Saturday, August 6, 2016

Something To Consider: Testing Our Politicians

It’s not likely nor do I expect that the idea of testing our politicians across a number of psychological dimensions or on some mental and personality factors would be undertaken, I do see the great advantage to the nation in doing so. I am not proposing that this testing is any form of “qualification” for being allowed to run for office since there is no legal requirement for such to be elected, nor should there be. I propose that we test politicians only for the information that can be gleaned from the data. Such testing could provide insights into a candidate that may be importance to better understand the individuals that are striving for your vote.

I suspect that people are thinking that I am proposing an Intelligence test, however; I don’t think that an intelligence measure would be an overly meaningful indicator of a politician’s potential effectiveness or competency in office. After all, I suspect that we have had politicians who would have scored high in intelligence that performed just modestly to poorly, and we have had some who would have scored as basically average in intelligence who were excellent leaders. Of course, if a candidate couldn’t score above the level of a highly impaired intelligence rating there ought to be value in knowing that before one votes.

More important than intelligence, which one would hope all candidates would possess at a basic level, are various aspects of a person’s personality, social traits and behavioral attributes. These dimensions could inform a voter’s expectations of qualities that they are expecting in a candidate, or are not concerned that they possess or don’t possess.

Consider whether you would be comfortable in electing a candidate who didn’t have at least a normal level of empathy and compassion for others, or that couldn’t work well with anyone who challenged or disagreed with them. On the other side of the coin would you feel confident in voting for someone who exhibited highly sociopathic tendencies, that was prone to fits of rage and anger when frustrated, or if they had issues in distinguishing delusions from reality? The decision to vote for someone based on this information doesn’t tell you which way you should vote. You would still be making that decision based on all the issues and interests that are important to you. This additional information would just be more information that you can include in that decision. You may prefer a person who possess a higher degree of sociopathic tendencies than average; perhaps based on the view that such personality types do show up in successful individuals in organizations (not that all successful individuals must be sociopaths).

What about basic mental functions that indicates how normally a candidate’s brain is functioning? Shouldn’t you know if someone has a normal memory, is able to perform basic reasoning tasks, can comprehend information presented, or is able to make a decision without complete information and provide a reasoned explanation of how they arrived at their decision?

In obtaining this type of data about politicians, the public may gain a better understanding of what qualities and attributes have been associated with politicians that they have favored in the past. This data may also provide a means to better understanding aspects of our government. Are the officials in office typical of the general population, or do they differ in any unique ways? This information could also be useful and educational to politicians themselves by revealing facets of their make-up that may be contributing to the overall success or failure of government. Voters might learn that there is a connection between the people they have elected, the qualities that the politicians possess, and the results that they see. It may be that there is a “cause and effect” relationship between those you elect and what happens next.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Wrong Direction – What Is The Compass Again?

Americans have decided that they are not satisfied with how things are going, that the nation is going in the wrong direction. There are lots of reasons that are given: race relations, government, economy, jobs, crime/violence, immigration, National security, terrorism, guns, and maybe even taxes or healthcare. The order or priority of these reasons changes from time to time based on events in the news. So race relations spiked up with the police shootings of blacks, and the economy gives up a little ground as being the first place reason. But regardless of the ordering of reasons that people give the country is unsatisfied with the way things are going and are at only 17% satisfied.

Both Republican, Democratic and all the others Americans are unhappy. Being one of them, I can emphasize with the sentiment because I am not satisfied with the direction of the nation also. However, I haven’t been satisfied with the direction of the nation for decades, particularly with the political parties, the politicians, and many other facets of our society. So the current dissatisfaction level is not new to me, and it’s not new to the nation; we have been here before.  What then does it mean today and what rationale and logic would explain how we got here?

Race relations as an issue of concern and dissatisfaction has risen to a more salient and visible issue, so with the implied need to change the direction that the nation is going in, what would make the public happy? Change is required because: one, there can’t be change without something being different; two, the politicians are offering to make things better (which implies change); and three, there is something that the public thinks is wrong with how they see race relations affecting them. It’s this last one that is problematic. Why? Because I don’t for one second believe that everyone who is unhappy is unhappy for the same reasons, nor that the change that one politician would propose would suit everyone in the same way. If race relations were relatively stable over the last 20 years and have dropped of late then what restores the ‘status quo’ to where it was before and will that be sufficient? Recent events would suggest that there is not one-side to this and thus will require an approach that addresses underlying conditions. If those conditions can’t be agreed to then a solution is unlikely and thus the ‘change isn’t gonna come’.

On par with race is the government and the economy. Let’s take government first.
The dissatisfaction with the government has been a long-standing issue. There are those who are unsatisfied with government because it’s too big and some who thinks it too small. Government is rebuked because it’s too expensive and wasteful, and because it spends too little on critical national needs. Government is viewed as intrusive and abusive of citizens’ rights and lives, and it isn’t providing the necessary security and safety-net that citizens expect and deserve from their government. Yes, you’ve got it, the government is everyone’s “bad” guy. Of course this leads to a logical inconsistency; as they say, “You can have your cake and eat it to.”  But if government is bad and no one likes it, then who’s to blame? There is no element of the government that isn’t and wasn’t based on what the politicians that the “PUBLIC” elected caused to be the government. You can’t blame it only on the Republican or the Democratic party because both exist and have existed for decades (now you know why I am not satisfied with the direction of the nation) so the elected officials have collectively created the situation and conditions that the American people don’t find satisfying. Is this the “Establishment” concept that a large number of Americans are angry about and hate? These citizens are unhappy with the people who were elected in their states and for the presidency because they are politicians that don’t represent the people and don’t work for the people. 

