A Case for Proportional Representation in the US

For a few years now, I’ve thought that the US needs to move to proportional representation (PR) for our electoral system.  Now that we’re done with the conventions for both major parties here, it is more apparent than ever that we need to move to it.

What is Proportional Representation?
Basically, PR is an electoral system in which parties on a ballot are given the same percentage (or as close to it as possible) of seats in the legislature as they received in the election.  Usually, parties have to receive a certain percentage of votes (a threshold) in order to receive seats.  For example, if your party of choice received 25% of the votes in the election, it would have 25% of the seats in the legislature.  It should be noted, however, that PR is used in parliamentary systems, which means the US would have to move to one as well.

Why Is Now a Good Time for the US to Adopt a PR System?
PR is much more democratic than our current First Past the Post system.  As it stands, all a candidate needs to receive to win is a majority of the vote.  So, if they receive 51%, they win and go on into office.  That also means that 49% of the population now feel they are not being represented.

A PR system would also make voting more pleasant in situations like we now find ourselves.  We’ve got two candidates for president that are quite disliked.  Take a look at this article, for example, over at fivethrityeight, “Americans’ Distaste for both Trump and Clinton is Record-Breaking.”  In it, Harry Enten, points out that “Clinton and Trump are both more strongly disliked than any nominee at this point in the past 10 presidential cycles.”

In addition to the unpopularity of the candidates, the two major parties are split over their nominees.  As we saw at the recent Democratic convention, Bernie Sanders’ supporters are unhappy with the process and the results.  On the Republican side, Ted Cruz spoke at the convention about voting one’s conscience (i.e. don’t vote for Trump if you don’t like him).

So, if you don’t like either candidate, for whom do you vote?  Progressives are being told to suck it up and vote for Clinton because if they don’t, Trump will win, and that could lead to a dictatorship.  Conservatives are being told to suck it up and vote for Trump because if they don’t, Clinton will win, and that will mean at least four more years of Obama-esque policies.  They’re also being told a vote for the Greens and Jill Stein, or the Libertarians and Gary Johnson, is just a wasted vote and could lead to Clinton/Trump winning.  What do you do then if you truly believe in the platforms of Stein or Johnson?

What Might a PR System Look Like in the US?
Based on the current situation, I think we would have at least six big parties.  These are just generic names, so you can name them whatever you please- Greens, Social Democrats (Bernie Sanders’ supporters), Moderate Democrats (Hillary Clinton supporters), Moderate Republicans (non-Trump supporters), Nationalists (Trump supporters), and Libertarians.

This system would truly allow people to vote their conscience and feel represented in government.  It might also help avoid the gridlock and government shutdowns we currently experience.

For more information on the PR system I recommend the two following websites: FairVote and the Electoral Reform Society.

What do you think- is it time for the US to change our electoral system?

Thanks for reading.

Lesson Plan: European Cooperation and Integration

Four years ago I created a lesson plan on the origins of European economic cooperation and integration for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for European Studies.  Since today is Europe Day, I thought I would update it and share it here.  Feel free to use it as is or adapt it for your own needs.

Title of Lesson Plan: The Origins of European Economic Cooperation and Integration

Grades: 9-12

Brief Description: In this lesson, students will learn about the arguments made in favor of European economic cooperation and integration after the Second World War.

Time: 2-3 days

Objectives: By the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • evaluate the arguments made for economic cooperation and integration
  • synthesize the information to create their own argument about economic cooperation and integration

Materials Needed:

Directions:

  1. Day One: Students will read and the historical background piece, “The Origins of the Schuman Plan.”  The instructor will answer any clarifying questions and add any relevant information pertinent to the curriculum (i.e. information on Europe between 1914 and 1945).  For Day Two, assign students the “Marshall Plan speech” and the “Letter from Jean Monnet to Robert Schuman.”
  2. Day Two: Hand out the discussion guide and discuss the first two sources.  The instructor will want to address some of the more important points of the sources.  For Day Three, assign students the “Schuman Declaration” and “The Ruhr has replaced the United States as France’s main coal supplier.”
  3. Day Three: Discuss the last two sources.  The instructor will want to address some of the more important points of the sources.  Assign the Big Picture Questions and collect the discussion guide when complete.

Assessment: The assessment for this lesson is the “Discussion Guide.”

Extension: Students may want to examine some of the current issues surrounding the EU (Eurozone, refugee crisis, Brexit, etc.) and discuss whether or not economic cooperation and integration is still worth it.

