There are exactly two weeks to go before the polls open in the 2012 presidential election. The primaries are history, the conventions are long since over, the debates are done, and there's nothing left to do but go vote.
Presidential elections are not decided by a popular vote. Instead, they are decided by an electoral college vote. Each state gets a set number of electoral votes, based on its population. In all but two states, electoral votes are given in a "winner-take-all" system; in other words, all the electoral votes in the state go to the candidate who wins the most popular votes in the state. Maine and Nebraska apportion their electoral votes into districts, with the popular vote in each district determining who wins that district's electoral vote.
In this year's election, most of the states are already more or less decided. It's not that those states have already voted, or that those states don't still have individual undecided voters, it's just that the polls in those states show one candidate leading by such a significant margin that the chances of that state going to the other person are slim to none.
These states, then, are basically already locked up for one candidate or the other. There are 40 of them, and when you add up their electoral votes, you find that Romney currently has 206 probable electoral votes, and Obama has 201 (270 are needed to win.)
That leaves 10 states remaining, where the polls are still very close (within 5 percentage points) and which neither candidate has yet "locked up." These are the states, then, that will ultimately decide the election.
Those states are: Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida, and Nevada.
Let's look at each of those states individually:
Wisconsin: Obama currently has an average lead of 2.8 points. That's an average of all state polls taken over the last few weeks. However, Romney has not led in a single Wisconsin poll since mid-August, when he had a 1-point lead in two polls. Prior to that, you have to go back to June before you find another Wisconsin poll Romney led in. So despite the average lead being relatively small, Wisconsin has consistently been in Obama's corner throughout the election season. Advantage: Obama.
Virginia: When you average all the Virginia polls over the last few weeks, the candidates are in a dead heat. However, in all the polls taken since Romney's prominent victory in the first debate, Romney has led (albeit by small amounts). Obama had a comfortable lead in Virginia throughout September, showing as much as an 8-point lead in two different polls during that month. But clearly the momentum in Virginia is on Romney's side now. Advantage: Unclear, but leaning Romney.
Florida: Romney currently has an average lead of 1.8 points. More than a dozen polls have been taken in Florida this month alone, and Romney has led in all but three. Like Virginia, Obama had a consistent lead throughout September, but Romney has the momentum there now. Advantage: Romney.
Nevada: Obama has an average lead of 3 points. Like Wisconsin, Romney's surge in the national polls has not been enough to overcome the comfortable margin Obama has enjoyed there throughout the campaign. Not as many polls are taken in Nevada as some of the other states, but you have to go all the way back to April to find a Nevada poll won by Romney. Advantage: Obama.
Colorado: Obama had a consistent lead in Colorado in September, but it has wilted in October. This month, the candidates have gone back and forth, with Romney currently holding a fractional edge (0.2%) over the last three weeks. Advantage: Unclear.
Iowa: Obama has tended to lead in Iowa throughout the campaign season, and currently has an average lead of 2 points in the polls of the past week. As recently as last Wednesday a poll showed him with an 8-point lead. But other polls have showed the candidates tied. Even with Romney's post-debate surge, he has won only one of six polls taken since that time - and that was by just 1 point. Advantage: Obama.
Michigan: Obama's current average lead in Michigan is 5 points, making Michigan just barely a toss-up state at this point. Romney has not won any polls in Michigan since mid-August. Advantage: Obama.
Ohio: Over the last ten days, Obama's average lead in Ohio polls is 1.9 points. Since the first week of September, 31 polls have been taken in Ohio. Obama has won, or been tied, in all but three of them. The only three polls he lost were in the first few days after Romney's debate victory in early October, and Romney had only a 1-point lead in each of those three polls. In the last week alone, Obama has had a lead as high as 5 points in one poll. Advantage: Obama.
New Hampshire: In the last two weeks, Obama has an average lead of 1 point. The last poll taken, however was just released today and it shows Obama with a 9-point lead. However, as recently as just ten days ago, another poll had Romney leading by 4 points. Obama has tended to lead in New Hampshire throughout the campaign season, but the polls have been unsteady since the debate. Advantage: Unclear, but leaning Obama.
