Friday, December 5, 2014

My reading list

I am currently undergoing a time of education on top of my senior year in college right now (my major is economics and political science) where I am listening to and reading some great books of philosophy. The following is the list of what I am going to read. Suggestions for books I should read which are not here are appreciated!

To be clear, this list is trying to be inclusive of most points of view, but there are a handful of schools I am not interested in reading, one is existentialism (which I read some of in high school and hated) and anything having to do with or influenced by Ayn Rand. There is no Subjectivism on this list either. It also is focused on post-Renaissance European/American philosophy. I hopefully will do another survey of Chinese philosophy in the future, and hopefully Indian as well. It is also focused on political philosophy. I've tried to include at least one book from every major philosopher. Some such as Mill, Kant, and Rawls are too important and influential to pick one so I've tried to pick their most influential books. As time goes on I will 
  1. The Prince By Niccolo Machiavelli (1513)
  2. Essays by Francis Bacon (1597-1625)
  3. Leviathan By Thomas Hobbs (1651)
  4. Principles of Philosophy by Rene Descartes (1644)
  5. Two Treatises of Government by John Locke (1689)
  6. A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume (1739)
  7. Candide by Voltaire (1759)
  8. The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762)
  9. Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant (1781)
  10. The Federalist Papers by James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton (1787/1788)
  11. Critique of Practical Reason by Immanuel Kant (1788)
  12. Critique of Judgement by Immanuel Kant (1790)
  13. Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1841, 1844)
  14. Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
  15. A General View of Positivism by Auguste Comte (1856)
  16. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (1859)
  17. Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill (1861)
  18. Das Kapital by Karl Marx (1867)
  19. The Division of Labor in Society by Comte (1893)
  20. The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper (1945)
  21. Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein (1953)
  22. My Philosophical Development by Bertrand Russell (1959)
  23. The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon (1961)
  24. Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick (1974)
  25. Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault (1975)
  26. A Theory of Justice by John Rawls (1971)
  27. Political Liberalism by John Rawls (1993)
I have already read On Liberty and Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill, and they have greatly effected the way I see politics and the world. I have also read The Wretched of the Earth and Discipline and Punish so I will just skip over them. I include them for people who are interested, and I recommend them all.

I also thank the people who wrote these two very different lists giving me some ideas on which political philosophers to include: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2009/05/the-20-most-important-philosophers-of-the-modern-era.html and https://bryannelson.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/the-20-most-important-philosophers-of-the-modern-era/

Monday, November 24, 2014

Police violence

The recent rial of Darren Wilson is a very sad event for our country, but hardly an unusual event. Reading the story of the encounter Michael Brown was definitely had problems (since he had just stolen a box of cigars less than an hour before the shooting) and Darren Wilson overreacted. He didn't have to shoot to kill, there are other ways to make sure someone who is a suspect (as Brown definitely was) can be held in custody and tried. This is definitely one of those cases.

When it comes to police shootings in the United States the biggest issue is that they too often go right to shooting people where they will die on the spot. This was the biggest issue with the latest publicized story, and is truly a tragedy. The saddest thing about all of this is this happens every day.

Wikipedia has to organize police shootings in the United States by month because there are so many. In comparison, there is only one page for police shootings in Canada and only one for Germany. The different has many factors, and they have to do with economic factors as well as the social systems set up in this country.

The first problem behind this major issue is the poverty of people (predominately African American) who are shot more than any other group. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-ferguson-race-data

The first goal of all police officers should always be to bring suspects in alive to minimize casualties. It is far better to bring someone in if you are suspicious they have committed a crime than to end their lives on the spot. People can and should be rehabilitated, it is wasteful to not do this.

Fivethirtyeight points out piece of the puzzle which is the rate of indcitments is far lower for police officers than other people. Such a difference is almost certainly due to less than honorable factors. http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/ferguson-michael-brown-indictment-darren-wilson/

When it comes to getting the biggest picture possible, there is no searchable FBI database. This is the most insulting and infuriating thing of all about this issue in my opinion. Such a massively important issue requires that we have good data so we can be certain certain case fit within the general trend so we can know the general trend. This is necessary for good analysis along with ensuring we make the right policy and appropriately understand what is going on in our country. We need to understand the big picture of these issues, and in order to have the big picture accurately means we need to have the pertinent details for the issue. gawker

Despite this failure of our system (which should be remedied ASAP) what data social scientists do put together in surveys of police shootings all demonstrate that people are far more likely to be shot if they are African American than if they are any other race. This is an absolute tragedy and we need to find ways to end this once and for all. Mother Jones

We have a lot of work to do in order to make our system work for all people. We need to finally be able to put together the big picture in one master database in a Federal agency so everyone can know the truth and put together the demographics to find trends. This will move forward to hold all people in the system accountable for their actions and lead to a better society.

