Tag Archives: election 2016

Russian relationships: collusion or treason?

I know bunches of sincere, thoughtful conservatives who are THAT close to defecting. They admit their party has gone insane, but cannot bring themselves yet to use the “T-Word.” They keep being distracted by squirrels. Like “There’s been no proof yet of actual collusion.” Or “Russian meddling didn’t clearly affect the election outcome.”

1. Irrespective of GOP-Russia collusion, the fact is that Putin’s FSB Security Agency wanted the GOP to win, not just the presidency, but across the board. That outcome is what they blatantly sought. And that is a fact of profound political redolence. It should deeply bother all patriotic Americans. While that motive and goal is not a court-of-law conviction, it is consistent with mountains of evidence that the Republican Party is not healthy for the U.S.

2. All right then, but did the GOP collude with Moscow, toward that goal? We are not (yet) in a court of law, so demanding court-of-law proof of GOP-Russia collusion is just plain wrong. The pile of circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. It’s a mountain!

Manafort, Flynn, Pence, the ENTIRE circle of people surrounding Jared Kushner, secret meetings and channels! Scads of business connections and sweetheart deals with Russian-mafiosi oligarchs. Exxon, for H sake! “Emoluments” amounting to billions! You know I could go on and on.

Dig it. We do not need to be hamstrung or stymied by court-of-law standards when deciding that something stinks to high heaven and the security of the American state is at stake. Those who demand court-of-law standards are Fox shills. They scream “witch hunt!” while the townsfolk close in on a coven of pointy-hatted, Satan-chanting crones who have children suspended over a cauldron. These may not quite be witches — (heck, not one of them is female) — but we are perfectly right to demand answers to our questions.

3. Court-of-law hairsplitting over definitions of “obstruction” are necessary when deciding on criminal prosecutions and whether to deprive the perpetrator of either life or freedom with prison. But it is an absurd standard politically. These are traitors, pure and simple. That is “traitors” with a small-t … for now… until it’s proved in court. But the shoe fits.

4. The same term applies to those who drag their feet over reforming the weaknesses that the Putin-cabal tried to exploit. The issue is not whether the FSB etc were THE tipping factor in 2016. The issue is the fact that Congress is holding ZERO hearings about how to strengthen U.S. electoral processes, investigating corruptible voting machines. The horrific influence of partisan secretaries of state. Gerrymandering. Weaponized narrative. They would leave all of that in place, for future elections. If you don’t call that implicitly complicit, then you have your head in the sand.

They are complicit. As the old saying goes: “We’ve settled what you are. Now we’re just trying to determine the price you sold us out for.”

It is the “T-Word.” We’re only arguing over whether it is “t” or “T.”

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Did fake news on social media sway the election?

No U.S. election has ever been so highly swayed by news and ‘fake news’ filtered through online social media. The New York Times documented the many instances of hoaxes, fake news and misinformation on Election Day — arising from social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as printed fliers and inaccurate election guides sent to voters. Media companies have been slow to rise to this challenge.

I predicted this Echo Chamber Effect long ago, in my novel Earth (1989): “The problem wasn’t getting access to information. It was to stave off drowning in it. People bought personalized filter programs to skim a few droplets from that sea and keep the rest out. For some, subjective reality became the selected entertainments and special -interest zines passed through by those tailored shells.”

An analysis by Buzzfeed news found that viral fake news stories outperformed real news, resulting in more engagement of readers on Facebook than election news from nineteen major news sites combined. Merrimack Professor Melissa Zimdars has compiled a list of fake or misleading news sites that warrant caution. Some are merely click-bait; some unreliable or biased; a few may even be satire. The toxic Infowars by the ever-angry Alex Jones is an obvious offender.

John Pavley, Sr. Vice President at Viacom, takes this thought farther in his posting: Trolls Are USA, talking about how these new media are causing social breakdowns. moreover, this lobotomization is familiar, from history.

fake-news-electionRemember, the first effect of the printing press was to exacerbate intolerance… till printed books later empowered people to fight against it. Or ponder the way 1930s radio first wrought fanaticism and horror before it fostered empathy. Likewise, Pavley talks about how monsters are using the new media more effectively, before they can increase our reasoning ability and empathy:

“The broadcast technologies of the pre-social media world coerced us into consensus. We had to share them because they were mass media, one-to-many communications where the line between audience and broadcaster was clear and seldom crossed. Then came the public internet and the World Wide Web of decentralized distribution. Then came super computers in our pockets with fully equipped media studios in our hands. Then came user generated content, blogging and tweeting such that there were as many authors as there were audience members.

