Those pesky Russians

If you’re interested in knowing a little more detail about how the Russians did their meddling in our 2016 election, Radiolab did a great podcast where they dug into some real world examples and it’s fascinating.

But it brings up an interesting point about news that I feel we as a nation need to be discussing more. It’s clear that we live now in an age where we can never be sure about what is true and real and what is altered or at worst, fake and propaganda. So what should we do about it? Right now we have Facebook and Twitter deciding for us what is fake and what is not but is that the best course of action? You can easily see a world where we end up with one news source (the collective ‘acceptable’ news sources as deemed ok by our social overlords, which ultimately will be the ones with the most money) and we will never trust anything else. But it’s those small, low budget bloggers and alt-news sites that in fact are the ones that we should be paying attention to because they are the ones that are more likely to be uninfluenced by large money interests and government propaganda machines.

What do we do? This is a really hard problem and it’s been made harder by the fact that the media, our media, has become so dependent on advertising and money. This wasn’t always the case. It used to be that news organizations on TV were exempt from making profits so that they could remain objective. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, watch the movie : Network. It was made in the 70s and it deals very well with this exact issue. There’s a reason it won like 7 Oscars.

What do you think we should do? What is the solution to fake-news and propaganda?

How to Argue

I’ve spoken before about one of my favorite podcasts “Love + Radio” so my urging for you to start listening is isn’t something new. (Seriously, if you haven’t listened, go to s01e01 and get started).

In either case, one of my favorite episodes is one called “The Silver Dollar” and it is an interview with a black man named Daryl Davis who is a musician who has spent a large part of his life interviewing and connecting with members of the Klan. His story is incredible and deeply fascinating and everyone should give it a listen.

I bring this up because Nick van der Kolk (the L+R producer) has taken the time to interview Davis for the newest episode of L+R and talk to him about the methods he uses/has used to connect so well with people who’s entire world-view is about hating others. This interview is extremely enlightening and important for our time. We as Americans desperately need to find ways to become one country again, to find commonalities between each other and this podcast is a great way to look at that process.

Please take a moment to do the following :

a) Listen to Daryl’s original story (I promise, it’s great)
b) Listen to the follow up interview
c) target and connect with one person who doesn’t agree with you and make a change.

The Resistance

When George Bush was president and was faced with accusations about warrantless wiretapping, he was faced with a sick amount of resistance and outcry. I remember this. I was one of them. On that and many other issues, we were out in the street protesting. And we changed things. Maybe not directly, but we affected decisions, we made our leaders think about what they were doing. Resistance is super good for our Democracy. It’s a very vital check on the power of our government.

Which is why I was so upset when that resistance dried up once Barack Obama took over the white house. He took Bush policies like domestic spying, and the drone wars, and others.. and ramped them up 10 fold. And yet, not many people complained. In fact, we all rallied behind him and elected him for a second term.

But now it’s clear that The Resistance is back with a vengeance. And I’m pretty happy to see that. I think it’s important for us to pay attention to the minutia of politics. It’s important for us to care who leads the Interior Department (here’s an old post of mine about Obamas). I encourage all of you to push back on our new president. I think we should push back on all presidents when they do things we disagree with.

Right now I think a huge amount of our pushback is not coming from the right place. I think we are kind of like sheep, following the Democratic/Liberal media machine in just resisting the Donald on general principal. This, I think, is wrong. Very wrong. What I want to see is people getting upset about specific issues. Right now, that’s hardly how it is. We have blanket hatred of the president.

Take for example his order regarding the TPP. The TPP was a really, really bad deal for non oligarchs. We all (hopefully) know this by now. The Donald put an axe into it yesterday and everyone started saying stuff along the lines of “Oh, well that was dead already, it’s not significant that he signed that order.”. Nope, what if he signed an order saying he wanted to be part of it instead? We are giving the man hate 100%. I’m not sure that’s the right way to do this. I don’t think we can sustain it either.

Another example is his abortion related order yesterday. This is something that isn’t specific to Donald Trump. This bounces back and forth with every administration when they change parties:

The policy has been enforced off and on since it first took effect in 1985. Democratic administrations have traditionally rescinded the policy, while Republican administrations have reinstated it.

Even during the Obama years, US law banned direct funding for abortion services.

(from here)

Is it a big deal? Sorry, no it’s not. Is it because DT is evil? Again, no. Any Republican president would have done the same thing.

In my opinion we need to pay attention to whats going on and stay focused. When we see things we disagree with we should stand up and fight like crazy but lets not simply be one mindless group of protesters. Lets choose our battles carefully.

“Fake News” is a propaganda term. Don’t buy into it!

