Launching BetterDistricts Today

BetterDistricts is a personal project that I’ve been working on for awhile.

I think that there is something fundamentally broken about how our government is working. I believe that a lot of the symptoms that we see:

  • Feeling that no one is actually listening
  • Inability to get anything done
  • Shouting past each other
  • No real debate
  • Creating caricatures of those we disagree with

have at their root the inability to hold our elected officials accountable. We send officials to D.C. to represent the people of their district. But how can we ever tell if they’re doing that? There is no mechanism to compare what the individuals in a community believe and how their elected officials vote.

I created BetterDistricts to try and do something about this. You can either vote on the bills that are in Congress, sending a signal as to how you would like to be represented or you can create a proposal to put forward.

Let me know what you think.

My Representatives

With MyElectedRep, I get a view into the people that are representing me. Whether I agree with the votes that they’re making on my behalf or if I would like them to vote another way.

To help me make decisions on votes, I can look at how some trusted organizations recommend I vote and read the analysis that they’ve provided.

With each Representative, I can vote on upcoming legislation, so that they can determine how the district feels. I can also go through their past votes and either agree or disagree with the votes that they’ve made. If I feel strongly about certain votes, I can contact my Representatives directly to let them know how I feel.

Once I’ve gone through the different bills and voted on the ones that I wanted to, I can look at how each Representative scores. They get a district score as well as a personal score. I can then use this score to determine if I should vote for this person to be my Representative again next time or if someone else would do a better job.

My Representatives are:

Money in Politics

This article on CNN today expresses a lot of the reasoning behind why I created MyElectedRep.

With 3 of the 4 Republican candidates for President being heavily sponsored by single donors with $100+M in assets are you feeling more or less confident that after the next election cycle our elected officials will represent us and not the super wealthy that paid for their campaigns?

The only way we can keep our Representatives accountable is if we vote and show them how we want to be represented.

We need a place to point to, where we can show elected officials that they’re not doing their job. A place where we can show that on a certain item a district wants to vote one way. Then we can score our Representatives on whether or not they listened.

By measuring the votes that each Representative makes, it becomes less important to control the money that they receive.

Evening news displays its intellectual dishonesty again

Lead story and headline on the NBC evening news again tonight talked about the “Controversial statement by President Obama about the NY Mosque”.  If the news editors were being honest they might say that “President Obama today reaffirmed a belief in freedom of religion that has been a foundation of our country for 200+ years”. But of course that isn’t as exciting as saying that Republicans are trying to stir up fear and hatred of foreigners again.

It is quite sad to see this spin. Journalism’s purpose is to find the truth in the story instead of making up their own spin to sensationalize. But we’ve gotten to the point where the corporate interests behind the News has an interest in keeping the crossfire between the right and the left going. If this means taking some liberties, then they’ve shown that they’re willing to do so.

I wouldn’t be terribly sad to see almost every major news body we have today collapse. They’ve strayed too far from their true purpose. There will still be a need for honest news gathering and there are people willing to devote their lives to that purpose. The way just needs to be cleared for these people to come to the fore again.

Rachel Maddow went too far tonight

In tonight’s interview with Dan Stein, the head of FAIR, I believe that Rachel went over the line. She brought up some very questionable position points from a handful of people that are or were connected with the organization. The worst being some ideas taken from a founder of FAIR written in the 1980s.

As the interview went on though, I actually found myself agreeing with Dan Stein that this was McCarthy style journalism. Taking a single point from years ago and using it to paint an entire organization. I think Rachel was riled up and went into attack mode too quickly. The proper way to ask about these points would have been to have asked if FAIR, as an organization, still supports the beliefs that she brought up in her research or whether they’ll disavow the positions. If they won’t disavow the racist positions, then there is a story there, but for Rachel to make the accusation that because someone once said something reprehensible that the entire organization was racist was itself unfair.

Usually I’m a big fan of her reporting, but I think that in this instance she should have looked at what she had and decided that it wasn’t enough to build a story off of. She’s developing a great reputation as being a journalist that will stand up to anyone and ask tough questions, she’s just got to make sure that the quality of the story is there.

TV news is no better than following twitter

Saw some blog posts today discussing the provably wrong statements that Guiliani is making on the TV news stations and it’s led me to belief that TV news is no better than following twitter. It’s not real journalism. There is no control for making sure that the statements made are accurate. You’ll probably getter a more accurate, broader view of what is going on in the world today by watching raw twitter updates.

Maybe live TV is just not conducive to news. The excuse that the host just doesn’t have time to fact check everything that is said has just gotten old. Every day, lie after misstatement after miss characterizations are made continually. How many times does the Daily Show have to embarrass them before they listen?

