Submitted by brad on Fri, 2005-12-30 15:34.
The AP reports that the DoJ is going to investigate the Underwatergate "leak" to the New York Times. Many of course wish they would investigate the program instead, but since the AG was involved in it, that's difficult.
But this puts forward the complex problem of how to deal with, and stop, illegal classified programs. Because they are classified, they lack many of the checks and balances that exist for other government operations. Indeed, it is suspected that many programs get classified entirely or in part in order to avoid scrutiny.
In theory, one does not have to obey an illegal order. But in practice it takes a lot of guys to defy one. And it's hard to be certain an order is illegal when your superiors and their lawyers are insisting it is.
Senator Rockefeller is one of the people elected to provide oversight over intelligence activities, and he was told about the NSA spying. He was also told he could not consult with the advisors he needed on technical and legal issues to make proper judgements. This is an unacceptable situation. There must be checks and balances.
I don't like secret courts, but they are better than having no courts at all. There should be a secret court with auditing power over all secret activities of the government. Anybody should be able to file a complaint with this court that the government is engaging in illegal secret activities. The identity of the whistleblower must be fully protected, as well. The court should have full power to investigate any and all classified and secret programs to find out if they are engaging in illegal activity. And it should have full power and duty to punish illegal activity by anybody, including the President. (Judgements against the President and other top officials would be subject to appeal by the Supreme Court.)
Furthermore, when the court finds wrongdoing, details of this wrongdoing should be declassified as soon as possible and as much as possible. Even at risk to national security. That's because illegal covert activities by the government are a greater risk to the security of the people and the nation than most disclosures are.
How much auditing of secret programs does the GAO get to do? Can its role be expanded? This seems more a judicial idea than a congressional one but there's no reason that auditing of illegal secret activity should not go on in all branches, of all branches.
Absent such a process, the leak to the New York Times is the only answer. The whistleblowers who revealed this program did the right thing for the nation, and should be rewarded, not punished.
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2005-12-21 16:08.
A lot of new developments in the warrantless wiretap scandal. A FISA judge has resigned in disgust. A Reagan-appointed former DoJ official calls the President a clear and present danger. And the NSA admits they have on rare occasions tapped entirely domestic phone calls, because sometimes people calling to or from international cell phones while those phones are in the USA would see the traffic go overseas and come back again. I have made such calls to Europeans and Australians visiting the USA.
So they can’t spot those calls as domestic and thus are performing surveillance on them. But what about E-mail? With E-mail, it’s a great deal harder to identify where the parties are, and what citizenship they hold. In some cases, almost impossible.
And more to the point, E-mails between two U.S. persons will quite often go through international servers. Unlike phones, where it’s expensive, anybody who travels outside the USA for long enough to warrant an E-mail address out there can easily keep it and many do. There’s not even a big reason for multinational ISPs to avoid routing messages to servers in Canada or other places. I maintain aliases on my own domain for all my family, for example, though most of them are not in the same country as the server. I am not alone.
Further, it’s likely that the order of surveillance they have done on E-mail is vastly greater than on phones. For the NSA, monitoring of all unencrypted E-mail — all of it — would be only a modest amount of work. We used to joke in the old days about putting NSA traps in our messages, see this thread from 21 years ago on the topic, and many others if you search for it. If enough people put those in messages, it would overload the systems, we mused.
Back then we were mostly kidding around. Today we have reason to be scared. And it’s time to put opportunistic crypto into E-mail as I detailed years ago, by default. (Since then, some projects to do this have popped up — One from Simson Garfinkel and another from PGP. MS Outlook also does it, but with an untenable user interface.
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2005-12-21 00:30.
Seeing as this scandal seems to be revolving around the tapping, without warrants, of signals over the
undersea telecom cables, I propose we call it Underwatergate.
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2005-12-20 13:30.
It’s long, but I can strongly recommend the transcript of today’s press briefing on the NSA warrentless wiretaps. It’s rare to see the NSA speak about this topic.
One can read a fair bit between the lines. The reporters were really on the ball here, far more than one usually sees.
Particularly interesting notes include:
- General Hayden of the NSA describes many reasons why they don’t use the FISA court, citing mostly “efficiency”
- Reporters ask if they are listening for the word “bomb” — The AG says there is no blanket surveillance
- The general states that the “physics” of the intercepts require one end be outside the USA
Independently, Senator Rockefeller’s letter where he wrote that he felt he needed “technical” advice to
understand the issues, and that it reminded him of Poindexter’s TIA is very telling.
