What Exactly Was the Popular Vote in 2012?

I was recently writing a post on how news organizations still haven’t updated their election results. As part of that post, of course, I tried to track down the “real” popular vote. That is, how many votes did President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney actually win, in reality?

I ran into a problem. Apparently nobody knows.

Different organizations are reporting different numbers. To find reliable election results, most analysts go to Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. However, Dave’s numbers differ from those of Wikipedia. Unfortunately, Dave doesn’t provide a source of how he got his numbers. Wikipedia does; it derived its numbers from the Federal Election Commission Report. Ironically, however, Wikipedia’s numbers are actually different from the report’s numbers. Then there is Dave Wasserman, who with great labor added uncounted ballots to the numbers as they were counted. His numbers are slightly different as well. Here’s a table:

Votes Won According to… Barack Obama Mitt Romney
Dave Leip 65,909,451 60,932,176
Dave Wasserman 65,909,191 60,932,015
Huffington Post 65,899,660 60,932,152
Federal Election Commission Report 65,899,660 60,932,152
Wikipedia 65,907,123 60,931,767

The vote counts by private individuals such as Dave Leip are probably the most accurate. Unfortunately, these people don’t say how they got their numbers.

In addition, there is the fact that uncounted ballots are still being discovered and added to the official count. For instance, a stack of ballots was found in New York City in March, after the completion of the Federal Election Commission Report. So the report is probably wrong. Dave Wasserman also has stated that the official certified results in some states are wrong; apparently the states incorrectly added up all the official county numbers.

The best way to find the popular vote is probably to add up individually all the official certifications of the vote by each state, which I may or may not do. Of course, we also have to be aware of the fact that some of these official certifications may be wrong.

We may never actually know how many votes Barack Obama and Mitt Romney won in the 2012 presidential election.

Posted in 2012 Presidential Election | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Idiocy at the State Department

Why in English?

I recently had the opportunity to watch a presentation by the State Department. Making the presentation was an intense, broad-shouldered diplomat. He talked about his recent posting in Pakistan and the department’s attempts to improve America’s image in a country where it’s less popular than Osama bin Laden. He showed pictures of events he’d held, full of smiling Americans and Pakistanis. The pictures were similar to the one above.

I couldn’t help but notice one thing. In all these events the only language that appeared was English. There would be a presentation of awards given by the American government, for instance. On the background there would be a seal of the American government and signs like “furthering our partnership with Pakistan” or “a gift from the United States.” In English.

I asked the diplomat about this. Surely it would be better to write all this in the language(s) Pakistanis actually use. He stiffened. Well, he responded, Pakistan is a former British colony, so there’s a lot of English-speakers. Sometimes he would go to a local television station and say “Hello, it’s nice to be here” in Sindhi, which is a local language. He didn’t actually know anymore Sindhi than that phrase, but then the local television would be kind enough to subtitle the rest of what he said in English during the interview.

Perhaps using English-only written materials can work if you want to get Pakistanis to love America. Whether or not this is true, it’s also evident that America’s government is really bad at foreign languages. During the Iranian Revolution, for instance, the United States had four CIA officers at its American embassy. Not one spoke Farsi. Then there is the famous “reset” incident with Russia. In 2009 Hillary Clinton presented Russia’s foreign minister with a red button titled “reset.” The aim was to reforge relations with the country after the war with Georgia. Except they used the wrong word: peregruzka (перегрузка) instead of perezagruzka (перезагрузка). Apparently nobody in the State Department knows Russian grammar. Not as if Russia is important or anything.

Now, I know a person who would be a very good representative for America in Pakistan. This person is young and probably fluent in a Pakistani language. He’s fairly familiar with Pakistan’s culture and traditions, having visited his relatives there a number of times. Indeed, after the recent floods he ran a campaign to gather donations for Pakistan. He also has a firm grasp of American culture. He’d be very good at getting Pakistanis to like America. He loves Pakistan.