“Here the troll was born…. Every time you share a link to a news article you didn’t read (which is something like 75% of the time), every time you like a post without critically thinking about it (which is almost always), and every time you rant in anger or in anxiety in your social media of choice, you are the troll.”

trump-facebookMax Read argues in New York Magazine that our ‘echo chamber’ mentality, to gather in likeminded swarms online, may have been a crucial factor this year. Polemically fervid-uniform ’nuremberg rallies”… and there are (yes) some on the left, too.

“All throughout the election, these fake stories, sometimes papered over with flimsy “parody site” disclosures somewhere in small type, circulated throughout Facebook: The Pope endorses Trump. Hillary Clinton bought $137 million in illegal arms. The Clintons bought a $200 million house in the Maldives. Many got hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of shares, likes, and comments; enough people clicked through to the posts to generate significant profits for their creators. The valiant efforts of Snopes and other debunking organizations were insufficient; Facebook’s labyrinthine sharing and privacy settings mean that fact-checks get lost in the shuffle.”

Yes to much of that. Fretful over how social media are being blamed for the Echo Chamber Effect, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a response to accusations that “fake news” on Facebook influenced the outcome of the U.S. election, and helped Donald Trump to win. On NPR, Aarti Shahani points out a fundamental discrepancy: “He (Zuckerberg) and his team have made a very complex set of contradictory rules — a bias toward restricted speech for regular users, and toward free speech for “news” (real or fake).”

Faced with increasing criticism, both Facebook and Google have announced changes in their oversight of fake news sites. Google said that it would prohibit fake news sites from using its online advertising service. Similarly Facebook recently updated its policy about placing ads on sites that display misleading content. In a The New York Times article, Jim Rutenberg writes, “The cure for fake journalism is an overwhelming dose of good journalism.” And of course, you get what you pay for.

For modern journalism is being undermined by one flaw in today’s internet. By the net’s astonishing over-reliance on advertising to pay the bills. By sucking away the revenue source of old-fashioned, fact-centered investigative news media, this business model has harmed us all. In a series on Evonomics, I’ve made out a case for a micropayment system to effectively fund online content: Advertising Cannot Maintain the Internet and the follow-up: Beyond Advertising: Will Micropayments Sustain the New Internet?

We live in a tsunami of information. The problem is to avoid drowning in it. As citizens, we need to hone our skeptical skills to better sort truth from dross. And we need reliable methods to ensure accountability and trustworthiness for our news sources.

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Voter ID Laws: Scam or Accountability?

During this (or any) electoral season, it pays to get off the left-right political axis – and examine particular political issues on their own merits. So let’s take a closer look at one of them… Voter ID laws. (Feel free to watch this essay given orally, on YouTube!) Voter-ID-laws-blog

To some, these laws deal with a problem — electoral fraud, when cheaters pretend to be someone else to cast illicit vote. Statistics show such voter fraud is extremely rare. (See “Voter Fraud is Rare, but Myth is Widespread.”) Still, when it happens it is a bad thing.

Opponents to this spate of laws – which have nearly all erupted in “red states” – denounce them as infringing on the rights of, not just poor people, but the ill-educated, or recent citizens, and the young, who often lack clear ID. In particular, this presents hardships for women, who may have failed to re-document after marriage or divorce. Some on the left call this another front in the “War on Women.”

Fundamentally, Voter ID laws are supported by red state white-older voters because – and let’s be frank – there is an element of truth in what they say. Voting is important. It is reasonable, over an extended period of time, to ratchet up accountability – and to ask that people prove who they are. That reasonableness lets these politicians propose these laws as a necessity – and implicitly, those who oppose them must have some agenda: SHOW-ID

“If you don’t want voters to show ID, it’s because you want to cheat.” This is how you get a reversal of those who are blatantly cheating accusing others of cheating. It’s important to parse this issue.

To reiterate this point: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with gradually ratcheting up the degree to which we apply accountability to potential failure modes in society. This is what my book, The Transparent Society, is all about. We apply reciprocal accountability to each other. For example, we have poll watchers to make sure there is no cheating during elections.

(Is it also reasonable to demand accountability from the manufacturers of voting machines? Nearly all such companies are now controlled by men who have been high level Republican partisans, at one time or another. Should this be deemed… suspicious? Especially in those states (mostly red) where no paper audit trail is required?) RespectandProtectVoteButton

Is there a test that would nail down whether Voter ID laws are, as their proponents say, merely ratcheting up accountability – or, whether they are, as the opponents of these laws say, blatant fragrant attempts to cheat and steal votes away from poor people, minorities, young folks, and women.