We need to build a great society and fight poverty in communities across this country, because it is the right thing to do.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bank regulation proposal

  1. A bank which fails will be taken over by the FDIC regardless of size, the Federal Reserve will have the full authority to print money as needed to cover deposits. There will be no bailouts of any company.
  2. A bank which is shut down that is within one state will be handled by the Federal Reserve bank it is located in and will be bought out by other bank(s). It may only be bought out by banks which do not have interstate operations. This is to keep diversity within the financial system with lots of lending institutions.
  3. A bank which is shut down which crosses state lines will be divided by state, and be bought out by banks which do not have interstate operations. This is to insure diversity of the banking system and prevent any one bank getting too big to be a systemic risk. It will also increase the number of banks which is an essential part of a fully functional market.
  4. Banks will be allowed to form in any region based on the credentials of that one bank’s operations regardless of the other banks operating in that region. A historic problem has been restricting the growth of the banking sector which has stifled the number of banks in this country from what we can have. One key to a successful market is having lots of sellers and this will ensure that will occur.
  5. Current regulations that require banks to meet certain thresholds of reserves will continue and be more thoroughly enforced. Banks will have an extra penalty on loans they cannot collect on that will be paid into the FDIC fund.
  6. A bank must retain at least 10% of the loans they make on their books. A bank may not sell a package of mortgages or other loans without information on the creditworthiness of the people and businesses in the package. The failure to do so after a long time will make it so they must pay higher interest rates when borrowing from the Federal Reserve and will be fined proportionately to the bank's asset value.
  7. A bank must leave all of their investments on their balance sheet. If the regulator discovers a bank left investments off of its balance sheet for 3 different inspections will have its charter revoked and be treated like a failed bank. Every member of the Board of Directors, the CEO, CFO, and other people in charge of leading the bank will be charged with fraud as a felony and serve time in prison.
  8. The FDIC will have full authority to invest and use its funds as needed. There is no reason not to use these funds and have them grow to create a strong fund.
  9. Interbank lending will be fully insured up to 2% of deposits for all banks, so when one bank fails it won’t spread to other financial institutions. This is so future bank crises won't spread. They spread because banks lend to other banks, so if one bank fails and another bank has a large amount of deposits in another this creates an imbalance in the bank's balance sheet which is how banks fail. This is meant to protect well-functioning banks from a few bad apples because our economy is (and should be) highly interconnected.
  10. Stricter regulation of credit rating agencies to ensure they accurately rate financial tools. The regulator will have full authority to punish credit rating agencies when they inaccurately rate financial instruments.
This is because if we bail out banks we create a problem that they cannot lose if they make bad decisions and will then take more risk than they can handle (Economists call this moral hazard). We need to keep the managers of banking institutions accountable to their actions, and this requires that we do not bail out banks when they start to fail because it means they will be more likely to put their institutions at risk. We need to protect depositors money, while still keeping the managers of the banks responsible for their actions. Otherwise we will have more banking crises because they will take more risk than they can handle which will create a larger financial crisis.

The other problem with this is the key to a successful free market is having a lot of sellers of goods and servies, and bailing out big banks creates a concentration of power where there should be many different types of banks. This policy outline aims to create a more diverse banking sector which will benefit lenders, borrowers, and also benefit banks because there will be more options to borrow with one another which leads to a more stable financial system. Bailing out banks defeats this important piece of the economy which harms everyone when lending and borrowing freezes.

I have also omitted the major parts of Glass-Steagall legislation (restricting types of banking and where banks can be formed) because it restricted competition between banks and restricted consumer choice. It also had the negative impact of increasing the price of loans for consumers without significantly stabilizing the financial sector. No other country in the world has ever done this type of legislation, and the proposals outlined above are designed to get the stability of banking without the costs of high lending fees and lack of choice that Glass-Steagall created. It is a very simple equation in economics, if you reduce supply this will increase price and this is always bad for consumers.

