Fixing the Washington Post Democratic Candidates Quiz

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The Washington Post has a fun quiz that asks you 19 questions and then tells you which Democratic candidates you agree with the most. I took it last year and it said Warren, which I agreed with, but they have just updated it:

"Since we first published this guide in November, new candidates have joined the race and several others have dropped out. We have included everyone polling at least 1 percent in The Post’s national polling average. This new version adds questions on such topics as gun control and the criminal justice system."

Taking the quiz it now thinks I'm in the Yang Gang, even though I gave a thumbs down to universal basic income (my objection is that as much as I'd like $1,000 a month from the government I don't need it, there are much better things to spend it on). My full breakdown was Yang, Warren, Buttigeg, Sanders, Klobuchar, Steyer, Bloomberg, Biden and finally as a last resort Gabbard.

I think the problem with this sort of quiz is that it doesn't let you indicate how much you care about each issue. I'm totally fine with legalizing marijuana at the federal level but it's not the first thing I'd want any democratic president to work on. So I downloaded my results and fixed this by force-ranking the scale. My #1 was eliminating the electoral college and #19 was letting all prisoners vote (I agree with Sanders here, but he should work on it after he fixes the pot law which is #18 on my list). Once weighted on this scale my #1 issue is worth 1.00 points and #19 is just 0.05.

With this list Warren is restored to the top spot. In order I now have Warren, Yang, Buttigeg, Kloubuchar, Steyer, Sanders, Bloomberg, Biden and again if some form of green room food poisoning kills the top eight, Gabbard.

I'm a little surprised that Buttigeg is so high up this list and very surprised that Sanders (who I voted for in the last primary) is so low. Without any policy assistance from WaPo I'd go Warren, Sanders, Kloubuchar, Biden, Yang, Buttigeg, Steyer, Bloomberg and (sorry again) Gabbard. Although, full disclosure, if it would get rid of Trump I'd vote for a McConnell/Graham ticket.

If you want to try this and save a few minutes here's my spreadsheet. Add your quiz result in columns B through J and then rank the issues in column L from 1 to 19 where 1 is the most important to you.

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Tire Chalking Constitutional Amendment

US Constitutional Amendments by Century

We haven't passed a constitutional amendment since 1992. I have an idea or two, but given the length of the hiatus maybe we need to warm up with something easy.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that that chalking car tires to detect illegal parking violates fourth amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Civilization is collapsing a little in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Parking spaces are a limited resource and a fundamental role of local government is figuring out how to carve this kind of resource up equitably. Time limited spots are a pain, and if you don't like them you could complain to your representative or even run for office on a parking anarchy platform. Maybe you'd win and then good luck finding any parking at all. But if the courts decide to open up a tragedy of the commons enabling loophole then it must be time to slap them down.

The 28th amendment should explicitly allow tire chalking for parking enforcement. With the momentum from that we can start fixing some real problems.

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Age and Life Expectancy Weighted Voting

Actual, age weighted and age and life expectancy weighted results of the 2016 Presidential Election

Youth turnout for elections is famously dismal. In 2016 less than half of 18-29 year-olds voted, compared to over two thirds as you get to 45 and older (US Census). The impact is an incentive to cater to the old - trying to make America great again (like you remember from when you were young) vs doing something about climate change or house prices.

One fix is compulsory voting, like in Australia. I'm not sure I want to force people without an opinion to vote though.

What if we just weighted votes by the total size of the demographic group?

I took the demographic breakdown of 2016 voters from the US Census Bureau and multiplied these by the age breakdown from CNN exit polls. This gave Clinton a lead of just under a million votes - somewhat lower than the actual result. This is likely a polling error in the exit poll, but it's a reasonable baseline with Clinton beating Trump in the popular vote by 48% to 47%.

To age weight the result I just applied the exit poll percentages to the total population in each age bracket - i.e. what would have happened if everyone in each age group voted the same way as their peers. This obviously increases the size of the electorate so absolute numbers are less interesting. Clinton now beats Trump 48% to 46%, possibly enough to reverse the electoral college outcome (I haven't attempted this projection state by state).