Is there a way such a simple and clear test?

There is.

== The crucial metric of hypocrisy: compliance assistance ==

According to the conservative thinkers and agendas going back to Buckley and Goldwater, regulations that are onerously placed on business should be accompanied by assistance so those businesses can meet and comply with these new regulations. This is standard conservative dogma. compliance-assistance

Indeed, Democrats agree! Almost always, whenever new and onerous regulations are applied to business, there are allocations of money to set up offices, call-lines, visiting experts and grace periods with the aim of helping corporations – and the rich – comply with the new regulations. It’s called compliance assistance.

You can see how this applies to the topic at-hand. The fundamental test here is this: In any of the red states that have passed new Voter ID laws, or other laws that restrict the ability of poor people young people, women and so on to exercise their franchise, were any significant funds appropriated or allocated for compliance assistance?

Were any new offices, call-lines, visiting experts and grace periods set up to help them comply? “Here is an onerous new burden upon the poor, women and so on — but we are going to show our commitment to assist voters with these new regulations, by allocating money.” A serious effort to go out into the communities and help the poor, minorities, recent immigrants, women, young people – to obtain the identification they need to exercise their sovereign right to vote. voter-id-laws-video

Note! This type of outreach would not just help them with voting, but would likely help them to STOP being poor! By helping them get on the path to helping themselves. This should be what conservatives are for.

Instead these efforts are sabotaged, deliberately and relentlessly. Not one red cent has been allocated for compliance assistance in any of the red states that have passed these new voter ID laws. Not one red cent.

== Dealing with vampires: always seek the silver bullet ==

There you have it, you liberals out there. Don’t make this a matter of goody-goody, or of denying a long term need to ratchet up accountability. It makes it look like you’re in favor of cheating. Or it gives fools that excuse.

Make it a matter of hypocrisy. Of lying. The blatant lack of sincere compliance assistance provides clear-cut and decisive proof that these are attempts to steal elections – just like gerrymandering. NEUTRALIZE-GERRYMANDERING

(Indeed, gerrymandering is being erased in one blue state after another, as those citizens rebel against unfair districting, often even overcoming the objections of Democratic politicians. These rebellions have taken place in California, Washington, Oregon, and – we can hope in a few weeks — in New York. Meanwhile not one red state has seen a rebellion of its citizens against the blatant theft and cheating called gerrymandering. Just as you’ll see no rebellions against the blatant theft and cheating called Voter ID laws. This is a cultural matter. In some parts of the country – it seems – cheating is just fine, “so long as it is my side doing it.”)

Your silver bullet. This is what you use. The fact of zero Compliance Assistance exposes the hypocrisy here.

That is what makes the difference between people who say, “We need to have more accountability in the voter rolls” and blatant, lying, hypocritical thieves, for whom no excuse or shelter can excuse the title of traitor. voter-repression-laws

Make this clear to your uncles and cousins. If, when they hear about this, they are still supporters of these horrid hypocritical robber, then the tar sticks to them as well.

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Gerrymandering: as it declines – surprising results

Gerrymandering – I appraised it back when most blue and Red states shared equally in this crime against democracy. Now, big changes are afoot, at long last, and reform has veered in unexpected ways. Prepare for several surprises.

First a little background. Post-election, shallow rationalizations fingerpoint at California, where Democrats increased their control over the legislature to a 2/3 majority in both houses. Many Republican friends bemoan this, attributing the partisan tsunami to everything from demographic shifts away from white-male supremacy to a growing “culture of dependency.”

== Rule by the Takers? ==

Bill O’Reilly leads the sour grapes refrain — that a majority of voters, lacking any concept of citizenship or deferred gratification, are interested only in “voting themselves stuff…”

…which is another grumbled version of the Tytler Calumny… (O’Reilly only replaces a smartypants word “largesse” with “stuff.”) This slander against democracy has been dogma in grouchy circles for 90 years, even though it lacks a single actual example from all of human history.

Grouches call the Tytler Calumny an iron law – that democracies are all doomed as citizens become greedy, lazy and decadent, causing collapse, followed by the inevitable return of oligarchy and tyranny. They call Abe Lincoln a fool to hope — “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  

Whiney, disloyal… and wrong.

