flwyd: (Akershus Castle cobblestones)
2017-07-14 12:38 am

Letter to My Senators: Net Neutrality and Title II

I'm a day late for the Day of Action, but you've still got until the end of the weekend to submit comments to the FCC. See FightForTheFuture.org for more information.

Senator Gardner,

Thank you for your comments today mourning the passing of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. He stood up in support of free speech and was punished by having his communications blocked and censored. I am writing you with an American concern similar to Mr. Liu’s: the right of people to freely communicate without interference from powerful interests.
Senator Bennet,

Thank you for your tweet yesterday in support of #NetNeutrality. This is an issue with major implications for American’s rights to free speech and assembly and their ability to access important information.

The FCC, under Commissioner Pai, has proposed changing the classification of internet service providers (ISPs) so that they are no longer considered telecommunication services and not covered by Title II of the Communications Act. This would have significant negative consequences for Coloradans who use the Internet, which is to say almost all of us.

The principle of common carriage is crucial to fostering an entrepreneurial economy. It has served America well from telecommunications to trucking to oil pipelines to horse-and-carriage transportation companies in the 13 colonies. All of the Internet services that we take for granted—from eBay to Google to Netflix to Facebook—were able to start as a small business and grow to serve hundreds of millions of people because they had equal access to the networks which make up the Internet. Without Title II classifications, ISPs would be allowed to unfairly promote their own Internet and media businesses by foisting discriminatory prices on competitors. In the end consumers would lose, paying more for worse service.

Like the free flow of information, the free market is crucial to the success of the Internet. Unfortunately, ISPs do not operate in a free market and are thus able to abuse their monopolistic position. In many parts of Europe and Asia, citizens have a choice of half a dozen or more ISPs, all competing to provide the best service at the lowest cost. In such an environment, discriminatory traffic management would be disincentivized by the forces of competition. But most Coloradans have just one or two ISPs available. Title II classification is therefore essential for ensuring that we have access to quality communication and content on the Internet. Please join me and over a million and a half Americans this week in contacting FCC Commissioner Pai and tell him you support Title II classification of ISPs and ask him to work to support net neutrality.

Additionally, I urge you to work with the subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet to find a way to introduce more competition to the ISP market so that Coloradans have a meaningful choice for Internet access. This might take many forms, from reducing regulations (while keeping Title II protections) for ISPs to supporting the nearly 100 Colorado communities pursuing municipal broadband. Internet access has quickly become a crucial foundation for participating in modern America and it is of vital importance that Americans have meaningful choice in both how we access the Internet and what sites we can visit.

Thank you for your hard work and dedication in service to America,
Trevor Stone
Software Engineer
Boulder, CO, 80304

Fortunately, my congressman doesn't need any encouraging to support net neutrality. So I sent him a thank you note.
Rep. Polis,

Thank you so much for your support, this week and for the last several years, for Net Neutrality and an open Internet. The first time I visited your website was during the SOPA/PIPA protests of early 2012. Seeking to understand your position on Internet regulation so that I could properly craft a letter in opposition to SOPA, I was immensely gratified to learn that not only did you oppose the bill, you had introduced a strong counter proposal.

As a software engineer and a user of the Internet for nearly 25 years, I am proud that my member of Congress is one of the strongest voices in Washington in support of a free and fair Internet. Please keep up this important fight.

Trevor Stone
777 Juniper Ave
Boulder, CO 80304
flwyd: (earth eyes south america face)
2017-06-26 12:12 am
Entry tags:

Letter to My Senators: In Support of Carbon Fee & Dividend

(slightly different wording based on existing positions)

Senator Gardner,

Thank you for your recent op-ed in the Coloradoan arguing that science should be nonpartisan. Thanks also for your work to ensure that Colorado’s leading research institutions like NIST, NOAA, NCAR, and NREL receive sufficient funding to further understand our complex and dynamic world. For over 50 years, Colorado researchers have been instrumental in understanding the Earth’s weather and climate.

I am writing in support of Citizens' Climate Lobby, a nationwide nonpartisan group committed to fair, effective, and sustainable climate change solutions. Earlier this month, 1000 Americans, including 35 Coloradans, traveled to Washington and met with representatives and senators from across the country. CCL is building bipartisan support for a carbon fee and dividend proposal. This proposal would help relieve Americans from the challenges faced by climate change while accelerating American businesses focused on clean energy, all without increasing the size of government or putting American exports at risk.

The last two decades have seen remarkable changes in temperatures and climate, contributing to bigger heat waves and more frequent natural disasters. I experienced the changing climate first hand during the 2013 Boulder floods. When I woke up on September 12th, the thousand-year flood had turned the canyon road to my house into a roaring river. While I was fortunate and avoided significant loss, my family’s lives were disrupted for several months and several friends were much harder hit. Without systemic action to address the rapidly warming atmosphere, this kind of disaster will become more common, straining the ability of first responders and relief organizations to help those impacted.

Energy lies at the core of any economy, and fossil fuels have long played a key role in the American economy. We now know that carbon dioxide emissions are a major contributor to climate change. It is therefore crucial that we transition to a lower-carbon energy mix. The most efficient way to make this transition is to put a price on carbon emissions so that the costs of fossil fuels are no longer externalities. To avoid sudden disruption to the American economy, CCL’s proposal begins with a modest $15/ton fee, rising predictably every year. The money collected will be rebated equally to all Americans. This dividend will give citizens and businesses the opportunity to respond to market changes and to invest in transitioning to a affordable clean energy solutions. These investments in turn will create new jobs and help keep America competitive in global energy technology. Over the course of a generation, we can make the transition to a resilient low-emission economy.

Although President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Accords, it is still crucial for America to take action on climate change. CCL’s proposal would help America take the lead in clean energy while boosting our economy and creating jobs. The proposal includes a border adjustment to ensure that American exporters remain competitive. This will also incentivize our trading partners to implement their own national carbon fee, leading to a global decline in carbon emissions without the need for complex multinational treaties. A substantially similar proposal was put forth by James Baker, George Shultz, and the Climate Leadership Council. It has received support from many leading organizations and individuals including Larry Summers, Stephen Hawking, ExxonMobil, and The Nature Conservancy (https://www.clcouncil.org/founding-members/).

Trevor Stone
Boulder, CO 80304

Senator Bennet,

Thank you for speaking out on the Senate floor in support of climate science. Thanks as well for publicly questioning President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Although the U.S. is no longer part of that international process, we can still work as a nation to reduce carbon emissions, grow the American economy, and build resilient communities.

I am writing in support of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nationwide nonpartisan group committed to fair, effective, and sustainable climate change solutions. Earlier this month, 1000 Americans, including 35 Coloradans, traveled to Washington and met with representatives and senators from across the country. CCL is building bipartisan support for a carbon fee and dividend proposal. This proposal would help relieve Americans from the challenges faced by climate change while accelerating American businesses focused on clean energy, all without increasing the size of government or putting American exports at risk.

The last two decades have seen remarkable changes in temperatures and climate, contributing to bigger heat waves and more frequent natural disasters. I experienced the changing climate first hand during the 2013 Boulder floods. When I woke up on September 12th, the thousand-year flood had turned the canyon road to my house into a roaring river. While I was fortunate and avoided significant loss, my family’s lives were disrupted for several months and several friends were much harder hit. Without systemic action to address the rapidly warming atmosphere, this kind of disaster will become more common, straining the ability of first responders and relief organizations to help those impacted.

