Oval Office War Games


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Trump, Hillary, politics, Election 2016Judgment day is nigh. Like it or not America will end up with President Hillary Clinton or President Donald Trump. How to choose? We know who Hillary and Donald are. Both have well-documented histories; journalists have plumbed those pasts and analyzed their characters. But what would they do?

To answer that, we “war gamed” their presidencies. How would Trump and Hillary respond to a murderer’s row of foreign and domestic crises? What moves would they make on immigration, taxes, healthcare and the Supreme Court vacancy(ies)?

As long-time political junkies, we assumed it would be easy to picture Hillary’s presidency. But there was much to be discovered during this event-rich thought experiment.

And then there’s Trump. Sure he’s made a lot of promises, and threats. But it’s safe to assume things won’t go and people won’t play the way he’d like. He prides himself on unpredictability, with no idea what’s coming. That made our job fun and the results surprising.

We encourage you to check out our “Oval Office games” at The Imperfect Compromise. Here we summarize the 5 key outcomes:

  • Trump is no dealmaker. Real estate negotiations are child’s play compared to finding common ground with Congress and other nations. In business, both sides come to the table intent on making money, and usually leave with mission accomplished (at least initially). In politics, a deal means nothing but lost votes—the absolute last thing any politician wants. Trump becomes exhausted when the world doesn’t behave the way he demands.
  • Hillary battles Congress and special investigations. Yes Trump is subjected to investigations as well, with endless opportunities to unearth his dirty financial skeletons. But an unprecedented level of suffering awaits Hillary, for whom Republicans have a generation-spanning antipathy bordering on hatred. Gridlock doesn’t do justice to the Right’s delight in blocking and harassing her every move.
  • Trump offers the potential for radical change. Hillary wields executive power in the Obama vein, adding new rules  to existing laws, increasing regulation incrementally. Trump radically revises trade, taxes, immigration and healthcare, quantum leaps previously deemed impossible.

These unprecedented upheavals usurp Congress’s lawmaking power. But strength lies in the initiative. We’ve seen it the past 8 years, presidential orders requiring years of extreme effort to challenge in the courts, with varying degrees of success. Trump goes much bigger than Obama.

To that end, Trump is in no hurry to fill the Supreme Court vacancy; 4-4 stalemates suit him.

  • The national debt balloons under both. Neither candidate is allergic to spending. With the Fed’s interest rate reductions failing to stimulate the economy, Hillary finds creative ways to conjure new government jobs and dole out funding. Trump does likewise, and slashes taxes. When coupled with Trump’s drastic regulatory reductions, long-term economic growth should result. But deficits are huge. In both cases but particularly with Trump, interest rates inevitably rise and the debt becomes unsustainable.
  • Neither candidate is a real hawk. Trump’s unpredictability doesn’t cow our adversaries from challenging us. They understand he’s a bully who fears a bloody nose; it’s one thing to take aggressive military action against ISIS, but quite another to commit the nation to real war. And Hillary is an inveterate negotiator, scarred by Libya and occupied with building coalitions.

Both presidents search for a way to finesse it, to do everything short of war. Russia crosses the bright NATO line in the Baltics and Iran pays terrorists to blow us up. We do not go to war with either.

How to sum up? It was more exciting to role-play Trump. The nutshell comparison: Trump smashes boundaries, Hillary stonewalls Republicans. But “exciting” doesn’t necessarily mean enjoyable. Under a Trump presidency there is greater potential for a dramatic, unfavorable shift in the world’s balance of power.

Choose Hillary to stay the course of expanding federal government and deepening partisan rancor. Choose Trump for revolutionary potential; he may very well blow things up. Playing this war game in the military sense, we the generals must choose between the low risk, low reward Hillary strategy, and the exact opposite with the Trump gambit.

We’ll see what kind of generals we are on November 8th.

Hillary and Trump, How to Do Better


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Trump, Hillary, politics, Election 2016Hillary versus Trump has been such a celebrity train-wreck, we have thus far given a pass to the culprit forcing us to choose between 2 horrible candidates:

The election system.

Then we had the vice presidential debate. Pence and Kaine subjected us to Trump and Hillary sans their bigger-than-life personas, forcing us to acknowledge their awful essence. And now substantive issues have completely disappeared from the campaign with the latest released tapes and transcripts. Regardless how the election ends, the next 4 years will be more of the same.

