Sunday, December 25, 2016

Week 53: Arms Race (December 25, 2016)

Dear Readers,

Merry Christmas! A reminder that all newsletters (and more) are available at

The Electoral College Results

Remember how I said there would be no faithless electors? Well, that didn’t work out too well for me. Of Clinton’s 232 electors, five went faithless. One elector in Hawai’i voted for Bernie Sanders, and three in Washington went for Colin Powell, with another in Washington voting for Faith Spotted Eagle (as a protest regarding Standing Rock and the oil pipeline). In addition, two of Trump’s 304 electors went faithless, both from Texas. One voted for Ron Paul, the other for John Kasich.

Now, the one thing that stands out (besides the ridiculous number of faithless electors), is Washington. The reason there were four faithless electors here was because the electors were chosen through the caucus system, during which some 70% of people voted for Bernie Sanders. So now that we know these are Bernie supporters, can somebody give a reason they’d vote for Colin Powell?

The standard complaints from disgruntled Bernie supporters are that Clinton isn’t left-wing enough, has too many connections to big business, and gets involved in too many wars. Colin Powell, meanwhile, is a Republican, has about as many Wall Street connections as Clinton does, and was a general for decades. Add his own questionable use of an email server to this, and it’s damn ironic. Look, I’m all for making a mockery of this outdated system, and I certainly have no strong feelings against Colin Powell, but I find the Powell gimmick absurd.

“Let it Be An Arms Race”

In the past week, President-elect Trump has made worrying comments about nuclear weapons, including a call to expand our nuclear arsenal. He’s doing this all while touting that he may finally reach understandings with Russia. It’s unclear who he would want to use nukes against, and it’s, of course, scary, and more evidence that he’s not going to act presidential and will instead be as “tough” as he has said, in a way that is potentially damning for the geopolitical situation in the world.

Bizarre RNC Statement Compares Trump to Jesus?

"Over two millennia ago, a new hope was born into the world, a Savior who would offer the promise of salvation to all mankind. Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King,"

   Now, the RNC have denied that the intention of the statement was to compare Trump with Jesus. But it remains a bizarre statement that can certainly be interpreted that way...

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Week 52: Faithless (December 18, 2016)

Dear Readers,

The election may have passed but there’s always more news. If at any time you no longer wish to receive this newsletter, feel free to reply and let me know. A reminder that all newsletters (and more) are available at

Tomorrow: The Electoral College Vote
Tomorrow, the electors from the electoral college will gather to cast the real votes for president. Don’t get ahead of yourself, however. The official, official results will not be known for a couple of weeks. Why does this matter at all? Well, there is still a chance that an election could go “faithless” by voting for a candidate other than that which won their state. Now, there have been just 2 of these in the past 6 elections, and the last time there was more than one was over 100 years ago, in 1912. However, this election has been so crazy on both sides that anything could happen. I doubt there will be any faithless electors in the end, but you never know.

North Carolina Republicans Curb Governor’s Power

For absolutely no reason at all, the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature have decided to strip the governor’s chair of some power. Directly ignoring the will of the voters who chose Roy Cooper over incumbent Pat McCrory, most famous for telling people what bathroom to use, they have decided to make sure the victory was meaningless. Meanwhile, in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Missouri, where Democrats lost governor’s seats, nothing similar is happening. Hmm....

Meet Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson

The past five Secretaries of State (including Tillerson) have held the positions of:

-Senator from New York and First Lady
-Senator from Massachusetts and Democratic presidential nominee
-National Security Advisor
-Chair of the Joint Chief of Staffs
-Leader of the Boy Scouts of America and Chair of Exxon Mobil

Tillerson, the last one, certainly has interesting credentials for an important job. He also has worrying conflicts of interest and a strange connection to Vladimir Putin. He is the former architect over an oil deal with Putin. He has been given the Russian Order of Friendship, an award given to KGB double agent George Blake and Steven Seagal. Now, it isn’t bad to be liked by another country, but it’s disconcerting for the Secretary of State to be connected to a country that may or may not have hacked our election results.