The efficiency claim is a smokescreen. They would not have taken this level of legal risk, no matter
how much they feel what they did was legal, just to gain a little efficiency. It’s clear to me that
they are telling the truth when they say they could not use the FISA court — they are performing surveillance that the FISA court would not authorize for them.
The question is, what? The AG says it is not “blanket” but clearly there is some fancy computerized surveillance going on here, something secret, beyond Carnivore. I can readily believe that all sorts of fancy broad surveillance could take place and not be considered “blanket” by the AG. (The AG actually says, “The President has not authorized blanket surveillance of communications here in the United states.”) I certainly hope he has not authorized that. But has he authorized it on all communications coming in and out of the USA?
Or something less, like computer search of all E-mails or phone calls to or from entire towns or nations? Perhaps speaker recognition to look for certain people’s voices on all international calls, no matter what number they use? Perhaps looking for all arabic calls, and then doing blanket surveillance on them?
So much is possible, and all of this would not be authorized by the FISA court.
They knew they would get in legal trouble, so it’s also possible the intercepts, which the General says are on the international cables, are even placed outside the USA, either with or without the permission of foreign governments. (In extremes, they send submarines down to make taps.) Taps outside the USA are not under the rules of the wiretap act, though the 4th amendment still applies to US persons.
Spooky stuff. More to come.
P.S. If you have not been following it, it has now come out that the New York Times sat on this story for over a year, since before the 2004 election, whose outcome might have changed based on this news.
Submitted by brad on Sun, 2005-12-18 00:04.
Major retail chains Target, Wal-Mart and others announced today they will end the so-called war on white people that had resulted in most stores posting signs welcoming “shoppers” or “customers” instead of “white patrons”, even though white people represented a considerable majority of their business.
“I’m white, and I’m here shopping for gifts for my white friends, and I’m offended that the store has been pressured into making some generic greeting that doesn’t reflect me.” said William O’ Reilly, a concerned caucasian shopper. “If they’re not going to welcome me and my race, I am going to take my business somewhere else.”
O’Reilly’s complaint, echoed by dozens, perhaps scores of other shoppers, has led the chains to alter their policies. Signs declaring “Look good with today’s colors” will be replaced next year with “Look good in colors designed for white skin.” The “Happy holidays” sign, recently changed to “Merry Christmas” will be further changed to “Merry Christmas for White America” to reflect the ethnicity and religion of 80% of the shoppers in the stores.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2005-12-12 16:49.
Ok, so this story is almost surely just an unconfirmed rumour, but the graphic I designed below still makes a nice ribbon.
Submitted by brad on Sun, 2005-12-04 20:46.
I’ve been thinking more about environmental economics since I blogged about retail carbon credits. I was surprised about how cheap (some would say unrealisticly cheap) wholesale credits are — about $2.20 per tonne of CO2. (Update: This price keeps changing. The U.S. price is clearly out of whack down to just 25 cents per tonne in 2009. The European price has declined too, from $20/tonne when I wrote this to $14/tonne in fall 2009.)
Today, many of my friends have bought a car like the Toyota Prius, feeling they are doing their bit to help the environment by burning less gas. The Prius costs around $3,000-$6,000 more than a comparable old-style engine car (in part because high demand keeps the price high), and the savings on gasoline don’t justify it on a financial basis unless you do nothing but drive all day. So the main reason to buy it is to help the environment and to make a statement before your peer group. The Camry Hybrid, which gets 32mpg instead of 23mpg costs about $5,000 more than the regular Camry.)
Problem is, there’s an argument that you’re hurting the environment, counterintuitive as that sounds. And no, it’s not just the unanswered questions about recycling the fancy batteries in the Prius when they fade, where fairly positive results have been returned so far. Read on… read more »
Submitted by brad on Sat, 2005-11-26 22:21.
Washington, DC: The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued a stern warning today to Televangelist Pat Robertson. Robertson had recently condemned the citizens of Dover, PA to the wrath of God for not voting in a school board that would teach Intelligent Design in classes.
“We’d like to say to the good Reverend Robertson: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to Science, you just rejected it from your life,” AAAS said on its daily television show broadcast from Washington, the 3.14159 Club.
“And don’t wonder why it hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. We’re not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just pushed science out of your life. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for its help because it might not be there,” they said. “In particular, you won’t have a phone to call the ambulance, and it won’t exist even if you could call it. And even if the doctor lived next door and you could call her, she would only bleed you and put smelly poultices on your forehead to balance your humours. And she would be a guy.”
