Monday, August 24, 2015

The most American candidate

If we were to design a candidate who could speak to the majority of Americans today, an interesting intellectual exercise could determine the political positions of a presidential candidate who could win their first election with ease. This candidate would not be a centrist but would adopt policy positions which the majority of Americans agree with. These are based on the most recent poll on the issues I have looked at.
  1. Most Americans pay about the right amount of taxes. Pew
  2. Wealthy people pay less than their fair share in taxes and the tax system is too complicated. Pew
  3. Support our military actions against ISIS. Pew
  4. Grow the amount of renewable energy used to produce electricity in the United States. Pew
  5. Oppose Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine and other countries. Pew
  6. Do not send troops to Ukraine. Pew
  7. China is a threat to America. Pew 
  8. Legalize Pot. Pew
  9. People with mental illness should not be able to buy guns. Pew 
  10. Support most of the NSA's actions. Pew
  11. Dealing with global warming needs to be a top priority for our government. Pew
  12. Reduce carbon emissions. Pew
  13. In favor of birth control and abortion. Pew 
  14. Increase the minimum wage. Pew
  15. Oppose bailing out large institutions. Pew
  16. Social Security should be maintained as it is. Pew 1 and Pew 2
  17. Oppose the Iran deal. Pew
  18. Police and firefighters should be allowed to unionize. Pew
  19. Police should wear body cameras. Pew
  20. Foreign aid is an important tool in fighting terrorism. Pew
  21. We must reduce the role of money in politics. Pew
There are a few major issues where America is almost evenly divided. The candidate would have to pick a side on these based on their conscious as opposed to popular opinion:
  1. Health care
  2. Whether banks need more or less regulation. 
  3. Guantanamo Bay Pew
  4. Military spending Pew

The NSA however is an outlier. Part of this is probably due to how the media reports on the NSA, mostly avoiding it, and the corporate media being unanimously against Edward Snowden. I think that if the mass media was more fair and balanced on their reporting on the NSA's actions we would see the majority of Americans change their opinion and call for a major change in public opinion against mass surveillance.

When it comes to the Iran deal, I think the opinion on this is going to change as time goes on, for reasons I have already explained here which will become apparent to most people very soon.

Pew hasn't been asking about the opinions on police brutality yet, and I think this needs to be part of their research.

Most Americans mostly agree with the Democrats on policy issues. This demonstrates a clear liberal swing to the average American voter, meaning that if the Democrats put forward very strong liberal candidates there is no reason they should not gain power in Congress and maintain the Presidency. Hopefully they will do this at the local and state level this next year to help move this country in the direction the majority of people want us to go in. They have a major advantage on policy this election cycle, and if they take advantage of this and get people out to vote than we could see some very amazing changes very soon. This of course will only happen if they fight hard this election cycle.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What goes to Referendum

Across the world, referendums are frequently used for making changes to policy when politicians don't want to stick their necks out.

The biggest problem with referendums is that they are only usually used for things that politicians don't want to go through. When there is an issue that has immense support of the businesses that sell government materials to go to war or spy on people these issues don't go to referendum, but are passed in violation of the will of the people.

The biggest issue I see with referendums is how they are frequently staged. I frequently find the ballots to be written to confuse voters so people abstain which hurts people's faith in democracy. Initiatives need to be clearly written so people understand what they are voting for.

The last British referendum in 2011 to change their election system was fraught with problems and is one of the three recent referendums that makes me wary of how referendum are used. Here is a list:

  1. The Conservative Party made a large deliberate effort to misinform people in how ranked voting works. Anyone who has taken a comparative politics class (as many politicians have) should understand how the system works given how it is used in Ireland, Australia, and has the fewest issues when using standard election system criteria. This helped swing the election by making it so many voters didn't understand what they were talking about. Examples include claiming ranked voting supports extremist candidates, when they can only do this when they cross the threshold which is unlikely and is shown to not happen where ranked voting is used. Their use of Australia as an example of safe seats ignores the fact that there are only two parties in Australia who campaign for elections and have broad support, and it would be different in Britain because they have a tripartisan system which will make it so there will be fewer spoilt seats. The Conservatives made these lies because they are in the minority and only 36% of people in Britain support them which means they would need to reach out to voters under such a system and abandon their corrupt practices and support of issues like the Iraq War and Austerity. Labour is a center-right party when it comes to their positions which is why they failed to make a stance. Their party would split because they are the party of Tony Blair who destroyed Britain with his colleague Margaret Thatcher given how he didn't propose any alternative and now they are stuck with David Cameron. This is these old stuffy and corrupt parties made the stances they did.
  2. The people in favor of the referendum made mistakes in how they campaigned. One example is how they didn't address tactical voting which is absolutely necessary in FPTP because you can't necessarily vote for who you want but is less so in ranked voting because you can vote for exactly who you want regardless of who other people are voting for. They messed that up. They could have pointed out the fact that over 60% of people in Britain oppose the Conservative Party but they won over 50% of the seats which violates the majority criterion and a ranked voting system would fix this problem and force the Conservatives to appeal to voters, but they failed to do this in their foolishness. Such mistakes makes me doubt how much into the issue they really were.
The same question was asked by New Zealand's Referendum in 2011 when voters were asked which voting system they want to use. Most people don't know enough about certain issues and don't have the time or energy to fully understand which option is best for them. You end up with people voting along party lines against their own interest. It would be far better for the politicians who are directly elected by the people to be given a commission of experts (in this case, political scientists) who understand the pros and cons to each system and then choose the best option. Most people don't have the education they need to make an informed decision, and all people end up being worse off.

