Proposed Changes to the American Democratic System: Leftovers

I posted four proposals over the last few weeks:

  1. The Hastert Rule
  2. The National Popular Vote
  3. Approval Voting
  4. Supreme Court term limits

To conclude the series, here are others that don’t get their own post.

  • Reducing Incumbency: Remember the exciting 2022 midterm election we just had? Incumbents won 94.5% of the races. That’s absurd. In the Senate, the re-election rate was 100%. Not a single sitting Senator lost a campaign to stay in office. That’s just absurd! But… I don’t have any particular ideas how to mitigate this specifically, although the below ones would help enormously.
  • Eliminating the Filibuster: So many others have written about this, it has all the visibility it needs. I am in favor of this. Ezra Klein convinced me that it is worth having some bad things by a slim majority, pass to get a system back to accountability – candidates win, become elected, pass policy, and that policy is judged by the voters next cycle. This goes with reducing the incumbency advantage, part of the key is that officials are held accountable.
  • Gerrymandering: This is maybe the most important of everything listed. Voters should choose candidates, not the other way around. This is a big problem, well publicized. My opinion is obvious. Note that the National Popular Vote essentially eliminates gerrymandering at the Presidential level.

What else did I miss?

My Favorite Late Artist: Jeff Beck

Another giant has passed. Jeff Beck is dead. Beck was a musicians’ musician, and a guitarists’ guitarist. He looked away from superstardom, instead following his artistic instincts again and again to make immensely original music throughout his career. He invented the template that became Led Zeppelin, he blended fusion jazz with rock, and probably a lot more I don’t know about.

He played with his fingers (no pick), and was one of the most expressive guitarists ever (as you’ll hear in the links). His control of tone was untouched, and was likely the best pitch bender (through both strings and whammy bar) ever, casually moving notes through enormous intervals to clean landings.

Rick Beato is required viewing for all music lovers. Here is Rick on why Jeff Beck is uncopyable. Oh, he posted a tribute video yesterday.

I was fortunate enough to see him twice. Each song was always played just a bit different, his control of phrasing and feel led to variations each time. Here is a sampling of my favorite tracks.

A Day in the Life: He closed all his shows with this cover of the Beatles best song. How expressive can one guitarist be? How can he capture the feel of an entire orchestra with just a few notes? It’s worth searching for live versions, because each one is just a little different.

Amazing Grace

Yes, Jeff Beck was incredible at interpreting the works of others.

Hall of the Mountain King / Bolero and Becks’ Bolero. That’s Keith Moon yelling at 4:05. This is the kind of treatment Jimmy Page took on with Led Zeppelin. He tried to draft Keith Moon and John Entwistle for his band. They did not accept. Keith Moon said the whole idea would go over like a lead balloon and the rest is history. Update: Just learned that Beck’s Bolero was written by Jimmy Page.

People Get Ready (with Rod Stewart). Love the modulation at the end. Here’s a more soulful live version.

Freeway Jam. You could pick almost any track from this seminal album.

Rock n’ Roll Jelly (with Stanley Clarke)

Jeff Beck, by Lewis Shiner. This short story struck me before I really knew who Jeff Beck was. A wish fulfillment story of a casual musicians who just wants to feel music like Jeff Beck.

A sad day for all music lovers.

Yuval Levin Misses the Point

Yuval Levin has an interesting editorial in the New York Times, “Some Good Can Come Out of the Kevin McCarthy Fiasco”.

It’s a good angle for a liberal paper. It tries to point out that not everything being asked of McCarthy was awful. But a few of his supporting point, well, do not hold up.

Mr. McCarthy offered a number of hollow concessions. For example, lowering the threshold for a new vote for speaker matters little, since members wouldn’t seek such a vote if they didn’t think a significant number of their colleagues would support it.

This might be true if the goal was to actually depose Mr. McCarthy. It is likely not. The goal is to be obstructionist, waste everyone’s time, make some empty symbolic point, gain press, make money, stay elected. If you are Matt Gaetz or Lauren Boebert, why wouldn’t you do this, loudly and frequently? Why would the crazies have pushed for this change if not to use it?

Muttrox predicts that there will be new votes for speaker, and more than once.

Proposed Changes to the American Democratic System: Supreme Court Term Limits

That’s “Democratic” as in “Democracy”, not the political party.

As a systems guy, I tend to look at problems with our Democracy as being natural consequences of the systems where it is embedded. I have come to settle on a few aspects of our system that have outsized influence. These changes are all big. But they aren’t as big or well known as many other focus areas.

Set the Supreme Court Justice Tenure at 18 years

I first came across this idea in a book by Justice John Paul Stevens called Six Amendments, and since come across it in multiple venues.

