Archive for the ‘News and politics’ Category

The Dangers of the 51 Percent Majority

November 15, 2019 Leave a comment

It is very natural to come up with a system where decisions are made by the majority. There is a vote and the side that gets the most votes wins the decision. Most of the time it works really well. Well enough that there can be little motivation to do otherwise. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to let the minority make decisions. That just isn’t sustainable. On the other hand, if the minority is completely shut out, that leads to problems in the long run. There is a phrase that exists, called the Tyranny of the Majority, and checks and balances have been put in place to counter it in government, but I fear that the ones currently in place are insufficient.

Starting with a non-government example consider the current state of Sears. For a century, Sears dominated the American consumer economy. In the last two decades though, it has completely fallen apart. One major reason is due to decisions made by the current majority stockholder. That right, not holders; holder. It’s a problem that one individual controls 51 percent of the company. Normally one might think that that wouldn’t be a problem, because the majority owner would want the company to succeed. But that is not the case with Sears.

The person who owns 51 percent of the stock, didn’t buy up all of that control of the company to see it succeed, they did it to make sure that it failed in the right way. That individual owns other companies too. Other companies which are profiting off of the corpse of Sears. The individual didn’t need to buy up 100 percent of Sears stock to take control of it, they only needed 51 percent. Then once they were in complete control, with only 51 percent of the votes, they started to sell off Sears real estate to their other companies. They intentionally setup a system where once the individual stores stopped being profitable, they’d sell the land out from under them and close the store. There was nothing that the other 49 percent of the stockholders could do about it.

So not only are the other stockholders effectively being stolen from, but there are many employees whose lives are ruined because of greedy decisions make by someone who shouldn’t have complete control, but does. Is that really healthy for society to operate like that?

For another scenario, imagine a country, state or voting district where one large portion of the population never wins. Imagine two parties, one which gets 51 percent of the vote every time, and one which gets 49 percent of the vote, every time. If voting for representatives, that gives the 51 percent 100 percent of the representatives, over and over again. How long will 49 percent of the population stand for that? What will they do when they’ve had enough? How will they fight back?

Now in reality, I can’t think of a specific example of it being so constantly close like that, and there are lots of places where the winds of fortune change, but for lots of people still it feels like their vote doesn’t matter, because their “side” never wins. It’s hard to feel like an equal member of society when your voice is never heard. When there is never a need for compromise.

It’s important for people to feel like they’re participating in society and that their vote counts. Years ago, I had a conversation with a co-worker who had just immigrated from China. We were discussing how odd it was for him to see people not constantly trying to cheat the system. My response was how to some degree, we all created the system and we don’t want to cheat the thing we created. If there is something wrong, we don’t cheat our way around it, we work to get the wrong thing changed. Bad law, corrupt police, anything. We are a participating member of society.


Is there something that can be done to prevent a tyranny of the majority? And a way to help people know that their vote counts? I believe that there is.

I’ve posted before a voting solution which will cure all voting ills. But many of the people that I’ve talked to about it, find it to be too much of a burden on the voter. As a first step I think that we should move to a multi-victor voting district solution. At the Federal level in the United States, this would work by passing a law which states: The entire state is one voting district. The number of seats in the House will be proportioned out to the different parties based off of the number of votes they received. If the state has more than 15 possible seats, then the state shall be divided up into voting districts of equal population with each district containing no less than 8 seats, and no more than 15 seats.

Imagine a state where 50 percent of the people vote Democrat, 40 percent vote Republican and 10 percent vote Libertarian. Given that the Libertarians are never concentrated enough to ever win a seat in the current system, those voters feel that their voice is never heard. The Democrats and Republicans carve up the state to ensure that most seats are safe, and maybe one or two are contested over. But if the whole state was one voting district, with 10 seats, then Democrats would get 5 seats, Republicans 4 and Libertarians 1. Now there is a chance for third parties to form. In addition, more people will feel more motivated to vote, because it could mean the difference between their party receiving 4 or 5 seats. Whether your vote is part of the majority or the minority, your vote is never thrown away.

What about the US Senate? Same thing. But instead of voting for Senators in different elections, a state would vote for both of their Senators in the same election. Should a party get 34 percent of the vote, they win one Senate seat. The party with the most remaining votes gets the 2nd seat. Should a party win 67 percent of the vote, they get both Senate seats. I suspect though, the vast majority of the time, the two seats will be divided between the two parties with the greatest number of votes.