Which is probably the problem, in fact. I highly doubt that this individual agrees with American policy directed towards Pakistan. He’s probably a ferocious opponent of the drone strikes. Therein lies the problem for the State Department. The truth is that American policies are bad for many countries. The people most familiar with the country aren’t willing to represent American policies. The people willing to defend American policies know nothing about the country.

This is also why the State Department rotates its diplomats every few years. If a diplomat stays too long in a country and becomes too familiar with it, said person might start disagreeing with American policies towards said country. The classic loyalty problem. The State Department avoids the trap by moving its diplomats around. Unfortunately, this ensures that American diplomats never end up with more than a shallow understanding of the country they’re sent to. You end up with diplomats in Pakistan who try to change Pakistani opinion by putting up posters everywhere in English.

It appears, for better or worse, that this is the price that the United States is willing to pay in order to ensure the loyalty of its diplomats. If so, maybe America should invest some time into making sure somebody at the State Department knows the difference between “overcharge” and “reset” in Russian.

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Socially Conservative State of…California?

California is generally thought of as a very liberal place. The Democratic Party is certainly doing well; Republicans are at an all-time low almost everywhere in the state.

This applies to social positions as well. The stereotype is that Californians are very socially liberal. California is, after all, home to San Francisco and Berkeley – the natural environment of the godless hippie and homosexual. Hollywood is also located in California, and Hollywood’s not exactly a bastion of social conservatism.

It may surprise some, then, to note that in the past four years Californians have voted against gay marriage, marijuana, and the abolition of the death penalty. These positions were debated in three successive propositions. Each time the socially conservative side won. Here are the numbers:

Proposition What It Proposed Socially Conservative Side Socially Liberal Side
8 No to Gay Marriage 52.2% 47.8%
19 Legalizing Marijuana 53.5% 46.5%
34 Abolishing the Death Penalty 52.0% 48.0%

Each of the propositions had different things going on. Gay marriage was widely expected to win, and it shocked liberals when the people said no. Legal marijuana at first appeared to have majority support. But as the details of the proposition for legal marijuana came out (it was said to be badly written), its numbers plummeted. On the other hand, few paid attention to Proposition 34. The abolishment of the death penalty was never expected to pass, and it surprised few when it didn’t. Yet the end results are remarkably similar for the different contours that the propositions took.

From the numbers, it looks like there’s a socially conservative majority of 52% to 53% of Californians.

Ironically, the social conservatism displayed here might be a side-effect of the same forces behind the Democratic Party’s rise. The growing Hispanic and Asian vote leans strongly Democratic; it’s why the Republicans are collapsing in California. At the same time, Hispanics and Asians (especially immigrants) are – as Republicans never tire of saying – are often socially conservative. South-Central Los Angeles might give the Democratic candidate 80-90% of the vote. That doesn’t mean that it will support gay marriage, legalized marijuana, or the abolishment of the death penalty.

It’s too bad that Republicans can’t channel this social conservatism amongst immigrants into support for the Republican Party.

Posted in California, California | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Thoughts About the Pope’s Resignation

In many ways Pope Benedict XVI has not been as influential as his predecessor Pope John Paul II. John Paul II was highly loved and good at playing with the media. Benedict XVI, not so much.

Yet if Benedict XVI sets a precedent with his resignation, it may be he who is more remembered by history. Future popes may choose to follow his path, handing the reigns to another rather than holding office until death. In fact, this seems like an eminently sensible thing. A person who’s dying probably would be unable to uphold and fulfill the momentous responsibilities of the papacy. It leaves a chasm in the Catholic Church. It’s actually kind of a mystery why it hasn’t been done before.

The counterargument is that politics may eventually come into play. Popes may be pressured to resign by their detractors or internal enemies. This is a good argument. Yet I think that the benefits outweigh the negatives when a Pope unable to fulfill his duties resigns.

