Categories
society

On the Government and the Theory of Democracy

Before elected government, there were still governments. In many places it was by the wealthy, by the church, by divine right and that was the only right. There, law was based on status—blood and force and prophecy of who could pull a sword from a stone.

And then came the idea of natural rights, that everyone should be treated with a certain respect because we are alive and that is enough status by itself.


When we speak of democracy, we’re talking about a sophisticated cycle:

  1. People choose their government.
  2. The government performs for a time.
  3. People reevaluate and repeat step 1.

This kernel of scientific government is essential to progress and to maintaining a functioning society. It attempts to strike a balance between unfettered change and conserving the old. It sets a cadence, it gives a ritual, it provides a path forward.

Those who stand in opposition to democracy are standing opposed to the basic educational loop by which we can improve society. They propose something like:

  1. People don’t choose their government. The government is whoever can grab the reins and kick everyone else off.
  2. The government does whatever the fuck it wants. (To be fair, it could be good, but if it isn’t there’s no recourse.)
  3. Ashes, ashes. We all fall down.

Then, maybe, the survivors build something out of those ashes.

But the tried-and-true loop of democratic government is superior, adaptable, dependable. Only it has a flaw. Its flaw is that we have to give up our power and we have to trust that the people will make good decisions over time. Not every time, but that on average the decisions will be better than a dictator’s, better than a business’, and better than any minority interest of any kind, religious, ethnic, whatever.

And that requires the people have a say. But there are those who are afraid of what we have to say to each other. On both sides.

Many fear the racism, the batshit conspiracy, the anti-religious zealotry of so-called Christians. Others fear the cancel culture, the spectre of communism arising from greater social welfare programs, and culture that’s not aligned with their values or tastes.

But that’s society, and that’s what we have to work with. Fear. That we might fuck it all up, and ruin it all, and be left with ashes. But, for all the resistance to Donald John Trump, the conservatives of this country have not admitted that America trusted and allowed for such a grave mistake. We afforded this ruin, including thousands upon thousands who have given up their lives to a virus that this supposed leader did not prepare to act against and that he has largely neglected to manage.

We know our lives may be lost to blunders of impetuosity by our fellow citizens, but we still believe in the cause that over time, on average, we will do better by voting, by choosing. That the flaw that allowed Donald John Trump to exist as a candidate, and then as an elected president, is the same flaw that makes our system work at all. That yes, we can fuck it all up. But no, we do not want to fuck it up, and we will strive to learn the lessons and avoid the mistakes and purge the corruption and right the ship and sail into the bloody sunset!

Anyhoo. The election is in ten short weeks.

Categories
unAmerican

Democracy and Faith

Not the pulpit and pew kind of faith. The ideas-have-utility kind. That the basic promise of science and reason and democracy are strong enough that you don’t have to pack the court to make it work. That you don’t have to rig elections, gerrymander, or shoe-horn racist questions into the census to get your way. That kind of faith. Faith that your positions are meaningful, and generally right, and if they turn out to be wrong, you’ll change them rather than changing the subject.

Faith that we don’t have to be 100% on the first draft of a law. That we can use statistical process control to make our systems work better than trying to thread the needle. We are not Luke Skywalker, and we don’t need to be.

Faith that the people want change. And that change is easier when it’s a step at a time. That we don’t start walking. We crawl first. We can be guided by the wisdom of evolution, of experimentation.

This is a starting-point problem, in many ways. That there is a false premise that’s been introduced to our collective system. The false premise is that we should ever be acting like someone like Trump acts—not his biting insults, not his bravado, but his mere conviction is his greatest flaw. His idea, and the idea of anyone, who says they hold some special key, some Rosetta Stone. Be it the wall, or tariffs, or whatever it may be.

And that is exactly what makes Trump so sad to a majority of the nation. He rejects our system. He acts as though he has joined a dictator’s club, believes in winning at all costs, believes in none of the things most of us spent at least twelve grades learning about. The American system, imperfect, seeks out perfection. The Trump system, fatally flawed, seeks nothing beyond the next win, the extra scoop of ice cream, the adoring headline. And then lashes out when it doesn’t get it.

