Showing posts with label Democracy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Democracy. Show all posts

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Gerrymandering Viewed as a Nonpartisan (or rather pro-electorate vs the system) Issue

The difficulty we have with gerrymandering is that it will always seem attractive to the party in power.
Common sense reforms should make us all feel we have more of a chance of being represented. Redrawing the map by both sides has one big nonpartisan effect; it is overall very good for incumbents. It tends to make every district a "safe" district for one party or the other. Another effect, sometimes in competition with the first is, due to "safe" districts, primary elections become very important; general elections much less so. During the primaries, candidates must try to "click" with one group riled up enough to turn out for primary elections. So you are far less likely to get people with balanced perspectives.
In this age, balance or moderation tends to be ridiculed by both (or all) sides. But it is the way of getting the best from multiple perspectives. It gives you people able to argue fruitfully, not just posture for the "base". In reality, sometimes the more conservative idea fits the situation best, and sometimes the more visionary idea does. If people can fruitfully argue, we are more likely to get the benefit of that. I believe you are also more likely to see flaws (to missing the mark or just excess complexity) corrected in some legislation with more moderates rather than the attitude extremists often have "We won't cooperate to improve it because we like it being as bad as possible because we want it to fail" (see

What would an alternative to eternal gerrymandering look like? Maybe laws that say a district should have a certain geometric compactness. That is something  where an intuitive concept could be represented by a mathematical formula. We might not understand the formula, but by looking at examples of what conforms to it and what violates it, we could see whether results look intuitively right. Better yet, in my opinion, we might introduce an arbitrariness, according to a mathematical formula. If you had a square state (which we don't of course) it could look like a checker board. Actually this doesn't quite work because it won't give you districts of approx equal population within a state, city, or county to be "districted" More sophisticated mathematics could generalize that formula. Another reason for putting it all in the hands of a mathematical/computer best line-drawing system that we can judge intuitive by the intuitive pleasingness of the results: it eliminates the considerable amount that can be done to create solid incumbancy districts (Dem districts or Repub. districts, or white, black or Latino districts) while the districts still look nice and geometrically compact.

I believe some decades ago, gerrymandering, or rather drawing maps heavily relying on human judgement to attain some electoral tendency, regained some respectability when they were used to increase the chances of certain minorities getting a representative who looked like them. Lani Guinier, a legal scholar nominated by Clinton for Attorney General had some ideas for allowing such possibilities without distorting the electoral map in any way. They involved a sort of one man, N-vote sort of system, which was quickly vilified (as was Guinier) as a violation of the sacred 1-man 1-vote principle; but it did not violate it at all in spirit.

Besides anti-gerrymandering, another common sense reform principle driven by the goal of real representativeness (not favorong one ideology or the other) is to reduce the role money plays. In I proposed a model for this, suitable for growing up from the "grass roots" *if* the idea and trial results can over time persuade enough people.

One example of money in politics that a conservative might be able to relate to is how much of a farce the 2012 Republican presidential primaries were. There were several instances of one candidate being up in one state and another in the next that looked less like the states having different ideological tendencies, and instead seemed explanable by someone having just bought a few million dollars worth of ads through one PAC or another. E.g. Sheldon Adelson bringing Newt Gingrich up from out of nowhere to near the top for a couple of days. Adelson is a casino magnate whose main issue these days is to suppress online gambling.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Possible Approach to "Tune Out" or Neutralize Money in Politics? A Small Experiment.

I'd like to throw this out as a test project, in case there are any takers, or rather for now, mostly throw it out for comment and criticism to see if it can be taken any further.  The general idea is that voters really assume the attitude that we are the hirers of our public servants, and taking the stand that, yes, they are our public servants.

Monday, December 16, 2013

New Hampshire Lawmaker: ‘Firearms And Ammo’ May Be Necessary, Just Like In The ‘Revolutionary War’

I am looking at a "Think Progress" article titled "New Hampshire Lawmaker: ‘Firearms And Ammo’ May Be Necessary, Just Like In The ‘Revolutionary War’", illustrated by a photo of a (probably unrelated) gun rights demonstration.

One sign held by a demonstrator reads "Dictators Prefer Unarmed Citizens".  Another says "History shows Tyrannical Governments First Disarm their Citizens".

Sounds logical, doesn't it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Is "Radical Center" an Oxymoron?

In an era of eXtreme sports and politics, the center is often derided as lukewarm, as we even get Jonah Goldberg claiming absurdly that only extremists can build a bridge.  Some fed-up non-extremists are calling for a "radical center" movement.  Why do we want it to all come down to one side or the other.  "You're either with us or against us.  You're part of the problem or part of the solution.  Only yellow lines and dead armadillos in the center of the road".