“Actually, we’re just kidding,” the AAAS later corrected. “Science works whether you believe in it or not. That’s what’s really cool about it,” they said.
“What they said,” indicated Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in an independent statement. read more »
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2005-11-16 23:45.
I don’t post most EFF news here, since the EFF has a news page and 2 blogs for that, but today I’m doing it
twice because congress is voting tomorrow on renewal of the PATRIOT act. There was a lot of effort to
reduce the bad stuff in the bill, efforts that seemed to be getting somewhere but were ignored.
Ok, do I have to tell you why this erosion of so many fundamental rights is a bad idea? At first,
I thought the PATRIOT only came about because in the weeks after Sept 11, the country was acting
in anger and shock. It did things it wouldn’t do with time to be calm and reasoned about it.
And the PATRIOT act has resulted in huge waves of new surveillance as we’ve been seing in the past
So do what you can to stop it. Our Action Center will help you contact your representatives to give them the message. Plus you can read the bill and
commentary on it on the EFF web site.
We’ve been saying these things for so long you may be getting tired of it. But every time we strip away
rights, make society a little bit more scared — each time we live in fear — I think that’s exactly
what terrorists want. Like the name says, their goal is to sew fear and terror in hope of getting their
way. Sure, people were angry when this law was first passed, but there is no excuse today. Take action
yourself. Donation to organizations like the EFF and others if you don’t have time to take all the action
you think you should, but do have the money. It’s as simple as that.
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2005-09-30 16:08.
Recently, I discovered something that others have known for a while but many don’t know. Namely that effectively all modern cars that say they should use Premium (high-octane) gasoline run perfectly fine on regular. Since the early 90s, cars have had more advanced carb/fuel-injector systems which adjust to the octane of the gas and don’t knock. Like an idiot, I’ve been filling my car with premium. The engineers at all the major car vendors have confirmed this.
I worked out that since the USA uses 370 million gallons of gas a day, or 135 billion per year, at 12% premium sales, that’s 16 billion gallons of premium sold, almost none of it needed. Call it 15B gallons. At a surcharge of 20 to 30 cents/gallon that’s over 3 billion extra dollars charged to no purpose in the USA, and presumably another 3 billion outside (though perhaps they buy less hi-test outside.) The USA uses about 44% of world gasoline.
So why do many cars come with a line in the owner’s manual saying to use premium gasoline? Turns out the marketing departments believe customers of higher-end cars are ethralled by horsepower. They want to advertise the highest peak horsepower number they can. And you can deliver a slightly higher peak horsepower on higher octane. Nothing so big that you would notice it outside of extreme driving conditions or pro racing, but you can publish a higher number. So long as you spec the car as using premium.
So to satisfy these marketing numbers, the world is spending about 6 billion extra bucks each year on high octane fuel. And I’m not even considering all the extra infrastructure required (fancier pumps and blending systems, more tanks with risk to leak into the ground etc.)
Many people think high-octane gasoline is “more powerful.” In fact, oddly, the octane rating measures how non-explosive the fuel is. The higher the octane, the less likely it will explode under pressure. People think of high-octane fuel as more powerful because with high octane fuel, you can design a higher performance car that works at higher compression, safe in the knowledge you won’t get explosions from anything but the spark plug, ie. knocking. The fuel is not higher power, it’s the engine, which is why putting premium into a regular car is a waste unless it’s knocking. Lead cheaply reduces knocking at low pressure which is why they used to add it until they realized, “holy crap, we’re filling our fuel with toxic lead!”
There is still controversy over whether high-compression engines get better mileage than when they run at lower compression with regular.
What a scam. Spread the word.
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2005-08-19 18:30.
Hot in the blogosphere these days, as a result of the Creationism/ID vs. Evolution debate is Pastafarianism, the worship of the Giant Flying Spaghetti Monster. The idea is to show that something as made up as the GFSM is as consistent as ID.
Now as I’ve written before, I think we should teach creationism and ID in the schools as an example of bad science. All students should learn how to identify when bad science and bad math (in particular bad stats) are being used to lie to them. They should take exams where they are given examples of bad science and must spot the flaws to pass.
However, never one to pass up a joke religion, I still think the Pastafari go too far. I propose Monolithism. (Perhaps monolitheism?).
Monolithism is a variation of Intelligent Design which proposes that man was given the gift of intelligent thought by giant black alien monoliths. They came to Earth long ago and are waiting out there for us to show them the results.
