Good faith is an element in every contract

Contracts between authors and publishers don’t get treated as real contracts. In the judicial system, the author is generally treated as “a very, very small business.” So I was told several years ago as a member of the National Writers Union. While in the NWU I chaired the DC chapter for a couple of years; I also served as a Grievance Counselor, trying if possible to help members who had a problem with their publishers. Most often the problem was that they did not get paid.

The first question was ‘Do you have a contract or [something, anything, in writing]?’ If yes, the next question was ‘Can you send it to me?’ One of the services offered by the NWU was contract advice. I was not a Contract Advisor, but the CAs were also there to help; they tried to see to it that the author stuck out for a decent contract, bringing another pair of eyes to rights and royalties.

The trouble was that even a writer with a clear-as-glass contract had little way to enforce it.

I cannot go into detail on individual examples/cases. But I can say that my premise that a contract is a contract, even where one party is a small-time ham-and-egger, started to feel a bit naive. An author’s contract would generally be written by the publisher. It could have an unequivocally clear schedule for reporting sales and paying royalties–obligations of the publisher. But if the calendar date rolled around and there was no royalty check from the publishing company–then what?

Well, in the State of New York, when Andrew Cuomo was state Attorney General– nothing. Too bad I can’t go into details. Suffice it to say that a state AG, or the office of a state’s attorney, does not come banging on the door of a deadbeat publisher, demanding that he cough up or else. There’s no SWAT team for scofflaws in publishing. The contract might as well not have existed. Mutual agreement, mutual consideration, formal written expression all in place–the basis for contract law itself. And they might as well have been the Rock of Gibraltar recreated as whipped cream, sliding into the ocean.

NY AG Andrew Cuomo

NY AG Andrew Cuomo

Many journalists and other writers know something about the above picture, enough so that they don’t choose to freelance. Theoretically, being on the staff of a recognized periodical offers protections that an isolated freelancer does not get.

All this brings me to what sounds like an interesting book from Barbara Feinman Todd, fittingly titled Pretend I’m Not Here. Feinman Todd was a freelancer with more position than most. Among other professional activities she was a ghostwriter for the Washington Post’s Carl Bernstein, Benjamin Bradlee, and Bob Woodward. She also ghosted Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village (1996).

According to an interesting article by Clark Hoyt, the book–which I have not read yet–recounts that Feinman Todd got burned by Woodward. The story is that the author confided to Woodward that Hillary Clinton bolstered herself psychically by having imaginary conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt among others. Instead of keeping this item secret as promised, Woodward used it–prominently–in his own book on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. He also passed along copies of two transcripts Feinman Todd allegedly gave him to other WaPo writers, for their work on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Woodward denies Feinman Todd’s account, according to Hoyt. As a supporter of authors I think Mr. Hoyt’s article makes a point of bigger interest than the personalities involved:

Woodward’s efforts to report the story could explain why Feinman Todd suddenly found herself on the outs with the Clinton White House, which ordered the publisher of “It Takes a Village” to withhold her final payment. 

Bill Clinton’s White House “ordered the publisher” to withhold the author’s last payment on a book she ghosted for first lady Hillary Clinton?

1996, Simon & Schuster

1996, Simon & Schuster

Why, absent a national security concern, does a White House get to tell a publisher what to do? And of all things to command, why does it get to tell a publisher not to pay an author? Admittedly, that particular command might go down easy; see above on how publishers pay. But however willing the publisher might be to entertain the order, as represented it is still an order to violate a contract. They used to call it breach.

That wasn’t the only one, according to Feinman Todd:

And, when the book came out, Feinman Todd was given no credit, despite a requirement in her contract that she be included in the acknowledgments.

Ghosters can get shafted. The ghostwriter is usually supposed to be invisible, or at least not too conspicuous. Just the same, if the publisher failed to honor a contract requirement, the author had grounds to take the publisher to court. And she would have had more position than most to do so. The controversy actually drew some attention at the time. Simon & Schuster exposed its lack of self-respect when it caved under a directive from the Clinton White House. (Despite my concern with the larger issues, I admit it would be interesting to hear how the order was worded. And who delivered it, and to whom. And when. And where. Reading this stuff is like reading that the CIA could direct a university to hire one of its own as a full professor.)

For the record, my own view is that an author shouldn’t have to sue for redress. Breach of contract harms the public. It should be handled by a public entity, as in the state’s attorney’s office. Reading about the actions of a major publisher in 1996 raises the issue again.




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How the Democrats keep losing. 2017, part 3. No, don’t make elections a ‘referendum on Trump’

This post will be short. The results of the special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district will remain unknown until after the voting. (Yes, I know; it’s heterodox.) No predictions here.

But a few facts are available now. For one–in heavy early voting, Republicans have caught up with Democrats. Today is the last day to vote early in the special; the GOP is projected to move ahead by close of day. (So much for bigfooting the locals with an avalanche of cash.) For another–according to hometown paper Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the makeup of GA-6 has not changed much since the 2016 election.

As Kristina Torres and Jennifer Peebles rightly point out,

The key takeaway . . . is that little has changed among the makeup of voters in the district. The 6th has long been a Republican stronghold. It’s more a question whether the national debate has changed any minds.

So–how are Democrats working to change hearts and minds, in GA-6? Well, for one thing, they’re sending an enormous influx of money from outside the state. For another, they’re boosting one Democratic candidate and starving out, silencing, ignoring or neglecting the others. For another, the party is getting expansive, and expensive, reinforcement on these tactics from out-of-state entities like Daily Kos,, and even the usually good ActBlue; and from media outlets prominently including cable programs.

What’s more, all of the above–but especially some media outlets–seem to be confident that these provably flawed tactics will work. One yesterday so far as to say that Democratic frontrunner Jon Ossoff has an “absolute lock” on a spot in the runoff election. There is no lack of tub-thumping for Ossoff’s chances. Read here and here for examples.

And on top of all that, far too many analysts are calling the special election a ‘referendum on Trump’–who, if you recall, won in 2016.

And on top of that again, you have this choice specimen of motive from one of the out-of-state donors:

Levinson lives in Brooklyn, New York, but he read about Ossoff on Facebook. He’s donated about $60 to Ossoff’s campaign so far and plans to keep giving right up to the election.

If Ossoff wins, it will send a message to Republicans and Trump that Democrats are going to fight, Levinson said.

“They need a good trouncing. They need to be put back in their place. The cork needs to go back into the bottle,” he said.

Put them ‘back in their place’? Are you sure?

I love newspapers. I am an avid reader. I don’t want to be too hard on writers who are under considerable pressure to take the right line, often from their editors and peers.

But I do want to point out that the above are not winning tactics and do not add up to a winning strategy. The picture is undemocratic.

