How to Argue

I’ve spoken before about one of my favorite podcasts “Love + Radio” so my urging for you to start listening is isn’t something new. (Seriously, if you haven’t listened, go to s01e01 and get started).

In either case, one of my favorite episodes is one called “The Silver Dollar” and it is an interview with a black man named Daryl Davis who is a musician who has spent a large part of his life interviewing and connecting with members of the Klan. His story is incredible and deeply fascinating and everyone should give it a listen.

I bring this up because Nick van der Kolk (the L+R producer) has taken the time to interview Davis for the newest episode of L+R and talk to him about the methods he uses/has used to connect so well with people who’s entire world-view is about hating others. This interview is extremely enlightening and important for our time. We as Americans desperately need to find ways to become one country again, to find commonalities between each other and this podcast is a great way to look at that process.

Please take a moment to do the following :

a) Listen to Daryl’s original story (I promise, it’s great)
b) Listen to the follow up interview
c) target and connect with one person who doesn’t agree with you and make a change.

The Resistance

When George Bush was president and was faced with accusations about warrantless wiretapping, he was faced with a sick amount of resistance and outcry. I remember this. I was one of them. On that and many other issues, we were out in the street protesting. And we changed things. Maybe not directly, but we affected decisions, we made our leaders think about what they were doing. Resistance is super good for our Democracy. It’s a very vital check on the power of our government.

Which is why I was so upset when that resistance dried up once Barack Obama took over the white house. He took Bush policies like domestic spying, and the drone wars, and others.. and ramped them up 10 fold. And yet, not many people complained. In fact, we all rallied behind him and elected him for a second term.

But now it’s clear that The Resistance is back with a vengeance. And I’m pretty happy to see that. I think it’s important for us to pay attention to the minutia of politics. It’s important for us to care who leads the Interior Department (here’s an old post of mine about Obamas). I encourage all of you to push back on our new president. I think we should push back on all presidents when they do things we disagree with.

Right now I think a huge amount of our pushback is not coming from the right place. I think we are kind of like sheep, following the Democratic/Liberal media machine in just resisting the Donald on general principal. This, I think, is wrong. Very wrong. What I want to see is people getting upset about specific issues. Right now, that’s hardly how it is. We have blanket hatred of the president.

Take for example his order regarding the TPP. The TPP was a really, really bad deal for non oligarchs. We all (hopefully) know this by now. The Donald put an axe into it yesterday and everyone started saying stuff along the lines of “Oh, well that was dead already, it’s not significant that he signed that order.”. Nope, what if he signed an order saying he wanted to be part of it instead? We are giving the man hate 100%. I’m not sure that’s the right way to do this. I don’t think we can sustain it either.

Another example is his abortion related order yesterday. This is something that isn’t specific to Donald Trump. This bounces back and forth with every administration when they change parties:

The policy has been enforced off and on since it first took effect in 1985. Democratic administrations have traditionally rescinded the policy, while Republican administrations have reinstated it.

Even during the Obama years, US law banned direct funding for abortion services.

(from here)

Is it a big deal? Sorry, no it’s not. Is it because DT is evil? Again, no. Any Republican president would have done the same thing.

In my opinion we need to pay attention to whats going on and stay focused. When we see things we disagree with we should stand up and fight like crazy but lets not simply be one mindless group of protesters. Lets choose our battles carefully.

“Fake News” is a propaganda term. Don’t buy into it!

Be careful in todays world when you use (and buy into) terms like “fake news” or “echo chamber” and “conspiracy theory”. While there is some truth to the meaning and usage these terms as they are defined, there is also a lot of harm. Because, remember that all of these terms serve to stifle people asking questions and coming up with alternative viewpoints and subverting the status quo.

It’s easy for me to be skeptical when I hear “beware of fake news”, because I immediately hear something different : “Only listen to the respected, mainstream news sources”. If we are being kept in line by the media, this is one very effective way to keep us hooked into the message the elite ruling class is trying to sell us. Personally I have always been skeptical of everything I’ve read and I’ve taken time to either second source things I take as fact or defer to others who I trust to do that diligence on my behalf. Just because someone is a blogger or just because an article doesn’t come from the New York Times doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Same with “echo chamber”. In many ways this feels to me like an attack on us sharing things that we feel are important or that we feel needs to be read by others. If we are fearful of sharing things because it will make us seem like lemmings then things don’t spread and it’s very possible that our public becomes less informed.

