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Fri Jun 13, 2014 at 06:25 AM PDT

Proposal to Fix Top Two Primaries

by RainDog2

As anybody who follows elections on Daily Kos knows, California's current top two primary system has the unfortunate effect of allowing one party to get two of its candidates on the general election ballot simply because the other party had too many primary candidates splitting the vote.  In 2012, this allowed republicans to win California's blue-leaning 31st district by having two republicans and 4 democrats on the primary ballot.  In the 2014 cycle, we only narrowly avoided repeating this blunder in the 31st district. And two republicans advanced to the general the purple trending 25th district (thereby shutting democrats out of what looked to be a competitive race).

The top two system nevertheless does have some merit. It eliminates the spoiler effect inherent in a first-past-the-post system, without having to rely on runoffs (which depress turn out) or ranked-choice voting (which has tended to be confusing and unpopular with voters). In truly uncompetitive districts, it probably does democracy a service to have two members of the same party on the ballot, as this prevents the general election from becoming a meaningless "coronation", with all the real action being in the low-turnout primary.

With the intention of allowing two candidates of the same party to advance in districts that are truly uncompetitive, but preventing this outcome in competitive districts, I propose the following fix to the top two primary system:

1. All candidates appear on the same primary ballot with all registered voters being able to vote for only one candidate.

2. The candidate who receives the most votes advances to the general election.

3. If candidates who share the leading candidate's party affiliation have together received at least X % of the vote, the second place candidate advances to the general.

4. In all other cases, the top candidate who does not share the leading candidate's party affiliation advances to the general.

The effect of this proposal would depend considerably on the value chosen for X. If X=95, then nearly every general election race will have candidates from different parties.  If X=60, the race would have to be fairly close before anybody but the top two candidates would advance.  For example, in the 25th district, the republican party collectively received 64.7% of the vote (presumably due to low turnout). You could even choose X=50, on the grounds that if a party receives 50% of the vote they've won.

I would personally go with a value in the 60-70 range.  This would still allow dem on dem or rep on rep contests in truly uncompetitive districts, but force a "real" contest everywhere else.

Poll

If this system were adopted, what percentage of the total vote would you want a single party to have to recieve before only its top two candidates would advance to the general election?

14%1 votes
14%1 votes
0%0 votes
42%3 votes
14%1 votes
14%1 votes

| 7 votes | Vote | Results

Discuss

Tue May 13, 2014 at 05:43 AM PDT

Please Have Kids, Liberals

by RainDog2

No, 69 feet of sea level rise is not setting in, nor is the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet imminent. What is happening is that a couple of the West Antarctic outlet glaciers are imminently detaching from their grounding lines (i.e. the base of the glacier will no longer rest securely on the sea floor). Marine terminating glaciers are grounded under steady state conditions and detach from their grounding lines during periods of rapid advance or retreat.

The NYT article discussed two recent papers:  An observational study that observed grounding line detachment in 3 major West Antarctic outlets; and a modeling study that examined the rate at which the portion of the ice sheet feeding the outlet would collapse after the Thwaites Glacier outlet became ungrounded.

The modeling study in particular is actually strongly optimistic.  If your decision on whether to have children is based on climate science, then Joughin and others give you two good reasons to reproduce.  First, they find only trivial additions to sea level over your children's lifetimes (about 2 cm over the next 100 years).  Secondly, and more importantly, they find that the onset of rapid disintegration of this portion of the ice sheet  is highly depended on how much heat we continue to put in the system.  If we can keep melt rates minimal, they do not foresee this portion of the ice sheet collapsing during the next 1000 years.  Under a high melt scenario (i.e. full steam ahead with global warming), they see ice sheet collapse within 2 to 3 hundred years.

Therefore, the future is up to us.  And up to our children.  We have not irreparably damaged West Antarctica.  By controlling warming, we can control changes to ice sheets. And if you want to shape that future, one of the better ways to do so is to pass your values along to your children.  

It's possible that Joughin and others are too optimistic.  It's possible that we don't have hundreds of years to solve these problems. But the howls of agony and pronouncements of doom are getting rather deafening.  And if liberals don't have children, our vision for a better world may well die with us.

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Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 08:11 AM PDT

Should Liberals Dis the Bible?

by RainDog2

In response to various claims of the religious right, but particularly regarding the debate over marriage equality, several people on Kos and elsewhere have asserted that the Bible is bloody, misogynist, chauvinist, or in some other way utterly incompatible with civilized morals and values.  I will argue that not only is this approach completely ineffective at convincing anybody who takes the Bible seriously, it serves to reinforce the fundamentalist worldview and ultimately undermines liberal and progressive stances on a range of issues.