Educational Content Standards (WI Model Academic Standards):

  • History, B.12.2 Analyze primary and secondary sources related to a historical question to evaluate their relevance, make comparisons, integrate new information with prior knowledge, and come to a reasoned conclusion
  • History, B.12.8 Recall, select, and explain the significance of important people, their work, and their ideas in the areas of political and intellectual leadership, inventions, discoveries, and the arts, within each major era of Wisconsin, United States, and world history

Thanks for reading.

10 Contradictions of Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy

Donald Trump gave a speech today at the Center for National Interest outlining his foreign policy.   His speech lasted approximately forty-five minutes and was comprised of two main parts- 1) what he felt was wrong with the Obama administration’s foreign policy, and 2) his vision for fixing those perceived ills.  At one point he said, “Our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster.  No vision, no purpose, no direction, no strategy;” the same could be said for his ideas, as they were full of contradictions and would be disastrous for the US.

Contradiction #1: In his section on overextension of resources, Trump proposed “we need to rebuild our military.”  In the next section, however, about our allies not paying their fair share, he said that “we have spent trillions of dollars over time…building up our military to provide a strong defense for Europe and Asia.”  If we’ve spent that much money, and have that large of a military, does it really need to be rebuilt?

Contradiction #2: In that same second section, Trump argued “[Our allies] look at the United States as weak.”  If they truly think we’re weak, they probably wouldn’t want us defending them.

Contradiction #3: “A Trump Administration will lead a free world that is properly armed and funded.”  Since Trump cannot force countries to increase their military spending, so I don’t see how this will be accomplished.

Contradiction #4: “President Obama…abandoned our missile defense plans with Poland and the Czech Republic.”  Trump just said our allies need to do more for their defense, so wouldn’t he also not want US missile defense in Eastern Europe?

Contradiction #5:  “We’re a humanitarian nation.”  Not really.  Trump chastised our NATO allies for not meeting the target of spending 2% of GDP on defense, but the US does not meet the commitment to spend .7% of GNI on Official Development Assistance.  In 2015, we spent only .17%.

Contradiction #6: Even though it’s not in the copy of the remarks, at 1:08:18 (of the video below) he says “We want to bring peace to the world.  Too much destruction out there.  Too many destructive weapons.  The power of weaponry is the single biggest problem that we have today in the world.”  How can he say this when earlier he said he wanted to “rebuild our military” and modernize and renew our nuclear weapons arsenal?

Contradiction #7: “I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia…is possible.”  If we put missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, as it appears Trump wanted, it would actually lead to more tension with Russia.

Contradiction #8: In regards to China- “We can both benefit or we can both go our separate ways.” China owns over $1 trillion in US debt; we cannot just go our own ways.

Contradiction #9: “America will continually play the role of peacemaker.”  Peacemakers don’t increase military spending and modernize their nuclear arsenals.

Contradiction #10: America no longer has a clear understanding of our foreign policy goals.”  After watching the speech and making my way through his contradictory remarks, I don’t have a clear understanding of Trump’s foreign policy (and I know I’m not alone.)  His vision (or lack thereof) and contradictory ideas are not good for the US and not good for our allies.

Here’s the video of the speech; his remarks begin around 34:30.

What are your thoughts on Trump’s foreign policy?

Thanks for reading.

Sweden’s Success at Promoting its Values

Last year, I wrote a post comparing the US with Scandinavia, and while the statistics I found impressed me, Sweden continues to make the case for being one of the most amazing countries in the world.  First, Sweden has made a considerable contribution to international relations with its feminist foreign policy.  Second, anybody in the world can now call a random Swede and talk about pretty much anything.  Even though the latter is lighthearted in nature, both are two examples of Sweden’s success at promoting its values.

Feminist Foreign Policy
FM Margot Wallström heads up Sweden’s feminist foreign policy, explained as the following:

Equality between women and men is a fundamental aim of Swedish foreign policy. Ensuring that women and girls can enjoy their fundamental human rights is both an obligation within the framework of our international commitments, and a prerequisite for reaching Sweden’s broader foreign policy goals on peace, and security and sustainable development. (Government Offices of Sweden)

While FM Wallström has been leading the way for two years now, it was a lecture she gave recently in Brussels that really moved me.  During her speech she argued that we need to create more opportunities for women to be involved in decision-making processes, including in national parliaments and in diplomatic negotiations.  She also proposed that a feminist foreign can help improve the lives of women and girls around the world.  Anybody familiar with the Sustainable Development Goals (and previous Millennium Development Goals), knows that gender equality (SDG 5) is crucial for eradicating poverty and making the world a better place.