I strongly believe that while there is no overt conspiracy to control us as a people, there are subtle biases by our media that naturally conspire to sell us ‘the story’. I have often complained about how I feel the media has let us down and I still very much believe that. Because of that, I feel obligated to fight that erosion of the truth by posting (and reposting and sharing) things that I feel are relevant. If you choose to label me as a conspiracist or as an echo-chamberist or a fake news/propiganda passer onner, that’s your decision. But I’m a very smart and aware human being. I am not a sheep. So follow me knowing that or be led by the elites. Cause we know how well that’s been working out.

Fixing our Voting System : part 1

Whether you were happy with the results of the election or most likely you weren’t (like most of the people who may read this) one thing I think we all can agree on is that the way we vote in America is terrible. And this, this is one of the few ways as citizens that we get to participate in our government. I mean, of course, if we don’t like how things are going, we have the ability to vote out the people who are governing. Right?

But how fair is our current system of representation? How easy is it for us to vote? How fair is the math involved in counting our votes? Hopefully I can show that the answer to all of those questions is : not at all. And hopefully I can motivate you to do something about making change in our system of voting.

Let me get an easy one out of the way right off the bat. It is hard for most Americans to vote. We have to Elections are held on work days. Elections are held during (mostly) working hours. We have to register to vote which in some states only happens at an office that is also open during working hours. Registration deadlines vary by state. Sometimes you need to get registered 90 or more days before election day. Once we are registered and finally get time to to the polling place to actually vote we find huge lines awaiting us.

None of this needs to happen this way. There should be little or no hurdles to voting. We should be registered automatically when we turn 18. The state knows who we are when tax time rolls around so they should know who we are when we vote. For national elections we should have a federal holiday. Why don’t we?

And now for something that I spent a lot of time studying and talking about voting systems. If you do any amount of research in this area you soon learn that everybody who studies voting agrees on one thing : Plurality Voting (our current system) Is The Least Fair System We Could Choose to Use. And I know you’re going to get bored fast so I will try to explain this simply. If a group of people have to choose someone from another group of people (more than 3) there are many ways they can do it. Currently we give each person (each _elector_) a vote for one of the candidates and the person who has the most votes is the winner.

At first this seems fair and in the field of voting theory there are many ways to define and measure “fairness” but I’m not going to go into them here. But at first, this seems a fair method because clearly the candidate with the most votes is the one the group prefers. But do they? A simple example would prove this wrong right away:

In this election there are 3 candidates: A, B and C. (You can substitute in whoever you’d like for those letters). A is hated by most of the electorate, B and C are universally liked by the group that hates A. If I can show you a case where A wins would you be convinced that plurality is bad? Ok. Here you go:

Election Results: A gets 100 votes, B gets 99 votes, C gets 99 votes.
Out of the 298 voters this means: A gets 34%, B and C each get 33%

Candidate A is the winner even though they did not gain a majority of the votes. Is that result fair? Is it acceptable to you if you are a B or C voter? Of course not. But variations of this effect occur all the time. Look at any primary that Donald Trump won in the very beginning of his campaign. As an example look at South Carolina

Election Results: Trump 32.5%, Cruz 22.3%, Rubio 22.5%, Bush 7.8%, Kasich 7.6%, Carson 7.2%

Could you tell me that all of the supporters of Cruz, Rubio, Bush, et. al would have preferred Donald Trump to be their nominee? What if they knew the eventual outcome of the presidential election? Would the Bush, Kasich and Carson voters have banded together with some of the Rubio voters to defeat Mr. Trump?

In what world can we say that someone who gets ⅓ of the vote should be the winner of an election? But we do it all the time. Shouldn’t elections strive to reflect the wishes of the voters?