Pennsylvania: Like Michigan, Pennsylvania is only barely a toss-up at this point, with Obama leading on average by 4.8 points. His lead in Pennsylvania was simply too large for Romney's post-debate surge to have completely erased. Romney has not won a single poll in Pennsylvania since February, before the primaries were even finished. Advantage: Obama.
So what does all this mean? Well, it means that Obama appears to have weathered Romney's surge since the first debate, and seems on pace to win the election. Of the ten states left whose electoral votes are still up in the air, the only one that seems very likely to go to Romney is Florida. We saw that Virginia, Colorado, and New Hampshire are "unclear." Let's give them all to Romney. Even then, Obama still has 277 electoral votes and wins the election. In fact, we could even throw in Nevada or Iowa, and Obama would still have 271! So Romney could take 6 of the 10 remaining states, and it would still not be enough to give him the election. And remember, of the 10 toss-up states, only one is leaning heavily towards Romney.
I see only one way for Romney to win at this point, and that would be if he could manage to steal Ohio. Ohio has polled almost exclusively in favor of Obama all season long, but it has become very close there over the last month. Obama has maintained a lead, but only just barely. If Romney won Ohio, plus Virginia and Florida, he would need to win only one more of the remaining seven states - even tiny New Hampshire would be enough to tip him over 270 in that case. However, it is notable that even if Romney won the windfall states of Ohio, Virginia, and Florida, Obama could still win if he took the remaining 7 toss-ups.
My prediction: Romney will win Florida, Virginia, and Colorado, but lose the rest, giving Obama a 281-257 electoral college victory. As an alternative, New Hampshire might go to Romney, and Virginia might go to Obama, which would make the final tally 290-248 in favor of Obama.
Romney's only hope lies in winning Ohio, Virginia, and Florida, plus one more of the toss-ups. I think this is an extremely unlikely scenario, based on the polling evidence.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Thursday, October 11, 2012
|William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States|
1. William Howard Taft was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1857. His father, Alphonso Taft, was a prominent lawyer who later served as both Attorney General and Secretary of War under Ulysses S. Grant.
2. Like his father before him, Taft attended Yale, graduating second in his class, then returned to Cincinnati in 1878 to study law. He met Nellie Herron the following year, and they were married in 1886. Nellie's father was a law partner of president Rutherford B. Hayes. Nellie suffered a stroke just a few months after her husband became president and she never fully recovered.
3. Taft rose in prominence very quickly after being admitted to the Ohio bar in 1880. He served first as an Assistant Prosecutor in Cincinnati, and by 1887, at only 30 years of age, he was elected as a judge to the Ohio Superior Court in Cincinnati. Three years later, Benjamin Harrison appointed him as Solicitor General of the United States, arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
4. Following his term as Solicitor General, Taft was appointed in 1892 as a judge to the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. During his time as a circuit judge, his old law school was merged with the University of Cincinnati to become UC's College of Law, and Taft served as its first dean and taught Constitutional Law there.
5. Taft's lifelong ambition had been to serve as a justice for the U.S. Supreme Court, and everything he had done in his career up to that time had been in preparation for this goal. However, in 1900, William McKinley asked him to take part in organizing a government for the Philippines, which had just been ceded to the United States as a result of the Spanish-American war. Taft reluctantly agreed, becoming Governor-General of the new territory in 1901.
6. Following McKinley's death in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt offered to nominate Taft to the Supreme Court, and although this was Taft's undoubted ambition, he declined the offer because he felt that his job was not yet done in the Philippines. Instead, Taft became Secretary of War in 1904, a position which would allow him to continue his work in building the Philippines. He again turned down an offer for the Supreme Court in 1906.
7. Although he regretted his decision, Roosevelt had promised, in 1904, not to run for re-election in 1908. Since Taft had become such a prominent figure in Roosevelt's cabinet by this time, it was apparent to everyone that he was the logical choice of the Republican party for the 1908 presidential election. Though Taft still wanted ultimately to serve on the Supreme Court, he accepted the nomination at the urging of numerous friends and companions, including his wife. The extremely popular Roosevelt heartily supported his campaign and Taft won easily, taking 66% of the electoral vote.
