Spend it quick

I’m not an economist, but even I can see it all boils down to one thing.  The only thing of true value is labor.  Without labor nothing happens.  The way out is to create jobs.  During the Great Depression under FDR it was jobs to build infrastructure like the Hoover Dam and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).  If you watched “Walton’s Mountain” you saw how in West Virginia a system of localized labor exchange emerged.  Neither of these solutions were a “quick fix”, so recovery drug on slowly.

Today we’re talking about immediate cash infusions, direct cash payments to individuals and cash to businesses to continue paying employees while they are laid off or idle.  Corporations might use cash to buy back stock or pay dividends.  Prudent individuals will hoard as much of this cash as they can, preparing for the worst.  Neither of these solutions contributes to GDP.  Without labor there is no output and only output and jobs will provide the traction needed to pull us out of recession.

It seems to me these are not the right solutions, but they are close to the right solutions.  Suppose instead of doling out cash (which probably means cash cards anyway), we divided it into biweekly coupons.  It’s still money, it’s still on a cash card but it expires after the two weeks and is lost if you fail to spend it.  You can’t hoard it, you have to spend it. 

Spending it produces demand and demand inspires hiring and hiring produces legitimate income.  Nothing gives us the confidence to spend more than a reliable and “continuing” flow of income we get from a job.  Receiving a single cash payment does and should make us cautious; make it last as long as you can.  With a job you only need to know it will last to the next payday.  Consumers need to be forced to spend it. This becomes all the more important as business are coming back on line.

We can provide an option for those who don’t need it and don’t want to spend it.  Use it to buy government bonds that cannot be cashed out for five years.  You can’t complain folks; it’s a gift.  The government could use this for badly needed infrastructure projects meaning more hiring.

Economics is not just about money, it’s about money in motion. ed


A Typical Ranked Choice Ballot

Its forthright simplicity, directness and familiarity make it much more likely to gain voter acceptance by voters than other more complex forms of ranked choice voting.  You can think of it as plurality voting on steroids.  The ballot is no different than the one we are all used to and if you choose you can simply put an “X” or the numeral “1” in the box next to your top pick.  But you may also rank your second and consecutive choices on the ballot, as few or as many as you like.  This is a “ranked choice ballot.”  Either way, if your top pick gets a majority of first place votes he or she is the winner. 

But a simple plurality doesn’t cut it. 

What’s wrong with selecting a plurality winner?  Well I’m virtually in the process of writing a book on this topic called “Finding Our True Political Center”, but I will give you one example here.  We’ve all seen polling on head-to-head matchups.  If I were to win head-to-head matchups against every one of my opponents, it makes sense that I should win the plurality vote as well.  So it may surprise you to learn that in a polarized race there is a good chance that I will lose to a polarizing opponent.  But wait for it; that same polarizing opponent may actually be the plurality winner even if he loses head-to-head matchups against every one of his opponents.   In voting theory this is known as a Condorcet loser. 

When no one gets a majority of first place votes with consensus voting we add the second place votes to the total to see if some majority of voters rank any candidates in either first or second place.  If so the candidate with the most votes wins (note as many as three candidates can meet this requirement).  If none do, we simply add additional tiers until a winner is named.               

As a moderate you have liked both Klobuchar and Buttigieg for the 2020 Democratic nominee. Splitting the moderate vote you hoped one would drop out soon so the other can pick up their supporters and gain more delegates in March.  This conundrum called the “spoiler effect” is a common problem with plurality voting.  Let’s see how consensus voting eliminates this spoiler effect.

For simplicity let’s make our hypothetical election a nation-wide consensus election for the Democratic nominee. Since we expect no single candidate to have a majority of first place votes we know a consensus winner cannot be named before the second place votes get added.  By ranking one of our favorites first and the other second you effectively cast a full vote for each.  The theory is you give them each the number of votes they would have received from you had the other not been in the race.  This argument actually bears out pretty well in a diverse field of voters but I will leave the proof to the mathematicians.

