Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Don't know John Kerry?

According to The Washington Post, most Americans don't know John Kerry or what he stands for.



I'm sorry, but let's be honest. That's not a criticism of John Kerry. Americans apparently can't spare the time to crack a book, and figure out who represents their interests.

America is in crisis. We started an unnecessary war that has shattered our reputation. Our military is overstretched and our enemies know it. Meanwhile, our nation is being taken over by corporations that don't care about America or Americans. (In fact, I'm not certain that the average corporation would care about Joe Public even if he was a shareholder!)

What's the answer? How about a lobbying group for the average American. Kind of like an honest AARP for non-retired folks.

Corporations spend millions on lobbying and political contributions. Working families* don't. Of course, there are special interest groups that throw a lot of cash around in Washington. Groups like the NRA, NARAL, unions and the religious right. However, these issues are really only on the periphery of the average American's political vision.

Americans need an organization that is designed to lobby for the American people in Washington. Something that can offset the influence of corporations and the ultra-wealthy.

Let's call this hypothetical organization the American People's Lobby (APL).

When the Republicans push their "no millionaire left behind" agenda, the APL will show its members how each piece of legislation will affect them. The APL will warn its members that when the Republicans give their rich pals a free ride, they are passing on the cost to America's working families (or rather, their children). The APL will even tell its members when Democratic proposals (like importing drugs from Canada) actually have no chance of working.

Is an APL a practical idea. I'm not sure. Can an organization with more than 100 million members stay honest? Will American's trust it? Will people join? What will be the benefits of membership? How will the APL reach its conclusions?

The AARP has already shown how these organizations can fail in their mission. By becoming a big health care insurance firm, AARP became one of the organizations it was supposed to police. As far as I can tell, the AARP is now just another insurance company that thinks the recent (and daft) Medicare prescription drug bill was a good idea.

The APL shouldn't be needed. The U.S. Government is supposed to represent the American people. We, the people, are supposed to exercise our power through informed voting. Unfortunately, most Americans are too lazy to look out for their own interests. Perhaps the APL will give working Americans the opportunity to abdicate their civic duty for $40 a year.



*For my purposes, a working family is one with annual household income less than $200,000 per year. I believe that covers about 98% of the U.S. population.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Decentralization

Centralization of assets is a good defensive strategy when you want to keep an enemy from accessing certain resources. However, it's a bad strategy when you want to protect everyday resources like water, energy, information from destruction by the enemy. In the latter case, decentralizing those assets is the correct strategy.

I'm surprised that I have seen very few references to decentralization as a strategy since 9/11/2001. Not that I've searched for them specifically.

There are political reasons why this strategy might not be proposed by public officials. First, decentralization is expensive, at least at the moment. Building one big water plant and keeping it out of sight is much cheaper (and prettier) than building multiple smaller, redundant water supply modules.

Second, decentralization is complicated. Look at what happened in the large electrical grid failure in August 14th, 2003. Large, interconnected systems can display unexpected behavior. One can certainly make a case that a poorly designed decentralized system can fail more catastrophically than a well designed centralized system.

Over the next 20 years, we will be increasingly vulnerable to attacks from rogue groups and individuals. It's time to start thinking about ways to design complex, distributed systems that are much less vulnerable to attack.

These new "hardened" distributed systems might be designed based on observations of living organisms, or better yet, stable ecological systems. Perhaps a predator-prey model could be used as the basis for interacting energy generators?

I think that cost issues will dissipate as nanotechnology and robotics reduce manufacturing costs. In fact, it's quite plausible that there will be economic advantages to customized utilities. Each organizational unit, whether it be a family, a business, or a local government, could install a generator and power switch that matched their own special needs and made use of local resources (e.g., solar, wind,geothermal, biothermal or tidal power).