Ideologue Amendments

Vox has a pretty good article on the schisms and breakpoints in American democracy: American Democracy is Doomed.

The article in Vox suggests that the current system is flawed. I’d argue the system is not flawed but the people in it are. Specifically, I target gerrymandering as an origin-point. What’s gerrymandering you say?

Studies have shown that when like-minded groups of people get together (say crammed into a voting district that is majority one-party) they tend to deviate towards the extreme. After all, the only way you can “prove” yourself is to be more extreme than the other guy. Thus, we end up with elected ideologues in government, particularly in Congress.

As a political scientist I found the reading to be a timely topic. I had read The Broken Branch by Mann and Orstein (a pair of polly-sci guys) and found their argument to be favorable. Congress is broken and needs to be fixed by fixing how ideologues get elected.

As a follow-up, This is How American Government Will Die explains that we will end-up with some sort of benevolent/elected dictator in about 50 years if we are unable to change. I can see the allure of a Cincinnatus like-figure taking over in support of the Common Good. I would tend to agree, though, a dictatorship, even an elected one, is one dictator too many.

I think what we need to consider are one of two possibilities:

A. An entire re-write of the Constitution. Most countries  (and states!) re-write their Constitutions every couple years. France has had five and my state of Virginia has had seven since 1776. America is the exception rather than the rule.

B. Add new amendments. We added amendments to counter the power of Big Business (think your Progressive Era amendments: 16, 17, 18, 19). Perhaps we need new amendments to counter the power from ideologues. I’d start with:

28th. An anti-Gerrymandering Amendment to ban it. In doing so, I’d consider having the House of Representatives ignore state boundaries when creating districts. An idea James Wilson originally had the convention.

29th. Federal Elections must be financed publicly using public-monies. Our current mess of electoral finance results in Congresspersons beholden to the wrong kind of special interests. Congresspersons essentially are “tin-pot dictators” who are able to get elected by throwing around enough money and then passing laws based who donated the most rather than the common good.

30th. Make Federal Election voting mandatory. 50% turnout makes governing difficult. By law, Congress could make Voting Day a paid national holiday.

What other amendments would you add?




Penny Stocks Advice: The one thing you need to know.

During the mid-aughts, fresh out of college, young, single and flush with cash I decide to invest in penny stocks. Penny stocks typically trade for, you guessed it, in the pennies for each share. They are very risky, trade Over-the-Counter (that is the name of the stock ‘exchange’ where they trade in, sometimes it is referred to as the ‘Pink Sheets’), and are lightly regulated. The lack of regulation makes them a susceptible for various fraud schemes such as the classic, ‘pump-and-dump’. However, if the right penny-stock begins to increase the margins for profit (on such a small investment) could be in the thousands!

Either way, I had invested about 500 dollars into a penny-stock called LOGO that was seeking to create a gay/lesbian themed TV network. I used to follow the stock and post in penny-stock forums and discuss the pitfalls, buy-points, sell-points of various penny-stocks (including LOGO). Thinking back on it, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of those people were plants, operating an online version of a “boiler-room”.

When I met with my financial adviser she gave me this look of horror and disgust. When I couldn’t explain to her why I bought Penny-Stocks or why I selected LOGO, her and I agreed to sell my penny-stocks and invest in mutual funds (which have since earned more money than my penny-stock).

Now, LOGO TV is actually a channel, though I am not sure whatever became of the penny-stock.

I write this post because Bloomberg Business has a great article that represents a ‘case-study’ on the perils and profits of penny-stocks.

Cynk was a company with 1 employee, no assets, and 0 revenue that became worth 6 billion dollars.

Cynk: The 6 Billion Dollar Penny Stock Debacle

The take-away from my experience with Penny-Stocks (and what one person in the aforementioned article calls them) is that they should be treated as Lottery-Picks. If you like investing and want to invest in penny-stocks than do so but do so with moderation (500 dollars was way too much) and with the understanding that you are properly getting taken for ride and will not win.

Diplomacy: Destroyer of Friends

Diplomacy is a strategy board-game whereas you try to control supply depots, build armies and navies, and attempt to conquer Europe by controlling 18 depots. It takes place in pre-WW1 Europe with the Seven Great Powers: Ottoman Empire, Russia, England, Germany, Austria-Hungary[affectionately called AH], France, and Italy [I won’t give the nickname used to describe Italy as it is not appropriate].

Diplomacy Current Release

Diplomacy Current Release

What makes Diplomacy different is that in order to win you have to work together, collaborate, coordinate and build-trust with other nations in order for you to achieve. Implicitly, of course, is the notion that your “allies” could easily turn on you, stab you in the back, not support you, and all-around sabotage your actions.

This is way diplomacy is often described as a “friend-destroyer” because you play the game with your friends, use your friendship to build-trust, and than stab your friend in the back.

I was introduced to Diplomacy at a very young age. I recall hanging out in the basement of one of my friends playing the game and enjoying the political elements of it such as: strategy and alliance-building. Now that my friends and I have moved to various cities, we have migrated to diplomacy smart-phone apps such as: Droidippy to play the game.

Some links for Diplomacy Lovers:

Boardgame Geek Diplomacy

Diplomacy Boardgame of the Alpha Nerd: A radio story sponsored by Grantland and broadcast on NPR. Takes place during the Diplomacy World Championship.

Allan Calhamer Inventor