My final example (getting off the elections on elections issue) is more local for me, with a proposal for greater Seattle's mass transit referendum going up once again next year on whether to expand mass transit. There is absolutely no reason Sound Transit should not have the full authority under the local governments it is a union of (Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties which compose the core of the Greater Seattle area) to have the full authority to consult with urban engineers to design the best possible mass transit plan for the region, develop how to do it as efficiently a possible, and then provide the service that our region needs to cut down on congestion and maintain our quality of life. A 10 year time frame is frankly ridiculous given how China built high-speed rail across an area the size of the US East of the Mississippi in around 5 years. The County Councils should have the authority to collect taxes and spend as they see fit, given how they are elected by the people directly, so that they can gather the information to make the best decision for the people. All in all, I think the use of referendums should be outlawed and governments should be required to govern. If people don't like the decisions the county council makes, they have every right to run an initiative on the issue, run against them in the next election,  and then vote them out in the next election.

Despite my distrust of referenda, I still believe we should continue to be able to use initiatives as needed. We have several initiatives growing right now in Washington State which have a lot of support. One is the Carbon Tax which I am putting some time and energy into because I know it is the best way to reduce our carbon emissions while receiving our double dividend, and will help make our tax structure more progressive. It will send a clear message to the legislature that this is an important issue for a majority of people in our state. This is a good and necessary part of any democratic society and an essential check on the power of the government. I also think that we should be able to have a national initiative in the USA assuming we get the right percentage of voters to sign on to the ballot.

When there is an idea in a legislature, they should only have two options, to pass it or kill it. They should not be able to weasel their way out of governing by sending it to the people. They should have the full ability to tax and spend as needed, and if people have a problem with this they should have every right to repeal laws by the initiative process or vote their legislators out. All referenda tend to do is postpone essential services which people need and usually don't understand.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Black Lives Matter

After Senator Sanders was interrupted the other day by a Black Lives Matter supporter, I have been seeing a lot of rhetoric, some of it true, most of it not, from people on my Facebook account and across the internet. In all of the anger, confusion, name calling, misinformation from most media, and sadness with the interruption of Bernie Sanders, if you haven't checked out the basic demands of Black Lives Matter on their website, please do, they are really clear, to the point, and there is no way any decent person could disagree with any of them.

I have found it quite confusing with a lot of information from many sides around the issue, over half of which is from people not affiliated with BLM and misinforming people. This is no way to support Black lives, and is a wonderful way to alienate them. Such behavior only makes this work harder to do. Support them by offering your ears, offering them your hearts, and offering your thoughts and support. This is what I am trying to do in order to help my friends.

Black Lives Matter is a single-issue movement focused on the police violence which is inflicted on African Americans every day across the United States. If you believe people have the right to life, than you should be behind this movement. The most important parts of their website is pretty small and to the point, please explore it at blacklivesmatter.com if you haven't already to educate yourself on the issue. If you are already involved and know their demands, than excellent!

They also make it abundantly clear on their front page that they are looking for allies in solving this problem. No matter who you are there is room for you in fighting for human rights, and please do what you can. Lives are being lost, and people are not being given a fair shot at life. This is completely immoral and it is up to all of us to end racism in its steps. It doesn't matter what your opinions are about welfare, social security, affirmative action, or any other issue. If you believe that everyone deserves a fair shot at life you should get involved in Black Lives Matter and help end police violence.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A dictator, a Congressman and a sexual predator walk into a bar

Kim Jong Un is currently committing crimes against humanity on a daily basis, just like his father and grandfather before him. With millions of North Koreans enslaved in Gulags, horrendous sexual abuse towards women and children, and children working in slave conditions across his country he is truly a very evil man. If he wants to increase his image abroad, he certainly doesn't want such conditions to stain his otherwise perfect record.