The term “ranked choice voting” refers to any of the many forms of voting that allow ranking of choices on a ranked choice ballot.  The most popular of these, “Instant run-off voting” is often mistakenly called ranked choice voting, seemingly to the exclusion of a host of other prime candidates.  I submit it is the most popular because it’s the first, not because it’s the best. 

Many ranked choice forms reduce the field one candidate at a time then repeat the algorithm on the remaining field in “elimination rounds.”  The “instant run-off” eliminates the candidate with the fewest first place votes.  The “Coombs method” or the “bad apple sort” eliminates the candidate with the most last place votes.  No matter how good these more complicated algorithms are, the fact that voters are confused by and skeptical of elimination rounds is problematic.  Consensus voting takes a straight-forward approach to selecting one winner rather than eliminating a series of losers.

My personal mission has been to find a more inclusive algorithm that doesn’t scare voters away.

Inclusivity is a measure of how well the voting method weighs the wishes of all factions (including such as racial, ethnic and religious groups in addition to party affiliation) in proportion to their numbers to find the right balance. 

The instant run-off is neither inclusive nor user friendly. The Coombs method is quite inclusive but perhaps even more difficult for voters to follow.  Consensus voting is inclusive, intuitive and familiar.  This leaves us a couple of questions, why do we want an inclusive method and how does consensus voting accomplish this? 

The “Why” takes us back to polarized elections and divisive campaigns. 

A polarizing candidate is one who attracts a lot of first place votes and a lot of last place vote with few in the middle.

Of course this is by design because the objective in a plurality race is to “be the first choice of a lot of voters” so it really doesn’t matter what the rest of the voters think.  His Amazon rating might be 3-stars, because that’s what he gets with a lot of ones and a lot of fives.  In other words we elect a lot of average candidates who are also divisive politicians.  Getting all 4-star ratings gets you squat in a plurality race.  A lone polarizing candidate is possible but more often they come in (polar opposite) pairs. So we need an algorithm that gives weight to those second and third choices.

The best way to understand the “How” is to see it in action especially in a polarized race.  Consider a three-way race between a liberal, a conservative and a moderate.  Both of the extremists have lots of firsts and lots of lasts and certainly one of these will win a plurality race.  The moderate dominates the center but will have the fewest first place votes making him the first-man-out in an instant run-off race.  One of the two more divisive candidates will win promising four more years of divisive and obstructionist government.

If no candidate receives a majority in a consensus race we add in the second place votes making the moderate a certain winner with nearly 100% of the (first or second place) votes.  This introduces a new problem.  What if the guy in middle is a doofus?  He wouldn’t be the first doofus we’ve elected.  But would we really elect a doofus in this situation?  The answer is yes. In a polarized race defeating the opponent is as important, sometimes even more important than electing the preferred candidate so yes, we will always place him last even if it means electing a doofus.

But this is a problem that really isn’t a problem.  Don’t get me wrong; because of this apparent problem it took me a while to find this very simple algorithm and no doubt this is the reason no one has endorsed or promoted it before.  What we need to understand is plurality voting and the instant run-off open the outer lanes for divisive candidates while consensus voting closes these lanes an opens the center lanes for moderate candidates.  With the center lanes wide open many qualified moderates would compete for these lanes and there are lots of qualified moderates.

We are not trying the change the behavior of voters because we can’t.  But we can change the behavior and the incentives for qualified candidates to become unifiers rather than dividers.


Here’s what I told Senator Grassley.  I’m sure you’re looking to check the temperature for a cool-down following the acquittal.  Wrong! It’s just now coming to a boil.  President Trump has just declared war on half the country, a war you could have prevented. His number one objective for however long he remains in office will be revenge and he will put this above everything else.  I for one have joined the resistance so you can put me on his enemies list and yours as well if you like.  This former supporter is calling you out for the cowardice you have shown.  Republicans are supposed to be guardians of the Republic.  We have no use for those too old and too weak to take up the fight.

