Point of View 2, April 15, 2004: Lose weight the Ditch way!
I've been overweight as long as I can remember. Heck, I'm STILL overweight. However, I've lost 36 pounds in the last 3 months with not that much exercise or bad tasting food, and so can you... assuming you need to lose it. But since this is the internet, I'm making an assumption that you can stand to drop a few, fatty.
The basic thing is... wait for it... less carbs! I know, this is an entirely new development in the world of weight loss, but bear with me. The top thing you hear about is Atkins. Screw Atkins; it just replaces fat on the outside with fat in your arteries. The concept of the low-carb diet, which Atkins made mainstream, is quite true. We don't realize just how many near-empty carbs we eat in a day. White bread, cereal, breading on meat, junk food, non-diet soda... most anyone who's overweight consumes those things en masse. But when you then take into account potatoes, corn, fruit, and 'hidden carbs', the raw quantity becomes staggering.
There are varying degrees to which you can take a low-carb diet. All diets start with a 'hardcore' period where everything is cut out, though I was able to cheat a little here and there and keep losing weight because I had so much to lose. The amount of carbs you can have while losing the weight varies from person to person, so here are some "do's" and "don'ts" and a couple "maybes".
1. Eliminate cereal, bread, non-diet soda, non-diet alcohol, and junk food. Period. Just cut it out of your diet. Get yourself adjusted to diet soda. Diet Barqs and diet orange both rule YOU so drink them.
2.Exercise. I'm a big fan of swimming and elliptical machines for cardio, and hand weights for the upper body. A set of hand weights at home are perfect for when you're watching TV. Literally half an hour a week can get your arms and shoulders much stronger.
3. Eat more cheese. String cheese is great in that regard, because it takes a while to eat, tastes good, provides calcium and protein, and is only 75-100 calories. However, only two a day; high in saturated fat.
4. Water. Water. WATER. Helps you digest so you get more from your food, keeps digestion going longer so your stomach is more active, reduces the acid level, cleans out your system... it's great. I drink about half a coffee cup an hour. Extra time spent on #1 is more than saved with less #2.
5. Eggs. Specifically, omelets. Cheese, bacon, yum. I understand that some of you might not like omelets, but you're wrong so start liking them.
6. Sugar-free Jell-O cups and pudding. Super low on calories, great in a pinch.
7. Fruits and juice. Cut these for only a few weeks if you want to have some time with near-zero carbs.
8. Restaurants are not your friend. Avoid them. If you must, get chicken wings, naked, with blue cheese and celery.
9. Spread out your meals, if you can. I've found it works best in the afternoon. Having meals one item at a time reduces the amount of food that's in your stomach; over time this will shrink it, which makes you full sooner and hungry less often. On a related note, don't eat unless you're hungry.
10. Salads. There are lots of great low and no carb dressings, you can put lots of good stuff (re: bacon) on for flavor and protein, and we should be eating more greens anyway.
11. Chicken. Everything goes with chicken. There are a bazillion delicious low-carb chicken recipes to be had on the internet.
Caveats: It's hard to do if you're poor, in college, suck at cooking, or only have time for grab 'n go meals. In those cases I recommend focusing on less bread, more meat, and water. Good luck, and as usual e-mail me with any questions. Oh, and remember to click the ads!
Point of View 2, February 8, 2004: Some jobs won't come back
This is not the best job market of all time. I expect it to get better, but for the moment it could stand some improvement. That said I doubt we'll get below 5% unemployment any time soon, and that means millions of people will be out of work every single day. The constantly-cited "2 million jobs lost under the Bush economy" figure was inevitable considering how inflated the economy was in 2000; new figures show that the 2001 recession actually started in 2000.
Often cited as a major reason as to why there has been so much job loss is the movement of manufacturing and some service work overseas. Be it an industrial plant in China or a late-night (for us) customer service phone center in India, there is a net movement of jobs out of the country.