Be careful in todays world when you use (and buy into) terms like “fake news” or “echo chamber” and “conspiracy theory”. While there is some truth to the meaning and usage these terms as they are defined, there is also a lot of harm. Because, remember that all of these terms serve to stifle people asking questions and coming up with alternative viewpoints and subverting the status quo.

It’s easy for me to be skeptical when I hear “beware of fake news”, because I immediately hear something different : “Only listen to the respected, mainstream news sources”. If we are being kept in line by the media, this is one very effective way to keep us hooked into the message the elite ruling class is trying to sell us. Personally I have always been skeptical of everything I’ve read and I’ve taken time to either second source things I take as fact or defer to others who I trust to do that diligence on my behalf. Just because someone is a blogger or just because an article doesn’t come from the New York Times doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Same with “echo chamber”. In many ways this feels to me like an attack on us sharing things that we feel are important or that we feel needs to be read by others. If we are fearful of sharing things because it will make us seem like lemmings then things don’t spread and it’s very possible that our public becomes less informed.

I strongly believe that while there is no overt conspiracy to control us as a people, there are subtle biases by our media that naturally conspire to sell us ‘the story’. I have often complained about how I feel the media has let us down and I still very much believe that. Because of that, I feel obligated to fight that erosion of the truth by posting (and reposting and sharing) things that I feel are relevant. If you choose to label me as a conspiracist or as an echo-chamberist or a fake news/propiganda passer onner, that’s your decision. But I’m a very smart and aware human being. I am not a sheep. So follow me knowing that or be led by the elites. Cause we know how well that’s been working out.

Fixing our Voting System : part 1

Whether you were happy with the results of the election or most likely you weren’t (like most of the people who may read this) one thing I think we all can agree on is that the way we vote in America is terrible. And this, this is one of the few ways as citizens that we get to participate in our government. I mean, of course, if we don’t like how things are going, we have the ability to vote out the people who are governing. Right?

But how fair is our current system of representation? How easy is it for us to vote? How fair is the math involved in counting our votes? Hopefully I can show that the answer to all of those questions is : not at all. And hopefully I can motivate you to do something about making change in our system of voting.

Let me get an easy one out of the way right off the bat. It is hard for most Americans to vote. We have to Elections are held on work days. Elections are held during (mostly) working hours. We have to register to vote which in some states only happens at an office that is also open during working hours. Registration deadlines vary by state. Sometimes you need to get registered 90 or more days before election day. Once we are registered and finally get time to to the polling place to actually vote we find huge lines awaiting us.

None of this needs to happen this way. There should be little or no hurdles to voting. We should be registered automatically when we turn 18. The state knows who we are when tax time rolls around so they should know who we are when we vote. For national elections we should have a federal holiday. Why don’t we?

And now for something that I spent a lot of time studying and talking about voting systems. If you do any amount of research in this area you soon learn that everybody who studies voting agrees on one thing : Plurality Voting (our current system) Is The Least Fair System We Could Choose to Use. And I know you’re going to get bored fast so I will try to explain this simply. If a group of people have to choose someone from another group of people (more than 3) there are many ways they can do it. Currently we give each person (each _elector_) a vote for one of the candidates and the person who has the most votes is the winner.

At first this seems fair and in the field of voting theory there are many ways to define and measure “fairness” but I’m not going to go into them here. But at first, this seems a fair method because clearly the candidate with the most votes is the one the group prefers. But do they? A simple example would prove this wrong right away:

In this election there are 3 candidates: A, B and C. (You can substitute in whoever you’d like for those letters). A is hated by most of the electorate, B and C are universally liked by the group that hates A. If I can show you a case where A wins would you be convinced that plurality is bad? Ok. Here you go:

Election Results: A gets 100 votes, B gets 99 votes, C gets 99 votes.
Out of the 298 voters this means: A gets 34%, B and C each get 33%

Candidate A is the winner even though they did not gain a majority of the votes. Is that result fair? Is it acceptable to you if you are a B or C voter? Of course not. But variations of this effect occur all the time. Look at any primary that Donald Trump won in the very beginning of his campaign. As an example look at South Carolina

Election Results: Trump 32.5%, Cruz 22.3%, Rubio 22.5%, Bush 7.8%, Kasich 7.6%, Carson 7.2%

Could you tell me that all of the supporters of Cruz, Rubio, Bush, et. al would have preferred Donald Trump to be their nominee? What if they knew the eventual outcome of the presidential election? Would the Bush, Kasich and Carson voters have banded together with some of the Rubio voters to defeat Mr. Trump?

In what world can we say that someone who gets ⅓ of the vote should be the winner of an election? But we do it all the time. Shouldn’t elections strive to reflect the wishes of the voters?