Finally, it has been somewhat shocking to hear the criticism of Pope Benedict XVI by news organizations such as the New York Times. Of course Pope Benedict XVI is a very conservative person; in many ways his views are the exact opposite of your typical journalist. So journalists inherently don’t like him, nor the Catholic Church as an institution. For instance, there’s been a lot of criticism of the Pope with respect to child sex abuse scandals. Yet the Pope has apologized and the local churches have handed out compensation; what more do you want him to do? The Catholic Church is vast, and Rome often has very little control or knowledge about much of what happens in faraway countries like the United States. One ought to give more respect for the Pope during this time. After all, this is a very brave decision for him to make. It’s deserving of respect, not criticism.

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Three Important Moments in America’s Economic History (in Pictures)

The previous post looked at the economic history of the United States over the past two centuries. In that post, what stood out most was the fact that the economy of the United States has always been one of the strongest in the world.

There are three defining moments of American history after 1800, and this post will examine them. They are the Civil War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. How did these events affect the economy?

The Civil War

Before the Civil War, in 1860, this was how America was doing:
1860 United States
Economically and socially speaking, the United States was better than the vast majority of other countries in the world. The only two countries wealthier than the United States were Australia and the United Kingdom.

The Civil War was a devastating event. It killed more Americans than any other war in history and destroyed the South’s economy. How did that affect the United States?
1865 United States
Well, here’s the United States in 1865. In fact, the population and the economy of the United States has grown. The latter is in large part due to the effective economic policies of the Republican Party under Abraham Lincoln. It is true that living standards have grown slower than elsewhere. Still, the United States is very wealthy and very healthy after its worst war in history.

One ought to ignore the life expectancy statistic here, however. The previous post noted:

…the life expectancy data comes from several sources. From 1989 to the present, gapminder uses US Census Bureau data. From 1933 to 1988 the Human Mortality Database is used. From 1901 to 1932 the Human-Life Table Database is used. From 1880 to 1900 Professor James Riley’s compilation of life expectancy estimates (from over 700 sources) is used.

And what about from 1800 to 1879? Well, here the authors use a simple model. A very very simple model. They assume that all countries go through a health transition, and that the United States had not undergone this transition from 1800 to 1879. So gapminder sets United States life expectancy as 39.41 years for this entire 80-year period.

Obviously this model fails during the Civil War.

The Great Depression

The Great Depression was the worst economic crisis in the history of the United States. Here’s the United States in 1920, before the Great Depression:
1920 United States
The United States is the richest country in the world in 1920, although in terms of health it isn’t doing as great.

Let’s take a look at what happened afterwards.
1933 United States
By 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, the American living standard is actually worse than almost a generation ago. The good news is that Americans are a lot healthier. So the Great Depression was really as bad as it was advertised.

Look at the other countries, however. As badly as the United States is doing, livings standards are still the world’s best. Only Brunei (due to its oil), Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom have a higher GDP per capita adjusted to inflation and purchasing power parity.

World War II

World War II was good for the United States and bad for most of the rest of the world. In a sense, the United States was more powerful than at any other time in its history in 1945. Let’s take a look at the effect of WWII, beginning in 1940 at the start of the war:
1940 United States
In 1940 Germany and the United Kingdom are almost at par with the United States. As is typical, however, America is slightly ahead of the First World in terms of livings standards but just above-average in terms of life expectancy.

Here’s what five years of war did:
1945 United States
The destruction of World War II does enormous damage to the rest of the world, which falls behind. Only Brunei and Kuwait, due to oil, have higher GDP per capitas adjusted for inflation and purchasing power parity; their low life expectancy shows that this isn’t really an accurate reflection of their true economic strength at this time. At this time, the biggest countries behind the United States are Canada and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has a GDP per capita (adjusted for inflation and purchasing power parity) of $9,931; the United States $17,615.

Of course, this nice situation for the United States couldn’t have lasted forever. Absent a nuclear attack against the Anglosphere, the rest of the world would have started to catch up with the United States again. And, indeed, this is what happened.