Reliable polling re GA-6 is hard to come by. (The absence of on-site polls is interesting itself, given the hype, and is probably cause and result of that same kind of pressure btw.) But as early as April 3, after the race started getting national attention, Politico reported that a GOP internal poll showed Ossoff’s unfavorables up:

“Polling conducted for a Republican super PAC claims Democrat Jon Ossoff’s special election momentum has frozen in Georgia’s 6th District, the GOP group told donors in a memo last week, even as Republican groups continue to pour more resources into stopping Ossoff this month. … The memo , from [Congressional Leadership Fund] executive director Corry Bliss and GOP pollster Greg Strimple of GS Strategy Group, says that polling conducted March 29-30 showed 38 percent of likely special election voters viewing Ossoff favorably and 47 percent viewing him unfavorably. The unfavorable numbers jumped sharply from previous polling conducted March 19-20, which had 43 percent of likely voters viewing Ossoff favorably compared to 26 percent who viewed him unfavorably. … The later poll also showed Ossoff getting 36 percent of the primary vote, virtually unchanged from 37 percent in the earlier one.”

Predictably, the dip–if real–has been blamed on attack advertising. Maybe. But I think the $8 million-plus in outside cash, the favoritism, the hysterical name-calling, the cynical co-opting World War II’s Resistance, the attempt to shove a candidate down everybody’s throats, the hype, the undisguised contempt for local voters, the bullying or ostracizing (other) writers, and the over-all projection and denial indulged among people who think themselves intellectuals may have played a part.

Project and denial are real. Freud wasn't wrong about everything.

Project and denial are real. Freud wasn’t wrong about everything.






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Press patting itself on back today . . .

. . . and every day, lately. Amid the self-glorification of U.S. media outlets comes today’s program at the Newseum, “The President and the Press: The First Hundred Days.”  In honor of the occasion, if not in the same spirit, re-posted below is the article I published in a small local community newspaper on January 21, 2002.

The topic: how the Washington Post Company benefited, to the tune of $billions, from the Bush ‘education reforms’, mainly standardized testing offered by Kaplan Learning–which the Post Co. had purchased during the last years of the Clinton administration.


Washington Post Company to benefit from Bush education bill

By Margie Burns

January 21, 2002—Supporters of social programs may consider George W. Bush a grinch, but he’s been a Santa Claus for the Washington Post Company. With Bush’s “education reform” legislation, now signed into law, the company stands to reap a bonanza in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

As both critics and supporters have noted, this education bill chiefly promotes standardized testing in the schools, and certification programs beyond school, in every state and at virtually every level.

This is where the Post comes in. The company, most famous for its eponymous newspaper, has several subsidiaries in education and lists “provision of educational services” in public record filings among its “principal business activities.” One principal subsidiary is Kaplan, Inc, the tutoring and test-prep company, which “publishes course materials, books, software, and Web content to help prime students for standardized and licensing examinations.” Kaplan, Inc., in turn owns other education businesses, including Quest Education (acquired in May 2000), which provides post-secondary programs; Score! Prep, which provides tutoring programs; and (in Texas) Leonard’s Training Programs, Inc.

The numbers are impressive. In January 2000, operating revenues for the company’s education segment (Kaplan and the rest) were $240,075,000—third, behind revenues for advertising and circulation, but about 11 percent of total operating revenues of $2.2 billion. In December 2000, education segment revenues were $352,753,000—a 40 percent increase in the year, to about 13 percent of the total $2.4 billion. Operating revenues for 2001 are not yet filed, but sources including the Post have reported that its education segment is growing, while circulation and advertising have declined (a Business Wire in May, 2001, reported Kaplan as making “good progress,” with advertising businesses “weak”). Advertising has remained lower in the late-year recession and in the aftermath of the September attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Kaplan and its subsidiaries have been booming, comparatively speaking—perhaps with some help from the press; one Newsweek cover article touting the new era of standardized tests was titled “The Tutor Age.” As of December 2001, Hoover’s Company Capsule Database estimated Kaplan’s sales for the previous year at approximately $535.8 million. Press releases over the past two years have heralded acquisitions, publications, and additional software and training in states including Texas, Massachusetts, and New York. (Kaplan, which also has numerous part-time employees and no union, publishes books on the SAT, the PSAT, and ACT, as well as parents’ guides to proficiency tests including the Ohio test.)

Should the company’s education segment expand by a third, it will generate at least $110 million more in operating revenues, per year, for the company as a whole. However, the expansion will probably exceed 30 percent: with the acquisition of Quest Corporation in May 2000, Kaplan’s educational offerings are now eligible to participate in Title IV programs. According to a spokesman in the office of Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), who supports the education bill, current authorization for Title IV funding is “nearly doubled” by the bill, which will further increase it from $1.9 billion the first year to $2.1B, $2.4B, and $2.65B in the coming years.

No prediction is certain. But if the projected expansion in standardized testing continues for the next five years—accompanied by dizzying expansion in tutoring for the tests, software and publications for the students, teachers and parents preparing for the tests, and publishing and software for the tests themselves, etc.—then the Post stands to accrue the largest financial windfall for a single paper in the history of American newspapers, at least from legislation.

You can’t accuse the Post of bragging about it, though. The sole reference to the Post’s interest in the education bill occurred in two sentences about Kaplan on August 16, 2001, by reporters Michael Fletcher and Neil Irwin, who have yet to respond to phone and email queries. Media commentator Howard Kurtz has not mentioned the connection. Indeed, last May 7, Kurtz hosted a live online interview with Douglas Reeves, author of a book co-published by Kaplan that touts standardized tests, without mentioning the Post’s interest.

This is not to imply that the current federal legislation is the first time Bush education proposals have benefited the Post. Kaplan also offers publications and services for students preparing for the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS), a previously experimental program beefed up to mixed reviews by then-Governor Bush into an annual make-or-break for students.

