Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Unity08's website now live

Looks good so far. I'm already working on building my political capital, particularly through the forums. I may even end up helping run the California group....

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Unity '08 getting its game on with new website

Or hopefully they will soon. If they really pull this off, I'll probably retire this blog in order to build "Political Capital" on a new Centroids group blog on their forums...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rank the Candidates & the Issues

The second version of the survey -- well worth taking.
We've invited you to take and publish this study because we've seen that your site actively discusses politics and the state of the nation. It is crucial for us to include as many American citizens as we can so that we can truly start discussing the "crucial" issues facing the country and how to resolve them... before it is too late.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Take the Unity08 Opinion Survey

At long last, a concrete opportunity to help shape the direction of the Unity08 movement: take the new Unity08 survey.
More and more we are hearing about the frustration that Americans are experiencing with the direction of the country. We want more choices and more opportunity to be heard. And recently, the press and public are awakening to the potential power of Unity08 to change American politics for the better.

We will succeed, but only if we can involve millions of Americans in the ranking and discussing of crucial issues, drafting of top leaders, and the nomination of a candidate team to run on the Unity08 ticket.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect -- beyond the breadth of topics covered -- is their clever "click on a line" UI to let you express finely-graded preferences. Nifty!

Friday, June 22, 2007

CSM on 'post-partisan' Unity

The Christian Science Monitor follows Time Magazine in focusing on Arnold-Bloomberg centrism, but goes one step further by talking to Unity08:
The New York mayor and the California governor are hammering a note that resonates with the public. Seventy-five percent like leaders who are willing to compromise, and 60 percent like leaders whose positions are a mix of liberal and conservative, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in Washington.

"The analysis [of Bloomberg and Schwarzenegger] is exactly correct," says Doug Bailey, cofounder of Unity08, a group that wants to nominate a bipartisan "unity ticket" for the 2008 presidential election, using a first-ever online convention. "The people know the system is broken at a time when there are more crucial issues in front of the government than at any point in our lifetimes. Yet they know the two parties can't sit down and talk in any effective way."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Product Manager's Proposal for the Unity08 Process

As a Product Manager in Silicon Valley, the three questions I ask about any problem are:

  1. What do we want the customer to experience?

  2. What technical innovation is necessary to achieve that?

  3. What are the opposing systemic forces that need to be overcome?

For Unity08's nomination process, I believe the goal is to:
Engage a broad spectrum of American citizens
in selecting an optimal, bipartisan Presidential ticket.
through effective presentation of all relevant data

To me, the key word is "engage." If the Unity08 experiment is to succeed, we need to find a scalable way to actively engage a diverse pool of delegates in the hard work of interviewing and analyzing potential candidates; otherwise, it will become a mere popularity contest.

So, how does effectively enfranchise a large (and constantly increasing) community composed of diverse -- even contradictory -- viewpoints?

A. Self-Organizing Caucuses

We do it the way nature does it: through "spontaneous self-organization." In political terms, we enable the easy formation -- and self-policing -- of innumerable "caucuses." The goal is to create little "micro-communities" with their own governance and agenda, so that individuals who share a similar mindset can work to refine that into specific questions, positions, and policies. This gives new joiners an easy way to find a "home" in the vast see of Unity08 delegates, which in turn rewards those communities that are both welcoming and clear in their communication.

B. Nominated Questions

Having established these caucuses, we would then leverage them to nominate *questions* for the various candidates. This would need to be an iterative process, as we would want questions to be refined, merged, and split in order to best reflect the mood of the population as a whole. Once we've obtained a mostly-orthogonal set of questions, there would then be an internal poll (perhaps using Approval Voting) to pick a reasonable set that all candidates must address.

C. Remixable Answers

Here's where it gets interesting. In addition to written answers, I would encourage candidates to submit video responses of arbitrary length -- and not just to the mandatory questions, but any other questions they felt were important to them (or the caucuses). These would then be available on, e.g., YouTube, or even CSPAN.

