It's time for national elections in the US, and many citizens feel like they can't get good representation, no matter how they vote. Much of the problem is our "Winner Take All" system of voting — it's easy to explain but has *huge* flaws. Here is a series of 5 videos (total 28 minutes) that talks about the problems, and some much better (but slightly more complicated) alternatives.
FactCheck.org clears muddy election waters
As the Obama and McCain camps start slinging the mud, FactCheck.org once again rises to the occasion. FactCheck is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that analyzes political claims. They provide both short summaries, and in-depth detail. You can subscribe for email alerts, or subscribe to their RSS feed.
Hypothetical Iraq scenario
Scott Adam's posts an interesting hypothetical scenario in hits 29 April 2006 blog entry:
Suppose you believed that the world is soon reaching an oil supply crisis. Many experts believe that. And suppose the consensus of economists is that unless the oil supply problem is solved, America will be plunged into a spiral of depression the likes of which has never been seen.
If America goes down, the rest of the industrial world will too. Starvation will follow. Health services will crumble. Crime will soar. Lots of people will die. Imagine China losing half of its customer base in a year. Could 100 million people die from a large economic disaster? I think so.
Now suppose Americaâ€™s experts thought that a smallish war to depose an evil Iraqi dictator was all that was needed to buy another 20 years of reliable oil supply â€“ long enough to develop alternative energy sources that are economical.
Under my hypothetical scenario, would America have a moral obligation to attack Iraq under false pretenses if its experts believed that doing so protects the most lives in the long run?
This is strictly hypothetical.Â Scott is not saying that he believes this is what happened with the current Iraq war.
Election Day should be a holiday
Which country is more likely to have the better democracy? One that observes their Election Day as a holiday? Or one that has New Year's Day as a holiday? In the U.S. we get Jan. 1st as a holiday. What does that say about the future of our democracy? Others have proposed this idea, like GrowDemocracy.com's campaign for Democracy Day.
Ok, so you might object that New Year's Day is a tradition. Let's look at holidays that are a less "traditional", specifically holidays that did not exist until the US enacted them into law.
"President's Day" (officially "Washington's Birthday") is taken as a holiday on the 3rd Monday in February (Washington's birthday is Feb 22). How do you think Pres. George Washington would prefer we insure his legacy continues? By taking a day off in February? Or taking a day off for Election Day?
Ok, you still might object that President's Day is too traditional. What about our most recently enacted US Federal Holiday?
Martin Luther King Day is observed on the 3rd Monday in January (King's birthday is Jan. 15). This holiday was signed into law in 1983 and first observed in 1986. Do you think Mr. King would prefer we insure his legacy continues by celebrating his birthday? Or by taking a holiday on Election Day?
I'm not advocating we add another holiday (which would have wide-ranging impacts). I'm saying we should consider moving the observance of an existing holiday to Election Day.
FactCheck.org analyzes Bush's June 27 speech
As always, a thoughtul analysis with plenty of links to the sources. Their one sentence summary: "we found nothing false in what Bush said, only that his facts were few and selective."
US helps Saddam build chem weapons of mass destruction
From a Washington Post story of Dec 30, 2002 by Michael Dobbs
Among the people instrumental in tilting U.S. policy toward Baghdad during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war was Donald H. Rumsfeld, now defense secretary, whose December 1983 meeting with Hussein as a special presidential envoy paved the way for normalization of U.S.-Iraqi relations. Declassified documents show that Rumsfeld traveled to Baghdad at a time when Iraq was using chemical weapons on an "almost daily" basis in defiance of international conventions. […]
The U.S. tilt toward Iraq was enshrined in National Security Decision Directive 114 of Nov. 26, 1983, one of the few important Reagan era foreign policy decisions that still remains classified. According to former U.S. officials, the directive stated that the United States would do "whatever was necessary and legal" to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran. […]
[By Nov 1983,] intelligence reports showed that Iraqi troops were resorting to "almost daily use of CW" against the Iranians. But the Reagan administration had already committed itself to a large-scale diplomatic and political overture to Baghdad, culminating in several visits by the president's recently appointed special envoy to the Middle East, Donald H. Rumsfeld. […]
Pulling out the Hitler comparisons
You know public discourse has reached the next level when the Hitler comparisons start flying. Jon Stewart of the Daily Show castigates Congress and others for their use of this metaphor.
(There is a short commercial you have to watch, but it's worth it)
FactCheck.org takes on Social Security debate
Unlike most political analysis, FactCheck.org focuses on providing links to the facts, not just spouting opinion. They got started mostly for the 2004 elections, but they are continuing to keep track of current political debates.
Turns out all the hype about Social Security going bankrupt is a major exaggeration. If we do nothing, the most pessimistic projection shows that the SSA will have to cut promised benefits by 27% beginning in 2042, and by 2075 benefits would have to be cut by 32% from the promised amount. I'd hardly say that Social Security is going bankrupt.
While we probably should do something about SSA, there's no need to rush into "solutions" that could make things worse. And the political venom is not helping matters.
FactCheck.org's latest article on the Social Security debate covers Bush's April 28 statements on plans slow the growth of benefits in the future for higher income workers.
Electronic voting MUST have paper receipts
Most of the e-voting systems sold and used in the latest round of electronics produce no verifiable paper trail.
Without a verifiable paper trail:
- You can never do re-counts if the machines have a problem
- You can never verify that the machines haven't been tampered with (by the company that makes the machine, or by local officials)
You should demand a paper trail if you use voting machine
FTC says the patent system needs to be changed
For Release: October 28, 2003FTC Issues Report on How to Promote Innovation Through Balancing Competition with Patent Law and Policy
The Federal Trade Commission today issued its report on how to promote innovation by finding the proper balance of competition and patent law and policy. Although both competition in markets and patents for inventors can work together to foster innovation, the report states that each policy requires a proper balance with the other to do so. "Consumers and innovators win when patents and competition policy are aligned in the proper balance. Although questionable patents can harm competition and innovation, valid patents work well with competition to promote innovation. This Report analyzes and makes recommendations for the patent system to maintain the proper balance with competition," said Timothy J. Muris, FTC Chairman.
Today's report – which makes recommendations for the patent system – is the first of two reports about how to maintain that balance. A forthcoming second report by the FTC and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) will make similar recommendations for antitrust law.
Among the ten recommendations of today's report, the FTC proposes legislative and regulatory changes to improve patent quality. Patents of questionable validity can slow further innovation and raise costs to consumers. Specifically, the report recommends:
- Creating a new administrative procedure that will make it easier for firms to challenge a patent's validity at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), without having to raise an expensive and time-consuming federal court challenge; and
- Allowing courts to find patents invalid based on the preponderance of the evidence, without having to find that clear and convincing evidence compels that result. The current standard of "clear and convincing evidence" undermines courts' ability to weed
out questionable patents. This is especially troubling, since certain PTO procedures and rules tend to favor the issuance of patents.