Now Monolithism has great visual aids already to show the process. It meets many of the requirements of I.D. except that most people know it’s a movie.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2005-07-18 13:31.
On 9/11, we all wondered how 19 men had lived for a year among us and still given their lives to carry out such acts. Now people wonder even more at how young native British men would give their lives to kill random fellow Britons.
But there is something different here that troubles me. Most suicide terrorists ostensibly use this tactic because there are targets you can only attack if you give your life. Suicide was an essential part of flying a plane into a building.
But you very plainly don’t need to kill yourself to set off a subway bomb. Even with increased vigilence, anybody could leave a backpack behind, rush out the doors just as they are about to close, and then blow up the bomb as the train enters the tunnel, without dying or even getting caught (except perhaps on camera.) There was almost no tactical need for these men to kill themselves. Yes, it makes it a little more certain to do it that way, but we hope that committed terrorists (especially with such clean pedigrees) are not so many in number that they can be wasted this way.
But they were wasted this way, and I think deliberately. I suspect they were chosen not as the most committed, but as the most unlikely, just for the shock value, the idea that your neighbour could be a suicide bomber. And strong shock value it is, because while you don’t have to die to bomb a train, there are a lot of targets where willingness to die is tactically necessary to carry it off, and it’s close to impossible to defend against such attacks.
Those who think careful ID checks and national ID cards will stop terrorists now must step back. These kids had clean ID. The security cameras have helped discover the story but of course could do nothing to prevent it.
I have contended (to much opposition) that terrorism and suicide bombing is a tool used against democracies that are accused of oppression. A recent book (Dying to Win by Robert Pape) now backs this up. The answers are not good.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2005-06-23 17:49.
Well, the Supreme Court ruled today that expropriation for private development can still be legal if the town council seems to think there’s a public benefit. It’s a terrible decision, with strange logic, and strange votes from the judges, but you will probably read many other articles about that today. What I want to figure is, given this ruling, what can we do to make it better?
What we will see happening is a land developer coming to the city with a plan to demolish a redevelop a block in a way that they claim will be good for the city — perhaps bringing in tourists, jobs, business, whatever. Of course the deal is very good for the land developer, or they would not be drafting it.
I suggest we make it less sweet for the developer in such cases and give some of that sweetness to the expropriation victims. Today they get a “fair market value” for their property (that part of the 5th amendment wasn’t shredded) but I say, if the expropriation is for private use, let’s give them more.
First, start by paying them this fair market value at the date of expropriation, as we do now.
Then, after the deal is complete (with some time limits and other good constraints) we want to determine just how much “value” came from aggregating the properties. Right now this value goes to the developer. We’re going to give most or all of it to the expropriated folks. So we come up with a value for the amalgamated property. (More below on how to do that.) This pre-opening profit would go, all or most of it, to the landowners. The developer keeps any further appreciation of the property as they operate it — they need an upside too, of course.
More ideas follow… read more »
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2005-05-30 17:36.
There’s a lot of talk about the coming threat of Avian H5N1 flu, how it might kill many millions, far beyond the 1918 flu and others, because of how much people travel in the modern world. Others worry about bioterrorism.
Plans are underway to deal with it, but are they truly thinking about some of the tools the modern world has that it didn’t have in 1918 which might make up for our added risks? We have the internet, and a lot of dot-coms, both living and dead, created all sorts of interesting tools for living in the world without having to leave your house.
In the event of an outbreak, we’ll have limited vaccine available, if there’s much at all. Everybody will want it, and society will have to prioritize who gets what. While some choices are obvious — medical staff and other emergency crews — there may be other ideas worth considering.
Today, a significant fraction of the population can work from home, with phone, computer and internet. The economy need not shut down just because people must avoid congregating. Plans should be made, even at companies that prefer not to allow telecommuting, to be able to switch to it in an emergency.
Schools might have to close but education need not stop. We can easily devote TV channels in each area to basic curriculum for each grade. Individual schools can modify that for students who have internet access or even just a DVD player or VCR. For example, teachers could teach their class to a camera, and computers can quickly burn DVDs for distribution. Students can watch the DVDs, pause them and phone questions to the teacher. (However, ideally most students are able to make use of the live lectures on TV, and can phone their particular teacher, or chat online, to ask questions.) Parents, stuck at home would also help their children more.