There is a number of ways to run elections that are more fair and more accurately reflect the will of the people. One is Ranked Choice where you list who you prefer to win in order of preference. This is often combined with Instant Runoff where the votes are counted in successive rounds. Another is called Borda Count where you assign points to various candidates. There are countless systems that mathematicians consider to be more fair but my preference is one that is simple, fair and easy to implement with our current voting machines.

It’s called Approval Voting and it’s so perfect that a number of scientific and math societies use it to elect their leadership. Here is how it works : When you go to vote, you vote for _all_ of the candidates you ‘approve’ of and the candidate with the most votes wins. How amazing is that?

Let’s apply it to my hypothetical ABC election above. I said there was a large number of B and C voters that hated A and were equal in their like of B and C so they would vote for B _and_ C so the totals could be something like this:

Election Results: A gets 100 votes, B gets 198 votes, C gets 198 votes.
Out of 298 votes: A gets 34%, B and C get 66%

Of course this is not considering that some of the A voters would maybe approve of B or C and some of the B and C voters may have just voted for B or C alone. But what you see here is that A wouldn’t win and B or C would. Most importantly B or C would also have a majority of the votes in the election! This would mean that the candidate elected would more likely be the will of most of the electors! Wouldn’t this be an amazing system?

Having a system like this would also minimize the effects of strategic voting and reduce our chances of voting for ‘The lesser of two evils’. Imagine if we used this in just the 2000 presidential election: The ‘Nader effect’ would not have mattered and Al Gore would have won. Imagine we used this in our primaries. If we did and we had these huge fields of candidates we would more accurately see who the people would be happy with instead of seeing who can just convince 20-40% of them.

These changes I’m proposing make great sense so why don’t we have them now? I would say that there are a lot of reasons but the main one is that the two dominant political parties don’t want them. They right now control everything. The Democratic and Republican parties (which are not government institutions but private entities) enjoy enormous power in keeping things as they are. They can dominate the message, they can consolidate the power and they effectively make elections feel like we the people have a say when in fact we don’t.

Letting more poor and working people vote, and making election day a holiday would add more control of the system to more of the people the system is aligned against. Changing the voting counts would allow other parties and other candidates a chance to be counted which would dilute the power the D and R’s have over the system.

But we can pressure for change here. We as citizens can and should study up and learn that there are other ways to elect our leaders. We can and should advocate for a system that puts the control over who is elected back into our hands. It is our moral imperative.

All of the things I’m talking about start on the local level. You need to go visit the office of State Senator and go visit the office of your State Representative. You need to talk to them and find out how you can physically help make these changes happen. You need to talk to your friends and convince them of the changes I’m proposing here.

What is happening is that we as a people are being distracted by these huge important issues that we have little direct control over. This is by design. Please understand that making change starts with this simple, wonky boring changes. We need to get control over our government.

There is a lot more I want to say about our electoral system and I will be talking about gerrymandering, primaries and the Electoral College in later posts so please stay tuned.

November 2016

I have spent a very long time thinking about what to do on Election day in a month. Unlike many voters I consider myself a true Independent. I’ve voted for local and state and federal candidates in at least 4 different parties, and for president I voted for Romney in 2012 and I voted for Perot in 1992. My vote for every office truly comes from my thoughtful analysis of my choices.

This presidential race has been the hardest one for me ever to decide. I’ve grown very disenchanted by the corruption of our government by special interests and the super rich. I don’t believe anymore that the media is on our side. I don’t believe anymore that the current two party system serves us. As you all know, I have dozens of complaints about the system as it is.

In 2008 I felt much the same way and I worked super hard to push Barack Obama into office. I gave money, I made phone calls, I knocked on doors, I wrote about the campaign. After he took office I took a few days off to watch every move he made. I was so convinced that he was going to make his presidency one that supported transparency and decency and that he’d make sweeping changes to our system and clean up all the mistakes and overreaches of the Bush White House that preceded him.

Oh wow was I wrong. In many ways he actually did the opposite of what he promised as a candidate. This Democrat turned out to be a lot more of a neo-con than I had even dreamed of. During his 8 years privacy has been crushed, whistleblowers have been prosecuted, drones have killed US citizens without due process, banks were let off the hook for the greatest financial crisis in my lifetime, and health insurers got made even richer.

It was a lesson to me that the system was way more messed up than I could conceive. BO proved to me that at the level of the president everyone was kind of the same. That there was no longer any difference between a D and an R. That the rich and the special interests and the big companies control everything and that we the people are just there to keep the economy moving and to be used as needed.