8. During his time in the White House, Taft departed from many of the progressive standards established by his predecessor, and by 1912, Roosevelt was so disgusted with his former protege that he decided to challenge Taft for the 1912 Republican nomination. Twelve states held primaries that year, and Roosevelt won nine of them, while Taft won only one (the others went to a third candidate). Despite this, Taft managed to outmaneuver Roosevelt at the national convention, and ultimately won the nomination. Roosevelt, however, formed his own party, the Progressive Party, and ran on that ticket. With the Republican votes thus split, Democrat Woodrow Wilson won easily. Roosevelt, on the Progressive Party ticket, won more of the percentage vote, and more of the electoral vote, than Taft on the Republican ticket, making Taft's defeat the worst in U.S. history of an incumbent president. It is also the only time since the advent of the 2-party system that one of the major parties has come in third in an election.
9. Following his presidency, Taft taught law at Yale, and vigorously opposed the prohibition movement, which had been gaining steam for some time. In 1921, when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court died, president Warren G. Harding nominated ex-president Taft to succeed him. His nomination was easily ratified by the Senate, and thus Taft became the first and only person in U.S. history to lead both the Executive and Judicial branches of the U.S. government.
10. Taft is most commonly remembered today for his corpulence. While president, he famously became stuck in a White House bathtub and rescuers had to use butter to help free him. He is known to have suffered from sleep apnea due to his weight, and there are numerous contemporary reports of his prodigious appetite and his flatulence problem. He retired from the Supreme Court in 1930 and died several weeks later. He and John F. Kennedy are the only two presidents buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Sunday, October 07, 2012
|The first page of the handwritten Emancipation Proclamation|
As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, I thought a little background might be useful in understanding this important milestone in U.S. History. I have divided the following information up into numbered sections, simply for ease of reading.
The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by Abraham Lincoln in late 1862, scheduled to take effect on January 1, 1863. As an executive order, the Emancipation Proclamation was not a law, but an order issued under the Constitutional powers of the president. It sought to free slaves in areas that were then in rebellion, and made a precedent for using those freed slaves as soldiers in the Union cause.
Although Lincoln privately asserted that he personally wished to see an end to all slavery, his public position on slavery was never an abolitionist one. On the contrary, he expressed his belief that the federal government did not have the legal right to outlaw slavery in the states, and said, instead, that his only goal was to keep slavery from spreading outside those states where it already existed.
In his first inauguration speech, in 1860, he stated emphatically: "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so."
Despite misconceptions to the contrary, the Emancipation Proclamation did not actually outlaw slavery, or free all the slaves. It only freed those people who were slaves in territories that were in rebellion against the United States as of January 1, 1863. As such, the Union slave states of Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland, and Missouri were exempted from the order, and their slaves would not be freed until they did it themselves (Maryland in 1864 and Missouri in early 1865) or until after the war and Lincoln's death, with the passage of the 13th Amendment in December, 1865 (Kentucky and Delaware).
It also did not affect slaves in regions of the Confederacy that had already come back under U.S. control (such as Tennessee, parts of Virginia, and the area around New Orleans). Overall, nearly a million slaves (about 25% of the total) were exempted from the proclamation, and thus legally remained in slavery.
In light of Lincoln's insistence that he had no intention of ending slavery, why did he change his mind and issue the Emancipation Proclamation? Quite simply, it served two political purposes: first to threaten the Confederacy, then to punish it.
The proclamation was issued in September, 1862, and stated that any area still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863, would have its slaves permanently and irrevocably freed. As such, it served as a threat. The threat didn't work, however; no states or territories within the Confederacy returned to the Union.
As such, when January 1 rolled around, it became a punishment: you have rebelled against the United States, so you will be punished by having your slaves freed as our armies move through and subdue your territories. Since slaves were legally only property, they could be confiscated as part of the normal course of a war.