We should all reject that, whether it’s in the guise of a golf resort and luxury brand heckler extraordinaire or whether it’s those who say that the GND is the only and holiest of grails rather than a sketch of some things that might work. Or those who say Medicare for All, rather than let’s figure out this healthcare thing, and if it is Medicare for All, great, but if not, great. The important thing is the result and not who had the idea or that it conformed to some chant or slogan or fever dream.

Faith in democracy means pain. It meant pain when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, signing their names and risking their lives. It meant pain for generations who endured slavery waiting for the country to wake up and have a war to put an end to it. More pain struggling to gain the vote. The pain of forever knowing we hesitated in answering the call, turning away refugees and interning citizens, while Hitler took power and took land and took lives. Our nation is founded upon pain, but of faith that that pain will not be for naught. We may be stupid and slow, but we will arrive.

That’s not to say no action is necessary. Just the opposite. But it does underline the type of action. Reform does not mean retaliation. It means girding the system against wrongdoing no matter who would enact it. If the courts do become rotted by neglect of the Senate, rather than packing them, enact reforms on the nomination and confirmation process, enact changes to court procedure, and impeach any judges (and only those) who are not well-behaved.

Similar reforms in other areas, always following the lodestar of a better system and not naive interests of the moment. The destination in our common sight is not “Democrats win” or “Republicans win,” but remains “America wins, and in doing so, earth and humanity win besides.”

Categories
society

A Good Election: Reflections on the 2018 Midterms

Not a great election, but a good election.

Was it a blue wave? The Democrats made sizable gains facing headwinds of gerrymandering and a strong economy. Whether it’s called a blue wave is immaterial.

More women in the House than ever before, which we can all hope will become a springboard to even more equal representation. They will be able to offer their own perspectives and help erase the blind spots in thinking that contribute to poor decisions when representation isn’t diverse enough.

Democrats with control of a chamber in Congress means we can have oversight of the executive. There will be surprises as their oversight unveils things the media either couldn’t find or just missed. The people will be informed moving forward and in 2020 can make better decisions based on better information about how our government is operating.

Ex-felons in Florida got their voting rights back, which should mean that state will be more representative and responsive to the people living there. When more people vote, good things happen. We need people to vote, and we need the government to let them share their voice. It’s what makes America work.

Several states voted to expand Medicaid in their states: Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah. This is a strong issue that allows more people to have access to vital health services, but it also creates jobs. It’s good for the economy and good for people.


While a few results are still outstanding, we know that the Democrats taking the gavel in the House of Representatives marks a turning point for our troubled nation. Without good information, we are left to the gaslighting of bad-faith actors in the Republican party who failed to provide oversight of this administration. If the full truth of the misdeeds had been known going into this election, it’s safe to say that the Republican party would have done worse for it.

But that’s why information is so important: we don’t know what we don’t know. We need journalism. We need checks and balances. Without them businesses make poor decisions and state and local governments miscalculate. The whole system suffers from bad information and from information droughts.

By opening this one spigot of information, the American people will empower themselves to make better decisions in the future. Businesses and communities rely on knowing that they get a fair hearing, that their concerns are heard by the executive branch. But under Trump there has been this lingering question about how much abuse, how much fraud, was happening. We’ll finally know, and businesses that were short-changed on bidding, or otherwise misrouted by a bad administration, will seek redress in the courts and other venues of appeal.

Categories
society

18-ish Weeks Until the 2018 Midterms

https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote

Handicapping the 2018 Midterms comes down to Mr. Trump, not messaging. The president who makes everything about himself inevitably makes the 2018 elections a referendum on his policies and his abuses.

That’s a bad sign for Republicans. Depending on how the announcement of a replacement for Justice Kennedy goes, and whether confirmation proceeds apace, the wind may be entirely let out of the Muralist voters’ sails. Nobody expects another justice beyond Kennedy to retire, so that’s one fewer reason for Muralists to turn out in 18 weeks.

The party in power does better in midterm elections when voters feel like they’re making an adjustment to their representation rather than having to weigh the overall direction of the country. People don’t like to make weighty decisions, and so when they feel like they’re forced to do, they tend to be irritated that the incumbents have put them in the position.

