Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

primary elections should happen at the same time across the country

In Kentucky, this past Tuesday was Primary Day. The day every registered voter, in the appropriate party, could go to the polls and say who we want to run to represent our party in the General Election.

While political parties, as such, need to be abolished, and voting is borked, that every state holds its Primary on a different day is wildly unhelpful.

Because they are not on the same day, you often are presented with candidates who are neither your first nor second, or perhaps even your third choice.

Since the General Election is fixed nationally to happen on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, state-by-state Primary Election days should also be fixed to happen simultaneously across the country.

a simple restructuring of elections

In close follow-up with my desire to see political parties abolished, we also need to rethink how voting is done.

In the United States, you can only vote for a single candidate for most positions (town councils are an exception).

You do not have the opportunity to say anything more than a binary yes|no to a given person for a given office.

You can vote for Bob for mayor. But not voting for Mary, Quentin, and Zoe doesn’t really say anything about what you think of them – just that you liked Bob the best.

And there is the problem. There is an explicit elimination of relative preference when voting: all you can do is vote “yes” for a candidate.

That is very different from voting “no” against a candidate.

What should happen instead is you should vote for your favorite candidates in order of preference, so Bob is number 1, Zoe number 2, Quentin number 3, and Mary number 4.

Then when I vote, and rank them Mary 1, Zoe 2, Quentin 3, and Bob 4, we can get a picture of the relative preference of any given candidate running for the office.

Do this across all voters in a given election, and assign the winner to the person with the lowest score (in the numbering shown above – flip the values to assign the winner to the person with the highest score).

Perhaps even look at the top 3 or 4 after gestalt ranking, then vote again to determine the winner (this would be ideal for a Primary-then-General Election method).

What research shows is that while you and I may wildly disagree on “best” and “worst”, we’ll probably be pretty close on who we think is “good enough”.

In the Bob-Mary-Quentin-Zoe example with two voters, Mary & Bob both got 5 points. Quentin received 6, but Zoe earned 4.

The two voters, therefore, think Zoe is “good enough”, even though they part ways on “best” and “worst” (Bob & Mary).

Combine such a ranking system with a fully-open Primary election (ie you go rank every candidate regardless of “party”), and we would see much more representative-of-the-citizenry candidates appear at final Election.

political parties should be abolished

John Adams and George Washington, among many others, both warned of the dangers of political parties.

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution. –John Adams

And from George Washington:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

And yet for the last 200+ years, not only have we had a party-based system, but even with the American public supposedly interested in viable third parties, of which there are myriad, none have come close to appearing in a major election since 1968, when George Wallace won 46 electoral votes, and just shy of 10,000,000 popular votes (Nixon and Humphrey won 301 & 191 electoral votes respectively, and 31.7m & 30.9m popular votes respectively). The major parties have enacted all kinds of de factorules” to prevent competition.

That’s nearly 50 years since a third-party candidate won a state in a Presidential election.

No wonder candidates declare to enter races affiliated with the Big 2 instead of whom they actually feel more closely aligned with.

“Politics exists as soon as two people are in the same room,” was cleverly told to me by a former colleague at a highly-politicized company. And it’s true. As soon as you have two people together, disagreement arises. Priorities are different. Interests are different. Parties can help group together folks with more-or-less similar ideas, but they tend to either be so tightly- or loosely-defined that affiliating with the “party” either makes you look like a kook, or says nothing at all about you.

We all know there are no perfect candidates (though I’m awful darn close!) – and while aligning with a party might tell you something about the person, it often it says little at all.

So I propose to make “official” party affiliation a thing of the past. Remove barriers to entry for candidates. Remove party affiliations when registering to vote.

After all, we’re all just citizens. We shouldn’t be judged by party affiliation.

vision for lexington

Over the past 5 years, I have witnessed some of the growth Lexington KY has started to undergo. From a population in the city proper of about 260,000 in 2000 to 295,000 in 2010 to an estimated 315,000 in 2015,

While there seems to be something of a plan/vision for the downtown area, the majority of Lexington (and its urban area) seems to be more-or-less ignored from an infrastructural perspective (the last update was in 2009, and only for a small part of Lexington).

