Archive for the ‘Election’ Category

UnknownZuckerberg’s latest Facebook improvements are a fake fix. Billed as an antidote to the sins of the past, they are the exact opposite. They are a new smokescreen behind which Facebook can hide business as usual, leaving unresolved the crimes-against-democracy that remain the toxic by-product of Facebook’s business model.

Facebook’s failures fall into three broad categories:

    1. Aiding and abetting illegal political campaign activity,
    2. Concealing from public scrutiny narrowcast political advertising designed to lie and inflame, which, while not yet illegal, is a novel threat in need of a remedy, and
    3. Running algorithms that unintentionally amplify anger-, hate- and fear-inducing content.

In his latest moves, Zuck touts increased privacy, encrypted content, increased isolation of users into narrow groups, and banning some high-profile bad guys. Let’s examine the real effect.

Restricting visibility also reduces scrutiny. If we can’t see what Facebook and its users are doing, we don’t know about it and can’t regulate it. That serves Facebook, but it doesn’t serve the public.

Encryption of content lets Facebook off the hook. If a group of fascists exchange bile in private, and then plan an attack, and only members can see it, then Facebook can walk away, and no one else knows how it happened. People do have a right to choose privacy, however in the Facebook context, a company notoriously antagonistic to users’ privacy, it’s legitimate to question if the motive for encryption is to protect users, or to dodge scrutiny.

Moreover, encryption provides a smokescreen behind which Facebook can continue its most pernicious practice, namely selecting and amplifying content with the strongest emotional impact. Facebook does this to keep users on longer. Mainly, that’s harmless – think family pictures and cat videos. Too often, that same method also selects for and amplifies anger- and hate-evoking propaganda.

The proven model for Facebook is to show users the most evocative material. Fear and anger are the most engaging emotions, so material activating those emotions scores high and increases time online. It’s a covert process, hidden behind automated AI algorithms that ‘blindly’ select what to show users based on metrics of success.  If a particular post ‘works’, Facebook’s machine spreads it around. That’s what users want, but it is also a formula for amplifying fear of immigrants, fake crises, fake enemies, and other evocative misinformation.

While it’s nice that Facebook banned a few bad actors, that does nothing to respond to the larger threat, such as under-the-radar Russian or Chineses propagandists planting the phony click-bait that Facebook users and Facebook’s algorithms lap up.

Practical solutions remain elusive. We’re still in the problem identification stage. Until then, Zuck remains a misguided social engineer recklessly poisoning public discourse. His latest solution is to better hide it, not fix it.

Zuck did get one thing right, however – his admission in the Washington Post that it’s up to regulators to control him. As he admits, he won’t do it himself.


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1066165461The recent Russian attack on hardline Republicans (Fox News: Russian hackers targeted conservative think tanks prior to midterms) highlights an uncomfortable choice for conservatives – either side with Russia or become another Russian target.

Republicans who hoped Russia’s influence would hurt Democrats just got a wake-up call. Conservatives take notice – Putin doesn’t support Republicans, he supports his allies, and he attacks those who oppose him.

One cannot remain an American patriot and cozy up to Putin at the same time. Yet that is the trap Trump has created for his fellow Republicans. Failure to condemn and forcefully counter Russia’s attacks may be useful to protect the Republican President, but it also places good Republicans in the uncomfortable position of enabling the enemy, an enemy who will destroy them, too, if they don’t toe the Putin line. That’s a trap conservatives should avoid, but it won’t be easy.

Leading a counter-attack on Russia’s illegal election activity may be the patriotic thing, but Republicans are in a terrible bind. If they do the right thing, they will find themselves in the crosshairs of both the President’s wrath and Putin’s, and they put their own President at further risk.

Party or Country – always a hard choice. Or is it?

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ngcvqkvmDemocrats continue to obsess about the tactical rather than strategic. The simple truth of electoral failure is that the Democrats lack an appealing theory of government.

It is a waste of time for Democrats to focus on the role of fake news, the Russians, October surprises, their uncharismatic candidate, the Trump kleptocracy, the impact of a Clinton-controlled party machine, or any of the rest of the inside game. These failures at the margins ignore the big strategic losses Democrats are taking.  Those losses dwarf the dirty pool and details of one election.

Simply put, Democrats are losing locally and nationally because the customer doesn’t want the product. Voters recognize that Republicans are offering false hope, but, in the words of one voter, false hope is better than no hope at all.

The product offered by Democrats is a fatal combination of stale and incoherent. Stale because, while the party faithful believe existing Democratic policies need a bigger, bolder try, the displaced or struggling American voter sees those policies as very well tried, and very well failed. This is not a messaging problem – its real.

Democrats need to consider that more-of-the-same is not going to solve middle America’s economic problems. Democrats need to design new and more useful answers to today’s challenges.

