Category Archives: motivation

voting in the America – epic FAIL

I gave a 11 minute talk on voting in the US and it’s issues last night at the Urban Hive in Sacramento. This was to a very small audience and was something I threw together at the last minute.

These are my notes for the talk:

voting in America - epic FAIL
---

intro
 * not well prepared speech - expect a very bad talk on a very important topic
 * goal is to make people think about democracy in US and whether it
    works / could be improved

principals of democracy
 * choice by people
   "Democracy is a system of government in which people choose their rulers
    by voting for them in elections."
   root demos = people
   FAIL: $ in politics, single winner districts, gerrymandering,
         2 party system due largely to plurality voting
 * representative democracy (vs direct democracy)
  * communication more effective (direct democracy does not scale)
  * specialization (reps are knowledgable about issues)
  * delegation
  * representative
  FAIL: unrepresentative representatives, in pockets of large special interests,
     gerrymandered to get reelected
 * consent of governed
  FAIL: see representative democracy list
        current #s: 26% approval rating for congress, 49% for president
 * accountability
  FAIL: unrepresentative representatives
 * transparency
  FAIL: voting machines, lack of publicly observed counting, vote by
        mail to a degree, blind trust in election results
 * US specific concepts:
  * federalism for national powers
    FAIL: In my view this is inappropriate; people should be
          represented nationally rather then states
  * Separation of Powers - legislative vs executive vs judicial
    OK

off-topic:
 * majority rule vs minority rights
 * - democracy not necessarily enough and/or need for compromise
   *unless* people moderate their views to respect the minority

problems with US system:
 * single winner districts => unrepresentative representatives.
   In extreme only 50%+1 represented
 * gerrymandering => representatives choose voters instead of vice versa.
   In extreme only 25%+1 represented
 * money in politics, money as 'speech', corporate personhood under the law
    => corporate money as speech
   "A bitterly divided Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the government may
    not ban political spending by corporations, labor unions or other organizations
    in elections. The court’s majority in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
    swept aside a century-old doctrine in election law, ruling that the campaign finance
    restriction violated the First Amendment’s free speech principles"
 * national government is a federation in which *states* are represented NOT people
  * eg. senate weighs each state equally
  * house of representative does not weight states fully equally - rounding errors,
    formula for # of reps, etc...
  * president elected by electoral college - not national popular vote
 * single winner election systems - plurality voting.  lesser of 2 evils.
   Bush v Gore v Nader
 * => 2 party system - systemic issue

we can do better
 * takes political will
 * understand that there are proposed reforms and that some have obstacles
   or are contradictory
 * some are worse then what we have currently!

what you can do:
 * donate to relief efforts in Haiti - not strictly related but important :)
 * read and be aware of the recent news on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
 * sites and organizations to check out:
   $ in politics: "changeCongress.org" "maplight.org"
   and "Center for Political Accountability"
   voting systems: "score voting.net aka rangevoting.org"
   general: "allaboutvoting.com" - my site
 * terms to research:
   "election reform"
   "asset voting"
   "approval voting"
   "score voting" aka "range voting"
   "delegatable proxy"

Q&A
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Should I apply for the Prop 11 redistricting commission?

I’m thinking about applying to be on CA’s prop 11 redistricting commission. In the unlikely event that I become part of the commission this would necessitate a 9 month commitment to work full time on commission business (compensated $300 per day involved in commission business – but still). Anyone want to talk me into/out of applying?

I’ve talked before about redistricting approaches on this blog before.

Briefly:

  • Prop 11 is not perfect but I do support it as significantly better then the previous highly-partisan approach.
  • To me, an ideal solution would be to use good multi winner winner election methods to select a body of representatives rather then using single winner districts. Ideally representatives would be chosen in a way that each person is equally represented by someone they (helped to) choose and whose political viewpoints closely resemble their own. This could be achieved through proportional representation or, even better, asset voting.
  • Where single winner districts are needed I would prefer that they be selected in an automated fashion – without much human input.
  • …but the voting rights acts (both federal and state) apparently requires the creation of minority-majority districts – which effectively requires gerrymandering
  • Given these constraints, an independent redistricting commission approach seems to be the only viable option. Prop 11, although flawed creates such a commission.