The core idea is simple. Currently, a Supreme Court Justice has life tenure. America is an outlier in this, pretty much every country has set limits. The Justice is there until they die or resign. Their term could be five or fifty years.

Instead of life tenure, they would get elected to exactly one term of eighteen years. Here are some of the benefits:

  • It would remove the strategy of nominating and seating younger justices. Currently, each side wants to get young justices seated to lock in their advantage for a longer time period.
  • There would be less concern of justices serving with degrading mental abilities.
  • Current justices would have no reason to “game” their retirements.
  • Each presidential term would “comes with” two justices. This would be consistent and reliable.
  • Thus, the means to get a partisan advantage in the court would be getting more presidential terms rather than scorched earth tactics for each nomination. Since each administration gets two justices either way, there isn’t much reason to go crazy about each individual nominee.
  • Because the Presidential terms is where power on the courts come from, it moves the venue of judicial nominations to the Presidential election process. It puts the politics of Supreme Court gaming back in the political arena. That is appropriate and fitting.
  • The ongoing consistency would greatly reduce the partisan rancor of the current system.

I don’t know how this proposal deals with justices dying/retiring before 18 years and other issues covered here. But no matter how you slice it, it is a far more rational system than the current one.

Learn the Learning Curve

I tire of having to explain this. If the learning curve is flat, it means it is difficult to learn. If the learning curve is steep, it means it easy to learn.

If the learning curve is flat, it means you are spending a lot time and effort without the learning going up much. If it is steep, you quickly gain learning. Rise over run.

This is obvious. And yet, the whole word is stupid, because it is constantly reversed.

Jeopardy has now weighed in. Jeopardy, being populated by, and accountable to, smart people, defined it the correct way.

From Dec 29th 2022 Jeopardy: $1,000 in category “Don’t Get…”

Meta-analysis: If you think a steep learning curve means something hard, your own learning curve is flat. If you think a flat learning curve means something hard, your own learning curve is steep. And if you don’t understand this paragraph, your learning curve is flat.

Proposed Changes to the American Democratic System: Approval Voting

That’s “Democratic” as in “Democracy”, not the political party.

As a systems guy, I tend to look at problems with our Democracy as being natural consequences of the systems where it is embedded. I have come to settle on a few aspects of our system that have outsized influence. These changes are all big. But they aren’t as big or well known as many other focus areas.

Approval Voting

I am a fan of approval voting. Under the approval voting system, you check a box for, or approve of, any candidate you can live with (i.e. “approve” of). You can vote for one candidate or many. The candidate who gets the most votes win. Note that if you vote for every candidate, you might as well not vote for all since you have added one vote equally to each candidate’s tally.

The system is easy to understand and easy to implement. I implemented in our book group eighteen years ago, and we’ve never looked back.

Let’s go back to the year 2000. Many people cast votes for Ralph Nader, but would have been fine with Al Gore. Approval voting lets them show that. The correct candidate would have won. Do you want to support libertarians or other third parties, but don’t want to throw away your vote? Under approval voting, you can support 3rd party candidates and truthfully show your support for them while also supporting a more realistic candidate (that is, they are from one of the major parties).

Another system is ranked voting, which is catching on in some states. That’s a good approach also. Any of these systems are better than what we have now. I was disgusted when the DCCC gave money to some extreme GOP candidates to better their changes in the general. It may have worked (maybe?), but it’s still an abomination. A system with that sort of perverse incentive needs to be changed. I like approval voting, but almost anything is an improvement over current state.

You should note that there is no ideal voting system. If you take certain basics how a voting system would work (e.g. “If every voter prefers candidate A over candidate B, candidate A should win.”) and put them together, you get logical paradoxes. This was the great work of Kenneth Arrow.

Kevin McCarthy will be the Speaker who destroyed The House of Representatives

McCarthy is now the speaker, but will be far and away the weakest speaker in US History. He let twenty crazies (less than 4% of the membership) extort him. Let’s look at the concessions he made to become speaker. (This list is incomplete.)