It’s quite interesting how relatively little affect these great historical events had on American livings standards and life expectancy. Unlike other countries, the United States just keeps on a slow and steady growth path. It remains near the top or at the top. It would take quite a change – something far worse than the Civil War or Great Depression – to destroy this equilibrium.

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A History of the United States Economy (in Pictures)

The United States economy is a subject that is very much on the mind of Americans today. It’s also a very obviously influential part of the world; the American consumer market, for instance, often sets trends around the world.

Let’s take a look at the history of the United States economy. How did the American economy become as big and influential as it is today? We begin two hundred years ago, in 1800. Note that the next post will look at three specific moments during the American economy.

1800 United States
This picture comes from the website gapminder, maintained by a Swedish professor. I have previously used this website to compare North Korea’s development with South Korea’s, here. That post has a good summary of what this graph is saying:

Gapminder shows graphics of different levels of every imaginable type of statistic amongst the world’s varying countries.

This is the most basic graph: it shows wealth and health…The y-axis is life expectancy. The left axis is income per person (in dollars adjusted for inflation and purchasing power parity) put on a logarithmic scale (so that the difference between $1,000 and $2,000 is just as important as the difference between $10,000 and $20,000; this makes comparing things much easier). As one would expect, wealthier countries generally have higher life expectancies.

So this is the world in 1800, more than two centuries ago. Let’s take a look at what happens next:
1800 to 1820 United States
The United States does pretty badly this generation; it basically ends up making no progress economically nor in terms of health.

1820 United States
Nevertheless, even as early as 1800 and 1820 the United States is one of the world’s wealthiest and healthiest places. A lot of economic analysis has been done on how America became so wealthy. Well, the answer is that the United States always has been this way, as this graph indicates. Even during the colonial era the English colonists enjoyed arguably the highest living standard in the world.

Let’s look at what happens in the next twenty years:
1820 to 1840 United States
This is the era of Andrew Jackson, and the United States makes progress during these years. The economy grows, although life expectancy does not.

1840 United States
Again, the United States is on top of the world in 1840. There are, however, two European countries (or orange circles) that have been consistently ahead of America since 1800. What countries are these? Well, the bigger circle at the very right is the United Kingdom. It’s unsurprising that the United Kingdom is the world’s wealthiest country during this period, considering that it’s at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. The smaller circle is the Netherlands.

What happens next?
1840 to 1860 United States
Well, America’s economy grows at the fastest rate yet. The antebellum era apparently is quite good for the United States economy. Life expectancy, however, remains flat.

1860 United States
While economic growth has been steady during these sixty years, life expectancy has stayed flat. Here the weaknesses of gapminder come into play. One should realize that gapminder is not the literal truth; it’s a graphic that does its best to resemble reality.

This graphic is as reliable as the data it’s based off of. In my analysis on North Korea and South Korea, there was a huge problem for North Korean data – it didn’t exist or was false. So basically the entire North Korean graphic was a model using artificial numbers created by the authors of gapminder.

The economic data for the United States derives from a study titled Macroeconomic Crises since 1870. The authors of that study have created a dataset for their study. This is what gapminder uses. In general, it’s quite reliable; United States economic statistics are the best and most comprehensive in the world, even today.

On the other hand, let’s take a look at life expectancy during the Civil War and Reconstruction era:
1860 to 1880 United States
The destruction of the Civil War doesn’t stop the United States economy from growing yet again. On the other hand, common sense indicates that life expectancy fell during the Civil War. After all, more Americans died in the Civil War than in any other war in American history – and America’s population in 1860 was a lot smaller than the population today. What gives?

Well, the life expectancy data comes from several sources. From 1989 to the present, gapminder uses US Census Bureau data. From 1933 to 1988 the Human Mortality Database is used. From 1901 to 1932 the Human-Life Table Database is used. From 1880 to 1900 Professor James Riley’s compilation of life expectancy estimates (from over 700 sources) is used.