The feeling of belonging to one or another side of a momentous conflict is so seductive and feels so natural and right.  I think it is a sort of feeling of "coming home" and being "at home".  This must reflect in some way the tens of thousands of years prior to settled human life.  It is so comfortable to feel one belongs to the Donkey Clan with its long history of standing up to (and sometimes dominating) the Elephant Clan -- or vice versa belonging to the Elephant Clan etc.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Freedom Through Violence?" a Chapter from Gene Sharp's From Dictatorship to Democracy

The Entire book is available for download from a link on this page:

I won't say much, but would like to draw attention to the last paragraph:
Even when successful, guerrilla struggles often have significant long-term negative structural consequences.... If the guerrillas should finally succeed, the resulting new regime is often more dictatorial than its predecessor due to the centralizing impact of the expanded military forces and the weakening or destruction of the society’s independent groups and institutions during the struggle — bodies that are vital in establishing and maintaining a democratic society.

What is to be done [when faced with dictatorship]? The obvious possibilities
seem useless. Constitutional and legal barriers, judicial decisions,
and public opinion are normally ignored by dictators. Under-
standably, reacting to the brutalities, torture, disappearances, and
killings, people often have concluded that only violence can end a
dictatorship. Angry victims have sometimes organized to fight the
brutal dictators with whatever violent and military capacity they
could muster, despite the odds being against them. These people
have often fought bravely, at great cost in suffering and lives. Their
accomplishments have sometimes been remarkable, but they rarely
have won freedom. Violent rebellions can trigger brutal repression
that frequently leaves the populace more helpless than before.
      Whatever the merits of the violent option, however, one point
is clear. By placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the very
type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superior-
ity. The dictators are equipped to apply violence overwhelmingly.
However long or briefly these democrats can continue, eventually
the harsh military realities usually become inescapable. The dictators
almost always have superiority in military hardware, ammunition,
transportation, and the size of military forces. Despite bravery, the
democrats are (almost always) no match.
        When conventional military rebellion is recognized as unrealis-
tic, some dissidents then favor guerrilla warfare. However, guerrilla
warfare rarely, if ever, benefits the oppressed population or ushers in
a democracy. Guerrilla warfare is no obvious solution, particularly
given the very strong tendency toward immense casualties among
one’s own people. The technique is no guarantor against failure,
despite supporting theory and strategic analyses, and sometimes
international backing. Guerrilla struggles often last a very long
time. Civilian populations are often displaced by the ruling gov-
ernment, with immense human suffering and social dislocation.
     Even when successful, guerrilla struggles often have signifi-
cant long-term negative structural consequences. Immediately, the
attacked regime becomes more dictatorial as a result of its coun-
termeasures. If the guerrillas should finally succeed, the resulting
new regime is often more dictatorial than its predecessor due to the
centralizing impact of the expanded military forces and the weaken-
ing or destruction of the society’s independent groups and institu-
tions during the struggle — bodies that are vital in establishing and
maintaining a democratic society. Persons hostile to dictatorships
should look for another option.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Real Truth about Hayek's Book: Road to Serfdom

Never mind the title - I am just poking  at the visceral way we are drawn to  dramatically phrased promises to reveal "The Real Truth", or something like that, especially with hints that this is just for you, the people who aren't easily duped.  I think we are hard-wired that way -- at any rate, I can feel my own blood rising a bit looking at some book title promising to reveal "What they don't want you to know", or "The secret history of X", and in our political debates, whether it's  Hayek's book, Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascists: the Secret History of the American Left..., An Inconvenient Truth, or The Real Anita Hill,  this handy way of getting our attention has been leaned on  heavily.  I'd hate to have to guess how many books has "secret history" in their title.

And so, F. A. Hayek, writing originally in 1944, and very alarmed, for excellent reasons, at the way the world was going, promised to reveal the counterintuitive (to some people) truth that the shining path to the future that supposedly ran through the abolition of private ownership was a "Road to Serfdom", and that all government "planning" puts us on a slippery slope leading to that "Road to Serfdom".  I agree up the the italicized part, but beyond that, have a lot of problems, and I'm afraid so did Hayek.  Does a national road system or education system involve this "planning", which, he indicates we must avoid at all costs?  Apparently not, since he admits (at least in 1944) that these may be necessary and legitimate.  He even says, in this book, at least, that public "safety net" measures - even specifically naming universal health insurance might have a place in a nation that is not on the "road to serfdom".

I would start by saying, in substantial agreement with Hayek:  In my opinion all hard core socialists and Communists failed to see that, whatever bad effects the unequal distribution of wealth may have, their alternative: "ownership by the people" was an imaginary construct more suited to mystical Hegelians, Fascists, and Nazis than to supposedly clear thinking hard headed materialist socialists.

But while "peoples ownership" of all property (or even just the "means of production") is a glib and impossible idea, we can and must talk about how the difficult business of making the "peoples' ownership" of our democratic government -- the Res Publica which is the origin of the word "republican" -- to make this "ownership" as real and substantial as possible.  Can I demonstrate that this "ownership" is really workable?  Not really, not now and maybe never, but I'm pretty positive there is no good alternative to wrestling with what it means to "own" a democracy.  And yes, there is no other way of looking at this than as something we have to face collectively.
To be continued, and continued, and continued...