Don’t get me wrong; after 54 years as a Republican I continue to believe in a Republic, in rule of law, in pragmatism and in truth even as so many in the party have forgotten what we stand for.  I call on informed Republicans everywhere to continue to fight for these same enduring principles, principles perhaps exemplified more by Pete Buttigieg than any of today’s Republican candidates. At a time when unifying the nation is paramount, we must cleanse our rolls of sycophants who lack the courage of their convictions.

Meaning of High Crimes and Misdemeanors

Benjamin Franklin asserted that the power of impeachment and removal was necessary for those times when the Executive “rendered himself obnoxious.”  Does that remind us of anyone we know?  For most of us, we see these words and think that some kind of crime must be alleged before an impeachment trial can begin.  Sure, we call it a trial, but Congress is not a court of law.  It is a trial in the sense that there are facts and circumstances to be weighed, whether we are weighing criminality or obnoxiousness. 

The U.S. Constitution described an impeachable offense this way;

The charge of high crimes and misdemeanors covers allegations of misconduct peculiar to officials, such as perjury of oath, abuse of authority, bribery, intimidation, misuse of assets, failure to supervise, dereliction of duty, unbecoming conduct, and refusal to obey a lawful order. Offenses by officials also include ordinary crimes, but perhaps with different standards of proof and punishment than for nonofficials, on the grounds that more is expected of officials by their oaths of office.

The U.S. Constitution

Alan Dershowitz will tell you in his defense of the President that we can ignore all this.  Instead, he will cite arguments made and rejected by the founding fathers during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the works of pundits and hacks as well as politically motivated arguments made during past impeachments as if they were all precedent.  Professor Dershowitz is an expert in criminal law.  Criminal law relies on precedent.  Constitutional law does not.  The U.S. Constitution is to be interpreted by its original intent.  In other words what the exact words meant to the founding fathers and not what subsequent pundits would like them to mean. 

Webster’s dictionary updates definitions every year based on cultural nuances that work their way into the language.  Our Constitution is however not updated to preserve the original intent.  For instance the original meaning of the word “misdemeanor” was much closer to “misdeed” irrespective of whether such misdeed was in violation of a law.  Only since modern times do we jump to the conclusion that it must mean a crime.  According to Wikipedia, the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanor” dates back much further. The impeachment of the King’s Chancellor, Michael de la Pole, 1st Earl of Suffolk in 1386 was the first case to use this charge.  The 1450 impeachment of William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, a descendant of Michael’s, was next to allege charges under this title. He was charged with using his influence to obstruct justice, cronyism, and wasting public money.  After the Restoration (1660) the scope of the charge grew to include negligence, and abuse of power or trust while in office. Charges in the impeachment of Edward Russell, 1st Earl of Orford in 1701 included many violations of trust and his position. In this case, he abused his position in the Privy Council to make profits for himself; as Treasurer of the Navy he embezzled funds; and as Admiral of the Fleet he got a commission for the pirate William Kidd.  The point is many of these offenses were not crimes in the traditional sense of the word, but focus instead on “allegations of misconduct peculiar to officials.”

Here’s where the modern American interpretation gets a little screwy.  Congress waits for a report from the judiciary such as the Mueller report, which is authorized to only put forth allegation of criminal violations.  By its very nature, a criminal investigation must prove the element of “intent”, making it a long and arduous task.  Obstruction only makes it harder.  Congress as a whole has misinterpreted their solemn duty to impeach.  It’s their job to fire “obnoxious” officials, not to convict them and not to punish them.  Once fired the judiciary may then be called upon to convict and punish if the misconduct is also criminal.

