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Author Topic: Informed citizens
scifibum
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Ideally, everyone should understand the topics that are important to current politics - and vote accordingly. However, with the complexity of global politics and economics, with myriad competing special interests, and an ever-more-deafening (IMO) roar of punditry and advocacy, is this even remotely realistic?

Here's my off the cuff list of currently-important issues about which I think most people (including myself) are poorly informed:
-The economics of health care
-Ethanol
-Petroleum-related politics, laws, prices, reserves, etc.
-The current war in Iraq
-International relations in general
-Economics in general
-Social impact of gay marriage
-Social impact of drug policy

I realize that is a poorly constructed and vaguely described list. But bear with me.

I could devote a chunk of my life to becoming informed on these things. (Ornery.org has probably gotten me ten times as informed as I was 5 years ago.) But to be really, truly up to speed to the point where I make intelligent decisions on which organization or politician to support, or what box to check on a ballot, I'd need to make it something like a part time job. The job is made a lot more difficult by the existence of all the special interest groups that frame the debate, sponsor "research" that supports their views, and attempt to shout down competing interests.

Is it realistic to expect citizens to be informed, anymore? On one hand people have the Internet and access to a lot more sources of information than they used to. On the other hand this probably depresses the signal to noise ratio.

People general vote on a pet issue or two, or base their vote on ideology or what apparently smart people who they trust tell them to do. But then you have elected officials who change with the wind, or are bought-and-paid-for, or aren't smart or dedicated enough to accomplish anything they intend anyway.

Should we just trust our chosen experts? Or should we devote a significant portion of our lives to trying to understand the important issues? Does it make any difference when politicians are corrupt and keep up the same old games?

It's a discouraging problem.

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Gaoics79
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quote:
-Social impact of gay marriage
Since we have no idea what the social impact of gay marriage will be, I don't think it makes any sense to put this one on the list.

I agree with the others though. Being truly informed beyond a superficial CNN news kind of way, that's a tough one.

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JoshCrow
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quote:
Originally posted by jasonr:
quote:
-Social impact of gay marriage
Since we have no idea what the social impact of gay marriage will be, I don't think it makes any sense to put this one on the list.

I agree with the others though. Being truly informed beyond a superficial CNN news kind of way, that's a tough one.

Well, for starters, we could examine how the countries that allow gay marriage are doing.I don't think we "have no idea" - I think the basic short-term results are fairly well documented. As for long-term results, we do not yet know, but it's fair to say a calamitous social collapse because of gay marriage seems somewhat unlikely.

On the thread topic - I don't expect people to be fully-informed, but I do believe we should give out some kind of "voter's credit" to voters that can demonstrate some fundamental (party-approved) knowledge of the candidates' platforms. The benefit of having a "credit" could be as simple as having an express-line at the voting booth or as awesome as having their vote count 50% more.

It's a radical idea - encouraging persons to educate themselves a little before checking the box.

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Individual Persona
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Yeah, I've wondered that myself...

I've also wondered which is better, to put the power of decision in the hands of the ill-informed masses or the over-informed elite.

Personally, I don't think either one seems very smart. But, then again, I'm not all that informed about the pros and cons of democracy vs monarchy/oligarchy/polygamy. I think polygamy has the most promise of all the forms of government. Better than polytheism. Polytheism to me always seems a bit sketchy, especially where the ecology is concerned. All that I do know is that if the dolphins disappear, I'm gone.

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Lyrhawn
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I consider myself very, very well informed on at least every issue you listed.

I spend a couple hours a day reading, maybe another half hour listening to NPR while in the car, and once and awhile I turn on CNN. I really don't spend that much of my free time getting informed, but the problem is that most people don't take ANY time to get informed. It's really not that hard. You don't have to become an expert in whatever subject you're looking at, but 20 minutes a day of reading would dramatically transform our society I think.

For all the people out there who think social sciences, government and history classes and what not are all just puff classes that we should cut because math and science are the real meat, you should look at the current state of our society. It's because of a lack of reasoned analytical thinking, the kind they teach in the upper levels of history classes, that we're in such a state of torpor and decay.

Also, people need a forum to discuss these issues. Honestly I think the internet is a halfway decent place, but only on places like Ornery or Hatrack do you get really quality discussion, otherwise there's just too much disinformation out there for anything meaningful to get done.