There are some who think that the government should step in and put a stop to this. Many Democrats advocate restrictions on moving jobs; Bush instituted a tariff on steel on behalf of the struggling steel industry. This sort of thing falls under the category of "Protectionism", where the US economy is 'protected' from the rest of the world. Sadly, the notion that we need to keep our overpaid low-skilled labor rather than benefit from cheaper labor overseas is a very popular idea.
Over the years many industries have gone the way of the dinosaur. The massive industries of the northeast, the life-long family farmers, and many other things that kept America going in decades past have steadily employed fewer and fewer people. In some cases jobs were taken by machines; in some cases jobs were taken by foreigners. Yet in every case the free market found a way to make goods at a cheaper cost. Food and clothing for an average family are no longer heavy burdens the way they were in the past.
Here's an example. Check the label on the back of your shirt, and there's a good chance you won't read "Made in America." That's a good thing. By moving the textiles industry overseas, we save money. That money is saved by both consumers and clothing businesses, and in turn gets spent on other areas of the economy. Inevitably the most cost-intensive items are the ones which use the newest technology, and with more money to spend people are more likely to buy that fancy new gizmo called a "VCR" or a "PC".
In the sort run, the laid-off clothing workers are out of a job. In the long run, our clothes are cheaper each and every year that we don't have to rely on the world's most expensive labor to produce it. The savings go into new businesses and products, and create new high-end jobs while improving our standard of living. For the sake of protectionism we could have forced clothing manufacturers to use US labor, but we'd be worse off for it (not to mention the third world laborers who jump at the chance to earn $2/hr). Why should we protect the jobs of today when the market will inevitably produce the jobs of tomorrow as a replacement?
The jobs lost since 2000 are primarily outside the tech sector, even though that's what people think of as "the bubble". Rather it's been low-skilled manual labor, the sort that I'm referring to in this column. It would be nice to say "let's keep jobs in the US!", but that only enforces stagnation and inefficiency. Any politician who favors protectionism is trying to buy votes today in exchange for progress.
Point of View 2, February 2, 2004: A story
In 1751 a man named Henry Detch moved from Germany to Pennsylvania, where land was plentiful. He raised his family in the states, and there was generation after generation with 5 to 9 kids per family. Needless to say that fantastic breeding rate was enough to make up for an age of high mortality and low life expectancy, and the Detch family fourished. Today Henry's lineage covers thousands of people.
Upon arriving in Philadelphia, Henry was asked his name. He couldn't spell it at the time so he had to sound it out.
That's where Ditch comes from.
Point of View 2, November 20, 2003: Progress in Iraq
There is still violence, and there is still a heavy toll being paid by American troops, and there is a bare minimum of international help. But despite what you hear on the news, things are progressing in a positive manner on a variety of fronts.
The plans for the new Iraqi government continue. The transfer of power will happen in June, which is a huge improvement over what France and Germany wanted over the summer (transfer in November/December 2003). June is 7 months away, meaning that we'll have almost as much time between now and then to improve things as from now back to the beginning of the war.
The rebuilding continues. Oil production will be at prewar levels early next year, electricity is ALREADY better than prewar levels, schools are being reopened constantly, thousands of police are trained a week, etc. The police are especially vital, since they work better with the people and will not be as targeted. The more infrastructure improves, the more Americans can get out of the way and the less resentment there will be.
The enemy being faced right now is comprised of a few outside terrorists (not enough to make any real difference) and old Ba'athists who are using desperate tactics that ensure a loss of any possible popular support in order to get short-term gains. We're talking about only a couple thousand people who are fighting a guerrila war without the advantage of things like mass public support, outside aid or friendly terrain (mountains/jungle). They're being picked off and disarmed steadily.
Between 70 and 100 thousand troops will be switched with fresh forces from the states, and that should reduce the problems caused by fatigue (wearing those uniforms in that heat for so long is something I can't even comprehend).