What is so “peculiar to officials” is that legal misconduct is often the most damaging to the public they serve.  Think of it this way; if you were an employer would you wait for an employee to commit a criminal act before considering his firing?  If you have a customer service representative who is insulting your customers, that’s not a crime but you will fire him anyway.  A President who insults our closest allies can do a lot more damage than one who solicits contributions or business favors in exchange for government posts or contracts.  Congress could impeach a President without having to prove he intended to insult your closest allies, because it’s their job to stop the bleeding not to assess the cause.  Congress can also impeach for bribery without showing intent for the same reason.  In the latter case, a criminal indictment might follow if the prosecutor can prove at least one of the contribution was received in exchange for the awarding of a contract.

Most in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats believed imposing stiff tariffs on our trading partners will harm the American economy and threaten a world-wide recession and few of them believe that Canadian trade poses a security threat to the U.S.  Of course the proof is in the pudding, we can’t prove this until it happens.  Nor can we prove the President’s motive for imposing such tariffs.  It’s not Congress’ job to prove anything; their job is to exercise their best judgment as to whether the President’s actions will likely cause great harm to the public or in Franklin’s words, if the President has “rendered himself obnoxious.”

We should note that the Dershowitz defense stands in stark contrast the Attorney General, William Barr’s defense of the President.  Dershowitz contends we can only impeachment for an actual crime. Barr has a much simpler and technically more accurate legal theory on impeachment.

Criminal Justice is his domain, Impeachment is the sole domain of Congress and ne’er the twain shall meet. 

Essentially he is saying Congress can’t investigate criminal matters because that’s his domain and Congress can’t ask the Court (a part of the criminal justice system) to rule on impeachment matters.  This is the legal theory he used to justify obstruction such as advising White House officials not to testify or release documents in potentially criminal matters.  Dershowitz on the other hand will claim that you can only impeach for a crime.  The President’s defenders can’t have it both ways.


FILE – In this March 16, 2016 file photo,

It’s a little remembered fact that when President Trump decided to replace all his inspector generals with campaign donors as a reward for their support, it was Senator Grassley who convinced him he could not do this.  I suppose it seemed trivial at the time, but had President Trump done this we most certainly would never have heard the whistle-blower’s complaint.  There would have been no investigation of Trump’s dealings in Ukraine and this ever-widening cloud over the Presidency would have been averted. 

Senator Grassley has the staunchest defender of whistle-blowers, not because he likes snitches but because he recognizes the crucial role they play in rooting out corruption and incompetence.  I think we can discount Grassley’s statement that “he doesn’t care about his legacy” because he has consistently shown that he cares about promoting transparency in government.  This could certainly become his legacy.

I think one thing we can all agree on is “we want to know the truth” even an uncomfortable truth.  So regardless of your party affiliation please call, write or email Senator Grassley to thank him for his past efforts and encourage him to finish the job by voting to hear witnesses and subpoena documents.  His voice will undoubtedly influence more junior Senators.


The Fallacy

This threatening chant often repeated by white supremacists in America is not just wrong, it’s hopeless.  Of course they will replace us.  It’s a mathematical certainty.  It’s true that Blacks and immigrants bear more children on average than Whites, but that’s not the reason.  Even if we all had the same number of offspring and if Trump closed the borders tomorrow, every successive generation in America will contain a smaller percentage of Whites and with every generation this trend accelerates.  Victims of our own pride we are destined for extinction.

It’s not about our genes; it’s not a question of a superior race.  It is the “one-drop rule” that will usher us to our ultimate demise.  This rule literally means that a single drop of “black blood” makes a person black and the product of every mixed couple will add to the growing community of Blacks.  The math is not hard; I picked up on this when I first heard the rule in the sixth grade while my Dad was stationed in Hampton, Virginia.  I’d almost blocked it out of my mind because no one ever says it out loud. 

“Anthropologists call it the “hypo-descent rule,” meaning that racially mixed persons are assigned the status of the subordinate group. This definition emerged from the American South to become the nation’s definition, generally accepted by whites and blacks. Blacks had no other choice. As we shall see, this American cultural definition of blacks is taken for granted as readily by judges, affirmative action officers, and black protesters as it is by Ku Klux Klansmen.”