To be clear, this isn't about being pro-bank or anti-bank. This about ensuring that banks have the resources they need to operate without being destructive to the financial system, and ensure that borrowers and depositors are protected. In this way this plan tries to strike a balance between policies which are pro-lender, pro-bank, pro-borrower, and pro-investor. I think I have made the proper balance for a stable financial system which will lead to a stronger economy for America and protect everyone regardless of income level of profession.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

More on Visa Policy

Since George W. Bush was in office the United States has mad large efforts to alienate us from the rest of the world, to the point where only Canadians, Palauans, Marshall Islanders, and Micronesians can enter the United States without some sort of visa. There are two ways this happens, either through the "Visa-Waiver Program" which is a misnomer, and through the normal visa system.
For those who don't know, the Visa-Waiver program is offered to 38 countries, and this requires people to sign up before they land in the United States (one major characteristic of a visa) and they pay a fine of $14 (it is basically a special type of visa). This has no real effect on catching terrorists (the people who bombed the World Trade Center and Boston Bombers all had visas) but only serves to inconvenience people who want to visit the United States by making them have to pay more money and spend more time before arriving. It is more expensive meaning more processing time for people across the world without actually protecting us.
Now Canada is going to start their own Visa Waiver Program, for everyone except the US (because we're friends) which will seriously inconvenience people who are able to visit Canada without providing any realistic benefit. I am not Canadian, but they should not give in the United States government on this issue. Unless if we were starting a customs union with Canada (which would be a very good thing for both countries) this action is completely counterproductive for Canadians.

Instead of further tightening of our border what we should do is eliminate the Visa Waiver Program altogether and institute visa-free travel from all the countries currently under it which requires no pre-registration, like every other free country except Australia practices today. Individuals who are known to be dangerous from foreign countries we have a visa-free regime with will be blocked from entry, and their passports will be blocked, and this has the advantage of blocking those we do want to block without inconveniencing everyone else. I personally am on the ultra-liberal side of having as few restrictions on travel for this issue, because I see it as a tool for furthering goodwill among nations and making for a better world altogether. I also don't see the threat when the total number of terrorist attack in every other country that has an economy like the United States and doesn't have a large group of home-grown extremists doesn't see large numbers of terrorist attacks.

I don't see any reason to believe that this prescreening works at all, and see no reason to ask people from our closest allies to fork over money to visit America when we don't have to do the same in their country. Plus, we already scan everyone's passports when the enter the country (like every other country I know of that isn't participating in a customs union with other union members) which means we will have records of who is coming in.

In general, this is the wrong direction for Canada and America. We need to fully analyze the costs of having pre-authorization for people from Europe, Japan, Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, and other highly developed stable democracies and not go backwards on such issues.

We will only know peace when the majority of people can meet people from other cultures and know that we are all human. This is how we fight extremism, and we do this by allowing as many people as possible to travel freely.

Sources:
http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2013/2013-12-07/html/notice-avis-eng.html#d108

For further information, read about the "Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan" which is the official policy between the US and Canada.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Obama's record

We have two and a half years left until President Obama will retire... and he has had a mixed presidency. He can repair his presidency and is starting to by speaking his mind. I am convinced that President Obama has been doing what President Clinton did during his presidency (according to Locked in the Cabinet by Robert Reich) where he has been listening to his advisors who are telling him to move to the right to capture votes, which hasn't worked once in the last 21 years the Democrats have been trying the strategy, and Elizabeth Warren has diverted from the strategy and is now the most popular politician in the country. So, how would I rank Obama today and how can he make his presidency count?

There are some problems:

  1. His hunting Edward Snowden (who is a whistleblower) is unconstitutional. He should immediately grant Edward Snowden a pardon.
  2. He has not stood against the vast bulk surveillance of the NSA which is unconstitutional. 

There are some issues he has struggled with:

  1. The Affordable Care Act was not as strong as it could have been and could/should have been implemented 4 years ago, not this last January.

