Open Democracy

Open Democracy

I just listened to Ezra Klien interview Hélène Landemore on her idea for political reform: open democracy:

"One in which we let groups of randomly selected citizens actually deliberate and govern. One in which we trust deliberation and diversity, not elections and political parties, to shape our ideas and to restrain our worst impulses."

This is very similar to what I've called legislative service, where a random jury of citizens would replace the Senate. In my vision you still have elected representatives who propose legislation and the panel of citizens acts to approve or deny. In open democracy you retain the benefit of a random selection of citizens presumably immune to corruption but they are debating and proposing laws as well. That's the gist I got from the interview, there is a book as well which I will read at some point.

Ezra raises some good objections, like voters feeling alienated from the decision of a panel that they didn't elect (less of an issue for legislative service than open democracy I think) and also the role of experts in the system (lobbyists as a positive force). I think he gets it wrong on California though:

"We have a pretty robust proposition process here. And I think the broad view is that it has been captured. Special interests get whatever they want on it whenever they want."

The problem is that Uber (or whoever) can pour money into marketing their proposition to the point where you feel you'd be letting down the puppy-saving firefighters if you vote against it (I'm possibly mixing up my ads here). With an adversarial jury style system you'd at least have a group of citizens looking at the actual pros and cons.

The interview is worth a listen, and I'll report back on the book when I read it.

2020 Results

46

There is going to be a grown-up in charge. Maybe a little too grown up, and maybe not in charge of the legislature but what a relief.

This is a historic election for me. It's the first time the party I voted for (either in the UK or the US) has ended up in power. After a lot of shopping I rather fear I finally bought something.

It's more than a little shocking to me that more than 70 million Americans looked at this choice and voted for Trump. It's also shocking that out of a couple of hundred million possibilities that this is the choice we ended up needing to make. Biden was pretty far down my list in January but I held my nose and voted for him. I have to be charitable and assume that the same is true for many Trump voters. But still. FFS. He's literally killing you.

A decade ago I compared US politics to daisyworld and it's still true. We have guaranteed two party rule and neither party is particularly attractive. This forces people to pick a team and it's why we got the tribalistic result that we did. You're going to keep rooting for your side even if you don't particularly like the team this year. We need more like twenty parties and some genuine choice and some power sharing that results in compromise rather than deadlock.

On the subject of deadlock in practically every other democracy when the government can no longer govern then it falls. I do not understand why we go years with an imponent leader. I know that there are many people who think that this is a feature rather than a bug. That having Biden in the White House but Mitch McConnell saying no in the Senate is the kind of checks and balances that gave the hallowed Founders wet dreams. But I'm sick and tired of minority rule or near rule. Obama at least got two years to legislate, Biden might be facing zero and that's a crazy outcome for a majority of four million and counting. We need a National Popular Vote and we need to do something to fix the Senate.

$14 billion was spent on the 2020 election which is eye-watering. We're on track to spend $6.6 trillion this year though so we can afford to word on getting the money out of politics. It's crazy that Congresspeople face election every two years and are basically just fundraising the whole time. Let's have longer terms and Federally funded campaigns and term limits. Let's have independent redistricting that allows voters to choose their candidates and not candidates to choose their voters.

I'm not holding my breath.

Digital Services Act

DSA

Looks like the Digital Services Act is going to be interesting. Vice reports:

"Furthermore, if the European Commission listens to the Parliament's recommendations, large tech companies may find it harder to actually keep users on their platforms in the first place. That’s because at least in the discussions so far, there’s been an emphasis on looking into interoperability between different platforms, meaning that users could move and communicate between them using open protocols."

I have repeatedly called for this, it's the best way to break apart Facebook and get people back to talking to friends and not being manipulated by algorithms. But also:

"They also wrote that “User-targeted amplification of content based on the views in such content is one of the most detrimental practices in the digital society, especially when such content is amplified on the basis of previous user interaction with other amplified content and with the purpose of optimising user profiles for targeted advertisements.”"

Being the EU, I worry that we still get the ads and maybe some additional cruft to dismiss or not at the bottom of the screen. Instead they'll focus on the content and there will be more banned speech, or platforms will be responsible for truth which I don't think is the way forward.

I Voted!

I Voted!

This is the first time I have voted by mail. In San Francisco there are clear instructions, a postage paid reply envelope and no need to get your ballot notarized or witnessed or other painful admin. The only real dilemma is the I Voted! sticker. When voting in person you just slap it on and wear it for the rest of the day. But when is the appropriate time for a postal vote? The instructions say:

"Show other San Franciscans you've voted to help encourage them to vote too!"

