Category Archives: Politics

Burns and Allen 05/14/2020

Photo by Everett/Shutterstock (10306285a) George Burns and Gracie Allen recording a N.B.C. radio show, 1937, Historical Collection

Gracie:  I see in the paper where the TestIowa initiative is using a new test that will reduce the incidence of coronavirus.

George:   A test surely can’t prevent it.  You must mean a vaccine or treatment, right?

Gracie:  No, they say the test itself will.

George:   How do they know the test is what’s reducing the incidence of the disease?

Gracie:  It’s already been used in Utah and produced just half as many positive tests as the other two tests they were using.

George:   Wait a minute!  You say half as many positives with the new test.

Gracie:  That right it’s called “flattening the curve.”  That’s why Iowa and Nebraska have decided to switch to the new test.

George:  OMG.  Say goodnight Gracie.

Gracie:  Goodnight Gracie

Editorial note:  Well she’s right it will lower the curve.  So will the administration’s decision change the way we count cases and deaths.  It’s true counting cases is mostly guesswork when such a small sample has been tested.  But whether we undercount or over-count we’ve got to stick with the plan otherwise we’ve got a mess.  Imagine what your house would look like if the carpenter who built your house switched from metric to feet half way through the job.

Burns and Allen – 05/09/2020

Get your daily news Vaudeville style with George and Gracie.

Gracie:  Great economic news this month.

George: What are you talking about, Gracie.  Unemployment spiked to 14.7%, the worst since the great depression.

Gracie: Yea but wages are up 4.7% over last month.

George:  But Gracie, average wages went up because so many low wage workers lost their jobs.  They’re not making any money now.

Gracie: Yea but they’ll be making so much more when they go back to work.

George:  Ugh…. Say goodnight Gracie.

Gracie: Goodnight Gracie

HOW WE MISCALCULATED CORONAVIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

The scientists gave us the relevant numbers, but it somehow just didn’t compute with our politicians.  It’s pretty well established that lawyers and politicians can’t do math that doesn’t start with a $.  The “No Child Left Behind” Act that mandated every student rank above the 40th percentile is a case in point.  Here’s a story I read in the late 90s that demonstrates how even professionals can overlook the math.

A young woman questioned her professor about a B+ she received on a paper in 1994.  The professor agreed that it was well written and would have been an A had she not gotten her facts wrong.  He showed her where she wrote “the number of children killed on the street by gunfire has doubled every year since 1954.” She asked what was wrong with that.  He said I don’t know how many children were killed in 1954 but suppose it was just one.  He said doubling every ever would make the total number this year 240 or 1,099,511,627,776.  But she was able to show him this quote taken word for word from a reputable magazine.  It turned out they took from another periodical who made an error in copying it from a child advocacy hand out where it read “the number of children killed on the street by gunfire every year has doubled since 1954” , about the same growth as the population. 

I didn’t need a calculator the see the problem.  Perhaps dealing with large numbers majoring in physics made it easier for me because we did a lot of rounding.  I know that 210 = 1,024, approximately 1,000 and each multiplier of 1,000 adds three more zeros giving me one trillion as a low-side estimate.

If they had a category this would certainly make the Guinness world record as the largest computational error.  The young woman’s B+ was a lenient penalty for such a humongous error.  But in science the penalty is often severe. 

When faced with a small number of local cases of coronavirus, we tend to focus on that “small number” hoping it limits what any function applied to that small number, can do.  In this case it doesn’t.  The function tells us that it will double every three days.  We know this won’t reach one trillion in four months (30 days = 10 doubles = 1,000 fold), but it can be in the millions.  Of course “better late than never” mitigating factors can still make a huge difference. 

“USE IT OR LOSE IT” ECONOMIC RECOVERY

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

CONSENSUS VOTING

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.

IT’S TIME TO TAKE OUR PARTY BACK

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.

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

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.

Sincerely,

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

INCLUSIVE VOTING – FINDING OUR TRUE POLITICAL CENTER

After reading my most recent article, How Our Voting Method Brings Out Our Worst, my son, Ian said, “Dad, they’re never going to change the voting method.”

He may be right, but if there was ever “a right time to do it” that time is now.  If there was ever a time when the public is ready for change that time is now.  In fact with the support of national organizations like FairVote, local governments across the country are trying out different voting methods in hopes of getting fairer elections. But local governments generally do not face the extreme polarization we see in national elections. National elections are what we need to fix and it’s already happening.

A Congressional House race in Maine was just resolved using a form of ranked choice voting called the “instant run-off” and the plurality winner didn’t win…

Continue reading