What about a company where 51 percent of the stockholders are not acting in the best interest of the company? Make it illegal for 51 – 99 percent of the stocks in a company to be owned by a single individual. An individual can own 100 percent of the stocks, or a minority of stocks, but not a majority. Yes, I realize that’s against the spirit of “I should be able to do whatever I want with my money”, but I don’t give much weight to that point of view. Peoples livelihoods are involved here. Leadership decisions should be being made with the interest of the organization in mind; not a takeover. In addition, if money is so precious, what about the money of the remaining stockholders. They didn’t purchase the stock for it to become worthless. Or those shareholders may even be employees who don’t want to lose a job for no good reason. A corporation is a powerful force, that’s why Adam Smith wrote about them centuries ago. Corporations need to follow rules for the betterment of society.

Tyranny of the majority is a real thing, and different systems of democracy have checks and balances against them. But the current checks and balances currently in the United States, may not be sufficient. To prevent Civil War, or to encourage greater civil participation, or to prevent pillaging of other peoples assets, we the people need to make some changes for the betterment of all of us.

Vote beyond the least of two evils

February 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Election party primaries exist as a way for the members of a party to change candidates should they feel that the incumbent isn’t doing a proper job of representing their constituents. In reality, this doesn’t really happen. A tough primary causes party divisions and can be quite distractive. So politicians avoid them as much as possible. The result, is that we the people, may not like the candidate for our party, but there’s nothing we can do about it. We feel trapped, because even though we don’t like our preferred parties candidate we certainly don’t want to vote for the opposing party even more.
So let’s empower the voting public. Change our election laws so that no party (even incumbents) can be on the ballot with just one candidate. Each party needs two candidates. This will allow voters to keep the party they prefer, while allowing them to punish an incumbent.
The winner of such an election would be the winner of the party that won. So if Party A had candidate 1 get 30% and candidate 2 get 25%, while Party B gets %40 and 5% respectively; the winner would be Party A candidate 1. The reason is because that candidate is the winner of the party that won.
If a party can’t get two people to be on the ballot, the party doesn’t get on the ballot.
The only people who wouldn’t like this would be existing incumbents who don’t. Want to be challenged. This would be more effective than term limits on legislatures.

Categories: News and politics

NBC does not like cable cutters

July 28, 2012 Leave a comment

I am a cable cutter. A cable cutter is someone who doesn’t pay for cable for their entertainment. My family gets more than enough entertainment by recording Over the Air TV shows on our Windows Media Center, or streaming shows from Netflix, Vudu or other websites. There’s no need to pay for cable. Earlier this week (before the London Olympics started) I saw that would stream every Olympic event live. This is wonderful! Traditionally watching the Olympics on TV means that there are lots of commercials, there isn’t time to view every event, and most of the time is taken up by human interest stories (ech!). I was worried that they were going to stream only live events, but when I went there today I saw that they had links to play back the full events whenever. Finally, I could watch the Olympics without the human interest stories, and see events that I rarely get to see.

When I tried to actually watch an event (mens archery US vs Mexico) I ran into a snag. To watch video on you have to sign in using your cable providers credentials. In other words, if you’re someone who doesn’t pay for cable, you don’t get to stream the Olympic events online. Cable cutting defeated!

Of course there’s bound to be some way to illegally view the events online, but I’m not one who does that. While I do wish the copyright/IP laws where changed, I’ll upload and respect the current laws.

We are recording all OTA instance of the London 2012 Olympics, so we’ll get to watch whatever we want to from that selection. It won’t be everything, but at least we’ll be able to skip the human interest stories. NBC would have probably gotten me to view more ads with legal online streaming, than they are by having me skip over commercials in Windows Media Center.

Vigilante parking justice

March 10, 2012 Leave a comment

I realize that police don’t have the resources to patrol every parking lot, but sometimes I wish they did. It really bothers me to see really bad parking jobs. Especially where the car is so far over the line that no one can take the spot next to them. It’s an inefficient waste of space. So, how can we use societal forces to encourage better parking? I propose that the different counties in the US setup data stores for pictures of bad parking jobs. Many people carry devices which have cameras that store location data into the meta data of the picture. We can use these devices to reasonably report bad parking jobs.

The idea is that you see a bad parking job, take a picture and submit it to the county. The picture must show the license plate, the parking violation, the time the picture was taken, and the location of the picture. Of course it would be rather heavy handed if a single picture resulted in a fine, but an accumulation of pictures should. If enough pictures came in for a particular license plate the local municipality would have the right to ticket the owner of the car. Say, perhaps twelve within a years period. Giving citizens the power to report violations like this will create a not unhealthy outlet for their frustration of not getting an open parking space, and it would encourage people to properly park in their space. Societal harmony achieved at last.