Year after year billions of dollars flow into the pockets of members of congress in the United States from the Koch brothers and massive corporations, and eve n more tax payer dollars flow out to the same corporations in non-competitive contracts. Such information is extremely damaging to the image of such companies and members of congress. How is a member of congress supposed to keep his voters happy and a corporation keep its more moral customers if such information is to be leaked?

A banker was caught supporting illicit drug deals and the sex trade through his services. He has not committed the crime for several years since then, but how is he supposed to find a job if such information stays public?

Many years ago a man stalked a young woman half his age for months on end finally ending up bringing her to his house and then raping her. In response to this he served 10 years in prison and then was released. He is now looking for a job, but how is he supposed to start a job after committing his most heinous act?

Under current European Union Law all three of these people are currently protected against such incriminating information and they may call on search engines to remove such damaging information under Right to be Forgotten. The banker example is a very real example of something which has successfully gone through the EU's courts with this idea of a right. Some people see this as a right to be forgotten, but in reality it is censorship of journalism.

There is always some forms of speech which should be prohibited, such as hate speech. The current European Union law goes way beyond these sorts of speech and is dangerous. If someone is leading a company and they know that they can remove all mentions of an illegal or immoral action later after committing the action and then go on with their lives they are far more likely to commit such a crime. The silencing effect will occur, and corruption will increase.

There is no right to be forgotten. There is definitely a right to protection from defamation when such actions are not true. If someone posted an article claiming that someone killed someone else which was not true, this is definitely a form of harassment, and not an expression of freedom of speech. This should never be protected. In my opinion this law should apply to all people, politicians, public figures, and private citizens alike, which would of course shut down Fox News in a month.

People however should never be prevented from reporting the truth because that harms journalists and bloggers alike. This will undoubtedly create the silencing effect where they won't even bother reporting on such crimes. There should be no recourse for corruption, and there should be no punishment for journalists and bloggers reporting the truth, which is what the right to be forgotten is. This is why I agree with Wikimedia's Executive Director when he said, "The European court abandoned its responsibility to protect one of the most important and universal rights: the right to seek, receive, and impart information, As a consequence, accurate search results are vanishing in Europe with no public explanation, no real proof, no judicial review and no appeal process. The result is an internet riddled with Orwell's 'memory holes' – cases where inconvenient information simply disappears." The Telegraph

This is not a human right. This is a slippery slope to the incrimination of the innocent and protection of the corrupt and powerful.

Examples of why this is deeply immoral:
http://eurighttobeforgotten.com/musician-attempts-use-eu-right-forgotten-hide-bad-review/

Saturday, August 8, 2015

How do you punish the founder of a slave empire?

On today's walk I was thinking about how one could appropriately punish the founder of a slave empire, such as Jefferson Davis. I felt complete outrage how Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, along with the members of the Confederate Congress who did not receive any punishment. This felt like an absolute injustice to me when thinking of how many years we send people to prison for in terms of

My first response was to try to match the punishment to the crime (enslavement of millions of people) on the leading generals, congress, and administration of that slave empire. Under a system of making the punishment fit the crime, I got a little creative of my ideas of how to punish them. My first thought would be to draw out their intestines as the fascists lie in the mud, bleeding but not enough so that they die in unimaginable pain, after which they would be hung until they bleed to death slowly.

I then thought this was too humane. They must not be killed, they would have to absolutely suffer to match the level of pain they caused to millions of African Americans. They would need to work every day of their lives with no break and be whipped multiple times every day. They would only be given enough food to survive, to make the suffering last as long as possible. This would simulate the situations they forced on people, and fit the Hammurabi code. It also matches the treat others as you wish to be treated value which is essentially the same idea.

On the other hand, this is Rule of Man. Rule of Man is problematic because of the slippery slope it leads to totalitarian government. The punishment for their crime would then have to be as dictated by US Code. The punishment would then have to be as dictated by law.

Another issue then becomes whether it would prevent future crimes, and the research demonstrates that such extreme punishment does not deter future crimes. In order to fully end the problem one would have to look at the root causes of what caused these people to commit such a horrendous crime, and then address those directly to improve the lives of former slaves. This would be a system of programs which end the racism and improve the economic well being of former slaves, like what Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Baines Johnson passed in their presidencies which struck at the underlying economic and social causes of the impoverishment of African Americans. Fighting people's attitudes about slavery however is the hardest step of all, and I still don't know how to effectively combat racist attitudes at a massive scale, which is probably the biggest gap in education at this point in time.