It's interesting to speculate about what might have happened if the states of the Confederacy had actually bowed to the threat of emancipation. What if the rebellious southern states had put down their weapons and returned to the fold before the January 1 deadline? Slavery certainly wouldn't still exist now, in the 21st century, but it may have carried on for several more decades than it actually did.
Despite this, there can be no question that Lincoln's true motivation was not threats or punishments at all, but actually ending slavery. There is also virtually no doubt that he never expected the "threat" to work; he surely didn't expect the rebellious states to drop their weapons and hang their heads in submission. He had always publicly stated his opposition to abolition, on Constitutional grounds, but the war gave him an opportunity to get around the normal limits of the Constitution and ultimately end what he viewed as the immoral institution of slavery.
So how, exactly, did Lincoln achieve this? After all, he had said himself, just two years earlier at his inauguration, that he had no legal right to free slaves. So how did he justify his actions?
There is positively no question that the U.S. Constitution, in 1862, did not give the federal government the right to interfere with slavery in the states. The 10th Amendment states that any power not expressly given to the federal government in the Constitution automatically becomes a right of the individual states. Therefore, since the power to control slavery isn't given in the Constitution to the federal government, it must by default be a state's right. This is why Lincoln, and most everyone else, never embraced abolition as a legal right of the federal government. It was unquestionably a state's right.
But because the South had rebelled and was now at war with the Union, Lincoln could use the excuse of hastening the war's end by taking actions aimed at ruining the economy of the enemy - in this case ending slavery. Many people throughout the Union, and particularly in Congress, had argued that ending slavery would decimate the South's economy and thus bring an end to the war.
This, then, is how Lincoln justified the Emancipation Proclamation from a legal standpoint. He argued that hastening an end to the war through economic ruin was necessary to preserve the Union. He further argued that since the president is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military, he has the Constitutional right and responsibility to do whatever he deems necessary to achieve a military victory, particularly when it affects the very preservation of the Union. Remember that the Constitution charges the president with the duty to "preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution, and Lincoln saw preserving the Union as his primary duty as a wartime president.
One argument that Lincoln could not make, and which no doubt caused him more than a few nights of fret, was that he had the right to end slavery because the Confederacy was not part of the United States.
Normally, if a country is at war with another country, and intends to overtake and rebuild that opposing country, setting up military rule and suspending the old civil laws is typically fair game. This is what the Allies did in Germany in World War II, and what numerous other nations have done in wars throughout history.
So Lincoln might have argued that he had the Constitutional right to free Confederate slaves simply because the Confederacy was a foreign nation that the United States was at war with. Anything goes, as it were.
Lincoln would no doubt have loved to make this argument. But he couldn't, because he had spent the first two years of his presidency arguing vociferously that secession was not legal to begin with, the Confederacy was not a legal or legitimate nation, and the states comprising the Confederacy were still part of the "perpetual union" of the United States. This, in fact, had been his entire justification for waging war against the southern states in the first place: they had seceded illegally, were thus in open rebellion against the Union, and the federal government thus had the right and responsibility to subdue them and bring them back into the fold.
With that in mind, he couldn't now turn around and claim that he had the right to free the slaves based on the fact that the Confederacy was a foreign nation and the U.S. was not obligated to recognize its laws. That would have been a "flip-flop" and it wouldn't have sat very well with his supporters, his generals, or his soldiers dying in the fields to preserve the Union.
It's probably fair to say that the Emancipation Proclamation was unconstitutional. That may sound shocking to a lot of people, but it was a common perception and criticism at the time. Anti-war sentiment was very common throughout the North, especially in the first few years of the war. Many people believed that the best way to end slavery in the United States was simply to let the slave states secede and go their merry way; that slaves weren't worth fighting a war over; that as long as slavery didn't expand from those states where it already existed, it wasn't a big deal.
Today we imagine a Union united behind the cause of freeing the slaves, but the fact is that the primary impetus for Union soldiers to fight wasn't freeing slaves; it was preserving the Union. With the exception of the abolitionists, who represented just a small percentage of the whole Union population, most people didn't really have a problem with slavery continuing in the South. Most people figured it would eventually die out on its own, and there were even political movements to give federal aid to states that voluntary repealed their own slavery laws.
