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Getting the Highest Marginal Value for Your Vote


You should vote for Gary Johnson. Maybe.

Let’s be clear: If you’re excited about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump (or any other eligible candidate), you don’t need this post. Regardless of the relative value of your vote, having a candidate you’re excited about is a gift. You don’t need strategic voting.

For everyone else (and there’s probably a lot of you), I might make a case for you to think a little more strategically about your vote. Here’s the thinking behind it:

Most state’s electors (how we actually determine who will be president) are chosen in a winner take all manner. Washington State for example has 12 electoral votes. Whoever wins the most votes in Washington gets all 12 of those votes. In some states, like Nebraska and Maine, they divvy up electors by congressional district and then have two more to represent the entire state vote. But that’s the exception.

Because of that reality, most states are statistically out of contention. Washington has Clinton up by high double digits. Our next door neighbor Idaho has Trump up by high double digits. The statistical chance of Trump beating Clinton in Washington (or Clinton beating Trump in Idaho) is next to nothing. Most states are not in play. If you live in a swing state like Ohio or Florida, that means you get to see a lot of presidential candidate commercials and visits. Lucky you. That difference will be important in a bit, though.

There are also two third-party candidates who have a good chance of appearing on your ballot: Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee and Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee. These candidates and parties have to fight for ballot access, money, and exposure. But even in a winner take all election, getting some different voices to the table is incredibly important. Especially if you are cynical of your mainstream political choices (like me), the need for some alternative voices is even more important.

There are a couple of things that keeping third-party candidates from gaining traction:

  • Third parties have to use their limited resources to fight for ballot access in all states because many have automatic thresholds that are tough to get around if you don’t get enough votes in a particular state
  • Federal election matching funds are only available if you get 5% of the national vote. The last candidate to gain that level of support was Reform party nominee Ross Perot in 1996.
  • The presidential debates require that candidates have at least 15% polling in the days leading up to the debates. Ross Perot in 1992 was the last non-mainstream candidate to achieve this.

For me, as a voter in a very certain Washington state and who is not moved by either mainstream candidate, getting the highest marginal value for my vote means supporting and voting for the third-party candidate who has the best chance of reaching those thresholds, even if I might have individual issues with some of his or her policies. Today, that is Gary Johnson and that’s who has my vote in November.

People are obviously worried about the spoiler effect in a potentially close election. Many still blame Nader for costing Gore the election in 2000. But in a swing state, where there is a good chance that your individual vote will matter a great deal, strategic voting isn’t asking you to ignore that. Unfortunately, you have a tougher decision if you’re not in love with either candidate: Vote for the person you dislike less or go for a third-party, knowing that there is a greater chance your vote could’ve tipped the election.

Johnson is still a long shot to enter the debates. He’s hovering right around 8–10 percent right now. But if those votes come through, the next election might be easier.

A slight warning: Strategic voting isn’t popular (in fact, it doesn’t really make sense in any other race besides ones determined by the Electoral College) and it’s difficult to explain to either candidate true believers or the “Never” the other guy supporters. It’s dispassionate, which is the polar opposite of what this election seems to be about. But in my cynical political eyes, it’s the only reason I’ll put a checkmark beside any presidential candidate.

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It’s Too Late For Us: Why the Fight for Parental Leave in the U.S. Should Continue


I’m 33. Many people in my age group are having kids and are realizing just how bad family leave policies are in the United States.

Me? I’ve known it my entire professional career.

  • The US offers just 12 weeks of job protected, unpaid leave for many, but not all, mothers
  • Out of 185 countries, the U.S. is one of three that offers no mandated paid maternity leave
  • 70+ countries even offer paid paternity leave for fathers
  • Three states offer paid leave and a joint study with CEPR, UCLA, Rutgers, and CUNY showed that for 90 percent of businesses in California, the law had a net positive or neutral impact on their profitability

The thing that is shocking to most people our age is that our mothers didn’t even have job protected unpaid leave. The Family Medical Leave Act only became law in 1993. In fact, depending on when you were born, your mother could’ve been denied or released from employment just because she was pregnant with you. That protection didn’t pass until 1978.

I’ve heard all of the arguments against paid leave. I don’t buy that the U.S. is in the right on this issue, along with Suriname and Papua New Guinea, against 182 other countries. It’s a global economy and it’s easier to be mobile than in any other time in history. At some point, it’s a competitive issue that’s likely to hurt the U.S. in the long term.

