The Real Cause of America’s Political Problems

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Letter to the President

In this part of the letter, I identify the real cause of our political problems, and point to the solution- the piece that’s missing.


The cause: Lack of design.

Our political system simply wasn’t designed to produce the results we want. That’s the fundamental cause of our problems. It wasn’t designed to engage or empower voters. It wasn’t designed for transparency. It wasn’t designed for accountability.

That’s the short-version of the reason we have all these political problems. There was intention and hope. And 240 years ago it was a good design. It produced a lot of the results they wanted. But even back then, the design didn’t take into account political parties. That wasn’t too bad because political parties weren’t well established. And communication was so poor that a country “of the people” mainly meant it meddled very little in people’s lives.

America has changed

In the last 60 years, the world has changed so much that the founder’s original designs are even less effective. There were huge differences when America was founded. Todays corporations were illegal in America. Lobbying was taboo. There was no “big media” much less an internet, radio or TV. There wasn’t even reliable mail service! And political parties were in their infancy. And of course, government was much, much smaller.

No one is to blame

In almost any system, people do what they see is appropriate. In America, citizens have the ultimate power. But we can’t wield it. It’s only natural that others try. The myriad special interests fight over our power. Special interests, including the media, manipulate the people as best they can to win elections. And in the process, politicians are often corrupted.

Changing campaign finance laws might weaken them a bit, but not much. None of the proposed improvements will change this.

What’s missing: accountability.

I’ve talked with many hundreds of Americans. None had a robust definition of “accountability.”

Instead, we believe a myth that accountability happens in elections. But it doesn’t, except maybe a tiny, tiny bit. Especially in today’s elections where incumbents and money have tremendous advantage. Very little accountability is delivered in elections.

Accountability exists in a boss-employee relationship and in a teacher-student relationship. These work pretty well. In these systems there are structures in place that enable the employee or student to be accountable and the boss or teacher to hold them accountable. And it happens day to day, weekly, and month by month, not just once ever two to six years.

This is what’s missing from our system: Practical ways to deliver both sides of accountability.


I hope that hooked them. The next part will be about what happened.

A Letter to the President

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Letter to the President

I wrote another letter to the president. I’ve written many times before, and never receive an answer. So this one I wrote to someone who works for someone who knows him.

It’s probably lousy. It’s certainly too long. Can you tell me which parts to omit to make the next one better?

When I say “too long”, I’m serious. This will be 4 posts.


January 5, 2016

Dear Friend of the President,

It is very, very difficult for a mere civilian to reach anyone who has the president’s ear.

We all see problems in politics. Those like yourself who know it best are well versed in the many reasons about why it’s dysfunctional. Many of these reasons blame certain people or laws.

There’s certainly some truth to them. But much is missing. The 2014 Princeton study found that America hasn’t been a functional democracy for the last 35 years. They didn’t look back further. But the problems stretch far back.

So many parts are broken– campaign finance, lobbying, conflicts of interest, voter disempowerment, apathy and ignorance. Lying into war, creating enemies of other cultures. The main message of this letter is this: Please consider the possibility that there’s more to it than the reasons we tell ourselves.

I’m a software engineer, trained in problem solving. At times I’ve spend full days and weeks and even months immersed in a problem. I did this with politics.

Blame and confusion are often prevalent when first looking at a problem. Blame comes from bias, being “inside the box.” Confusion often accompanies disbelief that things have been so messed up, and for so long. But at it’s core, confusion points to a lack of understanding. So I spend many, many hours with a problem seeing how it works until blame and confusion disappear. With politics, I saw finally that no one was to blame, and that the results we’re seeing are the correct results, given our system.


The next post will start with what I discovered.

Help Fix American Democracy

We can fix American Democracy now. But the window is beginning to close.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that the problem with American democracy is that Congress is not accountable to citizens. In brief, accountability happens in a relationship. Relationship requires communication. This requires ways to communicate. At the tail end of an accountability relationship is firing someone- and we have a bit of that in elections. Almost all of the accountability relationship is just missing.