Wait! They are angry with politician who were elected by the people who don’t want establishment types. Why then are they electing them over and over? You can’t have an establishment or an elite if you don’t elect them. It would seem that we have identified who some of the principle culprits are to blame for the government that we don’t like. That it’s the voters is an inconvenient thing to acknowledge so it probably won’t be viewed as how we expect and want our system of government to operate; we elect the government and we are responsible for what that gets us.

Now if you ask me do I think the government is well managed and effective; I will tell you, “No, I think that Congress and the Administration has failed significantly in how they have performed for decades.” But even here, there have been the occasional ‘blind squirrel finding a nut’ event so that not even our politicians have been 100% useless. This still doesn’t speak well for the voters who are so unhappy with things. If things are bad, then accept the responsibility and seek your elected officials on different terms than you have been using for decades.

The Economy is the more easily understood factor that Americans are unsatisfied about; but even here the reasoning and logic that is exhibited around the economy is disturbing. If the issue that is a more quantifiable area of America’s dissatisfaction than most, I wonder why it would be the case that we are more concerned and dissatisfied with the economy today than in the past without a reference to when in the past. Since the “great recession” in 2007-2009, the US economy has been improving which means that if the public is more dissatisfied today compared to when and why?  Would America be more satisfied if the economy were still in the shape it was in in 2008? 2010? 2012? 2014?

Now is the direction the economy is going in the wrong direction, or is it that we would prefer the economy to be farther along? So the direction is really the rate of change to a better and stronger economy?

I suspect that the issue of the economy being on the wrong track is more related to issues: jobs, trade agreements, financial stability, income inequality, and many other items. If this is correct, then the path forward needs to be solved around concrete issues and policies that can be acted upon. 

Unfortunately, here we are dependent upon the quality and talents of the elected officials that we vote into office. Again if we are dissatisfied with the results then we need to looks to those who we elected and put in charge. This is particularly a responsibility of Congress, since the President has less power to impact the economy than Congress. That Congress has been a spectacular failure in recognizing that they are the mechanism through which the government affects the economy comes as less of a surprise when one considers how willing the voters are to return members of Congress to their positions over and over.

If you don’t trust your politicians to do the job you want, then why are you voting for them? Isn’t that the “Wrong Direction” problem that we have in America? 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

“It’s Going to Be Rigged!” - An Interesting Perspective of America

The 2016 Election season is providing a remarkable window into the current American political environment. The view is particularly interesting in that it shines light onto the souls of the political parties. And what the public has seen isn’t necessarily a good thing for the parties, since as they say in politics: “There are two things you don’t want to see being made, sausage and legislation.”

There were accusations that the leaders of each party were trying to ‘rig’ the process. And there were efforts within each party that would support that there were those in the Parties’ committees that were operating along biased lines with preferences for or against one of the candidates. So surprisingly the public was reminded of something that it already knew but seem unable to integrate into their reasoning; that is, the public doesn’t trust politicians. But the fact that party leaders and functionaries were attempting to guide the primary processes doesn’t examine the most important aspects of those primaries and of the upcoming general election which is now being touted as “going to be rigged”.

Starting with the primaries, the ‘rigging’ claimed is closely associated with the parallel charge that the primaries were ‘unfair’. So the question is what was ‘rigged’ and ‘unfair’, and how did this rigging and unfairness get executed? The ‘rigging’ seems to vary by state, where each state’s Party committee define and control their primary processes. So some of the ‘rigging’ isn’t necessarily at a universal or national level but more local. Other efforts were directed at identifying weaknesses and vulnerabilities that could be used against one candidate.  So not only can’t the public trust politicians and the parties, but the politicians can’t trust the politicians and their own party.

This would all seem to be what Americans would expect of nations that are lead by an authoritarian, fascist, sectarian, oligarchy, or dictatorship style of government; however, Americans like to think that our nation is still a democratic system. So while citizens might find the parties’ interference as distasteful and unethical, does it allow them to actually ‘rig’ the primaries or the election?

In every state their respective primaries allowed the voters to choose their candidate. These voters were able to decide and choose which candidate that they wanted to support. Candidates won or lost a primary based on those votes. To ‘rig’ that process the only avenue that a party had was to convince the voter to choose their biased view over that of the voters’ own judgment. If the party voters think the process was ‘rigged’ then the voters were the individuals who ‘rigged’ the vote. The desires and intentions of the parties can try to persuade the voters to go with their preference, but the voters get to decide for themselves because that is not just Americans expect that is what they demand. In what primary were the voters denied their right to cast their vote for their choice?