The results? A quick overview (WATN)–

  • The newspaper that ran the column, the Prince George’s Journal, is now long defunct. The Clinton administration gave big media a pass on anti-trust concerns, and few small newspapers could compete well enough to survive. (The Post Co. bought up and destroyed the DC-metro Gazette chain of small newspapers. Meanwhile, the Reverend Sun Moon’s then-empire was gobbling up many other small chains around the U.S., a pattern not reported in the Washington Post newspaper. The erstwhile community papers became part of the then-powerful right-wing GOP noise machine, now fractured.)
  • Shortly after my column ran, then-media commentator Kurtz ran a counter-argument of sorts on the Post’s op-ed page, though without mentioning my name or the title of my article (or the Prince George’s Journal). Same page, same day, the Post also ran a column by a NYTimes editor–an apologetic for corporate newspaper parents’ owning other interests. Quite the response–if they had had the decency to name my column, and me. (I spoke briefly by phone with Executive Editor Len Downie, who embarrassingly suggested that the Kaplan purchase represented a loss for the Post Co.) Nothing from the Post’s ombudsman.
  • Sure enough, the Post Co.’s education sector became by far its biggest earner. While its newspaper was losing money, the company pulled in so many $billions from its education sector that it ended up re-branding itself as an education and media company. SEC filings tell the story. And by now, of course, the paper itself has changed hands.
  • The Post newspaper has run quite a few good articles on the ills of excessive ‘standardized’ testing. But to this day, the Post has still not acknowledged its financial stake in Bush’s federal education ‘reforms’–or in the Bush brothers’ lucrative deals to Kaplan, supported through their governorships in Texas and Florida. The late David Broder prodded the Bush administration, in print, to follow through on the education promises–without mentioning that the Co. owned Kaplan.
  • No other journalist in the D.C. region followed up in 2002–no one on the left, no one on the right, no one in the middle. I thought that this purportedly liberal paper’s stake in GWBush was newsworthy. I still think so. But while the Post gave Bush a pass (on invading Iraq, for example), other media largely gave the Post a pass. Then they wonder why people don’t trust the news media.
One hand washes the other

One hand washes the other

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Democratic candidate Thompson ahead in first results from Kansas 4th

11:05. Sedgwick County now in; Thompson won it. But Estes ends with his biggest lead of the night. 53 percent to 45 percent. Thompson put up the best fight possible. Good race in a district like this, where Thompson actually led for much of the evening.

10:58. Estes 52 percent, Thompson 46 percent. Two counties still out, including Sedgwick, the largest (half million pop). Only 40 precincts left to report.

10:50. Cable commentators ignoring the Kansas race? With 519 of 620 precincts reporting, James Thompson only 881 votes behind Estes, statewide.

10:45. Estes now leading in Harvey County. Estes lead widest of night at 5 points. 468 of 620 precincts reporting. Six counties incomplete including Sedgwick, the largest. Estes leads by less than 5K votes out of 81K+.

10:40. Biggest counties not finished reporting.

10:30. Same counties still not finished reporting–small Greenwood and Chautauqua (Estes leading in latter), Butler and Sumner (Estes leading); larger Harvey (Thompson) and much larger Sedgwick (Thompson). With 443 precincts of 620 reporting, Estes leads Thompson by 3,000 votes of c. 80,000 cast. Outcome depends largely on Sedgwick and Harvey counties (D), partly on Sumner and Butler (R).

10:20. Two of the smallest GOP counties still out. Two largest Dem counties still out. Two middle-sized GOP counties still out. Close one.

10:15. Harper County now in, for Estes. His lead widens to 4 points with Greenwood County still out. Most of Sedgwick County still out, Thompson still leading. With more than two-thirds of Kansas precincts reporting, Estes lead is 41,695 to 37,955. Thompson also still leading in Harvey County, with some precincts still out.

10:10. Estes lead now 3 points, 51 percent to 48 percent. Two counties still not reporting; Estes leads in three others; but most of Sedgwick County still not reported.

10:05. Harper and Greenwood counties still not reporting; Estes has won most small counties (nine) and leads in three others. Reporting still not complete in the two Thompson counties. Estes still up by 2 points.

9:55. Stafford County heard from, goes for Estes. Estes lead widens to two points. A margin of 973 votes out of 62K+. Greenwood and Harper counties not yet reporting. Sedgwick and Harvey not called yet, but Thompson still leading in both.

9:50. Estes finally pulls ahead of Thompson. Slightly. With exactly half of precincts reporting, Estes has 31,743. Thompson 31,143. 600 votes out of 62,000. Precincts in three counties still not reporting. Estes leading in all counties reporting except Sedgwick and Harvey.

9:45 p.m. Regardless of final outcome, still positive. With over one-third of Kansas precincts reporting, James Thompson still leads. Much narrower: 50-49 percent. But Estes has now won Elk, Cowley and Kingman counties.

9:40. Precincts in five of seventeen Kansas counties not reporting yet. But with 199 precincts reporting, Thompson still leading 51-48 percent.

9:35. More than one-fifth of precincts reporting, Thompson’s lead narrows. 24,892 for Thompson. 23,239 for Estes. Still a lead of 51 percent to 48 percent at the moment. No precincts in the eastern counties reporting yet.

9:30. Estes has won Edwards and Kiowa counties. Western border of Kansas. Thompson still leads 53-45 percent. Only one-sixth of precincts reporting so far.

9:25 p.m. More than a hundred precincts reporting. Democrat Thompson still leads, 53 percent to 45 percent.

9:20 p.m. Thompson now ahead in Harvey County as well as in Sedgwick. Estes has now won Comanche County, ahead in six smaller counties besides Pawnee and Comanche. But with 76 precincts reporting, Thompson still leads by 22K+ to 18K+. Still 54 percent to 44 percent.

9:15 p.m. Now 54 percent Thompson (D) to 44 percent Estes (R). Two percent for Libertarian Rockhold.

9:10 p.m. With 49 precincts reporting, Thompson still up, but by less. 55 percent to 43 percent.

9:05 p.m. Thompson lead up again, with 19 precincts reporting. 65 percent to 34 percent.

9:00 p.m. Eastern time. Estes has won Pawnee County; no surprises there. Estes winning three other counties, Thompson winning Sedgwick County (Wichita), 12 other counties not reporting yet. Polls closed only an hour ago, or less.

17 precincts in. Now trending toward 60-40 for Thompson. 14,722 to 9,425.

With 12 precincts in, Thompson leads 60 percent to 38 percent for Estes, one percent for Rockhold.

Three precincts in, Thompson  now ahead 14,597 to 9,052.

Two precincts reporting, and Thompson still ahead 61 percent to 37 percent. (Unofficial results.) One percent for Libertarian Chris Rockhold.

Not even one percent in yet, but Thompson ahead 61 percent to 37 percent.

Unlikely to last long. But the vote for the moment is 14,226 for James A. Thompson. And 8,563 for Ron Estes.

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How the Democrats Keep Losing. 2017, Part 2. Kansas special, 4th District, April 11 (and Georgia 6th, April 18)

The next 2017 special election is taking place–as I write this–in Kansas.* Democratic candidate and Army vet James Thompson and Republican Ron Estes are running for the seat vacated when Rep. Mike Pompeo left to become CIA director.

James Thompson, Ron Estes

James Thompson, Ron Estes

Kansas House District 4 is traditionally Republican–like most of Kansas, dating from back when the state refused to enter the Union as a hotbed of proponents for enslaving fellow human beings. (See the repudiated ‘Lecompton Constitution’ for the history. It plays one part in Chapter 6 of my book, Firearms Regulation in the Bill of Rights, the chapter on the nineteenth century.) The GOP began as an anti-slavery movement.