It'd be nice if the media would do their jobs, but I don't expect miracles anymore.

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Colin JM0397
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IMO gay marriage is a non-issue. Homosexuality runs somewhere in the single percent of population - 3-4% something like that. The old study that claimed 10% listed anyone who every had a "homosexual thought" as gay...

Anyway, such a small percentage of the people I could care less what they're up to...

So I'll remove that from the list and add:

Fiscal policy (taxes the Federal Reserve and Federal government spending to include foreign Aid)
Social services tied in with drug and crime policy.
End the war on drugs.

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scifibum
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Lyrhawn, I'd be interested to know whether you think being well informed on all of those issues actually helps. Meaning: can you find a way, through available political choices, to put that knowledge to use? Or would 15 minutes of CNN suffice just as well, given that we're doomed/constrained by the two party system, and pork politics and pandering and all the other shortcomings of our political reality?

I agree that people COULD be well informed. I still think that for most people it would amount to a part time job, especially as we overcome the initial knowledge deficit. (I personally can't retain information easily from hearing/reading it only once or twice, I really have to drill it in.)

Would a substantial improvement in voter education actually change things in a meaningful way? How would this occur?

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Dave at Work
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quote:
Personally, I don't think either one seems very smart. But, then again, I'm not all that informed about the pros and cons of democracy vs monarchy/oligarchy/polygamy. I think polygamy has the most promise of all the forms of government. Better than polytheism. Polytheism to me always seems a bit sketchy, especially where the ecology is concerned. All that I do know is that if the dolphins disappear, I'm gone.
Really?

Democracy, Monarchy and Oligarchy are all forms of government. Polygamy is a form of relationship not government. Maybe it is your favorite form of government because it is not a form government? Polytheism is the belief or worship of many gods, also not a form of government, though polytheistic religions have been associated with government.

I hope that I missed the <humor></humor> tags so that I can have a good chuckle with you rather that at your expense. The last sentence I quoted suggests that as a possibility.

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beefprime
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quote:
I hope that I missed the <humor></humor> tags so that I can have a good chuckle with you rather that at your expense. The last sentence I quoted suggests that as a possibility.
In the context of a thread on being uninformed about issues I'd go with "chuckle with you", thats what I did. [Big Grin]

Edit: Except for the part about dolphins, thats dead serious. Grab a towel and bail.

[ June 23, 2008, 04:56 PM: Message edited by: beefprime ]

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
Lyrhawn, I'd be interested to know whether you think being well informed on all of those issues actually helps. Meaning: can you find a way, through available political choices, to put that knowledge to use? Or would 15 minutes of CNN suffice just as well, given that we're doomed/constrained by the two party system, and pork politics and pandering and all the other shortcomings of our political reality?

I agree that people COULD be well informed. I still think that for most people it would amount to a part time job, especially as we overcome the initial knowledge deficit. (I personally can't retain information easily from hearing/reading it only once or twice, I really have to drill it in.)

Would a substantial improvement in voter education actually change things in a meaningful way? How would this occur?

A lot of politics is fear mongering and misleading. Fear mongering and deception only really works on ignorant people. Why do you think no American politician has dared to say our war on drugs is failing? The whole system needs a massive overhaul, sentencing guidelines need to be changed, and treatment needs to be added as a major tool in the fight. But if a politician tried that, someone on the other side would pounce, call them soft on crime and say they want drugs to flow in the streets, and it'd work. It'd work because we have a citizenry that doesn't understand the complexities of the system, the faults of our current methodology, and suggested reforms. If they all had that information at their disposal, it could radically change the way we deal with drugs in our society.

That's just one example, with another dozen that could follow off the top of my head, but I'll spare you the speech. As to the other part of your question, on how that actually would change the process, I think it would happen in one of two ways, or both. Either the parties we have in office would have to change the way they do business, or third party candidates would start to get elected. We're a nation I think that largely votes on social wedge issues like abortion or gay rights because those are the little nuggets of information that are easily digestable. Calling a pro-abortion candidate a murderer is a much easier 15 second ad spot then trying to explain the complexities of tort reform. Those issues stay around because politicians harp on them and we don't push ourselves to learn more about policy.