Energy lies at the core of any economy, and fossil fuels have long played a key role in the American economy. We now know that carbon dioxide emissions are a major contributor to climate change. It is therefore crucial that we transition to a lower-carbon energy mix. The most efficient way to make this transition is to put a price on carbon emissions so that the costs of fossil fuels are no longer externalities. To avoid sudden disruption to the American economy, CCL’s proposal begins with a modest $15/ton fee, rising predictably every year. The money collected will be rebated equally to all Americans. This dividend will give citizens and businesses the opportunity to respond to market changes and to invest in transitioning to a affordable clean energy solutions. These investments in turn will create new jobs and help keep America competitive in global energy technology. Over the course of a generation, we can make the transition to a resilient low-emission economy.

Bipartisan support for climate change legislation is growing in Congress, and I urge you to help bring it about. Please also ensure that any climate legislation passed by the Senate follows the fee and dividend model. Not only will the dividend help offset higher energy prices for struggling citizens, the revenue neutrality is crucial for gaining Republican support. Both climate change and renewable energy affect everyone, so it’s important that the bill is supported by leaders and voters across the political spectrum.

Trevor Stone
Boulder, CO 80304
flwyd: (transparent ribbon for government accoun)
2017-06-17 05:52 pm

Letter to My Senator: Republican Health Care Plan

According to reports, Colorado's Cory Gardner is one of thirteen Republicans drafting a Senate version of the House's rush job American Health Care Act. Observers expect Senate leaders to try to ram this bill through before the July 4th recess, which doesn't give Americans much time to comment on the substance of the measure. This week is therefore your opportunity to talk to your Senators about the House bill and your feelings about health care in general. This BoingBoing post provides links to useful resources, including contact information for health care staffers for all Republican senators. Interestingly, 28 of 52 health care staffers have female-sounding names, with two or three ambiguous first names while only 5 Republican senators are women.

Senator Gardner,

Thank you for your work in support of an effective Veterans Administration, ensuring that Americans who have served their country can receive a high quality of care. I am writing because I have read news reports that you are among a group of senators developing a health care bill based on the one recently passed by the House. I have also read that Republican leaders hope to pass the Senate bill before the July 4th recess. I have concerns about both the process and the rumored substance of this bill.

America’s health care system needs improvement. Americans spend more on health care per capita than any other country, yet our life expectancy and other quality of life measures trail many of our peers in the G20 (https://ourworldindata.org/the-link-between-life-expectancy-and-health-spending-us-focus). This imbalance puts America at a competitive disadvantage. Higher health care costs lead to less discretionary spending, weakening domestic demand for American products and services. Worse overall health leads American workers to be less productive as they must take time away to care for their own health or for sick family members. The imbalance between coverage offered in the group market and individual market also makes it harder for entrepreneurial Americans to leave a large employer and start a new business. By increasing access to care and reducing its overall cost, America can become stronger, more productive and innovative, and more resilient as a nation.

The message that the House sent with the AHCA was that insurance premium costs are the biggest challenge facing the American health system. Premium costs are an important issue, but they pale in comparison to both the overall cost of care and the ability of many Americans to access quality care at all. Many of the premium savings offered by the AHCA are driven by changes which allow insurers to offer less coverage or to offer cheaper policies to younger and healthier people while older and at-risk Americans’ premiums will rise. These changes will not bring about a healthier or more resilient America. Rather, they will lead us to abandon the Americans who need help the most: the CBO estimates that the AHCA would cause 23 million Americans and 280,000 Coloradans to lose health coverage by 2026 (https://www.cbo.gov/publication/52752 and http://acasignups.net/ahca-coverage-loss).

2016 was a challenging year for my wife and I, navigating several medical crises. We were able to survive the financial aspect not because of low premiums or our ability to save about $2000 through a HSA but because of a reasonable out-of-pocket maximum and because in many cases our insurance-negotiated rates were half of the provider-billed amounts. My biggest worry as I faced months of illness was that I would lose my job and therefore my insurance. Under the AHCA plan and with my newly discovered pre-existing condition, I worry that if I lose my job that the high cost of American health care would lead to either bankruptcy or death. This is a prospect that Americans need not face: our nation is strong and innovative enough that we can find a way to ensure that every citizen can receive quality health care at a reasonable cost.

Finally, I am concerned that you and other Republican senators are developing this bill in private and are hurrying to pass it before the American people can come to understand the proposal and provide our input. America’s health care system needs significant improvements, but the situation is not so urgent that we cannot take six months to have a national conversation about how we can best ensure that Americans have access to the care we need. The United States Senate has a proud history as a deliberative body, carefully considering the impact of legislation not just on the current political cycle but on the effect it has on the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans for generations to come. The House version of the AHCA bill was prepared in such a rush that the CBO has not yet had time to estimate the macroeconomic effects and share that data with the American people. I hope that the Senate takes a more careful approach and listens closely to the people of Colorado and America. I encourage you to include success metrics for cost, coverage, and overall health in the Senate bill; if these metrics do not improve under the bill, its provisions should sunset.

Come 2020, the resilience of the American health care system will play a significant role in my voting choices. I will be swayed not by how low my monthly premium prices are but by whether I and the people I care about receive better or worse medical and mental health care than we could in 2016. I am blessed to have a good job and modest investments; I happily paid $221 for the Net Income Investment Tax knowing that it helps provide health care to those less fortunate than I. And I would gladly pay more in income tax to achieve a healthier and more resilient America.

Thank you for your consideration and hard work on this matter,
Trevor Stone
Boulder, Colorado
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
2017-05-20 08:57 pm

A Nation of Hives

When a single hive is scaled up to the size of a nation and is led by a dictator with an army at his disposal, the results are invariably disastrous. But that is no argument for removing or suppressing hives at lower levels. In fact, a nation that is full of hives is a nation of happy and satisfied people. It’s not a very promising target for takeover by a demagogue offering people meaning in exchange for their souls. Creating a nation of multiple competing groups and parties was, in fact, seen by America’s founding fathers as a way of preventing tyranny. More recently, research on social capital has demonstrated that bowling leagues, churches, and other kinds of groups, teams, and clubs are crucial for the health of individuals and of a nation. As political scientist Robert Putnam put it, the social capital that is generated by such local groups “makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.”
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, “The Hive Switch”

The driving metaphor for the final section of the book is “We are 90 percent and 10 percent bee.” He spends quite a while arguing for a limited form of group selection (specifically multilevel selection theory which I previously resonated with in David Sloan Wilson's Darwin’s Cathedral). Haidt says that humans usually act with the familial interest that any evolutionary biologist or economist could explain. But we’re also capable of switching into a eusocial hive mode akin to ants, bees, some shrimp, and naked mole-rats. This hive capability (which other primates do not possess) has allowed humans to build progressively larger groups from tribes to city-states to nations to empires to multi-national corporations. It's at work with sports teams, religions, politics, and any scenario where groups compete with each other and can form a strong internal bond.

Cheap travel, mass media, and the Internet have allowed the last few generations to develop and scale hives which are much more geographically diffuse than we could at America’s founding. I wonder if this, plus our winner-take-all political system, puts us more at danger of one hive being able to impose that hive’s will on all the others.
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
2017-05-13 11:45 pm

None of us are as smart as all of us are

In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons. We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play. But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it's so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth (such as an intelligence agency or a community of scientists) or to produce good public policy (such as a legislature or advisory board).
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

I think that's an excellent case against one-party rule. It also suggests that majority rule, when a single homogenous party is in the majority, is less effective than majority rule with votes requiring cross-party collaboration or at least heterogenous thought within the party.