I get that, but it doesn't really speak to timing.

Is it a November 3rd thing to help with a final turnout push? When you actually fill it out? When you get round to dropping it in a mailbox?

Actually it's even more complex because there is a fancy ballot tracking system. So I get SMS notifications for when USPS has picked up the ballot, when San Francisco County has received it and finally when the ballot is accepted.

I'm just going to wear it today.

California November 2020 Propositions

CA 2020

A good principle for figuring out propositions is that the more money is being poured into local news ad spots the more that position is likely to be a case of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs with you on the receiving end of the costs. I mostly follow that below.

Also, I've realized that previous proposition links have rotted, because of course the state government is too busy to maintain a permalink and maybe even some history for measures that we now seem to need to vote on every two years. Maybe I need to start a proposition to fix that. Anyway...

14: AUTHORIZES BONDS CONTINUING STEM CELL RESEARCH.

No. CIRM doesn't seem to have delivered much since 2004, it's not a good time to add more debt obligations and I feel that we would be better off funding more basic research in universities.

15: INCREASES FUNDING SOURCES FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS, COMMUNITY COLLEGES, AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT SERVICES BY CHANGING TAX ASSESSMENT OF COMMERCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL PROPERTY.

Yes. Market rate property taxes for >$3M properties to increase school and college funding.

16: ALLOWS DIVERSITY AS A FACTOR IN PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT, EDUCATION, AND CONTRACTING DECISIONS.

No. Employment and education should be color blind. Affirmative action perpetuates racism. I'd rather see measures that increase opportunity rather than provide compensation.

17: RESTORES RIGHT TO VOTE AFTER COMPLETION OF PRISON TERM.

Yes. If you have served your time then you should be participating in society again.

18: AMENDS CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION TO PERMIT 17-YEAR-OLDS TO VOTE IN PRIMARY AND SPECIAL ELECTIONS IF THEY WILL TURN 18 BY THE NEXT GENERAL ELECTION AND BE OTHERWISE ELIGIBLE TO VOTE.

Yes. And I say this while recommending a no vote on San Francisco's Measure G. This is participating in a primary when you're old enough to vote the general which is different from lowering the voting age overall.

19: CHANGES CERTAIN PROPERTY TAX RULES.

No. When the person playing the firefighter in the constant ads says the puppy just won't make it unless you support the proposition you know it must stink.

20: RESTRICTS PAROLE FOR CERTAIN OFFENSES CURRENTLY CONSIDERED TO BE NON-VIOLENT. AUTHORIZES FELONY SENTENCES FOR CERTAIN OFFENSES CURRENTLY TREATED ONLY AS MISDEMEANORS.

No. Lock more people up for more time? We don't need to be spending more money on prisons. California (and the US generally) needs to be looking to reduce our dependence on locking people up (and get rid of for-profit incarceration).

21: EXPANDS LOCAL GOVERNMENTS' AUTHORITY TO ENACT RENT CONTROL ON RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY.

No. I'm a little torn on this one but we already have a state law controlling rent increases and the fact that Gavin opposes this prop pushes me to a no.

22: EXEMPTS APP-BASED TRANSPORTATION AND DELIVERY COMPANIES FROM PROVIDING EMPLOYEE BENEFITS TO CERTAIN DRIVERS.

No. Otherwise everyone is going to end up being contracted through an app. Maybe that's OK if we manage to fix other problems - universal health care that is unconnected to employment for instance - but right now these employees deserve the protections and rights that go with providing the service.

23: ESTABLISHES STATE REQUIREMENTS FOR KIDNEY DIALYSIS CLINICS. REQUIRES ON-SITE MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL.

No. This is an issue where I hate both sides and also hate voting the same way as the advertising. I support universal single payer healthcare and this is a vote in favor of profit driven dialysis clinics. But it's not clear that they need a doctor on site and the other side is a profit seeking union looking to muscle in. I resent being involved in the decision and default to no.

24: AMENDS CONSUMER PRIVACY LAWS.

No. Not until we get something that might actually work. The result of all of these privacy choice measures is that you just get an ugly banner on every website that gives you the 'choice' between continuing to share your data and jumping through baroque hoops to try and understand which cookies you need or not. So far this just makes everything worse for both businesses and consumers.