There is a number of ways to run elections that are more fair and more accurately reflect the will of the people. One is Ranked Choice where you list who you prefer to win in order of preference. This is often combined with Instant Runoff where the votes are counted in successive rounds. Another is called Borda Count where you assign points to various candidates. There are countless systems that mathematicians consider to be more fair but my preference is one that is simple, fair and easy to implement with our current voting machines.

It’s called Approval Voting and it’s so perfect that a number of scientific and math societies use it to elect their leadership. Here is how it works : When you go to vote, you vote for _all_ of the candidates you ‘approve’ of and the candidate with the most votes wins. How amazing is that?

Let’s apply it to my hypothetical ABC election above. I said there was a large number of B and C voters that hated A and were equal in their like of B and C so they would vote for B _and_ C so the totals could be something like this:

Election Results: A gets 100 votes, B gets 198 votes, C gets 198 votes.
Out of 298 votes: A gets 34%, B and C get 66%

Of course this is not considering that some of the A voters would maybe approve of B or C and some of the B and C voters may have just voted for B or C alone. But what you see here is that A wouldn’t win and B or C would. Most importantly B or C would also have a majority of the votes in the election! This would mean that the candidate elected would more likely be the will of most of the electors! Wouldn’t this be an amazing system?

Having a system like this would also minimize the effects of strategic voting and reduce our chances of voting for ‘The lesser of two evils’. Imagine if we used this in just the 2000 presidential election: The ‘Nader effect’ would not have mattered and Al Gore would have won. Imagine we used this in our primaries. If we did and we had these huge fields of candidates we would more accurately see who the people would be happy with instead of seeing who can just convince 20-40% of them.

These changes I’m proposing make great sense so why don’t we have them now? I would say that there are a lot of reasons but the main one is that the two dominant political parties don’t want them. They right now control everything. The Democratic and Republican parties (which are not government institutions but private entities) enjoy enormous power in keeping things as they are. They can dominate the message, they can consolidate the power and they effectively make elections feel like we the people have a say when in fact we don’t.

Letting more poor and working people vote, and making election day a holiday would add more control of the system to more of the people the system is aligned against. Changing the voting counts would allow other parties and other candidates a chance to be counted which would dilute the power the D and R’s have over the system.

But we can pressure for change here. We as citizens can and should study up and learn that there are other ways to elect our leaders. We can and should advocate for a system that puts the control over who is elected back into our hands. It is our moral imperative.

All of the things I’m talking about start on the local level. You need to go visit the office of State Senator and go visit the office of your State Representative. You need to talk to them and find out how you can physically help make these changes happen. You need to talk to your friends and convince them of the changes I’m proposing here.

What is happening is that we as a people are being distracted by these huge important issues that we have little direct control over. This is by design. Please understand that making change starts with this simple, wonky boring changes. We need to get control over our government.

There is a lot more I want to say about our electoral system and I will be talking about gerrymandering, primaries and the Electoral College in later posts so please stay tuned.

November 2016

I have spent a very long time thinking about what to do on Election day in a month. Unlike many voters I consider myself a true Independent. I’ve voted for local and state and federal candidates in at least 4 different parties, and for president I voted for Romney in 2012 and I voted for Perot in 1992. My vote for every office truly comes from my thoughtful analysis of my choices.

This presidential race has been the hardest one for me ever to decide. I’ve grown very disenchanted by the corruption of our government by special interests and the super rich. I don’t believe anymore that the media is on our side. I don’t believe anymore that the current two party system serves us. As you all know, I have dozens of complaints about the system as it is.

In 2008 I felt much the same way and I worked super hard to push Barack Obama into office. I gave money, I made phone calls, I knocked on doors, I wrote about the campaign. After he took office I took a few days off to watch every move he made. I was so convinced that he was going to make his presidency one that supported transparency and decency and that he’d make sweeping changes to our system and clean up all the mistakes and overreaches of the Bush White House that preceded him.

Oh wow was I wrong. In many ways he actually did the opposite of what he promised as a candidate. This Democrat turned out to be a lot more of a neo-con than I had even dreamed of. During his 8 years privacy has been crushed, whistleblowers have been prosecuted, drones have killed US citizens without due process, banks were let off the hook for the greatest financial crisis in my lifetime, and health insurers got made even richer.