The focus of the first part of this book is "Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second," using the metaphor of a rider on an elephant. Haidt offers a lot of evidence that our intuitions and emotions (the elephant) typically make decisions and our consciousness and reason (the rider) is mostly focused on justifying those intuitions. This contrasts, of course, with the Rationalist world view (exemplified by Plato) in which consciousness and reason are in charge and can act independently of intuition. Haidt aligns more closely with Hume and his claim that reason is "ruled by the passions," though Haidt softens the "rules" claim.
flwyd: (Trevor glowing grad macky auditorium)
2017-04-23 12:21 am

CWA Notes 2017

I made it to eight panels at this year's Conference on World Affairs at CU. Back in college, I would skip most of my classes during CWA week and listen to at least 20, but recently I just pop in for a few interesting talks. Some interesting notes:
Hurricanes! )
Refugees: Crisis? )
Ambassador to Vietnam )
From China with climate data )
Politics, comedy, and lady parts )
Revelations of Art and Symbolism )
Equal opportunity Internet access )

Wow, that took a long time. I typed notes on a tablet during the conference, but it would've been hard to interpret. Retranscribing and contextualizing involved a lot more time-consuming typing than I expected.

flwyd: (McCain Palin Abe Maude Simpsons)
2017-04-16 01:51 pm

Politics of Victimization, Resentment, and Cynicism

In America, the political left and political right have conspired to create a culture and politics of victimization, and all the benefits of resentment and cynicism have accrued to the right. That's because resentment and apocalypse are weapons that can be used only to advance a politics of resentment and apocalypse. They are the weapons of the reactionary and the conservative — of people who fear and resist the future. Just as environmentalists believe they can create a great ecological politics out of apocalypse, liberals believe they can create a great progressive politics out of resentment; they cannot. Grievance and victimization make us smaller and less generous and thus serve only reactionaries and conservatives.

As liberals and environmentalists lost political power, they abandoned a politics of the strong, aspiring, and fulfilled for a politics of the weak, aggrieved, and resentful. The unique circumstances of the Great Depression — a dramatic, collective, and public fall from prosperity — are not being repeated today, nor are they likely to be repeated anytime soon. Today's reality of insecure affluence is a very different burden.

It is time for us to draw a new fault line through American political life, one that divides those dedicated to a politics of resentment, limits, and victimization from those dedicated to a politics of gratitude, possibility, and overcoming. The challenge for American liberals and environmentalists isn't to convince the American people that they are poor, insecure, and low status but rather the opposite: to speak to their wealth, security, and high status. It is this posture that motivates our higher aspirations for fulfillment. The way to get insecure Americans to embrace an expansive, generous, and progressive politics is not to tell them they are weak but rather to point out all the ways in which they are strong.
— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, “Status and Security”

The thrust of the book is that people support environmental protection when their more basic needs have been satisfied and they're less focused on basic material concerns. The authors argue that we can better address environmental concerns by raising standards of living rather than focusing on limits and restriction. It's worth noting that the book was published in 2007 before the financial crisis, but I think many of their ideas hold in the post-crash world where even more Americans are worried about job security.
flwyd: (intense aztec drummer DNC 2008)
2017-04-08 06:59 pm

Letter to My Senators: Concerns Regarding American Attack on Syria

Senator Bennet,

I am writing you regarding this week’s American missile attack on a Syrian air base in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the people of Syria. Thank you for your statement on Thursday condemning the attacks and calling for action to be taken only with proper approval.
Senator Gardner,

I am writing you regarding this week’s American missile attack on a Syrian air base in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the people of Syria. Thank you for your statement on Thursday in support of “saving the Syrian people from slaughter.” I share your goal of ending the suffering of the people of Syria and effecting an end to the civil war which has ravaged their lives for the last six years.

I have three concerns about this situation, and I would like you to address them through the Senate and in conversations with members of the administration.

First—Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress, not the executive, the power to declare war and to punish offenses against the law of nations. President Trump launched this missile strike without Congressional approval and news reports indicate that he didn’t inform any in Congress about the action until it had completed. This attack on Syria was thus unconstitutional and not in accordance with the separation of powers granted by our founding fathers. I urge you to insist that any further military action be taken only after approval from Congress and in accordance with the Constitution. In matters of military action and foreign intervention, the American people deserve to have our voice heard through our elected representatives.

Second—American military intervention in Syria does not have a clear path to success and is likely to make things worse before they get better. Iran, long-term allies of Assad’s Alawite government, and Russia with its sole Mediterranean naval base at Tartus, are unlikely to let the present regime fall. Additionally, the opposition groups best positioned to defeat the government are aligned with Salafist jihadi movements. A military defeat of the Assad government could easily lead to an even bloodier battle between the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda-aligned Army of Conquest factions. An eventual victory by either would likely lead to brutal crimes against religious and ethnic minorities across Syria. Rather than American military escalation, please urge President Trump to apply his famed skill in negotiation through talks with the Syrian factions and their international backers, including Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Successful negotiations will involve groups with which the U.S. is not on friendly terms—including designated terrorist groups—but military de-escalation and broad support for a peace deal is the only path to long-term stability in Syria.

Third—one of the most important actions the United States can take to help the people of Syria is to provide support to the more than 3 million refugees who have fled the country’s conflict in the last six years. President Trump has sought twice to ban Syrian entry into the United States. I urge you to instead support expansion of the U.S. Refugee Admission Program. The Department of State is well positioned to evaluate refugee applications—no traveler to the United States is subject to more rigorous security screening than the refugees the U.S. Government considers for admission.[1] Additionally, I hope you will support humanitarian and financial aid in concert with our allies in Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and elsewhere who play host to millions of Syrians in refugee camps. The cost of Thursday’s missile attack has been reported at $90 million. A similar sum could provide a great deal of food, clothing, and shelter for those affected by the conflict.

Thank you for your consideration,
Trevor Stone
Boulder, CO 80304

[1] From the State Department’s USRAP FAQ
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
2017-04-01 12:16 am

Book Review: The Conscience of a Conservative

The Conscience of a Conservative, Senator Barry Goldwater's 1960 slim volume (ghostwritten by L. Brett Bozell, Jr.) advocating for conservative values, had more impact on right-wing and Republican politics in postwar America than any book besides The Bible and, perhaps, Atlas Shrugged. I sought the book out because I wanted to understand where conservatives are coming from and be able to have more productive political conversations. Since my political thinking operates with a different set of frames I was expecting to disagree with a lot of what Goldwater wrote, and I did. My focus in this review is therefore not to critique the book but to characterize it and highlight its arguments.

The book is an easy read. It's short and readable in an afternoon. My 50th anniversary copy, with foreword (George F. Will) and afterword (Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.) is 137 pages of roughly mass-market paperback size. It is not a work of technical political theory and is thus accessible to almost any American adult. It takes a personal and casual tone, clearly the broad appeal words of a politician and not the jargon of an academic. I think this accessibility is at least as important to the book's success in the conservative movement as any specific policy idea expressed in its pages.
The book starts with a few chapters on general principles followed by several chapters applying those principles to specific domestic issues that were prominent in the late 1950s.