The most recent history in Kansas’ 4th mainly displays the differences between how the Democratic Party and the GOP support their candidates–or don’t. Not to the advantage of the former. Thompson, a civil rights attorney who has experienced something like poverty, has not been supported by the state Democratic Party.

Nor has he been supported by the national party.

Meanwhile, the Repubs aren’t making the same mistake. Politico reported last week that “The NRCC spent $25,000 on digital advertising in the upcoming KS-04 special election – a dark-red district left open by CIA Director Mike Pompeo and not expected to be competitive.” At this point several news outlets are reporting efforts on behalf of Estes by the national GOP, as for example here and below.

Texas Sen. Cruz returns to Kansas to help GOP keep congressional seat

Meanwhile again, all hands are on deck–as I wrote last week–to help out candidate Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s 6th, running against a field that includes four other Democrats. Guess you have to be running against other Democrats to draw the needed attention. And draw it he did; boosted by Daily Kos and ActBlue along with other organizations, Ossoff pulled in a breathtaking $8.3 million in contributions, a record. (Kos has belatedly weighed in on behalf of Thompson in Kansas–very belatedly. Since my last post, in fact. Within the past week.)

If the Dems wanted to help a House candidate, why didn’t they help this guy? –His intra-party opponents were already eliminated. He had been  nominated in a democratic in-state process. No getting hands dirty. No hurting anyone’s feelings. Fewer suggestions of favoritism, arbitrariness, back-room deals or artificial pre-selection.

What is some Democrats’ problem with looking democratic?

Trick question.

Here is my hypothesis, and I have no problem with corrections, emendations or refutation. Feel free to refine, by all means. But here it is: in my view it is a problem when national and state Democrats neglect their own good candidates running against Republicans and instead pour resources into trying to pick a nominee against other Dems. It looks undemocratic, for one thing. For another, in Georgia 6th (picking a random example here), with four other Democratic candidates, outside support for Ossoff runs a substantial risk of alienating supporters of the other four. Also, that kind of big money pouring in–overwhelmingly from outside the state and largely because of large entities like MoveOn and Kos–can turn off voters. Voters cease to think their vote will make a difference. (This was one of the key factors behind non-voting in 2016, according to a Pew research survey).

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, an influx of massive outside money can contribute to negative perceptions of the candidate. Not that any candidate wouldn’t be happy to get millions of dollars in contributions, from virtually anywhere. But the national party’s focus on one candidate running against fellow Democrats does not redeem its neglect of strong candidates facing opponents across party lines. This is the way to rebuild the Democratic brand after Clinton?

Predictions are vain. Thompson may win Kansas’ 4th despite the lack of intelligent, principled support from the state and national party. Ossoff may win more than 50 percent in Georgia’s 6th despite the massive unintelligent, unprincipled support from same–and from Daily Kos, which pre-selected him way ahead of time, and from MoveOn and the other out-of-state groups.

Right now, however, the available forecasting and results raise questions. They do not provide answers, as anyone who remembers 2016 would do well to remember. The money gap in Georgia cannot be disputed. The leading Democratic candidate, Ossoff, has received a nonpareil amount of money in one quarter for a House race–and more than all the Republican candidates combined. I am not denying the deep feeling of out-of-state ActBlue donors. But isn’t there a possibility that some potential GOP donors are waiting until after the primary to donate?

The early voting results also cannot be disputed. There is an extra-large turnout by Democrats in early voting. As the New York Times’ Nate Cohn tweeted a few days ago, early voting as of Saturday was 49 percent Democratic, 29 percent Republican. So does that mean the percentages will be the same on April 18?

More to the point, is all that Democratic turnout really going to one candidate?

That’s the line taken by the careerist-type Dems in the big media outlets. HuffPost headline: “Democrats Continue to Turn Out in Second Week of Voting for Jon Ossoff”. Brought to you by Andrea Mitchell at MSNBC, via HuffPost (and probably by others at MSNBC).

Okay, I’ll bite. How do they know the Dem turnout is for Ossoff? Is anyone doing exit polling? Are any exit polls available? Are any other Democrats receiving votes?


*This post was initially planned to go up on April 11.

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How the Democrats Keep Losing. 2017, Part 1. Georgia special, 6th District, April 18.

Right now the 2017 race getting most attention is the Georgia 6th Congressional District special election, coming up on April 18. Georgia went red in 2016, as did Georgia’s 6th Congressional District; see below. But a ‘competitive’ special election in the 6th is being ballyhooed by commentators as well as by the national Democratic Party and by some outside groups.

The best over-all coverage so far comes from Ballotpedia:

“This race is one Ballotpedia is watching closely. Although it is normally a safe Republican district, polling and spending in the district indicates a competitive race. The election will replace Tom Price (R), who was confirmed as U.S. secretary of health and human services. Prior to his cabinet appointment, Price represented the 6th District from 2004 to 2017. Two interesting angles have emerged in recent weeks: 1) which Republican candidate might emerge from the crop of 11 to advance to the runoff; 2) Will there even be a runoff, if Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff is able to coalesce enough support to break 50 percent in the primary?”

Actually the April 18th special is not a primary, as Ballotpedia points out elsewhere. Rather, it is a general election with declared candidates from four parties. If no candidate breaks 50 percent, the two top candidates advance to the June 20 runoff.

Dan Moody, GOP candidate in Georgia's 6th

Dan Moody, GOP candidate in Georgia’s 6th

Some breathless coverage has evolved, if that’s the word, from the arithmetic of the field: the GOP has eleven declared candidates, while the Democrats have a mere five–frontrunner Jon Ossoff, physician Rebecca Quigg, Navy veteran and college professor Richard Keatley, former state senator Ron Slotin, and sales manager Ragin Edwards, the one woman of color in the race. The smart money is backing Ossoff to take a runoff spot.

That in itself looks like a plausible projection at this point. Let’s say that Ossoff gets into the two-person runoff. Then what?

Here’s where the coverage and the political attention get interesting, or twisted.

National Democrats have invested heavily in Ossoff:

PICKING A HORSE – “House Democrats invest in Georgia, wait on Montana,” by Campaign Pro’s Elena Schneider: “Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock weathered Trump’s 20-point wave in Montana. Republican Greg Gianforte, who lost to Bullock in 2016, is the front-runner for the open House seat, after infuriating some in his own party for failing to appeal beyond his conservative base . But national Democrats can’t stop talking about Georgia. The DCCC is sending money to hire nine on-the-ground staffers to help Democrats in Georgia’s 6th District. Jon Ossoff, the 30-year-old front-runner to carry Democratic hopes into a special election runoff, has already raised a whopping $1.85 million to replace Republican Rep. Tom Price in the traditionally red seat. The DNC is following suit, with interim Chairwoman Donna Brazile saying Thursday that the committee will make investments there.”