  1. A return to a rule that would allow rank-and-file lawmakers to force a snap vote on ousting the speaker. How strong a speaker can you be when any rep can call for your removal at any time? There will be one rep who will do this again and again. Why wouldn’t you if your goal is obstruction and media coverage? More time wasted on votes, and probably more concessions.
  2. A major political action committee aligned with Mr. McCarthy agreed to limit its role in G.O.P. primaries in safe Republican districts. This one is interesting. In an effort to stop the crazies, GOP PACs supported some challengers to current members. Now they can’t do that. It strengthens the power of the crazies, but more generally increases the power of incumbency even more. It decreases the power of the party, and increases the incentives for individual members to wreak havoc. Note the crazies get massive media exposure and fundraising lifts every time they do another damaging performative stunt. Part of the reason these votes took so long is because they don’t really care what they get, they just want to fight to get the money.
  3. The hard right would get approval power over some plum committee assignments, including a third of the members on the influential Rules Committee, which controls what legislation reaches the floor and in what form. This is insane. McCarthy let 4% of the membership grab a significant amount of formal power beyond their numbers. Give the crazies credit, they understand where the levers of power are.
  4. Spending bills would have to be considered under so-called open rules, allowing any member to put to a vote an unlimited number of changes that could gut or scuttle the legislation altogether. This may not be so bad. Currently, votes are usually held up or down on enormous bills that no Rep has read or understands, and can’t be modified. The ability to amend them without voting no may make bills better. Note that this decreases the power of the Speaker and the party yet more.
  5. (Unclear if this is true, but widely reported) Agreed not to fund the government without significant concessions. This will not go well for anyone. The GOP will not fund the government or raise the debt-ceiling without concessions from Biden and the Democrats. The Republicans can’t seem to make policy when they are in charge, instead they wait until they are in the minority then put a gun to the head of the Democrats. The problem for them is, they lose every time. The country saw enough of this under Clinton and Obama. The Democrats will not give an inch, they will offer zero concessions, and dare the GOP to shut the country down. Which the GOP will, then they will eventually fold, and we will back where we started, but with yet more damage done.
  6. Removal of metal detectors. I watched one live hearing of the Jan 6th committee. It happened to present all kinds of primary evidence of the massive amounts of weaponry being held back by the presence of metal detectors. The metal detectors are a inconvenience to the business of the house, but they serve an important function – stopping an insurrection. This isn’t security theater, it’s real security. And, by the way, the crazies are the exact people who supported the actual insurrection. That is not a coincidence.
  7. Weakening ethics oversight. Well, of course.

All in all, it adds up to a Speaker who has no real power. Who has given away the store to the people dedicated to wrecking the government. And for what? To get a title that will mean nothing. McCarthy is just the latest entry of GOP Speakers who can’t do anything because they give in to the crazies. Go ask Paul Ryan or John Boehmer how that worked out. You reap what you sow.

Partisanship is so high. I wonder if at any point there were conversation between McCarthy and the Democrats, or the Democrats and other Republicans. You could easily see another version of the negotiations. Many Democrats and some Republicans elect a centrist Republican. The concessions are to make the House run well as an institution: Removing debt ceiling, removal of Hastert rule, etc. I presume both sides are so hardened the idea of working with the other party is unspeakable.

Proposed Changes to the American Democratic System: National Popular Vote

That’s “Democratic” as in “Democracy”, not the political party.

As a systems guy, I tend to look at problems with our Democracy as being natural consequences of the systems where it is embedded. I have come to settle on a few aspects of our system that have outsized influence. These changes are all big. But they aren’t as big or well known as many other focus areas.

The National Popular Vote

This is a very clever constitutional hack.

  1. Your state passes a law which will give their electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote. But, it doesn’t actually go into effect! It’s waiting for a trigger.
  2. The trigger is other states, the electoral votes this law represents summed across the country. When the electoral votes represented by these states hits 270, then the law goes into effect in all of them, all at once.
  3. With 270 electoral votes, this bloc of states are the majority. It doesn’t matter if any other states join in, this block collectively controls 270 votes, and gives them to the winner of the national popular vote, enough to win the electoral college and the Presidency.

There is a good deal of bi-partisan movement behind this. What do you think is the pattern of states that have approved it? You’d think it would be the Blue / urban states, which would gain an advantage under then new system. Well, you’d be right! It’s mostly New England and the west coast. However, there is a generous helping of states all over that have passed it through one or both congressional houses.

The movement is further along than you’d think. They are currently at 195 electoral votes, with 75 to go. Admittedly, it gets harder as you go along. But 195 electoral votes is not chump change. This is change that is possible.

Proposed Changes to the American Democratic System: The Hastert Rule

That’s “Democratic” as in “Democracy”, not the political party.

As a systems guy, I tend to look at problems with our Democracy as being natural consequences of the systems where it is embedded. I have come to settle on a few aspects of our system that have outsized influence. These changes are all big. But they aren’t as big or well known as many other focus areas.

The Hastert Rule

This is a little publicized rule that entirely neuters the minority party and bi-partisanship. It says the Speaker of the House will not a bring a bill to the floor if it doesn’t have the majority of his own party, regardless of support or not from the other party. Thus, it is often called the “majority of the majority” rule. This is not actually a rule in a legal or parlimentary process sense. It is a policy that the Speaker of the House chooses to employ or not.