Goldwater argues for Conservatism in opposition to Socialism and also in opposition to Liberalism and the (then-ascendant) moderate wing of the Republican Party. He starts by quoting Vice President Nixon, Republican candidates should be economic conservatives, but conservatives with a heart, and President Eisenhower, I am conservative when it comes to economic problems but liberal when it comes to human problems. Goldwater is conservative on both fronts and emphasizes that Conservatism isn't just about economics: The Conservative believes that man is, in part, an economic, an animal creature; but that he is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires. What is more, these needs and desires reflect the superior side of man's nature, and thus take precedence over his economic wants. Growing up in an Arizona which had recently gained statehood and in which the wild west didn't seem so long ago, it's not surprising that the focus of Goldwater's philosophy is individual freedom. Man's most sacred possession is his individual soul—which has an immortal side, but also a mortal one. The mortal side establishes his absolute differentness from every other human being. Only a philosophy that takes into account the essential differences between men, and, accordingly, makes provision for developing the different potentialities of each man can claim to be in accord with Nature. We have heard much in the time about “the common man.” It is a concept that pays little attention to the history of a nation that grew great through the initiative and ambition of uncommon men. The Conservative knows that to regard man as part of an undifferentiated mass is to consign him to ultimate slavery. (Despite this emphasis on spirit and soul, Goldwater did not want the church to be actively involved in politics and he did not like the rise of the Religious Right.)

Goldwater's political framework is focused on the Constitution and a limited federal government. While some people's political approach is to devise a solution to a problem first and then shape it to match the law, one gets the sense that Goldwater would prefer to start with what's constitutional and then work out a solution which is permitted. In the way that some folks on the right treat the Second Amendment as the most important while some on the left elevate the First, the Tenth Amendment is, I think, most fundamental for Goldwater. (The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.) Goldwater objects to several federal programs not because they're bad policies but because he thinks the states should implement them, with structure and prioritization driven by local voters and legislators, not a nationwide legislature and bureaucracy. He argues against federal involvement in education because the Constitution doesn't grant any federal powers over education, thus leaving the subject up to states. Yet if there were a constitutional amendment in place regarding education, Goldwater would seem to have no objection to the execution of it.

Many on the left, citing rhetoric of the Confederate and Jim Crow South, characterize the phrase “states’ rights” as an innocuous phrase meant to mask an underlying policy of racial discrimination. Goldwater acknowledges this perception, writing It is quite true that the integration issue is affected by the State's Rights principle, and that the South's position on the issue is, today, the most conspicuous expression of the principle. So much so that the country is now in the grips of a spirited and sometimes ugly controversy over an imagined conflict between State's Rights, on the one hand, and what are called “civil rights” on the other. He goes on to argue that civil rights are not universal rights granted by virtue of our humanity but rather a right defined in law: Unless a right is incorporated in the law, it is not a civil right and is not enforceable by the instruments of the civil law. There may be some rights—“natural,” “human,” or otherwise—that should also be civil rights. But if we desire to give such rights the protection of the law, our recourse is to a legislature or to the amendment procedures of the Constitution. We must not look to politicians, or sociologists—or the courts—to correct the deficiency. Goldwater was not a racist, and although he spends much of the chapter on civil rights arguing against federal efforts to desegregate schools and questioning the legitimacy of the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, he speaks in favor of the principle of desegregation.

In a political world following Goldwater's philosophy, one might expect a great many constitutional amendments be proposed. (He argues against high tax brackets, for instance, but not against income tax itself, since that power is granted by the Sixteenth Amendment.) Addressing an issue like education, air pollution, or Internet crime would start by passage of an amendment granting federal jurisdiction on the matter. Yet amending the Constitution is hard, and in the half century since The Conscience of a Conservative was published, the Constitution was only amended five times—thrice regarding voting rights, once regarding presidential succession, and once regarding congressional compensation. Only the latter came after Ronald Reagan and Goldwater's intellectual heirs took power in Washington (and that one was proposed with the initial Bill of Rights). Many more amendments have, of course, been proposed but not passed in Congress—depending on one's perspective, this might speak in favor of or against an amend-first model.

Reading the book after it influenced half a century of politics provides an interesting sense of retrospective. For instance, a book written today wouldn't focus so much on the power of unions, yet it is precisely this book's arguments about unions which provided the framework for the legislation that weakened union power. Goldwater's arguments reverberate through contemporary conservatives: reading Goldwater's complaints about depression-era laws paying farmers to not grow crops (and thus avoid a market crash) reminded me of several folks I've heard rail against the same practice, even though it was ended by the 1996 Farm Bill.

Unfortunately, some of Goldwater's advice was not heeded by conservatives. He ends the “Freedom for Labor” chapter by saying Let us henceforth make war on all monopolies—whether corporate or union. The enemy of freedom is unrestrained power, and the champions of freedom will fight against the concentration of power wherever they find it. The Republicans who came to power with the help of Goldwater's rhetoric duly set about disarming the power of labor unions, yet they simultaneously enacted policies to boost the power of capital and corporations. Conservative-championed deregulation has led to a handful of companies controlling most broadcast and publishing media outlets, granting significant power and control of information to corporations. And despite the breakup of Ma Bell in the mid-80s, many consumers have no choice over telecommunications providers and the companies wield near-monopolistic power (Comcast revenues exceed every state government but California).

Goldwater's recommendations in “Taxes and Spending” were likewise only followed half-way. Goldwater wanted to reduce taxes by cutting back on federal programs: The government must begin to withdraw from a whole series of programs that are outside its constitutional mandate—from social welfare programs, education, public power, agriculture, public housing, urban renewal and all the other activities that can be better performed by lower levels of government or by private institutions or by individuals. I do not suggest that the federal government drop all of these programs overnight. But I do suggest that we establish, by law, a rigid timetable for a staged withdrawal. Yet the oft repeated mantra of today's Republican party is Reagan taught us that deficits don't matter, and Republicans have tended to propose tax cuts without spending cuts, program elimination without reducing taxes, and spending increases (particularly for military expenditure) without corresponding tax increases. While academic fiscal conservatives decry these policies, the party doesn't seem to care: tax cuts are a good way to get elected and eliminating popular programs are a good way to get voted out of office.

Goldwater's last chapter, “The Soviet Menace,” consumes the final third of the book and feels the most incongruous with the modern world. Goldwater begins in no uncertain terms: And still the awful truth remains: We can establish the domestic conditions for maximizing freedom, along the lines I have indicated, and yet become slaves. We can do this by losing the Cold War to the Soviet Union. He rails against the policies then in place to combat the USSR, from NATO and the UN to negotiation and diplomacy to foreign aid. He proposed instead an offensive (and quite so) strategy, The key guidepost is the Objective, and we must never lose sight of it. It is not to wage a struggle against Communism, but to win it. He proposed development and use of “small, clean nuclear weapons.” Recalling his fiscal conservatism, he writes As a Conservative, I deplore the huge tax levy that is needed to finance the world's number-one military establishment. But even more do I deplore the prospect of a foreign conquest, which the absence of that establishment would quickly accomplish. One wonders if he would similarly quiet his objections to spending on social programs if it were presented as a choice between liberal welfare or the election of an American communist or socialist party to congress. Goldwater's commitment to conservative constitutional law was also conspicuously absent from this chapter: socialist regimes generally installed a new constitution and American support for anti-socialist rebels would presumably violate the laws under which they found themselves.