So have Georgia’s state Democrats. So have some outside groups such as the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund and End Citizens United, which as of March 30, Politico reports, had raised half a million for Ossoff. Enthusiastic emails ask for donations to the Ossoff campaign round the clock, at every moment that can be called a juncture or a “deadline”. (Alan Grayson’s emails, far and away the best-written, give some good commentary on the asks.)

And all of this is based on–what? On Donald Trump’s relatively slim win over Hillary Clinton in Georgia’s 6th. According to Daily Kos, the presidential vote in the 6th was 46.8 percent for Clinton, 48.3 percent for Trump. The narrowness of the win in a district in a state Trump carried by five points has gotten a lot of attention.

Here’s where the yes-but comes in. Georgia also cast votes for Libertarian Gary Johnson in 2016. The Kos breakdown of congressional districts did not tally non-major parties. The 2016 Libertarian vote is typically not factored in. It goes unmentioned in the special-Georgia-6th emails drumming up support and contributions for Ossoff. It also goes unmentioned in most commentary.

However, as pro-Libertarians have noted, in the Sixth District, it amounted to five percent:

“The Gary Johnson-William Weld Libertarian ticket’s solid 5 percent tally in Georgia’s 6th District over-performed its statewide and national percentage, stretching past 7 percent in some precincts.”

So, adding up, Georgia’s 6th gave 53.3 percent of its presidential vote to Republican or right-leaning candidates in 2016. Write-in votes in the entire state came to one half of one percent; thus awarding every write-in vote in the 6th to a Democrat or left-leaning candidate, hypothetically and impossibly, still leaves the margin of victory at 53.3 percent to 46.8 percent. Not by any definition was this a close race, or ‘competitive’, let alone a squeaker.

It could also be suggested that some votes went Libertarian not only in reaction against Trump–as ceaselessly touted in  media coverage and wishful partisan discussion–but in a confidence that Trump would win anyway. If so, the confidence turned out to be justified. In short, Hillary Clinton lost the 6th by 6.5 percent.

Meanwhile, GOP House Representative Tom Price was cruising to reelection in the 6th, with more than 61 percent of the vote to Democrat Tom Stooksbury’s 38-plus percent.

The special election on the 18th, be it noted, is for U.S. House.

This run-down has not been clarified in any of the numerous emails that urge Sanders voters and others to donate to Ossoff.

So, where are the Democrats at in Georgia’s 6th?

Let’s start with gender, this being the year we hear that more women than ever are activated, marching, energized–the buzzy term–and running for office. In Georgia’s 6th, the eighteen or nineteen declared candidates include four women–Quigg and Edwards for the Democrats, Karen Handel and Amy Kremer for the GOP. So far, Ossoff has dominated in coverage on the Democratic side, gender be damned; Handel leads in polls on the Republican side. Handel, Judson Hill and Bob Gray are reportedly the robust GOP contenders for money and endorsements. Looks like gender is a non-starter, at least for the Democrats. So much for women.

Ditto in the coverage, at least as regards Georgia 6. Politico, for example, has been boosting Ossoff since the beginning of the year. Its most recent article on the special election (yesterday) has him the only one in the picture. Actors Alyssa Milano and Christopher Gorham’s stumping for Ossoff has gotten warm mention. Of the four other Democratic candidates, three have not been named on Politico‘s large web site. (Try the search.) The name of Rebecca Quigg, who came out strongly for the Affordable Care Act as a physician, is not findable on at this writing. Anywhere. Nor is Edwards’.

Not that this is all gender, you understand. Keatley’s name is also not found on Politico, and Ron Slotin has gotten one mention there this year.

Mistakes 2.0. Democrats still cruisin for a bruisin

There are a few troublesome elements here.

Going beyond the scope of this article, I continue to observe that cable coverage is often the face of ‘the media’ to the general public; that cable coverage tends to dovetail into political insider-ism; and that both too often meld in public perception with ‘the Democrats’–especially when the Democratic Party aggressively plays along with all of the above. Nothing could be more discouraging.

Look what’s going on in Georgia. You have 1) a race where Democrats are in the minority, past and present, but where the Democratic Party is focusing attention and resources; 2) in which, still, the Democrats are trying to coalesce around one candidate, boosted by party insiders and the party apparatus; 3) a large part of the effort is to make the one candidate seem inevitable and unstoppable; 4) with eager cooperation from media outlets starving out other Democratic contenders rather than reporting on them; 5) all trying to motivate voters largely by Trump-bashing the opposition; 6) all while over-optimistically estimating probabilities of a win; and 7) neglecting or ignoring more viable districts and under-served populations in the West and on the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, tireless and round-the-clock pleas for money are pumped out with party support. On top of everything else, the special takes place just after April the 15th, except that there is an extension for Income Tax Day this year–meaning it coincides with the Georgia 6th special election.

For the moment, the math isn’t there. Did Dems learn anything from 2016?

Perhaps there will be some benefit to having a Democratic candidate in the Georgia 6 run-off, assuming that happens. But not unless the Democrats change for the better once the runoff spot is in the bag, if it is. That means positives on health care, education, and infrastructure. Going TrumpTrumpTrump as Clinton did will only corroborate a suspicion that the party has nothing to offer.

Remember, if the lost GOP voters had viewed Trump half as hysterically as some commentators do, they would have held their noses and voted for Clinton.


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“What went wrong” in 2016? Are they kidding?

Going where the denial is thickest–in the news media

As a rape survivor myself*, I believe Juanita Broaddrick. I listened to Ms. Broaddrick when she was interviewed on Dateline NBC back in 1999. I listened carefully to everything she said, and–as a lifelong registered Democrat myself–I believe her with all my heart. Her accusation was that Bill Clinton assaulted her, in Arkansas, years earlier, when he was State Attorney General and widely believed to be a rising political star and a local political wunderkind. This was a rape allegation–different in degree from the several sexual harassment allegations also leveled against Clinton, and in 2016 against Donald Trump, and very different from Clinton’s compulsive philandering. Broaddrick accused Clinton of forcible rape, on national television–network, not cable–credibly, with detail, not concealing or denying her own errors or her anger at Clinton. Yet after the Clintons left the White House, Broaddrick’s name was scarcely mentioned in what are often called the ‘elite’ media. As the highly respected late columnist William Blackberry commented, it was mystifying that a credible accusation of such magnitude could be passed over. This while The Washington Post deemed that President Clinton’s affair with an intern warranted a special pull-out section titled “Presidency in Crisis”( temporarily), and Republicans in the House were voting to impeach Clinton.

