Whom Should We Blame for Our Deranged Democracy?

The confusion and hollowness of both political parties has not been a secret. Citizens left, right, and center have been giving up on electoral politics and the two-party system for decades. The nation’s largest political party is the “don’t bother” party—roughly half of the adult population who see no reason to vote, and nothing in it for them. Instead of scolding them, an active political party might look into the cause-and-effect of dysfunctional democracy and try to change it.

Hear, hear.

Uber to Begin Testing Self-Driving Cars in Pittsburgh

Jobs that can be performed by machines eventually will be performed by machines. That’s been the steady march of progress since the dawn of the industrial revolution. But it really is extraordinary for a CEO to flatly declare that he considers the company’s workforce not to be an asset, but rather a stopgap measure he’s committed to eliminate. Say what you want about the politics of his bluntness, but he certainly deserves points for honesty.
Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved. Google, widely regarded as the leader in the field, has been testing its fleet for several years, and Tesla Motors offers Autopilot, essentially a souped-up cruise control that drives the car on the highway. Earlier this week, Ford announced plans for an autonomous ride-sharing service. But none of these companies has yet brought a self-driving car-sharing service to market.

How the Two Parties Lock Out Alternative Voices From the Debates

COHEN: Yea well before 1988 it was the League of Women Voters, which was a truly nonpartisan group that sponsored the debates. And the Commission on Presidential Debates was a construct created by the chairs of the Democratic and Republican parties. And at the news conference in 1987 as they were announcing their formation, they both commented this was the Republican chair Frank Fahrenkopf he’s still the co-chair on the Commission on Presidential Debates and the then Democratic chair Paul Kirk, they both said yea basically this thing was set up and they’re not going to look kindly on ever including third party candidates.

It was set up, the Commission on Presidential Debates. It’s not an official body. It’s no more federal than Federal Express. It’s a self-appointed group that took power away from the nonpartisan League of Women Voters. They have now done 7 presidential elections and the main purpose for the commission is to make sure that third party candidates, as popular as they are this year, will not be included in the debate.

Fixing Obamacare: The Democrats Have To Talk About It

Last week Aetna, one of the country’s largest insurance companies, announced that it was cutting back its participation in the health care exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). With several other major insurers also cutting back their participation, there will be very limited competition in many markets. This prospect has supporters of the ACA worried and opponents gleefully looking forward to the day when millions may lose their insurance.
There are two simple ways to address this problem. For one, the insurers are still making money in the individual market outside of the exchanges. We could simply make participation in the exchanges a condition for participating in the individual markets. This in effect tells the insurers that if they want to make money insuring healthy people, they will also have to bear the risk of insuring less healthy people.
The other route would be to do what President Obama originally proposed in his 2008 campaign: set up a Medicare-type public option in the exchanges. This would ensure that everyone had an efficient low cost plan which they could buy into.

U.S. Army fudged its accounts by trillions of dollars, auditor finds

The Defense Department’s Inspector General, in a June report, said the Army made $2.8 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year. Yet the Army lacked receipts and invoices to support those numbers or simply made them up.

'Islam for Dummies': IS recruits have poor grasp of faith

Nothing seems to be a good predictor of whether or not someone turns to extreme political violence, though there are a few interesting themes amongst those who do...

The jihadi employment form asked the recruits, on a scale of 1 to 3, to rate their knowledge of Islam. And the Islamic State applicants, herded into a hangar somewhere at the Syria-Turkey border, turned out to be overwhelmingly ignorant.
The extremist group could hardly have hoped for better.
The findings address one of the most troubling questions about IS recruitment in the United States and Europe: Are disaffected people who understand Shariah more prone to radicalization? Or are those with little knowledge of Islam more susceptible to the group's radical ideas that promote violence?
The documents suggest the latter. The group preys on this religious ignorance, allowing extremists to impose a brand of Islam constructed to suit its goal of maximum territorial expansion and carnage as soon as recruits come under its sway.

The Scary Debate Over Secular Stagnation

The immediate macroeconomic problem is how to cure the hangover from the housing bubble in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century – the still-incomplete recovery in the United States and the non-recovery in Europe. But even a straightforward success that restored the growth rate experienced in the 1990s would not restore the world as we thought we knew it.
Do we also suffer from Bernanke's global savings glut, produced by ill-coordinated national policies toward recovery? His prescription is reform that gives governments better incentives to pull together in harness. Or is it the hangover from Rogoff's supercycle of imprudent debt accumulation that can only be remedied by painful deleveraging while building an effective macroprudential regulatory framework to prevent a repeat performance? Or, as Krugman counsels, is the deeper problem our reluctance to use the full panoply of monetary policy and fiscal tools that Keynes and his disciples developed? Or, à la Summers, are our problems more fundamental, requiring a paradigm shift in the means and ends of economic policy?

Finally, however, there are signs that economists (the smart ones, anyway) are learning that past shocks doesn't tell us much about future ones. They are instead painting possible "if these trends continue" scenarios of major transformations.

Thus, Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics speculates about a scenario in which wealth inequality brings about the end of the social democratic era that began at the start of the 20th century. Robert Gordon of Northwestern looks toward the likely end of the buoyant GDP growth brought on by the second industrial revolution in the late 19th century and Eric Brynjolfsson of MIT projects a future in which our principal economic problem is not scarcity, but finding useful and meaningful work to do.

Secure the Vote Today

There may be a future for electronic voting, but right now there's too much uncertainty:

As Dan Wallach (a Computer Science professor at Rice and a world-recognized expert on voting systems) eloquently put it, election security is a national security issue. The computer security field has intensely studied the problem of conducting elections for more than a decade. From the very beginning of this effort, the computer experts have almost universally agreed: we can’t secure purely electronic voting systems. It may be surprising to outsiders, but computer scientists believe in paper ballots, either directly marked by the voter or created by a machine and placed in the ballot box.
Voting systems need to convince rational losers that they lost fairly. In order to do that, it is critical to both limit fraud and have the result be easily explained. It is impossible to prevent all fraud but we must ensure that the cost of fraud scales with the size: it should take 100 times more effort to change 100 votes compared with the effort associated with changing one vote. Any voting system in which fraud is constant—that is, in which changing 100 votes takes the same effort as changing one—must be viewed as critically flawed.