And if the candidates were brave enough to grant appropriate rights, I would want to give Unity08 delegates permission to *remix* those videos into condensed position summaries -- though those remixes would need to be clearly labeled as such, follow certain guidelines, and only be available to registered delegates (unless approved by the original speaker). This would give the uber-wonks the opportunity to streamline and customize their candidate's message for those who lack the patience to listen to the whole thing, without necessarily reducing everything to sound bites. Importantly, any such remixes would need to include links back to the original source material, as well as to any rebuttals the original author chose to make.

The goal, ultimately, is to create the tools for a sustained, passionate, yet civil dialogue around all these matters, by using modern technology to involve ordinary Americans in the process.

D. Approval Runoff Voting

The final way to engage voters is to adopt a "March Madness" approach to voting, where the field is progressively winnowed down to 16 candidates, then 8, then 4, 2, and finally 1. This allows excitement to build (a la American Idol), and encourages delegates to learn more and more about fewer and fewer top contenders. This should also mesh well with the ongoing influx of new delegates. Each voting period should be multiple days (including a weekend), to maximize opportunities to participate.

The best mechanism for this (IMHO) is what I call Approval Runoff Voting, where at each "tier" voters can select as many candidates are there are "seats" available in the next round. For a given tier, this is the exact same process used for electing County Commissioners in most states, so it shouldn't be that unfamiliar; plus, individuals who don't care about the complexity can simply select their single favorite. However, unlike Instant-Runoff Voting (IRV), we have a better chance of a weaker "consensus" candidate surviving the initial rounds. Plus, the desire to attract multiple votes should discourage unsportsmanlike sniping among the candidates.

I believe that this approach has the best chance of providing a positive user experience for all Unity08 delegates, by maximizing their opportunities to be heard while minimizing the risk of negative interactions. In addition, I believe it would be relatively straightforward to implement this with fairly minor modifications to existing tools.

-- Ernest N. Prabhakar, Ph.D.

Thoughts on Community Governance

One of the biggest challenges for Unity08 is nurturing healthy community discussions. Here's a few resources worth reading about both structural and economic levers:

A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy by Clay Shirkey

How To Keep Hostile Jerks From Taking Over Your Online Community by Cory Doctorow

The "Karma" economy as envisioned by Cory Doctorow (again)

"Game" economies

Seth Godin on Reinventing Democracy

My man Seth Godin riffs on ideas for how to update our electoral process to reflect the needs/challenges/opportunities of modern society, rather than clinging to 1840's-era conventions.
If I ran a party and wanted to increase my chances of getting elected, I'd figure out how to turn the primary process into something that was simultaneously more interesting and more likely to lead to large numbers of my party turning out to vote in the general election. Instead, it's almost guaranteed to do the opposite.

Worth reading the whole thing. More importantly, it is worth implementing!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Open Source E-Voting

One of the (many) issues for Unity08 -- and the larger question of electoral reform -- is how to trust the software. Open Source may not be a panacea, but it definitely seems like a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Harder Questions: Beyond The Litmus Test

I must confess, I am a bit embarrassed at airing my theological dirty laundry on this politically-focused blog; still, I figure it is only fair to let people know where I'm coming from. More importantly, though, I do think the religious Right and Left have both become victims of their own "success." That is, they've found issues that resonate with their "base", and have let those issues (effectively) determine their entire concept of God -- and what He wants!

If our goal is to provide a Unity platform, then I believe it is crucial to re-ask those foundational questions, to see if we can shift the debate onto areas which God (and probably the most people) see as even more important than the many squabbles of yesteryear. Of course I realize I don't have a complete understanding of God (can anyone?), but hopefully these insights can help "move the needle" a little bit closer to what God actually does want.

In this particular case, I've been wrestling with what God wants from "democracy." That's a difficult question, since God has never seemed partial to majority rule (though He does work through randomness, which our democracy often feels like!). However, after reading through I Timothy 3 yesterday, I realized:
God is glorified by a leadership selection process that rewards godly character.
Now, that may seem obvious to even the most casual observer, but I found it deeply significant. In particular, it implies that God cares about the process, not just the result. Further, it emphasizes that God cares about a leader's character far more than his or her beliefs -- the exact opposite of litmus-test politics!

