Populism, LEAN management, and the Scientific Process.

For those of you who don’t know, LEAN management is a organizational method which relies heavily on team building, group decision making, and making sure all parts of a process have input and accountability in that process. My opinion of it is that when it is implemented correctly, it can be very effective in certain circumstances.

That said, that really isn’t what this article is about…but rather it defines an argument that annoyed me recently.

A fellow I know, (who is a bright guy and a great person- but we have fundamental differences in our natures) posted a meme which basically said that the problem with science, and scientific knowledge is that it is a top down process that doesn’t allow group think to make decisions.

This is not only incorrect, it misunderstands every single concept of the scientific process.

To start, let’s take a look at my friends argument. Sure, a random person making a statement is not treated equally to the statement of a scientist. So on the surface, what he is saying is true. But we have to dig a little deeper.

What is a scientist?

All a scientist is, is a person who conducts experiments using a scientific process. This just means they start with a hypothesis (an idea), bounce it around in their head (and against previously PROVEN scientific facts) to form a theory, and then conduct a regimented experiment to test that theory. Then publish your findings for peer review. If they are repeatable, they are accepted as fact. If they are not, the findings are discredited.

Do that, and BOOM!, you are a scientist.

Understanding that alone, shows science not a top down process. Anyone can perform any step in the process. Its only true authority lies in regimented experimentation and peer review which makes it a fairly solid LEAN process in and of itself.

I mean, anyone can theorize, conduct experiments, publish, or verify others experiments. Science is a wholly populist activity.

But what about the random guy. Why aren’t we listening to what he says?

The answer to this is harsh, but real. It is because he is not known to be speaking from a fact based position.

It isn’t even saying he is wrong.

It is saying that we have no idea where his words fall on the spectrum of right and wrong.

Unless he is stating facts from a peer reviewed study, everything he says has an unquantifiable value. I don’t know about you, but my personal preference is that when we make decisions about how to function in the world, and what we teach children is true….so that they can build on that knowledge, function in the world, and make it better for their children just like WE ALL want to do; well, I want those decisions to be made based on hard, quantifiable, provable facts. Not opinions.

TL:DR LEAN is a great process, but when we are making big decisions, I will place my trust in the scientific process every time. It is the only sensible way to approach important decision making.

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Fixing the Electoral College

That title alone will start fights with both sides of the aisle. The right of course declaring that nothing is wrong with the Electoral College and the left pointing out that for the fifth time in American history we have a sitting President that lost the popular vote. And this time by a few million votes.

I am going to start of with the premise that the Electoral College is superior to direct democracy in that the college at least purports to prevent a totally unqualified candidate from getting elected President. I say purports because I obviously don’t think our current President is in any way qualified for he job.

Clearly it failed this time, and I will get back to why I think that happened in a moment. For now, I offer the fact that Donald Trump who is at best a brilliant charlatan came within less than a percentage point of winning the popular vote as evidence that having the Presidency decided by a popularity contest is absolutely insane. Even his supporters have nothing to offer in his defense other than they hate Hillary Clinton and President Obama. He is unredeemable.

Now on to why the electoral college failed us. Two primary reasons. The empty spacious (also the tiny) states with no population have too much voting power, and the college themselves have no check or balance to incentivize them to consider the outcome of their vote.

As for the low population states having too much power. Consider this. In Wyoming and the District of Columbia they get roughly half an electoral vote for every 100,000 people. The next ten low population states get between 1/3 and 1/2 an electoral vote per 100,000 people.

On the other end the three highest population states (California, Texas, and Florida) get 1/7th of an electoral vote for every hundred thousand people, and 20 states get 1/5 of a vote or less for every 100,000 people who reside there.

This is a serious imbalance, and it gives rural voters more voting power than they are due.

Here is where my friends on the left jump up and scream “Direct democracy! One man, one vote!”. In principle I agree. But still, hold that thought and we will get back to it. I promise.

That was the explanation for the first half of the first half of WHY I think the electoral college failed. Fixing it is later.

The second half of the equation, is that the current model of the electoral college has no incentive to vote in the nations interest. In fact, in many states, the Electors (the voters in the college) are required by law to vote as the people of their district instruct them, even if they have just cause to vote against that candidate.