There is another facet of the parties rigging their primaries, and of some nebulous entity or group that is ‘rigging’ the general election that requires some inspection. The leaders in each party were also elected by the voters, so the people who are claiming that the party is ‘rigging’ the process are people who the voters trusted and wanted representing them, and elected to office. If the system or the process is being ‘rigged’ it is being done by the people that the voters believed in. This is highly illogical, particularly since voters tend to reelect over and over the same individual. The voters have ‘rigged’ the system, as they choose both the candidates and the winning elected official. The states’ efforts to ensure that those who vote are legitimate and eligible voters would seem to make ‘rigging’ the election not just irrational but guaranteed to fail. The number of people that would be required to be involved would make ‘rigging’ the election impossible to execute and retain hidden; plus anyone competent person involved would be able to make the themselves enormously wealthy by blackmailing those involved.

The threat to the elections “being rigged” unsound, irrational, and unreasoned. The threat to the election is whether the voters are adequately informed and knowledgeable about the issues and problems facing the nation; and whether they understand the proposed policies and plans being contested, and the implications and the cost-benefits of those policies and plans. While there are a sizeable portion of the voter population that will make an emotional decision, America has to rely upon the judgment of those voters who will use intelligence, experience and vision to determine the winners of the next election. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

The “TRUST” Issue – A 2016 Election Dilemma

There is a perception of the Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates that neither is particularly trustworthy. This lack of trust is seen and spoken of as a major issue in the election, but since both are more or less equally distrusted one might ask if that renders the ‘Trust’ issue as irrelevant. The ‘Trust’-factor would be unimportant if it had the same and an equal effect on both contenders but that isn’t clearly the case. The polls may indicate that the distrust level may be nearly equivalent but the defining reason for distrust judgments are not specified in the poll and thus are objectively unknown. So what makes these candidates so untrusted compared to what the public expects?

Hold on! Who said that they are less trusted by the public than they ought to be? How trusted should a candidate for President be? I suppose one could look at past elections, if trust was polled. One might assume that on average half the voters would trust the ‘average’ candidate and half would not. On that basis Clinton and Trump are failing to meet the mark but perhaps not by an unreasonable degree as normal variations in such situations would rationally occur.

There is polling data on the ‘honesty and ethical standards’ that various professions have with the public. Firefighters, nurses, members of the military, and engineers are among the most highly trusted (ranging from 90% to 70% as high or highly trusted*). While on the other end of the ‘Trust’-spectrum; professions we don’t trust have Members of Congress with the highest levels of distrust** 64% (low or very-low trust ratings). Senators come in at 45% distrust levels, business executives at 32% and state governors at 31% untrusted. So on this comparative-basis, the presidential candidates are doing better than Members of Congress and only slightly less well than other occupations on the more untrusted than trusted side. So on the whole, our 2016 candidates are more or less consistent with where we would have expected them to be even absent their decision to run for president; that is, the majority of the public would not be predisposed to trust them.

Now this raises the question: “If most people didn’t trust them to start with, why would it matter that we don’t trust them now?”  If members of Congress and the Senate get elected over and over, and we don’t trust them; what is so extraordinary that most people don’t trust either candidate this time? Now there is an implication to the general distrust of our politicians that seems extremely important but I am going to leave that for a latter topic.

When we ‘Trust’ or don’t ‘Trust’ a candidate, what precisely does that mean? I am sure that I know what I mean, and that you know what you mean, and that we think we know what everyone else means but I of course know that that isn’t and can’t be true. Trust me.

If ‘Trust’-worthiness is important in how you decide to choose your candidate, or if not ‘your’ candidate at least who you pull the lever for, then having an understanding of what we mean when we say we ‘Trust’ or don’t ‘Trust’ is a reasonable expectation. I would say it’s a ‘necessary condition’ but that would presume that all voters make their choices based on an informed, reasoned, logical, and competent basis. That isn’t true, ‘Trust’ me, there are a significant number of voters who make their decisions on an emotional-basis. But back to the question of what do we mean to ‘Trust’ someone (or a candidate, if you have a lower standard for them then you have for others)? Objectively ‘Trust’ means to believe in the “integrity, ability, or character of a person”, to “have confidence or reliance” in them.  It means to have faith in and to depend upon someone to act according to your expectations regarding how they will act or perform. You may think that ‘Trust’ means something else completely but then how much a candidate is “Trusted” nor not would not make for a meaningful point of discussion.

It’s possible I suppose that the importance of “Trust” or lack-thereof in the 2016 elections is both an unreliable and very poor factor in making a voting decision without the ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ that you have imbued into you candidate being based on sound and reasoned knowledge. This raises the question of what does your judgment of ‘Trust’ indicate that a candidate will do? It would also require that what they will do is something that is desirable; after all, you can ‘trust’ a thief to steal from you but I doubt that that is what you want or that it would be in your best interest.

