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Lachlann mac Lachlainn

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Change the world [Nov. 16th, 2010|11:53 am]
Lachlann mac Lachlainn
I want to change how government works.

I don’t think I am alone on this. We don’t like the bipartisan divide. We don’t like the pork. We don’t like the two-party system where politics gets in the way of making intelligent laws. We elected Obama in part to change how government works, and are disappointed that he didn’t fix the system.

But of course he couldn’t change the system. He isn’t the boss, he can’t dictate policy. He is just one part of our three-part government, and is controlled by checks and balances. And in 2-6 years he will be gone, so Senators and Congressmen hoping to spend their lives in government aren’t as worried about the near term. The problem is that the president doesn’t pick the politicians. We do.

We are the boss. And we incentivize our employees, the politicians, to do things a certain way. We encourage mud slinging, since the mud is usually the bulk of what we know about a candidate. What do you know about Christine O’Donnell? What does she believe in? I firmly rooted against her, but to be honest I know little of her opinions on real issues, other than she was a Tea Party candidate endorsed by Sarah Palin, and made stupid comments about being a Witch. Basically, all mud, no facts.

The news is a horrible place to get our facts about politicians, but we keep doing it. We all know how bad Fox News is. Guess what, our favored news sources are just as biased, just as manipulative, just as scandal driven. They want headlines. We learn about politics through them. Therefore our politicians, the ones we vote on, are voted on based off of headlines. Maybe intelligent headlines. Maybe headlines from news sources we respect, but still headlines. Thus, politicians are incentivized to make good headlines to keep their jobs.

That’s it. Nothing else matters.

The root problem is the job requirements. A politicians job requirements isn’t really to govern, it is to get elected. And to get elected you need to have more positive and less negative headlines than your opponent. There are the headlines you cannot control, like responses to scandal, spin on actual governing you do, and mud slung against you. Then there are the headlines you can control, paid for by you and gotten by getting donations. So keep the party happy and they will help fund your campaign. Keep the people who actually donate money in a noticeable quantity happy and they will help fund your campaign.

What can we do about this? How can we change it?

The only thing I can think of is to change how we elect someone. Change our criteria from the mud to facts. And to me, we want those facts to be primarily about how they govern. The problem is, those facts aren’t there…

Or are they? I can do a web search and find decisions made in the Senate. I can find out who proposed them, who was on the committee that supported it, and who voted for or against it. I can find the actual words of the decision. All the facts are there, public domain, just presented in a way that makes it hard to use that information to influence your voting.

What I want is a web page that opens to what my ballot is going to look like. I want to be able to click on a politician, and see everything they ever voted on. I want to see a summary of what each thing they voted on was, and maybe some way to calculate what issues they are more in favor of and less in favor of. I would also want to see what they have promised, and how their promises match how they voted. And preferably I would want to see how reasonable their promises are, so I can compare someone who has never held an office with an incumbent. Lastly, I want to make my decisions and then print out a crib-sheet of my ballot so I can remember which obscure name I like better when I go to the polls.

This should all be doable.

Put every decision made by the Senate, Congress, and someday state legislature as well in a database. Have educated people summarize those decisions, but show the original for those who want to interpret for themselves. Rate those decisions on “key factors”, to be determined. Maybe let every user put in their own rating so they don’t have to be overly influenced by our “educated people” if they don’t want to. Then have an algorithm that rates politicians based off of the ratings of the decisions they voted for or against. Then work out a way to do something similar for Governors and Presidents, maybe even Treasurers and Sheriffs and the like. Then work out a way to do something similar with campaign promises so you have SOMETHING for those that have never held an office before. Make a fancy webpage, put up advertising or a donation button or something and wallah, information is available.

Of course everyone won’t use this site. You can see that there are opinions put into it, hopefully kept to a minimum, but still, some professional analysis has to be done. But if you can base that analysis off of something that is easily analyzed through math and is important to lots of people, like fiscal responsibility, then the bias is reasonably limited.

Can we get 1% of the population of the US to look at a site that tells them how fiscally responsible politicians are? How about 5%? And once we have 5% of the people polling that some of their opinions are based off of our database, how can any politician completely ignore that?

So we make some simple rules. Any bill or decision with a cost that doesn’t have a well defined way to pay for it is bad. Any bill or decision that directly lowers the national debt is good. Any bill or decision that includes items (pork) that does not directly relate to its title is bad. Get a percentage of voters to poll that they use our tool that rates candidates on these rules. Then you get candidates who start working on looking better according to these rules in order to get elected…

And then the system is changed, isn’t it?