Don't get your hopes up too high. Troops will die every single week for another year if not more, the Sunnis will remain hostile, Iraq's fledgling democracy will have countless problems, and there will be a large US force in the nation for some time to come. But it will be worth it.
The only way to fail is to give up or halfass it like we did in Vietnam. The Vietnamese people suffered greatly because of that, as will the Iraqis if we cave in and withdraw because of pressure from those who would prefer that Hussein had been left to his own devices.
Point of View 2, September 11, 2003: The War on Terror is an unprecedented success
The last time a foreign enemy launched an unprovoked surprise attack on US soil was Pearl Harbor. The Japanese had a military that was competitive with that of the US, and they could have won the Pacific side of World War II if they had a higher population to support a larger war industry. Thus, the amount of lives lost and dollars spent against those responsible for Pearl Harbor was great.
Today, there is no threat of invasion. None. Where Japan captured US islands in the Pacific, radical Islamists wonít even attempt to take land held by the US. None of the armies associated with terrorists are even remotely competitive in the conventional sense. As such it is to be expected that avenging 9/11 has cost far fewer lives and a far smaller portion of our GDP than did avenging Pearl Harbor.
Since 9/11/01, the United States has spearheaded an effort to combat radical Islam around the globe. In Indonesia, the US and Australia help police with the terror groups responsible for the bomb blast in Bali. In Israel, the US continues to offer support against the worldís most widely known terror groups- and the EU is finally joining in against Hamas. In Iraq, a government that supported terrorists and that had terrorized the region for decades was deposed. In Afghanistan, a government for terrorists and by terrorists has been deposed and scattered to the hills where they continue to be hunted and killed. In the US, terror cells and terrorist supporters have been caught; attempted attacks have been foiled so well that only lone gunmen can manage so much as a single death. Around the world, funds have been frozen, organizations that raised funds and provided a public front for terrorists have been punished and shut down, and the overall terror network has been severely downsized.
Can any of us say that they didnít expect some sort of terrorist incident in the US in the months following 9/11? How about on 7/4/02, when the stock market dropped in anticipation of an attack that never came? Itís been two years, and in a nation with thousands of miles of open border and nearly 300 million human beings, there hasnít been a hijacking or a bombing. Despite the most aggressive assault on radical Islam ever, there has been no successful retaliation. Thatís the lesson: this is not an enemy we need to cower in fear from. This is an enemy that needs to be combated. Yes, innocent lives are lost in these wars; but innocent blood has always been shed by the kind of men who plotted and celebrated when the twin towers fell. By removing their funding, removing their military might, and removing their stranglehold on populaces, we remove the threat.
Attacking Afghanistan didnít create a thousand Bin Ladins. The only way to ensure more Bin Ladins is to allow men like he and Hussein to operate in public without fear of retaliation; allowing them to brainwash the poor into serving them. Where radical Islam rules through force of arms, radical Islam will flourish. When Islamists are allowed to govern themselves democratically, radical Islam will wither to obscurity.
What remains to be done? There are still funds and arms pouring into Palestine to fuel Hamas; this needs to be stopped. There are still governments like the one in Iran that provide direct help and training to terrorists; this needs to be stopped. There is still an army in Columbia that terrorizes the public and provides a huge portion of the drugs that ruin inner cities in the US; they need to be stopped. Iran and North Korea seem to be moving closer towards nuclear weapons; they need to be stopped.
Not every solution will involve bullets and armies. But solutions do need to be found. It is not possible to find every terrorist in the world, but it is possible to prevent large-scale attacks (9/11 and Bali) and long-term campaigns (Palestine and Columbia). In the end I believe that the most potent tool for democracies to protect themselves will be the spread of democracy itself. Iím confident about the future of Iraq, Iím confident about the future of the war on terror, and Iím confident that before I die there will no longer be a need for regime changes and nuclear brinksmanship.
Iím a hell of a lot more confident in that than I am in the future of the WWEÖ but thatís the other column.
Point of View 2, July 17, 2003: Can't have it both ways.