It is an unanswered question, now, how many people even know who Juanita Broaddrick is. Many younger people who voted in 2016 would not have recognized her name in 2015. The fact that she became part of the public discourse largely through some rightwing outlets and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is a source of regret for me personally.

The Democrats who should have acknowledged her story dropped the ball. So did the GOP, of course. Neither major party moved constructively to address the issue of rape, in the 1990s or under the George W. Bush administration. President Obama and Vice President Biden did more than any previous White House, addressing sexual assault on college campuses and problems such as the backlog of unprocessed rape kits in the criminal justice system. But much remains to be done.

Our top media outlets did far too little. Millions of words have been written about the 2016 election, with more to come; hundreds of opinion polls were taken, countless models predicted the outcome–wrongly–but so far as I know, no major media outlet polled the public on awareness of Juanita Broaddrick’s accusation against Clinton, or even on her name recognition.

A couple of points here. First, rape is a difficult topic, grim and painful, and difficult things by definition are harder to deal with than easy things. Fewer people will deal well with something difficult than with something easy, including people in the news media. Second,  as mentioned above, few people in large media outlets tried to deal with the Broaddrick story well. This gap is not consistent with a belief in Clinton’s innocence, which would have emphasized accuracy. It sweeps an issue under the rug instead of addressing it.

Third, a media focus on horse-race politics shed too little light on rape as an issue. Thus if Broaddrick’s name was mentioned at all, it was usually through the prism of possible effect on the campaign of Hillary Clinton for president. Those media personalities are now consumed with the question of ‘what went wrong’ with the 2016 election, and what went wrong with their predictions.

Conceding defeat in 2016

Conceding defeat in 2016

Democrats are also addressing the question of ‘what went wrong’, especially since the Clinton campaign is not telling.

And the Clintons are of course being faulted for not telling. On this narrow point, I can help them. This is a question they will not answer fully, because they cannot.

‘What went wrong’ is that the wife of a rapist ran for the White House.

Unthinkable? One would think so. But it wasn’t. There was no one to advise the Clintons, effectively, that Clinton should not run.  A deadly simple timeline resulted. The Clinton team decided to try the run and accumulated all the money not going to the GOP. Meanwhile, Republicans salivating at the prospect of running against ‘Hillary’ lined up, and money or no money, the GOP field was self-destructively large. Trump was the cue ball. Wham. He broke the rack on the table wide apart. And while Trump was breaking things open on the Republican side, the Clintons and their media allies were shutting out every better candidate on the Democratic side–Vice President Biden first, before the primary season even began; then Senator Bernie Sanders in the primaries.

So on one side Trump benefited from the arithmetic of the field, and on the other Clinton, with no essential constituency or platform except narrow self-interest, shut out the field.

Net result: 1) A small cadre of Democratic insiders decided to paste in a nominee before any votes were cast, and 2) they picked the worst possible candidate. The Clintons with their greed problem, their old-time insider status, their treatment-of-women problem, their ties to Wall Street, etc., etc., etc., were the worst possible choice to run against Donald Trump. Not that they knew enough to take Trump seriously, any more than they knew enough to take Sanders seriously. (So much for ‘electable’.) So much for the high-paid expertise with which they theoretically surrounded themselves.

I believe that even the quiet Lincoln Chafee would have done better than Clinton. Joe Biden would have crushed Trump. Bernie Sanders would have crushed Trump. But every political and/or media insider was convinced that Clinton was a shoo-in. And not content with being convinced themselves, they exerted pressures huge to tiny, broad and narrow, to exclude any contrary voice or dissenting opinion.

On a small scale, I saw a little of the action even near my own neighborhood. (A realistic pre-election poll might have taken into account how many millions of Americans witnessed unbecoming behavior by individuals who thought they were going to have the upper hand come Election Day.)

By the weekend before the election, I for one was wondering about the much-touted ‘landslide’. I was not very surprised at the outcome but was disappointed that Russ Feingold lost the Wisconsin senate race. Knowing the Clintons, Feingold’s appeal is probably one of the reasons they neglected Wisconsin. Much of their joint public career for forty years has consisted of playing keep-away, and much of their appeal has been to media insiders who play keep-away themselves. (A realistic post-election investigation might try to examine how the Clintons went about rewarding or enticing favorable media coverage.) No wonder they were so surprised: they shut out the very people they should have been listening to.

These issues connected to the Clintons and to the Democratic Party establishment extend to the news media which confidently predicted a big-time Clinton victory. For now, space and time constraints preclude my going into the media issues. Suffice it to say that we are now hearing self-serving commentators mutually affirming their moral superiority to the unwashed masses. Largely these are the people who went along with Bush’s invasion of Iraq. As with sexual assault, it saddens me to see Iraq swept under the rug. On top of the loss of blood and treasure, in all that (temporary) emphasis on sexual assault during the campaign, no one mentioned that rape follows war.

One last point: owing to the experience I suffered, I felt pummeled throughout the 2016 election cycle–beginning with the smug, complacent assertions of Clinton’s being the inevitable nominee, in 2015 and before. The reaction is difficult to write about, even now. Several media theories about election 2016 have addressed the wrongness of the opinion polls–silent Trump voters, distrust of pollsters, faulty polling methods. I have another theory to add: that I am not the only one in my position. Few Americans would have wanted to share an intensely private perspective on Bill Clinton with pollsters. Even fewer would have wanted to volunteer their private opinion–for example, believing Juanita Broaddrick–with pollsters, without being asked to do so.

And no pollsters asked.

*This was a childhood incident. I was in elementary school at the time, an undersized fifth-grader walking alone through a big park in Houston, to a Brownies meeting. The perpetrator was not someone I knew, and the police never caught him. But at least there was none of that nonsense about not believing me. Everyone knew I could not have made it up, and anyway I was taken to the ER of the local charity hospital–Ben Taub–for an exam.



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New book: Firearms Regulation in the Bill of Rights

Now out. Book available through CreateSpace. Linked here.

Firearms Regulation In the Bill of Rights

List Price: $25.00 Add to Cart

About the author:
Margie Burns. PhD, English literature, Rice University. Freelance journalist writing on government, law, and politics. Washington, D.C., region. Many published articles in general-interest and scholarly publications but most writing time for three years has gone into this book, begun late 2012. National issues pursued in depth include Iraq War, election integrity, First Amendment issues, and gun violence.
Articles reprinted, archived, and anthologized. Cited in First Amendment Calendar (Freedom Forum, Washington, D.C.) Article on As You Like It incorporated into Gale Course Reader, Shakespeare (publisher, Gale, Cengage Learning). Article on Taming of the Shrew anthologized by Garland Press on TS. “Oedipus and Apollonius” awarded Fritz Schmidl Memorial Prize for Research in Applied Psychoanalysis by Seattle Psychoanalytic Society, later article published by Oxford University Press.
(Some articles and condensed profile accessible at Titles in World Shakespeare Bibliography, citations in Google Scholar, Google Books, MicroSoft Academic, Academic Search Complete (EBSCO), elsewhere.)