”Not only does the one-drop rule apply to no other group than American blacks, but apparently the rule is unique in that it is found only in the United States and not in any other nation in the world.”

Who is Black? One Nation’s Definition” by F. James Davis 1991

In the age of Trump the one-drop rule is frequently applied not just blacks but to all non-whites.  Perhaps Senator Warren and all her descendants should be called American Indians after all. 

Of course at the same time the percentage of “pure blacks” in America is disappearing even faster than our Lily-white population.  The difference is they have taken responsibility for rearing these mixed race children, welcoming them into their communities and sharing their rich traditions and sadly their long standing resentments.  The irony is neither blacks nor whites want to change that definition even though both would benefit.  We’ve all become far too comfortable living is our own separate communities.

If it’s any consolation, this has happened a hundred times before even if on smaller scales.  Caucasians may go the way of Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals.  Officially extinct, yet every one of us possesses those crucial drops of Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal blood.  Today we might call them genetic markers and if we believe in natural selection we might imagine we inherited the best of both. 

Inside the Mind of William Barr

For those to dare to venture with me down this treacherous winding path there is a prize at the end of the journey.  From his words and actions we must piece together an understanding of Barr’s strategy and its goal.

There’s little doubt that like the President’s personal lawyers, Barr has punched his ticket “on the Trump Train” and like any good team their moves are well coordinated.  Still it would be unfathomable to think they would operate without some legal theory, even a flawed one.  For the investigating House committees understanding this theory is crucial.

Many of us think Barr’s objective is to push Congress toward impeachment, which Trump can use to consolidate this base.  I think Barr and the President recognize that impeachment is inevitable so the goal is to buy time to stir the Trump base into a fever pitch.  The strategy relies on reinforcing conspiracy theories, illegal coups attempts and harassment of the President all to discredit impeachment hearings before they begin.  The defense is to begin impeachment now.

Even as Barr has tried to obscure the details his legal theory, his testimony before Congress reveals clues and vague instructions for Congress to follow.   The surreptitiousness is necessary to hide the fact that impeachment is his idea rather than an unprovoked and impetuous move on the part of the Democrats.  The defense is to give Barr the credit he so wants to avoid but so rightfully deserves.  Congress should thank him for clarifying his opinion that criminal justice is the domain of the Justice Department while impeachment by Congress is the sole remedy for handling Presidential misdeeds.  Congress should stop investigating criminal offenses and begin investigating impeachable offenses.

The following is solely my interpretation of William Barr’s legal theory as it relates to the office of President. The pieces are coming together so I think it’s a fair interpretation unless or until Barr himself is willing to expand on his theory.  As it stands I believe Barr has given Congress the green light on impeachment; the House should believe it too!

Barr’s theory is based in part on this definition contained in the U.S. Constitution;

The charge of high crimes and misdemeanors covers allegations of misconduct peculiar to officials, such as perjury of oath, abuse of authority, bribery, intimidation, misuse of assets, failure to supervise, dereliction of duty, unbecoming conduct, and refusal to obey a lawful order.”  For clarification only they added “Offenses by officials also include ordinary crimes, but perhaps with different standards of proof and punishment than for non-officials, on the grounds that more is expected of officials by their oaths of office.”

Barr believes that;

  1. The prosecution of ordinary crimes by non-officials is the sole duty of the Justice Department and not that of Congress.  He has conceded that Congress may interrogate ordinary citizens like Donald Trump Jr. but must refer this to the Justice Department for any prosecution.
  2. The prosecution of ordinary crimes by officials may be done by both.  Ideally Congress should prosecute the official first but with different standards of proof
    1. The standard of proof in a criminal case is “beyond reasonable doubt.” I’m a numbers guy so I’m going to put that at 97%.  The standard for non-criminal cases like civil actions is generally “a preponderance of the evidence”, specifically set by law at 51%.  Presumably the higher standard for criminal cases is because of the possibility of physical punishment or confinement whereas other cases are limited to monetary penalties, compliance or injunction. 
    2. According to Wikipedia, ”Conviction removes the defendant from office. Following conviction, the Senate may vote to further punish the individual by barring him or her from holding future federal office, elected or appointed. Conviction by the Senate does not bar criminal prosecution.”
  3. Prosecution of misconduct peculiar to officials is the sole duty of Congress.  The definition gives examples of such crimes but does not limit them in any way.  Any abuses of the extraordinary powers granted with the office may be scrutinized in the impeachment process.