If those issues suddenly took a backseat to the budget process, to military procurement, to an actual honest debate on foreign policy, and a host of other wonkish sounding policy issues, both parties would be forced to go beyond sound bites and platitudes to actually deal with real questions from voters on the positions they hold and why. And if when we get beyond those social wedge issues we find our two parties left wanting, we'll go looking for new parties that can fill the political gaps in society. Third parties have done their best when the two main parties either can't get something done, or because the locals are sick of the two sides and want something fresh.

If and when this country wakes up and starts to care, the two parties will find themselves scrambling to make up lost ground, and there will be plenty of smart, able people waiting in the wings to rush in with good ideas who have been sidelined for decades by party hackery.

It looks like you think an informed citizenry would be constrained by the political machine we have, but that machine was built around stupid people. It wouldn't work on a population that sees through bull, and it would either have to change, or there wouldn't be any more incumbents.

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EDanaII
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quote:
Since we have no idea what the social impact of gay marriage will be, I don't think it makes any sense to put this one on the list.
It seems to me that issues, for which the impact is not known, that are being forced onto us under false pretenses MUST be on the list in order for us to decide what the impact must be.

It's like expecting us to use an unknown "additive" in our gasoline without fully understanding what that additive might to do the car. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Ed.

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flydye45
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quote:
A lot of politics is fear mongering and misleading.
The other part is thoughtless appeals to sympathy [Razz]

******************

It's a good topic. For example, I was reading Consumer Reports, that Leftist Rag, and they had a short blurb analyzing healthcare costs.

Pharmecuticals are only 12% of all healthcare expenses. So calls to slash the profits of Big Phara would have modest results (assuming they are correct). But who wants to slash the salaries of their doctors?

One could probably find polls where Americans think military spending is the biggest part of the budget. It isn't; it's social programs.

So economic ignorance seriously affects our politics in poor ways.

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Lyrhawn
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How much are medicare and social security individually fly?
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Individual Persona
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quote:
Originally posted by beefprime:
quote:
I hope that I missed the <humor></humor> tags so that I can have a good chuckle with you rather that at your expense. The last sentence I quoted suggests that as a possibility.
In the context of a thread on being uninformed about issues I'd go with "chuckle with you", thats what I did. [Big Grin]

Edit: Except for the part about dolphins, thats dead serious. Grab a towel and bail.

Oh gods of kobal, I hope I was kidding!!

Hehe, it's a sad commentary on today's society though...where I could say something so ridiculous without the humor seeping through the letters on the computer screen and slapping all of you in the face with a fish.

But then again, I probably wouldn't have been able to tell either. Sarcasm has curious chameleon-like properties in print.

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The Drake
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I think that we always have technocrats to implement solutions. We don't have to know how to create a health care system to be informed enough to participate. Some axioms, we could understand by common sense.

1. Emergency room care cannot be denied to those seeking help.
2. Office visits can be denied to those seeking help.
3. ER care is more expensive, due to the delay in treatment and the specialization of the doctors.
Conclude: Any healthcare system that encourages ER visits over office visits for a significant proportion of the population suffers from a fundamental problem.

Now you know something. Somebody else might focus on another aspect of the problem.

Together, we provide feedback to the implementers and promoters of highly complex social programs and/or market systems.

Just like open source software is maintained by thousands of individuals operating independently, so can government be maintained by millions of individuals each with their own point of view.

A citizen does not have to be informed about everything, they need to:

1. be informed about something
2. be willing to listen to others
3. avoid commenting when they are not informed
4. reject party-based bias and consider issues independently

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scifibum
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Good comments, everyone. IP, that was funny even though I didn't get it at first. (Feel dumb about it now, though.)

Lyrhawn, I think you're probably right. But I wonder just how much it's going to take to get people to vote on something other than the traditional wedge issues even if people get smart about other things. It seems like a lot.

Drake, I think your approach is one I think I could get behind. [Smile]

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Individual Persona
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24 hours in a day

7-8 hours a day for sleep…8 hours a day for work (let’s exclude the weekend for a moment, and this is based on what my “schedule” has been like on average since becoming a registered voter, it’s also a very similar schedule to most other people I’ve known who just…simply…live.)

15 hours in the day are taken by earning a living and sleeping

9 hours left

The rest of this theoretical schedule is based on what we should be doing in the best interests of our health, well-being, and living conditions.