Tony Blair articulates with amazing clarity the justification for the war. Given what we knew on the bottom line (Hussein violating resolutions, obstructing inspections, giving false reports to the UN), there was only one conclusion to be made about what was going on in Iraq. On some scale, perhaps massive, perhaps very small, Hussein was attempting to gain access to WMD. There was no reason for continued international scrutiny and sanctions if he would have simply stepped aside and allowed inspectors as much freedom as possible to inspect the country. Given that by the start of the year there was a MASSIVE FREAKING ARMY on the border, one which creamed the Ba'ath military in the same vein as Undertaker vs Nunzio, why would Hussein's regime ever, ever give Blix and his men the tiniest bit of grief?
There are two options. Either Hussein was a complete and utter moron and wanted to look tough or something by pissing off Bush II without accomplishing anything, or he actually had some type of WMD program that he didn't want discovered. Since the former is mindbogglingly implausible it was ignored, and policy was made based on the latter.
The Bush and Blair administrations, based on the evidence of over 20 years of Saddam Hussein's leadership of Iraq, viewed Iraq's WMD program as a threat in whatever form it might have been in. Information regarding the WMD program was given a lot of weight in an effort to expose possible and probable threats. In the reporting of this information, both administrations were enthusiastic; they didn't hold much back. In some cases this enthusiasm led to shaky reports being given an official stamp of approval. The act of trying to sway as much of the global public as possible muddied the waters of what was once a very clear situation.
I don't think anybody, even the higher-ups in Hussein's government and military, knows exactly what Iraq had in the way of banned weapons, development programs, research, etc. However, it isn't a stretch to say that there was something. Was that something enough to automatically justify regime change? Based on the lack of findings thus far, no. That's where context comes in. The context of the ceasefire following Gulf War 1, a ceasefire which was violated repeatedly for over a decade, gave the international community the leeway it needed to prevent Hussein from having a WMD program of any size, shape, or scope. Add to that the human rights violations, the support of terrorists, and the illegitimate nature of Hussein's rise to power, and there was no reason to give Hussein and his Ba'ath party further chances to screw up. None. It didn't help Iraq, it didn't help the middle east, it didn't help the world as a whole.
So. The intelligence erred on the side of overestimating what probably was not an immediate threat, and that intelligence was used as a large part of the political justification for military action. The left is currently upset because the margin of error was used- in my opinion unknowingly- towards starting a war. Given that the left was on average opposed to the war in the first place, that makes sense. But last night something occurred to me, the something that made me write this column. It has to do with 9/11.
In theory, the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01 could have been stopped. Al Qaeda was on the radar, many of the hijackers were here illegaly, there was intelligence to the effect of terrorists learning how to fly planes and (separately) perhaps a plan to attack the WTC again after the failed bombing nearly a decade earlier. No action, or at least not enough action, was taken to prevent these possible attacks, and thousands of lives were lost as a result.
I have seen critics of the Bush administration point out that since the attacks happened on his watch, he should have done something more to prevent them. 'The signs were there', 'who knew?', etc. But the intelligence was nothing but vague in terms of giving specifics (ie. "Al Qaeda will crash planes into buildings, look out!" vs "These suspicious Muslim guys are learning to fly planes"), and nothing like the attacks had ever been done before. But still, Bush should have done something, and he didn't.
A year later, Bush is getting intelligence to the effect of Iraq rebuilding its WMD program. This intelligence fits a set pattern of Iraqi behavior, and is designed to prevent actions which Iraq had taken in the past (war, gassing dissidents, etc). Having already failed to act in time to stop 9/11 (which had much vaguer information), why on earth should Bush have waited longer? Why should Bush have tried to downplay the intelligence he was handed?