This Week In World Elections
Canada: Prime Minister Trudeau is coming under fire for failing to meet his promises he made during the election. He cut taxes on the rich, rather than the middle class, and didn’t deliver a schooling grant he promised to First Nations Canadians. Polls, though infrequent, have continued to tighten. His approval rating has fallen significantly. Neither the Conservatives nor the NDP have selected their party leader for next election, so polls are mostly meaningless now, but Trudeau should start to worry soon.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Week 51: "Diebold 2.0" (December 11, 2016)

Dear Readers,

The election may have passed but there’s always more news. If at any time you no longer wish to receive this newsletter, feel free to reply and let me know. A reminder that all newsletters (and more) are available at


The main story this week comes from an announcement, thanks to a secret government official, that the CIA is investigating Russian hacks into the election, and that they have some evidence. However, we must be careful. These are unnamed sources reporting on top-secret information from secretive government organizations. I’m not saying the claims are invalid, but we must not be too quick to assume. What matters here is not whether the outcome was changed - I highly doubt it was, regardless of whether the accusations are true at all. No, what matters here is how much future elections can be affected by this. If Russia or any other hackers can change election results at will, that’s a dangerous sign for our democracy. We’ve long known that our electoral process is slightly clunky and vulnerable, but this basic a mechanical issue is, in many ways, harder to fix. I don’t know what the correct solution is here, and I doubt anyone else does either. It’s just something to ponder, perhaps in fear.

Louisiana Runoff Recap

Well, this is no surprise, but John Kennedy won the Louisiana Senate runoff with 60.7% of the vote. (for a reminder on what it is and why it occurred, check last week’s newsletter) Foster Campbell, a conservative democrat from Shreveport, got trounced downstate and wound up losing by a greater margin than Hillary Clinton did. Clinton carried Shreveport’s county, and Campbell didn’t, even though it’s his hometown. It was an embarrassing loss for Campbell, who tried to replicate Gov. John Bel Edwards’ campaign and failed miserably.

PEOTUS Trump Continues To Deny Daily Intelligence Briefings

In a worrying display, our president-elect continues to decline daily intelligence briefings. This is one of the most important things one can receive as the president and the fact that our already unqualified, unconventional president is unwilling to be informed about global issues means that he will either show up to work on January 20th over his head, or governed by lies. Either way, it could lead to a messy situation that is currently avoidable, and I’m worried about the potential situations we as a nation could find ourselves in.

The Trump Cabinet

Trump announced a few more Cabinet positions this week. For Treasury, he chose Goldman Sachs executive and hedge fund manager Steven Mnuchin (a reminder that Trump attacked Hillary on being too close to Wall Street). He announced Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development, and for Homeland Security announced General John Kelly. Some are worried that there are already multiple generals in his cabinet, but Homeland Security and Defense are, in my opinion, reasonable places for generals to be. In addition, former Exxon chief Rex Tillerson appears to be the favorite for Secretary of State. It was recently announced that on Monday, Trump would meet to discuss Cabinet positions with:

-Former CEO and presidential candidate Carly Fiorina
-Former Senator and presidential candidate who once lost re-election by 17 points, Rick Santorum
-Far-right-wing US Representative Raul Labrador
-Democratic Senator Joe Manchin

It’s a strange list; make of it what you will.

Trump Will Remain Executive Producer of “Celebrity Apprentice”

A report announces that Trump will continue in his position as executive producer of his hit show, the Celebrity Apprentice. He claims he will devote “zero time” to it, but his salary is reputed to be six figures. Regardless of whether he spends any time on this job, he still leads a show on a major network, while he is president. Even if his name is just in the credits for having the idea, he still receives a check.