So there were many critics of the Emancipation Proclamation when it was enacted, and some of their criticisms, from a purely Constitutional point of view, were probably valid. No one, of course, questions the ethical and moral rightness of the document. But if we look, for a moment, at the Emancipation Proclamation the way a Supreme Court justice might look at it, we're forced to accept the possibility that the entire thing was unconstitutional.
I've already provided Lincoln's own justification for issuing the proclamation. If that passage sounded like a lot of legal mumbo jumbo and hair-splitting, that's because it basically is. The Constitution makes the president the commander-in-chief of the military, but it also assumes that the president will be commanding the military against foreign enemies, not internal ones. And aside from giving the president this broad power, the Constitution is mute on what, exactly, the president can do as commander-in-chief. Hire and fire generals, certainly. Make military decisions during times of war, absolutely. But the actual power of waging war and conducting war belongs to Congress, not the president. It is highly questionable whether Lincoln, in his capacity as commander-in-chief, actually had the constitutional right to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. His justification was, in my opinion, on very shaky legal ground, and probably overstepped his constitutional powers.
Even if we accept that Lincoln had the legal power to issue the proclamation, as part of his wartime powers, there is almost no question whatsoever that the wording of the proclamation itself was unconstitutional.
The key phrase comes in the very beginning of the text: "[Beginning January 1, 1863], all persons held as slaves [within the Confederacy] shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."
In other words, the proclamation isn't vague at all: as of January 1, 1863, slaves held in any territories rebelling against the Union will not just be freed, but will be forever free.
The problem here is that even by Lincoln's own justification, this proclamation was issued as part of the presidential war powers. As such, it could only be understood to be in effect as long as the war continued. Once the war ended, the order could no longer be in effect - meaning that the proclamation didn't actually have the legal authority to declare slaves freed under its powers as "forever" free.
The fact is that if so much of the country had not been focused on waging and winning the existing war, it is a very good possibility that the Emancipation Proclamation might have been challenged in court, and it is difficult to say with any degree of certainty that it would have been upheld as legal.
In the end, the Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most important executive orders ever issued by any president. It was radical, it was provocative, and it might even have been unconstitutional. But it undoubtedly gave a new focus to the war and a new expectation of the war's outcome and ultimate purpose.
Yet, at the same time, it was in many ways very limited. It did not end slavery. It left nearly 25% of existing slaves in servitude. It did not make the practice of slavery illegal. It did not have any authority beyond the war itself, or upon any part of the U.S. not currently in rebellion as of January 1, 1863. Upon its initial implementation, it hardly affected any slaves at all - the slaves that would eventually be freed by it would not be freed until the Union armies reached them, which in many cases would be many months, and even years, later. As one critic has cynically pointed out, the only slaves it freed were those in areas not controlled by the Union - in other words, the enemy is not allowed to have slaves, but we'll keep our own.
Despite this, it is hard to underestimate the importance of this provocative historical document, and the impact is has played on racial issues in the United States for the 150 years since it was enacted.
|This photograph was taken in early October, 1862, just a few weeks after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, to take effect the following January.|
Saturday, October 06, 2012
A little something different today on Ye Olde Blogge. I thought I'd post a bunch of my favorite images from the history of rock. Without further ado, let the tour begin! (Click the picture for full size.)
|These guys agree: New Skynyrd sucks.|
|The last live Beatles performance, on the roof of their studio, 1969.|
|No caption needed.|
|Only the good die young.|
|The incomparable Beastie Boys|
|Jimmy Buffett was a singer-songwriter in the 1970's. He died in 1998.|
|Next to Slash, there's never been a better stage persona than Angus Fucking Young.|
|Pardon me while I get off.|
|Geddy Fucking Lee|
|Alex Lifeson, EASILY the most underrated rock guitarist in history.|
|The Professor. Just revel in it.|
|Love 'em or hate 'em, these guys had no peers in the 1980's, AND they would have kicked your ass for you, too.|
Monday, October 01, 2012
|Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States|
1. Abraham Lincoln was born near Hodgenville, Kentucky, about 40 miles south of Louisville, in 1809. Named for his paternal grandfather, who had been murdered in an Indian attack about 20 years before his birth, Lincoln's maternal grandfather's name is not known. His mother, Nancy Hanks, was born out of wedlock (possibly even the result of rape), and her maiden name was not her father's name, but her mother's. The actor Tom Hanks is a distant relative.