While the flashpoints, proxy wars, and immense military buildups that characterized the Cold War definitely bore Goldwater's influence, the mechanism of victory fortunately took a significantly different tack than Goldwater's plan. He writes We may not make foreign peoples love us—no nation has ever succeeded in that—but we can make them respect us. And respect is the stuff of which enduring friendships and firm alliances are made. Yet despite the trillions of dollars spent on military hardware, the Socialist states collapsed not because of a respect-as-fear of U.S. power and might but thanks to a love-as-admiration we were able to foster in the people. While leaders threatened each other with weapons, support for the state was whittled away rock 'n' roll, hip young people, material comforts, and the gradual awareness that there was a world where grocery stores were always full of food.

The Conscience of a Conservative deserves a place in collections of key American documents, alongside The Federalist Papers and the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Like the others it took relatively few words to influence generations of political action and government policy. Many on the left believe its ideas were taken too far; many on the right that they weren't taken far enough. But taken they certainly were, and they continue to frame contemporary discourse.
flwyd: (Trevor glowing grad macky auditorium)
2017-03-18 07:48 pm

Conservative and Progressive Education

We have forgotten that the proper function of the school is to transmit the cultural heritage of one generation to the next generation, and so to make them capable of absorbing ancient learning and applying it to the problem of its own day.
– Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative, “Some Notes on Education”

Senator Goldwater expressed many points of view in The Conscience of a Conservative which I approach from a very different perspective, yet perhaps none as concisely as this one. He wrote this passage in the context of arguing that the federal government should divest itself entirely of involvement in education, leaving the matter instead to states and local school districts.

The transmission of cultural heritage from generation to generation happens naturally and effectively in the home, at religious and social gatherings, and as young folks interact with their communities. The unique value offered by a school is the opportunity for children and young adults to learn ideas and techniques which were unavailable to their parents. A child sent to boarding school in the 1820s might return as the first person in the history of the family who could read. A young man in 1870 who went off to a land grant college could return home two to four years later and teach his father and their neighbors newly developed techniques in farming. In 1900, a student could leave a town without electricity and pursue a degree as an electrical engineer, learning things in his senior year which were not known to the world when he arrived as a freshman.[1] And in the 1980s and 1990s, my generation played with computers in our public school classrooms and went on to teach our parents, with varying levels of success, how to use the most crucial tool of the modern age.

Goldwater makes clear that he is arguing against John Dewey and progressive education:
Subscribing to the egalitarian notion that every child must have the same education, we have neglected to provide an educational system which will tax the talents and stir the ambitions of our best students and which will thus insure us the kind of leaders we will need in the future.
In our desire to make sure that our children learn to “adjust” to their environment, we have given them insufficient opportunity to acquire the knowledge that will enable them to master their environment.
Earlier in the book, Goldwater said that he was in favor of school integration (I believe that it is both wise and just for negro children to attend the same schools as whites, and that to deny them this opportunity carries with it strong implications of inferiority) but he didn't think the federal government should bring it about (I believe that the problem of race relations… is best handled by the people directly concerned.). The belief that integration is desirable, yet it's fine if entrenched state political interests deny it, can be easily understood when Goldwater explains that his interest in schools is for the development of future leaders–and the unspoken conclusion that black children in the South would not be the future leaders of those states.

In the intervening half century the Dewey educational position, particularly the emphasis on adaptation to a changing world rather than mastering a static one, has been held widely in colleges and universities. Deans and chancellors are likely to craft mottoes like “preparing students for the challenges of tomorrow” and liberal arts departments emphasize that they teach critical thinking, not just classic knowledge. Yet in many locales primary school (which answers much more directly to local and state political pressure) is shifting away from a path where each generation knows more than their parents, requiring instead that children be taught the same misconceptions that their parents believe. The designated future leaders, of course, are still afforded access to accurate facts through private schools, thanks to their parents’ ability to succeed, whether through a privileged position or personal skill. One of the biggest failings of public education in the last two generations is that it’s funded and run at the local level while the rich and middle class have fled integrated areas, taking their tax revenue and school board engagement away from areas with poverty and students of color and into suburbs with higher school ratings. (There's a great two part piece from This American Life on this topic.)

[1] I’m using male pronouns in this discussion because secondary education was at that time overwhelmingly meant for men, another major failing of the traditional approach of schools whose goals were to educate a pre-screened set of future leaders.
flwyd: (xkcd don quixote)
2017-03-12 05:00 pm
Entry tags:

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Opportunity

The turn will come… when Americans, in hundreds of communities throughout the nation, decide to put the man in power who is pledged to enforce the Constitution and restore the Republic. Who will proclaim in a campaign speech: “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promotte welfare, for I propose to extend freedom… And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that case I am doing the very best I can.”
– Barry Goldwater, The Conscieence of a Conservative, "The Perils of Power"

Folks on the left are often surprised when Republicans support economic policies which negatively impact a majority of their constituents. Some folks use this observation as a rhetorical barb (e.g. these tweets). But for politicians inspired by Senator Goldwater and the last half century of conservatism, policies which favor liberty (freedom from) at the cost of opportunity (freedom to) are the goal, not an accident.
flwyd: (Om Chomsky)
2017-02-27 11:42 pm

Book Review: Don't Think of an Elephant!

Any progressive activist and anyone involved in the Democratic Party who has not read Don't Think of an Elephant! should put it very near the top of their to-do list, above any political action that's longer-term than "this week." It's short and practical, so it can be read in a day or you can read an essay-chapter each day and be done in two weeks. Many of the key insights also appear in articles on the author's blog, so you can start there.

George Lakoff is a professor of linguistics and cognitive science at UC Berkeley. I first encountered his work in Metaphors We Live By, a fairly academic book which argued that metaphors aren't just manners of speech, they actually provide structure to how we think and form a framework through which we perceive the world. This led him to research on frames, "mental structures that shape the way we see the world" and investigations on how liberals and conservatives think and the frames they use. He published Don't Think of an Elephant in 2004 as an accessible and practical guide for progressives to understand how people make political choices, why conservatives are much better at framing than progressives are, and what the left needs to do in order to activate progressive frames in the minds of voters. The All New Don't Think of an Elephant! is a 2014 edition which adds chapters and updates many of the essays to cover political developments during the second Bush term and the Obama presidency.

Frames help us make sense of the information we receive. For instance, the frame "Countries are rational actors" provides us tools for interpreting international relations and actions of governments. Given that frame, a speech by a particular politician or an attack by an army is evaluated as though it's a single person (the country) following a considered strategy. An alternate frame, say "Countries are herds of animals," would lead to a different conceptualization of the same presented facts, like an assumption of acting on instinct and a focus on the power dynamics within a government.

Frames are wired into our brains: the more often the language associated with a frame gets activated, the stronger the neural linkages become. When information is presented which doesn't jive with the frames in our brain, cognitive dissonance results. Cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable, so we tend to resolve the situation by rejecting the information or selectively reinterpreting it so that it can form a narrative supported by the frame.

The most important insight in the book is that people don't vote based on a list of policies and they don't necessarily even vote for their rational self-interest. They vote for candidates whose message activates the frames that drive their values. People aren't swayed by facts, they're swayed by narratives that resonate.

Lakoff identifies the major frames for political values as the "strict father model" and the "nurturant parent model." The former leads to values like law-and-order policing, military power, and "tough love" economic policies. The latter leads to values like restorative justice, soft power diplomacy, and opportunity-focused economics. Everyone has both frames in their brain to some degree, and political ideology reflects the frame which is stronger, or is present in more aspects of their life. He also talks about "biconceptuals," folks that have a balance of both models, the cognitive version of "swing voters."

