Silent Archimedes

Posts Tagged ‘Senate’

Why the founding fathers got it right with the electoral college

Posted by silentarchimedes on November 8, 2008

The crisis from the 2000 presidential election continued to leave a bad taste in the mouths of the voting public during the 2004 election and even the recently removed 2008 presidential election. To the outsider, the hanging chads and the recount after recount in Florida gave the impression that every person’s vote must count. However, everyone knew that it was one of those rare instances in American presidential politics that a single vote could actually make such a dramatic a difference. A single vote that could potentially give Florida’s electoral college votes to the winning candidate, and thus the presidency. When Florida and the presidency finally went to candidate George Bush, people were at least somewhat happy that the judicial and election systems of America had held its ground.

However, another interesting statistic left the Al Gore camp more perturbed. Candidate Gore had won the popular vote over George Bush. That means more people in the country had voted for Gore over Bush. But due to the electoral college system, Bush won the presidency. Mathematically speaking, each vote cast for Gore was actually worth less than one vote. Or, each vote cast for Bush was worth more than each vote cast for Gore. “This doesn’t seem fair”, the Gore supporters argued. Bush supporters responded, “Well, that’s the system for hundreds of years and it’s always worked.  Stop complaining.”

Presidential candidate Party Home state Popular vote Electoral
Count Pct
George W. Bush Republican Texas 50,456,002 47.87% 271
Al Gore Democratic Tennessee 50,999,897 48.38% 266

Why did the founding fathers use an electoral college instead of a popular vote to determine the winner of the presidential election? In short, the founding fathers were skeptical of the will of the people or their ability to intellectually vote for the candidate of their choice. By inserting a safeguard, the electoral college, the founding fathers believed that if by that rare chance the will of the people was either misguided or that some populated region in America dominated the popular vote, the safeguard would protect American democracy.

Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska

Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska

Which leads me to why I think the electoral college, although in many cases a frustration and hints at unfairness, it is a necessary safeguard. Let’s look at one Senate race this year that could have used something like an electoral college. The Alaska Senate race between Republican incumbent Ted Stevens and Democratic challenger Mark Begich. Ted Stevens was convicted of seven counts of making false statements and taking bribes worth more than $250,000 to make renovations on his personal home. The evidence was overwhelming. After the announced conviction, bipartisan calls for Stevens removal were prominent, reaching up to federal level, including John McCain and Barack Obama. Even the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin said at the time that he had broken his trust with the people and she planned to ask him to step aside. However, the news of the corruption did not affect Stevens attempt for an eighth term in the Senate as he won the Senate elections in November! This is a man who epitomizes the corruption in government and the Alaskan people still voted for him!!! He won by a 1.43% margin (roughly 3200 votes) over Begich. To make it more interesting, Sarah Palin switched her tone and declared that the will of the people had spoken and she would not ask him to step aside. In other words, she was okay with supporting the first felon elected to the US Senate in history!! What about the 46.61% of the people? Is the 48.04% that voted for Stevens the “will of the people.” It is not even a majority. However, the question that really needs answering is why did the people still vote for Ted Stevens? Had they no shame that they were electing a felon to the US Senate for the first time ever?

The corruption scandals associated with Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Don Young. The inexperience and ethical issues of Sarah Palin. The hilarious attempt of Mike Gravel to win the Democratic primary. The Bridge to Nowhere. And finally, the “will of the people” voting for convicted felon, Stevens.  What is going on in Alaska?? I just think the people there live their own merry little lives and are disconnected with reality or don’t care for it. If the presidential election was ran the same way Alaska is, this country would be in big trouble. Are you telling me that if McCain or Obama was convicted as a felon, that they would still win the general election?

This example clearly demonstrates that the will of the people or the ability of the public to vote with due diligence and conscience is not always dependable. The electoral college works for an overwhelming majority of the time. It is only at times of a close race that it has the potential to rear its ugly head. However, if a race is that close anyways, theoretically it won’t really matter who wins since there is no  definitive will of the people.

In the case of Ted Stevens and Alaska, I wish the founding fathers put the electoral college into Senate races as well. But of course they wanted to separate representation at the federal and state elections. Then again, I don’t know if I would trust the electoral college in Alaska either.

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The Near-Sightedness of American Automakers

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 3, 2008


Having a commanding 76% market share (GM 43.8%, Ford 20.4%, Chrysler ~12%) in the United States in 1980, the Big Three Automakers now only carry a 47% share of the domestic cars and light trucks market in 2008. With a complete hold on the domestic market, what happened? The answer lies in how the perception of domestic brands versus international brands have completely swapped. The reason has been the inability of GM, Ford, and Chrysler to predict the intermediate-term trends of the consumer market.