If as an agency you can’t control the quality of what is being said, then maybe it shouldn’t be shown live. What would stop the stations from filming an interview with different talking heads and then having the interns fact check what was said. Why is there the need to let someone who once did something a long time ago spout off live on TV?

Of course the problem may be that it was never really news to begin with.

Journalism Isn’t Dying, Newspapers Are

journalismI just finished reading the article “The Story Behind the Story” in this month’s Atlantic Magazine where Mark Bowden goes through the backstory and context of the videos of now Justice Sotomayor. The article takes on the fall of real journalism and its replacement with political hit jobs. As someone raising an infant at home and often having the news channels on during the day, I can definitely attest to the fall in quality at the 24 hours news networks. All of them can best be described as News Entertainment rather than any type of real journalism.

In all of the discussions I’ve read about the death of news, journalism, and newspapers the argument seems to be that if these businesses die, then no one will pay for journalism. That without a newspaper, there is no way we could get the real story. I don’t think that this is necessarily what needs to happen though. As the big media companies race to the bottom and look more each day like an episode of Jerry Springer, there are real journalists out there that want to search for and print the truth. These people have the highest standards and will continue to do their craft long after the newspaper has shut down or moved entirely to tabloid coverage. The good news is that these determined men and women are finding ways to get paid to do the work that they love.

What I see as the issue today is that in the past we could pick up the New York Times and know that we could trust the reporting within, the people that wrote there were held to the highest standards, we didn’t even have to really think about it. However as the unit of journalism moves from the newspaper to the actual journalist we need a way to quickly transfer that same level of trust of what we are reading. What I’m proposing is that to manage the need for a transfer of trust that a body of respected journalists, either through a journalism school or a group of professional journalists, creates a set of standards for professional journalists. This group would then accredit individual writers that met the standard of professional journalism.  Accredited journalists could be local bloggers reporting on the local government meetings or large columnists that have found it more to their liking to strike out on their own.

As the internet has given everyone a printing press, what we need is a way to quickly determine who is worth reading. Writers could begin to publish and as they reached a level of published content they could ask for accreditation and if received post this on their site. Each individual writer could determine how they wanted to get paid for their work, whatever made sense for them, it could even be working at a newspaper. This would not inhibit others from publishing whatever they wanted, but if you wanted to get accreditation and keep it, you must hold yourself to the standards.

Of course the running of the  journalism board would cost money and have its own issues, but I’m sure that there are some people out there that would be willing to pay for such a service if it meant that high quality journalism could continue.

Is Obama playing with the courts?

There have been a couple of actions taken by the Obama Administration that have left people scratching their heads. The first occurred soon after taking office when his Justice Department, instead of doing as everyone thought that they would and not continuing Bush’s State Secrets claims, instead pushed the idea of State Secrets even further than Bush’s lawyers ever went.  Another occurred today with Obama reversing course on the lawsuit to release photos of Army’s abuses of prisoners. The Justice Dept had initially stated that it would not seek further appeals in blocking the photos release.  However, today they pulled a 180 saying that they would indeed appeal the release.

Of course all of the talking heads on the news outlets talked about how this a complete reversal of policy by the Obama administration and that the transparency is gone. I’ve got a bit of a different opinion as to what’s going on though. Obama is a trained lawyer, married to a lawyer, and definitely believes in the rule of law.  One of the things about the law is that it’s based in large part on previous case precedents. So given the facts of a case, you can predict with some degree of certainty how a judge will rule. I believe that Obama may be using the courts to appear to be a bit more of a centrist than he really wants to be.

With the State Secrets case, I’m fairly certain that he didn’t want to carry it forward. The problem was that by immediately reversing all of Bush’s policies he could lose the right half of the political spectrum. But if he pretends to take a tough stance on certain aspects, but has his lawyers push for an over the top result, that they know they’ll never get and will be thrown out by any judge, then it’s not him being weak, it’s the judges that the right already dislikes. So Obama scores political points, appears to be a centrist, even though he gets exactly what he wants.

With todays decision, the talking news heads kept going on as if this decision was up to Obama. What everyone seems to forget is that it’s a lawsuit in the courts and that Obama has no real power to influence the outcome. All he can do is to let the Justice Dept know that he would like them to continue with the appeals process. The case has already been ruled on by a judge and there’s no evidence that the government will win on appeal. But Obama scores all sorts of points with the military and can counter Cheney’s attacks that he’s releasing damning evidence of the Bush Administration’s wrong doing. Because it’s now not him releasing the photos, it’ll be the courts deciding that he must. I’m sure the Justice Dept lawyers have looked at the case and can be fairly certain what the outcome will be. But Obama gets to have it both ways with this strategy.