Given that, I've come up a few questions for Unity08's American Agenda that address the issue of character in terms of my so-called 'radical' virtues: humility, justice and love.

  1. We value both tenacity and flexibility in our leaders. When do you think it is appropriate -- perhaps even virtuous -- to "flip-flop" on a publicly held position? How and why?
  2. The President is supposed to serve all the people equally. What will you to do ensure you don't give preferential treatment -- even unconsciously -- to those who happen to share your background, beliefs, or biases?
  3. What obligation does the government have towards those on the margins of society (e.g., the disabled, homeless, illegal immigrants, criminals, etc.)?
Again, I don't presume to have all the answers -- or even all the questions. But at least I have a few more than I did yesterday. :-)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hard Questions

While pondering whether to ramp up my involvement with Unity08 -- specificially around voting methods -- I've been forced to ask the question: does Unity08's philosophy align with my core beliefs? Or, more bluntly, do my political preferences align with what I believe God wants?

At the risk of speaking out of turn, I did manage to identify four things I believe God does want from our leaders:

  • Integrity

  • Justice

  • Concern for Poor

  • Humility before Him

The question is, how do I translate that -- especially the last! -- into a secular context?

Well, Unity08 does have this concept of a New American Agenda, where the delegates pose what they consider the most important questions for potential candidates to address. So, here's my best attempt to address the issues I feel are on God's heart (and I'm hoping will be on mine):

  1. Tell me about a time you were forced to choose between integrity and expediency? How about one where you made the wrong choice?

  2. What is the best long-term solution to reducing both the crime rate and our prison population?

  3. Do you believe is possible to eliminate structural poverty in the United States? How? When?

  4. How does your understanding of "God" (whatever that means to you) shape the way you make decisions?

To be honest, I don't how to answer those questions. But I do think we as a people would be much better off if we had leaders who did.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Question for "Live Chat" on Unity08 Rules

Dr. King and Mr. Turk,

Q: Will the Rules Committee consider adopting "Preferential" (ranked-choice) or "Approval" (one-vote-per-candidate) voting methods for either the initial or final rounds, in order to:

i) reduce the need for strategic (vs. sincere) voting

ii) increase the likelihood of finding a consensus candidate (vs. the one with strongest partisan support)

as described in the online discussion thread.

Thank you,
Ernest N. Prabhakar, Ph.D.

Unity08 Live Chat with the Rules Committee, Thursday, April 12th at 9 AM Pacific Time

Monday, April 02, 2007

Why Major Parties Need Unity08 (?)

The Decoy Effect.
In the actual world, however, third candidates regularly have the unintended effect of making one of the front-runners look better than before in the minds of undecided voters.

Hmm. The tricky question, of course, is whether any "major" candidate feels that they would be better off with an appropriate third-party candidate for comparison.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Support Preferential Voting!

If you're a Unity08 delegate, I urge you to add your support to the request for Preferential Voting in both Nominations and the Virtual Convention. This is our best chance to reverse the centuries-old discrimination against moderate candidates imposed by winner-take-all voting (as practiced today). We need your vote now, to avoid wasting it later.

Unity08 Rules!

It is great to see Unity08 has finally posted their draft rules, and opened them up for public comment. Key items of note:
Unity08 encourages the “drafting” of candidates

Prospective Candidates may qualify as Candidates for the Unity08 Presidential Nomination by having, in each of ten different states, 2,500 registered voters in each of those states (a total of 25,000 registered voters) electronically sign up on the Unity08 website to support the Prospective Candidate AND by having, in each of five different states, 500 registered voters in each of those states (a total of 2,500 registered voters) sign a “hard copy” petition to support the Prospective Candidate.

All pretty reasonable. However, I was very disappointed by:
Each Delegate will have one vote to cast electronically for the Candidate of his or her choice.