Making up for poor turnout is an interesting adjustment, but what about life expectancy? All of those baby boomers have plenty of free time to vote but are not going to be around to die of obscure tropical diseases in the Minnesotan jungle. So I also weighted each population segment by life expectancy (18-29 year-olds are going to be around for another 55 years, 65+ more like 7). Clinton now has a majority instead of a plurality - she beats Trump 50% to 42%.

All three models are shown in terms of total votes counted in the chart above.

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Open letter to Nancy Pelosi

Sent to Speaker Pelosi today:

As an American, constituent and supporter I am writing to ask you to investigate President Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors and to pass articles of impeachment in the House.

You have said that impeachment must to be bipartisan. That would certainly need to be the end result in order for the effort to succeed. It does not make sense as a precondition for starting the process, especially if as you also said impeachment should not be started or avoided for a political reason.

You have also said that impeachment must wait for the completion of the Special Counsel investigation. Any crimes revealed by the investigation would be icing on the cake. By imposing this condition you are making the case that obstruction of justice by the President is normal, that violations of campaign finance law are minor and that using the office for personal enrichment is only to be expected. The President deserves to be tried in the Senate for these charges. The future of our democracy depends on us not accepting this behavior.

Disagreements on policy and personality should be resolved by the electorate. High crimes and misdemeanors are your job. Please do it.

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What if the Senate Voted Proportionally to Population

Relative influence of each state on the Electoral College

This is massively less likely than sorting out the Electoral College, but imagine for a minute that 100 Senators woke up tomorrow and decided to do the right thing.

Dianne Feinstein, the senior Senator from California would wield 6.04 votes. Mike Enzi, the senior Senator from Wyoming would have to make do with 0.09 votes.

Overall a party line vote would see 55.85 Democratic votes to 44.15 Republican, assuming normal independent caucusing habits. Not quite a supermajority, but enough to not send Kavanaugh to The Supreme Court for instance.

This is based on 2010 census figures from Wikipedia.

Not going to happen, but find my estimate of your State's fair voting power by Senator below.

StateVotes per Senator
California6.04
Texas4.08
Florida3.05
New York3.14
Pennsylvania2.06
Illinois2.08
Ohio1.87
Georgia1.57
North Carolina1.55
Michigan1.6
New Jersey1.43
Virginia1.3
Washington1.09
Arizona1.04
Massachusetts1.06
Tennessee1.03
Indiana1.05
Missouri0.97
Maryland0.94
Wisconsin0.92
Colorado0.82
Minnesota0.86
South Carolina0.75
Alabama0.78
Louisiana0.74
Kentucky0.7
Oregon0.62
Oklahoma0.61
Connecticut0.58
Iowa0.49
Utah0.45
Arkansas0.47
Nevada0.44
Mississippi0.48
Kansas0.46
New Mexico0.33
Nebraska0.3
West Virginia0.3
Idaho0.25
Hawaii0.22
New Hampshire0.21
Maine0.22
Rhode Island0.17
Montana0.16
Delaware0.15
South Dakota0.13
North Dakota0.11
Alaska0.12
Vermont0.1
Wyoming0.09

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How not to fix Democracy

In The Guardian Dambisa Moyo proposes a test to improve the quality of the electorate:

"...why not give all voters a test of their knowledge? This would ensure minimum standards that should lead to higher-quality decision-making by the electorate."

However:

"Of course, such a system would be truly democratic only if everybody had a fair chance of casting their vote. It is vital that those with fewer life opportunities have their say, and we cannot have a system that is skewed against the worst educated..."

So the idea is a test of minimum standards that in some way is not biased against the worst educated? Or that we could only impose such a system once education has improved to the point where is is no longer needed?

Maybe we just need a test to improve the quality of Guardian opinion pieces.

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Facebook shouldn't own your social graph

Updated on Friday, August 13, 2021

Facebook shouldn't own your social graph

"Get News. Not too quickly. Avoid social. — Farhad Manjoo"

It's time to break up the Facebook social media monopoly.

