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With Congress' approval rating at 12%, there's no longer any argument that the U.S. government is broken. Lefties and Tea Partiers alike are starting to support the idea of calling a Constitutional Convention. This will be a good test of the Founding Fathers' ultimate emergency safeguard. Voters understand that elections won't help in our current situation because the spirit of compromise has been driven out of the system. It's time for Plan B.

I support the idea of a Constitutional Convention. But I think it probably won't work because the lack of compromise that got us to this point will be carried to the convention. I don't see a Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson in the wings to help us sort things out. And a constitutional change would take years. Clearly it is time for me to step in and set things right.

As self-appointed Leader of the Transitional Government, I order my fellow revolutionaries to create a website that can give direction to our gridlocked elected officials. I have blogged about this before, but now it's time to either build this site or tell me who has already done it.

The main requirement for the website is that it can compare arguments from all sides of every political issue in a side-by-side format with links to supporting data. The user should clearly see the counterargument for every point on display.

Ideally, the system would be designed such that the "best" arguments float to the top, not only for the big picture but for each point and counterpoint within the argument. Over time, the arguments for both sides would evolve to their strongest forms.

The next layer would be some sort of rolling judicial opinion on the quality of each argument, updated periodically. It would be hard to find unbiased judges for political issues, but I think you could find people who are ethical enough to be objective about the arguments themselves. Remember that the judges would not be issuing a final or binding verdict. They would be evaluating the quality of each argument in light of the evidence. I think you could find judges willing to vote against arguments they want to agree with until the arguments themselves are improved and better supported by the evidence.

The quality of an argument can change over time as better data or even better thinking becomes available. The judges would update their opinions as needed. The judges' opinions wouldn't be binding on anyone. It would just be a way for one side to know where their argument needs improvement.

The website would also have a layer where users can see continuously updated poll results that show what the experts think, what voters think, and what elected officials think. Whenever those three groups get out of sync, it would become headline news. Over time, you'd hope the experts and the voters would get in sync, especially with the help of the judges. And once the experts and the voters are mostly on the same side, the politicians would find it embarrassing to disagree. Embarrassment is the main tool of my Transitional Government. When the elected government can learn to govern without embarrassing itself, I will dissolve the Transitional Government. We're a long way from that point.

I know my readers, and you'll send me lots of links to sites that are poor versions of what I just described. But if one of them is better than the rest, and capable of further improvement, I'll blog about it so you can keep an eye on it. However, I doubt there's any site out there with an ever changing "best" argument and an independent judiciary review. At most, there might be some fact-checking organizations.

The key to making such a site work is as much in the interface design as in the concept itself. If you don't nail the interface, no one will use it. It might take a few versions to get that right. I'm not a micro-managing Transitional Leader, so I leave it to my fellow revolutionaries to work out the details of the site. Now get to work.

 
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Oct 18, 2011
Sorry this is so late but my husband linked me to this post as we were discussing the need for Occupy Wall Street to aggregate their efforts in a dialogue on the internet. While I love the theory behind this virtual Constitutional Convention, I agree with some of the other comments about the "expert" and "judicial" role in the process. I am also hesitant to see a mass response to such a technically oriented approach to arguments. I am reminded of Winston Churchill's quote: "The best argument against democracy is a 5 minute conversation with the average voter." I don't think most people vote or press for political action based on reason and facts. They act on beliefs and perceptions of reality: religious, economic, social. However, at the end of the day, people vote on what they "like," not necessarily what is best. Example: Developing a defunct harbor as a waste transfer station in a city between two strategic port cities could bring millions of dollars compared to making it a seasonal tourist wharf. The numbers come out in favor of the waste station on all fronts. Do you think the residents of the city would ever vote to say "Yes, bring everyone else's trash to us and we'll take care of it?" Doubtful. I wish the "best" or most "rational" argument would win, but then, what would we need politicians for? Wait, maybe this is a better idea than I originally thought...
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 11, 2011
The only way I'd agree with a Constitutional Convention is if it severely handcuffed the inevitable evil that men (and women) do once in power. Precisely what our current Constitution was designed to do. In fact, it worked so well America went from nothing to the envy of the world in shorter time than any other country in recorded history. Too bad we've had a couple hundred years to worm our way around the very essence of what made it work so well.
 
 
Oct 5, 2011
You've expanded your typical post hoc reasoning into an entirely new realm: non-sequiturism, if that's a word, which it isn't, but if you don't get the idea, read on.