Why? With potentially dozens of Potential Candidates, the gamesmanship for voting (do I vote for my favorite, or my second-favorite if they've got a better chance?) is going to be insane. We need some form of ranked-choice voting, or at least Approval Voting, to make sense of it all.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mark Satin on Joe Klein on being "Fed Up"

In a nice echo of Sam Waterson's comments, Radical Middle author Mark Satin talks up Joe Klein's Politics Lost, which is driven by the same frustraction...

with the insulting welter of sterilized speechifying, insipid photo ops, and idiotic advertising that passes for public discourse these days. I believe that American politics has become overly cautious, cynical, mechanistic, and bland; and I fear that the inanity and ugliness of postmodern public life has caused many Americans to lose the habits of citizenship.

More importantly, Mark culls several worthy suggestions for how we can up the sanity level of our political discourse. Why not give them a try?

Unity08 Brings "Law & Order" to Presidential Nominations

Sorry, couldn't resist the play on words. :-) I actually really like the latest Politico essay by Sam Waterson, reprinted on the Unity08 blog. The money quote:

I'm frustrated at the obsessive playing for petty advantage that takes the place of doing the nation's urgent business. Every day I read stories in the newspaper that tell me something is very wrong with the way we nominate our presidential candidates, articles about candidates abandoning campaign finance reform measures so they can raise unlimited amounts of money, or about the candidates designing and redesigning their statements to suit the money people, the partisans and voters in primary states. I'm left without any certain idea of what the candidates represent, what they stand for, what their priority issues are and what they may be counted on to do. I crave their honest opinions on the issues that I think are crucial to the future of the country and our planet.

But the experienced men and women who designed and run Unity08 aren't reacting to headlines only. They have taken a long and deep look at causes, and they have a great idea. Not everything about our presidential nominating process needs to change, but some things need to change a lot. Unity08's plan will change only what needs improving; it aims at a moderate revolution, or a revolution of moderates, like the one that founded this nation. It doesn't intend to upset the apple cart. It means to set it right again, and put it back on track. With enough delegates signing on, it looks to me as if it has a really good shot at doing it. I hope a lot of people will join us at

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Be Your Own Founding Father (or Mother)

Okay, it is mostly just a cheap marketing ploy --- Founding Delegates, as far as I can tell, are no different than any other delegates -- but I still wanted to be one of the first ones to sign up. How about you?

Friday, February 02, 2007

CNN covers Unity08, but who cares?

Congratulations to Unity08 for being included in CNN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential Race. It is great to see them raising the bipartisan option, but the sampling of responses highlight both the promise and perils of being middle-of-the-road. Obviously, pure partisans aren't interested, but neither are those who have lost faith in both parties, as well as the process. The challenge is to attract people who are, as the saying goes, "disillusioned but not disenchanted" -- frustrated, but not yet cynical. Not easy, but Unity08 is run by some pretty media-savvy folks, so they may well be able to pull it off...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Atlantic's "Surprise Party" for Unity08

As the leading (only?) radical centrist magazine, it was probably inevitable that The Atlantic would spend some considerable ink on Unity08. The pleasant surprise is that they didn't merely regurgitate press releases or editorialize, but provided some fascinating background about how and why it got started:
All of the founders recognized that this new technology was poised to transform politics, just as greatly as television had in their own era. They had seen television’s effect on the political process grow more and more pernicious as the years went by, poisoning the dialogue while forcing candidates to raise ever-greater sums of money to pay for it. They recognized that the Internet, in its political infancy, was a force that could still be shaped for good.

Importantly, this isn't the lament of academic outsiders, but the very insiders (from the years of Ford and Carter) who had helped make TV the political monster that it is today -- and have undertaken a quest to redeem themselves!

The other juicy tidbit is the fact that by deliberately calling it Unity08, they've signalled that they:
envision their enterprise not as the establishment of a permanent third party but as a one-shot affair—a dose of medicine strong enough to bring the two parties to their senses.
In addition to the inherent optimism of putting all their eggs in one basket, this (and their ages) ensures that they aren't trying to turn this into an ongoing political monument to their own egos. :-)

Hear, hear!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

David Brin's Pragmatic Platform

Though phrased in terms of advice to the new Democratic Congress, David Brin's suggestions would also be a worthy platform for Unity '08 candidates to adopt.