Firearms Regulation In the Bill of Rights:

Eighteenth-Century English Language and the U.S. Constitution

Authored by Margie Burns

Nonfiction book emphasizes the English language at the time the first ten amendments were composed, and compares the first ten amendments to the language of later amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The English words in the Bill of Rights have been misconstrued in recent years, even in some federal courts. Firearms Regulation in the Bill of Rights argues that the lexicon of the Bill of Rights itself supports regulation of firearms–gun control and gun safety. Authors consulted by Supreme Court justices include Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, and Dr. Samuel Johnson, revisited in this book to examine an issue that periodically reaches the high court. Hundreds of sources include English and American public documents, before 1789 and after; early American newspapers; and English dictionaries from the eighth century through the eighteenth.
No other book in the marketplace covers the same ground.

(Yes, I know; that’s what they all say. But the claim is accurate here.)

This book does not merely retrace recent arguments by attorneys specializing in the second amendment. Discussion touches on U.S. history, British history, and political philosophy, an interdisciplinary approach that looks at the eighteenth-century language of the Bill of Rights in context, and at the ways our understanding of the language has changed since the eighteenth century.
Publication Date:

Jan 16 2017
153723885X / 9781537238852
Page Count:
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
6″ x 9″
Black and White
Related Categories:
History / United States / General
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“Russia”? Really?

Democrats and Republicans

Is the national Democratic Party trying to burn into extinction any hope that it is the party of the people? A couple of weeks ago, the word “recount” was on the lips of every mouthpiece. A week or so ago (and before and since), proposals to abolish the Electoral College were bruited. Now the drive is on to investigate Russia.

Margie Burns artwork

Modern Russian art — is a stage set really  nonobjective?

A ‘bipartisan’ alliance of the most comprehensively bought-and-sold members of Congress–led by Mitch “Big Tobacco” McConnell for the Repubs, Chuck “Big Banks” Schumer for Dems–has as of this writing signed on to allegations that Russia backed Julian Assange. Not surprisingly, entrenched Republican Senate hacks have joined ditto Dems in what is being hailed in some media outlets as an instance of bipartisan cooperation. (What these insiders chiefly have in common is that they were up-ended by Trump’s victory. This point is not being emphasized in the news media.)

Basically the claim seems to be that a) Russia hacked into U.S. Democrats’ emails, and that b) it did so to throw the election to Donald Trump. This is not a Q.E.D. It is preposterous. For one thing, the emails came from leaks, not from ‘hacking’. (Most in the McConnell-Schumer cohort would not likely know the difference.)


(The photograph is just for fun. Merry Christmas.)

So why would any Democratic office holder, let alone one of any prominence, sign on to this Cold-War-redux saturnalia? Well, a simple motive is that in fact some Dems in office really are threatened by populism, and by elections. Some, not all. But some are genuinely threatened by any possibility of base-broadening. They live in safe congressional districts, or states (Schumer), themselves. Why would they open up access, just because not doing so is a losing proposition? After all, the smaller the pie, the larger their own piece in proportion.

Another motive is the obvious denial. Blaming ‘Russia’ is another way to delay the reckoning about their hand-picked candidate, Secretary Clinton.* That it makes them look like lying imbeciles is a small price to pay. The previous efforts at denial didn’t work–yes, Trump won Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin; no, abolishing the Electoral College and throwing a whole campaign into California wouldn’t help. But there’s always another effort, and another. (Looming behind this one is the next, exhorting faithless Electors to throw away American history and just vote for someone other than President-elect Trump.)


Meanwhile, someone knocked on the right office door in halls of CIA, and found–predictably–the right leaks for their kind of investigation.

From those wonderful people who brought you the Iraq War

These are national party leaders? They don’t notice that they are leaving it to Trump to point out a fundamental fact? — “These are the same people that said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.”

Fortunately, some CIA analysts still retain a more sensible perspective.

The news media

There is no point in listing all the media outlets now boosting the ‘Russia’ meme. Most of them also boosted the recounts. Almost all also tout Clinton’s popular vote lead without mentioning the massive vote total in California, thereby creating a vague impression that the national popular vote lead was across-the-board. The impression is false.

Clinton’s vote lead is IN CALIFORNIA

For the record, below is a sprinkling of the countless recent articles that refer to Clinton’s popular vote lead without mentioning that the numbers come disproportionately from California. This very quick list does not include television programs or online news aggregates, which would run the total into thousands. We may have a new conventional wisdom here, hardening like concrete before our very eyes. Or putting it a different way, we may have a spectacular example of a narrative fueled largely by reification, denial, and cross-cultural stereotyping taking on a life of its own inside national media outlets. (See ‘Russia’, above. Even the estimable Eugene Robinson seems to be getting on the bandwagon.)

Insert the words “IN CALIFORNIA” where needed:

New York Times, December 13: “Hillary Clinton’s growing lead over Donald J. Trump is now over 1 million votes, making this the second time a president has been elected without a popular majority since 2000.”

Chicago Tribune, December 12: “With almost all ballots finally counted, Hillary Clinton won the “popular” vote — that is, the total number of votes cast — by more than 2.8 million, about a 2.1 percent edge over Trump’s tally. This is a larger gap than the one in the 2000 election, when Al Gore won about a half-million votes more than George W. Bush did.”

Washington Post, December 12: “In the end, Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.7 million votes, or 2 percent of all ballots cast.” (A bunch of WaPo writers have done the same; too many to list.)

International Business Times, December 12: “The latest popular vote totals Monday, as reported by nonpartisan election analysis group The Cook Report, show Clinton garnering 65,746,544 votes compared to Trump’s 62,904,682, a difference of more than 2.8 million votes. In percentages, Clinton’s locked down a plurality of 48.2 percent of the vote and Trump 46.2 percent.”

Mother Jones, December 7: “I figure it’s still worth periodically posting a reminder that far more people wanted Hillary Clinton as their president than Donald Trump.”, December 1: “Hillary Clinton’s lead in total votes over President-elect Donald Trump has reached 2,526,184 as ballots continue to be tallied.”

What is the issue here, you ask? One issue is the credibility of major periodicals. When a big-city daily newspaper refers to Clinton’s popular vote lead without mentioning the massive four-thousand-vote lead in California, big newspapers lose even more credibility. Every thinking person who followed the election at all sees that item, or that headline about Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead, and thinks, That’s mainly from California. But the self-styled analysts or pundits do not mention the obvious and valid point. The line from omission to distortion is short.

*I will deal more fully with the Clinton candidacy after the holidays, speaking of denial. It isn’t a very Christmas-like topic.