If this is indeed what he’s doing I’m not sure how I feel about it. In one sense it reinforces the rule of law, but it would also be using the court system as a political tool.

I enjoyed watching the democratic convention tonight

It was nice to see Bill Clinton speak, there’s just something about that guy. It was pretty funny when the crowd looked like it could keep cheering for hours when he got up on stage.

I also enjoyed seeing Joe Biden speak. There were some bits that were repeated out of his speech with Barack on Saturday but overall I thought he did alright.

The main thing that I really liked was when Biden laid out how the media narrative is that McCain has all of the experience with foriegn policy and that Barack doesn’t, but how with almost every single foreign policy issue that’s come up since the campaigning began Obama has been proven right and McCain was forced to take the correct position after being wrong. Biden and Clinton need to be out on every news cast from here to Nov repeating this until the media gives in and stops giving McCain credit for things he’s gotten wrong.

Obama says he’s been trying to run a clean campaign, but I think there’s a difference between going negative, which McCain has jumped into with both feet, and pointing out where you honestly believe the other side has made mistakes and used poor judgement. There are all sorts of issues that the Democrats need to bring up, Clinton and Biden just barely got started tonight. If Obama is going to win I really think someone needs to bring them up repeatedly. The American people just don’t seem to react well to leaders that they don’t believe are sticking up for themselves.

Nervous about the results of tonights primaries

I really can’t explain why, I just am. It’s the whole issue with believing that something should go a certain way and then not really being confident that reality is going to follow through.

I’ll probably spend the night watching the pundits talk for hours. Hopefully there will be some sort of resolution after tonight.

— Update —

Well it looks like nothing changed. We’ve now got 7 more weeks of Hillary and Obama slugging it out. I’m a bit concerned that the two teams are going to believe that the attacks from the Clinton side during the last few days are what brought her back into contention and that the race is going to get a whole lot rougher. This is NOT what I want to see happen.

Business Speach vs. Political Speach

I’ve been listening to some quarterly earnings conference calls for several businesses over the last couple weeks and something struck me during the last one. There are very defined rules for what can be said during these calls as well as most of the rest of the communications that come out of a public company. If a company spokesperson were to lie or misstate something then it would have serious consequences for the company.

So the issue that I don’t understand is that if we can codify and enforce requirements for business people then why can’t we hold our elected officials to a similar level? Why are elections seen as the primary remedy for this sort of conduct? I’m currently convinced that the election system is broken and that nothing short of public financing of elections and non-partial computer generated districts will even begin to fix it.

Officials know that in all of the craziness around election season most of these little lies and misstatements will be drowned out. But if it can be shown that an official has made a false statement, then I think there should be a fine, say from $100 to $50,000 per offense depending on severity and repetition. This money can go back to finance the elections or to some other worthy cause.

You could say that this would have a chilling effect on political discourse and that no one would say anything anymore. I would argue that if someone isn’t sure about what they’re saying they shouldn’t be saying it anyways. The noise would have to stop and we would be left with actual dialog.

We’re one step closer to Judgement Day

Army’s unmanned aerial drone kills for the first time.

A Hunter unmanned aerial vehicle engaged and killed two suspected improvised explosive device emplacers overwatching a major thoroughfare for Coalition Forces during a historic flight near Qayyarah, Iraq, in Nineveh province Sept. 1.

And of course that’s Judgement Day in the Terminator sense.

And it’s also great to know that we’ve developed the technology to distinguish plain clothes militia from teenagers kicking a ball around from 10,000 ft. I wouldn’t want to think that we could make a mistake and drop a guided bomb on a couple innocent kids playing soccer.

A little bit of sanity returning to the world

I saw two posts today showing that the pendulum of reason is finally swinging back in the right direction. The first was over at Glenn Greenwald’s Blog and deals with making good on the intelligence mistakes of the last several years. Only problem is that it’s the Canadian Government that’s decided to come clean. The US Government still prefers to sweep things under the rug and hope no one looks.

The second piece was by the director of public prosecutions of the UK, Sir Ken Macdonald. Where he discusses the problems with the idea of having a war on terror. I found this post through Bruce Schneier’s Blog and believe that the discussion of the post is worth reading.

V for Vendetta

Went to see “V for Vendetta” sunday morning and was very pleasantly surprised. I felt the movie was even better than the book. They changed a few aspects of the story and simplified some plot points and toned it down a bit, which all worked together to create a more cohesive story. It’s still a deep movie and you’ve really got to listen to the dialogue to get the full impact of the film, but they didn’t sidestep controversial aspects like the pedophile bishop, but cleaned up the film’s story where the book fell apart a bit at the end.

Definitely worth seeing and with the other movie I saw this weekend, “Goodnight and Good Luck” ,I’m definitely in a bit of a rebelious mood.