And what about from 1800 to 1879? Well, here the authors use a simple model. A very very simple model. They assume that all countries go through a health transition, and that the United States had not undergone this transition from 1800 to 1879. So gapminder sets United States life expectancy as 39.41 years for this entire 80-year period.

1880 United States

By 1880, the United States has caught up with the United Kingdom. Out of all the countries in the world, only Australia is wealthier. On the other hand, Americans are generally in worse health than the wealthiest European countries.

Here’s the United States as a new century dawns:
1880 to 1900 United States
With a new dataset in use and the advent of new medical technologies, American life expectancy jumps enormously. On the other hand, the economy doesn’t do that great. It’s commonly said that during this era the United States undergoes industrialization and becomes a world power.

1900 United States
One reason for American power is due to the population increase, fueled by immigration. The United States population is on par with most big European states during this period. It seems that a lot of the expansion of American power in this time is based on population growth; progress in living standards isn’t exceptional. Despite this, the United States has become the world’s richest country.

This continues during the Gilded Age and World War I:
1900 to 1920 United States
The Gilded Age is commonly thought of as the time when the United States really became a great power. The population and life expectancy increase is impressive (note that the outlier in terms of low life expectancy is the year 1918). Yet there’s an awful amount of economic backsliding and economic crisis during this period.

1920 United States
In relative economic terms, however, the rest of the world has been doing even worse. This is mostly the result of World War I. American living standards are squarely ahead of everybody else in 1920, although once again American life expectancy is somewhat subpar.

Then comes the Great Depression. Did that knock the United States off its track?
1920 to 1940 United States
Kind of. Life expectancy continues to improve, but again the improvement in living standards isn’t great. Indeed, this whole era from 1880 to 1940 features regular economic crisis and chaotic patterns in economic growth.

1940 United States
Nevertheless, the United States is still very wealthy and fairly healthy in 1940.

Let’s take a look at World War II:
1940 to 1960 United States
Here a new pattern sets in. Unlike the previous 80 years, the United States economy starts growing at a steady rather than chaotic rate. Life expectancy also increases, but by a lesser extent. There’s a huge economic boom during the war years and – surprisingly – no drop in life expectancy during the war.

1960 United States
The ’50s and ’60s are commonly and nostalgically seen as the time when the United States was on top of the world, and this picture provides good evidence. Economically the United States is ahead of everybody else to the greatest extent in its history. On the other hand, the Soviet Union does have a bunch of nuclear weapons pointing at the United States. People tend to forget that fact.

So what happens during the Vietnam War and oil crisis?
1960 to 1980 United States
Well, the economy does pretty well, although it slows down during the latter period. Life expectancy is the opposite; it slows down during the first part and then increases during the second part of these two decades.

1980 United States
After a great economic boom, the rest of the West and Japan have almost caught up to the United States. In a sense, things are back to normal. In another sense, America’s allies are closer to its economic living standards than at any other time in history.

Then come the Reagan and Clinton years:
1980 to 2000 United States
The pattern here is quite similar to that from 1960 to 1980. Both living standards and life expectancy increase slowly but steadily.

2000 United States
Again, the rest of the First World is nipping at America’s heels. Yet only four tiny countries are actually richer than the United States. As is historically the case, life expectancy in these countries is higher than in the United States.

And finally, the past decade:
2000 to 2011 United States
It’s a pretty terrible decade; the United States basically goes nowhere.

2011 United States
Strangely enough, however, the picture looks pretty similar to that in 1980. Despite a decade of terrible American economic growth, the rest of the First World hasn’t surpassed the United States. Right now a total of eight “countries” are wealthier than the United States: Brunei, Hong Kong (China), Kuwait, Luxembourg, Macao (China), Norway, Qatar, Singapore. As throughout history, American health is relatively worse.

2011 United States Without Labels
There are several patterns throughout this analysis. Relatively speaking, the United States has always been at the top. It’s always been wealthier than almost all other nations. On the other hand, the United States has also always had relatively low life expectancy for its living standards.