When accountability is missing, government doesn’t work. Instead, you get corruption, fighting, and other forms of dysfunction. Just like America has now.

The most heroically accountable representative is not accountable

Some members of Congress try very hard to be accountable. My rep, Anna Eshoo, reads and responds to, about 100,000 letters, emails and phone calls every year. 300 per day! She keeps her own database of what people call about so when she has news, she can update the right people. That’s amazing! And it means she’s more accountable than almost all other reps. I’ve heard maybe one other is that good.

Some people contact her office a few times per year, some just once. And most contacts are about one topic. This adds up to maybe 40,000 people, about 1/10th of her constituents, contacting her about a couple of their concerns. This means 90% of voters don’t communicate with her about over 90% of their concerns. So she has little absolute accountability, despite heroic effort to be the most accountable representative!

Accountability is possible

Efficient accountability is possible. 4 years ago I struggled for 8 months to form a team, launch a prototype and do some marketing experiments. I launched a partial prototype, but was unable to form a team. I never got to the point where marketing experiments were possible. Money ran out so I went back to work.

18 months ago I tried again. Twice I almost formed teams offering the promise of stock, but they fell apart before they started. (And I wasted lots of time interviewing people who were eager and able, but couldn’t actually work without a salary.)

I then engaged off-shore teams to build it, but they mostly failed. So I worked on it myself and am very close to being able to demo it. With a decent person or two (a bit of angular front end, and some angular/node back-end), we could launch in a month. But that would take money for salaries, which I don’t have.

Why are we wasting our money?

We Americans spent something like $2 BILLION on the past election and are very unhappy with the results. With $300,000, I could hire people and get PeopleCount up and running. With $2 million, I am certain we’ll succeed.

But I simply don’t have the contacts. I keep trying to reach people, and keep trying to finish the demo (and write a book, and pay bills…), but I have failed, so far. Now, money is once more running out, so I’m applying for jobs again…

Unlike other attempts in this “space”, such as Represent.me. Brigade.com, and Simpolfy.com, PeopleCount.org has a great plan for growing, becoming financially stable and delivering results. (No offense to the other sites, and I love you, but I don’t understand how your solution can make a real difference. I’ve talked with the principles of Represent.me and Simpolfy.com. Brigade won’t talk with me. Nor, for that matter, will Change.org…)

Please, help me help you. Add your email address to our announcement list and make a donation. (Currently, about 30 people have added their addresses, and total contributions are about $200…)

Stop Working Harder to Make Democracy Work

America is trying SO HARD to make our Democracy work. Stop it!

Millions of hours and billions of dollars, for what???

We literally spend millions of hours and billions of hours trying to fight each other to elect better people. And it doesn’t even work.

In the last election:

  • 1/8 of voters voted for Hillary
  • 1/8 of voters held their noses and voted for Hillary
  • 1/8 of voters voted for Hillary
  • 1/8 of voters held their noses and voted for Hillary
  • 1/2 of voters didn’t vote

Hello? HELLO? Does this seem like it’s working to you?

Millions of hours and billions of dollars invested into working a broken system produces broken results. That’s the way life is SUPPOSED to be.

Analogy- a 2-wheel car

America is like a 2-wheel car. It has a great engine, a nice chassi, and parts of the interior are extremely plush and comfortable. It’s a front-wheel drive car, and has two great front wheels.

Hello?  America, are you listening?  The back wheels are missing!

This past year, we’ve gone on a car trip. We put millions of hours and billions of dollars into driving our car through another election. To someone on the outside, it looked a lot of friction and sparks coming off the back end as we dragged it across the trip. It’s not pretty and we didn’t get very far.

And the congress and presidency we’ve created from it look pretty lame. But that’s the way it should be. What God intended for cars is that if you drive a car with no rear wheels, it works really, really badly.

