Links for May 2024

Maine joins National Popular Vote

Illustration of Maine

Maine just added its four electoral college votes to the National Popular Vote project. This is a compact between states that will elect the President based on the nationwide outcome once 270 electoral college votes are committed. We're now at 209. Two thirds of Americans support this project. Americans are a sensible bunch and support a lot of things that they will never get until we fix the broken electoral system. Visit my democracy page and do the four things listed there right now.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: Maine joins National Popular Vote #politics #politicalreform #nationalpopularvote #maine #npvic Maine commits 4 electoral college votes, we're at 209/270, and four things you can do help today. )

Links for March 2024

Updated on Sunday, March 31, 2024
InfoWorld: White House urges developers to dump C and C++

Developers urge White House to dump Electoral College and supermajority cloture. #politics #electoralcollege #cloture #c #c++


The New Yorker: What Have Fourteen Years of Conservative Rule Done to Britain?

"In messages during the pandemic, he referred to ministers as “useless fuckpigs,” “morons,” and “cunts.” The inquiry’s lawyer asked Cummings if he thought his language had been too strong. “I would say, if anything, it understated the position,” he replied." This is a depressing but definitive read as we wait for the UK election to be announced. #politics #uk

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TDCommons and the Future of Patent Law

An illustration of a patent figure for some Hello World generation

Paresh Dave in Wired writes about, a Google funded but bepress operated site. The idea is to publish technical disclosures as prior art that might invalidate future patents. It's an interesting overview of the subject, including a USPTO attempt to do the same thing (I covered this here) and a commercial competitor, IP.Com. Apparently USPTO is looking for help with this problem:

"Google is hoping TDCommons has a chance to be embraced as Kathi Vidal, a tech patent attorney who was sworn in as director of the USPTO almost two years ago, settles into her role. Deciding that generative AI programs can’t be patent holders has been a higher priority, she says, but creating a better search tool for prior art is an issue she’s discussed with a lot of organizations. Vidal says she’s open to the USPTO administering and funding its own prior art repository, offering up her email, [email protected], for feedback on how to do so."

I'm not super-convinced that she's providing her actual email address, but when I have a few minutes I might suggest my own plan - issue all patent applications and shift the examination to the start of any litigation or enforcement attempt.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: TDCommons and the Future of Patent Law #politics #patents #uspto Prior art attempts like TDCommons, and even the USPTO's failed scheme should be replaced with a fundamental overhaul of the patent system. )

San Francisco and California March 2024 Ballot Measures

Kids learning Algebra

While waiting for the horror of Weekend at Bernie's vs. A Clockwork Orange in November there is time to contemplate another slate of job-outsourcing ballot measures. Just one for California and seven for San Francisco so it could be worse. Here goes...

California Proposition 1, Behavioral Health Services Program and Bond Measure

Yes. This funds housing and treatment for the mentally ill, homeless and veterans in need. It also requires counties to put more of their existing funds into housing.

San Francisco, California, Proposition A, Affordable Housing Bond Measure

Yes. $300M in bonds to build, buy and repair affordable housing. Homelessness is driven by a lack of affordable housing. In addition to building more I'd love to see us cut more of the red tape, but this is a necessary measure to meet our existing obligations.

San Francisco, California, Proposition B, Minimum Police Staffing Amendment

No. I voted against minimum numbers in 2020, and I don't see a good reason to bring them back today. I also recoil at the thought of a dedicated police recruitment tax as this measure suggests. Funding the police is a very basic city service, as is determining the appropriate staffing levels at any particular moment in time. I'm not against recruiting more police at all, but this is a bad proposal.

San Francisco, California, Proposition C, Real Estate Transfer Tax Exemption for Properties Converted from Commercial to Residential Use Initiative

Yes. I voted in favor of this tax in 2020. Post pandemic San Francisco has one of the worst return to office rates and a huge decline in retail. We need to rethink what downtown is for and I love the idea of bringing in more universities and more homes. So this is a tax break that makes sense for now.

