Will Obama usher in the age of Digg democracy?

Paul Raven @ 16-01-2009

inauguration site construction notice, Washington DCOne of the more interesting sections of the Change.gov website built by the incoming Obama administration is the Citizen’s Briefing Book. It’s essentially a kind of Digg-like system where registered users can pick policies and issues to vote upwards or downwards on an ordered list, the idea being that the matters that matter the most will rise to the top, presumably to have attention paid to them by policy makers. [image by ajagendorf25]

It’s an intriguing idea, very typical of the Obama crew, and a tentative step toward a more atomised and participatory form of democracy that might effectively engage those who, traditionally, have been least engaged by politics in recent times. The downswing being, of course, that it’s effectively a crude kind of popularity contest, as Steven Johnson pointed out at BoingBoing:

Right now, the top three most popular proposals are: 1) Ending Marijuana Prohibition, 2) Bullet Trains and Light Rail, and 3) An End To Government Sponsored School Abstinence Programs. In other words, what the people want are stoned kids having sex on bullet trains. Sounds about right to me!

To be totally clear, those are three policies that – were I an American citizen – I would certainly support; it’s just that given the current state of the world in general and the US in particular, I don’t think they are really the hot-button issues that most need to be addressed…

Of course, the Citizen’s Briefing Book is only a type of polling mechanism rather than a direct lever on the policy machine. I only hope for the sake of all Americans it doesn’t become as farcical an echo-chamber of petty idiots as the Downing Street Petitions site. Or Digg, for that matter.


Time to end prohibition?

Paul Raven @ 04-12-2008

marijuana traffic lightsDid you know that alcohol prohibition ended in the United States seventy-five years ago this month? Me neither; following on neatly from the Swiss legal heroin program story comes news of a US organisation called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, whose name should tell you exactly what they’re advocating: legalised regulation of all drugs. Here’s their pitch:

After nearly four decades of fueling the U.S. policy of a war on drugs with over a trillion tax dollars and 37 million arrests for nonviolent drug offenses, our confined population has quadrupled making building prisons the fastest growing industry in the United States. More than 2.2 million of our citizens are currently incarcerated and every year we arrest an additional 1.9 million more guaranteeing those prisons will be bursting at their seams. Every year we choose to continue this war will cost U.S. taxpayers another 69 billion dollars. Despite all the lives we have destroyed and all the money so ill spent, today illicit drugs are cheaper, more potent, and far easier to get than they were 35 years ago at the beginning of the war on drugs.

They’ve got a lot of facts and figures there, that’s for sure… and they’ve also just released a report that claims ending the war on drugs will boost the US economy by at least $76 billion a year, in addition to putting criminal cartels out of business.

LEAP are far from the first to make similar claims, of course, but their point about the economic effects is well timed and calculated to appeal to the status quo. Whether it will have any effect of the entrenched ideas of policy makers remains to be seen… over here in the UK, our government is trying to reclassify cannabis on the same level as methamphetamine, so I’m not exactly hopeful for a spontaneous outbreak of common sense in the halls of power. [image by aforero]


Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco

Tom James @ 02-10-2008

Prohibiting the use of heroin and crack is stupid. Prohibition of cannabis is stupid and hypocritical, as further confirmed by a report (link is to background to the report) from the Beckley Foundation:

“Although cannabis can have a negative impact on health, including mental health, in terms of relative harms it is considerably less harmful than alcohol or tobacco,”

The Beckley Foundation, a charitable trust, claimed only two deaths worldwide have been attributed to cannabis, while alcohol and tobacco use together kill an estimated 150,000 people in Britain alone.

“Many of the harms associated with cannabis use are the result of prohibition itself, particularly the social harms arising from arrest and imprisonment,”

Ending prohibition isn’t like ending climate change – it’s a comparatively straightforward way of solving Mexico’s drugs problems, our drugs problems, and generally making the world a better place.

What does this have to do with science fiction? I hope that prohibition will seem like the product of a dystopian science-fiction novel someday, and join slavery and the divine right of kings on the trash-heap of history.

[via Physorg][image from aforero on flickr]


U.S. Presidential science

Tom Marcinko @ 05-09-2008

politicsI try to keep partisan stuff out of these posts, but somebody needs to note that Obama has responded at some length to 14 questions on science policy issues posed to him by Sciencedebate 2008, representing a truckload of scientific associations. McCain hasn’t answered yet. NPR has a short item about both candidates’ health policies. And the AAAS just put out a “policy alert” on a few of Gov. Palin’s views on evolution, global warming, and other topics. Not always sexy issues to the media, but something for American voters to think about.

[Story tips: slashdot, Framing Science; Political Studies by minkymonkeymoo]


The space race and the Presidential race

Paul Raven @ 30-01-2008

Space-rocket-launch As far as I can tell as an outsider, the space program isn’t a big feature of any of the presidential candidate campaigns at the moment. But that’s not to say there aren’t people who would like it to be – Space.com reports on the space policy geeks who are leveraging the internet to get their questions onto the agenda.

Meanwhile, the game is still afoot in the private sector, with SpaceX reporting a successful firing test of their Falcon 9 multi-engine reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle. A full launch test of the Falcon 9 is tentatively scheduled for later this year. [Image courtesy NASA]