It was a lesson to me that the system was way more messed up than I could conceive. BO proved to me that at the level of the president everyone was kind of the same. That there was no longer any difference between a D and an R. That the rich and the special interests and the big companies control everything and that we the people are just there to keep the economy moving and to be used as needed.

And then of course we come to Bernie Sanders. Again I felt we had maybe a shot to change things. Here was a candidate that appeared to not be owned by special interests. That didn’t have huge donors behind him. Someone who was beholden to no one. Interestingly along came another outsider candidate that clearly did not give one fuck about the system and that of course was our friend The Donald.

At this point in my life, after living through 6 presidents and being politically active since before I could drive, I’m pretty much done with the system as it is. I know that there is a chance it can change and that change takes a very very long time but we don’t have time anymore. The damage from Climate Change is already upon us and we’ve done relatively nothing to stop it. Fighting and wars over resources are happening more than less. Religious insanity is growing and not declining. Education in our country is so bad that I wonder what kind of leaders we are going to have in a generation. What I need to see is a catastrophic governmental event. I want to see the system be torn apart and rebuilt again. I actually believe that that will get us to a better place faster than staying the course and waiting.

So to me there were two paths to that end. Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. Clearly I wanted Sanders but DT (even though he was clearly an idiot and a narcissist) wouldn’t have been too bad in the long run since he would have been so bad in the short run. But think of the glorious damage he could do. Think of all the trade deals he would invalidate, think of the government agencies he would close on a whim, think of all the wonderful pushback he would get and the chaos it would cause. Think of how the Republican party would implode. Imagine the hypocrisy he would call out from his bully pulpit. The people would have no choice but to tear down the pillars of politics and demand we start again. So once BS lost I actually didn’t mind imagining DT as our president. I thought it would actually be good for us. But I couldn’t vote for him since I hated him as a person. I couldn’t tolerate the racism and the sexism. This man was a terrible person.

Many have said that I should support Hillary Clinton. But with her I have a known quantity. I have someone who I believe is going to be Obama with a backbone. I believe she will lead with way more effectiveness than BO but the problem is that I don’t like the direction she is headed. I don’t think she’s going to be the kind of president that I’m going to be happy with. A few of my concerns are that I think she will continue the drone killing program that BO started, I think she will continue and extend BOs assault on our civil rights (particularly the erosion of the 4th Amendment), I think she will make the Syria situation worse, I think she will continue to support Israeli aggression in Palestine, and I think she will do nothing to stop the TPP. And of course it’s well known that she is very much connected to the rich and powerful. And outsider she is not.

And then there is the protest vote. I hate what the Democratic party has become. I have always hated the insanity of the Republican party. I have forever believed that we needed to allow other parties into the presidential race and debates. And when you come down to it, I really didn’t approve of every HC or DT so it would be disingenuous for me to vote for one of them.

In either case, as you can tell, my decision was/is not easy at all. There are so many conflicting reasons to choose any number of candidates.

But one thing kept nagging at me and it was a big one. If he becomes president, Donald Trump would be able to literally nuke someone. I don’t need to get into the details of how nuclear deterrence works and how launching even one bomb would most likely trigger the death of our entire planet. Sure there is a chance that there would be a coup before he could actually do it but I can’t take that chance. If I didn’t have a child, this wouldn’t be an issue but I do and her life is way more important to me. I’d rather have her alive. So I can’t let DT win.

Let me be clear. No matter what the polls say, HC will win Pennsylvania. HC has a huge ground operation thanks to the the DNC and that means a lot. I also believe that she will easily win the election, but just to be safe I will reluctantly vote for Hillary in November. So for those of you who care, there you go. One more vote for your lady.

No Place To Hide

Two days and three years ago, the first of many articles revealing NSA led domestic spying appeared in the Guardian. They were written by Glenn Greenwald and of course they were sourced by the incredible cache of documents provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. The full magnitude of revelations provided by that leak was and still is enormous. We are still today processing what our government has been doing in the name of protecting us from ‘terrorism’.