So how do we fix this and make it function better AND make the system more representative of the people?

In my opinion the best fix is to have the House of Representative elect the President. This is similar to the originations of the electoral college, with the exception being that I would not allow the Senate a voice in that vote.

Here is why.

First off, the reason I would go this way instead of a direct popular vote for President is because we are a Republic. A republic is representative democracy. One of the reasons republics have fared better than democracies over time, is simply that every day people barely have time to manage their lives and keep up with their families and local communities. Even with modern communication tools a news junky and history fan like myself can barely keep up with what is happening outside of that sphere.

But in a republic, I don’t have to. Because in a republic, I elect someone to represent me at the next level, and they in turn do the same for the next level and so on. This way our interests get represented by people whose job it is, is to observe and react to the events occurring at their level of government.

This creates layers of responsibility and accountability…which we have removed from our Government.

At any rate, that is the rough in of why I don’t think we should directly elect the President. the job is too important to be a popularity contest.

Now on to why I think that the House (rather than appointed electors) should elect the President. One word. Accountability. If The House votes in a bum, they get tossed two years into his term. Also, because the President needs Congress to do anything, if they get tossed, we effectively limit the damage that the President can do until the end of his term.

But why shouldn’t the Senate get to choose? Two Reasons.

First, they are representatives of the States…see my article on repealing the 17th Amendment, and as such are not proportionate to the population….and I do believe that voting for President should be proportionate to the population rather than the soil they live on. A secondary part of that answer is that Senators longer terms make them more difficult to hold accountable for picking a bum.

The second reason I would exclude the Senate from selecting the President is because they are a significant check against his powers. The hold the rights to entreat, and hold approval over all of the Presidents appointments. I feel that separating the ability to choose the President and regulating who he hires creates an environment with much needed checks and balances that our Republic has missed for the long term.

At any rate, those are my thoughts on how to fix the electoral college. Sure get rid of it for a better version of itself, but not to go to a direct democracy….that is counter productive to this great experiment in self rule (as it has been tested previously and failed badly).

Remember, the whole point of this is thought experiment. Chew on it and see what you think. Tell other people. Be involved in your own governance.

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What is racism?

I know that a title like that is just begging for trouble.

In todays climate, it is a really effective way to piss off pretty much everyone. The thing is, in order to make progress in any space, it is imperative that we engage in some uncomfortable thoughts and discussions.

This one came up because of a social media conversation. The long and short of the conversation was someone saying that a person of color cannot be racist in America because they don’t have any power.

Because I think language is important, I disagreed.

Not with the power thing, there can be no doubt that people of color…and that is any shade darker than a light olive… are treated as second class citizens and marginalized in this country. Sure things have improved in that space over the years, but we are still a long way from our people and our systems treating all people equally regardless of race.

No my disagreement has to do with what racism means, and who can be racist.

As I frequently do, I would like to start out with a definition.

Racism noun prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. (google search)

Merriam Webster defines racism as: : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

You will notice that neither of those definitions require any power or authority for racism to exist.

Being racist just boils down to thinking one race is better than the other.

It is that simple.

I think that the confusion comes in, because in English we don’t have a great word to describe the systemic racism that is used to oppress minorities…so the word racism ends up being redefined. The obvious problem there being that it is needed to prevent the creation of ridiculous phrases like reverse racism, which means absolutely nothing.

We could always extend Jim Crow to define the systemic racism, but that would minimize the much more severe living conditions African Americans faced during the period between Reconstruction (1870’s) to the Civil Rights Movement’s start in the 50’s. With the lessons that should be learned there, we definitely don’t want to do that.

Apartheid is a better fit, but like Jim Crow the words origins denote a time and place where conditions were much more severe…and the word deserves to not be watered down.

I guess the only real answer is to use qualifiers. Phrases like systemic racism, and racial oppression.

Long term I think this needs its own word though. Giving something a name gives us a better chance of fighting it off…even if the optimist in me hopes that by he time we give it a good name it wont be needed any more.

 

 

 

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Political intelligence.