This Week In World Elections
Canada: The Liberal party in Canada saw their vote share in a recent poll plummet, as the margin over the Conservatives fell from 23 points to 8 points. This is likely related to Trudeau’s reaction to Castro’s death and his decision to approve one oil pipeline and dismiss another. This, combined with a recent allegation of indecent fundraising, could turn the next elections into a horserace again. Or, it could all be a false alarm.

Thank you for reading. Feel free to comment or reply!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Week 50: "#TimeToGetTough"

Dear Readers,

We’ve officially made it fifty weeks! I’m as impressed as you are.

The election may have passed but there’s always more news. If at any time you no longer wish to receive this newsletter, feel free to reply and let me know. A reminder that all newsletters (and more) are available at

Explaining the Louisiana Senate Runoff

Next Saturday, John Kennedy and Foster Campbell will face off in a runoff for Louisiana’s Senate seat. While it’s unimportant and the Republican, Kennedy, should win easily, I figured I’d explain why it’s happening. Louisiana’s elections begin with a “jungle primary” on election day. What is a jungle primary? Well, instead of having primaries within a party, all the candidates are listed on the same ballot. Then, the top two candidates advance to a runoff, held a month after the election. There are both benefits and drawbacks to this system, but multiple states have it, including California and Washington. Louisiana is the only one that holds the jungle primary on election day, however.

Another Week in Trump’s America

So much happened this week that I will give a bullet-point list, rather than write paragraphs:

-Trump called the leader of Taiwan this week, a controversial move considering that the Taiwan-China dispute is one of the most heated in the world. Trump’s decision to call Taiwan is seen by many (including many in Beijing) as a mistake rather than a deliberate decision of policy, but it could spell worrisome considering that both Trump and China are not quiet in their foreign actions.

-In a more routine call, Trump called Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The only reason it was newsworthy was because of the things Trump said about Pakistan, not necessarily known as a huge ally of the U.S. President Trump reportedly said “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, you have a very good reputation. You are a terrific guy... Pakistanis are one of the most intelligent people. I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems." Pakistan, of course, is most notable for being the country in which Osama bin Laden hid. Trump himself once tweeted: "Get it straight: Pakistan is not our friend. We've given them billions and billions of dollars, and what did we get? Betrayal and disrespect — and much worse. #TimeToGetTough."

-In yet another incident with a foreign leader, this week Phillippine president Rodrigo Duterte, certainly no stranger to controversy, claimed that Donald Trump endorsed his antidrug campaign. Okay, what’s the problem with that? Well, Duterte’s anti-drug policy has been to round up drug dealers and kill them. Not only does he do this, he likely kills people who aren’t actually accused of dealing drugs and who he just doesn’t like. Regardless of that last statement, it is awful to give drug dealers the death penalty - even the most vocal supporters of the death penalty usually agree it shouldn’t be used for much more than murder. If Trump is truly in support of this, like Duterte says, it would spell a worrying future for America.

-Trump continues to insist that the popular vote in the election was rigged because of millions who voted illegally, and vice president-elect Mike Pence is defending him on it, claiming it’s “his right to express his opinion.” First off, it’s not an “opinion.” Trump is claiming a massive occurrence of voter fraud that somehow escaped all data and all reports. The reason this matters is because it shows Trump’s attitude towards voter suppression, a practice his party commonly engages in, and which is objectively anti-democracy.

This Week In World Elections
The Gambia: For the fifth time, twenty-year dictator Yahya Jammeh held an election to see if he could continue his rule. The most recent time, he easily won 71% of the vote. This time, he did everything in his power to hack the results, shutting down the internet on election day. However, challenger Adama Barrow, a businessman, won 46% of the vote and somehow defeated Jammeh. This will notably mark the first peaceful transition of power ever in The Gambia.

Austria: For the third time, Austria has held their presidential runoff. After the first round of voting in April, it was announced the runoff would be held between Green Party candidate and economics professor Alexander van der Bellen, and nationalist Islamophobe Norbert Hofer. However, the initial runoff was annulled after it was found that results were strange, such as 147% turnout in one precinct. So, they scheduled a round for October, but it was postponed again for today. This time, van der Bellen won with 53% of the vote.