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I just finished the book “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State” by Glenn Greenwald which tells the story of the leak, but then also goes over some of the things that the leak has revealed. I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to read this book.

I was following the Guardian stories closely when they dropped and have always been trying to pay attention to the surveillance state in our country (here’s a piece from 10 years ago) but even I was surprised to find a lot of things in the book that I wasn’t aware of. As I read I was just dumfounded at the things the NSA and FBI were/are doing and how most of the companies we rely on everyday to communicate have been cooperating and how our media has been actively keeping quiet about things. I was further surprised to learn that this behavior is not new (post 2001) but has been going on for almost a century (with the reading of domestic telegrams in the 30s for example).

Greenwald does more than simply lay out what was in the leak. He takes his time to present other sources to support some very strong arguments about how dangerous this surveillance is to our democracy and how the media is not helping things at all. It’s just a really important book and it’s exceptionally well written and clear.
As an American citizen you owe it to yourself and your country to make yourself aware of what is going on in your country. This book isn’t filled with conspiracy theories, it’s filled with very well laid out and clear hard evidence. Read it!

Go California

voterCalifornia is a kind of a cool state when it comes to Democracy. Unlike every other state, the voters there have the ability to propose referendums and then vote them into law – totally skipping their representatives. In 2010 they made two very significant changes to the electoral system.

The first was that all districts were drawn up based on geography and they were made by unaffiliated professionals. This contrasts almost everywhere else in America where the politicians get to draw the lines of their districts which has led to districts where the politicians almost cannot be removed from office. See this from 2010 as an example of the gerrymandering I’m talking about.

The second change was that the state primaries were to become non-partisan where everyone regardless of party could vote for anyone running in the primary and the two top vote getters (regardless of party affiliation) would face off in the general election.

These two changes are HUGE and will go a log way to making elections more fair in California. This year there are a number of candidates running for congress there that would never have had a shot otherwise. I urge you to read this short article from Time magazine explaining the current election cycle there.

Before I tell you what else needs to happen I want to take a second to applaud the voters of California for these changes. They are game changers and they need to be implemented universally across the country and I urge all of you to publicize these changes and write to your representatives to beg them to make these changes. Sadly we won’t see this happen almost anywhere else because the people able to change things are the ones who benefit the most from keeping them the same. There’s always revolution…

Anyway, California needs to go further and I’m going to take a second to tell you why. For years now, mathematicians and others have studied voting and have pretty much unanimously decided that plurality voting for more than 2 candidates in a field is the worst system one could possibly use . The reasons are many. But they mostly boil down to the fact that not all of your wishes as a voter are being counted in the math deciding the winner. If you simply choose who gets the most votes, that candidate may very well not be the one most people would choose.

For example, lets take an election with 3 candidates. One (candidate R) is a hard core Right Wing candidate, another (candidate D) is a hard core Left leaning candidate and one (candidate M) is right in the middle. Say that many of your voters are strongly biased towards candidates R and D and that all of those strongly biased voters would gladly vote for M if they knew that R or D would win.

 

Say that after the results are in the voting comes out to something like : 40% R, 30% D, and 30% M. Is this a fair result? Is it the right one? The only happy voters are the R voters. The D voters are thinking “we would totally have taken M, we hate R”, the M voters could be thinking the converse “if we had chosen D instead of M we’d be in great shape” (remember the Nader voters who swung Gore out of the presidency?).

A system like this leads people to strategically vote : They vote for a candidate they don’t really like much because they think they have the best shot at beating a candidate they hate. This is called Tactical Voting and it pretty much kills third party candidates that would have a legitimate shot if people had a way to say “I want D but I’d also accept M.. just not R!”

Here’s another example that’s illustrative. Imagine if there are 10 candidates and they get 11%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, 10%, and 9% of the vote. Who should be the winner then? Would that be fair?

There are many other problems with plurality voting, just do a tiny bit of research and you will see what I’m talking about. This is the problem in California that they need to fix and there are many ways to do it.