What made the speech even more memorable was that five of my brightest female students joined me to watch it.  It was an absolute joy to talk (and tweet) with them about FM Wallström’s remarks; in fact, it was probably one of my favorite moments in my fourteen-year teaching career.  At one point I tweeted a picture of them watching the speech, and much to our surprise, the Permanent Representation of Sweden to the EU used it as the header for their Storify of the lecture.  My students were so inspired by her (as was I) that they decided to plan and host a workshop at our school on empowering women and girls.  Surely this as a sign that Sweden’s feminist foreign policy is making a difference and resonates with a global audience.

You can watchFM Wallström’s March 14 speech and subsequent Q+A in the video below.

The Swedish Number
The Swedish Tourist Association launched the Swedish Number on April 6, as a way to promote Sweden around the world.  Anybody can dial the number and be connected to a random Swede to talk about anything; at one point, even PM Stefan Löfven answered phone calls.

I wanted to find out what all the buzz was about, so I decided to call the number myself.  I got connected to Emil (sp?) in Stockholm.  He was at work and said that he and his officemate had already taken 3-4 calls since the Swedish Number started.  I asked him why he signed up, and he said that it was a cool concept.  He also liked the way it gave Swedes to reach out to others.  I asked if he had heard of Wisconsin, which he had but he wasn’t quite sure where we’re located.  I also wanted to find out what he thought of FM Wallström and Sweden’s feminist foreign policy.  He said that he fully supports it, as do most of the Swedes he knows.  Before I ended our conversation, I asked what he wanted my students and other Americans to know about Sweden.  He responded by talking about Sweden’s strong record on the environment and encouraged my students to make eco-friendly decisions.  All in all, it was a great five minutes.

Here’s the video the Swedish Tourist Association put out to promote the Swedish Number.

Conclusion
Sweden is doing an amazing job using its soft power to promote its values.  I’m not saying Sweden is perfect, but I definitely understand why people want to move there.

If you’ve called the Swedish Number, or you’re a Swedish phone ambassador, I would love to hear about your experience.

Finally, what are your thoughts on Sweden’s feminist foreign policy?  Is it a new approach that other countries should emulate?

Thanks for reading.

Educating Youth to be Active Citizens

When I saw the list of topics for the German Marshall Fund’s Triennial Transatlantic Leaders Retreat, I was intrigued. Halfway down the list was a topic on which I have previously written- “Youth quake: Engaging youth worldwide in learning and service.” I immediately  began thinking about what I’ve written and what I might add to those ideas to create something as if I were there as a guest speaker on that panel.  My overall premise is that if we want to engage youth, they need to have a framework around which they can build, and they absolutely must have opportunities for political participation.

A Framework
For the past four years I have used the Millennium Development Goals, and now the Sustainable Development Goals, in my classes.  Seeing as how the SDGs constitute a “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity,” they are ideal for giving youth opportunities to be active citizens.  As a framework in class, not only do they help us learn about the work of the UN and NGOs, we also come back to them when we discuss current issues.  Giving the students a framework they can reference throughout the year makes increases their retention of the material and provides them with a base for their political participation.

Opportunities for Political Participation
While there are a number a ways citizens can participate in the political process, I want to focus on three- writing letters, presenting policy proposals, and volunteering.

When it comes to the MDGs and SDGs, I’ve given the students numerous opportunities to research a variety of those goals and then to write letters to UN officials with their opinions about addressing those problems (see my previous post about this activity here).  When we get a response from those officials, it lets the students know that their voice matters.  This year for example, we heard from Laurent Thomas of the FAO in response to the students’ letters about food security.

A second idea is to give students the opportunity to present policy ideas to their elected officials.  The U.S. can learn much from our friends across the Atlantic in these regards, especially with their children’s parliaments and the European Youth Event (see my previous post about this idea here).  If our youth feel they have a say in the process, then perhaps it will lead to increased political participation.

Finally, besides voicing their opinions on how to best cure the ills of society, students should actually have opportunities to work improving society.  This year, my students and I started VeronaAid, a student-driven charity whose “mission is to deliver aid to the impoverished citizens of Dane County and to make a difference in the lives of those affected by the Syrian refugee crisis.” We meet once a week to work on spreading our message and coming up with ideas for fundraising.  Because the students have a voice in this venture, they have an interest in seeing it succeed.  If you would like to see examples of their activities, please check out the website and our social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).  If we tie this back to my idea of a framework, SDG 1 is “End poverty in all its forms everywhere;” the students of VeronaAid are working towards this goal with every diaper bag or backpack they fill and every presentation they give.

Questions
What do other teachers do to encourage their students to engage in political participation?  How can we coordinate our actions at my high school with those of other schools in the area and even around the world?  Are politicians ready to listen to students’ policy ideas and give them serious consideration?

Thanks for reading.