Before I get to the Bible, let me define and explain fundamentalism.  I will assert that all texts – but particularly opaque ancient texts –  are only understood through the contexts and communities in which they are read.  The goal of fundamentalism is to deny this context and community and therefore assert a new “true” reading of the text.  In doing so, the fundamentalists, of course, create a new textual context and build a community around that context, but one radically divorced from history and tradition.  Such a move can be done for any variety of reasons, but in the last century all or nearly all fundamentalist movements have been reactionary and anti-modern.  So the gist is that by asserting that the Bible is reactionary and anti-modern, we are building and strengthening the modern fundamentalist textual context. In fact, the reactionary reading of the bible promoted by many anti-religious writers is itself a fundamentalism, radically divorced from the history and tradition in which the Bible has been understood. America now faces two fundamentalisms, one Christian and one anti-religious.  Far from opposing each other, these fundamentalisms agree on most textual points, differing only in the conclusions they draw from them.  Let me elaborate below the squiggle.

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Everybody on Kos who wants to solve the ecological crisis would do very well to understand the above diagram of US energy production and consumption.  

The X axis represents total energy produced or consumed.  The units are quads; which are 10^18 joules.  As we can see, the US consumed more than 100 quads or 10^20 joules of energy in 2005.  US Photosynthesis - the process by which plants and microorganisms build biomass - consumed 80 quads. This means that if we burned every fresh plant grown in our country with 100% efficiency we could not fill our current energy demand. The line called "forest potential" - represents the maximum amount of energy that could be sustainably harvested from our nation's forests.  This represents 5 quads.  These two lines show the utter futility of biomass schemes as a single "ecological" source for our nation's energy.  We would need to reduce US energy consumption by something like 80-95% to have any hope of meeting our energy needs through the burning of biological material.

The Y axis is Energy Return on Investment (EROI).  This is the ratio of energy produced by a product or process over the energy consumed in building or extracting it.  It is hard to read, but "tar sands" is way in the bottom left with a EROI of less than 1 - implying it takes more energy to extract than it produces.  Also in this category are various highly subsidized products like ethanol biodiesel - whose EROI hovers around 1.  Coal still remains king, with EROI values oil hasn't seen in decades.  However, high EROI should not be confused with sustainability or ecological friendliness. Just because coal can be extracted with little energy cost, does not mean there aren't huge impacts from pollution, strip mining, global warming, etc.  Natural gas and oil remain large parts of the US energy budget, with EROI values of around 20:1

The much vaunted renewable and clean sources of all plot in the lower left portion of the figure.  Murphy and Hall choose the EROI value of 3:1 as the "Minimum Required for Civilization".  The idea here is that a society with too inefficient an energy source would need to put so much of its efforts into making energy that it could not function.  Both nuclear and solar plot perilously close to this line.  This is because the large amount of energy requires to enrich uranium and make solar cells respectively.  Thus if we wanted to dump fossil fuels in favor of solar and/or nuclear, serious difficulties would likely emerge with the efficiency of these technologies.

Wind, hydro, and firewood plot at respectable EROI values, but are very small portions of the current US energy budget.  All of these have serious limitations for upscaling. Firewood is discussed above.  Apart from the huge environmental impacts of dams,  most rivers in the US are currently dammed.  Thus there is not very much room for additional hydro power, and certainly nowhere near the 100 Quads needed for US energy consumption.  Wind may have some promise.  But as is shown, it currently accounts for less than 1% of US energy production.  To get it anywhere near 100 Quads, vast tracts of would need to be converted to wind farms, with huge environmental impacts.  Modern windmills require certain rare metals as well as very large quantities of concrete.  Thus its not clear that so many windmills could even be produced at all, let alone sustainably.

The lesson that I take from this sort of data is that our society is nowhere close to a green "magic bullet" that could meet US energy demand through sustainable means.  Its important to remember that prior to the industrial revolution, wood, wind, and flowing water were the principle sources of energy harvested by human beings.  The idea that we can return to those sources of energy while maintaining an industrialized society may be a dangerous fantasy.  As no renewable looks remotely promising when faced with 100 quads of energy demand, tackling energy demand might be the only way to stave off the global ecological crisis.  Politically, however, this move is almost certain to be deeply unpopular.  There is no way to substantially lower US energy demand without great sacrifice, to say nothing of the developing world that seeks to emulate a US lifestyle.  Thus platitudes about the need to invest in Green Jobs may sound reassuring, but as serious solutions to the ecological crisis, they are not remotely realistic.  If a serious solution is desired, a more revolutionary course is needed.

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