The time has come to ask: What can we do to ensure this never happens again?

The electoral college is ingenious in its design. Assigning electoral votes equal to each state’s number of Representatives and Senators protects small-state citizens from irrelevancy. And an all-but-forgotten feature positions the electors in a final line of defense to prevent the country from falling sway to the destructive allure of the demagogue.

But the system is flawed in its execution. The electoral vote is winner-take-all in every state but Nebraska and Maine. Most states are solidly Democrat or Republican, so candidates focus nearly all their resources on a handful of “swing” states that make up only 1/3 of the population. Meaning 2/3 of our citizens’ votes—in small and big states alike—effectively don’t count.

And then there is the 2-party monopoly. Republicans and Democrats spend no time responding to challenges from 3rd-party candidates, because everyone knows a votes for them is meaningless.

Calls to do away with the electoral college and move to a direct popular vote are misguided, for the reasons stated above. And removing the electoral college does nothing to bust the 2-party “trust.” Fortunately we have a way to keep the College and reform the system.

First, states must end winner-take-all and award electoral votes proportionate to the popular vote. This is crucial to guaranteeing all voters that their ballots do indeed count.

But it presents a challenge. A proportional system increases the odds that no candidate will reach the required 270 electoral votes. And it does nothing to increase the viability of so-called 3rd-party candidates. So the states must implement a second, companion change: ranking, instant run-off voting.

In this system, voters rank their preferences for president. Assume a ballot with 4 candidates. You cast your vote for Candidate 2, Candidate 4, and Candidate 3, in that order. The polls close and the votes are tallied; if a candidate receives at least half the 1st-choice votes, your state’s election is over and electoral votes are awarded according to each candidate’s share of the 1st-choice votes.

If no candidate receives at least 50% of the 1st-choice votes, we move into the instant run-off. The last-place candidate, say Candidate 2, is eliminated, and ballots like yours that had ranked that candidate as the 1st choice are reassigned to those voters’ 2nd choice.

In this example, your 1st-choice vote is now assigned to Candidate 4. The votes are re-tallied. If a candidate has now reached the 50% threshold—say Candidate 4 has 55%, Candidate 1 garners 35% and Candidate 3 receives 10%—the contest is over, and electoral votes are awarded proportionately. Otherwise, the cycle is repeated.

This approach is utilized in a number of local elections to deemphasize partisan politics. Employing it for the presidential election means your vote for a 3rd-party candidate is never wasted. If your first choice doesn’t make the run-off, your vote still counts, now cast for your next-favorite candidate.

By combining ranking, instant run-off with proportional electoral voting, we ensure every vote counts, the 2-party monopoly is broken, and one candidate is likely to win the minimum necessary number of electoral votes.

And we keep the electoral college in place. Until this election we might have dismissed as outdated our Founders’ fear of a tough-talking demagogue riding a wave of populist discontent to the Oval Office. Is that Trump? That it’s debatable proves the continuing value of the College with its electors as a final line of defense.

Trump or Hillary – or Both?!

Can you imagine Donald Trump as president? Can you stand the thought of President Hillary Clinton? How would you feel if they were both president? Welcome to the Imperfect Compromise.

Election day 2016 ends very badly. Hillary crushes Trump in the electoral vote. But the popular vote is a dead heat. Riots ensue as reports of fraud pour in—hacking, postal irregularities, entire states unable to post results. The last straw: NFL teams refuse to play, in the name of political justice for all.

Our nation comes unglued. The system is broken and must be fixed now!

A select presidential election commission needs a year. In the meantime the 2 candidates will share the presidency. Six months for each. The nation (and the NFL) are temporarily mollified. Inauguration Day 2017 arrives, and Trump goes first….

Russian invasion, Middle East conflagration, terrorist attacks on the homeland. Economic recession, border intervention, and what do we do about healthcare? One of these deeply flawed candidates will be our next president. How would Hillary and Trump handle foreign and domestic crises? What path would they pave for our future?

Don’t cast that vote until you read our voter’s guide, The Imperfect Compromise.

Trump, Hillary, politics, Election 2016

Robot Writers


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Steamier than you dreamed it would be

VVIII…steamier than you dreamed?

