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.

The GOP, the ACA, and the Deficit

Today, January 8, the House voted on and passed H.R. 30, the Save American Workers Act of 2015.  The final tally of the vote was 252 ayes (12 of whom were Democrats), 172 noes (not a single Republican), and 5 not voting.  Following the vote, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) tweeted that the bill passed with his support.  Since I hadn’t heard about the bill, I did a little digging, and this is what I found.

First, the summary given by Congress.gov states that “This bill amends the Internal Revenue Code to change the definition of ‘full-time employee’ for purposes of the employer mandate to provide minimum essential health care coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act from an employee who is employed on average at least 30 hours of service a week to an employee who is employed on average at least 40 hours of service a week.”

Second, the Congressional Budget Office came up with a cost estimate.  The two findings that stood out to me were the following:
1. The legislation would “Increase the number of uninsured—by less than 500,000 people.”
2. “Enacting H.R. 30 would increase budget deficits by $18.1 billion over the 2015-2020 period and by $53.2 billion over the 2015-2025 period.”

While I am concerned that the number of people without insurance would increase (in fact I believe that we should adopt a health insurance system similar to those in Europe), I was also intrigued that the GOP would support legislation that would increase the deficit.  The GOP!  The party that proposes deficit reduction plans and the party that wrote about President Obama’s deficit “problem” at the end of his first term.  Given their past, and ongoing, concern about the deficit, how is it that almost every single member of the GOP voted for H.R. 30?  Simple, it does not really matter to them; instead, they would rather dismantle the ACA and see more people go without health insurance.

Thanks for reading.

Summer of Maps

If you love maps, then you had a good summer because there were a number of stories floating around the web containing various kinds of maps.  As such, I thought it would be useful to put some of the more interesting ones here.

40 Maps That Explain the World— The maps that I found to be particularly interesting were: #2 (Where people are the most and least welcoming to foreigners), #12 (Who loves and hates America), #19 (Economic inequality around the world), #30 (What Europeans think about the European Union), and #33 (The nuclear powers, after the Cold War).

The Racial Dot Map— This one should lead to some discussions about race and segregation.

My Passport to Europe— As someone who has a keen interest in the EU, I used this website to teach my children a little bit about European countries.

Mapping Stereotypes— A tongue-in-cheek collection of maps. The map of “The World According to Americans,” was unfortunately spot on. There are also plenty of maps of “Europe according to (insert country here).”

Every Protest on the Planet since 1979— The timeline in the lower right-hand corner starts automatically, so be ready.

40 Maps They Didn’t Teach You in School— I’m most curious about “United States According to Autocomplete.”

While many of these maps contain a certain amount of humor or require a thick skin, there are some in these collections that will hopefully lead to some interesting discussions.  If there are any in the above selections that you find particularly interesting, feel free to leave a comment.

Lessons I’ve Learned from Commuting by Bicycle

I began bicycling in September 2010 for two reasons- the health benefits and to commute to work.  Living in Madison has made commuting a great experience, and I wanted to share some of the lessons I have learned the past three years.

1. Before you begin commuting, ride your expected route at least once, if not twice.  Look for bike lanes that you can use.  If your route takes you down a busy street and you don’t feel safe, find a parallel side street that you can take.  You should also find out if there are paved bike trails in your area.  Finally, check out the WI Department of Transportation’s webpage with bicycle maps.

2. If you don’t remember what you learned about bicycle safety as a child, brush up by going to the WI Department of Transportation’s webpage for safety tips and rules for riding.

3. Depending on the distance of your commute, you might want to consider buying a pair or two of bike shorts.  My commute is 40 miles round trip, and I learned the hard (and very painful) lesson of riding long distances without proper gear.

4. Consider buying both a headlight and taillight.  This is especially important if you will be cycling in the dark.  If you will not be riding in the dark, they still increase your visibility with automobiles, thereby making your commute that much safer.

5. As a teacher, I bring a lot of work home with me; therefore, I decided to buy a basket big enough for my backpack and laptop.  I tried riding at first with my backpack on my back, but by the time I got home at night, I was uncomfortable.  If a basket isn’t your style, you could always choose a cargo bag or pannier.

6. If you work up a sweat on your commute, make sure your place of employment has a shower facility and place to change.  To decrease the amount of gear I need to take to work with each commute, I take a towel and a few days worth of clothes to work on Sunday.  I have a cupboard in my classroom, so I can store my “dirty” clothes in there for the week until the following Sunday.

7. Finally, if you live in the Madison area, you might want to check out the Choose to Commute workshop put on by the Wisconsin Bike Federation.

There are many other steps you can take to increase the comfort of your commute, but the above recommendations should be enough to get you well on your way.  Commuting really boils down to two very simple, but important, principles- the 6 P’s (Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance) and SAFETY.

Happy Commuting.

Final Thoughts on the OAH Annual Meeting

One of the goals I had for my time here at the annual meeting was to find some books to use for our new AP U.S. History course.  I spent this morning perusing the catalogs while watching/listening to country music videos from the ’90s, counting down the minutes until the exhibit hall opened.  I think I found some good books, but I could definitely use some advice.  This is why I am calling on you, my readers, to give me some suggestions for books to use in my AP course.  I am looking for three or four books that cover some of the big time periods or issues in U.S. history.  Additionally, they cannot be overly long (nothing over 500 pages) and should not be too narrowly focused.  In particular, anything dealing with early colonial America, Native Americans, the antebellum period, and Reconstruction, would be especially useful.  Please leave suggestions as comments.  Many thanks in advance.

One of the things I really liked about this conference was the variety of professions represented.  I went to two different receptions last night, one by the NCPH and then the OAH Presidential Reception.  I went to the NCPH Consultants reception because the description in the program said if one was interested to attend.  Prior to the reception I knew nothing about historical consultants, but the conversations I had were definitely engaging and opened up my eyes to a whole new aspect of history.  It sounds as if the field is growing, which must mean that there is a demand by the public for the type of work that historians do.  My time at the second reception was also well spent as I sat at a table with an independent scholar/writer, a librarian at Ohio State University, and a retired teacher-now graduate student at Texas Christian University.  It was quite interesting to hear about their experiences in history, especially because they are not part of the professorial-side of the field.

Overall, my time here at the annual meeting was fruitful.  I heard some fascinating presentations, gave my own presentation, networked a bit, and picked up what I hope are good books.  Even though I’ve only been to one AHA annual meeting and one OAH annual meeting, I get the sense that the OAH is much more welcoming and inclusive of precollegiate teachers.  I hope that this continues for future meetings.  Next stop- the APSA (if my wife allows me to leave her alone with our three kids for four days again.)