On of the most frustrating things about being politically active in this new hyper communicative internet age, is that so many people are becoming involved in the conversation at once…after decades of people not discussing politics because it was considered rude: that the conversations get sideswiped so often by what amounts to straight up dumb shit.

Without getting to into the actual circumstances of what happened in Covington Kentucky last week…because bitching about the fact that we are having this conversation is the whole point of this article.

People are wasting political capital on the following:

  • Arguing over whether kids from a place in rural Kentucky that is 79.8% white and have been videoed in black face taunting African American kids are racist or not.
  • Arguing over whether the self professed separatists “Black Isaraelites” are a hate group. Pro tip, they are. they are registered and tracked as such, and they are basically the Black Klan.
  • Trying to decide which turd in the toilet (from any of the three groups represented at this event) stank up the room. The answer is all equally.

In the grand scheme of things. None of those things really matter. All three are pretty obvious to anyone who is being even remotely intellectually honest.

And the whole thing is a distraction from the 4 million issues that are actually affecting our country right now.

So what do you say, that we set this…and every other petty issue aside.

Then we can address the opening the government for business, border security, health care reform, whether or not our President is a Russian puppet, campaign finance reform, our crumbling infrastructure, and all the rest of the things that actually matter.

Do you think we can do that?

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Time to repeal the 17th Amendment?

Is it time to return to the State House’s appointing US Senators?

My answer is a resounding yes. I will go a step further and say that the 17th Amendment never should have happened, and is one of the biggest reasons our political system is as jacked as it is currently.

Lets start out with exactly what the 17th Amendment did. So here is it’s language.

Amendment XVII
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislatures.
When vacancies happen in the representation of any state in the Senate, the executive authority of such state shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, that the legislature of any state may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

The big change here is how Senators would be selected. Prior to this Amendment to the Constitution, it was left to the States to appoint Senators. The reason for this is simply because the Senate was to represent the States at the federal level and the House of Representatives was to represent the people who elected them.

For a variety of reasons (mostly corruption, perceived and real) in the early 1900’s a lot of people started doubting the efficacy of doing so and in 1913, this Amendment was made.

To my mind, the biggest result of this is that people have stopped paying attention to local and state politics, and our federal elections have been reduced to money spendathons as a result of the offices being elected based on popularity contests rather than the ability of office holders to perform the function of their office.

By returning the Senators selection to the State House, politics will be forced to become more local again… and the States as a whole will be better represented at the Federal level.

But that is just my view.

A recent article that finally reminded me to talk about this is an opinion piece by John DiMaggio. Check it out here.

Mull it over. Play with the idea and pout out what you think. That is how we forma  more perfect union.

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Thought Experiment: Fixing Gerrymandering

This is a straight stream of consciousness piece….meant to throw some ideas out there while I sort through them.

The issue is gerrymandering.

It has happened pretty much the entire time we have had a Constitution.

It keeps people from being properly represented…if they even can be.

So how do we fix it?

The first thought I want to throw out is letting a computer algorithm determine the districts. No input other than population and location.

The positives of this method would be that the only way to cheat this system would be to physically relocate people…or hack the program which would be provable.

The downside is that it would probably result in similar disenfranchisement of voters to what we experience now with rural and urban voters mixed to advantaged/disadvantaged positions based on the ruling party. The difference being, no one would control the mix.

The second idea would be to have the major parties literally “pick” alternating districts, by drawing their own lines and capturing the allotted number of persons per district. 

This is function something like this. Dems control the House of Representatives, so they go first. Start in the north west corner of the state, and outline the area. The Republicans would then start at a point attached to the first point and do the same. This would go back and forth until complete.

The advantages of this system would be based on their interests, the parties would be likely to group people in a way where that individual districts interests were more homogenous than the current system allows.

It would also preserve our adversarial system, which I think is the sole reason our Republic functions as well as it does.

The negative, and this is a big one, is that districts would still be manipulated by dirt bags on both sides of the aisle.

In conclusion, I don’t really have one…other than I am not real impressed by my parties proposal for a commission, other than it at least acknowledges the problem exists.

Chew on your ideas on the matter and bounce them off people. Who knows we might just end up with a better republic.

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The shut down and the wall.

First off, I just want to say how I can’t believe this is something still happening, and that it hasn’t been cleaned up yet.