Italy: In Italy, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi held a referendum on whether to shrink the Italian Senate. It wasn’t necessarily an unpopular decision, but Renzi messed up on one decision. He decided that if the vote failed, he would step down. That turned the decision into more of a referendum on Renzi himself. Lo and behold, the referendum failed, and he has to step down, which has probably paved the way for yet another nationalist to take power in a major Western country,

Thank you for reading. Feel free to comment or reply!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Week 49: "The Election That Never Ends" (November 27, 2016)

Dear Readers,

The election may have passed but there’s always more news. If at any time you no longer wish to receive this newsletter, feel free to reply and let me know. A reminder that all newsletters (and more) are available at

An Effort for A Recount

The talk of a recount began very small. A few mathematicians noted some possible errors in the results and advised the Clinton team to push for a recount. However, Clinton declined, and it took third-party candidate Jill Stein to raise money and file for a recount in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. She also plans to file in Michigan, closest of the three, but has not yet done so. The odds that any changes happen are very low and the odds that it flips the results are next to none, but it is nice to have confirmation of the results, although there are still some drawbacks, such as loss of trust in the system.
The margins for Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are both greater than 20,000 votes - there would have had to be a major error to flip the results at all. Michigan is more likely, seeing that the margin was only 11,700 votes, but even then it would take huge amounts of human error to flip it at all, and it would accomplish very little to see just Michigan flip. I’d assign the chance of the election outcome to be astronomically small, but this year has been so crazy that you never know...

Continued Cabinet Announcements
-For Secretary of Education, Trump has chosen Betsy DeVos, a noted charter school advocate who is anti-public school.

-For Ambassador to the UN, he has chosen Nikki Haley who has next to no foreign policy experience

There remains much uncertainty around the other positions, especially Secretary of State.

This Week In World Elections
Cuba: Longtime president/prime minister Fidel Castro was pronounced dead this weekend, leading to mixed, but mostly negative, reactions around the world. One that particularly raised eyebrows was a quite sentimental reaction from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

France: The Republican Party primary runoff was held between Francois Fillon and Alain Juppé. Fillon received nearly two-thirds of the vote and won, meaning the election is likely to be held between President Francois Hollande for the Socialists, Fillon for the Republicans, and Marine Le Pen for the Front National, as well as some smaller parties’ candidates.

Thank you for reading. Sorry that this one was short and late! As always, feel free to reply and comment.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Week 48: "Jefferson Beauregard the Third" (November 20, 2016)

Dear Readers,

The election may have passed but there’s always more news. If at any time you no longer wish to receive this newsletter, feel free to reply and let me know. A reminder that all newsletters (and more) are available at

Trump’s America: Week #1

Donald Trump has not wasted his time in doing controversial things as a president-elect. First off, he announced his preferred pick of noted racist and Alabama’s Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (better known as Jeff Sessions) to Attorney General. Next, he held a meeting under questionable protocol with the President of Japan, Shinzo Abe. Normally, the president meets first with the head of state of England, for one. Also, his daughter Ivanka, who will become the leader of his business in January, attended the meeting under questionable legality - both as a question of conflict of interest and a question of security clearance. At the meeting, he reportedly knew next to nothing about existing trade deals with Japan. Also, no press was allowed in.
He also offered an unspecified cabinet position to Ben Carson, who declined, and claimed General James Mattis, who thinks Iran is more of a danger than ISIS, was the frontrunner for Secretary of Defense (though he admittedly has a very impressive record in the military). He also bizarrely sent a tweet praising Chuck Schumer, of all people.

The Case for the Electoral College

In the past few weeks, we’ve heard a lot of clamor to eliminate the electoral college. Yes, it has failed twice in the last five elections. But it also does a lot of good. I personally don’t exactly have an opinion, but these are some reasons to support it:

-It gives voice to (some) smaller states: With the electoral college, there is some incentive for politicians to campaign in small states and smaller areas. With a national popular vote, candidates would have very little incentive to go to areas with less than 300,000 people, since the potential to gain votes would be low.