I love going to bed with the dishwasher running. To know there is work being done while I sleep gives me sweet dreams. Nothing better than a morning faceful of residual heat from the machine’s overnight exertions.

Our editor Adrienne Crezo provides the same robotic service. Earlier this month I was pedaling across the western North Dakota badlands, doing not a lick of work – and meanwhile our book was getting better! Like the dishwasher sluicing off crusty cheese, once wonderful stuff but now an impediment to the enjoyment of the plate, our editor was scrubbing our novel free of overgrown flowery phrases obscuring the story. She is nearly done; soon we will have a clean plate to share with you.

We’re talking about book 3 of the Vampire Vic trilogy. The final installment, despite Jason’s desire to split it into 2 (or 3) à la Twilight. “Book 5 of the Vampire Vic trilogy” has a cool ring to it, but we can get it done in one.

Adrienne our editing appliance is hard at work while we bike and blog. One of these mornings we will open our email to find Vampire Vic’s final chapter, warm, clean and ready to read – which we recommend doing while your Roomba works its robot fingers to the bone.

The Question of the Road: to Share or to Rule?


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Biking out of Medora Photo courtesy Heather Hargrave

Biking out of Medora, ND
Photo courtesy Heather Hargrave

Last week my wife, our friend and I joined 220 other riders to pedal a few hundred miles around western North Dakota. The annual affair, called CANDISC for Cycle Across North Dakota in Sacagawea Country, is well-run, with full “sag” support for weary riders, pleasingly provisioned rest stops along the route, and hard-working host towns serving hearty dinners, evening entertainment for our tent city, and another big feed in the morning to fuel the day’s riding.

My wife loves this week. Which sounds strange because there will be hilly, windy suffering and unlike me she’s no masochist. But she described the attraction perfectly: All you have to do is bike. You don’t have to plan your day or your meal, or anyone else’s day and meal. Your one and only task for a full week is to ride, 15-20 miles at a crack, from camp to rest stop to rest stop (and possibly to a 3rd and 4th rest stop depending on the length of the day’s route) to camp. There is absolutely nothing else to think about.

Except the trucks.

Going in, the biggest concern is whether you and your bike have trained hard enough – long enough, that’s the real measure, your seat on its seat for enough miles to build up a callused tolerance. You’ll be pedaling an average of 50 miles a day, 4 to 8 hours depending on the wind, for 7 days in a row. Like a bad sunburn on your first day at the vacation beach, a rash on the seat can ruin the week. Even if you have pedaled the preparatory miles so that you’re now sitting leather on leather, you will lube up liberally every morning before you hit that big breakfast and the road.

Now you’re cranking away on the highway and you realize not everyone in North Dakota got the memo: This ride is a showcase for North Dakota’s terrain and towns, and a challenging, healthy way to spend a vacation week. This ride is a good thing! Unfortunately the truckers disagree. And suddenly you’re not so worried about your bum burn…

A sampling from the week: An oncoming trucker hit his horn at each biker he met to draw attention to the bird he was flipping. An angry trucker accosted 2 bikers at a gas station rest stop, demanding we ride on the opposite side of the road (facing oncoming traffic) and promising otherwise to put us in the ditch. My wife watched a speeding double-trailer semi driver buzz me within a couple feet despite the availability of an adjacent wide-open lane.

In general North Dakotans don’t bike on the highways. So our presence wasn’t a cumulative tipping-point for the truckers, just a once-a-year nuisance. And the roads aren’t otherwise full-speed ahead. Nearly as slow and much more common are farmers, in their low-gear grain trucks and monster combines. Truckers are constantly, calmly braking for farmers.

Truckers are under pressure to deliver on-time. Drive the interstate and you know their patience can be lacking. But cyclists hold a special, dark place in their hearts. During our ride numerous truckers were sufficiently lathered to call a ND talk radio station and rant about idiot bikers with no right to the road.

In western ND, on many of our otherwise serene rural roads, cyclists are at risk. Still, most of us accept it, for the opportunity to get up close and personal with the rolling hills and friendly farmsteads offering restorative stops with bananas, pickles, kuchen and coffee. And a fair warning to truckers: in that split-second where my life appeared to be over, my wife resolved to do unmentionable things to the trucker and his family. I fantasized about that, even with my violent death as a prerequisite. At the very least it was comforting to know that truckers aren’t the only bad-asses on the road.