The United States has also always grown at a slow but steady rate. There are periods of slower growth (such as in the early twentieth century) and periods of faster growth (such as in the middle of the twentieth century). But the growth is always there.

Finally, ever since World War II there has been a cluster of First World countries just behind the United States. This cluster of countries, however, has never actually caught up. I am quite curious to see if that day will ever come. Will countries like France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom ever actually surpass the United States?

Posted in Economy, Foreign Affairs | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

When Immigration Is A Mistake

Immigration is an issue that affects numerous people throughout the world. People immigrate to new countries in order to improve their lives. Sometimes their lives do improve. Sometimes they don’t.

One example of a country created by immigration is Argentina. Huge numbers of southern Europeans went to Argentina. They went there in order to get better opportunities and in order to improve their lives. During the nineteenth century, this decision made sense; Argentina was much wealthier than southern Europe.

Yet today Argentina is much poorer than southern Europe. The descendants of an Italian who moved to Argentina in 1900 are much worse off than the descendants of an Italian who stayed in Italy. For millions of Italians, the decision to immigrate to Argentina was a mistake. They should’ve stayed in Italy. The tragedy is doubled by the fact that these new Italians endured enormous discrimination in their new home in Argentina, in the hopes that their lives would improve. All for nothing.

Or take the case of the Japanese community in Brazil. During the early twentieth century tens of thousands of Japanese immigrated to Brazil, hoping to improve their living standards. Like the Italians in Argentina, the Japanese in Brazil would’ve been better off staying in Japan. Like the Italians in Argentina, the Japanese in Brazil also endured enormous discrimination. The discrimination was in fact worse; Argentina today is very Italian in character, but Brazil today is certainly not very Japanese in character. The Japanese in Brazil ended up being much poorer than those who didn’t leave Japan, as well as losing their heritage. To further the irony and the tragedy, the descendants who returned to Japan are rejected as foreign.

What of the United States, that other great recipient of immigration? For most Europeans, the decision to immigrate to the United States seems to have payed off. Americans still generally live better than Europeans (especially eastern Europeans), and the United States is dominated by Europeans. The descendants of a German immigrant in America are slightly better off than the descendants of a German who stayed in Germany. There are exceptions; perhaps the Swedes and Norwegians who went to America would’ve been better off staying in Sweden and Norway.

It’s more complicated for the non-Europeans who went to the United States. It’s worth asking, for instance, whether or not the descendants of the Africans enslaved in the United States are better off than the descendants of the Africans who stayed in Africa. Economically, the answer is yes; thanks to colonialism, African-Americans live better than Africans. Socially, of course, African-Americans have to contend with a terrible racism which does not exist in (most parts of) Africa. Is the economic gain worth the social cost?

In a sense immigration is a bet. It’s a bet that the new country is richer – and will stay richer – than the old country. Sometimes the bet pays off; sometimes it doesn’t. Take India. India is much poorer than the United States and likely to stay that way. An Indian who immigrated to the United States is probably better off than an Indian who stayed in India. His descendants may never be able to become president, but at least they’ll have running water and electricity.

Korea is a countervailing example. Take the stereotypical Korean who moves to the United States in 1975 and opens a convenience store. He kills himself working, has to deal with an unfamiliar language and culture, suffers racial discrimination – all in the knowledge that life in the United States is much better than life in Korea. His children will live better in the United States than in Korea. Because Korea is very poor and the United States is very rich. Yet as it turns out, forty years later Korea is a First World country. Who could have guessed that that would happen? The guy could have stayed in Korea, not suffered the discrimination of the United States, and ended up with just as much money. And his children would have had more opportunities in Korea.

The United States is not like Argentina or Brazil; most people who immigrated to the United States made the right choice for them and their descendants. Nevertheless, it is quite tragic when a group sacrifices so much to get to their dream country and then suffers so much in said country – only to find out decades later that they would have been better off staying at home.

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