From my perspective, ‘Trust’ in the political arena may not be practical, meaningful, or desirable. The desire to be able to ‘Trust’ a candidate or eventually the elected individual may seem to be what you would want, but only if you knew what you expected to be done and accomplished by that individual. That would mean that you had to be competently informed about their plans, policies and the requirements that those plans and policies necessitated. If our political process actually dealt with issues and policies and plans that are being contested then we might be a basis for ‘Trust’, but if there is no competent and rigorous discussion and analysis of the “contest of ideas” then this election may be little more than another exercise in paying your preferred dealer for your addictive ‘political drug of choice’.

Note: * Based on poll data from Gallup.
            ** Distrust is being inferred from receiving Low or Very-Low trust rating.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Answer The Question: A New Political Debate Format

The 2016 Election looks to be even less a ‘contest of ideas’ than a ‘marketplace of fear’. While there are three debates scheduled (but not guaranteed) between the Presidential candidates we may see an embarrassing illustration of current American politics, even if they simply continue the disappointing experiences of the last several presidential elections. Under the prevailing methods and conditions these debates will likely be ineffective in providing any meaningful examination of national issues or policy; but under these conditions we can expect that they will likely manage to achieve a new low in modern American politics.

One of the causal factors that produces this sorry state and outlook is that current political debates are controlled and managed by the political parties to prevent the public from any substantive view of their respective candidates. This has allowed the parties to twist and contort the objectives of the debates to be opportunities for ‘yet another’ series of campaign sound-bite. This may be a disservice to the voters but that is not a concern of the parties.

To restore the intended purpose and value of American political debates or to actually improve the value of political debates there is a way for a candidate, party, news-media entity, or even other public/private organizations to uses a modern, innovative debate format that political parties can’t control except for the information that they provide which often is the very thing that they were trying to avoid. Today’s technology allows not just the politicians and parties to direct and control their messages but allows others to impose a political and public accountability to those seeking the voters’ decision to elect them.

The new debate format is designed to be unconstrained in time (when it occurs), space (how much support information can be provided beyond the basic answer’s statement), number (no fixed agreement by the parties is required), topics (subjects are not approved by candidates), or required coordination of schedules. In essence the new format allows for a topic to be examined and compared between candidates so that the public can get an answer to the questions asked and not an answer to a topic that the candidate wanted the question to be about. Additionally, this format provides for a simple and direct method for knowledgeable ‘experts’ to provide assessments on the content of an answer, including any political orientation that the subject-matter experts might have.

Since a scheduled debate isn’t required a candidate or party can’t say that their schedule and commitments don’t allow them to engage on the topics, because their ability to respond is under their own control; and if they can’t manage to provide a response, what does that indicate about their campaign’s/candidate’s understanding of an issue and competency in addressing it?

The debate format is a web-based methodology that presents issues, questions, answers, comparisons, assessments, and follow-ups and rebuttals. Each of these elements of the new methodology is asynchronous. An issue is identified and posted on the sponsoring web-site. Initial questions on the issue are sent to the campaigns and posted on the web-site with a “Responses Due By:” date. On the “Due By” date the answers are posted.

The responses can be evaluated by selected groups of individuals who have a designated “subject matter expertise” (SME) relevant to the topic under debate. This group would prepare any follow-up questions that were deemed appropriate to get a better understanding of the meaning, position and policy indicated in the response. The follow-up questions would be posted and sent to the campaigns to be answered by another Due By date. The campaigns would be informed that they can provide any rebuttal statements to their opponent’s answers that they would like to have incorporated into their answers on the issue.

The SMEs would incorporate the follow-up responses in their evaluations, including any rebuttal information, and provide their analysis and summary of the response on the issue. The assessments and summaries would be posted on the web-site’s pages for this issue.

This process can be repeated for each issue that is to be raised. This allows the debate to occur over weeks rather than constrained to just a few hours that can’t cover more than just a few issues.

Moving political debates on relevant national issues to the internet puts the information that a candidate or party is offering as their rationale for voters to choose their visions enables the voters to acquire answers to questions that are important to them. It also provides a channel where voters may see information about issues that they hadn’t paid much attention to heretofore. “An informed public” may not be just a necessary condition for a democracy but could actually become an attainable goal.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Making Things The Way They Were. A Physics Problem

The Brexit decision is being showcased as a premonition of the American election, and there is no doubt that there are factors and variables that come into play in both. But sharing some or all of the variables doesn’t mean that they are the same, or even close, with respect to how those factors create the end-resulting conditions of ‘reality’. In fact, in order for anyone to posit that the degree to which these factors and outcomes are the same would imply that the values of the variables are essentially the same.  This assumes that the two ‘equations’ comprising these factors are the same, or the expectation of a common outcome is even more ludicrous.  If there were just two or three factors of significance, then attempting to quantify and compare them and the resulting ‘reality’ would be a reasonable assessment of how similar are the two results? Even if there are dozens or hundreds of variables but only two or three that dominate the equation then the other factors don’t matter much anyway. So whether the Brexit situation and America’s 2016 political election are equivalent would depend upon an understanding of the factors that they share, the factors that they don’t share, and the overall culmination of what results from them.