San Francisco, California, Proposition D, Amend City Ethics Laws and Expand Restrictions on Gifts to City Officers and Employees Initiative

Yes. Tougher ethics rules are needed. Can't find any reason to oppose this package. We have bribing of inspection personnel, theft of public funds, corruption in Public Works, that inspector who inspected his own building, etc.

San Francisco, California, Proposition E, Limit Police Department Administrative Task Time and Increase Use of Camera and Drone Technology Initiative

Yes. Apparently when SFPD decides to chase someone they crash 38% of the time, about twice the state average. This bill would let them chase more people and use drones and GPS taggers to do it. I'd like them to go on an advanced driving course or two, but if you can avoid consequences just by running away then we don't really have a law enforcement system. Maybe I'll regret this in a few years but it seems mostly common sense to me right now.

San Francisco, California, Proposition F, Require Drug Screening for Certain Beneficiaries of the County Adult Assistance Program Initiative

No. It looks like the recipients of most of these funds are not homeless and have plenty of hoops to jump through already. This seems like it would risk making their situation worse.

San Francisco, California, Proposition G, Declaration of Policy Urging San Francisco Unified School District to Offer Algebra 1 to Students by Eighth Grade Measure

Yes. This is pointless as it has no teeth and they're moving this way anyway. I still want to help make the pointless point.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: San Francisco and California March 2024 Ballot Measures #politics #sanfrancisco #propositions #election #california ITHCWY voter guide to the San Francisco and California March 2024 primary election propositions and ballot measures. )

Pew: Two Thirds of Americans Support National Popular Vote

People protesting outside the White House, generated by Dall-E 3

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 65% of Americans support the National Popular Vote. Even the old ones:

"Younger adults are somewhat more supportive of changing the system than older adults. About seven-in-ten Americans under 50 (69%) support this. That share drops to about six-in-ten (58%) among those 65 and older."

If you find yourself in this majority then here are 9 things you can do today to advance the cause.

It's not just a desire to have a president of the country who represents the will of the country that is currently thwarted. Last year Pew found that:

"Today, a 61% majority of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37% think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases."

58% of Americans favor stricter gun laws. 57% want the Federal Government to take on health care. 63% support free college.

Why can't we have nice things? Apparently because the founding fathers thought we needed protection from the 'tyranny of the majority'. So you'd expect minorities to be well protected by this system.

Same sex marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision in 2015. Public support for same sex marriage was at 27% in 1996 (when Clinton passed The Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA). It's now at 70%. We crossed the 50% line around 2010, when Obama said:

"I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage."

Our majority tyranny protection system failed, Obama failed, Clinton failed. What carried the day was campaigning that convinced the majority that they were wrong on this issue, and arguably the AIDS crisis humanizing a minority for many people.

I wasn't around for the civil rights movement but I think it followed a very similar pattern. The system didn't inherently recognize the rights of the minority. Support was slowly built in public opinion until the Supreme Court eventually stepped in like someone in 2023 who thinks they just discovered Taylor Swift.

While the founding fathers may not have contemplated gay marriage or that black people might be just people they were clever enough to understand that the constitution was a living document and would need to be amended. We just need to get back into the habit.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: Pew: Two Thirds of Americans Support National Popular Vote #politics #politicalreform #national popularvote 65% support a national popular vote, 61% support abortion, 58% better gun laws and 63% free college. Why don't we have these things? )

Does America Need A Third Party (Again)

Andrew Yang and Daniel DiSalvo, pro and anti the motion Does America Need A Third Party.

Open to Debate just released a podcast about the need (or not) for more parties in American politics: Does America Need A Third Party.

Andrew Yang argued in favor. In fact he thinks the right number is probably five - break the democrats in half, break the republicans in half and throw in his Forward party. There is a great case for the first four of these - see this WaPo article from last year. I've suggested forcibly breaking them up, antitrust style. Another approach would be term limits for parties. Yang is growing on me. Reforming the electoral system is a much better platform than universal basic income.

