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Silent3's Journal
Silent3's Journal
December 5, 2020

We need a whole raft of amendments, and unfortunately they're almost impossible to get enacted

Where we have depended on "norms" being respected, there are now gaping holes in our system of government.

Your amendment (with an even shorted time period, like 90 days) is just a start.

My other suggestions would be, completely ignoring that they just aren't going to happen:

* Finally pass the ERA, expanded to cover all gender and racial issues.

* Give Congressional oversight of the President and the executive branch real teeth, so endless court battles to "play out the clock", or plain outright refusal to comply with subpoenas, can never again hamper oversight as Trump has done. I'd even go so far as to make the Sergeant-at-Arms someone with real enforcement power, with a small police force in his/her charge, capable of confiscating documents and arresting non-compliant subpoenaed witnesses to haul them before the House and/or Senate.

* A general "all laws must have teeth" provision. We've often passed laws that are unenforceable because there is no specified penalty for breaking these laws, and no specified remedies when these laws are broken. This is another "just expecting norms to be followed" problem. (Maybe this can be fixed by ordinary law, without Constitutional changes.)

* While not going so far as to create a fourth branch of government, establish Constitutionally-protected independence of the DoJ so it can never again be used as a President's personal legal defense for themselves, or a cudgel against the President's enemies.

* States now have enormous Constitutionally-granted freedom in how they run elections. It might only be by Constitutional amendment that we can enact solid federally-mandated minimum standards to ensure free and fair elections.

* Judicial term limits, including the Supreme Court.

* Abolish the Electoral College, and apportion the Senate by population too.

* Ban gerrymandering. Voters must choose politicians, not politicians choosing their own voters. This one change could greatly relieve the polarization of American politics which has so poisoned our system.

* Explicitly end corporate personhood, and make corporations, in exchange for the benefit of limited liability they receive, have a much stronger legal commitment to serving the public good, and upholding for their employees many of the same rights government grants citizens. (Businesses could still have much greater freedom than this, but they wouldn't get limited liability either if they want all of that freedom.)

* Reverse Citizens United by making an explicit legal distinction between campaign spending and free speech.

* (Very carefully!) create a legal distinction between "freedom of speech" and "freedom of reach", so that we can legally require large media platforms to minimize the spread of disinformation.

* Limit the pardon power of the President (and state governors too) in ways that clearly prevent outright abuse of that power.

* While still respecting state's rights to some extent, grant a little more power to the federal government that the Founders did. We live in a totally different reality now, where people much more identify with the United States than they do with their individual states. We're already playing stupid games to get this end result in many cases, like denying federal highway funds to states that won't go along with certain terms of federal laws.

* I could go on if I keep thinking about this!

It's a good thing, actually, for the Constitution not to be too big or too explicit, giving judges some flexibility of interpretation as times change. But even with current amendments added on, the whole Constitution is shorter than a lot of stupid click-through agreements on apps and web sites. While being careful to not overdo amendments, "norms" just don't cut it.

November 22, 2020

Automatic Gain Control -- What I expect regarding Trump vs Biden in the media

Automatic Gain Control (AGC) is a pretty old concept in electronics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_gain_control

The basic idea is that you boost a weak signal, or attenuate a strong signal, to produce a relatively constant output level. This is why an AM radio station doesn't blare loudly when you drive by a radio station's antenna, or fade to a whisper many miles away. It's also why you can use your cell phone's speaker phone, or talk on a Zoom call, without big changes in how loud you sound to other people just because (within limits) your head moves closer or further from the mic.

As far as media coverage has been concerned, Trump has been putting out an enormously powerful signal. It has been beyond the limit of the media's AGC to fully attenuate, so Trump's signal has pushed passed normal limits by crowding out many other stories we might have been hearing. But the media still has an output limit, it can only get so "loud", and that's where the fatigue factor kicks in, the ridiculous normalization of Trump and his acolytes, and the media's inability to stick with stories that should be big stories before moving on to the latest bombshell.

Soon, however, we'll have Biden in office. The Trump drama won't abruptly stop on January 20th, of course. Trump will be making media noise for some time to come. Eventually, however, more and more focus will be on Biden.

But Biden won't generate scandal after scandal, outrage upon outrage. He'll do normal presidential things, many of those things quietly and behind the scenes, for the good of the country. That's great news for the country, but a "weak signal" for the news media.

I expect an automatic signal boost.

A 30 year-old DUI charge discovered for an obscure member of the Biden administration will receive all the attention (or more) of a 3 year-old domestic violence charge in Trump's inner circle. One badly handled immigration case will be scrutinized at the same level as hundreds of children in cages. One bit of slightly insensitive wording on Biden's part (almost certainly followed by a swift apology) will be held up as the equal of Trump's "very fine people".