Perhaps it would be worthwhile to enumerate some of the factors that we hear are what Brexit and the American election share. The news and media (I do not equate the two as the same) have been presenting a couple of ‘reasons’, which I will re-term ‘factors’, that were substantive to the British voters in their decisions. The short-list would include:

Sovereignty:      The UK voters want to run their own nation without the influence and constraints of the other EU nations, and particularly the EU bureaucracy. The commonality of this sentiment with an American counterpart is at best crude or requires a significant bit of contortions. But hey, let’s see how far one might be able to ‘stretch’ rationality.  Perhaps this is akin to the “states versus federal” authority issue, or the “local” versus “a DC government department”, or it may just be the “Us versus Them” mentality that pervades our political parties or those seeking an ‘easy’ answer to all their problems. I think that there is an emotional context that applies between the UK and the US along these lines, but an emotional appeal isn’t an actual connection or comparable situation that would relate to the having the same origins, the same impacts, or producing or being addressed by some common approach to government or social environment. One big difference between the US and the UK is that the US is and has been a sovereign nation since its inception.  So regaining a ‘sovereign’ government and social approach is somewhat of a contradiction with the situation that Britain’s voters were seeking via exiting the EU. So the emotions may be more a shared factor but the logic and reality would be quite questionable. This means that it will be a factor in the US election but hopefully there is more than just the ‘feel-good’ act without any substantive purpose; because there are cause and effect consequences to an act regardless of whether you understood what they would be or not.

 “The Economy”: British voters were also motived by a slumping, stagnant and unequal economy. Yes, just like in the US (and in most/all other nations) the recovery from the last economic crisis that toppled the unstable and irrational financial monstrosities that we, them, and everyone else created and participated in; the UK voters were unhappy, unsatisfied and mostly angry about the economic reality that they are experiencing now and for several years. The economy in the US has been slow in recovering. The economy in the UK, and in the EU, and in the rest of the world has also been experiencing slow, no, or other degrees of recovery/non-recovery; but while they share some causal factors (like the financial mortgage-debt crisis), there are numerous other factors that they do not. The EU countries did not and do not operate in as cohesive a manner as their counterparts in the US do. [You have to accept for argument sake that our states are the counterparts to the EU nations, or it’s really hard to equate some of the economic factors involved in the UK/UE environment to the US’s economic environment.]

The UK voters it would appear think that they would be better off if they were not part of the EU because of either advantages in being ‘independently’ able to manage their economic relationships both internally and externally, or in not being subject to the actions and consequences of the other EU nations. Equating this to where the US is today would seem to be more of the UK wants to become like the US which has its own independent control over it economic decisions. So it would seem hard to argue that what UK voters want isn’t the same thing that US voters are seeking even though both are unhappy with the current economic climates in their respective countries.

It’s possible I suppose that there are more factors involved in any (or all) nation’s economic reality; but how likely is it that factors like Trade, Resources, Technology, Competition, Education, Infrastructure, Investment, or Taxes have any relationship to a country’s, a union’s, or the world’s economy? Oh, yeah! An economy is influenced by more than the style of government a nation follows, or even the ‘who’ provides the leadership of a government. So the Brexit decision and the US’s upcoming election not only won’t be, but can’t, address or resolve via as simple-minded an approach as the economy can be solely dealt with by who runs the government (sovereign, union, or pick-your-favorite-descriptor).

The economy may be voted on like the Brexit case, but are we sure that that was based on reason or on emotion? And regardless of what prompts the vote, the situational realities are not the same.

Jobs and Trade: Brexit is supposedly going to improve the job situation and the trade situation in the UK. Well, that’s a position that was argued by one side, but many people on the other side argued exactly the opposite. Which one was right? Well, both and neither. Leaving the EU will change things, so some will be good, and some will be bad, and some won’t change much at all; but what the end-result is only time, leadership, investment, trade, competition, technology, and you-know a few other things will tell.

There should also be a consideration, a recognition actually, that the concept of ‘returning’ jobs is premised that ‘restoring’ the jobs of before (of the past) is practical, reasoned and even desirable. The objective is a ‘nice to want’ concept and would appear to solve a part of a nation’s jobs problem; but the objective isn’t the same thing as a proof, nor is it necessarily beneficial. The jobs issue isn’t whether the US or the UK gets its old jobs back but whether it can create new, good and productive jobs that enable a superior and competitive economy. If your leaders focus on the wrong approaches and policies, then you are not likely to reach the desired goals; it’s sort of a ‘cause - effect’ thing.

Immigration: The Brits were motivated by immigration issues and concerns. Some of these related to jobs, to security, to social change, and to other diverse factors that evoked a Brexit-solution. Just as there are issues that share a name and a conceptual arena, there is little comparison between the UK’s and the US’s immigration realities. So this would call the equivalence of the two realities into question, except perhaps with respect to the level of fear evoked, or the anger, or name your emotional state.