Public Transit

The public transit system, as hard as I am sure Lextran employees work, is underutilized, poorly routed, and has no means of connecting into it form out of Lexington (full route map (PDF)).

In comparison to where I grew up, the Capital District of New York, the public transit system is both too inwardly-focused, and too poorly-promoted to be useful more most Lexingtonians. CDTA, for example, has connectors to other cities and towns other than just Albany. You can start where I grew up in Cohoes (about 10 miles north of Albany), and get more-or-less anywhere in the greater Capital District by bus. It might take a while, but you can get there (or get close). There are also several Park’n’Ride locations for commuters to take advantage of.

Lextran doesn’t offer anything to connect to Nicholasville, Versailles, or Georgetown. With workers commuting-in from those locales (and more – some come from Richmond or Frankfort (or go in the opposite direction)), one would think urban planners would want to offer alleviations of traffic congestion. But there is nothing visible along those lines.

Lost Neighborhoods

There are large chunks of Lexington where the houses are crumbling, crime rates are higher than the rest of the city, and the citizens living there are being [almost] actively avoided and/or neglected by the city.

Some limited business development has gone into these neighborhoods (like West 6th Brewing), but as a whole they are becoming places “to be avoided”, rather than places where anyone is taking time and effort to improve, promote, and generally line-up with the rest of the city.

Yes, everywhere has regions that folks try to avoid, but the lost and dying neighborhoods in Lexington are saddening.

Walking

Lexington is – in places – a walkable city, but for most of the residential areas, it was/is up to the developers of the subdivisions as to whether or not there are sidewalks. And if they weren’t put in then, getting them done now is like pulling teeth.

Being able to walk to many/most places (or types of places) you might want to go is one of the major hallmarks of a city. One that is only exhibited in pockets in Lexington.

It should even be a hallmark of shopping areas – but look at Hamburg Pavillion. A shopping, housing, and services mini town (apartments, condos, houses, banking, education, restaurants, clothes, etc), Hamburg is one of the regional Meccas for folks who want to do major shopping trips or eat at nice restaurants. The map (PDF), however (which only shows part of the Hamburg complex) demonstrates that while pockets of the center are walkable, getting from one shopping/eating/entertainment pod to another requires walking across large parking lots – impractical if shopping with children, or when carrying more than a couple bags.

Crosswalks and lighted crossings on major roads, in some cases, leave mere seconds to spare before the light changes – if you’re moving at a crisp clip. Add a stroller, collapsible shopping cart, or heavy book bag, and several crossings become “safe” only if drivers see you are already crossing and wait for you. Stories like of pedestrians being hit, like this one, are far too common to read in local news media.

Employment

There is no lack of employment opportunities in the Lexington area – there are 15 major employers in Lexington, hundreds of small-to-medium businesses running the gamut of offerings from auto dealers to lawn care, IT to healthcare, equine products, home construction, etc; and hundreds of national chains (retail, restaurants, services, etc) are here, too.

Finding said employment can be difficult, though. There are some services like In2Lex which send newsletters with employment opportunities – but if you don’t know about them, finding work in the area isn’t as easy as one would think a Chamber of Commerce would want. Yes, employers need to advertise their openings, but even finding lists of companies in the area is difficult.

Connectivity to Other Areas

Direct flights into and out of Lexington Bluegrass Airport reach 15 major metro areas across half the country.

Interstates 75 and 64 cross just outside city limits.

The Underlying Problem

The major problem Lexington seems to have is that it doesn’t know it’s become a decent-sized metropolitan area. There are about 500,000 people in MSA, or about 12% the population of the whole state. It’s a little under half the size of the Louisville MSA (which includes a couple counties in Indiana). There are 8 colleges/universities in Lexington alone (PDF), and 15 under an hour from downtown.