You start with Congress' approval rating, and decide from that that not only is the system broken, but the solution is to trash the Constitution and write a new one. You often do this, and it's maddening. You give no support for how a low approval rating in Congress should lead anyone to believe that the problem is the Constitution.

The Constitution was written to give the people freedom, liberty and to convince a very skeptical populace running from tyranny that the new federal government would limit its powers to those specifically given to it by the Constitution. Much of what is wrong today is because the Constitution has been reinterpreted as a "living" document, which means it doesn't really mean very much. It certainly doesn't limit the power of the federal government, who loves nothing more than throwing other people's money down a rat hole and then demanding more money from them.

There is little doubt that the combined wisdom of the many is superior to the limited wisdom of the few. Why, then, have we focused so much power in the hands of so few people? The reason Congress' approval rating is low is because they're trying to spend too much money on things that don't help the economy or the country. How many crashed dictatorships or quasi-socialist experiments do we have to see fail before we realize that the founders' way works better?

Top-down planning doesn't work. It crushes initiative and removes the personal benefit for entrepreneurs which fuels their willingness to take risk. Can you imagine Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak going to the central planners in a socialist America and saying, "Hey, we're making these personal computers in our garage. How about taking that $500 million you're about to give to Solyndra and give it to us instead! If you do, someday our company will have more cash than the US Treasury! (True.)"

There has never been an economic system devised that provides more efficient distribution of goods and resources than capitalism. Government, however, believes that they and only they really really really know how money should be invested, and the private sector should just go pound sand.

If you want to fix the ills that are plaguing our country via its federal government, the last thing you should look to change is the Constitution. If you want to start somewhere, though, I'd suggest replacing the current 16th amendment income tax with a flat tax, and repealing the 17th amendment. You should also support mandatory civics training at all levels of public schooling.

Ben Franklin once said words to the effect that people who are willing to trade freedom for temporary security will end up with neither freedom nor security. Our government is in the business of trading our heritage for the pottage that they will allow us. It's time to seriously consider lessening the power of the federal government, and making it more efficient and less tyrannical.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 5, 2011
Scott,

Going by your design, the logic for selecting the 'best' argument is:

1. Receive argument.

2. Find suitable expert. [Candidate is either an expert or a voter, so thats easy.]

3. Receive expert opinion

4. Send out the opinion for a voters poll

5. Reject expert opinion

6. Reject voters poll

7. Choose your favorite argument

Scott rules... :)
 
 
Oct 4, 2011
I can see two difficult issues here. Specifically, this website could exacerbate two of the worst parts of American politics.

1) Who decides who qualifies as an expert? If, for example, climate change science and policy is on the table, the real experts are overwhelmingly on one side, but people who are not actually scientists are often depicted as experts. It wasn't hard for Exxon to give these people a voice, so expert and public opinion have no resemblance to each other. Couldn't this website make the job of disinformation via false expert easier?

2) Deciding policy one issue at a time is a big problem in the USA and this website would make it worse. While in Canada, a government in power can put their entire coherent plan into place, in the USA, each piece is debated and what results is something entirely incoherent. The easy example is that every government wants to be the one to give benefits, but none wants to be the one to take them away. Conservatives cut taxes and waste money on wars (overgeneralizing here, relax) while Liberals increase social benefits but don't raise taxes enough to balance it. Neither side typically presents a coherent plan. Again, this website could make that worse. People will likely vote to curb CO2 emissions, improve health care, etc, while few will want to increase taxes.
 
 
Oct 4, 2011
"I support the idea of a Constitutional Convention. But I think it probably won't work because the lack of compromise that got us to this point will be carried to the convention."

Agreed on both points.


"The main requirement for the website is that it can compare arguments from all sides of every political issue in a side-by-side format with links to supporting data."

Who chooses the data? Using the wrong data, the data not existing, trolls spamming the other sides data with the worst things to make it look worse, would doom the idea to failure. Likewise a popular idea in this age of no common sense would doom us all. Take global warming. One side says no data exists on the other side. The other side says the first side is full of poop and is overstating things for the hype/crisis factors.


"Ideally, the system would be designed such that the "best" arguments float to the top, not only for the big picture but for each point and counterpoint within the argument. Over time, the arguments for both sides would evolve to their strongest forms."

Who chooses what is best? What if the right arguments are unpopular even in the best forms while the wrong ones that would doom us all are popular. Its safe to assume most people have no common sense thus throwing darts at a board might be a more effective way of deciding government rules. Republicans voted in GWB while dems voted in baka obama. Both sides have flaws in their voting bases.