25: REFERENDUM ON LAW THAT REPLACED MONEY BAIL WITH SYSTEM BASED ON PUBLIC SAFETY AND FLIGHT RISK

Yes. There seems to be some conflict over whether this reform is good enough, but a system where the wealthy go free and the poor are stuck in prison until trial is unfair. We need to wring the profit out of the criminal justice system and this is a reasonable step in that direction.

San Francisco November 2020 Ballot Measures

SF 2020

I don't like to vote if I can't string together a rationale that I'm willing to post on my blog, so here are my recommendations for the San Francisco November 2020 ballot measures. It's been a tough year for the city. My neighbors are moving somewhere cheaper and less smoky, I see more houses on the market then usual as I walk around. It's hard to know what the next year will bring and to what extent tech jobs will end up shifting out of the bay area as the giants are forced to match work from home policies and smaller companies follow suit. What's clear to me is that we need to stimulate recovery and stop the city from becoming a worse place to live. And beyond that my ultimate dream of just throwing the politicians out if they're doing a lousy job rather than slogging through ballot measures for them. Until that day, here we go:

A: Health and Homelessness, Parks, and Streets Bond

Yes. The problem with homelessness is only getting worse and the construction will create jobs.

B: Department of Sanitation and Streets, Sanitation and Streets Commission, and Public Works Commission

Yes. The streets are a mess, so anything that shakes up the current system seems like it's worth a try.

C: Removing Citizenship Requirements for Members of City Bodies

Yes. Given the huge number of non-citizens paying taxes and otherwise contributing to the city it makes sense to allow them to participate in civic life. I don't support allowing non-citizens to vote but have no objection to them serving on a commission or other city body.

D: Sheriff Oversight

Yes. I really struggle with American policing. We have SF park rangers, community college police, university police, SFPD, sheriffs, highway patrol and other state police. That's without even starting to think about the various federal TLAs and transportation related agencies. Maybe before defunding the police we should first just spend a few years merging most of them and saving on administrative and uniform design costs? Having said all that I find it very hard to vote against more oversight for a department mainly concerned with running jails that organizes fight clubs at those jails. FFS.

E: Police Staffing

Yes. Doesn't seem to make sense to have a specific number of police officers as a requirement.

F: Business Tax Overhaul

Yes. I've never been in love with the payroll tax and moving to gross receipts with a higher exemption helps small business and startups. Seems like a good trade off.

G: Youth Voting in Local Elections

No. 18 is somewhat arbitrary but it's the point at which you take on adult rights and responsibilities.

H: Neighborhood Commercial Districts and City Permitting

Yes. Makes it faster and easier to permit new businesses and sadly we're going to need a lot of that as we recover.

I: Real Estate Transfer Tax

Yes. We need the revenue even if it is uncertain.

J:  Parcel Tax for San Francisco Unified School District

Yes. More funding for SFUSD. I voted for this before and it's on the ballot again as only a 50% requirement in 2018 instead of a 2/3rds majority.

K: Affordable Housing Authorization

Yes. A step towards creating more affordable housing.

L: Business Tax Based on Comparison of Top Executive's Pay to Employees' Pay

No. I think this is up to each company. Regulate the floor not the ceiling.

RR: Caltrain Sales Tax

Yes. I don't ride Caltrain often but I love it. My dream is coming back from a meeting on the peninsula in a comfortable top deck seat with a couple of cheap canned Gin and Tonics. We need more public transportation and we need it more than ever.

I'm with Him

Updated on Wednesday, October 14, 2020

I'm with Him

Please vote for Biden. Do it as early as you can so Trump is crushed on election day and we don't have to suffer through weeks or months of uncertainty and possible election stealing.

I'm endorsing Biden because of these 923 reasons (and counting) and the 20,055 lies (and counting). Trump has likely killed tens of thousands of Americans, possibly hundreds of thousands before he leaves office. I wasn't a fan before the pandemic either.

Voting in the presidential election from California sucks. While the largest state burns, Climate Change is #32 on on Biden's list of policies. He's against the Green New Deal (the one that would pay for itself). Our broken electoral system means that the best possible outcome is a milquetoast centrist caretaker who probably won't do too much harm until it's someone else's turn. But make no mistake, it is the best possible outcome so I'll suck it up and vote.

Here's my list from January:

"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."

So at least it isn't McConnell.

We need a National Popular Vote, a representative Congress and more than two viable parties. But before that, we need Biden.

(Previously: I'm with Her)

Fixing the Washington Post Democratic Candidates Quiz

Upload

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.

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.

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.