Stop working so hard.
With a few hours and a few dollars, we can have nice rear wheels

Instead, I propose we supply what’s missing- rear wheels. You have no clue how nice it’ll be! We’ll be able to simply roll along and make progress. It’s not dirt-simply, but it’s pretty simple.

All you need to do is add your email address to our announcement list and donate $20. If 15,000 of you do that, we can fix our democracy. If 100,000 of you do that, I can guarantee results.

If you want to read about it, I’ve written tons. If you want to help, send me an email. If you don’t believe it, don’t believe it. But if you want to take a chance on turning America around, it’s only your email address and $20…

I have NOT been able to do it without you. And without you, the future looks bad for you, and for us. Maybe someone will come to the rescue- a fair number of people have a million to spare (though few of them are less cynical than you.)

My suggestion

Put your cynicism away, for a few moments, and add your email address to our announcement list and donate $20.

Direct Democracy is Not what PeopleCount Creates

America has a system of representative democracy. But it’s broken. It’s no longer either representative or democratic. PeopleCount proposes to fix it, not to go to a system of direct democracy.

In conversations, I often paint a picture of how PeopleCount will help us get Congress to pass popular legislation. Many people’s minds contains a devil’s advocate. It often pipes up, “I don’t really want a direct democracy.” Great- PeopleCount does not create one.

I don’t want to vote on actual laws, which is what a direct democracy proposes

A “direct democracy” is one where citizens vote on laws. Personally, I don’t want that. Even before I invented PeopleCount I was too busy to study the details of laws.

The work of crafting laws happens in committees. Members of Congress and their staffs work through pros and cons and issues and solutions putting together something they believe can work. They look for the most benefit and the least disadvantage and cost. But sometimes, a committee comes up with very partisan, or biased, laws.

The bulk of the work of approving laws is understanding the trade-offs. For instance, free trade is usually a good thing. But the TPP proposes copyright laws that are overly corporate-friendly. And it was created in secret, so the discussions about trade-offs are all hidden. And it’s 6,000 pages long! We need representatives who can, with their staffs, handle this kind of analysis. In this case, we need a Congress that can be a check and balance to an administration which did a poor job of putting together this agreement.

Example: Is pass a term limit amendment a priority?

I just finished a 3-article series about the issue of term limits. Surveys said in 2013 that 75% of America wanted term limits. That should be a no-brainer to pass, right?

97% of Americans want to end government corruption. And 80-90% of Americans disapprove of Congress. This is the overriding issue. If any issue appears to help end corruption, Americans will want it. But that doesn’t tell us whether they’ll want all of them, nor what the priority should be.

Congress might, rightfully, resist a term limit amendment

If America voted on Term Limits on PeopleCount, I expect most representatives would report back that their priority will be to end the corrupting conflicts of interest in Congress around lobbying and the “revolving door” where members of Congress and their senior staff members are rewarded with lucrative jobs by lobbying firms. The big problem is that money buys legislation and wins elections. Term limits just limits a member of Congress to only 12 years of corruption- that’s not good enough.

They might also report back that they’re willing to support individual states voting to limit their own representative’s and senators’ terms or remove such limits. This would allow some states to try this, plus make it easier to undo such a change.

In the next article, we’ll look at another example about climate change.

 

A Purpose-Built System for Political Accountability- Benefits

The last post suggested we solve the basic problem in politics– lack of political communication between citizens and politicians. We want a system purpose-built to support accountability to citizens. I’ve written extensively about how PeopleCount is such a system. This is about its benefits, how it solves or helps solve some of what we usually think of as the main problems in politics.

A system purpose-built to support political accountability

People complain about the parties, the expensive campaigns and the corruption of lobbying and money. Others complain that voters don’t care or are poorly informed.

These are all symptoms of a poorly designed political system, a system where politicians are not accountable to people. So of course PeopleCount solves them.

Parties in Gridlock

Parties are in gridlock because A) parties have usurped people’s power, and B) they want more power, especially the Republicans. The Republican leadership has carried out a war on Obama- their strategy was to say no to everything he did.  Many Republicans were willing to shut down the government entirely. Similarly they’re anti-Hillary.