To paraphrase Reno NV’s slogan, Lexington is the biggest little town in Kentucky. The last major infrastructural improvement done was Man O’ War Boulevard, completed in 1988 – more than a quarter century past. There were improvements done to New Circle Road in the 1990s, but that ended over 15 years ago. Lexington proper was 30% smaller in 1990 than it is now (225,000 vs 315,000).

Lexington’s 65+ year-old Urban Service Area, while great to maintain the old character of the city and region, hasn’t been reviewed since 1997. A few related changes have been added since, but the last of those was in 2001.

One and a half decades since major infrastructural improvements. Activities like the much-delayed Centre Point (which I agree doesn’t need to be done in the manner originally planned), the begun Summit, and other development projects may, eventually, be good for business and the city as a whole, but there has been little-to-no consideration for what will happen with traffic. Traffic problems and general accessibility is one of the core responsibilities of local government.

The double diamond interchange installed a couple years back on Harrodsburg Rd was a good improvement to that intersection. But it was only good for that intersection. It alleviated some traffic concerns, crashes, and complications, but only on one road.

Lexington needs leadership that sees where the city not only was 10, 25, 50 years ago, but where it is now and where it wants to be in another 10, 20, 50 years.

My Vision

My vision for Lexington, infrastructurally, includes interchange improvements / rebuilds for more New Circle Road exits. Exit 7, Leestown Road, grants access to Coke, FedEx, Masterson Station, the VA hospital, a BCTC campus, and more. Big Ass Fans is between exit 8 from New Circle and  exit 118 of I-75. Exit 9 from New Circle more-or-less exists to provide Lexmark with a way for their employees to arrive. The major employers in the area are great for economic stability. But with traffic congestion, getting into and out of them needs to be as smooth as possible.

West Sixth Brewery and Transylvania University are two of the highlights in an otherwise-aging, -dying, and -lost area of the city. There needs to be a public commitment on the part of both the city and the citizenry to not allow the city to become segregated. Not segregated based on skin tone, but on economic status.

Bryan Station High School has a reputation, deservedly or not, of being one of the worst high schools in the region, because of the dying/lost status of the parts of town it draws from. You can buy a 2 bedroom, 1 bath, 1300 square foot house for under $20,000 near Bryan Station. It needs a little bit of work, but what does that say about the neighborhood?

The leadership of Lexington seems to be ignoring parts of the city that are going downhill, preferring instead to focus on regions that are going up. Ignoring dying parts of the city from an infrastructural perspective isn’t going to make them any better – they will only drag more of the city down with them. As a citizen and a homeowner, I want to see my city do well.

I do not like paying taxes any more than anyone else, but I do like seeing the city taking initiative and working to both heal itself and take steps towards attracting future generations, businesses, and more that we don’t even know are coming.

Lexington has great promise – it is growing, expanding, and burgeoning. But if its leadership – political, business, and citizenry – doesn’t take the time, effort, and money to ensure it’s prepared for this growth, it will become a morass to traverse, live in, and do business with.


Some more interesting regional data (PDF)

more coolidge

More choice excerpts from Coolidge by Amity Shlaes (review):

The constant apprehension was, so long as then-existing legislation remained in force, that the unit of existing monetary relations would be changed. Such an apprehension is the surest ground for panic which can be offered. The panic which resulted when this fear became more specific was not a bank panic, nor a crisis in which the banks had any responsibility. –William Graham Sumner on issues surrounding changing from the gold standard.

I do not like an income tax, it taxes the land and the crops at the same time, it is too expensive to collect… no man’s income is permanent enough to admit of taxation, it will easily be a source of corruption. –Calvin Coolidge, 1894

The term of power for every party must therefore be limited. –Anson Morse – influencer of Coolidge’s views on length of time in any given office

The nineteenth century is slipping away. We are to live in the scientific age of the 20th century and must prepare for it now. There are millions who can only be hands and only a few who can be heads. –Calvin Coolidge, 1894

One should never trouble about getting a better job. But one should do one’s present job in such a manner as to qualify for a better job when it comes along. –Calvin Coolidge, 1894. (Don’t be unpromotable.)

coolidge by amity shlaes

Calvin Coolidge is my favorite president. Has been for a long time.