Sure, demographic shifts have some effect. (Watch Jon Stewart remind O’Reilly of times when “white America” fretted about unclean immigrants called “the Irish.”) But that’s not the real explanation for what happened in California.

There is news under the news, a political revolution that ignores the chattering caste and the lobotomizing “left-right political axis.” It does bear on real differences between Red and Blue America, but not those that you think.

Care to explore what really happened?

== California’s three-part citizen rebellion ==

The stunning event was a triple whammy that swept California a few years ago, when voters rose up and voted-in a trio of constitutional changes that would:

(1) end gerrymandering and require impartial redistricting

(2) turn the general election into a run-off between the top two vote-getting candidates in the primaries, regardless of parties

(3) make those primaries open, so that all voters could pick among all candidates, choosing the pair in each race who would run-off in the fall.

2012 was the first year with clear results, which were unexpected and epochal because of how the three reforms interplay. I’ll get to all that in a minute.

Only first note this.  The anti-gerrymandering initiative was originally authored and pushed by the Californian Republican Party (CA-GOP). An act of hypocrisy, since every Red State indulges in the foul practice far more vigorously – – from Texas to Georgia to Alaska — to a degree that would embarrass even a Chicago ward heeler!  No problem. CA-GOP figured they’d take advantage of Blue Staters’ penchant for reasonableness and low levels of party loyalty, plus their ability to see how wretchedly unjust the old system was. For purely self-interested reasons, CA-GOP urged state voters to do the right and logical thing! Of course, CA-GOP’s true aim was more conniving — to rob their adversaries of an advantage in the biggest blue state.  (In fairness, the Democratic Party has tried to talk Red State voters into doing this… with zero results.)

Now I confess – I voted against the referendum, despite my long record inveighing about Gerrymandering!  I still hoped for a multi-state deal, with California dropping the practice in exchange for (say) Texas and Indiana.  That would leave neither party disadvantaged and thus…

… but of course, that never would have happened. I was wrong and the people were right. Someone had to do it first. And, in fact, California voters proved stunningly wise.

== The wisdom of three ==

Think about those triple reforms I listed above. The combined effects of the triple whammy are stunning:

1) No longer able to arrange purely safe districts for themselves, nearly all state legislators and congressfolk now have to work harder in the general election than before. Aw. Too bad.

2) Radicals of both parties were robbed of influence because now republicans in largely democratic districts can vote in the primary, the election that matters, and vice versa in GOP majority districts. Moderation was the huge winner. (And would be in Red America, if this happened there. Think about what that would mean to the radicals in the current GOP U.S. House delegation.)

3) In many cases, the result has been a general election in which two republicans face off against each other, or two democrats!  Suddenly they are interested in, and are listening to and trying to please folks who are the minority in their district. That minority transforms into tie-breakers, the king-makers.

Ponder that. For the first time, if you are in the minority party of your district, someone will listen to you anyway. Your vote will actually matter. If you are a republican in a largely democratic district, you may never have a conservative representative. But you’ll be able to tip the balance between two liberals. And they’ll know that fact. They’ll talk to you.

4) And finally, the big surprise result that no one expected. The dems picked up more seats in the Assembly, State Senate and Congress.

But… but how did the democrats do even better without gerrymandering?  That shouldn’t happen, because the districts are now fair! I will tell you how, and it should have been obvious all along.

== The surprise outcome, and what it means ==

Under gerrymandering, the ruling party jiggers districts to their own advantage. In Texas, not long ago, some were more than a hundred twisty miles long with necks less than one mile wide. (Be proud, you Republicans, be very proud.) They arrange boundaries so that there are a few tortuous districts with 90% or more democratic voters and a lot more districts with 65% republican voters. The result, in theory, should be more republican seats. That is the logic and it is why republican voters in the state go along with such a blatantly cynical and rapacious scheme. Out of partisan loyalty.

But it’s a lie!

In California, the new redistricting law replaced this system (though it had never been as horrific as Texas) with sensible, compact districts… a whole lot of which happened to be merely 55% democratic.  This meant that the local politicians could not take victory for granted, they had to work hard and woo some republicans… but the odds were still slightly in their favor, since CA has an overall demo-tilt. And this showed in a year when democrats were highly motivated to vote. They worked harder… and their party gained seats.

Now think about this result.  What it means is that gerrymandering was never what the politicians claimed it to be! A way for democrats in California or republicans in Texas to eke out a few more seats for their side.  That justification, after all, might persuade your radical Tea Party voter to shrug and go along, because Fox has him so riled up he will forgive an obvious scam (gerrymandering) because it hurts the hated other side.