Daniel DiSalvo argued against the motion. Actually he mostly just said that even if everything is broken nothing is going to change so why bother. I think that's 99% right, but not really in the spirit of a debate.

Open to Debate is a rebrand of Intelligence Squared US, which debated the same issue in 2021. In that case the status quo won the day, probably as it was defended by PJ O'Rourke, however the actual vote was 50% more parties and 40% keeping two. Unfortunately I don't know who won this time because Open to Debate has given up on the competitive format and even spirited questioning. You have some back and forth, and some carefully chosen and curated questions like a Biden presser. The original (UK) Intelligence Squared seems to have given up on the big issues and puts out Burgundy vs Bordeaux and people with a book release to plug. Canada is the only real hope right now with the Munk Debates.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: Does America Need A Third Party (Again) #politics #political reform Discussion of the debate between Andrew Yang and Daniel DiSalvo on the need for more political parties in the US. )

Is Sortition Having a Random Moment?

Generated image of some random politicians with good hair.

I have long been a proponent of Legislative Service, a specific flavor of sortition where the upper chamber in a bicameral system is replaced by a randomly selected 'jury' on a per-bill basis. You'd serve for a couple of weeks and act as a check and balance on professional politicians who propose the legislation. It might also work well if you find your country in need of a revising body (Bibi, call me). The British government didn't bite, and the concept rarely gets much press, until this week.

In the New York Times, Adam Grant suggests sortition to randomly select politicians:

"In ancient Athens, people had a choice about whether to participate in the lottery. They also had to pass an examination of their capacity to exercise public rights and duties. In America, imagine that anyone who wants to enter the pool has to pass a civics test — the same standard as immigrants applying for citizenship. We might wind up with leaders who understand the Constitution."

Having aced the US citizenship test I'm not sure it's a particularly high bar. I do take the point that we couldn't do much worse than we are now, at least for the top job, but I think there is still a role for professional representation.

Bruce Schneier organized a conference on rethinking democracy. The whole debrief is worth a read, here's the section on sortition:

"Sortition is a system of choosing political officials randomly to deliberate on a particular issue. We use it today when we pick juries, but both the ancient Greeks and some cities in Renaissance Italy used it to select major political officials. Today, several countries—largely in Europe—are using sortition for some policy decisions. We might randomly choose a few hundred people, representative of the population, to spend a few weeks being briefed by experts and debating the problem—and then decide on environmental regulations, or a budget, or pretty much anything."

Much closer to my vision, including having a system of briefing people on the issue. I'd make this adversarial, like a jury trial.

But before this in the US: demolish the electoral college, and then diversify our choice of politicians - either by ranked choice voting or like this.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: Is Sortition Having a Random Moment? #politics #politicalreform #democracy #legislativeservice #sortition Reform democracy via lottery: Sortition covered by Schneier, NYT, Legislative Service. )

Washington Post Misleads With Statistics On First Republican Debate

Washington Post illustration of poll results for first Republican Debate

The photo above is how WaPo decided to illustrate their poll results after the first Republican debate. They say:

"Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came out on top Wednesday night, with 29 percent of Republican voters who watched the debate saying he performed best."

And his head is much much bigger so it's clear who won. Except buried in the small print this is a three percentage point difference in a small poll with a +/- four percentage point margin of error. In other words, flat.

To be clear I want neither of these gentlemen installed in the White House. But this is pretty crappy data reporting.

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(Published to the Fediverse as: Washington Post Misleads With Statistics On First Republican Debate #politics #election A three percentage point difference on a four percentage point margin of error is not a win. )

10 Electoral College Votes Closer


Minnesota just joined the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, bringing us 10 Electoral College votes closer to not being governed by Presidents with a minority of the popular vote. If your state isn't there yet then do something!

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(Published to the Fediverse as: 10 Electoral College Votes Closer #politics #npvic #election The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is 10 Electoral Votes closer to reality after Minnesota signs up. )