So when I saw Coolidge at my local bookstore recently, I was very excited to grab a copy and read Amity Shlaes rendition of his life.

In just the first 18 pages is enough to inspire anyone to love the man we call our 30th President.

Some choice excerpts form the introduction and first chapter:

Under Coolidge, the federal debt fell. Under Coolidge the top income tax rate came down by half, to 25 percent. Under Coolidge, the federal budget was always in surplus. Under Coolidge, unemployment was 5 percent, or even 3 percent. Under Coolidge, Americans wired their homes for electricity and bought their first cars or household appliances on credit. Under Coolidge, the economy grew strongly, even as the federal government shrank. Under Coolidge, the rates of patent applications and patents granted increased dramatically… Under Coolidge, a man from a town without a railroad station, Americans moved from the road and into the air… Under Coolidge, wages rose and interest rates came down so that the poor might borrow more easily.

Coolidge kept government out of the way of commerce.

Indeed, Coolidge was a rare kind of hero: a minimalist president, an economic general of budgeting and tax cuts. Economic heroism is subtler than other forms of heroism.

It was Washington whom Coolidge emulated in his deliberate decision not to seek reelection in 1928.

Without knowing Coolidge, Americans cannot know the 1920s.

Most presidents place faith in action; the modern presidency is perpetual motion. Coolidge made virtue of inaction… “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones,” he wrote… In politics as in business, it is often harder, after all, not to do, to delegate, than to do. Coolidge is our great refrainer.

“The Coolidge family recipe collection contained instructions for ‘Scripture Cake’:

One cup of butter. Judges 5:25
Three and one half cups flour. 1 Kings 4:22
Two cups sugar. Jeremiah 6:20
Two cups raisins. 1 Samuel 30:12
One cup of water. Genesis 24:17
Two cups figs. 1 Samuel 30:12
Two cups almonds. Genesis 43:11
Six eggs. Isaiah 10:14
One tablespoonful honey. Exodus 16:31
A pinch of salt. Leviticus 2:13
Spices to taste. 1 Kings 10:2
Two tablespoonfuls baking pow. 1 Cor 5:6
Follow Solomon’s advice for making good boys (Proverb 23:14), and you will have good cake.
Bake in a loaf and ice.

Calvin wrote to his grandmother in 1887 while at boarding school,

“I am in first rate health and I am having a good time but having a good time is not everything to think about in this world.”

I pity anyone who does not appreciate Coolidge, and anyone who believes that emulating the leader of our most successful decade is a poor idea.

If only every president lead like Coolidge did.

kingmakers by karl ernest meyer and shareen blair brysac

Karl Ernest Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac present what should be a fascinating history of the modern Middle East in their recent book Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East.

I have been interested in Middle Eastern history (ancient and modern) for many years, and so was excited to see this book as I was browsing my local library recently. A couple years ago I read Gideon’s Spies. And I have read various articles, books, and treatises that either focus on the Middle East, or reference it in less-than-passing ways over the years.

Sadly, like so many other books I’ve read in the recent past, Kingmakers stays too academic to read comfortably. I couldn’t get through more than a couple chapters before deciding I would learn more about Middle Eastern history from Al Jazeera and Wikipedia than from this book.

why nations fail by daron acemoglu and james a robinson

I first came across Why Nations Fail at my local Half Price Books. After seeing it on the shelves a couple times, but still being unsure about whether I really wanted to read it or not, I reserved it at my local library.

Now I wish I had bought it (and likely will) – Daron Acemoglu & James A Robinson, while sometimes slipping into an academic, journalistic tone, present a fantastic historical, economic, cultural, and international view into the similarities, and differences, of “national” failures around the world over the last several centuries.