But no, gerrymandering is not about party advantage, at all!

It is about reinforcing radicalism and — above all — it is a job protection racket for elected politicians. Designed to preserve safe seats and ensure that the pol needn’t ever fear a threat that voters might actually judge him, consider alternatives, or even fire him.  Just look at the results! Congress as a whole has a national approval rating of just 9%!  Yet, individual representatives in safe districts get returned again and again. This is the biggest reason.

== The key come-away lesson ==

It is possible to do everywhere what Californians have done. Banish a foul and disgusting crime against democracy that’s been committed by the entire political caste, regardless of where they stand along the largely irrelevant left-right “axis.”

Yes, there is a partisan tint to all this… voters have risen up against gerrymandering in several blue states but not a single red one, and this shows in the radical, never-compromise, manichean dogmatism of the Republican House. It shows in the fact that the not-gerrymandered U.S. Senate shifted left this election along with the overall electorate re-picking President Obama, while the gerried House only nudged a little, even in the face of 9% approval ratings for the institution.

But the partisan tint does not matter.  By any standard, gerrymandering is filth. It is crime. Its nineteenth century vileness is indefensible in the 21st. It doesn’t even make logical sense in the terms used by its defenders!

And we will all have a better America when it’s gone.

== Can we get rid of it? ==

Given the entrenchment of both partisanship and job-protection thinking among the politicians in some parts of the country, it’s hard to see this obscenity ever being negotiated away.  I am hoping that a few more blue states — notably Maryland, New Jersey and Illinois — will see citizen uprisings against gerrymandering. But the GOP has probably learned its lesson from the surprising way things turned out in California. They will be tepid, at best, and possibly help to oppose such reforms in states like New York.

No, there is just one locus for salvation and hope — one that should have stepped in ages ago to save us. The courts. Because gerrymandering is blatantly, despicably an outright effort to steal elections and votes – a guild-protection racket by a profession against its customers, deliberately repressing competition in restraint of fair trade. A scheme to disenfranchise 40% of the electorate in any state, denying them the chance, ever, of voting for a person they feel actually listens to them or might represent them.

It has exacerbated partisan radicalism, fury and impracticality in American political life. And it does even more foul things that you can read about in my older essay on the subject.

Will the courts ever throw out this blatant violation of the principle of one person, one vote?

Not while Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts and Kennedy sit on the high bench. Which is why we may just have to wait. Maybe quite a while.  Even though this whole issue has nothing to do with classic left-right, or capitalism/socialism, or liberal-conservative or any other legitimate political matter. Nor is it even about the Republican Party, whose health would likely improve a lot if California-style reforms took place across Red America.  (They are currently unable to adapt to their shellacking in the 2012 elections, because gerrymandered radicalism stands in the way of pragmatic re-evaluation.)

No, this Court won’t rule in favor of the people because… because…

…well… I honestly can’t figure any clear or logical or cogent reason why. As I’ve shown, only short-sighted fools believe anymore that gerrymandering is actually about partisan advantage. One can picture the clever – if biliously partisan – Justice Scalia finally realizing this. One can envision him accepting that there’s no justification – not even a cynical one – for the outrageously unjustifiable, and at last voting to end the crime, bringing Thomas and Alito with him. Yes, one can picture it.

Still, you know they won’t do it, as sure as day. A future court, honored by posterity, will erase this felony, a crime in which history will judge this court to be complicit.

And so — we’ll wait.

===

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After-notes: 

1. See the same California transition and realization, told interestingly from a more partisan democratic perspective.  As I said, the real victor in California was moderation. Hence, although the California legislature is now 2/3 democratic, the big surge came among moderates. Don’t expect compulsory Druid-worship. Or broccoli-eating mandated by Jerry Brown’s denim-levi secret police. I’ll take wagers on this.

2.  If you live in a still-gerrymandered state, you aren’t helpless! Try a lovely judo tactic. Register in whatever party “owns” your district! All democrats in republican districts should talk fellow democrats into registering republican! And vice versa for you republicans in democrat-gerried districts.  Forget labels, or which party has your loyalty nationally or by doctrine.  The election that matters to you is the primary! If enough of your neighbors do this, you’ll be able to help a moderate republican take on the radical republican incumbent. (Or the same thing in a dem-held area.) You and others who pull this trick – you will become the swing voters, the king-makers. Your vote will matter again.

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