The family models do a great deal to explain why positions which seem to be logically unrelated are so correlated in the political sphere. Why do so many folks both oppose gay marriage and support use of military force to achieve foreign policy objectives? Corporal punishment (or the threat thereof) is how order is established in a strict-father family, and gay marriage violates the whole premise of a strict-father family, because there's either no father (two women) or no single father figure (two men). Why do so many folks oppose firearm ownership and support public education? In a nurturative-parent family, providing opportunity to kids has a very high value (free public school provides opportunity even to kids whose parents don't have any resources) and guns represent violence, which is anathema to the protection and nurture values.

Conservative elites, starting with Barry Goldwater and the Powell Memo, have spent several decades carefully experimenting with ways to frame their policy goals so that they will resonate with the values frames of American voters. Progressives and liberals, on the other hand, have not had an organized approach to framing and tend to run on a set of specific policies, not on a set of values. Since the left haven't developed language to activate frames, they tend to use the frames provided by conservatives. This is self-defeating, because repeating the conservative framing of an issue activates the same neural pathways, even if the idea is negated (hence the title of the book). For instance, conservatives developed the phrase "tax relief," which activates a metaphor of taxes as a burden. If a liberal says "I'm against tax relief," it reinforces the idea that taxes are burdensome and the voter is left wondering why the politician is in favor of burdens. If the liberal instead recast the issue in their own frame–"I think the wealthy should contribute their fair share"–it would activate the frame that tax is a shared investment in society.

Lakoff advocates for progressives to rethink how they present their ideas. He urges the left to shift from talking about facts and policies to talking about values, principles, and policy directions. He instructs people to affirm the progressive world view rather than use the negated language of the conservative world view. He tells politicians to stop focusing on policy polls and start presenting a coherent narrative. And he recommends the left invest–intellectually and financially–in creating organizations (think tanks and so on) devoted to finding ways to frame progressive values in ways that resonate with American voters. This is a long-term investment: the right has spent over four decades building their current ideological power position and the left can't suddenly adjust the neural circuitry of the public next month or even this year. But the longer progressives wait, the more they'll lose ground and the harder it will be to make progress.

The book's final chapter, "How to Respond to Conservatives," has some solid tactical advice, including showing respect, remaining calm, and positively reframing the issue. It ends with the crystalized guidelines: "Show respect; Respond by reframing; Think and talk at the level of values; Say what you believe." His approach is good for spreading the progressive world view, but I think there is occasion to use the frames of the "other side." When you're working on a specific policy measure like climate change or health care, it's important to have allies on both sides of the spectrum–this eases passage of an initiative and makes it less likely it will be repealed when the legislative balance of power shifts. Shifting a Republican member of congress from a strict-father model to a nurturative-parent model is a long game indeed, but convincing the same representative that climate change is a threat to national security or that it will create an undue burden on business might get an important piece of legislation passed. This is also communication that can be more focused: a letter to a legislator can be tailored to resonate with the specific framing a person has demonstrated whereas a letter to the editor tries to activate the framing of thousands of different people.

My goal in reading this book was to improve my ability to communicate with people who don't share my worldview, and it definitely helped. I'm someone who's immersed in facts and tend to overcommunicate details. This is important when figuring out how to create software or working with scientists to learn how the world works. But it's a hopeless technique for reaching non-experts, and by necessity most politicians, and certainly most voters, are not experts on a vast majority of subjects. I intend to do work to verbalize my own values and organize them into a coherent story, one which I hope can inspire folks who are already on my side, resonate with folks who aren't there yet, and help folks with a strict-father model empathize with the nurturative values.
flwyd: (darwin change over time)
2017-02-25 12:40 pm

Lead With Values and Vision

Programs are a major problem for attempts at unity. As soon as a policy is made specific, the differences must be addressed. Progressives tend to talk about policies and programs. But policy details are not what most Americans want to know about. Most Americans want to know what you stand for, whether your values are their values, what your principles are, what direction you want to take the country in. In public discourse, values trump policies, principles trump policies, policy directions trump specific programs. I believe that values, principles, and policy directions are exactly the things that can unite progressives, if they are crafted properly. The reason that they can unite us is that they stand conceptually above all the things that divide us.

Having those shared values, largely unconscious and unspoken, is not good enough. They have to be out in the open, named, said, discussed, publicized, and made part of everyday public discourse. If they go unspoken, while conservative values dominate public discourse, then those values can be lost–swept out of our brains by the conservative communication juggernaut.
Don't just read about these values here and nod. Get out and say them out loud. Discuss them wherever you can. Volunteer for campaigns that give you a chance to discuss these values loud and clear and out in public.
– George Lakoff, The All New Don't Think of an Elephant!, “What Unites Progressives”

Put another way, values, principles, and policy directions are how you build a movement. Policies are how you implement the vision once the movement has critical mass. When building a movement you don't worry too much about folks with a drastically different world view; you're just trying to find all of your friends. But when it comes to policy, it's important to work with folks from “the other side.” A policy which is supported by many members of some movements has a better chance of surviving than a policy which is supported by all and only one team.
flwyd: (Om Chomsky)
2017-02-24 11:31 am

Frames vs. Facts

Unfortunately, all too many progressives have been taught a false and outdated theory of reason itself, one in which framing, metaphorical thought, and emotion play no role in rationality. This has led many progressives to the view that facts–alone–will set you free. Progressives are constantly giving lists of facts.

Facts matter enormously, but to be meaningful they must be framed in terms of their moral importance. Remember, you can only understand what the frames in your brain allow you to understand. If the facts don't fit the frames in your brain, the frames in your brain stay and the facts are ignored or challenged and belittled.

When George W. Bush arrived, we got "compassionate conservatism." The Clear Skies Initiative. Healthy Forests. No Child Left Behind. … This is the use of Orwellian language–language that means the opposite of what it says–to appease people in the middle as you pump up the base. … Imagine if they came out supporting a "Dirty Skies Bill" or a "Forest Destruction Bill" or a "Kill Public Education" bill. They would lose. They are aware people do not support what they are really trying to do.

Orwellian language points to weakness–Orwellian weakness. When you hear Orwellian language, note where it is, because it is a guide to where they are vulnerable. They do not use it everywhere. It is very important to notice this and use their weakness to your advantage.

– George Lakoff, The All New Don't Think of an Elephant!
flwyd: (earth eyes south america face)
2017-01-27 11:59 am
Entry tags:

Why I Oppose Trump's Proposed Visa Restrictions

President Trump is expected to sign an executive order today which restricts visas from seven predominantly Muslim countries. I sent the following message to my senators and on the White House's contact page (since apparently the Trump administration has declined to answer the phone when Americans call).

I am a lifelong Colorado resident and I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18. I am writing to express concern over the executive order regarding visas that President Trump is expected to sign today. This order would restrict U.S. entry for people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, and Somalia, even for people who already live in America. I oppose this ban for three reasons: it’s bad for American business, it won’t make us safer, and it hurts families. I urge you to call President Trump and let him know that this order is not consistent with the values of America or our people.

Life in all of those countries has been quite challenging in recent years and many folks have decided to seek a better life in America. Many of the people who have fled are highly educated and have been making valuable contributions to the American economy as scientists, engineers, doctors, and more. From Iran in particular the United States has benefitted from over three decades of contributions from expats. Several highly skilled Iranians have helped my company deliver billions of dollars of value in the American economy.

