Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why we need ranked choice voting (RCV)

Maybe you think our current voting method is working just fine.  Just take the time to read this FOX News story, “Massachusetts mayor recalled – and re-elected – amid federal indictments” from Fall River, MA.  The short version is that faced with Federal indictments for tax fraud and stealing from investors, the city’s mayor, Mayor Correia refused to step down so the Council held an election with two questions on the ballot. 

  • Q1: Should the mayor be recalled? 
  • Q2 If recalled which of five candidates should replace him? 

Oddly enough Correia was one of the five names to replace him.  On question 1, he was recalled with roughly 2/3rds of the voters voting to recall.  On question 2, the 1/3 who voted not to recall him of course voted for him as the new mayor.  Because the other 2/3rds who wanted him recalled split their votes among the other 4 candidates the mayor was re-elected as his own replacement.  Even though it was clear that 2/3rds of the voters opposed him, our flawed plurality system put him back in the office against the will of the majority. 

This sort of thing happens quite often in regularly scheduled elections and voters just assume that a plurality winner would beat every one of his opponents with a majority in head-to-head matchups.  In a normal election there’s no way to prove whether this perception is right or wrong.  But in this case the ballot asked the right questions.  We can clearly see how Correia would lose to every opponent in a head-to-head race.  Ranked Choice ballots give the voting algorithm more information about voters’ wishes from which the collective will of the electorate may be determined.  For instance one common method simply eliminates the weakest candidates one at a time until only two remain.  Mayor Correia would never reach the majority needed to win that final round.

For more on ranked choice voting try Amazon’s free preview of my ebook “Finding Our True Political Center – Through the Coming Revolution in Voting.”  On your computer just click on “Look Inside.”

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.

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.

Voting II – Can Ranked Choice Voting Save Democracies Around the World?

We tend to think of polarization and divisiveness as symptoms of the current administration in the U.S. and maybe they will just disappear with future elections; well that’s not going to happen.  This has been trending for over forty years and getting rid of Trump will not change this.  Putin’s efforts to undermine the institutions of democracies around the world exploits this vulnerability, but this only highlights how bad it can get. With or without Putin’s help polarization will bring an end to many democratic regimesContinue reading

TrumpCare Fails the Most Basic Tests of Insurance

My late father, a staunch Republican would sometimes muse, “Which is the greater problem we face, ignorance or apathy?”, only to conclude most would respond, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”  As a life-long Republican myself, it pains me to say that in passing the AHCA, House Republicans are guilty of both.

I spent 30 years in the insurance industry and I can attest the health insurance is complicated.  But the basics are simple!  On day-one of my insurance career in 1970, I learned that insurance serves but one purpose as the instructor drew this “risk treatment” chart on the board. 

I would have to say what the House has passed on to the Senate is a “fine health savings plan.” In other words it fully addresses risks from the left side of the chart, things we could handle on our own with a little planning and budgeting, while excluding entirely anything that might meet the definition of an insurable risk. 

Sure it’s nice that my homeowner’s policy will cover replacing shutters and shingles blown off in a storm, but my reason for buying the insurance is for major events I really never expect to see and I can’t manage out of pocket like fire or tornado.  Fortunately property insurers can’t set up separate pools for those who will experience fires and tornados because the damages from these are immediate and do not carry forward for a lifetime like the illnesses listed below.  Here is a partial list of possible pre-existing conditions in the AHCA that are excluded from the basic plan that may only be covered in separate more costly pools.

My wife, Kathi was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 73.  Like most of those on the list such a diagnosis is a low frequency and high severity event, precisely what insurance was designed for.  Continue reading

When you’re a star they’ll let you do anything

My letter to my representative.

Honorable Senator Grassley,

A life-long Republican, I am asking this on behalf of all your constituents regardless of party affiliation.  We deserve a clear answer.

My niece, Arianne Zucker who plays a lead role on the soap, “Days of Our Lives” greeted Donald Trump when he arrived on the their set in 2005.    Sure I was offended when I heard him say, “When you’re a star they’ll let you do anything …Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”  But we all know he wasn’t talking about my niece per se or just pretty girls or even women in general.  Don’t let this seventh grade locker-room talk overshadow his real message.

“When you’re a star they’ll (everyone will) let you do anything.”

Is he right?  Will you let him do anything?  Will Congress let him do anything? 

Can Senator Grassley be Both Honest and Fair?

I’ve been a lifelong supporter of Senator Charles Grassley not because he is a Republican, but because I know him to be, above all, an honest man.  Champion of the whistle blower, he has been steadfast in encouraging others to come forward with the truth even against the most severe forms of intimidation from employers or peers.   As Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Senator Grassley knows that above all, he must be fair and I trust that for the most part he has shown us that this “simple Iowa farmer” can chair this prestigious committee with dignity.

And I have no doubt that Mr. Grassley is loyal to the Republican Party, perhaps to a fault.  From all appearances, Mr. Grassley has agreed to take the heat for a controversial and politically charged decision so his fellow Republicans won’t have to.  Senator Grassley says he will not hold hearings on whomever President Obama nominates to replace Justice Scalia.  It does make sense; Chuck Grassley is the closest thing to a “sure thing” in American politics so he’s not risking his Republican seat in the Senate, while many of his colleagues can’t afford to be seen as blatantly partisan in this election year.  This is in fact a really strange election year where even within their own parties candidates call each other liars and where we might be just gullible enough to believe them all when they say it.  The stakes seem higher than ever and apparently lying is a small price to pay.

But the one constant is “Chuck Grassley will not lie” and I predict he will in the end allow hearings for the Merrick Garland nomination.  I’m not even going to ask him to reverse his decision; I’m just asking him to answer one simple straight forward question.

Would you block these hearings, if any nominee was being put forward by a Republican President, almost a year before the end of his term?

I don’t think he will answer this question, “Yes.”  Known for his straight forward language, I don’t expect him to evade the question.  Certainly he doesn’t want to let his fellow Republicans down, but he will.  You see, I don’t think it’s about his senate seat or his influence in the party and after all, his fellow Republican knew they might have to take the heat from their own decisions when they chose to run.

More than anything else Senator Grassley wants his legacy to be that he was both honest and fair and that he showed the same character as the whistle blowers he championed to come forward with the truth even in the face of intimidation. 

I’d like to add one final thought.  I was wondering if the Democrats really want him to allow the hearings; after all this gives them plenty of political fodder to chew on.  And wouldn’t it be ironic if the best way to negotiate and actually get things done was to call your opponents honest, fair and loyal instead of the nasty rhetoric we’ve grown accustomed to.