-It emphasizes broad appeal: The president of the United States has to be the president chosen by the people of 50 states - if 30 states vote one way, like this time, that gives the president the mandate of 60% of states, which means something. Indeed, if a candidate won the popular vote by appealing to a couple of regions or demographics, then they might not be the perfect president for all of America, and the electoral college helps fix this.

-It simplifies recounts: In the event of a close national popular vote election, every single vote would have to be counted again. With the electoral college, recounts are simplified to single states, lowering time taken and total cost, as well as improving trust in the system - a complete national recount would have many allegations of vote rigging.

-Any other system would be hard to implement: Any other system would require either a constitutional amendment or a widespread agreement, either of which would likely need some smaller states to sign it, which is unlikely, seeing as the current system benefits smaller states (as it should.)

Trump Settles Trump U Fraud Case

A bit of news that was overshadowed this week was the fact that the notable Trump University fraud case was settled for $25 million (considerably less than the $40 million initially asked.) Trump also notably gets a tax write-off for this. However, it’s a bit ironic that Trump, who claimed in a primary debate that "[he doesn't] settle cases ... because that's why I don't get sued very often, because I don't settle, unlike a lot of other people" had to settle this high-profile case. I will also note that the above quote was in the context of this very trial.

This Week In World Elections
France: The French Republican party held their presidential primary today, and surprisingly, the voters rejected former president Nicolas Sarkozy in favor of two former Prime Ministers, Alain Juppé and Francois Fillon, who will face off in a runoff next Sunday. Fillon is seen as more pro-England and pro-EU than Sarkozy, while Juppé is more to the center of the party and isn’t very divisive. Both Fillon and Juppé have agreed to serve only one full term if elected.

Thank you for reading. As always, feel free to reply and comment!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Week 47: "306-222" (November 13, 2016)

Dear Readers,

The election may have passed but there’s always more news. If at any time you no longer wish to receive this newsletter, feel free to reply and let me know. A reminder that all newsletters (and more) are available at

What We All Got Wrong
As you may know, the election happened. As you also many know, Donald Trump beat lengthy odds to win Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, and the presidency. (However, I will note, Hillary Clinton earned more popular votes.) Trump never led in a poll of Wisconsin, and led in just one poll each of Michigan and Pennsylvania (among those taken in the month before the election). The victory came as a shock to many, including myself, who predicted comfortable Hillary Clinton wins in the electoral college. So what went wrong?
The first thing one notices when looking at the results is the surprising sweep of the midwest done by Trump. Five of the six Obama states he picked up were in the midwest (including Pennsylvania, for simplicity). The map excluding the midwest, in fact, looked similar to what many had predicted. So the error found in the polling seems to be specific to this one region. Now, there is one thing Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have in common that no other states do. They all have one or two large, diverse urban centers with rural, largely white, areas around them. Trump’s populist message resonated very well in these rural areas, and when push came to shove, Clinton couldn’t get urban minorities to turn out for her at the same frequency they did for Barack Obama four and eight years before. Indeed, turnout went way down in all these states.

The Ten Reasons the Election Went As It Did

Look, it should have been easy for Hillary Clinton to win this election. Barack Obama’s approval rating hovers around 53%. Trump is the most unpopular presidential candidate in recent history. The economy isn’t looking very negative. So why did Hillary Clinton lose?