There has been a shift in attitude towards regulation of tech companies recently, according to Axios:

"A majority of Americans are now concerned that the government won't do enough to regulate how U.S. technology companies operate, according to an Axios-SurveyMonkey poll. Across the board, concern about government inaction is up significantly — 15 percentage points — in the past three months."

Roger McNamee recently suggested a subscription model in a Washington Post OpEd:

"Despite a firestorm of criticism, Facebook refuses to make material changes to its business practices. It has also refused to provide substantive data about Russian interference to congressional committees, despite several requests. As a result, we can expect interference in the upcoming midterm elections. Anyone can follow the Russian playbook; many are likely to do so."

I've made the same argument myself:

"I tried Diaspora and App.net but they make Google Plus look lively. Facebook, I would pay you for an ad-free, brand-free experience. Also a ban on text on images."

Facebook is unlikely to switch to an ad-free subscription model without being forced to do it. And if we're going to force them to do something why not make them open up the social graph?

Your social network should be your property and you should be able to move it between providers at will. All social network providers should push your content out to your network regardless of where your friends live and accept content back in the same way. Content may be blocked or altered based on community standards on import but never on export. We should mandate this portability and interoperability via legislation.

This means you can 'live' on Facebook or Google or somewhere new. Social media can become competitive again. You might choose to pay a subscription fee to have a friends only feed (maybe in the order that it was published). You might choose censorship, or you might prefer a platform that can handle breastfeeding. There will be plenty of room for innovation on top of the core network. Facebook will probably be a smaller company. Democracy might last a little longer.

This doesn't solve all the problems with Facebook (and social media in general) but it could be an important first step.

(Photo by Shripal Daphtary on Unsplash)

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Gun Insurance could pay for Buybacks

Updated on Sunday, August 1, 2021

Gun Insurance could pay for Buybacks

Gun buybacks are not a new idea, in fact a mandatory buyback scheme was a big success in Australia. Gun insurance as a means of reducing gun violence isn't either. But what if you combined the two?

Set up a mandatory government run insurance program for all new firearms sales. If you are a 40 year old farmer with a shotgun stored in a gun safe then insurance is pretty cheap. If you are a 19 year old with an assault rifle then it is eyewateringly expensive. The risk that you will do something harmful with the gun is priced into the cost of ownership.

One of the criticisms of gun insurance (and of any gun control measure in general) is that there are so many firearms already in circulation in the US. So take the proceeds of the insurance scheme and use them to buy back guns.

Responsible gun owners are not inconvenienced, we reduce risky firearms sales and slowly draw down the number of uninsured guns in circulation.

(Previously)

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Liquid Democracy and united.vote

Updated on Saturday, August 21, 2021

Liquid Democracy and united.vote

This November there will be a limited opportunity to put liquid democracy into action. Limited to District 19 of the California Assembly (where I happen to live) and limited to the candidacy of David Ernst (which is a long shot).

Liquid democracy is a referendum on every act, with the difference that you can delegate your vote to someone you trust instead of voting on every issue yourself. At one extreme it's mob rule and at the other (if you delegate your vote to David) it's no different than the current system. The potential magic is where various groups of voters are powerfully represented by someone who is closer to their ideal candidate. If elected David promises to vote based on a liquid democracy implementation at united.vote.

I think functionally liquid democracy shares some problems with proportional representation / transferable vote schemes. If you end up delegating to blocks that represent 40%, 45% and 15% of voters then the 15% block holds the balance of power and gains undue influence. It raises new problems as well. If my elected representative is just doing what my delegate says and I can change my delegate at any time then there aren't really elections any more. So we've replaced 1 representative with N delegates. Delegates are going to raise money to gain and hold onto power and will become beholden to special interests. Are there term limits for delegates? If we end up with a small pool of powerful delegates does it make any difference if I switch my vote to a group of 0.025% of the electorate?

I'm interested in giving it a try though. I like that I can take back control on issues that I particularly care about. I might well vote for David in November.

So what about united.vote?