Obviously, I would’ve loved to have paid leave as would’ve my wife. She had always planned to go back to work after having our child and it wasn’t going to be a long time.

We had it better than almost everyone in our country, though. I had three full weeks of paid paternity leave. Plus, I work from home and spent the first year seeing her on demand just steps away. My wife spent 11 weeks at home getting almost her full paycheck and banking on some savings, along with a job that has her working four days a week most of the year.

We could’ve gone longer with our leaves but we chose not to. Most people don’t have that choice. Most people don’t have the advantage of substantial dual income, a parent working from home, and a wonderful nanny. People choosing between finding care for children who are just days out of the hospital are closer to the norm than our situation.

The fact is, it’s too late for people in my current generation: We’re not getting paid leave for our friends who are having kids tomorrow or next week. Just like it was too late for our mothers to get the job protection that almost everyone universally agrees is a good thing today. Maybe individual companies will continue to adopt more family friendly policies primarily catering to people who already can afford to take leave. I don’t see the tide turning that fast on any national legislative level.

So this isn’t about me or my friends anymore. It’s about our country. It’s about our daughters, sons, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. It’s about creating an environment that’s more friendly to women leaders in their 20s and 30s.

It’s about doing what’s right for people where 8–12 weeks of paid leave is the difference between taking hardly any time off for their pregnancy versus taking every single second of paid leave to soak up that time with their kid. Maybe they work in retail or hospitality. Maybe they work in an office or on a construction site. We want them back to work, sure. But according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 16 percent of mothers taking one to four weeks of time off and 33 percent taking no formal time away from work at all.

It’s an indictment on us all and it’s time to change this.

Of course, paid leave will be a pain in the ass to deal with it from the employer’s perspective. I know administering these programs come with administrative costs, the possibility of abuse, and real legal risk. I also know that paid leave schemes will likely cost companies hard dollars and cents. These are important issues which are worth acknowledging but aren’t insurmountable.

But the cost and hassle is worth it. And hopefully people in my generation will fight for it the same way our mothers and grandmothers fought for employment rights that protect pregnancy and parental leave today.

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Politics, The Internet and Work

My friend Jeremy and I chat every day on instant messaging. It usually starts off with a link, sometimes sports or news, but every once in a while, it goes political.

And sometimes we disagree on a political issue. It happens. And we go back and forth on it and there are often misunderstandings. Or jokes. Or a salient point that can’t be expressed easily without at least a paragraph of supporting text.

Now, Jeremy and I have known each other for about 20 years. 20. Years. We went to the same schools all of the way through college. We were roommates, at least for a while.

Yet we still have misunderstandings when we’re chatting away on the internet about tough political issues. I may come off as an evil bastard or he may come off as an unrealistic psycho (but we know it is mostly not true).

* * * * *

Rewind a few years and I was in deep as a maintainer of an online community of a large group of conservatives on LiveJournal. To say the place was lively would be an understatement. During my involvement with the community, I cleared somewhere between 3–5,000 comments a year. That’s 10–15 comments a day, every day, including weekends and holidays.

I can tell you what I added with all of that effort: jack. squat.

People on the internet can come off as insane when in reality, they are just really, really bad at expressing themselves. And unfortunately the opposite is true too: the seemingly sane can come unglued in an instance.

I’ve fired a lot of angry people in my day but I can tell you that some dude from the internet makes me fear ever staying in or broadcasting the fact that I am near Pocatello, Idaho (not that I have plans to visit any time soon).

* * * * *

The point is simple: the internet is a crappy place to discuss politics. Any substantial political issue is going to have some fairly deep points of discussion. For example, is social security failing and if it is, what should we do about it? Or, what do you think of the Occupy Wall Street movement or the Tea Partiers? What are the implications of groups like this to the 2012 election and beyond? These are actually incredibly complex issues with multiple ideas, possible outcomes and philosophies surrounding the key issues.

That’s why most political posts are over-simplified pieces of garbage. And that’s why the comments associated with them get crazy too. And why smarmy or condescending Twitter and Facebook status updates are even worse than an over-simplified blog post.

It’s a perfect traffic ploy if you’re running a website that depends on traffic to drive advertising revenue though. Just put something up there about the President’s birth certificate or a certain former Alaskan governor’s new eyeglasses and you’ll have people coming back for weeks.