  1. The Electoral College: I suppose I must address this issue. For the second time in sixteen years, the electoral college elected the candidate with less votes to be president. Defenders of this system will point out that it takes broad appeal to be elected president, and will say it gives voice to smaller states. Critiquers will point out the high failure rate and say it is antiquated.
  2. James Comey: The other common scapegoat is James Comey. While his decision to re-open the email investigation may have helped cause a late movement in the polls toward Trump, the polls were tightening anyway, and Comey was just doing his job.
  3. Obama not on the Ticket: Barack Obama managed to win such a large victory in 2008 and 2012 largely because he got minorities to turnout more than usual and vote more Democrat than usual . However, with Clinton running instead of Obama, minority turnout fell, largely because Clinton was less inspirational and had less outreach.
  4. Clinton’s Own Unpopularity: Trump may have been the most unpopular major party candidate for many years, but Clinton herself had a net unfavorable rating and was viewed unfavorably even by many of her own supporters. The constant reminders of Clinton’s many scandals invaded media coverage and dampened enthusiasm.
  5. Clinton’s Perceived Elitism: Many Rust Belt voters who voted for Obama twice were more excited by Trump this year because he was populist like Obama was. He promised working-class voters that they’d get their jobs back, while Clinton did not do very much of the same.
  6. Clinton’s Negative Ads: Especially in the midwest, the Clinton campaign ran many negative, anti-Trump ads. This diluted the campaign message and failed to inspire voters. Trump didn’t exactly remain positive, with his own last ad instead featuring anti-Semitic dogwhistles, but he inspired voters much more than Mrs. Clinton did.`
  7. Message: The last, most important, reason this election went as it did is one that isn’t covered very often. From the beginning, Trump has made his campaign about “Making America Great Again.” It is a brilliant slogan that means many different things to different people. It matters more than any policy, and conveys the attitude and emotion Trump has into a short statement. Clinton tried many slogans, none of which stuck as well as Trump’s did. I’m not going to say it won him the election, but it definitely helped.

What Happened Downticket

In the Senate, only two seats flipped from the Republicans to the Democrats. In Illinois, Tammy Duckworth defeated Mark Kirk, and Maggie Hassan beat Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire. In the end, every Senate race voted the same way as the presidential race in the same state, and that leaves Republicans with 52-48 control, pending a runoff in Louisiana. Democrats similarly picked up just 6 or 7 seats (some races are still uncalled/outstanding) in the House. Gubernatorial races were similarly bleak for the Democratic party. While the map heading in looked like it could result in one or two Democratic pickups, the Republicans gained 3 governorships (still pending results in North Carolina.)

Reactions to the Results

The results of Tuesday have led to three things: a petition to cause faithless electors, future talk about ending the electoral college, and riots and protests.

When the electors of the electoral college vote in December, some of them could possibly vote for a different candidate than that chosen by the states. A petition is being spread around to somehow convince 38 electors to overthrow the democratic process of America and vote for Hillary Clinton. Regardless of who won the popular vote, this sets an awful precedent. The rules were known to both candidates going in, and Clinton herself has accepted the results.

The correct course of action to this, if one is so inclined, is to work to defeat the electoral college for the future. Now, I believe that there are many issues with a national popular vote and the electoral college does have benefits, but if you’re truly worried by the results of the election, this is the correct course of action, not the first or the last things listed here.

Clinton supporters have taken to the streets in major cities in protest. One such protest, in Portland, Oregon, did, indeed turn violent and led to 71 arrests. Thousands yet again took to the streets on 5th avenue in New York. I still think this is the wrong course of action - the sentiment is not bad, but it makes liberals appear whiny and like sore losers. And it completely ignores the huge elephant in the room - the fact that liberal and conservative America have grown increasingly divided. And protests sure won’t help that.

I was going to write about the Bulgarian election and all that, but I really feel like I should end on this message. In the wake of this election, don’t sit around moping, and please, please don’t riot. Instead, go out and listen to the people you disagree with. The one reason I am thankful - or at least, I hope to be thankful - for this election is that it enabled Democrats and Clinton supporters to see past our liberal bubbles. So please don’t disappoint me. Read a Breitbart article. Watch an interview with a midwestern voter on CNN. Dare to see where the other side is coming from. That is what you can do to make your country better.

Thank you for reading. As always, feel free to reply and comment!