We should be eating healthy, not eating fast food. If we spend an hour over the course of the day eating, 20 minutes per meal, and another half hour preparing food for all three meals (oatmeal or cereal for breakfast, a sandwich or salad for lunch, meat/poultry and starch for dinner, as well as fruit and other snacks for in between…and this is the optimistic estimate…) That is another 1.5 hours taken from the day.

7.5 hours left

We should have half an hour of vigorous cardiovascular exercise three times per week, and two half-hour sessions of weights per week (again, rough estimate and bare minimum)

7 hours

Most people I know have some sort of commute to work, be it by mass transit system, personal vehicle, bicycle or walking…it’s usually about 15 minutes one way. So another half of an hour per day is lost.

6.5 hours

Personal grooming or preening, hygiene, wardrobe browsing and dressing time…if we include, brushing, flossing, mouthwash, shower and shaving and general toilet use…would be in excess of half an hour…but let’s call it a half again.

6 hours

Chores, which aren’t necessarily performed daily (such as the dishes, laundry, garbage, general dusting and cleaning, light home maintenance)…let’s set aside half an hour each day for whatever needs doing most…dishes Monday, laundry Tuesday, that sort of thing.

5.5 hours

I feel like an episode of 24…without the explosives

Now, I am HORRIBLE at making a schedule and keeping to it, I find it extremely amusing that I’m making a schedule now…
But to make up for my lack of organization I have a $4!7 happens rule…which is that you should leave an overly sufficient amount of time for whatever happens. If I need to be at a performance, I add 15 minutes for traffic, 15 minutes for parking, however much extra for transit time…and 10 minutes for **** happens. I am applying this rule to this schedule. In 9 hours of time not spent sleeping or working, I am going to set aside one hour for **** happens.

4.5 hours left.

According to Nielsen Media Research , the average amount of television watched daily by individuals is 4.5 hours.

0 hours left.

None, your day is gone, you go to sleep and start over again tomorrow.

For each of the activities I listed that takes up time in our days, one could easily end up spending additional 15 or 30 minutes for multiple items. Shower an extra 10 minutes because you’ve had a hard day at work. Take some extra time to cook a special meal for yourself and/or someone. If you have a family you spend time playing with your kids or helping with homework, talking about the events of the day, adding time to your commute for dropping them off at school or prepping their lunches. Doing the bills, grocery shopping, running errands, getting sick.

Granted, many of these activities can be done simultaneously, like listening to news in the car or while jogging…watching TV during the laundry or doing the bills…

Or some of these activities can be shaved off a little…especially TV. Over four HOURS?!

But while 20 minutes of reading a day and listening/watching news shows might seem small, there are other, more personal, items of business that clamor for attention…that seem to take precedence over empowering yourself with knowledge. It’s very difficult for me, and for many others I’m sure. Just about the only people who could actually set aside some time for political research and current events/issues (and still keep their sanity and have some beauty sleep) are the homeless. Yet most of the homeless persons I have met are usually without sanity or physical beauty…hmmm.

For those of you who feel fully informed on all the important issues, do you feel like you are fully informed at the expense of other activities? What have you given up to obtain your well-informed state?

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Lyrhawn
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Well, that does leave 16 hours on the weekends.

You can't spend one or two of those hours reading?

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cherrypoptart
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Whatever issue you inform yourself as fully as you are able to about, and then come to a decision one way or the other on, there is one thing you can safely bet good money on:

Someone is just as informed as you are about the issue and has come to the exact opposite decision.

It's not always a question of information. Sometimes your priorities matter more.

[ June 23, 2008, 11:11 PM: Message edited by: cherrypoptart ]

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Individual Persona
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Lyrhawn, I spend hours and hours reading...but most of it fiction. I also do watch movies and TV shows, but I don't watch "regularly scheduled programming"...I won't build my life around prime time television. But I do buy the dvd's for the shows that I hear about or like...and I do make heavy use of the pause button.

I am admittedly a time waster and a time killer. I rarely do anything productive to society if it can wait until tomorrow.

And that's what my question is...do you feel like you've given up some aspect of your life to take the time to do something else?

My house is a mess, my in-the-know status is most often out-of-the-loop. I eat sloppy greasy food that's prepared for me and my exercise regimen is lacking. I am guilty of giving up many of the things I've listed on "what you're supposed to be doing for your own good" as well as "keeping well-informed" for the sake of my own personal comfort and convenience.