If your goal is deterring crime, complete revenge matching the severity is not the solution, and the best way to fully punish the leaders of the Confederacy would have been a continuation of Reconstruction after 1877 when Rutherford B. Hayes stepped into the White House. The best way to punish them is to continue the work of ending racism, which will put their ideology where it belongs which is the dustbin of history. This prevents the creation of them as a martyr and punishes the crime more than the individual which is what the real goal should be.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Education policy post 1

(Creative title, I know)

We need to reform how we teach high school. As I was going for a walk today I was thinking about how to learn effectively and how I have found mathematics to be the most important subject in my education in terms of the tools it has given me. All of the most important tools I have learned in political economy are ultimately mathematical. From these tools comes the rest of the work I do and it allows me to understand fields I have never studied intensely because I understand the underlying logic of what they are arguing.

A big issue for me through school was making sure I got enough math to continue to the next step in my education so I can get to where I need to go. This was extremely frustrating for me, and left me without the mathematical tools I needed to continue my science education.

But what about English? As I was thinking about this today on my daily walk the books we were reading in English had large philosophical backdrops to them which were barely covered in school. The process of effectively writing is used in every class, and should be integrated as such. When it comes to literature however, they are based deeply in philosophy. I think while teaching such subjects we should introduce students to the major schools of thought so they can start to put the pieces together and understand what other books these authors were reading so that students can make the connection between the different books and time periods. The other subject literature comes from is history. If one is reading a books based in a time and place, there are probably political overtones to it, and in order to pick those up one needs to understand what was happening in that time and place. Reading books from Latin America is all well and good (we read a few in my IB English class) but doesn't do any good if you are not at the same time learning about the history of that region. I didn't take the history class at the same time, but feel like if I had taken it I would have understood the books a lot more, like the year before when history and English went through the same events at the same time.

To fully understand the books I think it would be useful to read them in chronological order and talk about the schools of thought as they evolve in conjunction with history class since literature is so based on history which helps readers see the trends underlying the books we are reading, since in high school this is all new information to most students.

So, literature is based off of history and philosophy and in order to fully understand the literature one must understand the history. Now, to understand history at a deeper level one must understand the political and economic forces underlying those classes. To fully understand this one would then need to understand some basic political science and economics. The political science would cover basic political theory (which starts with the same philosophers as one would use to understand the underlying themes in literature), American government (which we already do to a point), international relations (so one can understand war and why they occur), along with comparative politics (so one can actually understand what was happening on Britain's side of the American Revolution or how Germany fell into the Third Reich) are the four fundamental bases to political science and would greatly supplement the studying of history and increase understanding of what is happening.

Economics as well is necessary, and would not take a lot of time to cover the basic underlying principles such as supply and demand, elasticity, monopoly, oligopoly, perfect competition, and GDP among others. This of course would be done throughout the year and would help students understand the evolution of economic history and history as a whole because economics is such a fundamental part of society and how we live day to day.

And the really beautiful thing about this is in order to fully understand what economics is and do the problems in a way so that you can apply them to history you need to understand mathematics. This is one of the primary reasons why if a middle schooler asked me for advice about their education I would say to make certain they learn their mathematics at as high a level as possible because practically everything else they will ever study will ultimately be ultimately based on mathematics.

This is why I think of mathematics is the fundamental building block to most of our education. In order to understand literature you need to understand history and philosophy. In order to understand history you need to understand economics. A great deal of philosophy has to do with economics. In order to understand economics you need to understand mathematics. The patterns in music and art can be represented using mathematics which show the patterns which we perceive as beauty. The only fundamental part of a well rounded education that does not revolve around mathematics is learning foreign languages.

Mathematics truly is the language of the universe.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Vote like your life depended on it

The Guardian published an article today by an African American claiming that he won't be voting in American elections anymore because there is racism in our system.

The problem with this article is that he is taking the worst route. Let's say we have a system for ranking parties on their social values from liberal (+10) to conservative (-10) and you look at your ballot and you have one party which ranks as a -1 and another which ranks as a -5. As long as your personal ideological score is -2.5 or higher you are always better off voting for the liberal party. Sure, you might not get everything you want and there will be more progress to be made, but you need to recognize that you can start to push the election system back to where you want it to be whether it be 2.5 or 10.