It starts by recognizing that the voters they are losing, the voters Democrats most urgently need to reach, do not look like the urban working-class. She looks like the owner of a two-truck plumbing company located 60 to 90 miles outside the urban core, or the guy who works for her. She does not want a government program, she wants the dignity of work. He recognizes that there’s a role for government intervention in the economy, but for the most part his contact with that intervention hurts rather than helps – a tax bill he can’t pay, an OSHA regulation that seems to burden his employer more than it helps.

To this American, redistribution and regulation do not ring true as answers to their problems. To this American, more government – of the kind they experience today – sounds like a burden, not a benefit.

Democrats need a new strategy for this century, for the middle American, or they will continue to lose elections.

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donald-trump-sexist-comments__optYour daughter will be at new risk for sexual predation, assault or even rape if Trump is in the White House.

Trump’s election would give license to your daughter’s boss, teacher, boyfriend, husband, or any man in a position of celebrity or power, to do what Trump does. Trump’s election would put your daughter at risk because it would loudly say to other young men that this society not only tolerates sexual predation, but celebrates, enables and even ennobles those who prey on women.

Trump is no mere philanderer, adulterer or admirer of women. Adultery is, after all, a consensual act. He is a repeat sexual molester who boldly confessed to making a habit of sexual assault and battery (which, under the law, means unwanted physical contact).

It’s not just his own admission – others accuse him of sex crimes, too (see https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/20/donald-trump-sexual-assault-allegations-jill-harth-interview). Strange reversal, isn’t it, when a sexual super-predator brags of his own guilt, and the victims’ statements are merely the corroborating evidence?

Serial sexual predators such as Trump should be on trial for their crimes, not in the Oval Office.

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It may be time to work for Donald Trump’s nomination. Trump’s catastrophic defeat in the general election is now sufficiently certain, his chances of fracturing the Republican party, and his chances of bringing in congressional Democrats on his negative coattails, that the patriotic thing to do may be to work for his nomination. Either Hillary of Bernie is likely to best Trump, unless, paraphrasing Governor Edwin Edwards they catch one of them in bed with a live boy or a criminal indictment. And Hillary may even be able to survive an indictment. She wouldn’t be the first Clinton to do so.

Ted Cruz, on the other hand, is a real electoral threat. Perhaps not as unhinged as Donald Trump, he represents a more classically Republican neoconservative danger to America. And his chances of beating Hillary are pretty good. Her average polling margin over Cruz is within the margin of error on most polls at the moment, so a tie. Florida recount, anyone? That’s a chance we can’t take.

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paxromanamapDonald Trump wants to end Pax Americana because it costs too much. Countries protected by American military dominance must pay, according to Trump, because we can’t afford our present posture.

Contrary to Trump, we can’t afford to abandon defending others. The cost of our own defense would rise, and we would endanger ourselves, if we walk away.

There’s a quid pro quo in place. Everyone benefits. Especially America. If we stop providing global stability, others would need to see to their own defense, and the fundamental post-war deal would unravel. We would trigger a dangerous return to a multi-polar, unstable world. That kind of isolationism is dangerous and misguided.

By providing a security umbrella we save others money, that much is so. But we also save ourselves, and we increase our own security. Countries under our umbrella pose no threat to us, and they pose no threat to others. Thus our potential rivals face a simplified defense posture, and so do we. They need only concern themselves with a unified western world, and we need only concern ourselves with a few rivals.

Could we ask for more from our putative friends? Yes. Specifically, we must demand that the Saudis and others abandon tolerating and promoting religious fanaticism. Their cash and their troops are secondary. Trump should know this if he aspires to be President.

If Trump has his way, and we return to a multi-polar world, all military budgets would be larger, especially ours. Each country would necessarily go after its own parochial agenda, with our ability to moderate allies’ behavior greatly diminished. The risks of local tensions escalating out of control would be much greater.

Pax Americana remains a safer and cheaper situation for all. We must not abandon it, even if Mr Trump wins the election. He claims he listens to the best people. Let’s hope he does, before he triggers a of round regional conflict and global re-militarization.

Update: An editorial in USA Today concludes, “this prospective commander in chief’s views are not just irresponsible: they are cataclysmically dangerous.”

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“Cultural pessimism is always fashionable, and, since we are human, there are always grounds for it. It has the negative consequence of depressing the level of aspiration, the sense of the possible. And from time to time it has the extremely negative consequence of encouraging a kind of somber panic, a collective dream-state in which recourse to terrible remedies is inspired by delusions of mortal threat. If there is anything in the life of any culture or period that gives good grounds for alarm, it is the rise of cultural pessimism, whose major passion is bitter hostility toward many or most of the people within the very culture the pessimists always feel they are intent on rescuing.”

— Marilynne Robinson in The Givenness of Things: Essays, October 2015

Do those in thrall to politicians peddling pessimism and panic recognize themselves in her words?

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