Automakers market share through the years

Ford Taurus

Honda Accord

Whether this was due to hubris, denial or plain ignorance is debatable, and most likely a combination of all three. Japanese cars in the 1970s through the end of the 1980s had the perception that they were horribly unreliable and problematic. European cars had a slightly better, but still negative perception. Instead of realizing that underdogs, or those working from behind, tend to be more hungry and nimble, the Big Three sat on their behinds and continued to pump out staid and non-innovative cars. When the perception of Japanese cars started making headway in safety and comfort in the 1990s, such as the Accord, Camry and Lexus brand, the Big Three was still slow to respond. When the European automakers started importing cars known for luxury, style, speed and beautiful interiors, the Big Three was slow to respond. Even for American icons such as the Chevrolet Corvette, the constant criticism had always focused on how ugly and boring it’s dashboard was. It wasn’t until the latest version, the C6 generation debuted in 2005 (and to a lesser degree the C5 in 1997) did people start complimenting it’s interior. Why did it take so long? What about the Ford Taurus, which was the highest selling car in the mid-1990s? Instead of maintaining it’s sales lead with innovation and style, Ford had to scrap that model in 2006 (only to be resurrected in 2008 by re-labeling the Five-Hundred as the Taurus). When they fell behind in the 1990s, the perception of American cars became that which its competitors were known for a decade or two ago, boring, unreliable, and unsafe.

The last twenty-five years, we have witnessed the Big Three automakers miss or been slow to recognize the consumer trends toward reliable, safe, comfortable, fuel efficient and greener vehicles. The decline of its market share is clearly a result of this. However, it is also important to note that another big reason for its inability to be nimble in recognizing trends is due to its ancient corporate culture and the strength of the autoworkers union. Had the union and the companies worked together by compromising, we might not be seeing such drastic layoffs and cuts the past ten years.


The near-sightedness continues to this day. In an article today on – GM to close 4 factories, may drop Hummer, CEO Rick Wagoner makes another strong statement in reference to the decline of large vehicle sales, “We at GM don’t think this is a spike or a temporary shift.” He believes that the change in the U.S. market to smaller vehicles is likely permanent. As already behind the curve in a consumer move towards more fuel-efficient cars, by jumping on board now with blanket statements like that seem near-sighted. Although current trends support the notion that fuel-efficiency is equivalent to size of vehicle, this might not be the case in the long term. Current vehicles support that correlation only because the weight of the vehicles require larger engines and thus more gasoline per mile driven. However, this is purely an energy source problem and not a size of vehicle problem. Americans are not moving to smaller vehicles because they want smaller cargo space, weaker torque and lower high-end speed, they are moving to smaller vehicles out of necessity. High oil prices and sympathy to global warming have forced them to evaluate the price and efficiency of the cars they drive. If large vehicles, like the SUV, were to be powered by a renewable alternative energy that is just as powerful and efficient as gasoline, just as affordable as current vehicles, and much cleaner for the environment, Americans would be more than willing to buy them, probably at a higher pace the late 1990s. Imagine a brand new 2009 GMC Yukon that achieves the equivalent of 50 miles per gallon, produces no waste, and costs $40,000. GMC would have a hard time keeping up with demand. Although not possible today, it is possible in the next 10 to 20 years. Look how much vehicles have changed since the 1970s. Seatbelts, airbags, electronic-stability control, cleaner fuel, and hybrids are just to name a few. Why make a statement that large vehicles are gone for good? It sounds good now, but it’s purely another example that GM fails to recognize that the problem today is fuel efficiency, which might not correlate to size of vehicle in the future.

The highway system of America is built for large vehicles, not small vehicles such as the Mini Cooper or Smart ForTwo. Even in the cities, small vehicles are not necessarily safer. Our highways and suburbs were built with the notion that gasoline would be permanently accessible and affordable. As the world moves to renewable energy resources as oil hits peak production, it is in the best economic interests of America to continue researching safe and efficient vehicles for our highway system, instead of the other way around. Thus, GM is near-sightedness in completely scrapping the idea of big vehicles. They should be researching the possibility of renewable energy efficiency in big vehicles in parallel to short-term trends of small cars having higher fuel-efficiency.

UPDATE 11/18/08 – The Big Three automakers are in Congress today seeking $25 billion in assistance from the Senate. Seems like even they are sick and tired of the short-sightedness, mismanagement and irresponsibility of the industry:

“Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, dressed down auto industry executives at a hearing Tuesday, calling them short sighted and unimaginative, as the industry seeks $25 billion of taxpayer money to ward off looming bankruptcy.

‘Their board rooms in my view have been devoid of vision,” said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, in opening remarks at a hearing attended by the executives of the nation’s Big Three automakers. “The Big Three turned a blind eye to opportunities. They have promoted and often driven the demand of inefficient, gas guzzling vehicles, and dismissed the threat of global warming.'” (Source: Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney)

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