Delivery people (USPS, UPS etc.) would be high in line for vaccination to keep goods flowing to people in their homes. You can of course buy almost anything online already. Systems like Webvan, for efficient grocery ordering and delivery could be brought back up, with extra vaccinated delivery drivers making rounds of every street.
Of course not everybody has a computer, but that need not be a problem. With so many people at home, volunteers would come forward who did have broadband. They would take calls from those who do not have computers and do their computer tasks for them, making sure they got in their orders for food and other supplies. Of course all food handlers would need to be vaccinated and use more sterile procedures. read more »
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2005-04-28 08:01.
George W. Bush names Jesus as the philosopher he admires the most. The most central of the teachings of Jesus can be found in the Sermon on the Mount.
I have come upong Bush's edited version of the sermon, amended to make the dictates of his Saviour easier to follow in these modern times.
Enjoy here in the Sermon on the Mount (George Bush Version)
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-12-13 08:52.
Creationists regularly complain that schools teach evolution improperly and should also offer creation science as an alternative. They went so far as to push one school board to put stickers on biology textbooks remindng students that evolution is a theory and should be critically viewed.
Well, surprisingly, I have some agreement with them. Evolution, like Quantum Mechanics, gravity and others is indeed a theory. And in proper science all theories are subject to intense scrutiny and testing. They are required to make predictions which can turn out false, and those predictions are tested with repeatable experimentation and observation.
So now I wonder, why if we give them their way — sort of — and mandate the teaching of “creation science” in the shools. Except I mean a rigourous, scientific treatment, by non-religious teachers, where a lesson about science and bad science is taught. Other examples of bad science should also be covered.
Students should be challenged to consider the predictions, past and present, of the creation “scientists” and whether they have come true. They should learn what happens when people conclude the results in advance and try to bend the facts to fit them. It happens in all areas of science, and a good education trains you to identify when it is happening, and when you are doing it yourself. They should of course also learn the predictions of evolution and many other theories and how they have been tested and verified. They should learn about theories that had supporters but then failed their tests and thus fell from favour.
Why creation science and not every other bogus fake science? Well, studies show it is probably the one most widely believed by the public, though psychic powers, alien abductions and others also rank highly. So as the #1 it deserves a place in our curriculum, because the critical examination of bad science deserves a place.
Indeed, for a student not actually going into science, it could well be that learning to understand bad science would be the most important thing they take out of the program. They will almost assuredly never need to calculate the velocity of a spherical monkey hanging from a massless rope over a frictionless pulley. But they will encounter bad science and have to deal with it.
(I think the same is true in math for non-professionals. One of the most important things they should learn is how statistics are misused.)
So give them what they want, and then see them beg to take it back.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-11-08 12:56.
David Brin, whom I debated on the topic of Transparency yesterday, has been putting forward for some time the general idea of a henchman's amnesty law. Namely that, in the event of a criminal conspiracy, the first underling who whistle-blows can get some level of amnesty, witness protection and/or cash reward. A serious reward, in the millions. Such a rule would make it harder to pick henchmen, since in effect you're making them a millionaire if they turn on you.
Indeed, you have to worry that the very reason they might be joining you so easily is they plan to rat you out for the millions.
We have had a program for whistleblowers on companies that try to cheat the government, with some success, but I might suggest a good place to try a henchman law would be vote fraud. Combined with very stiff penalties (including life in prison for major vote fraud, which is effectively a coup d'etat) this should keep the conspiracies small, and less powerful.
Howoever, hacking of voting machines at the factory is a special type of vote fraud which could be done by a very few conspirators for a big result, so we still need voter verified ballots.
Of late, I've become curious about how readily we could, using certain encryption techniques, design a ballot system which would let you change or repudiate an already cast ballot, but still preserves the important principles of secret ballot. As you might guess, that's a challenge, since it seems inherent that if you can reverse a ballot you can know what it is. But it's possible some blinding algorithms might allow this.
Another option for mail-in ballots would be to provide each mail-in voter with two or more mail-in ballots. The ballots would be marked with a code, such as a red or green sticker. The voter would be told, through a secure and in-person channel, that one of the ballots is real and the others false. They must remember the colour of the true ballot. If they send in the ballot of the wrong colour, it also contains an encoded number that only the counting office is able to tell tags it as a bad ballot (and a sign of attempted voter coercion.)
The vote-coercer might have you send in all your ballots. One defence would be to have this void your vote. This allows vote coercers to use force or money to stop people from voting (which they already can do) but not to vote a particular way. Combined with my plan for secure internet voting it could allow one half of the secret ballot equation with votes cast over the internet.