There's a difference between hype and fabrication. What Bush and Blair did was hype, and Iraq's WMD didn't live up to that hype. Was that hype necessary for the war to happen? Perhaps. Could the hype have been restrained? Yes. Given the chance to overestimate or underestimate the threat posed, overestimation trumped. Not for the sake of scoring points with the voters, not for OMG OIL, not for the sake of going to war. It was done for the sake of not repeating past tragedies. I'm glad that security was favored over a false 'peace' with the Hussein government. I'm glad that regime change took place. I hope that it never needs to happen again, anywhere.
Point of View 2, August 31, 2003: Economy, Taxes & Handouts (part 3)
The conclusion of the series that absolutely none of you care about! Hooray!
It's weird that I'm about to say what I'm about to say given that the job slump of the decade thus far has placed me in a position where I can't get my career off the ground, but here goes...
The US economy is good.
2 million jobs were lost from the height of the tech boom to today, unemployment is at 6%, and it seems like those job losses are permanent. Not to mention that the NASDAQ is still down over 60% from its all-time high, and it's taken absurdly low interest rates to end the recession. That all sounds bad, right?
Here's where realistic expectations come in.
-The economy couldn't possibly regain what it had at the peak of the tech bubble. Between inflated stock prices and accounting fraud, more people had jobs than should have had jobs. When those jobs got cut, there was no overriding economic need for those jobs to return; they were superfluous. 5% unemployment is about the best the economy can ever hope to sustain, and 6% certainly isn't bad by historical and global standards.
-Part of why the job losses seem so bad is that white-collar workers with a college education (like me) are just as effected as manual laborers. At the moment there's an overabundance of people with degrees who want a high salary, and while the economy will eventually make use of them, it simply can't absorb the glut of recent (last 5 years) graduates.
-Recessions are defined by a loss in total economic productivity. The 'Bush recession' lasted all the way until November... of 2001. In the 21 months since then the economy has grown, albeit slowly. The fact that the economy is more productive during a period where 2 million people got laid off is utterly astounding, and now that the belt-tightening is through, companies will be able to get back to serious expansion.
-Stock prices are just fine if you take the growth rate of the '80s and extend it to today. In fact, the Dow Jones is *still* ahead of that pace. In addition, the ratio of total stock value to total real estate value is about where it was before the bubble. Any way you look at it, the stock market had to dip, and it seems to be at about the right level.
-The lack of job production during an economic recovery is something that seems unprecedented, but it's just the continuation of a trend. Over the last century, fewer jobs have been created in the wake of recessions. Companies are getting better at hiring only what they need rather than hiring en masse whenever profits pick up. Part of this goes along with the overall change in the economy towards white-collar work.
-There is a sense among the public that even though things are good for them, they're bad for everybody else. This also happened in 1991, when a very mild recession got hyped to death. Unemployment is viewed as America's biggest problem by 17% of people, even though the rate is only 6% and has only gone up 2% since the height of the tech bubble!
-Low interest rates are unlikely to drop further, but are also unlikely to rise significantly until the economy enters a period of strong growth. This is allowing people to pay off debt and secure good mortgage rates, both of which will help in the long term. Related point: part of the '90s economic growth was helped by people living beyond their means and racking up huge debts, and once that debt became too large, things crashed back to earth. The same thing has happened in the past, most notably at the start of the Great Depression.
-Iraqi oil production should lower the price of gas over the next few years, and lower gas prices are always good for the economy.
I'm confident that the economy is set for a nice, steady expansion without being fueled by the economic equivalent of steroids. I just hope that the public realizes this before 2004, when political candidates from all sides will claim they know how to "fix" the economy. Government fixes rarely do more good than harm.
Point of View, June 8, 2003: Economy, Taxes & Handouts (part 2)
In the last column I discussed the implication of public opinion over tax cuts versus spending increases. In this column, I'll discuss the difference between how Democrats and Republicans deal with the economy (and recessions in general). In the final column of the series I'll discuss how the economy is only in a semi-recession, and why Bush's policies aren't to blame.