There are some major successes:

  1. The Affordable Care Act increases competition between insurance companies by allowing people to switch more frequently (which reduces prices) and increases the ability to purchase medications at lower prices.
  2. Congress has increased taxes on the wealthy while he is president which he signed into law and his party actually passed. I am not certain whether he could have vetoed this bill because he cannot veto budgets.
  3. His environmental policy is flawless. After years of people speculating on Keystone XL he has stood his ground and he halted petroleum exploration in the Arctic.
  4. The so-called "bailout" of the automotive industry was paid back in full, and we still have a large automotive industry with new management which is profitable.
  5. He raised the minimum wage for federal government employees and contractors. Source

He has been blocked on some initiatives:

  1. He passed an executive order to put all prisoners at Guantanamo Bay on trial on 22 January 2009, but this was overturned on 27 January 2009. Text of order and details
  2. Immigration reform stalled in the Senate since he entered office and there is no chance of it getting passed a Republican controlled House.
Finally, when looking at President Obama's record we must take into account the response of Congress to all likely initiatives which means that we need to keep this reality in our analysis. With the resistance to his every action, it explains why the approval rating of Congress is 30 points below the President, showing people somewhere know where the real problem lies on why so many of these issues have stalled.

I stand with my President, he is a true progressive. I stand with Denny Heck and Elizabeth Warren as well.

I stand against the Democrats who try to appear liberal but are just in corporate hands which include Pelosi, Reid, Sanders, Murray, Cantwell, and most members of the Democratic Party.

A true progressive is not determined by his membership in a caucus but his voting record.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

2014 election and implications

The 2014 election on Tuesday is following some extremely predictable patterns of American politics. It saw the lowest turnout since 1940, which is probably due to the general malaise of people saying "both parties are the same", which has some truth with some members of the Democratic Party being right-wing, such as Landrieu of Louisiana, and a few others who lost on Tuesday, but this malaise is likely a symptom of single-winner districts and first past the post. I have more information below.

NCSBE and Election Project along with US News have good data

This turn to voting for another party despite being partially cause by low turnout is also a recurring pattern in American politics known as the Six year itch.

Section 1: Turnout
If we wanted to measure how turnout decreased and where it decreased we would want to have the following information, which I have already done in a spreadsheet:

  1. We will want to know if having a governor's election increased turnout substantially.
  2. We will want to also know if having a senator's election increased turnout substantially.
  3. We will want to know if political alignment of a state changes voter turnout.
  4. We will want to know if political polarization of a state changes voter turnout, whether a state like Ohio and Florida which are extremely close in number of Democrats and Republicans will have a different turnout than a state like Hawaii or Utah.
There are more types of things we can do when it comes to seeing what effects turnout, but these are the four measures I am going to choose to analyze.

I took this data and measured in a spreadsheet the data based on them, here are my results:
  1. States with governor elections had a voter turnout of 37.44% (with a standard deviation of 8.2%) versus a turnout of 36.17% (with a standard deviation of 6.4%) for states that had no governor with a correlation of 16.7%. This demonstrates a very weak correlation between voting for governor and people turning out. The long-term average shows a turnout increase of 3% (governor = 43% vs. non-governor of 40%) with a standard deviation of 5% with elections and 7% without elections. Their correlation is 19%. This demonstrates that having governors elections still has a weak correlation. The other way we can measure correlation is to take two elections and find the correlation between them for each state, and the correlation between 2010 and 2014 for all 50 states is 78.3%, which is very strong. This means voters in states tend to vote year after year or not, with a little dependence on whether they are electing their governor. Lurking variables include voter access laws, and state corruption.
  2. States electing a senator had a voter turnout of 38.3% versus 35.9% for states that were not electing a senator with a correlation of 23%.
  3. Political alignment has a correlation of 27.04% with voter turnout. Political polarization has a correlation of 27.50%. The more polarized a state is the more likely it is people will vote, so this empirically demonstrates that one way to increase voter turnout is to have competitive districts as opposed to safe seats.
So in order to increase turnout we should implement an election system which ensures that every vote counts which means every district must be competitive. The best way to do this is STV, which I have written about a lot.

Section 2: 2016 (focused on strategy options)
History tells us that when one party takes over congress in the 6th year of a presidency it is almost always followed by a changing of the party in the next election, This has in fact occurred 14 times now in American history (out of 16 two-term presidents) which is a rate of 87.5%.