The way I propose is called Approval Voting and it’s so fair that the American Society of Mathematicians use it for their elections (at least they did last time I checked). The way it works is simple. You vote for all the candidates you like and you don’t vote for the ones you don’t and the one with the most votes wins. It’s not perfect, but it’s 100 times better than what we do now.

There are other systems like the Borda Count and other Ranking systems, but in terms of simplicity and ease of implementation Approval is by far the clear winner. So California, you are almost there, just change your primary voting system and I will move there!

 

Want to talk about a Hero?

I just finished reading Janet Reitman’s amazing article “The Men Who Leaked The Secrets” in the December 19 issue of Rolling Stone. It tells the story of who I consider one of Americas greatest heroes and the reporter who broke his story. I’m talking of course about Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald.

Take the time to give this article a read. It’s totally worth it.

The more I think about how the Obama administration has sanctioned the behavior of the NSA and how most of America could barely care, the more angry and disillusioned I get when I think about the future of this country.

Hmn. 4th Amendment anyone?

I’m sure many of you are going to tell me this guy should just shut up and say that he’s an American citizen but you know what? He doesn’t have to.

This is all part of what the ACLU calls the ‘constitution free zone’. What is now allowed is that within 100 miles of any US border, federal agents are allowed to stop your car and question you about your citizenship. This was started in a 1976 case called US vs. Martinez-Fuerte. And then further expanded under the Bush White House after 9/11. Please read the ACLU release on the subject (highlights).

Now I know you are saying : “big deal, this doesn’t apply to me”. But guess what? It does. 100 miles of the US border includes New York City, Philadelphia, DC, Los Angeles, etc.. It covers 2/3 of the US population!

Had I known about this when Bush was in office I would have been outraged that he was expanding something that essentially was infringing the Constitutional rights of . I would have posted it, upped my usual donation to the ACLU (which I just did) and moved on. Maybe I would have complained about how crazy it is that our president was trampling on the Constitution once again and said something like “I can’t wait till that neo fascist was out of office”

Guess what? He is out of office. And guess who replaced him? My old buddy and the man I want out of office next : President Barack Obama.

I haven’t had the time to write my huge opus about how he is trampling on our rights by expanding the Patriot act but this alone should give you an idea of the man currently in office. Instead of attempting to repeal this, he is expanding programs like this. (yes I will substantiate this in a later post but if you do some digging you will see what I’m talking about).

I campaigned and voted for this man. I donated money to his campaign (more than anyone previous) and made phone calls on his behalf. I did that because I thought he was going to stand up for our Constitution and roll back some of the things that GWB did. But he has let me down. He has let you down. He has let our country down. In November, Vote him out of office!!

If the president wants you dead, you’re dead.

“‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.” – Eric Holder, March 5.

Lets just start right here. This speech (please read it) reminds me about everything I hated about the Bush White House. Remember John Yoo? He was the attorney in the Bush White House who came up with some insane legal arguments that allowed waterboarding. Remember the ‘Torture Memos‘? Holder has taken it a bit farther by aiding and abetting murder.

What he is talking about in his speech is the new executive privilege and law that allows Barack (and any future president) to decree you as a terrorist and have you (and anyone near you) blown to bits by a drone or a hit squad. This can happen overseas or here on American soil. This can even happen to American citizens too. The same ones who are ostensibly protected by the 5th Amendment. Remember that one? Here’s the relevant text : “No person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”

Holders argument is that the president and his ‘death panel’ deciding you are a terrorist is due process.

Are you kidding me?

Ok.. don’t take my word for it. I want you to read this wonderful piece by Glenn Greenwald which, among other things, goes over the hypocrisy of Democrats to go along with this nonsense. He brings up a wonderful point about how we were up in arms (I sure was) when Bush tried to illegally wiretap ‘terrorists’ without court oversight. Barak is now killing them! The most amazing part of that article? Barack Obama himself spoke out against this kind of stuff when he was in the senate! (Please read this article. It sums up my point way better than I ever could hope to).

Plain and simple. I will not support a president who has decided that he is able to actively kill Americans without any judicial oversight. And you shouldn’t either!