This policy would not make America any safer. In the list of terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Wikipedia the only perpetrators I found connected to those countries were two by ethnic Somalis and one Yemeni man; all three cases had small impact. Meanwhile, the 9/11 attackers were predominantly from Saudi Arabia, which is not covered by this ban. The people who emigrate to the U.S. are typically opposed to these countries’ governments and are seeking a more stable life than the chaos at home.

Finally, this order would hurt families. Folks living in America–many of them U.S. citizens–would be unable to visit their families or have family members visit the U.S. This could break up marriages, strand children, and keep Americans from attending family weddings and funerals.
flwyd: (Vigelandsparken heels over head)
2017-01-21 11:51 pm

Friendship and International Relations

Part of me wants to stop listening, turn away, and get America's unpopularly elected president out of my head. But he's got an uncanny narcissistic knack for getting people to pay attention to him. So here's some commentary on pieces of Trump's inauguration speech.

In a speech whose overall tone was jingoistic nationalism, this stood out to me:
We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.
It sounds like Trump misunderstands friendship. When a good friend is in need, we put aside our own interests to help them out. We lend our friends money at no interest when they're in a jam. We put our own reputation on the line to vouch for a friend's character. We sit our friends down for an uncomfortable conversation when they need an intervention.

Friendship is a long-term relationship that often involves personal sacrifice to help the other. We do this because at some point, at a time unknown and with no guarantee, the friend might be in a position to return the favor. Trump's line does not describe friendship. Perhaps the term he was looking for was "business partner."

Trump launched his campaign by impugning Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers and made anti-immigrant bluster a cornerstone of his rallies, so it's no surprise it was a key point in his inauguration speech.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.
There's actually a really elegant solution to this. If you make it easy for immigrants to become citizens, more Americans will be employed and more American families will contribute to society.

Trump continued on one of his favorite topics, borders. (Although the U.S. only has two, and Trump only seems to care about one of them, so perhaps he should make it singular.)
We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs… We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.
"We will bring back our borders" is an odd choice of wording. Make America 48 Again? Maybe he wants to renegotiate the Louisiana Purchase as a public-private partnership.

The first sentence is somewhat surreal too, and not just because "ravages" seems out of place. Despite corporations counting as "persons" under U.S. law, a foreign intelligence agency can't kidnap or steal a company. And I'm not aware of major American companies disincorporating and moving to another country, perhaps because Delaware is such an effective tax shelter. (There have been some notable international purchases of American companies, perhaps none more ironic than Budweiser being produced by a Belgian firm.) Additionally, the United States is still the top manufacturer in the world, we just mostly make stuff with really fancy machines and not a lot of people (high capital, low labor). Finally, a lot of wealth has stayed in American accounts: since the companies are still American, their stocks are traded on American exchanges, and the corporate executives haven't been outsourced, wealth gains from globalization haven't fled the country: they flowed to the American 1%.

Finally, Trump is personally an odd champion for trade protectionism and a call to bring jobs back to the U.S. He makes a lot of money from hotels and resorts around the world, employing thousands of non-Americans. It would also be nonsensical to fill those jobs with U.S. citizens: you can't outsource cleaning a hotel room in Manilla to someone in Toledo. These properties also put Trump in a compromising position in his quest to put America's interest before its friends: will he put the U.S. first if, say, Trump Towers Istanbul becomes a pawn in negotiations with Turkey? Would he stick to his protectionist stance if his family was offered the chance to build Trump Tower Guangzhou?
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
2017-01-17 01:07 am

Letter to My Senators: MLK Day and Support for Immigrants and the Disenfranchised

I am a lifelong Colorado resident. My grandfather represented the San Luis Valley in the legislature in the 1950s and my great grandfather gave the first sermon on Pike’s Peak. I have voted in every election since I turned 18.

I am writing you on the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day to express support for immigrants and disenfranchised citizens and because I am concerned about the political tone in the United States. Dr. King expressed a dream, based in the ideals set forth in the founding documents of our nation, that everyone in America would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. And while major strides were made in the second half of the 20th Century, this dream often seems a long way off. The president elect and many other prominent voices have proposed a vision for America which seeks to deny the American dream based on demographics, denying people the chance to prove their inherent worth.

America has been built by half a millennium of immigrants, creating wealth and innovation like the world has never seen. The first of my ancestors to arrive came from England in the 1600s; the last arrived from Norway and Wales near the end of the 19th Century to farm and mine in America, working hard to support their families and, in the process, helping America grow. Today’s generation of immigrants contributes immeasurably to American society and the United States economy, from migrant farm workers to the CEO of Google.

Mr. Trump and many other prominent voices have tried to foment xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment for political gain. Mr. Trump has proposed signaling out members of specific religious groups for enhanced government surveillance, building a fence to rival the Great Wall of China at a cost around 40 billion dollars, and deporting children (future American entrepreneurs and laborers) for whom the United States is the only home they’ve ever known. This plan not only goes against the American values that Martin Luther King elucidated, it also works against our economic interest. For the U.S. economy to thrive in the coming generations, the country must grow. The native-born American population is aging and shrinking. Immigrants tend to be young and work hard, filling important roles, spending money in the American economy, and fueling job growth. The United States risks an economic and budgetary crisis as our population ages if we do not welcome the innovation and determination of immigrants seeking the American dream, fleeing war and economic despair abroad, just as immigrants have done for the last four centuries.

As my voice in Washington, I call on you to speak out, both privately and publicly, when Mr. Trump, his associates, and other members of the political establishment make judgments of people based on the skin color, national origin, gender, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. Furthermore, I urge you to sponsor and vote for legislation which reforms the U.S. immigration system, paving a path to citizen ships and creating an egalitarian and welcoming nation. I also urge you to take action to stop discriminatory policing, reform racially biased sentencing guidelines, ensure equal pay for equal work, and end government interference in people’s selection of restrooms.

Thank you for your service to our country,
Trevor Stone
flwyd: (McCain Palin Abe Maude Simpsons)
2010-10-27 12:50 am

Colorado Blue Book: 2010 Edition

I just finished figuring out how I'm going to vote on ballot measures this year. I'm not sure I've had this high a percentage of NO votes before. The abbreviated explanation: 60, 61, and 101 are for people who think it would be fun to have California's budget problems with the additional constraint that we can't borrow money to keep things running. Or, if you prefer, 60, 61, and 101 is like cutting off your arm to lose weight. In synchronicity news, there's a meme going around to find a post you wrote "on this day in your first year on LiveJournal." Here's a 9-year old insight on libertarianism. In the fall of 2001 I also apparently invented flash mobs, made personal insights that remain largely true, and revised Pascal's Wager.
Amendment P – reorganization of bingo oversight – YES
This sounds pretty reasonable. That gambling and bingo are handled by different parts of the state government is probably a historical accident. Merging these functions should lead to government that makes more sense. Yay!
Amendment Q – a process for setting up temporary government operation if Denver gets hit by a hurricane – YES
Sounds like more housekeeping. If someone's gone through the bother of figuring all this out, we should let it in.
Amendment R - eliminate taxes on small herds of cattle grazing on BLM lands - YES
The key to this one is the phrase in Arguments For reduces the administrative burden of collecting a tax that in many cases costs more money to collect than it brings in to local governments. When the government says "Collecting this tax is more bother than it's worth," that's a good sign it's time to phase out. Also, given the scale of tax cut proposals on the ballot this year, the $46,000 of accounting rearrangement is peanuts. Or pinecones, since it's government land.
Amendment 60 – override voter-approved tax increases, add tax elections to more levels of government, cut property taxes (for individuals and businesses), and create property taxes (for universities and airports) – NO
One nice thing about TABOR is it's shown that people will often vote for higher taxes if they think they're getting good value for their money. This measure would undo some of those changes, reducing voter power. It also reduces local property taxes. But anti-tax zealots have learned that their biggest enemy is parents worried that lower taxes will lead to worse schools for their kids. So the former tried to entice the latter by replacing lost school district revenue with money for the state without creating any additional revenue for the state. Good thing to, 'cause if the kids don't get a good education, the state won't have any budget to provide the low income, health care, or prison services folks with poor education often need.