2. Despite the common belief (made famous during his 1860 presidential campaign) that Lincoln was born into virtual poverty, his father was a large landowner and, according to a number of historians, among the richest individuals in LaRue County, Kentucky, at the time of Lincoln's birth.
3. When Lincoln was still a boy, the family moved to Indiana, partly as a result of land disputes in Kentucky, and partly because of the family's strict opposition to slavery, which was legal in Kentucky. His mother died a few years later, in 1818. His father remarried, but in 1820 the family moved to Illinois, due to an outbreak of the same disease that had killed his mother two years earlier.
4. Lincoln is known to have been taught as a child by a series of traveling instructors, but otherwise had no formal education. An avid reader, he was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1836 as a completely self-taught lawyer.
5. Lincoln's love life was complicated: according to his step-mother, he "never took much interest" in girls as a young man, and isn't known to have been romantically involved with any woman until his late 20's. At that time, he was involved with a woman named Ann Rutledge, and when she died in 1835, he was evidently crushed. Not long after, he became involved with a woman named Mary Owen, but broke off their relationship because she got too fat. In his early 30's, Lincoln met and got engaged to Mary Todd, but called it off shortly before their January, 1841, marriage. A year or so later, they rekindled their relationship, and were finally married in late 1842. A number of writers and historians, going as far back as Carl Sandburg in 1926 (whose Lincoln biography won a Pulitzer Prize), have questioned Lincoln's sexual orientation, suggesting he may have been gay or at least bisexual. Others have dismissed these theories as unlikely and supported only by circumstantial evidence.
6. The Lincolns had four children, but only one lived to adulthood. Lincoln's sister had died in the 1820's giving birth to a stillborn child, and since Lincoln himself only had one son who lived to give him grandchildren, he had very few descendants. His last descendant, a great-grandson named Robert, died in 1985 in Virginia.
7. In addition to his law practice, Lincoln served as a member of the Illinois General Assembly throughout the 1830's and 40's, then served one term as a U.S. Congressman from 1846 to 1848, where he took a firm anti-war stance regarding the Mexican-American War that was being waged by president James K. Polk.
8. After leaving Congress in 1848, Lincoln spent the 1850's making himself famous as a lawyer and public speaker, and while he lost bids for U.S. Senate in both 1854 and 1858, the speeches he gave in those campaigns made him a national figure and a rising star in the new anti-slavery Republican party. He was nominated for president in 1860 and won by defeating three other candidates who effectively split the Democratic vote three ways. Although Lincoln was not an abolitionist, and had on numerous occasions stated that his only goal was to keep slavery from expanding to new territories, the slave states of the South seceded after his victory, certain that his election spelled doom for their rights to own slaves.
9. After the start of the Civil War, which began shortly after Lincoln took office, Lincoln did eventually free the slaves, in his now famous Emancipation Proclamation. Many people questioned if he actually had the legal right to do this; Lincoln defended the move by saying it fell under his authority as head of the military. He argued that, because the South was in rebellion, he had the right, as commander-in-chief, to suspend their civil laws. Despite misconceptions to the contrary, the Emancipation Proclamation only affected states and territories that were, as of January 1, 1863, still in rebellion to the Union. Thus, Kentucky and three other border slave-states were excluded, and their slaves were not freed until the 13th Amendment was passed in 1865.
10. Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865, just weeks after the war officially ended. His assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was chased down and shot to death about a month later. Several months after that, four people were hanged for conspiring with Booth, including the first woman ever executed under federal law in U.S. history.