Consider the overall makeup of the electorate. Democrats and Republicans are in roughly equal numbers around the country. The Republican party is now majority crazy (or close enough). The crazies are not the majority of the country, not even close. But they are the majority of the Republicans. That’s how they win primaries and lose general elections.

It’s the same in the House. The GOP majority in the house is controlled by the nutjobs. Centrist Republicans cannot join with Democrats to pass a bill, because the Hastert rule will never allow that vote to happen. A bill could have over 70% support and never get voted on. It is a fundamentally anti-democratic heurestic that has led to the worst parts of the GOP taking over the house and policy making. In many ways it is worse than the dreaded filibuster.

Would is surprise you which party uses the rule and which doesn’t? Probably not. It was started by Newt Gingrich, labeled by his successor Dennis Hastert, as well as John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and of course pledged long ago by Kevin McCarthy. That is every Republican Speaker since 1995. On the other hand, “Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to use the Hastert rule in managing her caucus. Pelosi wanted Republicans to be part of the process and sought broader support for major legislation.”And is so often the case, you find Newt Gingrich headlining the “make everything worse” side of the argument. If he’s for it, I’m against it.

This rule explicitly says the Speaker of the House is not to represent the American People, he/she is there to represent their party and their party only. Hastert believed the role of a speaker was, in his words, “not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority.”

What is partisanship? In my mind, it is when someone puts the needs of their party of over the need of the population. The Hastert Rule is partisanship in one of it’s worst forms, and yet another way that Republican party seeks out partisan advantage as the expense of democracy.

Muttrox Goes to England: Harrods is Amazing

Harrods is amazing. We ended up going three separate times. We thought it was just a big department store and could not understand the appeal. Boy, were we wrong! It was incredible. They claim they can get you anything that is for sale in the world in 48 hours. We believe it.

There was original art by Warhol, Picasso, and Chihuly. There were some silver sculptures we really liked by a sculptor named Lorenzo Quinn: A woman holding the earth with a ribbon, a man holding a woman with extended arms. We had wandered into that room because it was nearby another destination, a piano made from emeralds. Wow.

The toy room was wonderful. After two hours, we barely made it past the first section. It featured a “toy” sports car and Humvee that go 20 mph. They could be yours for a mere $40,000 each! The kids were shocked to hear that our two grown up cars put together were worth one of these.

The store is all about the experience; there are people everywhere demonstrating. They are extremely knowledgeable about their products, they are true experts. We met a magician who showed us light and card tricks. He told us there is another magician who works there who is truly famous in the magic world (we saw him later). We came to realize that every Hollywood movie with a magic toy shop is based on the wonder inspired in Harrods. Have you ever seen the movie Toys, or Mr. Magoriums Emporium? They both just start with Harrods and add a bit of real magic to the plot.

Ever the food court impressed, they had every kind of food you can imagine. I got caught double-dipping in the hummus. We had delicious pressed chicken tikka sandwiches on naan.

They had autographed works from presidents, kings, every celebrity imaginable, and a vintage Apple II signed by Steve Jobs ($150K). Other notables in the autograph section: A single frame with autographs of the first 20 presidents, all the Apollo 11 astronauts, and a King George writ.

The prices were crazy. Harrods has amazing selection and experience, but you sure pay for it. The boy asked me why Harrods had so much stuff that costs such huge amounts of money. “Here’s how it works. The world isn’t fair. There are a lot of people in this world who have too much money. Harrods is around to help solve that problem.”

My Latest Favorite Song #28: Olivia Rodrigo

I don’t usually do current music. It’s very rare for me to like the same music as my co-workers and kids. Here’s a big exception. Olivia Rodrigo is incredible. She’s a great songwriter, a great singer, and a great lyricist. The style has modern touches and tones but is firmly based in melody and harmony and chords — ya know, music.

The whole album is about one universal topic we can all relate to, being in love, being dumped, dealing with all of it. Listening to her music reminds you what it was like to be a teenager trying to figure out love and life, and feeling everything so strongly the pain was overwhelming. If you don’t get an emotional response from her music, there’s something dead inside of you (Saturday Night Live gets it).

Which song to pick? The whole album is great. Drivers License (the main single) is excellent, but not the tops for me. Here are my two favorites. (These songs are better enjoyed without video. Press play, go to another browser window while listening. There’s nothing particularly bad about the videos, but neither is so great either.)

Deja Vu: A weird part of getting old — artists you grew up with being referenced as obscure acts from the historical past by current acts. Still, a great Billy Joel namedrop!

Favorite Crime: What a lovely little fingerpicking pattern. The vocals kill me when she comes back from the break. Every teenager experiments with breaking the rules. You don’t have to be an actual criminal, or dated one, to feel the pull of doing bad things with someone.

Since my readers are overwhelmingly my demographic, what do you all think of her? Do your kids like her, do you?