Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Explaining the Delegate System published an excellent summary of the delegate system for any of you that are interested. You can read the whole thing in 5 to 10 minutes.

It explains how delegates are awarded in each party, what "super-delegates" are and how a candidate wins their support. (Make sure to click each of the three tabs: "The Math", "Who are the delegates" and "Winning delegates").

Some of you may be wondering why talk of delegates is becoming increasingly common in this Presidential race when it was rarely mentioned in past elections. The answer is that we have not had such a closely contested primary race on both sides in a long time. Even with the recent narrowing of the field (e.g. the exit of Giuliani, Thompson and Edwards) - it is still possible that neither party will have a candidate with a majority of delegates prior to their convention.

It is an exciting (and stressful) time to be a political junkie...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Voting in the Primaries

I count myself among those that believe that voting is not only a privilege, but also an obligation.

Nevertheless, I understand why many people believe that their vote is largely insignificant in the general presidential election - particularly if they are in a non-competitive (i.e. overwhelmingly partisan state). In the general election, the winner of a state wins every single vote in the electoral college. So, if you are part of the less popular party in your state, your vote may have no benefit for your candidate.

For example, Arkansas has 6 electoral votes. If 50.01% of Arkansas voters choose a Republican candidate, he gets the same 6 electoral votes that he would have received if he had won 75% (or more) of the vote.

The Democractic primaries work very differently in that it is NOT a winner take all system (unlike the Republican primaries). Primaries award "delegates" that are largely analogous to electoral college votes. However, the delegates in a given state are awarded in proportion to the total number of votes each candidate receives. (This is somewhat oversimplified. For example, Barack Obama won the most delegates in Nevada, despite finishing second in the popular vote) .

The key point is that your chosen candidate will benefit from your primary vote even if s/he does not "win" your state. So make sure you show up and pull the lever!

Make sure you know the date of your state's primary/caucus (and registration deadlines) by clicking here.

Here is an article that talks a bit more about the general topic of this post.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Article Recommendation: Evaluating Experience

There has been a big debate in this Presidential election about the importance of experience. This debate is a little absurd. Of course experience is important - and tremendously so.

The real debate should not be "is experience necessary - yes or no". The debate should be about which experiences (not only professional, but also personal) meaningfully contribute to the development of great leader.

This morning, I saw a thought-provoking article on the subject that I thought I would recommend. There is some reason to believe that this author may be somewhat biased in his opinion, but I still found his thought process and the facts he cited about previous Presidents to be useful.

For people more interested in the Republican side of the race than the Democratic side - please do not be discouraged by the title. While the author frames much of his commentary around Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the way in which he analyzes the two and the historical tidbits he provides should be useful in evaluating the experience of any candidate - now or in the future.

The article is here - and takes less than 5 minutes to read.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bush and Kennedy Agree...

With the war in Iraq continuing, the Presidential election in full swing and the economy becoming more and more worrisome, it may seem a little odd for me to write on public education right now. But I like to use this blog to raise issues that are very important but not sexy enough to get the attention they deserve in the mainstream media. So here goes...

Shortly after taking office in 2001, George W. Bush chose public education as his first domestic policy initiative. He reached across the aisle to none other than Senator Edward Kennedy to develop a bipartisan bill known today as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Today, the collaborative spirit that produced that law is dead and gone. Most people do not even remember that it ever existed.

The NCLB law is up for renewal this year. In the years since its passage, it has been labeled as a Bush Administration initiative. As a sad consequence, it is now more controversial than ever before. Some influential Democrats have called for the law to be scrapped altogether.

This would be a big mistake.

The law certainly has flaws - but I challenge any one to name a law developed by the United States Congress that does not. The goal should be to revise and improve the law - not to abandon it altogether.

Why should we keep this law?

NCLB takes several meaningful steps to improve public education. Perhaps the most controversial (and most important) is to require annual reading and mathematics testing for each and every 3rd to 8th grade student in all American public schools.

This data is used to evaluate the performance of teachers and schools - introducing a measure of accountability for educators based on student outcomes. In fact, some portion of federal funding is actually tied to schools improving the results of their students over time.

