Proposed planks for 2004 campaign platforms

by Andy Oram

The season has come around again. Presidential candidates are barking
insults at each other, and there's a shadow of a hope for drawing some
attention to issues of true importance.

In the spirit of stirring up debate around what really matters for our
future, therefore, I am modestly offering a few of my own creative
solutions to the problems that the national campaigns should be
dealing with.

The energy crisis

There are so many simple ways people could cut down on the appalling
waste of energy in this country that it's hardly fun to propose
anything new. But I have an initiative to offer, centered on the
crucial task of making public transportation appealing to Americans.

The terms "public transportation" and "appealing" sound so absurd
together as to be almost an oxymoron, in a culture like the United
States that handles public transportation as just another of the many
ways to punish poor people for being poor. The idea that public
transportation could be appealing didn't come to me until I saw it in
action in other countries. And what I want to see in the United States
is even grander than what I've seen in Berlin, Rouen, and
Tokyo--something befitting an immensely rich and self-pampering

Why not present public transportation as an indulgence? Backed up with
the right resources, such a campaign might succeed. Who would want to
spend an hour driving himself to the office when he could sit in
luxury while someone else does the work?

This means buses (because stringing track is an expensive investment
that doesn't pay off in the short term) that have comfortable seats
facing individualized media centers that offer news and educational
videos. Shuttles would run short routes on a frequent basis, and
customers would get to know their drivers. Comfortable waiting
stations would contain electronic maps showing the best way to get to
any local destination, and would show the exact location of each
vehicle as it makes its way through town--because people taking public
transportation like to have information in return for what they feel
is a loss of control.


Ultimately, of course, one can eliminate terror only by offering, to
the wide strata of poor and angry people whose environments give rise
to terrorists, a life better than that offered by the terrorists
themselves. Since the terrorists offer nothing but violence,
destitution, and grinding oppression, I can't quite see why the rulers
of this world find it so hard to come up with a competing proposal.
But in the mean time we need to do something to improve our vigilance.

This past September, student Nathaniel Heatwole planted several
dangerous objects on commercial airplanes and notified the proper
authorities. They reacted with alacrity by fixing the problem a month
later, then arresting Heatwole for lack of better ideas of what to
do. And in Britain, Ryan Parry of the tabloid Daily Mirror obtained
easy access to Buckingham Palace, including the room where George
W. Bush is staying.

I can accept the argument that what these people did was both
dangerous and unnecessary, but we should examine the incidents for
possible merits. After all, we're a competitive society with the
fervent belief that competition--along with accountability--brings out
the best in people and institutions. So let's institutionalize
breaches of security, and accountability for them.

I wouldn't reward someone for bringing actual weapons into airplanes,
nuclear facilities, state capital buildings, etc. But we could
encourage proxy violations, such as smuggling in inert metal rods
without being detected. Special, harmless, substances with certain
resemblances to weapons could be sold to people who want to try their
hand at the big sweepstakes. And institutions could be required by law
to set aside part of their budgets to actually pay bonuses when people
succeed in getting these materials past security.

It's hard to say what institutions should join the initiative, because
you often don't know you're a soft target until you become one. But
every institution that was required to pay someone when its security
was breached would sure as hell spend money to improve security. This
initiative in fact would leverage the risk-based security philosophy
recently espoused by security expert
Bruce Schneier.

Health care

Turn over the country's health care system to Fidel Castro, who has
presided for forty years over one of the world's best health care
systems, one that recently
an important new vaccine for meningitis and pneumonia. Castro, could
perhaps be induced to make a swap and give up being dictator of one
country in order to become health care tsar of another, much larger

The digital divide

Access to online information is increasingly determining one's ability
to understand the world politically, gain access to educational
materials, get a job, and even keep in touch with far-flung relatives
in societies where people are increasingly separated by thousands of

As with the other issues in this article, much ink and screen space
has been spent on debates over how much help the public needs and how
much the government should do. I will suggest one modest initiative
here that I think all could agree on.

Remember bookmobiles, those libraries on wheels that (even today, in
some places) bring reading materials to neighborhoods where people
don't have the time or transportation facilities to reach traditional
libraries? We should do the same with Internet access.

Every day, at a predictable time, a datamobile would show up in a
neighborhood. Sporting a satellite dish on the roof, it would offer
high-speed Internet access to terminals inside the datamobile as well
as a wireless LAN hub that would make such access available to people
in surrounding homes.

In the short term, the datamobiles would help people get the
information they need for one day--perhaps throwing in a VoIP phone
call or two--and make them comfortable using the Internet. But the
initiative would be good for the long term too. It would create demand
for more permanent and available solutions. Perhaps neighborhoods
would band together to string wire, and people who thought they
couldn't afford computers would scrape together the means to buy them.

Well, that's it for my proposed campaign planks this year. Admittedly,
some presidential candidates may offer a platform that is easier to
implement, but I don't think they'll offer one that does more for
us. Anyway, I have to hold out the hope for a 2004 campaign that
consists of more than sound bites about gay marriage.

What solutions haven't been thought of before?


2003-12-03 13:14:40
Yeah right, Castro and Hitler
Make Castro health czar? Yeah, and while you're at it, why not complain because in the 1930s we didn't offer Hitler the chance to become the nation's economic czar. After all, Nazi Germany was the only industrialized country to escape the Depression before the WWII began. By the late 1930s, Germany had a shortage of labor.

And the statistics about Hitler are undoubtedly true. Those from Cuba are probably bogus. During the Cold War, Hungary was often praised for its marvelous infant mortality statistics. Only after communism was overthrown did we discover that those statistics had been manufactured by classifying most infant deaths up to six months as miscarriages. Communism still reigns in Cuba.

And do we really want to deal with health issues the way Castro has? Do we want, for instance, to send those with AIDS to concentration camps? After all, it would be a marvelously effective way to control the spread of the infection.

No, I think I'll take a pass on the Castro as health czar.

2004-03-02 23:24:23
Have you ever noticed how often anonymous correlates with humorless? Have you ever wondered why people who can't take a joke, can't make one either?

Have you ever wanted to pinch Andy Rooney's nose?

2004-05-01 23:51:18
Restore Representation!
There are three areas of election law that need serious reform.

The first reform is the size of the U.S. House of Representatives itself. The House should be enlarged to more than triple its present size. By the first election after the 2010 census (2012), I suggest 1776 members. In addition, there should be a formula adopted to maintain the ratio of Representatives to population to between 1 to 180,000 and 1 to 240,000, but never less than 1776. This would assure the creation of new congressional seats every ten years so long as the population grows significantly.

The second reform is to further mitigate against gerrymandering by allowing voters in Congressional elections to “swap” or transfer the vote for U.S. Representative from the district where they reside to any other congressional district in that state. The only restriction would be that persons of voting age who reside in that district would have priority in registration. In practice, this would seldom be an issue because historically only about half the people of voting age in any district ever register to vote. In effect, congressional districts are typically 'half empty' of potential voters. Therefore, if the voters of a party are thrown into a ten year sentence of minority status in their assigned 'default' district, they can simply re-assign themselves to another district where they can be a majority or close enough to it to make those elections competitive.

The third reform needed in to completely junk the present campaign finance regime and start over with a new system based on mandatory anonymous contributions for all candidates for federal office. This reform is discussed in detail in my monograph Slashing the Gordian Knot of Campaign Finance Reform. It is based upon the same concept of the secret or anonymous ballot which we use for elections. Others have also proposed a similar reform beginning in 1962. However, advances in technology have made it far more practical than even thirty years ago. Electronic management of contributions is far, far less dangerous than electronic voting.