Maybe one of the sub-issues around immigration is a key factor in both, that is meaningfully the same.
Borders: The “Protecting ‘Our’ Borders” theme differs not some much in sentiments as in realities. The UK’s borders are currently defined and operated within the context of the EU’s policies that allow (even promote) the ability to move between EU nations more or less unimpeded outside of the security processes that apply across the EU. The US’s borders are managed under US policies and processes, which is what Brexit would bring about in the UK (more or less). So the US’s view isn’t to have the control but to apply a different level and nature of control. Brexit voters want to stop ‘outside’ immigration that threatens jobs, security (see next), culture, or ???. The notion of being invaded by a huge number of illegal aliens doesn’t appear to be the motivating factor that the influx of people from Central and South America into the US is and has been for 30-plus years (or longer). The impetuous for immigration to the UK would include economic and social reasons that are also applicable to the US’s but the situations and origins of US’s illegal immigration problem not identical.  The solutions for each are certainly not the same either in terms of methods, costs, consequences and even goals.

Security: Are UK security concerns and US security concerns fundamentally the same. The goal is of course. In terms of issues/problems related to immigration, the UK and the US face different realities in many ways. The answer can thus have the goal of Security, but that is the goal it isn’t the policies or processes that will achieve the goal. Will Brexit improve the UK’s security? We can be certain that it either will or it won’t, but that outcome is not a forgone fact it is a to be determined result with all its corresponding consequences to the how it works and works out. In the US, the same laws of physics cause and effect will operate. What we do will begin the process that turns into effects that follow, but if you think you have an answer without a well-defined plan and approach is just more “wishful thinking” (which isn’t actual ‘thinking’ in the realm of reality).

Culture:  I don’t know how much a factor the “culture of the UK” was in their Brexit voting, but I am sure that it played some role for some voters. Anyone who thinks that the UK’s culture and the US’s culture are equivalent in voting for Brexit to the US’s election voting will have make the case that they are the same; unless it’s nothing more than a ‘Keep the UK for Britons’ equivalent to ‘Keep America for Americans’ another meaningless slogan that supports other objectives.

Government Leadership: “The Elites” versus “The Non-Elites”
Now here is an issue that seems to resonate in a significant group within both the UK’s and US’s populations. I emphasize with the public’s dissatisfaction, disgust, and frustration with the politicians. However once again not clear that the situations are the same for the UK and the US. It is true that the political leaders in both nations are elected by the public. They are elected from the different parties that put forth candidates in their elections. There are many more than the two dominant US parties in the UK; but those who win are elected by their voters. Now one might argue that if your government (US or UK or ??) is run by an elite-class of politicians that you choose them. If these elite politicians aren’t looking out for you, then why did you elect them exactly? If you didn’t or don’t like them, then why do you keep electing them over and over? Perhaps they weren’t ‘elite’ when you elected them, but become corrupted into an ‘elite’ once they got into power. If this is true, why would the next set of politicians that you elect not be subject to the same ‘elite’ corruption?

Wait! Is it that the ‘establishment’ politicians are ‘elite’ in regards to some other criteria? Are they folks who see themselves as ‘smart’ and represent a class of people who think they are better than everyone else, and deserve to govern? But why did you elect them?  Now personally, I take argument with many people (perhaps the vast majority) that think politicians are ‘smart’ or ‘elite’. If anything, I think that it is much more likely that we (and the British) have lowered our expectations, or requirements and our desires for individuals who might be considered some of the ‘best and brightest’ to serve as our representatives.  I sometimes contemplate whether I think the US was served better by individuals elected that were ‘just your average’ person or who were ‘a cut above’ the norm. I don’t see our American Founding Fathers as simple, average men that were just good folk like everyone else. I would contend that the issue isn’t whether a politician is a member of the ‘elite’/’establishment’/party or not but whether they present sound, reasoned, and productive policies that have some basis in achieving benefits for the nation and people.

A Physics Problem: Looking at the Brexit decision and viewing upcoming American election, there is a lesson to be learned from looking at these events as a physics problem. There is a problem and you are seeking a solution, an answer to your needs. To successfully solve the problem, you can’t choose what you want the answer to be unless all you want and expect is to express your opinion. If you actually want the world, the reality, to change into what you want then you need to do much more. You need to understand the problem, and this is not easy but it is unavoidable. You need to define what you want to happen and how that will end in some physical conditions and circumstances that achieve your goals. Oh yes, and you need to define your goals. I don’t mean just say: “I want” this or that to be, but to explain how the goal can be determined to have been reached.  You have to deal with all the things that exist where we are now, where we are to go, how we are going to get there, and when do we know that we are on track to reaching those goals. This is not the work of emotions. You don’t get there just because you are angry or afraid.

Now for the part of the physics lesson that you won’t like at all. You cannot go back to when things were the way you want them to be. You can’t go back there because you don’t or can’t control all the variables that would be required. You can’t go back there because you won’t accept the cost to do it, if you could even find a way. And here’s the killer, you can’t go back to then because it never was the way you ‘want’ it to be again.