Moving on, why is it happening to begin with?

Here we are. A funding bill that originated in the last Senate, with all of Mitch McConnell’s funding daydreams in it; has now passed the House. Because it cleared the Senate last term, it has to pass through the Senate again. Mitch won’t even let them vote. I don’t know what Trump is using to control him, but it is working.

At any rate, so if all the Republicans funding dreams (minus the wall) are in the bill… all of this comes down to the Republicans want funding for the wall, and they are willing to destroy the Republic as we know it in order to accomplish that.

No, that is not hyperbole. You see, the Republic functions based on our Constitution. If our government is going to build this wall, a law has to pass Congress, the Senate and be approved by the President in order for that to happen. That law will include funding provisions for the wall.

Instead of using that process, the President has seized power that does not belong to the executive branch. He has literally decreed that there will be a wall whether the nation wants it or not.

Presidents have always tried this to various degrees. What is scary here is that the Congress (the Senate leadership specifically) is not defending its rights.

So here is what I am asking. Whether you want a wall or not, talk to your Congress people. Remind them that there is a process. Ask them to preserve the Republic and use the process in place.

And then Reopen the damn government.

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Government Shutdown

It is hard to fathom the amount of damage that will be done to our economy by even the shortest government shut down. Already there are articles about studies and experiments that were being conducted, that are now tainted by the break and will have to be either scrapped or started anew. Billions of dollars of impact there alone.

At any rate, it will be huge and it is tough to get ones head around.

So as a means of trying to get into that, lets look at the financial impact of the smallest piece of that puzzle and see how it plays downstream.

Which piece is that? Why the human interest side of the story that the press is already beating to death. The payroll of some 800,000 federal employees.

I don’t mean to denigrate their value when I say the smallest piece. Federal employees are the backbone of our government, and affect all of our lives more than we realize or care to admit. And besides they are people.

But with a federal expenditure of $4,400,000,000,000 (2018), that 68,000,000,000 (average fed pay of $83k times 800,000) only represents 1/64 of the funds that will be spent (roughly 1.5%). Given that, employee payroll is a  tiny piece of the money that WILL NOT be circulating during this shut down.

So lets look at the impact of that tiny piece and see how it will affect the country as a whole.

For starters, the financially responsible portion of this group, will be dipping into their savings. This will reduce the amount of savings that banks have on hand. When banks holdings are lower, the amount of money they have available to loan is reduced (by a factor of 10). This reduced liquidity can get caught in a negative feedback loop very quickly, having disastrous results throughout the economy. This doesn’t happen immediately of course… but the longer the shutdown goes on, the more people dip into their savings,  the higher the risk gets.

Next comes the impact to insurance companies, and their other customers. 800,000 insurance premiums are not being paid every two weeks. How do you think that affects the insurance companies bottom line? Given that Insurance companies represent roughly .85% of the countries GDP, how do you think that affects the markets? Definitely something to chew on.

The immediate effect will be what they do to not get financially distressed, which is the same way insurance companies always mitigate risk. They fundraise. That means your rates will go up to cover the shortfall.

Then there is the affect to the housing markets. They are already feeling slight downward pressure as the recent real estate expansion cools off, and now 800,000 people are being challenged when it comes to how they will pay their rent or mortgage. Just for a frame of reference, that is 2/3’s of the 1.2 million foreclosures in 2006 that sparked the great recession. That is not the direction I want to see things go…but that is a very real risk of this game of chicken that the President and Congress are playing (not to assign blame, but both are Republican controlled currently and it is over a wall that less than half of the country wants).

Another major bill that most people have is a car payment. One of the strategies that car manufacturers have used to try to stay solvent, is by creating financing companies to help sell the vehicles they make. Given the current state of affairs with GM and Ford both shutting sown plants, I cannot imagine that either company is in a position to weather half a million or so people suddenly being unable to make their car payments.

The thing is we could go on like this all day.

The number of industries impacted by this shut down is hard to comprehend.

The number of human lives that this will negatively impact in unconscionable.

We just spent a decade digging out of one recession, and here we are with a President who seems hellbent on sending us spiraling into another… over a wall that won’t work and isn’t wanted.