Many find this measure highly controversial. Some claim that the testing regime promotes a "teaching to the test" mentality. Others have produced evidence that schools are minimizing (or totally eliminating) time spent on subjects likes social studies (which is not tested under NCLB) in order to focus exclusively on reading and math.

These criticisms are totally valid and must be addressed.

But the answer is NOT to completely eliminate the real element of accountability NCLB has introduced. Accountability is critical for any human organization to function effectively. Of course, how we implement a given accountability system is tremendously important. That being the case, we should reform our methods as we learn more - not eliminate them completely.

If you want to learn more about your own Senators or Representatives - look up their stance on this law. If they are committed to furthering one of our nation's top priorities, then they should be advocating reform of this bill. If they are a Democrat looking to score easy political points, they will probably be voting to let the law lapse. (If they have no public opinion, they need to find another job).

You can learn more about the law (including more of its pros and cons) here.

You can read Senator Kennedy's most recent defense of NCLB here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Guns for Oil

It was announced this week that the United States will sell $20 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia over the next 10 years. The package includes "advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters and new naval vessels". (If you are interested, you can read more about the deal here).

Congress must approve this deal before the sale can go forward. I hope that they do not.

The Bush Administration (which is certainly not the first to do this) has said that the weapons are intended to counter the emerging Iranian threat.

Reportedly, the Administration also believes (probably correctly) that if we do not sell the Kingdom weapons, someone else will. Our leaders have reasoned that it is better for us to get the money and maintain the "influence" with Saudi Arabia that our "close relationship" warrants.

I do not find either of these arguments persuasive.

Our vaunted influence with Saudi Arabia is having no visible effect on the price of oil - nor is it noticeably impacting the Kingdom's record on human rights. We should not inject weapons into a region to preserve "benefits" that have no practical value.

As for the Iranian threat...

No doubt, Iran is provocative. We should maintain a strong defensive position in the region as a result. Nevertheless, the argument that regional security requires or is enhanced by selling armaments to Saudi Arabia is does not hold up to scrutiny.

In the early 1990's Saddam Hussein taught every aspiring expansionist tyrant in the region that the invasion of other (oil-rich) countries would not be tolerated. Iran must know that any military conquests it makes will be short-lived and excruciatingly painful - if not completely suicidal.

The only thing Saudi Arabia's security requires is for America to need its oil. As long as we do, our carrier fleets will remain in the Persian Gulf and thousands of our troops will remain in nearby Iraq - weapons sales or not.

Therefore, the Saudis do not need new naval vessels and upgraded fighter planes. They most definitely do not need satellite guided missiles.

The addition of new weapons to this region, if anything, will only decrease its long-term security. Although the Saudi regime is relatively stable today, it is easy to imagine a day when it is not. Who would control these weapons if Saudi Arabia experienced a revolution?

Sound like a crazy and/or unrealistic scenario? Perhaps...but consider this:

The Iranian air-force flies the F-14 Tomcat. The famous fighters were sold to Iran in 1976. Just 3 years later, an Iranian revolution replaced a pro-American regime with one of the most hostile we have dealt with in the last 30 years. The government changed, but the fighters remain to this day.

Why take the same risk for so little benefit?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Noting a Special Moment

Regardless of who you support in the current Presidential election, I think we saw a couple things last night in Iowa that are quite special.

I don't pretend that my personal observations here are insightful or original... but I still wanted to record them as they make me feel just a little bit better about the state of the country - or more precisely - the direction it is heading.

1. A black man with the middle name Hussein and a Muslim grandfather won a decisive election in the Democratic party in a 94% Caucasian, middle-America state.

2. The Republican victor was outspent at least 15 to 1 and virtually unknown as late as six months ago.

I understand that there are many factors at work.

It definitely goes beyond the optimistic vision of an increasingly colorblind and culturally inclusive America.

It definitely does not suggest the fulfillment of an idealistic wish for a political system in which character and ideas can consistently trump money and machinery.

But Iowa did show us..that we are most certainly on our way to the first - and that there is no excuse for giving up on the quest for the second.