The remedy to this is to free politicians from needing the party. If Congress simply focused on doing what 80% of citizens want, they’d have plenty to do. And when the easy stuff was done, they could not only compromise, but get approval to compromise from citizens and still please 80%.

A system purpose-built to deliver political accountability to citizens much succeed in these sorts of issues. And if people support it, it can’t fail.

Expensive campaigns and the corrupting influence of money

Money corrupts precisely because campaigns are expensive. Money is needed.

Imagine if we had PeopleCount. Imagine that a member of Congress and three challengers are communicating with citizens for two years before the election, at low cost. Imagine they’re submitting monthly reports and being graded. Imagine citizens are seeing their progress on every issue and comparing it with what the challengers are offering. When PeopleCount is used widely, candidates won’t need much money for campaigns.

Plus, surveys say almost all voters, 97%, support anti-corruption measures. If this becomes obvious on PeopleCount, what do you think members of Congress will do? Do you think they’ll ignore it and get lousy grades on this issue? And 85 percent of Americans want fundamental changes in the way we fund our elections. So yes, PeopleCount will solve this. Things that voters overwhelmingly want will happen quickly.

Accountability to citizens will make campaigns less expensive so money is much less important. And it’ll push Congress to pass anti-corruption legislation quickly.

Citizen care more and be better informed

Today, most citizens feel it doesn’t matter if they are involved in politics. Their voices aren’t solicited, much less heard. So why be informed? Many ignore it.

The worst part is caring. It’s hugely frustrating to care about political causes. To the extent that people care about it, they’re pretty miserable. So many people stop caring, to whatever extent they can manage it. Often people adapt by mostly not caring, and then getting mad once in a while. It’s this anger that the parties, especially the Republicans and Trump, tap into.

So imagine you could go online and just vote on the issues you care about. Suddenly your voice matters.

And then your representative and senators report to you on it. You can see from the way the country votes whether a solution is possible. If half the country wants something and half the country hates it, then either we live with it or we find a compromise. But we can stop blaming politicians and parties and focus instead on educating ourselves and finding a better solution.

You can make PeopleCount deliver on its mission

Will PeopleCount, purpose-built to deliver accountability to citizens, succeed? That’s the wrong question. The empowering question is: How can we make it succeed? First in delivering what its basic promise. Second in delivering more that’s needed.

What more is needed will be covered in the next article.

Let’s Solve the Basic Problem in Politics

Let’s create something to solve the basic problem in politics. Commonly we think “the problem” is the other party, or the parties, money in elections, gerrymandering, corruption, and on and on. These are all just symptoms.

The American people have political power, but can’t wield it

We, The People, have the ultimate political power in the US. But we can’t wield it. That’s the basic problem.

So what happens? Our elected members of Congress wield it instead. Sure, one of the consequences of this is that power corrupts.

But they have little power individually. So the parties have organized them, and us, against each other. They’ve convinced most of us that each of us is either winning or losing. So the parties wield the power to continue the fight, and most of their energy goes there rather than to solve problems.

And both the parties and members of Congress need money, so the wealthy have influence. In fact, when Congress does pass new laws, it’s usually laws that the wealthy want.

The parties, the expensive campaigns and the corruption of money are not the problem. These are all things that arise to accommodate our situation. The real problem is the situation. We have a system that doesn’t give people and politicians an efficient way to communicate.

The real problem: a system that doesn’t let people wield power

There are two sides to this problems

1) We can’t reach politicians, so they can’t represent us. We have no easy/fast way of reaching them, so decent communication from us to them doesn’t happen. At best, they can only guess what we want. At worst, some don’t even bother to guess.

2) Politicians can’t reach us. The available communication system is lousy, especially in two ways.

A) It’s expensive: Ads, post-cards, outreach and surveys costs tons of money, so campaigns are expensive. Our current solution is for winning candidates to raise lots of money. This makes it easy for the wealthy to have undue influence.