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San Andreas Fault: Those three little words that mean so much

Would abolishing the Electoral College really be grass-roots progressivism?

The 2016 popular vote and the Electoral College

One result of the 2016 elections is the new call to abolish the Electoral College. This move is  supported by some progressives, but it is a sad divagation for progressivism. To throw away a huge swath of the polity, to cut large areas of thin population density out of the polity–this is grass roots?

Principle aside, supporters of eliminating the Electoral College should beware unintended consequences. In other words, try to figure out what abolishing it would actually accomplish. Predictions are dicey, but so far as can be predicted now, one effect of abolishing the Electors would be to magnify the importance of cities or metropolitan areas beyond even their current importance in elections.

U.S. population growth: cities

U.S. population growth: cities

Full disclosure: As someone who grew up in Houston and lives in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area, I myself love cities. In America’s tiny towns there would be few jobs for me–or for the host of our many-times-wrong cable commentators. (Hence the ‘flyover’ perspective often seen in media.) But throwing away our ‘country’ in elections is waste on a grand scale. On principle, I support maximizing nationwide participation at the grass roots. Therefore I am against the converse, whether it is represented as rejecting Howard Dean’s ’50-states’ strategy (why was that rejected?), repudiating the Deep South, or in Barry Goldwater’s words, cutting off the Eastern Seaboard and letting it float out to sea. (At least back in Goldwater’s time, nobody called it commentary, let alone political science.) Also, I would have liked to see Texas metro areas get more attention from national Democrats. I got my start in political volunteering in high school, licking envelopes for Sissy Farenthold and Frankie Randolph. If direct election by voters would help, I’m all for it.

But that it would help is not a given. Looking at the last two years and focusing a bit more on people than on ‘demographics’, Texas cities would seem to have held rich potential for Democrats. The dozen largest U.S. cities-metro areas in 2015 included Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, combined population more than 13.6 million. Add Austin for another two million-plus and the San Antonio region for another 2.3 million-plus. Furthermore, these Texas cities are growing, a trend projected to continue; they will be even more vote-rich targets in 2020 than now. But would Texas cities–still harping on my hometown–actually receive the attention from national campaigns that their population would seem to justify? If so, why don’t they receive it now? According to the U.S. census, the population of Texas is about 27.4 million. The metropolitan areas named add up to more than 18 million, more than half the state total, conveniently findable in areas where people live close to each other. Not that whole Houston neighborhoods would likely be driving across each other’s front yards to hear a candidate, like people getting their cars out of the way of a hurricane, but still–you’d think they would be reachable. Other Texas metro regions are also growing fast, as reported in this article from the estimable Texas Tribune.

Added to the above data is the fact that Democratic candidates ousted Republicans in Houston-Harris County in November 2016. In fact, Democrats defeated all the GOP judges in Harris county, along with a new sheriff whose first moves in office had included demoting all non-white, non-males in his command staff. A gay woman also defeated the female District Attorney. According to an old friend, this was probably because “the sitting DA jailed a rape victim for 30 days because the victim fell apart on the stand at the rapist’s trial and the DA was concerned that the victim, who had mental illness issues, would not return when the trial continued. The victim was held in the county jail, not a mental health facility, for 30 days.”

Such are the times when genuine grass-roots progressivism is needed–and it happened in Harris County, ‘Red State’ or no. So if votes are desired, and direct participation is encouraged, why don’t the Democrats and others upset about the Electoral College spend more time and attention in Texas now? After all, in the Electoral College, Texas has 38 votes.

Electoral College 2016

Electoral College 2016

You see where I’m going with this. If a national Democratic Party doesn’t campaign in Texas now, with the combined prizes of popular vote and 38 Electors, what is the guarantee that it would campaign in Texas for the popular vote alone?

Yes, Austin is a long way from Madison, Wisconsin. But the same question arises in regard to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. As written in the previous post, one problem with the abolish-the-Electoral-College picture is that it is hard to envision these three ‘Rust Belt’ states getting more attention without the prize of Electoral votes than they got in 2016 with a combined 46 Electoral votes, or 17 percent of the total needed to win the White House. Adding Ohio, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, and Illinois constitutes 41 percent. But as written, this entire block of Electoral votes outside Illinois was written off by the Clinton campaign with its ‘electable’ candidate. The ‘Rust Belt’ perspective in the media seems to have been matched in the campaign.

For further perspective, let’s go to another state, even more vote-rich than Texas, with large populations concentrated in metro areas–California. It is essential to note that California is the source of Secretary Clinton’s popular vote lead. This spreadsheet from Cook Political Report puts Clinton’s lead over Trump nationally at more than 2.6 million. Subtract California from the votes for each candidate, however, and Trump leads Clinton by 1.6 million votes nationally. The Clinton lead comes from the yawning gulf of 4.2 votes in California, the state which singly produced more than 13 percent of Clinton’s votes–more than twice as many as New York State, more than the total of all the smaller ‘blue states’ combined, and more than Florida and Texas combined.

(As of this writing: 62,808,243 – 4,463,932 = 58,344,311 Trump. 65,462,476 – 8,719,198 = 56,743,278 Clinton.)

Thus if the Electoral College were abolished, any national Democratic campaign would have to devote time and resources to California for the sake of its popular votes alone. Mentioning Clinton’s popular vote lead is the short argument for abolishing the Electoral College (though without mentioning that most of the lead comes from California). Indeed, one could guess that national Democrats would focus on California more than on any other single part of the country.

So what might the reckoning be? For a start, nothing in this picture screams that voters in smaller states would necessarily get more attention, even on the coasts.

But in terms of campaigning, there is a rawer point. In this picture, if what appeals to California voters also appeals to the nation at large, all is well. But suppose there were some divide? Suppose what pleased California did not equally please the nation at large, and vice versa, or did not equally please Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania? Again, wasn’t that the situation this time?

Moving from past to future, let’s get really creative, or fiendish. Those three little words that mean so much . . .

San Andreas Fault map

San Andreas Fault map

San Andreas Fault


Suppose someone were to remind the nation, as the late Molly Ivins did back in the 1990s, that the U.S. economy underwrites real estate development on the San Andreas Fault. Saturn-like real estate prices in California rest economically on factors including population, climate, and high-profile industries. They rest politically on ignoring the risk. They rest geologically on the meeting of two tectonic plates. Suppose someone were to present a rational proposal addressing this geological fact? (Far-fetched, I know, but use your imagination.) What would that do to a national campaign concentrating a third of its resources on California?

Going a little deeper, what would it do to the polity, to ask the rest of the nation to bail out California real estate and developers building full-steam-ahead in California? To ask the rest of the nation to bail out insurers in California?

If the entire nation actually got a vote, how would that vote turn out?


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