So learn to deal with the laws of physic, cause and effect, and nothing stays the same. The key to our success as a nation (or any nation’s) is to do what Americans have done before, seek to do it better than we have done so far or that anyone else has done to date.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Guns: Rights, Risks, Controls, Consequences

Guns are a major topic and source of controversy in America. Whether the intensity and extremes of the controversy has been amplified by or even created by the Political Parties is simply one more facet of the issues around guns. Guns are one of the most polarizing issues, if not the most, that even creates some groups that are essentially one-issue voters who are positionally align with the left or the right (and maybe some other location on the spectrum), that provide a political funding source, and that are a reliable media topic whenever there is a gun-related incident like the Orlando, FL nightclub; the San Bernardino, CA government office; the Sandy Hook, CN elementary school; the Virginia Tech, VA campus; and the many other locations/incidents of mass shootings. After each event there is an outcry for Congress and the state legislatures to take some action, but little to nothing results from these demands since the political sides are entrenched and resolved to hold fast to their singular view. There is no discussion, there is just politicians stating why they are right and the other side is wrong.

For such a highly charged and evocative social issue, it also seems to be a remarkably under-discussed and an almost unexamined topic between the two Parties, and I would predict it will not be a “well debated” issue between the two ‘presumptive’ Presidential candidates. Given how much attention and time is spent by politicians, the political Parties, the media, the NRA, numerous other pro-/anti-/control of gun groups, and the public at large this would seem an impossible self-contradiction. But while there is a great deal of time consumed on the issue there is little to no actual reasoned or rational discussion and particularly no debating of the issue.

Perhaps one contributing factor for the gun issue being a highly divisive and politically unresolvable issue is that the issue is not often, if ever, even clearly defined with regards to what the underlying differences and disagreements are. Just because guns are seen as a political or social issue doesn’t mean that politicians, Parties or advocacy groups have looked at the issue(s) from a rational perspective; in fact, it seems that this issue is more driven by emotional factors than logical and cognitive views. If one were a scientist, engineer, technologist, mathematician, system analyst, or anyone engaged in solving a problem (issue) in their business or job then understanding the dimensions of a problem and determining the facts relevant to the problem would be fundamental to trying to assess and resolve the problem. This is not how the gun issue is or has been dealt with. The ‘solution’ is almost universally known a priori, but the ‘known solution’ is dependent upon your established position not by asking what addresses the requirements of the problem.

So let’s try and look at the ‘guns’ issue, but let’s do it as if it were a problem that you were seeking a sound, reasoned, and intelligent solution to and not simply seeking a solution that fits your pre-determined answer. As we start, we should acknowledge that this is a task that politicians and political Parties are not competent in performing or, if they are, they have spectacularly failed to do or attempt to do so. Given this basic lacking of any problem-solving skill-set, it is strange that the public looks to their Parties and politicians to solve this and any of their other problems.

The first step is to define the ‘gun’ problem, as it is hoped that understanding the problem might be useful in finding a solution to the problem. Many of you might relate to this in terms of answering the question: “What’s your first move?” in that it likely causes you to ask or wonder “What game are we playing?” So what is the ‘gun’ problem?

On the pro-gun side, the following seem to be the essential areas of concern or requirements to a solution.

  •      Goal: Protect citizen’s right to own a gun.  The ownership right supports the ability of a citizen to protect themselves and their families which is a justification for the need to own a gun.
  •       Requirement: The right to own a gun(s) is guaranteed under the Second Amendment, and is not to be ‘infringed’ upon by the government passing laws to that affect.
  •          Concern: Any gun control law or regulation is an attempt to prevent individuals from obtaining a gun and thus violate their right.
  •          Concern: The collection of information about gun ownership is an attempt by the government to be able to seize private citizens’ guns, which if it occurred thus violating their right.
  •          Concern: Efforts to control guns are misguided and counter-productive. Preventing citizens from obtaining or carrying guns places law-abiding citizens at risk from criminals who will not adhere to any gun regulation or law.
  •          Sub-issues: Open carry and concealed carry restrictions are an illegal infringement upon citizens’ rights.

On an anti-gun side, the following seem to be the essential areas of concern or requirements to a solution.

  •          Goal: Reduce the threat to the public presented from unrestricted access to guns.
  •          Requirement: There is generally a broader range of views on the anti-gun side regarding ownership. The anit-gun goal is varied and extends from reducing the types of guns that can be owned, to restricting where guns can be owned, or to even a complete prohibition on guns. Different solutions would thus vary on the degree to which they accommodate a particular spectrum of an anti-gun proponent.
  •          Sub-issue: Ban of hand-guns. This goal is focused specifically on hand-guns, which are seen as the weapon used in the vast majority of shootings. This is a variant of the ‘type of’ anti-gun group.
  •          Sub-issue: Ban on assault-weapons. This goal is focused specifically on guns that are fundamentally designed to shoot a large number of rounds. The semi-automatic / automatic types of guns and of magazines are all facets of this issue.
  •          Sub-issue: Locations / jurisdictions that ban guns. This goal is focused on banning guns from specified areas or jurisdictions. This goal would have to reflect either a public policy decision related directly to the residents of a ‘banned’ area, or would have to be based on some defined criteria that an area met which was legislatively identified as the justifying rationale.
  •          Sub-issue:  Open-carry and/or concealed-carry restrictions are essentially the counter-position of those opposed to the proponents of open-carry or concealed-carry.
  •         Sub-issue: Prohibition on purchasing a gun if purchaser is on a ‘restriction’ list. [Restriction category will need to be defined:  Terror watch list, no-fly, FBI active investigation list, …  .]