I voted in my caucus

March 3, 2012 Leave a comment

I voted in my King county Washington state Republican caucus today (3 Mar 12). It was a small intimate affair, a little too small in my opinion. There were only two people who wanted to be delegates, so why it took so long to make sure that everyone was okay with everyone being okay with that, I don’t know, but it was still fun to be part of the process. The people we voted for will go to the district and then at the district caucus, those who make delegates there will go on to the state caucus. So no candidate won delegates today, but Washington states straw poll is the last one taken before Super Tuesday. I’m glad I live in a democracy.

Categories: News and politics

Fox News will have an identity crises should Romney win the nomination

February 8, 2012 2 comments

I get most of my news from NPR or CNet. Occasionally I’ll surf to other websites for news should something big have happened I’m curious to see how different sources report it. Something which I’ve noticed recently in the 2012 Republican presidential candidate race is that Fox news doesn’t what to acknowledge that Mitt Romney is running. On the morning after a primary/caucus I’ll check out the different news websites and they all are headlining the same thing, except for Fox news. If Romney won the primary there won’t be a single story on the main Fox news page about the primary. All of the other news websites in the world will be headlining the primary results and Fox figures that no news is good news. Should Romney not win the poll/primary/caucus Fox news will make sure that you know that the latest result is the most important thing ever. Today, the morning after Rick Santorum won three non-delegate primaries/caucuses, Fox news has it headlined with multiple stories repeating about how great and wonderful this is. Given how anti-Obama Fox news is I wouldn’t be surprised if they effectively didn’t cover the Presidential election at all, should Gov. Romney win the 2012 Republican nomination. They’ll be too busy having an identity crises.

Categories: News and politics

Getting some of the bandwagon out of politics

January 25, 2012 Leave a comment

I like living in a democratically elected republic, it does give one a sense of living in a place where the most possible amount of people feel like they’re getting a fair deal. The elementary idea behind elections are simple, a voter looks at the possible choices of candidates and selects the one that they like the most. I heard a story on NPR the other day which disheartened my faith in our system. In the story a random Iowan named Sharon Layman mentioned how she wasn’t going to vote for Michelle Bachman because she wasn’t doing better in the polls. To me, that’s a horrible reason to not vote for someone, it defeats the idea of picking who you want. But so many people rely on the polls “informing” them as to who the good pick is.

It made me think back to my proposal on how to change elections and I think that if we did change our elections to this model, it would reduce this bandwagon effect. Many people don’t want to vote for the loser; or at least they want to vote for someone who is going to get a large percentage of the vote, because they don’t want to feel like they threw their vote away. Part of the reason for this feeling is that many of the elections in the US are winner takes all. So if there are three candidates all a candidate needs is 34% of the vote to win. They pretty much just need a rounding error. This is why the American political system evolved into a two-party system. Most people would rather go with the person they kind of like, rather than risking voting the person they really like, if it means that the person they really don’t like will then win.

My proposal for voting for what we want doesn’t work for picking candidates within the party. For that, I think that there needs to be two major changes to the current system. First, the vote for each state should be changed to Preferential voting. The results will still be interesting because you can figure out an actual winner, and pundints can figure out how the different candidates looked from the initial cast. Second, the order in which the different states vote should be random for each election cycle. Many people want all of the states to vote at once, but the idea behind why it’s not that way is that a not-well-funded candidate has a chance of competing if they only have to focus on one state at a time, and can build a grass-roots effort. Plus you would get more people feeling like they might have thrown their vote away. I like the possiblity of a politian building up a grass-roots effort, so a handful of states get to vote first, but it should stop being Iowa and New Hampshire every time. I can’t think of a reason to not make the order of the states chosen random.

So there we go, my initial proposal had an additional benefit of watering down the bandwagon affect, and will still result in our representatives representing closer to what we the people want. Sadly many people wouldn’t know what to do without having poll numbers to tell them what to think. It’s like how you look at a tabloid cover and wonder who that “celebrity” is; and it turns out to be someone who’s a celebrity because they’re famous and they became famous for being a celebrity. It makes no sense, but it does sell tabloids. Please, let’s stop this current madness.