They spend a great deal of time expounding on the differences of countries that succeed and those that don’t – and offer insights into how failing nations could, potentially, turn themselves around.

Interestingly, the factors that play-into national success and failure are similar throughout history – critical junctures, inclusive/pluralistic political and economic environments vs extractive/exclusive political and economic structures, empowered citizenries, overbearing rulers, literacy, economic incentives (positive and negative), etc.

The Iron Law of Oligarchy:

the overthrow of a regime presiding over extractive institutions heralds the arrival of a new set of masters to exploit the same set of pernicious extractive institutions (p366)

My recommendation? Buy it. Read it. Share it. The background and conclusions this book presents and reaches should be required reading for anyone who wants to see their nation “do better” – politicians, businessmen, citizens, NGOs: all would benefit from applying what is demonstrated in this excellent work.

  • Quality of writing: 4/5
  • Quality of content: 4.5/5
  • Historicity: 5/5
  • Educational value 4.5/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5

redecentralizing school

I have a very longterm interest in education.

As I look at the current public education “system” in the US, I can see a variety of major problems.

The biggest problem, endemic of any system built around the premise that the only people who should be together all day long should all be “similar”. Somewhere along the way, we decided it would be a Good Idea™ to split children into monocultures of more-or-less indentically-aged groups called “grades”, and then batch them into groups of 20-30 and herd them through a variety of subjects every day.

We have lost the concept of learning as exemplified throughout history in the “apprentice” or “disciple” model.

Before the monoculturification of schooling, whole (but small) groups of children were taught together – it’s how my dad’s uncle was taught. From 1st (or K) through 12th all in one room. At any given moment, all ages were either being reminded of earlier work, or hearing about later work, or doing their own work.

This model is still used by the large segment of the population that homeschools (presuming, of course, they have more than one child).

What if we re-adopted this approach to school in the public system? What if, instead of having schools which housed hundreds of students in just a couple grades, we had schools in every neighborhood that had a few dozen students that represent all the grades of the community?

What if schools became “migratory” – in the sense that as the demographics of the community change, the location of the school ‘building’ can shift. Perhaps, for example, in a suburban community the school could be usage of a development community center – but if and when the community has fewer or no children, the school locale could be removed or shifted to a new young demographic area.

Some of the myriad benefits I can envision in such a scenario:

  • reduced overhead for any given school in terms of hiring, maintenance, etc
  • reduced school board / district overhead – elimination of now-unneeded positions
  • increased teacher-to-student engagement
  • lower student-to-teacher ratios
  • increased student retention as they are continually being reminded of old concepts
  • teachers becoming more generalized, rather than [potentially] myopic in their teaching
  • team teaching – cutting across disciplines and seeing an integrated view of the world
  • improved teaching flexibility
  • reduced union strength
  • improved connections between teachers and the community they serve
  • more well-rounded graduates
  • reduced / eliminated busing
  • decreased prevalence of bullying
  • increased likelihood of teachers living near/in the communities they serve

Some of the antibenefits I could envision:

  • loss of school sporting teams
  • forced generalization of teachers
  • more complex IT support infrastructure (if managed by a central authority such as the board or district)

I eagerly anticipate your feedback – what do you think?

more irrational gun maneuvering – president obama living up to [my] expectations

I was harshly criticized a few years ago when I pointed-out Mr Obama’s anti-gun stances. While several good things for gun owners did happen in his first term, irrational exuberance over the recent shooting in Connecticut has led Vice President Biden to say the following:

“The president is going go act,” said Biden, who is conducting meetings all week on gun control. “There are executive orders, executive action that can be taken. We haven’t decided what that is yet, but we’re compiling it all.”

“I want to make clear that we’re not going to get caught up in the notion that, unless we can do everything, we’re going to do nothing,” Biden said. “It’s critically important we act.”