B) It’s lousy: They tell us whatever they want to tell us, not what we’re interested in hearing about. They tell us tiny phrases and sound bites because the only thing worse than hearing crap that we already know about or don’t care about is hearing a lot of crap about them. If something isn’t in the news, chances are low that we’ll hear about it.

When communication is poor, relationship is poor or missing entirely. What we want is a relationship where politicians our accountable to us citizens. Since the communication is poor, we have little or no accountability.

Let’s solve the basic problem, not the symptoms

So the problem is the system.

But let’s not rush to change it. There are lots of “solutions” floating around today to fix this or that symptom. What we need is a purpose-built solution to remedy the problems above. We need a system that not only enables good communication both ways, but enables the communication needed for accountability.

I’ve written about this extensively elsewhere. That’s what PeopleCount.org is all about.

The next article will be about the effects of this system.

We Should Create the Future We Want

America should focus on creating the future we want.

Three days ago, Greg Satell wrote a blog post titled: Innovation Needs To Shift From Disrupting Markets To Tackling Grand Challenges. He’s wrong, but close. His conclusion was:

Rather than looking for markets to disrupt, we need to look for human endeavors that we can empower …
The challenges we face today require us to reimagine the realm of the possible.

He’s right that we should not target disruptive markets. People in industry, venture capital and startups are already pouring resources, ideas and effort into these.

But neither should we be targeting “grand challenges.” Greg mentioned three.

His first grand challenge was a zero-carbon economy. But this is already doable. In fact, one country is carbon-negative and four are quickly approaching it. It’s doable in America, too, except our political system stands in the way. The oil and coal companies and their Republican ally ALEC spread lies, fear and doubt with impunity.

The second and third were curing cancer and making faster computer technology. Society is already focusing on these. There is plenty of financial incentive from current markets. In Greg’s own terms, these are already well within “the realm of the possible.”

What’s needed, commitment to create the future we want

What we need to do is to envision and commit to a highly desirable future. A future that’s truly great is “outside the box.” It’s not unthinkable, but it’s a pipe dream compared to the resignation and cynicism that pervade our culture. Yet we know people want it.

For climate change, one such future is a healthy climate. This is a much more desirable future than simply trying to avoid disaster.

For politics, one such future is a political system of, by and for the people. PeopleCount proposes we achieve this by adding a system in which politicians are accountable to citizens. Rather than politics of name-calling, blame and loyalty to parties, we’d have politics be about citizens saying what they want. And government would simply be how citizens work together to achieve it.

Another one for politics would be to make politics honest. Just as lying to the U.S. government is currently illegal, ThePeoplesConvention proposes a new amendment saying that lying to the public about matters of public policy is illegal.

Society should not be targeting big challenges or disruptive ideas. We should be targeting the world we want to create.

Are there Plans to Fix our Democracy?

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Fix Democracy

Can we fix our democracy? A better question is: What plans are there to fix it? I’ve been looking into this for four years. Whether you believe PeopleCount’s plan is credible or not, I’ve seen no other credible plans.

There are a number of plans to fix our democracy besides PeopleCount’s. They all involve changing American laws.

GOOOH: New representatives to fix our democracy

One of these is Get Out of Our House (GOOOH). They are trying to get “citizen politicians” to run instead of the “professional ones” who seem to perpetuate the gridlock. Their plan is to recruit good candidates and raise hundreds of millions of dollars to fund winning campaigns. (A winning campaigns usually cost at least $1.5 million.)

GOOOH is trying to form groups of hundreds or thousands of voters in each district. Each group will work together to pick one of them as the candidate. And these candidates will pledge to represent all the people, and more. See the “How will GOOOH candidates be different” question of their FAQ.

A Brand New Congress to fix our democracy

Another one is Brand New Congress (BNC). Their plan is for their candidates to support campaign-finance reform and other progressive efforts that majorities of Americans support.