Common Sense is dying

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I recently finished reading “The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America” and I found it to be very persuasive. Most publishings on what’s wrong with the current governmental system either discuss the need for more laws, or that the situation used to be better, but they don’t quite know why. Phillip K. Howard does an excellent job of magnifying inefficiencies in todays government (even though to book is more than a decade old) and their root cause. He is able to explain how we got into this mess. Plus I was never able to conclude what the authors political bias might be. He points out many short comings of the American Disabilities Act, fights against litigious happy citizens with an over inflated sense of entitlement, and yet highlights how FDR’s New Deal was a good thing. Pundits of both sides of the aisle have problems with that. So I find the book to be a useful read regardless of political persuasion; it is insightful.

The essence of the book is that during the 1960’s the legal system felt that if laws could be made specific enough, no government employee could possibly do anything unfair. So if there was a problem in the current regulations, the answer would be for a committee to come up with more rules. The result is that no bureaucrat can be held responsible for their actions, because they were just following the rules. The consequence of this attitude is that it created a culture of non-thinking bureaucrats who value the law higher than the intention of the law. It reminded of me a coworker who talked about previous teams where the attitude from day 1 was for everyone on the project to figure out how they wouldn’t be the scapegoat for when something inevitably went wrong. No one will stand up for doing to right or reasonable thing.

The book pushes forward the idea that the humans in government aren’t perfect, so we should stop holding them up to a standard which demands perfect adherence to a gargantuan amount of laws. In many situations common sense can come to an efficient solution which will reasonably satisfy the interested parties. The sense of despair the reader is left with is that if the findings in the book were to be a championed by the people, the demand for lawyers would decrease dramatically; and I have a sneaking feeling that the representatives of “us the people” don’t want that.

Categories: News and politics

Off Label Markeing is Snake Oil Sales

November 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Recently the drug company GlaxoSmithKlein filed a suit in court challenging the constitutionality of the FDA’s labeling and misbranding regulations. Currently the US Food and Drug Administration regulations make it illegal for drug companies to market aspects of drugs for which they are not approved. For example, a drug company produces an FDA approved drug, but when the salesmen are making the sales pitch for the drug they advertise it doing more than what the FDA approved for. The situation the FDA is prohibiting is they don’t want to approve a drug for one thing (let’s say muscle relaxant) and then have to company turn around and advertise it for another thing (let’s say curing AIDs).

GlaxoSmithKlein claims that the FDA is infringing on their freedom of speech by not allowing them to market their drugs however they want. If doctors can prescribe drugs for symptoms the drugs aren’t approved for (which currently is legal), why shouldn’t the drug companies be allowed to sell the drugs for “off label uses”? The reason is because that’s the same thing as snake oil sales! Metaphorically a snake oil sales man is a grifter who is selling a harmless product as being a magical product and then gets out-of-town before anyone realises that the drug doesn’t do what they purchased it for (I recommend reading the Wikipedia entry on Snake Oil, it’s quite informative). When town citizens realize that they’ve been grifted they form a lynch mob to get the grifting salesman. Currently we as US citizens get to avoid this scenario because of the FDA regulations.

I for one don’t want to have to worry about the true purposes of drugs sold in the US. I like the idea that the drug makers have to keep to statistically provable effects of their drugs. While I’m not a big fan of big pharmaceutical companies I certainly don’t want to see them turning into snake oil salesmen. Freedom of speech is the principle that we can speak freely about the shortcomings of our government, not that companies should be allowed to make statiscally incorrect statements about their products. Should off label marketing become legal it would result in a class of grifters with too much influence in high places for us citizens to lynch.

Technology competing with bus driver

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the bus drivers which drives the route I take home is talkative. He also tries to be a sports announcer, but instead of plays for the intersections we’re coming up to. I find it annoying.

Yesterday the bus had an “upgrade” which included a screen on the inside of the bus showing the next major intersection, and a voice telling everyone the updates. The voice was loud, but that was it’s only problem. The bus driver asked if it was loud and we – the passengers – said yes. Apparently he couldn’t change the volume of the voice. But I bet I know what he didn’t like most about the voice; it didn’t let him practice not quite entertaining and therefore annoying location update announcements.

I suspect the problem the county is trying to solve is that I’m sure bus drivers have a mandate to speak into the bus PA system to give regular updates, and must bus drivers probably don’t meet their mandates. Quite frankly I don’t care. I don’t think they’re helpful. The only time I’d need to know something like that is when I’m asleep, and when I’m sleeping or dozing on the bus I’m not going to be paying attention to the audible location updates.

Maybe the bus driver will quit and finally get his dream job of sports announcer.