And then of course we come to Bernie Sanders. Again I felt we had maybe a shot to change things. Here was a candidate that appeared to not be owned by special interests. That didn’t have huge donors behind him. Someone who was beholden to no one. Interestingly along came another outsider candidate that clearly did not give one fuck about the system and that of course was our friend The Donald.

At this point in my life, after living through 6 presidents and being politically active since before I could drive, I’m pretty much done with the system as it is. I know that there is a chance it can change and that change takes a very very long time but we don’t have time anymore. The damage from Climate Change is already upon us and we’ve done relatively nothing to stop it. Fighting and wars over resources are happening more than less. Religious insanity is growing and not declining. Education in our country is so bad that I wonder what kind of leaders we are going to have in a generation. What I need to see is a catastrophic governmental event. I want to see the system be torn apart and rebuilt again. I actually believe that that will get us to a better place faster than staying the course and waiting.

So to me there were two paths to that end. Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. Clearly I wanted Sanders but DT (even though he was clearly an idiot and a narcissist) wouldn’t have been too bad in the long run since he would have been so bad in the short run. But think of the glorious damage he could do. Think of all the trade deals he would invalidate, think of the government agencies he would close on a whim, think of all the wonderful pushback he would get and the chaos it would cause. Think of how the Republican party would implode. Imagine the hypocrisy he would call out from his bully pulpit. The people would have no choice but to tear down the pillars of politics and demand we start again. So once BS lost I actually didn’t mind imagining DT as our president. I thought it would actually be good for us. But I couldn’t vote for him since I hated him as a person. I couldn’t tolerate the racism and the sexism. This man was a terrible person.

Many have said that I should support Hillary Clinton. But with her I have a known quantity. I have someone who I believe is going to be Obama with a backbone. I believe she will lead with way more effectiveness than BO but the problem is that I don’t like the direction she is headed. I don’t think she’s going to be the kind of president that I’m going to be happy with. A few of my concerns are that I think she will continue the drone killing program that BO started, I think she will continue and extend BOs assault on our civil rights (particularly the erosion of the 4th Amendment), I think she will make the Syria situation worse, I think she will continue to support Israeli aggression in Palestine, and I think she will do nothing to stop the TPP. And of course it’s well known that she is very much connected to the rich and powerful. And outsider she is not.

And then there is the protest vote. I hate what the Democratic party has become. I have always hated the insanity of the Republican party. I have forever believed that we needed to allow other parties into the presidential race and debates. And when you come down to it, I really didn’t approve of every HC or DT so it would be disingenuous for me to vote for one of them.

In either case, as you can tell, my decision was/is not easy at all. There are so many conflicting reasons to choose any number of candidates.

But one thing kept nagging at me and it was a big one. If he becomes president, Donald Trump would be able to literally nuke someone. I don’t need to get into the details of how nuclear deterrence works and how launching even one bomb would most likely trigger the death of our entire planet. Sure there is a chance that there would be a coup before he could actually do it but I can’t take that chance. If I didn’t have a child, this wouldn’t be an issue but I do and her life is way more important to me. I’d rather have her alive. So I can’t let DT win.

Let me be clear. No matter what the polls say, HC will win Pennsylvania. HC has a huge ground operation thanks to the the DNC and that means a lot. I also believe that she will easily win the election, but just to be safe I will reluctantly vote for Hillary in November. So for those of you who care, there you go. One more vote for your lady.

No Place To Hide

Two days and three years ago, the first of many articles revealing NSA led domestic spying appeared in the Guardian. They were written by Glenn Greenwald and of course they were sourced by the incredible cache of documents provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. The full magnitude of revelations provided by that leak was and still is enormous. We are still today processing what our government has been doing in the name of protecting us from ‘terrorism’.

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I just finished the book “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State” by Glenn Greenwald which tells the story of the leak, but then also goes over some of the things that the leak has revealed. I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to read this book.

I was following the Guardian stories closely when they dropped and have always been trying to pay attention to the surveillance state in our country (here’s a piece from 10 years ago) but even I was surprised to find a lot of things in the book that I wasn’t aware of. As I read I was just dumfounded at the things the NSA and FBI were/are doing and how most of the companies we rely on everyday to communicate have been cooperating and how our media has been actively keeping quiet about things. I was further surprised to learn that this behavior is not new (post 2001) but has been going on for almost a century (with the reading of domestic telegrams in the 30s for example).

Greenwald does more than simply lay out what was in the leak. He takes his time to present other sources to support some very strong arguments about how dangerous this surveillance is to our democracy and how the media is not helping things at all. It’s just a really important book and it’s exceptionally well written and clear.
As an American citizen you owe it to yourself and your country to make yourself aware of what is going on in your country. This book isn’t filled with conspiracy theories, it’s filled with very well laid out and clear hard evidence. Read it!