Not surprisingly, the pro-gun and anti-gun advocates position themselves as have been basically at non-negotiable odds with each other; since any restriction is seen as a violation of ownership rights and conversely no restriction/ban is seen as a disregard for public safety and national security.

Now if you thought the anti-gun side was the only other side, you’re just thinking in a binary world view. There is no ‘law of physics’ requirement that there are only two philosophical positions on guns. There are in fact many distinct positions that vary from each other. The pro-gun position was presented as an aggregate of positions that hold what are considered the ‘major’ themes; however, there are pro-gun proponents that support some elements of legal restrictions applied to gun ownership. The anti-gun side is its own aggregate view that isn’t a one-size fits all position, and there is another perspective that is focused on gun-violence control versus an anti-gun philosophy that is a distinct perspective that isn’t required to be aligned with or in opposition to the other two common orientations.

The gun-violence control side is focused on a dimension of guns that is quite different from the pro- or anti- gun positions. There is no absolute requirement from this group’s goals that would deny citizens their 2nd Amendment right to own a gun. Thus resolving the gun issue from this perspective doesn’t require or result in a conflict over ownership rights versus public safety and national security.

On a gun-violence control side, the following seem to be the essential areas of concern or requirements to a solution.
  • Goal: Reduce the incidents and number of deaths that are gun-related.
  • Requirement: Accept and protect gun ownership rights in concert with providing adequate, effective and efficient mechanisms and processes to reduce gun deaths and other gun-related criminal activities.
  • Sub-issue: Require back-ground checks for all gun purchases.
  • Sub-issue: Waiting period for:  any gun, or hand gun, or a designated type of weapon.
  • Sub-issue: Establish gun registry requirement.
  • Sub-issue: Eliminate restrictions on law enforcement entities from sharing gun data/information.

Taking these three sides and the differing objectives, the problem might reasonable be summarized as:
  1.           Gun ownership rights must be accommodated and protected.
  2.           Limits on guns must be allowed.
  3.        Reductions in gun deaths, crimes and security risks must be accounted for in any policy.

Solutions that can address these objectives are evidently perceived as non-existent since the ‘gun issue’ persists and persists without any evident or notable progress toward a resolution. A major obstacle is a perception that the gun ownership right is threatened by any law about guns other than ones that make access easier; however, this is not an historically accurate perception. It’s not that there aren’t adequate legal means to both preserve and protect the 2nd Amendment right, and there are solutions that can overcome one of the deep-seated fears by some that the government will attempt to seize private individual’s guns under some nefarious attempt to overturn our democratic government.  So one question is how much of the resistance to laws directed at meeting other goals for guns would diminish or disappear, if the ‘right to own’ were further protected by legislation that defines the penalties that are required by law if Congress and/or the Administration were to attempt to undertake any seizure of guns not authorized jointly by a federal and state court or related to an imminent threat* of the owner to the public (* - a power that exists under current law and doesn’t violate the ownership right). The legislative language would be diligently reviewed by the pro-gun advocacy groups like the NRA so that gun rights are adequately insured.

By providing well-defined and clearly acknowledged ownership right ‘protection’ requirements, the fear of “The Government” taking everyone’s guns is rendered illegal. While there will be some who will insist that “The Government” could still attempt to seize all private weapons, the action itself would require that the US military would support it. For the military to do that would mean that our sons and daughters that serve in the armed forces would permit and participate in violating not just the 2nd Amendment right but our basic American values.

If the ownership right aspect of the gun issue can be reasonable accommodated and protected, then some of the other concerns and issues can be examined as separate and solvable pieces of the problem.

The issue of ‘banning’ can be explored. Today there are already weapons that are banned, so this is not an all-or-none issues but rather determining what the categories of weapons are that are banned. What is at issue isn’t banning or not banning but where the line is drawn. So a decision must be made and if the current circumstances indicate that the previous decision may be questionable then it can be revisited. We have seen these decisions reexamined before, so it is not a threat to ownership but a responsibility of our elected officials to determine in the light of our own times. Additionally, even the term ‘banned’ needs to be clearly defined. Some weapons could be (and currently are) banned completely, some would be limited to specific conditions and banned outside that domain, and some others may have constraints that are defined under the legislation; with remaining weapons listed as unlimited by its designated and documented classification.

Each area of contention can be examined for how it can be resolved with an approach that protects ownership rights, and provides for public safety and national security, and that reduces the level of gun-related deaths and crime. Background checks, waiting-periods, sales and distribution reporting, and even registration processes can be established that are purposefully designed to insure that private citizens’ rights are protected.  The problem is that politicians are not likely to be able (competent) to solve these issues, which is why they haven’t been able to solve these problems. Now just because those who the public turns to are not equipped to handle the task doesn’t mean that there aren’t those who can.

The gun problems are there. If you think Congress or your state legislature has solved them then you are ok with the status quo. If you are not happy with the status quo then you need to ask Congress or your state legislature not to solve the problems but to seek people who are competent to provide them with public policy approaches that do, and to then enact appropriate legislation to accomplish the multiple goals that the multiple dimensions of the issues require.