"The next layer would be some sort of rolling judicial opinion on the quality of each argument, updated periodically. It would be hard to find unbiased judges for political issues, but I think you could find people who are ethical enough to be objective about the arguments themselves."

Or the judges could be lying weasels, pretending to be ethical until they have a position as a judge. Take the supreme court. The judges there are pretty much free to decide whatever they want as they don't have to face anyone anymore, meaning they are free to follow the truth... Save for the one swing vote, they tend to vote among party lines. History suggests you aren't going to have a lot of luck here.


"The website would also have a layer where users can see continuously updated poll results that show what the experts think, what voters think, and what elected officials think."

What's the saying? There's lies, d--- lies, and there's polls? Plus one bot attack would screw your poll over big time. What is that? 99% of experts and people say that satirical cartoonists should be hung via a fishhook in their genitalia? Make it so!
 
 
Oct 4, 2011
The time for more debate and consensus gathering is past. The Romans had the answer to such political stalemates 2000 years ago. It is time for a benign dictatorship. For 10 years, give one person the authority to fix everything; make laws, set taxes, reorganize the government and direct spending.
The trick is finding the one person that can be trusted to wield that authority without corruption. I suggest someone that has pulled himself (yes I am going to be sexist and suggest that the dictator be male) up from poverty to middle class so that he has the experiences of both classes. He will be educated, with at least a Master's degree so that he has demonstrated that he can learn about and understand the complexity of various issues. He has to be a problem solver so i am suggesting that he be an engineer; problem solving is the simplest definition of engineering. He should have worked in both the private sector and government. He should be a family man that has raised good kids that are themselves educated or working on it. He should be free of religious encumberences.
By shear coincidence, I fit that description perfectly. Feel free to promote me to your followers for the position of Dictator of the US.
Typing and spellcheck skills not required
 
 
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 4, 2011
The time for more debate and consensus gathering is past. The Romans had the answer to such political stalemates 2000 years ago. It is time for a benign dictatorship. For 10 years, give one person the authority to fix everything; make laws, set taxes, reorganize the government and direct spending.
The trick is finding the one person that can be trusted to wield that authority without corruption. I suggest someone that has pulled himself (yes I am going to be sexist and suggest that the dictator be male) up from poverty to middle class so that he has the experiences of both classes. He will be educated, with at elast a Master's degree so that he has demosntrated that he can learn about and understand the complexity of various issues. He has to be a problem solver so i am suggesting that he be an engineer; problem siolving is the simplest definition of engineering. He should have worked in both the private sector and government. He should be a family man that has raised good kids that are themselves educated or working on it. He should be free of religious encumberences.
By shear coincidence, I fit that description perfectly. Feel free to promote me to your followers for the position of Dictator of the US.
 
 
Oct 4, 2011
So I started coding up a website to do this and quickly realized that it has a few notable challenges.

1) How do you organize topics into a usable collection/heirarchy? e.g. Health Care could be considered an economic concept, a social issues topic, a welfare topic... Tagging is an option, but I find that normal people don't handle tags very well.

2) How do you present what will inevitably be many (more than two) ideas on the same topic? e.g. Health care could be free for children, free for everyone, free for the poor, have means-tested finance, have no public options, etc.

3) how do you suppress stupid people's contributions. I figured a voting system could be conjured up, but it would probably be a difficult UI that differentiates between agreement/disagreement, relevant/off-topic, serious/humorous contributions, spam, trolling, etc. Generally, how to deal with the GIGO effect.
 
 
Oct 4, 2011
This smacks all too much of the Simpsons episode "They Saved Lisa's Brain," where Springfield's intellectuals take control of government, with very dystopian results. Art pre-imitating life.

http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/They_Saved_Lisa's_Brain
 
 
Oct 4, 2011
I will work on a prototype design and post a link in following comments.
Obviously, we won't be able to cover all the issues at once, so I'm proposing that the site start off with 8 to 16 issues which are well developed, get the site online, and grow as needed. Having all issues available from day 1 is not viable.
As the transitional government, what is our policy regarding the previous government's debt? Is it our debt, someone elses' debt, or some other weird monetary arrangement. I have a few ideas on how we can clear this up as cheaply as possible. None of them are ethical.
I think our first issues should be gay rights, the discrimination against single people, if blue laws should remain on the books, and how should education be reformed.
 