I'm loathe to use broad, sweeping generalities (even though that's all I ever do). But for the sake of discussion let's simplify things a bit. On average, Republicans are more gung-ho about tax cuts than Democrats. On average, Democrats are more gung-ho about increasing spending and creating new programs, in particular for education and health care. With that as the base, it is my opinion that between the two parties [get ready for a shock], the Democrats have policies which are worse for the economy.
Let's start with the history. FDR's New Deal created a variety of programs designed to end the depression. As it turned out it did require government spending to drag the economy into the modern era... only, it took an absurd (by today's standards) amount of military spending to accomplish this. Taxes were raised sky-high and the federal debt first emerged, but everybody was working and producing. After the war was over, the New Deal stuff remained. LBJ took a steroid needle to it with the Great Society, producing the government dependency which I lamented in the last column. Today, Democrats want to extend social programs to include universal health care and (it seems) infinitely funded public schools.
By shifting national resources out of the private sector through taxes and into the government, billions upon billions aren't reinvested. Instead we get new buildings full of bureaucrats whose job is to distribute money rather than produce a good or service. Because of this, government spending is a net loss for the economy.
In that same way, tax cuts directly stimulate the economy better than spending hikes. Rather than create more bureaucracies to drain funds in the future, money is given back for investment and spending. This is a gain in both the short term and the long term.
Ah, but there's more. The ties Democrats have to teacher's unions and lawyers have led to two very important blows to the free market.
Since the NEA opposes school vouchers, public schools have an unfair advantage in what would otherwise be a vibrant market for education. As I detailed in a previous column, an increase in private-run schools would provide better education at a lower price, which obviously helps the economy.
And since lawyers are major contributors to the Democratic party, Democrats oppose tort reform. Tort reform would make it harder to file nuisance lawsuits which clog up the judicial system and cost businesses billions every year in lawyer fees and settlements. Not every lawsuit is unworthy, but far too much damage has been done by the ones which are.
Here's where things get tricky. At no point do I pretend that Republicans are saints in terms of rational social spending. They vote for their share of pork and corporate welfare. However, much of this (as I explained in the last column) is out of necessity. As long as voters side with increased spending, that's what will win elections.
My proposed solution once again involves voting for the right candidates in legislature and executive positions. Punishing candidates who seem to prefer that your money go to the government rather than you will cause such policies to no longer be politically viable. On average, a Republican is more likely to share the views expressed in this column. But if there's a better candidate in a third party, by all means, go there.
As it stands, we can't expect some type of government spending to jump-start an economic boom without involving tens of trillions of dollars in long-term debt. Tax cuts can accomplish more, faster, with less money. I think we all know who's pushing that policy at the moment.
Point of View 2, May 25, 2003: Economy, Taxes & Handouts (part 1)
This ties in heavily with the first two POV2's, which can be found in the archive. Once again it's US-centered, but a lot of it is relevant to those of you in Canada/UK/Australia/Wherever.
I was disturbed greatly by a series of polls taken recently on the issue of taxes and the economy. You can see them here (I'm referring to the top two):
In essence, a large group of people are against the basic concept of a tax cut. They prefer that the money be put into education and Medicare and Social Security. Why? Because most of them won't see a dime from a tax cut, where they'll benefit from the others. Because on April 15th, tens of millions of Americans (myself currently included) can expect to find that we're owed money by the federal government, rather than the other way around. One cannot expect an income tax break when one pays no income tax to begin with.
People in this circumstance stand to gain when the government spends its resources on social programs rather than return its resources to the people who earned them to begin with. The sense that one is more entitled to things like free health care and free money at age 65, more so than people are entitled to keep their own money, has been sadly passed down since FDR by both political parties. The Democrats pump out the propaganda that tax cuts are "gifts to the rich"; the Republicans do nothing but rubber-stamp pork spending and limp-wristedly support tax cuts (and only when it's politically expedient). A smaller and smaller portion of the population has been paying taxes as time has gone by, and as that trend continues, more and more will favor candidates who promise larger handouts.