Should we be able to perfect this, by finding a means for an audit trail on internet voting, this would, aside from saving much money, eliminate the problems of lines at the polls.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2004-11-04 15:31.
We see the talk of an America divided in 2, but in fact it's not. There are more viewpoints than that. Normally a 2 party system tends towards the middle, this election was unusual in having a larger than normal difference among the candidates.
But perhaps now is the time to take the Democratic energy and try to push it into a movement for real reform. Not ballot recounts, not crazy dreams that can never happen.
By that, I mean getting at least one state to move to a preferential ballot system, such as Australian "Instant Runoff," Approval or Cordorcet, with an unfortuantely complex additional rule for how to cast in the electoral college when done.
Reforming the electoral college is unlikely (though an interesting hack is discussed elsewhere in this blog). 3/4ths of states must ratify any change to the college, and the small states would need a big constitutional price in exchange for stripping themselves of the extra power they have in the college.
However, individual states can change how they select their electors through ballot resolution or legislative action. Entirely on the local level. Ballot resolution seems the simplest approach. The only thing standing in the way is that many voters get confused by instant runoff systems. Basic Condorcet is easy to understand, but the tiebreaker modifications are often hard to understand. Still, the Australians manage it.
The first effort will probably fail and only educate the public. Eventually, some state, probably a small one, will go over and have such a ballot. This in turn will start to educate the rest of the nation. The ideas, once understood, are good ideas, and will appeal to the populace. It's hard to argue against them.
However, the 2 major parties will _want_ to argue against them because they are bad for those parties. In many elections, there is somebody who won because there wasn't a preferential ballot. In particular, Bush in 2000 and (arguably) Clinton in 1992. (On the other hand, Bush the Elder arguably _lost_ because there was such a system, and thus might support it.)
That's why a ballot proposition is the right way to do this. read more »
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2004-11-02 07:29.
Idea futures are interesting, so I went to tradesports.com to buy Kerry Futures contracts, since I believe pre-election polling is notoriously poor in quality. They were trading at 43 for a contract that pays 100 if he wins, and that seemed a good buy. By the time I could buy them (slow site, overloaded) they were 50 but now they are at 71. The bidders clearly have developed a strong reversal of feeling.
One source is the exit polls. While U.S. media are not publishing them, the CBC in Canada has few viewers in the USA and has no reason not to, and the news is good for the Senator, particularly in Pennsylvania.
Many have argued that idea futures with real money on the line are very good predictors. However people also clearly follow the polls, which is why Bush led in those futures for most of the election race, and even up to just a few hours ago. Still, Bush went south in these long before other sources so they're a good source as far as that is concerned. And perhaps I made a few bucks. (Not a lot, they limit you to $250 credit card if you do instant signup.)
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-11-01 03:19.
There has been much writing (including here) about problems with the Electoral College in the USA, and I've even proposed solutions such as a tiebreaking system for close votes. I also noted the amazing coincidence that in the 4 times the winner of the college lost the popular vote, 3 were the 3 times we had a son or granson of a President elected.
But I thought it might be worth exploring the merits of the college, even though most individuals want it abolished. (Though no smaller states want it abolished since it gives them disproportionate power.)
First of all, there is the "official" goal of using the college system. It requires the President, who must win a true majority of the college, to be popular in at least half, and probably more, of the country. The framers didn't want it to be possible for a candidate with extremely strong support in one particular region to win the Presidency.
Example: Say a candidate, coming from a particular region, had immense support in that region, getting 90% of the popular vote, and much lower support (10-25%) outside that region. Such a candidate could win the popular vote since all those votes in their own region would count, even though they are not a national candidate. To win the college, their "region" would have to contain half
the population of the USA.
(This is based on the traditional, but not required all-or-nothing allocation method, which states do because it makes candidates want very much to please them.)
I'm not a fan of some regions having more power than others because of the political legacy of how big states were. 2 senators for Wyoming and 2 for California is grossly unfair. However, the concept of federalism does require some protection for regions, so you don't get one region ruling the land at the expense of another, which can lead to seperatism.
Another benefit is election cost. Due to the college, candidates know to spend their election money only in undecided, "swing" states. As such, they can campaign with much less money. With a popular vote, or even a proportional electoral college, they would have to campaign everywhere. This of course has downsides in terms of fairness, but if they had to campaign everywhere they would have to raise even more money, and be more beholden to the special interests that gave it.