Trevor Noah’s takes on Trump

Trevor Noah, the 32 year old South African who recently took over from John Stewart as the host of the Daily Show, does the latest take down of the Donald.

It really will be a shame if Trump does not become the GOP nominee. I have not laughed this much in ages.

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Trump proves that democracy is dead

John Oliver’s spectacular takedown of the former reality TV star, who continues to win support from voters in spite of a string of xenophobic, racist, mysoginistic, and anti-muslim rants proves that democracy is dead.

No wonder that Americans searching Google for moving to Canada has reached an all time high.

Good luck.

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Let’s have better elections

A flawed election is better than no election. While in many countries that’s true, it should not be allowed to set the standard, as it does far too often.

Managing ballots and ensuring that they are all accounted for and properly tallied and accurately reported is analogous to accounting for all the transactions that occur in a cash business and ensuring that all the money is banked. It is logical that the controls that exist to make sure that cash doesn’t disappear should be found in the systems used for elections, but usually they aren’t.

That’s baffling.

In a business the primary controls are separation of duties, balancing the figures, and reconciling the data to other reliable figures. The person handling cash doesn’t handle goods. The person issuing the goods doesn’t handle the cash. The stocks are reconciled to the sales. Sales are reconciled to the money banked. The money banked is reconciled to the bank statements. Differences in the reconciliations precipitate investigation until they are satisfactorily resolved.

In a good business the systems report to management immediately when there is any attempt to circumvent the controls. And management makes sure that they know what’s going on.

In an election the ballots are the business’ equivalent of cash. The ballots used must balance with the number of voters authenticated against the polling lists. The number of voters that voted must balance to the number of voters authenticated.  A number of voters authenticated must balance to the independent tallies of voters that entered the polling station to those that left it, less the number of people who could not be authenticated. The number of votes counted must balance to the number of ballots cast less the number of spoiled ballots.

The people counting the number of voters are not the same as those who authenticate them to the polling lists. The people counting the votes are not the same people who issued the ballots to the voters.

At each stage each person responsible for a task should be reporting the figures to the electoral management body so that there is no opportunity for collusion. The central system can then perform the reconciliations automatically, and when something doesn’t balance, the system should notify management to initiate an immediate investigation.

In most elections it doesn’t happen like that.

It is up to observers, disenfranchised voters, and the losing candidates to detect and report irregularities. That’s not a system.

Usually it is only when the ballots are returned to the election management body that the reconciliations are done, if at all, sometimes days later.

When the announcement of the result has already been delayed by the logistical difficulties of getting the ballots back to the central electoral management body, the revelation that potential irregularities will further delay the outcome of the election raises suspicion and undermines the legitimacy of the result in the minds of the electorate.

The proposal that these basic controls should exist is frequently countered with the excuse that the infrastructure is not available and that developed country solutions are too expensive and won’t work in places where the electricity is unreliable and the Internet access is almost nonexistent.

And yet those are the countries that are leading the world using SMS to meet the public’s desperate need for banking services. That works fine! It can work for elections too.

Recently SMS technology was adopted for the Kenyan presidential election and it failed miserably. The lack of transparency as to what went wrong suggests that it was not the technology, but the implementation that was to blame.

Introducing these basic controls will, in the absence of massive collusion, eliminate ballot stuffing, manipulation of the results after capture, and many of the elemental errors that often contribute to lack of voter credibility.

Reading through the curricula of the political science degrees at the leading universities reveals that accounting is not a course that is offered. Perhaps that explains why the people advising election commissions don’t promote those controls that exist in well-run businesses.

That should change.

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The real deal

It’s ironic that one of the most formative speeches in American history, that of Theodore Roosevelt on August 31, 1910, was not well received by many of the his former supporters while he’d been President. It was labeled “communistic”, “socialistic”, and “anarchistic”. It was also hailed as one of the greatest orations ever given on American soil.

Roosevelt argued:

“In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege.”

Now with the benefit of hindsight and the availability of data, Roosevelt’s belief has been vindicated.

The speech influenced policies directed at providing equality of opportunity, primarily through education. That same thinking influenced the introduction of the G.I. Bill, which as an expression of gratitude to the soldiers that had survived the second world war, also gave back to the nation through the tremendous years of economic growth that followed.

Given the abundance of academic support, the dearth of any informed argument to the contrary, it is surprising that neither of the candidates for the upcoming presidential election has seized this obvious opportunity to reestablish America’s economic progress.

Perhaps it’s because the descendents of those earlier critics still have too much influence.

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Let the games begin

With the appointment of Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has confirmed his intention to focus on the state of America’s economy as a primary issue in the run up to the election. That’s a good thing.

In probability the Republican’s candidate will continue to blame the incumbent for the current state of affairs and promise that he will do much better. He’s already said as much.

What positive effect can a politician’s policies have on an economy?

Efficient government is key. And that’s where the disagreement will start – at least after the blame game’s ended.

Functional overlap
One issue that rarely gets raised is the level of duplication that exists across agencies – sometimes within agencies. For example there are 16 fiefs covering the intelligence responsibility. These agencies duplicate efforts, each trying to outdo the other, instead of sharing critical information. The details of the issues were set out in a Washington Post exposure following a two year investigation.

The challenge of fixing this is the responsibility of the Director of National Intelligence. This position has had a regular change of incumbents who, undermined by a lack of authority, struggle to fulfill the mandate.

Costly tax code
An unnecessarily complex tax code, with thousands of tax breaks that favor interest groups, exacerbates wealth inequality, and costs the country hundreds of billions in breaks and incentives, administrative overhead, and expert advice for tax payers.

Congress
The belief that congressional oversight provides democratic control over the President’s powers is a myth. When dominant party in the house is not the same as the President’s the country sinks into a morass of partisan bickering.

It would preferable for America to adopt a system of referenda, with proper controls and balances to avoid California’s mistakes, to enact significant legislative changes.

Direct involvement demands that electors understand the implications of important decisions. Rather than having partisan commentary, public debates between experts educates voters, and permits them to make decisions that are informed.

Dream on.

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