[User Picture]From: last_real_angel
2010-11-16 06:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you for summing up my feelings on politics to the T. I sometimes feel like I am voting for who I think is lying to me the least- that even if they promise something, they don't have to keep them when they go in office.
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[User Picture]From: tpau
2010-11-16 06:34 pm (UTC)
are you volunteering to write the system?
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[User Picture]From: _lackey_
2010-11-16 08:18 pm (UTC)
writing the system is hardly the biggest hurdle...
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[User Picture]From: tpau
2010-11-16 08:21 pm (UTC)
true, but it is surely the first step. if a system exists then the next step is getting others to use it. who knows maybe it will go viral.
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[User Picture]From: spiritseeker
2010-11-16 06:49 pm (UTC)
What I want is a web page that opens to what my ballot is going to look like. I want to be able to click on a politician, and see everything they ever voted on. I want to see a summary of what each thing they voted on was, and maybe some way to calculate what issues they are more in favor of and less in favor of.

That is an awesome idea! Where would you get your startup capital from? Where would you get your operating capital from?
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[User Picture]From: tpau
2010-11-16 08:22 pm (UTC)
i was thinking of this. one has to be very careful with funding or it will be considered favoring one side or another... this is a hard one
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[User Picture]From: _lackey_
2010-11-16 08:26 pm (UTC)
That is the big question.

I don't know how much a database driven web page costs to host. Data entry would be more than your typical application, since the quality of the data is everything, but that can be sweat-equity of some kind.

startup capital would depend on how much all of this costs....

operating capital would depend on what this business would end up doing. Advertising could work, and other political sites have advertising. But if this is seen more as a political movement and less as a business, then maybe donations could work. People donate millions to PACs and the like, maybe a grass-roots effort could get it operational via donation.
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[User Picture]From: spiritseeker
2010-11-16 09:41 pm (UTC)
Hosting would cost from $300 to $10000 a month depending on how much traffic the site needed to support and how much it had to defend itself from attack. A site like this would likely either languish forever or suddenly boom overnight and need to grow the server solution rapidly.

Data entry would be central to success. Programming only slightly less so, if the site were going to be as user friendly as opening your local ballot.

It's easy for advertising to make a site seem dirty and it's hard to raise money by donation. And non-profit grants are hard to secure, especially in lean times like these.

I don't have a good idea about capitalizing this business. I'll keep it in the back of my mind because it's a great idea.
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[User Picture]From: mindways
2010-11-17 12:44 am (UTC)
I'm not sure that starting a new business for this is the easiest way. There are non-partisan sites which fulfill some of the requirements already - eg, http://www.votesmart.org/ - and have already gotten past the chicken-and-egg funding-and-supporters phase. It might be easier to simply push for improved functionality on those sites.

The other challenge is making people aware of the site...
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[User Picture]From: _lackey_
2010-11-17 04:40 pm (UTC)
votesmart does have the facts there.

I think the trouble with it is exactly what Anna was implying up above for funding. It is struggling to be bipartisan so it avoids summarizing anything or advising anyone. The facts are there and it is easier to use it then search yourself, but you still have to dig and read everything.

What I want is a layer on top of it. A layer with intelligent analysis that isn't avoiding intelligent analysis to keep from offending the unintelligent.

I don't need it to be partisan. But I do need it to be able to look at, say, Scott Brown and give me a summary of WHAT he supports by digesting the specifics of each bill. It has highlights, but when I click on Continuing Appropriations, I want something to tell me if those dollar amounts are going up or down, if it is spending more or less, if it is in budget or out of budget... What does it mean?
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[User Picture]From: darthtiggger
2010-11-16 06:56 pm (UTC)
I would love to help if you decide to run with this.
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[User Picture]From: cliodhna
2010-11-16 08:39 pm (UTC)
An excellent plan, and one I agree with.

Funding, as noted, would be an issue... and I would also be interested to see how many politicians would suddenly get very twitchy when being called upon to state and stand by their beliefs and ideals in plain language, especially when said ideals could then be compared to their actual voting record in a simple-to-understand format. Much harder to flip-flop or claim sanctity, at that point...

(Oooh, and can we put in a field to see what corporate interests sponsor and fund them, by percentage? That'd be FASCINATING, too...)
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[User Picture]From: antoniseb
2010-11-18 12:58 am (UTC)
We're not really the boss until we get deep transparency and serious accountability into everything happening in, and touching our government... which I strongly favor us getting.
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[User Picture]From: simoon
2010-11-21 06:14 pm (UTC)
In a somewhat ironic twist, there are government grants that could pay for the development, modification, hosting, evaluation, etc. of such an idea. I am just now looking at a few that could potentially be written in a way to meet the demands of the grant solicitation, as well as meeting the guidelines/ideas that you have suggested; while also providing funding for a few years. One such grant opportunity would allow for a budget of up to $250K per year for three years. Unfortunately, this specific grant application is due on Tuesday, November 23rd, but it will be funded, again, next November, as well. There are, however, other grant opportunities that are similar, or potentially more appropriate, even, than this one I just found.

If you opted to create a 501(c)3, there would be a number of opportunities available. Of course, you might not be the least bit interested in using government funding (i.e., National Science Foundation) to drive this.

The one potential advantage to that type of funding source would be that you may not have to worry about justifying the various political agendas of potential donors. Additionally, since the "project" would have an unbiased evaluation component, that may serve to avoid having the project/site seem too one-sided.

Just a few thoughts, anyway.
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