Mr. Trump has spent his entire time in office sticking his thumb in the eye of over half the voters, including his own. The notion that they’ll reward him for it is a bad misreading of America. And the voters will not reward all of the Republicans who have failed in their duty to conduct oversight of the tyrannical instincts of not just Mr. Trump but his cabinet as well.

Add to that the fact that there are so many Democratic women running, which can fuel female turnout (and to a lesser extent youth turnout). You have whatever spoils the hard work of things like the March for Our Lives and March for Science may offer. There will be people turning out to support public schools and health care.

Democrats also have a message: good governance. Social programs that work. Environmental policies, labor policies, and financial policies that build the middle class.


The man is an abuser. He abuses his office, his employees, his rivals, his friends, his family, his foundation and company, his country. America has no quarter for abuse. We split from an abuser before, and we will split from this one.

But just as there were Loyalists then, there are those who do not see the abuse for what it is. There are evangelicals, by some bad combination of drugs, who support Mr. Trump. Others, Republicans coddled by tax cuts, fetch him Diet Cokes (Mr. Nunes famously took a ride share under cover of night to deliver one to him). They lie for him. They hawk his cheap resorts and cheaper merch. They iron his clothes while he wears them. They arrange backchannels to hostile foreign governments on his behalf.

For that lot, there will be no second act. They will exeunt from public life. We will only be reminded they exist when future documentaries pan across their picture while recounting how foolish humans can be when they don’t bother to self-reflect.

For those worrying over who will wear black robes in the years to come, the only decision you directly have is to vote. Vote, raise your voice. For even though courts can undermine unions, harm women’s rights, and all the other things, they cannot fix the problems they create. The legislators alone can fix the messes left by bad judges. Your voice is more important at the midterms than it is at the general. On average your vote is worth 1.7 votes in the general election (to account for those who don’t vote). It’s worth 2.5 votes in the midterms. That’s nearly a whole other citizen that a midterm voter is counting for.

https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote

Categories
society

To Combat Fake News, Give People More Media Control

Whether it’s Sinclair’s five minutes of hate, Alex Jones’ rants, Russian Federation bots’ tweets, Assange’s leaks, or Fox News’ commentators’ lies, one of the biggest problems today is bad information, media pollution.

And there’s an open question of how to deal with it all. Well, to deal with some of it. Really, it depends whom you ask.

But the best solution is to empower people by giving them greater control over what they read and watch, how they read and watch it, and how they share content with others. That’s a heavy lift, as the same lack of control that empowers the bad actors helps the media conglomerates to exert influences that pad their own pockets.

Copyright law badly needs an update for the modern world, where it’s easy and useful to share content beyond what the strictures of existing law allow. Having greater control over hardware and software that enables media access would shake up the marketplace while letting users spend their finite time more wisely. There is much work needed here, and there is little impetus for the incumbents to roll up their sleeves.

This past week on at least one cable provider The View and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert had their listing data screwed up. That meant that at least some users’ DVRs failed to record James Comey’s book promotions. It’s almost certain to be a screw up in the listing distribution chain, but it is an example of media pollution that people who have paid for the privilege may have missed content they wanted to see. They could jump through hoops to see the interviews, but it’s not in their preferred format or at their preferred time.

The technology industry could have a hand in empowering viewers, but the FCC blocked a proposal to force cable companies to grant access to third party hardware. For whatever reason, the Apples and Googles of the world did not lobby hard enough to make it happen. Missed opportunity. These talking-listening hubs they sell for homes would be much more useful if they allowed for interaction with the real main home hub: the television.

On websites like Twitter and Facebook, the limited access they give their users to filter and augment the feed means that people are forced to dig, scrounge, or put up with so many bad behaviors. Every single time I search on Twitter, I’m bound to find at least one tweet with every hashtag under the sun trying to advertise some stupid thing (or porn).

Now, you say, back when newspapers were the thing, people didn’t have control. But newspapers, I say, weren’t endless streams of data. Paracelsus says the dose makes the poison, and high-volume media vehicles like Twitter increase the dose considerably.


The media companies that aren’t thrilled about the likes of Trump, Fascism, and the Anti-American Way should give more power to the viewer. Make it happen. It’ll make you more money in the long run, and it will help to thwart bad actors like Sinclair in the meantime.