This measure also requires state-owned enterprises (universities, airports, etc.) to pay taxes. But these taxes won't make up for the lost revenue caused by the rest of this amendment! The taxes will go to pay for a further property tax reduction for people in the county (who typically get a property value boost due to the enterprise). CU became an enterprise so they'd have more budgetary flexibility while keeping tuition manageable since it was a pain in the ass to get money out of a tight state budget. If they have to pay taxes, students all over Colorado will pay higher tuitions to fund lower property taxes on expensive houses in Boulder. If they're lucky, landlords might drop rent by a few bucks.

The one redeeming feature of this amendment is letting citizens create ballot initiatives for lower (or higher) taxes at all levels of government (except federal). However, that perk isn't worth creating budget crises over.

Amendment 61 – stop government borrowing – NO
What happened to the Republican phrase of ten years ago, "Run government like a business?" Short and long-term borrowing are important parts of most businesses' operation. This amendment would prevent the state government from borrowing money at all and require voter approval for any local government borrowing. This is an understandable knee-jerk reaction to perceptions of the recent financial crisis, but it's not very helpful. If the interest rate on long-term borrowing is less than inflation plus growth, it makes money for the state. Preventing short-term borrowing is asking for chaos at the legislature, forcing them to consider things like paying state employees IOUs until everyone's taxes come in. If your "make government more accountable" plan is anti-commercial paper, you really shouldn't be proposing tax law.
Amendment 62 – let fœtæ own property and access the courts – NO
For Halloween season, how about a zombie anti-abortion amendment that died 75% to 25% two years ago? Oh wait, they changed "moment of fertilization" the the far more vague "beginning of biological development of that human being." Well my biological development began 6000 a couple billion years ago. Oh, and everything I said about Amendment 48 is still a problem.
Amendment 63 – add health care choice as a constitutional right, but prevent the government from creating health insurance worth choosing – NO
This measure seems designed to counteract the sort of health care bill that Congress didn't have the balls to talk about in 2009. You could at least wait until there's some data on the success of a plan before deciding it sucks. A full essay on how I think health care should work will have to wait for another day.
Proposition 101 – slash vehicle taxes and fees and reduce income tax by over 1% – NO
This seems to be a reaction to Bill Ritter's move last year to increase vehicle fees in order to balance the budget. One of the downsides of TABOR is that only citizens can raise taxes, combined with a balanced budget requirement, means the government has to get creative in how they balance the books. One could argue that the budget process should have gone differently, but the solution is not to drop vehicle fees to approximately 0 and simultaneously reduce income tax (why are those part of the same measure? at least the anti-abortionists didn't propose "Change the definition of person and also cut taxes by half a percent."). Cars create significant social externalities and should be taxed accordingly. What is especially ironic is I suspect many of the supporters of this amendment opposed the cash-for-clunkers program.
Proposition 102 – require participants in pretrial services programs to also have bonded bail – NO
I might support this measure if it had an exception for all nonviolent misdemeanors rather than just the first. Since the judge already has the flexibility to require bonded bail, I don't see how this amendment is a win for anybody but bail bondsmen. Maybe this is the plan to fund the courts system if 60, 61, and 101 all pass.

So please go out and vote for reason and sanity in government. Or, since you're a fan of reason and sanity, stay in and vote by mail. Otherwise, there tea party will lead to a pretty terrible hangover.
flwyd: (McCain Palin Abe Maude Simpsons)
2010-10-01 03:22 pm


I don't have a TV. I don't read the newspaper. I don't drive to work, so I don't catch news on the radio. My Internet reading has mostly been what my coworkers, co-volunteers, and friends have to say. So for the last year and a half, I've been mostly unaware of the major news stories.

However, I'm aware that teabaggers partiers managed to get several of their preferred candidates the GOP nominations for this fall's elections, so there are a lot of crazy people running this cycle. This isn't particularly surprising: the past several years have seen many of the non-crazy voters leave the Republican party while this year's right wing voter excitement has been driven by talk show hosts who don't consider cool temperment and experience running government effectively to be positive attributes. If ubiquitous-enough-to-catch-my-attention is a good measure, the most nationally notable crazy candidate is Christine O'Donnell. Here are some of her crazy sayings. My favorite: Now we’re using this to start cloning humans. … They are — they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains.

I'd appreciate links to collections of crazy quotes from anybody else running for office this year.
flwyd: (transparent ribbon for government accoun)
2008-11-05 12:14 am

Yes We Did

I did a very insignificant amount today to help the election of the most impressive political figure of my generation. It seems that almost everyone in Lakewood voted early this year, but the Obama campaign–through an incredible volunteer organization–left nothing to chance and pushed to the end. President-elect Obama is able to inspire a wide range of people to make significant personal donations -- of money, of vacation time, of weekend time, of spare time, of sleep, and of sanity to play a small role in doing what they feel is right for America. If he can spread this energy beyond his campaign into society as a whole, he may leave an immensely important mark on the character of a nation for generations to come.

I'm sure I'll disagree with many positions he takes, but I know that he will take those positions after careful consideration with input from people who know what they're talking about. And that's really the core of good leadership.

I was also heartened by John McCain's concession speech tonight. It was almost as if he was eager to flee the fear mongering and red baiting he's engendered over the last two months. Perhaps he wanted to do away with the last eight years and get back to the John McCain who ran for president in 2000: a true bipartisan concerned with honorable action for the good of the country. I hope he helps establish broad support for fundamental changes President Obama wants to bring through.

When Bush leaves Washington, I hope he takes with him not only cowboy diplomacy and faith-based science but also the practice of railroading policy through congress, legislating from the Oval Office (signing statements), and executive secrecy. If Obama is to excite me as much in four years as he does right now, he'll need to graciously divest the Presidency of the powers claimed by his predecessor. He'll need to bring about important reforms and new programs not just with the help of 300 of his Democratic pals but by convincing the American people that the plans are strong so that they can convince their elected representatives to get on board. This is how a great orator can become a great governor.

To everyone who became engaged in politics this year for the first time ever (or the first time in a long time), stay involved. Politics is one part exciting, three parts boring. But by and large, it's the boring stuff that has an impact in our lives. Several local races in my area were decided by a margin smaller than the number of people who didn't vote for that section of the ballot.

Democracy is government of the people by the people who show up.

Today, this month, and this year, Barack Obama's supporters showed up. In the few days I've spent with the campaign organizers, I can see them fight to keep the chaos in check, straining to make it to the finish line without collapsing from exhaustion. They deserve a chance to rest and a chance to celebrate. But democracy isn't just about one person on one day. It's our civic duty (some might call it a curse) to stay informed and voice our opinions. I challenge everyone to be more informed each year about the candidates and issues on the ballot. Democracy is government of the people by the people who show up and it's based on the hope that everyone will show up and know what they're talking about.

Good night, and good luck.