This type of arrangement where Congress is controlled by one party and the President is controlled by another has occured now 11 times (including this new instance), and out of 10 previous occurrences only one of them has not seen the Presidency flip parties, which started in 1946 and ended in 1948 when both houses of Congress became controlled by the Democrats and President Truman was reelected. This bodes well for the Republicans if history repeats itself again.

Then if the Democrats want to maintain control of the Presidency it is prudent to study President Truman and the Republicans of the late 1940s. It was a time of economic recovery, and there was a recession after World War II which helped the Republicans a lot in 1946. An economic recovery would then probably help the Democrats a lot. President Truman was also up for reelection which is different from this time. The election of 1988 is also pertinent since the last two years of Reagan's presidency saw the Democrats dominate both houses, and all of George HW Bush's presidency for a total of 6 years, which is unusual because out of the past 10 times this arrangement has happened 5 have lasted only 2 years, 1 lasted 4 years, 3 lasted 6 years, and the longest lasted 8 years. This is in other words a very unstable political arrangement. This means there is a 50% chance that 2016 will see a new party arrangement.

For the Republicans, the best they can do is have a charismatic leader who can capitalize on their advantage and take the Presidency. They need a strong Vice Presidential candidate who can turn on centrists as opposed to Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan. For the House they want the map to stay the way it is, which will not happen since Florida is already going to change. 

For the Democrats, they want a politician who people can look up to. They need someone who can get people to turn out to vote and vote for their local representatives. Turnout is going to be key, and they need to run strong candidates in every congressional district in the country to try to take as many seats as possible. Florida is going to be forced to redraw their districts to not be so gerrymandered in favor of the Republicans, and there are other states where this can be done, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Texas which will make the house elections much more balanced in the next election. They need to appear more liberal than the Republicans and not complacent in their demands. Getting new faces into the party who are from the progressive wing would be useful, and speaking to women, African Americans, and Hispanics would help get the vote out. Hopefully there will be a primary season with candidates who have experience to move the party back in line with their voter base. This will give the Democrats a massive advantage in the next election. Pushing for ranked voting would be another very smart move.

Section 3: Policy
The next two years will be difficult, and the Republicans will put forward budgets which will be from the interests they represent. Fortunately, President Obama has a veto pen and will hopefully use it. The only danger is that since we do not have a Line-item veto it is likely the Republicans will put things into budget bills that Obama would veto, but since he does not have the authority to veto budgets they will pass. People will inevitably blame the President for this Congressional decision, but it will not change the fact of who makes these changes. Gay marriage will continue to move through the court system, and the Supreme Court will likely support gay marriage in the very near future. Supreme Court nominations from Obama over the next two years will need to be moderate to get past Congress, I however doubt that there will be any retirees or deaths.

It is not going to be an exciting two years away from the courts, and there will hopefully not be a lot of court action on economics given the economic makeup of the court of 1 libertarian and 4 conservatives. This is very favorable to conservatives, so even though it will be dangerous it is likely more decisions like Citizens United v. FEC will be filed.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Presidential Poll

Democracy For America is an organization committed to moving the Democratic Party back from its base and away from the special interests which dominate Washington today. I voted in the poll, and my choices were Warren (of course) followed by Russ Feingold and then Brian Schweitzer to round off my ballot (because he is a very great governor when it comes to health care policy and is not corrupt). The number one candidate on the poll is Elizabeth Warren, meaning that it is not just me but a large number of people who want her to be president in two years.

I did not vote for Bernie Sanders because he is dishonest on a number of issues, which I have outlined earlier.

I would not look to either Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi because they were terrible at leading their party when they had a majority of both houses in 2009 and everything took too long and was too little. The same with any of the other dominant Democratic Politicians.

I did not pick my senators because
Robert Reich would probably be my 4th choice out of the candidates on this list.

Deval Patrick and Julian Castro would probably be my 5th and 6th choices if I could have filled out more places.

The only two individuals I would look at for being Presidential candidates would be Jay Inslee (Governor of the great state of Washington), Jerry Brown (Governor of the great state of California), and Representatives Denny Heck and Jim McDermott of Washington who have shown great leadership. That fills out my top 10 choices for President of the United States. I could go on why I would not put other prominent people. Most other governors I do not know enough about to put on my list of people I would look to for becoming President.

Still, it is nice to see that Elizabeth Warren is so loved by so many people and that gives me hope about the future that the Democratic voter base loves her more than anyone else, and Quinnipiac agrees as well.