While Barr’s strict interpretation of the separation of powers between criminal offenses and impeachable offenses defies precedent, it does make some good points.  I think perhaps it is a legal theory of convenience rather than one of firm belief.  But either way I would urge the House to take it at face value and proceed directly to impeachment.  Barr himself will either have to own it or explain it.

Congressional Duty to Impeach

David Pecker, how did that work?

I think the crime of blackmail usually works.  And I have no doubt that for David Pecker and the National Enquirer it’s always worked, at least until last Thursday when Jeff Bezos struck back.  But I’m not sure they know what’s just happened.  Perhaps this quote from Emile Zola can provide clarity.

“When truth is buried underground it grows, it chokes, it gathers such an explosive force that on the day it bursts out, it blows up everything with it.”

Emile Zola

I would only add that if the SDNY pulls this thread very carefully they may end up with the whole sweater in their lap.

When are you going to make them squeal, Joni?

Senator Joni Ernst

All we get from you and too many of our fellow Republicans is acquiescence to McConnell and Trump.  If you have no plans to actually do anything, you might as well hand your proxy to Mitch and come home.

My question for you today is about the Russian sanctions vote.  Now I am a lifelong Republican, but vehemently anti-Trump and anti-Russian.  I realize many in Congress will often abandon their principles to side with Trump.  I didn’t expect this from you.  I’m told this is all about appeasing Trump’s base which brings me to my question.

I live in a retirement community here in Grinnell and I know a lot of Republicans who have stuck with Trump.  A lot are patriotic veterans like you.  Yet I have never met one who sides with Russia. None claim Russia did not interfere with our 2016 elections, although some wish that conversation would just go away.  Your vote did nothing to curtail this conversation.  In fact your vote goes sideways with patriots of all colors and I suspect it will cost you support even among the Trump base.

Removing sanctions on Oleg Deripaska’s companies is not a trademark issue for Trump.  That’s why he tried to slip it through quietly on Christmas break.  That’s why he said nothing to defend this action.  To those of us out here in the real world, it only serves to enhance the impression that he’s beholden.

Sanctions or tariffs will always cause pain on both sides. Think of it as a school yard brawl. You take on the bully to change his behavior but only if you are willing to suffer a black eye. You know if you lose the fight your friends will move away and you will become (no other way to put it) “his bitch.”

That’s kind of where we are!

Now the sole purpose of sanctions is to change behavior, yet there is no sign that Russia’s interference or Deripaska’s role have changed.  The rational of the administration is that forcing Deripaska to sell some of his shares in these companies is a punishment. Yet your action just sent their value soaring while he and his cronies consolidate more power.  As far as I can see we not only got bullied but conned as well. We just told the Russians to “go for it again.”

I know it may seem like we’re a bunch of hicks out here, but we’re more informed than you may think.  So if there’s some “secret” benefit to this deal, it’s time you let us in on it.


PS. As posted at topsawyer.com. I will be happy to post your reply.

Congressional Duty to Impeach

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

What are we talking here, “treason” and “jaywalking?”  Or did our founding fathers have something different in mind?  Well, Benjamin Franklin asserted that the power of impeachment and removal was necessary for those times when the Executive “rendered himself obnoxious.”  Does that remind us of anyone we know?  For most of us, we see these words and think that some kind of crime must be alleged before an impeachment trial can begin.  Sure, we call it a trial, but Congress is not a court of law.  It is a trial in the sense that there are facts and circumstances to be weighed, whether we are weighing criminality or obnoxiousness…. Continue reading