They’re not forming a new party, but they have a specific platform. The second-to-last bullet point on their Goal page says they’ll champion a number of laws to remove corruption and the power of the wealthy in elections.

BNC is trying to save money by having one campaign for all of their targeted 400 candidates. I’m not sure how much they can save. One of the highest costs in a campaign is outreach. They’ll still need ads that give each candidate name recognition. Perhaps by buying ads in bulk, they can get better prices.

Why these plans may not work

These plans are challenging. First, they require getting a lot of people together and raising a lot of money. Many have tried this. It has been tried in every election and hasn’t been accomplished yet.

Second, there will be opposition. The democrats are increasingly supporting the kinds of changes needed. But not all democrats are on board. Lots of corporations donate to democrats and they’re at best conflicted about losing that money.

The Republican party isopposed to taking money out of politics. They oppose it on “freedom of speech” grounds.

These are not reasons to be discouraged. We call it “fighting the good fight.” And about 3/4 of Americans want campaign finance limits. Plus even more want other anti-corruption laws.

They’re good plans, but not guaranteed

So these are laudable efforts, but we shouldn’t count on them succeeding.

Also, notice that they don’t fundamentally change the system- they just try to limit the corruption. They don’t give ordinary Americans an increased voice in politics outside of elections.

In the next article, we’ll look at other plans to fix our democracy.

Problem Solving in Politics requires Understanding Context

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Problem Solving

In the last post, we looked at how problem solving in politics takes exploration and not-knowing. That makes it possible to inspect the contexts that give rise to the problems, and see underlying truth.

I believe that if you really see the truth, there’s no one to blame. Yes, some people do bad things. But they’re doing what to them seems best to them.

Even when people are committing mass murder or terrorism, it’s because they think it’s necessary. Most Jihadist Muslims think it’s important to bring about a world that Mohammed would approve of. Some don’t think so, but see the immorality of the west as too horrific to allow. From what I’ve read, many are just trying to survive. From lives of boredom and hopeless about finding jobs, some respond to the deceptive offers from ISIS to prosper.

Context determines right and wrong, obscuring truth

I’m not excusing anyone, just looking at how humans work. Each of has a world view, or context. It determines our flavor of the world and ourselves and our lives. Different contexts, or world views, give different people different notions of right and wrong. And different notions of what’s best for politics.

Often, especially with things we feel strongly about, our context determines what we see. It hides the truth from us. To fix our broken political system, we have to get below what Democrats see and what Republicans see and what Greens and Libertarians and Independents see. We have to fix the system that underlies these views and causes them to fight each other instead of working together.

What determines our context?

Some of the context comes from and is perpetuated by our culture, our stories about it. But it’s all consistent with the opportunities we have and see. If we change some of the basic things in life, we can change our context.

For instance, it’s much easier to connect with a lot of people today than it was 50 years ago. Most of us share on Facebook. Most of us are available to friends and family by cell phone. That changes how connected we feel, a basic part of our context.

What are the basic contexts in politics?

One of the main contexts in American politics is that it’s a struggle for power. We expect to fight enemies. And naturally, the enemies are wrong and we’re right. So other contexts for it are right and wrong, good and bad.

When Congress sits down to effect a change, they’re unstoppable. During the housing bubble that brought the world economy down at the end of Bush’s last term in office, Obama and McCain and leaders of Congress got together and came up with a plan. A much worse disaster was averted. During that time, the context shifted from struggling for power to averting disaster.

How would accountability effect context?

If our politicians were accountable to us, we’d have a true democracy. We citizens would in a real sense be governing ourselves. We’d be acting responsibly, taking responsibility for guiding government.

We’d be able to look at politics as the method by which we decide what we want. Politics would be how we communicate together to design our future.

In order for our political process to improve, we have to solve for root cause. We have to dare to look at our contexts instead of leaving them invisible and searching for blame within them.

Please join us in creating a new context for politics. Add your email address to our announcement list.