 
Oct 4, 2011
I will work on a prototype design and post a link in following comments.
Obviously, we won't be able to cover all the issues at once, so I'm proposing that the site start off with 8 to 16 issues which are well developed, get the site online, and grow as needed. Having all issues available from day 1 is not viable.
As the transitional government, what is our policy regarding the previous government's debt? Is it our debt, someone elses' debt, or some other weird monetary arrangement. I have a few ideas on how we can clear this up as cheaply as possible. None of them are ethical.
I think our first issues should be gay rights, the discrimination against single people, if blue laws should remain on the books, and how should education be reformed.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 4, 2011
The problem with most of the existing systems is that responses to points aren't flagged as supporting or opposing, they're just responses. What you end up with is a list of highly ranked points, with no structure. Any argument rapidly breaks down into just noise, with later comments becoming completely lost.

I've thought about a way to do this before, and the way I'd envisage it working is by starting by framing the topic for discussion as something that can have 'pros' and 'cons' as responses, supporting and opposing arguments.

Comments would then be put in as supporting or opposing arguments. Then, each individual comment can in turn also have supporting or counter-arguments made against it. This gives the structure to the debate needed to form a logical argument and a rational conclusion.

Then, voters can vote on each individual comment made, be it pro, con, counterpoint, etc.

This allows not only an overview of what the strongest arguments are, but also makes it possible to see which arguments are truly compelling (with many votes and no strong counter-arguments), and where the points of contention are (where both the argument and the counterpoint have strong support), allowing the discussion to have both focus and (hopefully) some degree of resolution.

There's a lot of room for work in terms of voting, moderation and meta-moderation, and how the overall strength of an argument is rated (e.g. the simplest solution would be own vote plus supporting votes minus counter-argument votes - but would that work in practice?), and I'm afraid I just haven't had the time to actually implement this. I'm happy to support anyone else's efforts though!
 
 
Oct 4, 2011
Good idea, but it would be wise to remember that
"The many can err as grossly as the few."
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 4, 2011
I think the solution has to be a technical one, one that fits the age of the internet. Have a look for a possible solution here:
http://communitywiki.org/LiquidDemocracy

«A democratic system in which most issues are decided by direct referendum. However, since no one has time for this, you can delegate your votes. Here’s the cool part; you can delegate your votes on a certain topic to one person, and then delegate your votes on another topic to someone else. And delegations are transitive; you can delegate to someone who delegates to someone else, etc, in which case your votes will flow to whoever is at the end of the line. Of course, you can “un-delegate” at any time.»
 
 
Oct 4, 2011
I personally love the idea of a government that is truly made up of the citizens of the United States. A web-based government is a good idea also, since people feel less inclined to mask their true thoughts online. This way, the decisions are made by the people, and not the politicians.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 3, 2011
Check out stackoverflow.com - this has this possibility to float best solutions to te top etc.
 
 
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 3, 2011
__If a billion people believe in a bad idea, it's still a bad idea.__

How many people can't even read? How many people know where Europe is on a map?

No thanks. I just don't trust the masses. Plus, sometimes the best decisions are not popular.

How long would it take for some smart individual to manipulate the process for personal gain? I'm already thinking of opportunities to abuse the system. Maybe I'll sell ads. Or maybe I'll manipulate our new government's policy to drive markets up or down so I can make a personal profit.

No, this idea just won't do. Most people aren't smart enough to make this work. The rest are TOO smart, and will use it for personal gain.
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 3, 2011
Before we seek to find compromise in all things we must realize that there cannot always be compromise with interests that are widely divided. Before WWII, most of Europe sought to compromise with Germany and let them gobble up several countries almost completely unopposed. If there had been a little less compromise things might have turned out a lot better. I think we may be facing just such a situation today. You can cast whichever party you like in the role of the Nazis, but in the end we are just as deeply divided on fundamental issues.

For example, one party says that access to health care is a fundamental right and that the government must insure that everyone has it. The other side says that no one has the right to that which others must be forced to provide and that, while it is wrong to stand by and do nothing while someone is in trouble, it is just as wrong to use government to force others to help against their will. These are two diametrically opposed views. If you have the government help just a little the second viewpoint is completely violated while the first is not properly fulfilled. You will not find a compromise that will not anger both parties.
 
 
Oct 3, 2011
>With Congress' approval rating at 12%, there's no longer any argument that the U.S. government is broken.

Disagree. Congressional approval polls are always much lower than, say Presidential polls. It's not a clear measure of popular opinion. Hey, someone elected these guys.
 
 
 
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