Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: US Territories
March 9, 2015 6:40 PM - Season 2, Episode 5 - Subscribe

This week: Federal civil rights committee finds evidence of systemic racism in Ferguson police department. Upcoming elections in Israel. Fanta ad pulled in Germany for referencing war-related origins. (Last Week Tonight makes a commercial for Fanta.) Main story: the rights of citizens and nationals in US territories. (YT 13m) How Is This Still A Thing: Daylight Savings Time. (YT 3m) And an update on the tobacco industry, and LWT's #jeffwecan tag and meme.
posted by JHarris (6 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Main story: the rights of citizens and nationals in US territories

Coming up to this segment, I was expecting it would be a retread of things I'd already heard (particularly the nonvoting delegates, the Puerto Rico statehood dance, and the way the territories are pretty much ignored on the national scene), but between the still-standing Public Law citing "alien races," the Guam straw poll, and the indignities visited on American Samoan veteran citizens nationals... that was pretty savage.

(Also kind of glad it sidestepped the DC situation, which would have overwhelmed the entire show.)
posted by psoas at 9:46 AM on March 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

Loved the part where they call out so many news programs for saying that Sonia Sotomayor was the "daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants".
posted by aabbbiee at 8:19 AM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, I was interested that Oliver made a big deal about the butchering of the name of American Samoa by a US member of Congress, but Oliver himself kept mispronouncing Samoa. Oliver even pointed out that the delegate from American Samoa graciously corrects the name, but Oliver doesn't repeat that pronunciation! (Americans say Sa-MOWA, while Samoans say Sāmoa, with no stress on either syllable.)
posted by aabbbiee at 8:43 AM on March 11, 2015

I'm not familiar enough with the history of Guam or Samoa to know, but I felt the show was a bit unfair on the subject of Puerto Rican statehood. Until 2012 the people of Puerto Rico hadn't, despite at least 3 prior attempts, voted to decide to become a state. They enjoyed, what they believed, to significant economic benefits by not becoming a state.

The Senate and House bills for statehood are being held up in committee for reasons I don't know (although I would bet Puerto Ricans who are benefiting from not being a state are exercising some influence).

Finally, our constitution doesn't allow for people who aren't citizens of some state or another to vote for president because individuals don't vote for president. We vote for state electors who then vote for president. Yep, the evils of the electoral college strike again. What Last Week Tonight made sound like peevishness on the part of some faceless bureaucrat (I guess) who just won't count the votes is actually a pretty insurmountable constitutional issue. Changing it would require a constitutional referendum.

If we had an actual popular vote for president then including all US Citizens would be pretty easy, but we don't. And that would require a constitutional referendum too.
posted by bswinburn at 11:43 AM on March 11, 2015

In case anyone cares, I want Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa to be states, unless they want to go their own way. I, personally, don't like the fact that we have territories at all. I can live with D.C., because I think that, despite the issues, solves more problems than it solves. But long held territories bug the hell out of me. Statehood or Independence.
posted by bswinburn at 11:45 AM on March 11, 2015

Oliver himself kept mispronouncing Samoa

Yes, but he used the standard American English pronunciation, not "Samolia" or whatever it was that the gavel-bearing guy said, obviously confused about its mere existence. I assume you don't tell people about your year abroad in Deutschland or Italia or your year with the Army where you were stationed in Nippon. I guarantee you I can do a really passable Sverige ("SVAY-ree-ya") but saying that instead of "Sweden" would simply lead to blank stares.

I want Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa to be states,

I'd rather see the Senate and Electoral College reformed first. AS has one tenth the population of DC or Wyoming. There are 250 US cities that have twice as many people as AS. Even if you believe in principles no matter what, this throws the inequality of representation question into sharp relief.

The Senate and House bills for statehood are being held up in committee for reasons I don't know

Not to discount inertia, but the conventional wisdom is that both of these, as states, would elect two Democrats to the Senate and one to the House. (Also, there would be House reapportionment, unless there were a simultaneous change in the law setting it at 435 members.) Although some observers suggest the GOP could be competitive in PR.

I think it's interesting to look at other countries. France went ahead and granted some of its overseas dependencies the status of Department within what's called "Metropolitan France", roughly politically equivalent to the fifty US states. But others remain with a different status, which has been periodically reformed. The most recent is the "overseas collectivity" which sounds a bit like the PR commonwealth status (not of course to be confused with the states that use the terminology, Virginia and Massachusetts, but are legally states within the U.S.).

One of the issues is size, as I've noted. Not only is there an outsized representation in the Senate, the population is minuscule even for a Congressman. You'd take a fraction of representation away from up to ten other states in order to provide for one of these new territories. That's not attractive to sitting members of Congress, obviously, but I think there is a question of equity.

But there are a host of other issues ranging from income taxes to military service to trade. It might be easy for France since they just use straight majority for national election of the President, but I don't think it's just racism that these issues haven't been resolved. There are real consequences.

Note that three other US Territories have resolved some of these by moving towards greater independence.
posted by dhartung at 3:20 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

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