Even after welfare reform there is still a very real danger of people becoming addicted to entitlements. Things like prescription drug coverage aren't debated in terms of right and wrong, but rather in terms of which political party will give more and faster. Neither side is willing to look at the reasons why health care coverage is so expensive (older people are costlier to treat), how money can be saved (treating vs preventing), and whether there's even a need for a brand new top-heavy government bureaucracy when nobody can produce real statistics showing the harm caused by the number of uninsured people in the nation, as opposed to just screaming "OMG 41 MILLION UNINSURED WHAT ABOUT TEH CHILDRENS!!!!1" (hint: it's closer to 31 million).
Things need to be taken care of now. We need to streamline and cut back on government spending before the baby boomers retire en masse. Entitlements take forever to roll back, and every entitlement created today will cost untold billions when the number of people on Medicare and Social Security balloons faster than Big Show at a Ponderosa. Me, I'd rather not have Uncle Sam be seven feet... five hundred pounds.
As I've said on many issues, George W. Bush isn't exactly to the right of me on this issue. He's way to the left. But the alternative, the Democrats and the Greens, are even further than Bush. If the Democrats regain the type of power seen in the '60s, or the late '70s, then an entitlement boom of crippling magnitude would most likely be born. I for one don't want to see my paychecks get gobbled up for the rest of my life.
In my own optimistic opinion, if fewer tax & spend candidates are elected from both parties, they'll get the message. So as usual I put the solution squarely on those of us eligible to vote. If you don't vote, then don't bitch if you take home less than half of your salary in ten years.
Point of View 2, January 19, 2003: Politicians piss me off
The American system of government is one of the most dynamic, adaptable, and of course successful ever invented. Just handling a nation of 275 million people is hard, let alone with the size of it, the diverse population, and doing all that for hundreds of years.
That said, there are certain things which annoy me about it. First and foremost is that the system makes it next to impossible for third parties to get off the ground and remain a viable force in politics. Even though Libertarians and Greens often impact the winners of elections (ie. Bush vs Gore), they hardly ever ARE the winners. What's more, third parties often represent fringe groups that couldn't get their positions on the party platforms of the Demos or Republicans. What's the solution? Well, it might sound weird for a die-hard right-winger like me so say it, but let's take a look at California and San Francisco for two separate procedures designed to give more power to the people.
The first is referendums. While lots of states do these, none are quite as reliant on it as Cally. By having the voters directly decide on certain issues, there won't be as much need for partisan haggling and politicians voting based on what's popular rather than what they believe in. For instance, most school districts allow the taxpayers to vote on budgets. Why can't state and federal governments do this? Let the parties put forth their own versions of the budget, with information on spending and tax levels that will be altered, and the voters can decide which they'd prefer. That way we wouldn't see budgets loaded to the gills with pork just so it would be able to get a majority vote.
The second is a Borda count. This deals with voting for elected officials. You get to rank each candidate rather than just voting for one, with each rank getting a certain number of points. This would allow for people to vote for third parties without feeling like they throw their vote away; just put whatever 'major' party you want in second place.
Having more third parties would be the best way to reflect the diversity of beliefs in America. Two political parties can't effectively represent EVERYBODY, and often times they compromise beliefs in order to co-opt another group of people. You can see that when Republicans come out in favor of new spending or when Democrats talk tough on crime and the military.
New parties wouldn't be formed out of the fringe, but out of the middle. While some would be issue-oriented, others would take a broad political stance separate from the Democrats and Republicans. You can get the left, the mid-left, the middle, the mid-right, and the right, instead of the far-left, the left, the right and the far-right.
Third party politicians would be held to a higher standard, because each party would represent a specific belief system. Vote trading and flip-flopping would no longer be tolerated because voters would now have a large number of choices. Imagine a world where you could elect someone and actually expect them to keep their promises; THAT is what I'm talking about.
Even if Presidential elections remained focused on two parties, at the very least we could expect a more thorough and accurate representation in other levels of government.