It is time for the adults in the room to take charge.

 

 

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Considering Wealth

Should Billionaires even exist?

So I am going through my social media feed today, and I run across a nice little article about a billionaire in England that is buying up land to create preserves. My first thought was awesome. This guy is doing something really positive with his wealth… and then I got to thinking.

Now before I start tearing this guy and anyone else with an unreasonable amount of personal holdings apart, let me say this. I commend him for this action. It is a beautiful thing he is doing, and it may have a significant impact on generations to come.

Now back to raising hell.

How is a billionaire even a thing?

Don’t misunderstand me here. I am a capitalist. I believe that people can and should acquire wealth to care for themselves and each other. The thing is, I also believe that since the first time we gathered around one guys fire…we have been somewhat communal in our pursuit of a better life.

Most importantly, I do not think those two things are mutually exclusive.

But I do think that when we live in a world where the average income (worldwide) is just over $10,000 per year (link), and the median INDIVIDUAL income in a rich country like the US is $26,695, household is $50,502 (link), the notion of a billionaire existing doesn’t reconcile with those two things.

I mean, assuming that this person earned the same amount every year…and did not spend any of it. Lets also assume that they started earning it at birth, and worked until they were 70 years old. 1 Billion divided by 70 years would mean an annual income of $14,285,714.29 cents.

That’s almost 283 times the earnings of the average household income of the richest nation on earth.

Its 535.14 times the average individual income of the richest nation on earth.

And over 1400 times more that the average income of a human beings in total.

Does any one person provide 1400 times more value than any other? How about 535 times? Could you even stretch and say 283 times?

Hell lets say for arguments sake that people do in fact do things that are that much better than everyone else. They contribute on a level that justifies the difference.

Do they do it for 70 years straight? Because that is what that kind of wealth disparity says.

So what do we do about it?

In my mind we have to find a way to balance things out some.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I know there will always be a bell curve, and the cream always rises and all of that. But there is nothing you can say that will convince me that most people have to struggle to get by on a median income of $26,000 a year while a very few sit on more than they even have the potential to make.

I also don’t think that money should just be taken from one group and given to the other. Our sharing in the improvement of our world and our societies needs to be balanced.

What I do think, is that the very wealthy should be aggressively encouraged to invest in the public good.

The simple way to accomplish this is through progressive taxation. Simply go back to the marginal tax rates of the 1950’s, where certain income/holdings levels were taxed at an onerous 90-95%.

In the interest of allowing private enterprise to do what it doesn’t trust government to, there should be very liberal tax deductions for contributions to society.

I could go on for another 10,000 words detailing all of those possibilities, and how the world would benefit; but this site is supposed to be about thought experiments…

So play with the idea. Talk to your friends about it. Use that First Amendment we love so much.

 

 

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Christmas of Frustration

When I conceived writing like this again, the concept was to delve into deeper thoughts and to discuss the undercurrents of what I see happening in the world…and maybe put some of my own philosophical ideas to print.

I am finding that increasingly difficult to do, because I am reaching a point where the things happening in the world just don’t make sense to me.

I was raised by traditional people. Conservative by nature, and lifestyle. My people are patriots, and have served in the US Armed Forces all the way back to the Revolution.

Needless to say, even with all of my liberal views; I am very familiar with the traditional Republican viewpoint.

Where is it today?

I mean, I know people still who are true Libertarians (in philosophy if not in party…the train wreck that has become). I even know a couple of Republicans who are true to the ideas that I walked away from as my world view evolved. Disagree as we may, I still view those people in a decent light…and they mean well for the country. The whole country. They are on the same “team” as us. They just have different views of how to make things better.

But those people are getting harder to find. Rather, those people are getting lost in a tangle of white nationalism, anti-liberal partisanship that is not part of our nation, its origins, or its ideals.

How else can you explain the continued support of what is currently happening?

Anyway, it is making it difficult to think about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in logical terms.

Lets hope some family time and reflection over the holidays bring some sanity to the world.

I need 2019 to have more stability.

We all do.

Have a Merry Christmas! (Or Chanukah, or Kwanza, or  Eid Al-Fitr, or Yule… just be Merry.)

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