I know what I've given up to be lazy...

Do you feel like you've given up anything to be whatever it is that you are?

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Lyrhawn
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I don't watch most network TV anymore. I can't remember the last thing I watched on the "Big 4" networks, but the Discovery Channel and USA have some decent stuff that I catch when reruns are on.

I really don't know what I might have given up on. Going out and partying maybe? The problem there is that I have little interest in doing that, so it's not a sacrifice I made. I spend several hours a week reading for pleasure, be it non-fiction or fiction. But I also spend a couple hours a week reading the news. The thing about being informed is, it's less work than most people think. Every day I'll check CNN and read the top stories from whatever looks interesting, and if something of interest pops up and I'm not sure what it is, I'll spend 20 minutes or a half hour looking further into it to update myself. No one is asking citizens to head to the library to do hours and hours of research on a subject, though they can if they want to. Summations and analysis is available for people who take a little time to see what is at hand. Once you are relatively up to date, keeping yourself up to date doesn't take nearly as much time.

I don't think the average citizen needs to be as informed as I think I am. I do a LOT of extra reading on a couple specific subjects that I have an interest in. Plus as a history major I have a wealth of extra data available to me, and that it's necessary I read which also helps. But I think the real problem is the number of people who look at what is going on in this country and say "it's just too much information!" and instead of even trying to pick at SOME of it, wash their hands of the whole thing.

I don't think I've given up anything to be informed. It's just a matter of managing your time and not being a zombie in front of the TV set, or going out to the bar one less night.

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The Drake
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For one or two weeks a year, I read about candidates and elections to inform myself. Usually, I don't need to go to the nth degree to know whom I prefer, from an informed point of view.

1. Does the candidate propose a balanced budget without raising taxes?
2. Does the candidate favor or fight greater government control, expense, and intrusion - especially at the federal level?
3. Does the candidate erode or maintain basic civil liberties?
4. Is the candidate trustworthy on these issues, based on personal history, public statements and debates?

Most of my political views are derived from these axioms, and it is certainly sufficient to make an informed choice between two candidates - primary or general elections.

It doesn't take much work to get that far. Other people can have their own short lists, and in the course of the election make a good choice. The problem comes when people fail to think critically, or vote based on one pet issue (gay marriage anyone?).

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RickyB
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"Polytheism to me always seems a bit sketchy, especially where the ecology is concerned."

um, just out of curiosity - how so?

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Individual Persona
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Well, I mean...you have the various gods and their domains. God of the sun, the sky, the ocean, the underworld. God of the vineyard and revelry. They are all vying for their own territories. Imagine if Poseidon got pissed because all the birds kept eating fish...would he fight his brother Zeus over protecting the denizens of the deep? What if he won? What would all the seagulls and kingfishers eat then?

OH THE HORROR!!!!!!!!

(Since I'm not sure if you're seriously questioning my sanity, as surely you have grounds to do so based on other threads, Ricky...I should let you know that I was pulling random words out of my...psyche...and I was using ecology in a malapropism instead of saying something more appropriate like economy. Or were you looking for a reason to make fun of me?)

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KnightEnder
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[Big Grin]
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KnightEnder
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Good idea Josh. But I think 1.25 is more reasonable.

KE

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Michelle
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quote:
People general vote on a pet issue or two, or base their vote on ideology or what apparently smart people who they trust tell them to do. But then you have elected officials who change with the wind, or are bought-and-paid-for, or aren't smart or dedicated enough to accomplish anything they intend anyway.

Should we just trust our chosen experts? Or should we devote a significant portion of our lives to trying to understand the important issues? Does it make any difference when politicians are corrupt and keep up the same old games?

It's a discouraging problem.

You left out illegal immigration as an important issue, which in my book should be before health-care.


Unfortunately, neither candidate is going to do anything, so what's the point?

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munga
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I have I think a far more practical bright line test:

1. The world is dynamic therefore requires continual adjustment to preserve a positive outcome.

2. Democrats will guess the wrong action to take, 50% of the time.

3. Republicans will refuse to take positive action, within the window of opportunity, 100% of the time.

4. Ergo, it is correct to vote Democrat 100% of the time.

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