So… should I apply for the commission? Do I have enough to offer? Is the potential time commitment worth it?

Bailout as 419 scam

I know that I have not blogged lately and that this is way off topic. But it is just irresistible.

(This is reposted from the Brad Blog but I’m sure it’s circulating through the net. I humbly present, the fed’s bailout as a 419 scam)

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion USD. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gramm, lobbyist for UBS, who (God willing) will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a former U.S. congressional leader and the architect of the PALIN / McCain Financial Doctrine, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. As such, you can be assured that this transaction is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson


Oh, wait, you want to know my thoughts on this bailout?
It’s disgusting. It’s short sighted. It’s idiotic. It’s socializing losses after privatizing profits. There may be merit to the taxpayers bailing out a private institutions but the way that this is being conducted acts as if no-one had a clue that these companies were in trouble until a few days before a bailout. Such a bailout using such huge amounts of public money (IIRC, this costs more than the Iraq war) is deserving of thoughtful debate, a non rushed time-frame, and almost certainly the imposition of regulatory framework on the failed institutions.

A follow-up on identity theft prevention

Back when I discussed anonymity I raised some concerns about identity theft. Here is a follow up on my research on identity theft. Hopefully it will be of use to someone.

Domain Anonymizers

There are a number of domain anonymizer services such as as Domains by Proxy that allow you to legitimately register a domain anonymously. Note that there are some accounts of these services turning over your actual contact information with very little provocation.

Credit Report

I focussed my attention on fraud issues that reflect within your credit report.

I found that there are several approaches to protecting a credit report. You can get a good overview with a side of advocacy at The Consumers Union.

There are a few basic techniques.
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The Rose Report on algorithmic redistricting

The Rose Report discusses algorithmic approaches to redistricting such as the shortest-splitline algorithm.

The Rose report points out that these algorithms could be unconstitutional and seems to consider algorithmic redistricting approaches to be politically naive.

A recent letter-to-the-editor in The Appeal-Democrat suggested we just draw district lines according to latitude across the state to create the areas our legislators represent. Many people say such things, not unreasonably, because they are ignorant of the fact that such districts would inevitably be unconstitutional.

The idea behind such proposals is simple: people want to take the “politics” out of redistricting politics in a complete and total manner. Of course, in practice, trying to take the politics out of politics is as nonsensical and impossible as the verbal formulation. Further, such reforms might cause more problems than they would ever solve. Such exercises can be valuable as thought experiments, but realistic reforms strive for something much more moderate and, for lack of a better word, political.

I disagree with the assertions made by the Rose report that algorithmic approaches to redistricting are forever unrealistic reforms.

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Quantum crypto in elections? To what end?

From Network World:

Swiss officials are using quantum cryptography technology to protect voting ballots cast in the Geneva region of Switzerland during parliamentary elections to be held Oct. 21, marking the first time this type of advanced encryption will be used for election protection purposes.

For the Swiss ballot-collection process, the quantum cryptography system made by id Quantique will be used to secure the link between the central ballot-counting station in downtown Geneva and a government data center in the suburbs.

“We would like to provide optimal security conditions for the work of counting the ballots,” said Robert Hensler, the Geneva State Chancellor, in a statement issued today. “In this context, the value added by quantum cryptography concerns not so much protection from outside attempts to interfere as the ability to verify that the data have not been corrupted in transit between entry and storage.”

Got that? Swiss officials will be using quantum crypto to encrypt the communication channel between a central ballot counting station and a government data center. It’s only used for a small part of the election process and, to the best of my knowledge, the information that is being transmitted along this channel ought to be public information anyways.

So I see nothing of value here. Standard communication techniques like SSL would have worked fine. I’m not alone in my assessment.

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Breaking anonymity

Hi there. My name is Greg Wolfe.

When I started this blog I decided to be anonymous. Today I’ve decided to break that anonymity and public state who I am. Read on to learn why.

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