* * * * *

I’ve had disagreements with people in-person about politics (and misunderstandings too) but not to the extent that can happen on the internet. When you’re talking to someone in person, you can tell pretty quickly how serious they are about issues, how much they know and, dare I say, how crazy they may be. You’ll know whether you’re talking to a gal who has run her own business for five years or the crazy guy on the bus wearing tin foil on his head. And I think you also talk to people in a more compassionate way. Words said by a person in front of you come off as less black and white and more like something someone with some intelligence said but that you may disagree with.

What does this have to do with work? Well, it is one of the reasons I don’t mind people having political discussions at work. As long as they both mutually agree to discussion, it doesn’t seem to be a problem with me. But HR folks seem to be prickly about it which is fine, I suppose. It just concerns me that we can’t seem to work well with people whom we may disagree with. I prefer competency, proficiency and skills over agreement on political issues and I think most people feel that way if you framed it that way.

* * * * *

I don’t feel compelled to write about political issues outside of ones that directly impact the workplace. It doesn’t mean I’m not interested or not informed about it, either. But wasting a post about the political issue of the day or shooting out passive aggressive tweets? You’re probably going to execute it poorly. And this is from someone who has spent thousands of hours doing (and observing) just that. Trust me.

If you want to talk politics or world events for real, give me a call sometime and we can chat. If you want any more than a pithy or sarcastic comment this election cycle, that’s the best you’ll get from me. And you can thank me later for not having to spend 45 minutes writing out a response to my stupid political post.

My Posts

Politics and the Internet

Do you remember the website LiveJournal? It was one of the first social networking sites (pre-MySpace and Friendster) and it was built around blogging. You could friend, unfriend, and there were larger communities of people with similar interests. If that sounds familiar, that’s because most of the conventions of social networking have been around for a long time.

I got into LiveJournal in 2002 via an invite (sound familiar, Google+?). In addition to personal blog posts, I also posted (a lot) about politics. And in doing that, I eventually became the moderator of the largest conservative political community on LiveJournal for a couple years (basically 2004–2005). That’s a bit entertaining for a couple of reasons. For one, while I was definitely heavily conservative leaning back then, I was probably in the bottom 25 percentile in comparison to most of the members. Another point was that I let anyone of any political persuasion post assuming they followed some basic guidelines (including that it was about conservative politics or thought).

This led to some rancorous posts. Hundreds of comments were typical. Name calling, trolling, baiting… it all happened there. And in the context of the relatively new Iraq war and a Bush re-election, it led a lot of people to lose their minds in this public forum. I (mostly) watched detached from the discussions going on and eventually moved on when I found a job and a more productive outlet for my energy (mainly this blog).

I only give you this history because the current debt crisis is the latest political issue to infect my social networks and I’ve generally made a pretty easy to follow rule: if you want to talk politics or religion, I generally won’t do it over the internet (or any written form). Why?

  • I observed people with unlimited character lengths not be able to fully explain the nuance of their political position. Twitter is the equivalent of pulling bumper stickers out of a drawer to have a political debate. It may be clever or make you laugh but the depth there is zilch.
  • People lose track of the fact that you’re a real person on the internet. When we’re in person, we often assume the best of people but looking at the black and white of text on a computer illicits the opposite effect. The internet robs us of some of that humanity and compassion.
  • There are no winners and losers in internet debates. Everyone usually loses because they spent time and emotional energy on something that could have been better used elsewhere. Nobody changes their mind on a major issue due to an internet debate. It takes time and humility to accept you may be wrong about an important issue. Notice neither one of those is someone typing in all caps in response to a posting they made.
  • Social media has become the e-mail forwards of yesterday. The amount of incomplete, out of context or simply untrue statements circulating is simply astounding. “I saw something on Facebook that said…” is the new “I got a forward from my crazy uncle that said…”

The fact is, writing about politics in a compelling, smart way takes a lot of practice just like anything else. So when I see the amateur stuff I see from social media acquaintances, I cringe a bit. And you can bet that a bunch of other people feel the same way too. It isn’t like this is new either. It has been going on since the dial-in BBS days too and certainly in all of my experience as being on the front lines of this phenomenon. The conversations haven’t improved or changed.

While I do think HR people should be more politically involved, it doesn’t mean you have to do it like an amateur on the internet. Here are three better ways to be involved:

  1. Be educated. Take in information from different sources and consider alternatives.
  2. Have discussions in person with people you know. Be patient and empathetic.
  3. Have a relationship with your political representatives. Give them feedback and get to know their aides.

I can tell you almost universally that arguing on the internet is a big fat waste of time. And when you add in the character restrictions of Twitter and Facebook, you just add fuel to the fire.