for years, but thanks to these petitions, this discrepancy has been getting a lot more attention recently. If you didn’t like the links in the previous post, here’s some more in the secession context:

I still have hope that we will have at least a few months of uncomfortable and reluctant bipartisanship. But this whole secession business is nonsense. If a Texan you know wants to secede, tell them to relax. If anyone you know from the confederacy of takers wants to secede, let them know how lucky they are that nobody takes them seriously.

For anyone interested, there’s another petition on the White House’s website, entitled “Deport Everyone That Signed A Petition To Withdraw Their State From The United States Of America“. As of this writing, it has 22,601 signatures and has just over 3 weeks to get the remaining 2,399.

Demographic Breakdown of the Vote

Here is the racial and ethnic breakdown of voters for Obama and Romney.

Here is the racial and ethnic breakdown of the US population as a whole.

Crediting Obama’s victory to high minority turnout ignores the fact that minorities make up such a large part of the country and that Obama’s supporters reflect the demographic reality in the country much more than Romney’s.

Why Obama Won

All the conservative talking points about demographics are an excuse for not coming to terms with being out of touch.

Republicans have been doing a lot of soul searching following Tuesday’s election and have come up with various explanations as to why their candidate lost. The consensus for now is that the country is changing and that the party is out of step with this change.

Rather than meet this change in a responsible and realistic manner, so many prominent conservatives have resorted to lamenting the passing of a golden era, the death of “real America”. The most common statement thus far been “Obama only won because of demographics” which is a lot like saying “I only failed the math test because of numbers”. Similarly heard is “Obama only won because of the Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women and urban residents”. Conservatives are pretending that these people are nothing more than special interest groups – as if they don’t already constitute a vast majority of the country.

In other words, when a Republican wins an election, it’s because the country as a whole voted for him – end of story. When a Democrat wins, a black man at that, the electorate is dissected so as to lay blame on those pesky minorities and women.

It should come as no surprise that the Republican establishment is mourning the end of an era in which White men ran the show. Personally, I think this is premature because White men still overwhelmingly run the shows that matter. But still, the times they are a changin.

Here is my favorite excuse from the aftermath. 

You heard it, but have a closer read. “It’s a changing country. The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are fifty percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. And whereby twenty years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated, by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The White establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You’re gonna see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama, overwhelming Black vote for President Obama and women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel they are entitled to things and which candidate between the two are going to give them things?”

So there you have it. White men made the country and now women and the coloreds are destroying it. Rather than thinking about ways to appeal to women and minorities, conservatives are blaming them for not seeing the light, for wanting things, for not working hard enough. The self-victimization never ends.

Jon Stewart describes the conservative resentment most accurately: “They’re really only entitlements when they’re something other people want. When it’s something you want, they’re a hallmark of a civilized society.”

Why I Am not Voting

As a New Yorker, I know that my state is a lock, so I’m going to maximize my vote by not using it.

I support Barack Obama for the Presidency, but hope he loses the popular vote. As much as I want the President to complete a second term in office, any loss in legitimacy would be offset by the prospects of replacing the Electoral College (EC) with a national popular vote.

Until now, the EC has disproportionately benefited smaller and more rural states, which tend to be Republican. Only if the American right feels cheated by the electoral system, can we begin to have a meaningful discussion about reforming it.

Americans across the political spectrum are in favor of replacing the EC with a popular vote, but this sentiment does not carry over to our elected leaders. Whereas Democratic officials have publicly expressed support for selecting the President through the popular vote, Republican lawmakers have been fully aware that this would eliminate the disproportionate power given by the EC to their states.

If President Obama were to capture at least 270 electoral votes, but lose the popular vote, all that could change. It would send the American right into such a tizzy that instead of focusing on voter suppression, birth certificates and secret religious convictions, they may turn their ire at the electoral system that elevated the man they so dislike, once again, to the highest office in the land.

This will undoubtedly decrease Barack Obama’s legitimacy as President, should he win, but this is the man that since day one of his Presidency has been deemed illegitimate as their leader and as an American by significant portions of the American right. No electoral mandate will be enough to win these people over. Should conservatives feel that they have lost something as a result of the EC, then, and only then can we begin to reform our electoral process to achieve a popular vote.

I’ve already gone into detail about how and why we should effectively dismantle the current Electoral College system (it doesn’t even require altering the Constitution). Had my vote been from Ohio, I’d be out on the streets, banging my drum. Unfortunately, my vote is from NY – it will not matter – and that is a shame. This is about convincing all (enough) Americans that the popular vote is a good idea.

I know promoting this sort of behavior is risky. It assumes that Obama will win the EC. It assumes he will take Ohio and other key swing states. It assumes that the loss in legitimacy would not make Obama a 4-year lame duck. If, in the end, Romney gets the minimum 270 electoral votes and also wins the popular vote by one vote, I will punch myself in the face and stop blogging.