You have to pay $1 with a credit card to sign up. This is for voter verification and it's not a steep cost but it is a massive conversion barrier. When I signed up today there were just over 1,000 participants. The site is currently oriented around the US Congress rather than the California Assembly. You don't need a password which is nice. Instead you get emailed a one time code each you log in on a new device.

One big missing feature is some sort of directory of prospective delegates. You can delegate to your existing representative (which is pointless) or search for someone you know but really I want to find someone who closely matches my views and who has a good voting record. This isn't possible right now. Until that's fixed you should delegate your vote to me ;)

The voting record is hard to parse as well. For example Kamala Harris, one of my Senators, has an F. For the votes where she has a score it's 100%, 100%, 92% and 15%. Most votes have no liquid democracy opinion attached (is this a 0?). I need to see the math here.

Having said all that my preferred option is legislative service.

(Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash)

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The Trust Project, Fake News and a Partial Facebook Uninstall

Updated on Saturday, August 14, 2021

No Facebook app to be found here

The Trust Project is a well meaning but doomed attempt to deal with fake news.

Facebook, Google, Bing and Twitter are all on board because it's important to be seen to be doing something about the problem. Sarah Perez at TechCrunch writes:

"Here’s how this will work in practice: starting today on Facebook, an icon will appear next to articles in the News Feed. When you click on this icon, you can read information the publisher has shared related to their organization’s “ethics and other standards, the journalists’ backgrounds, and how they do their work,” according to an announcement from The Trust Project."

Please take a minute to scroll through the Trust Protocol Phase I MVP. Yes, this is a minimal viable product where your most recent Diversity Staffing Report is required. I don't think they understand what an MVP is. Which would be fine if they understood how to fix the problem. They don't.

Back in January I wrote this about fake news on Facebook:

"The horrible danger is that if you don't fact check every stupid quote on image meme the power of repetition lodges them somewhere in your subconscious where they become that thing that you read somewhere. Which is OK if you only read quality news but deadly if you want to catch up on old friends quickly."

And back in 2010 on cable news and the Fairness Doctrine:

"24-hour news stations are especially bad because most days there just isn’t that much news. This leaves a choice between repeating the news that exists which is boring, or making stuff up which is a lot more fun. Unfortunately It’s also corrosive."

Yes, it would be nice to have a set of standards around more easily vetting the provenance of "news" that you find on the internet. But the problem is with people taking bullshit at face value (myself sometimes included). When you scroll by something that meets the loose standards of your confirmation bias the damage is done. You're not clicking any Trust Project icon and you're sure as fuck not upgrading Acrobat just to read the Breitbart Diversity Staffing Report.

The Trust Project isn't the answer. Facebook just pulled their disputed flag. The Fairness Doctrine isn't coming back. Is there a technology based fix that might work?

"That’s not going to happen, argues Data & Society founder and Microsoft researcher danah boyd. Google, Facebook, Twitter—none of these companies is sitting on a silver-bullet solution. As boyd wrote for us earlier this year, we have more than a technology problem: “[W]e have a cultural problem, one that is shaped by disconnects in values, relationships, and social fabric."

From The Fake News Culprit No One Wants to Identify: You on Backchannel recently. I see. It's up to me. I have to fix it.

I uninstalled Facebook and Twitter from my phone just over a week ago. I'm not abandoning social media entirely (although I toy with this regularly). Just pulling back a bit.

For the first few days I'd regularly find my finger headed to launch Facebook. Every time I had a minute to kill. Facebook has no end (usually) so it works even when my RSS feed is empty. I stocked Feedly up with more wholesome content (Trust Project approved no doubt). By the end of the first week I was sometimes even leaving my phone in my pocket.

Now I catch up on Facebook on my laptop every day or two. It's a much better experience - when you check 200 times a day the feed algorithm gets increasingly desperate to please you. It panics and serves up lame memes from someone who you think must have been a coworker at some point but don't really remember. I get through a few updates from friends that I'm actually interested in and bail before hitting the questionable stuff.

It's up to you too.

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