In economics we have a concept known as the Production Possibilities Frontier. The concept is that when making decisions there are factors that I cannot change. If I am a firm deciding how much I want to produce in the short run I need to work with the fixed capital (buildings, machines, etc.) that I have. I might want to have 10 factories, but it doesn't matter if I only have 5 in making my immediate decision of my next step. The same applies in political science. I might want to have a party which will smash the legacy of slavery into the dustbin of history overnight and bring equality of opportunity to all Americans next year making us a completely egalitarian land, but in the short run this is irrelevant if I don't have that utopian party. More than that, even if a utopian party existed it would take more than one election cycle at this point in history to eliminate the inequities. This does not mean I should not stop fighting for this honorable goal, and by voting for the better of two options I am doing just that.

We are faced with a situation today where the Republican Party denies global warming, denies that issue of police violence, does not recognize the barriers to people making a life for themselves and is directly in the hands of the Koch Brothers and similar individuals. The Democratic Party also takes money from corporate elites (for similar reasons as to why people need to vote even if neither party is absolutely perfect) but also takes a lot of money from unions and are brought into this system from the start which has so many inequities. They have made progress with social welfare programs which disproportionately benefit minorities along with more direct legislation like affirmative action while Republicans have only moved us backwards.

This article makes a major fallacy in that he is looking at the system as it stands today when judging Democratic politicians and not how the system has changed under such individuals. He brings up Governor Martin O'Malley and claims he has no right to talk about criminal justice reform because Maryland still has major incarceration problems. This is however a major mistake for two reasons: 1. The Governor (pr President) may not, cannot, and has not unilaterally decide to overturn decades of law at the stroke of a pen. Such action requires the legislature. To do so without them would completely undermine the Federal constitution or constitution of any state. 2. Our system by design makes it incredibly difficult to get legislation through. These are both extremely good things. While I agree it would be nice to simply overturn legislation because it is immoral (which is what the courts have done in many instances eg Brown v. Board) it would come at a horrible cost because a Republican President could dismantle Social Security at the whiff of a pen. Our system is designed to be inefficient so that we can't have one politician undo the progress that has been made, which is the flip side of what would definitely happen if O'Malley could simply completely overturn the racism of Maryland's long-standing institutions. (it was a slave state after all before the Civil War) What has frequently happened in State legislatures and Congress is that the President will frequently propose legislation which is then significantly diluted by Congress, on both sides of the aisle. The most striking recent example is the Affordable Care Act which stands as a testament to this balance. On the flip side we also have the Americans With Disabilities Act which was vetoed by President George H.W. Bush but was fortunately overriden by Congress. His simple analysis of this issue gives him the wrong results and makes me wonder how much he really understands of how our government works.

This existence of a system set up for deadlock is not empty promises as he goes on about but instead a protection against us from things like C-51 which passed easily in Canada, and is a complete erosion of Canadian Civil Liberties by Stephen Harper.

He is correct however that grassroots activism is a useful tactic in getting politicians to listen, but it will only work in the end if they use their political leverage to force the politicians to respond. If they then just get more Republicans elected to state legislatures in the Deep South you can bet that they will not respond to such movements. Changing the guard and replacing the legislature like he mentions happened in Reconstruction however is a fundamentally different scenario.

History teaches us that we need to use our voices and need to vote to make a significant difference. If the Quakers had abstained in 1860 in protest for James Buchanan's racism Stephen Douglas would have become President and nothing would have changed. That is however not happened with the Civil War, 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments and Reconstruction which lasted until people stopped voting for liberal Republican candidates and Hayes was elected ending Reconstruction. It was disengagement which ended reconstruction, and postponed the healing of our country. I have no reason to believe another Republican President is going to make our country better relative to a Democratic President, even in the now unlikely chance that person is Hillary Clinton.

So, fine, don't vote if you want to. But when you don't vote you are in effect increasing the margin of victory for the worst party and shooting the civil rights movement in the foot. This makes it so they will move us even further from where we want to go which is what happened in 2000 when people didn't vote for President and we got our worst President in history (judging based on the changes he made from where we started and where we ended up).

I maybe white, but my Quaker ancestors did not get the 13th amendment passed simply through the Underground Railroad (my great-grandfather's hometown of Richmond, Indiana was one of the most important hubs in the network), but we got it done in the end because we had strong people in Congress such as Thaddeus Stevens and President Lincoln who got the job done. I continue to do what I can to make this country a better place every day. That is the only way we have ever made the world better in a way that is very difficult if not impossible to simply revert in 4 or 8 years. This author's choosing not to vote only shoots our movement in the foot and is giving up on centuries of very hard work which I find personally insulting. This is why I find the author's giving up on our country's future so absolutely despicable.