Our "main stream" media isn't the crazy "fake news" cabal the right wing claims it to be. The basic info provided (especially after a little time passes) comes close to factual truth. The media's problems are sensationalism, over-simplification, both-siderism, the stories that aren't covered that deserve more attention -- and also what I'm calling the "automatic gain control".

November 8, 2020

Bask in the relief for a bit, but be prepared for a lot of hard work to prevent the next Trump

Make no mistake: The attempt to harness Trumpism—without Trump, but with calculated, refined, and smarter political talent—is coming. And it won’t be easy to make the next Trumpist a one-term president. He will not be so clumsy or vulnerable. He will get into office less by luck than by skill.

At the moment, the Democratic Party risks celebrating Trump’s loss and moving on—an acute danger, especially because many of its constituencies, the ones that drove Trump’s loss, are understandably tired. A political nap for a few years probably looks appealing to many who opposed Trump, but the real message of this election is not that Trump lost and Democrats triumphed. It’s that a weak and untalented politician lost, while the rest of his party has completely entrenched its power over every other branch of government: the perfect setup for a talented right-wing populist to sweep into office in 2024. And make no mistake: They’re all thinking about it.

November 2, 2020

Size of Biden's Electoral Vote tally, after all the dust has settled

I'm not gonna even bother with a choice below 270!

October 31, 2020

Understanding margins of error

I was listening to Lawrence O'Donnell earlier this week discussing some polls, and talking about what the polls said when you take into account their margins of error.

What he said was roughly correct, in a non-mathy sort of way, but also off enough to be a bit misleading.

First of all, margins of errors don't say anything about how good a polling model is, so it's not an expression of faith in the model. What the margin of error tells you is, if the model is good, how much would random variation in the particular people who get sampled typically throw off how well the model reflects reality.

Also, if a poll says, say, Biden is likely to get 52% of the vote, with a margin of error of ±3%, that does NOT mean Biden is just as likely to get 49% as he is to get 52% -- it's a "bell shaped curve" -- and values near the middle are favored over values near the edges of the given range.

Margins of error are typically stated for a 95% confidence interval. So this example 52±3% will be in the range 49-55 95% of the time. 5% of the time the real result could even be higher or lower than that ±3%. Only 2.5% of the time would Biden be at 49% or lower, Only 2.5% of the time would Biden be at 55% or higher. Typical results will cluster more towards the middle of the range.

Say that Trump is polling at 48% in the same poll. As O'Donnell explained it, he correctly pointed out that you have to apply the margin of error to both numbers, so even though 48% and 52% are 4% apart, the results overlap, with Trump possibly going as high as 51%, and Biden possibly going as low as 49%.

What O'Donnell got wrong, however, is speaking about this situation as if, "Hey, this essentially is a tie", since the margins of error overlap. Nope! This would still be a poll that looks much better for Biden than it does for Trump.

Without getting into the exact math, for Trump to actually be ahead in a poll like that requires that Trump pushes well into the more unlikely upper end of his range at the same time Biden happens to fall into the more unlikely lower end of his range. The sampling errors aren't very likely, however, to line up in just that way very often.

October 24, 2020

I had this thought of Trump viewing other people the way most of us view vending machines

This is just a bit of very amateur psychological speculation, so take it for what it's worth.

It's a given that Trump is a narcissist, and almost certainly a psychopath too. He's completely transactional in his behaviors, and people only have value to Trump insofar as they provide for Trump's needs.

So I'm imagining people to Trump as vending machines, and the words he says -- be they true or false -- are the coins he drops into these vending machines, and the buttons he pushes.

Particular coins and particular buttons are supposed to result in particular items being dispensed. "Truth" isn't a consideration, nor is consistency. If something doesn't work, try something else.

Saying "I will protect Social Security, and Biden will destroy it" is the input that's supposed to produce senior votes for Trump as an output. "I'm the least racist person in the room, and Biden backed that terrible crime bill" is the input that is supposed to produce more black votes, or at least more white votes from white people who want to believe they aren't racists.

And just like you or I might get annoyed or angry when a machine eats our coins, but doesn't drop the candy bar we wanted, or the bag of chips gets stuck behind the glass, or the cup lands upside down and our drink pours around it and down the drain, Trump is genuinely angry when his words and gestures don't produce the results he wants.

It's not our job to worry or care about the truth or consistency of what Trump says. As far as he sees it, he's saying what he's supposed to say for us to do what we're supposed to do for him. If we don't respond correctly, he'll get angry, he'll shake us, he'll pound on us, he'll kick us, and he'll wonder out loud what's the matter with us.

If we don't "work", we're useless junk.

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Gender: Male
Hometown: New Hampshire
Home country: USA
Member since: Sun Oct 3, 2004, 04:16 PM
Number of posts: 15,900
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