Stating the Obvious – It Should Be Stated Again and Again

Although this may be the last time I state it. The election was five weeks ago. Its otherworldly result is likely to be set in stone by 300 members of the Electoral College next week (despite their duty to do otherwise). In the weeks ahead, therefore, I hope to turn my attention to the election’s aftermath, and possibly even other topics of interest, like Brian Wilson’s very good memoir, what to look for in a snow shovel and how to leave the U.S. without a passport. Or maybe where to acquire body armor and the safest way to throw a Molotov cocktail.

Nevertheless, Amanda Marcotte has a very good summary at Salon of how the Russians got away with hacking the election. The long headline is:  

The big problem isn’t that Russian hackers tried to influence our election — it’s more that we let them – Media lameness, a gullible public, useful idiots on the left and the GOP all helped enable Russian propaganda

She makes an excellent point. It’s not a new point, but it bears repeating over and over again (by someone else, not me). Assuming we escape the clutches of the Orange Menace one day, how do we avoid going through something like this again if we don’t understand how it happened? 

She begins:

(The Russian’s apparent) strategy worked because too many power players in the American political ecosystem were too shortsighted, lazy and selfish to look past their own immediate self-interest and consider the big picture. What the purported Russian email hack ended up doing was illustrating the various weaknesses in our political systems and culture — weaknesses that Trump, likely with Vladimir Putin’s assistance, was able to exploit to claw his way into the White House.

First, “mainstream media outlets are more interested in appearing fair than actually being fair”. Fox News, of course, being a propaganda machine, doesn’t care about being balanced. They simply claim to be. Reputable news sources like CNN and the New York Times, however, want to provide “balanced” coverage. They want to acquire and retain customers all along the political spectrum. But, in 2016, their lame attempts to be balanced led to disaster: 

Trump is so corrupt that he coughs up more genuine scandals before breakfast than most dirty politicians can come up with in a lifetime. Hillary Clinton, in contrast, is a clean politician, which we know because she’s been under some kind of dogged investigation for the better part of three decades, without a speck of real dirt coming up on her.

But to report this basic truth — that one candidate was irredeemably corrupt and the other was not — would have drawn accusations from the right that the media was in the tank for Clinton. So, in order to appear fair, mainstream media outlets embraced a policy of being incredibly unfair to Clinton, blowing every non-scandal out of proportion.

Marcotte then points her finger at the average American voter:Most people don’t really read the news, but just glean general themes from headlines and cable TV”. One of the example she cites from Vanity Fair magazine:


But in the actual text, writer T.A. Frank admitted that “you’ll find nothing close to a scandal in itself” and “Clinton’s campaign is, mostly, reassuringly plodding and rules-bound.”

An honest headline written by someone whose goal was to inform the public would have looked something like this: 


Sensationalism like Vanity Fair‘s is one reason most voters thought Clinton was more corrupt than T—p:

All these stories about “leaked” emails left the indelible impression with voters that there must have been something in them that was worth leaking, even if they had no idea what it was. 

Marcotte then points out that people on the left are open to conspiracy theories, too. Emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee convinced some Sanders supporters that the primary elections were rigged:

The email hack did not actually reveal any evidence that the Democratic National Committee had treated Sanders unfairly during the primary. It did find that some DNC employees expressed negative thoughts about him after his campaign repeatedly accused party officials of dirty pool, but there was no dirt beyond private grousing.

Nevertheless, the impression grew that somehow Sanders had been cheated. That led some who would ordinarily vote Democratic to stay home or vote for a third party. Consider, for example, that in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the Green Party candidate got more than 133,000 votes. Clinton lost those three states and, as a result, the Electoral College by 78,000. 

Lastly, of course, most Republican politicians put party over country. In particular, Senator McConnell’s refusal to condemn or even acknowledge the Russian hacking was, in Marcotte’s words:

… a neat distillation of Republicans’ attitude toward any Trump-based corruption: They’re happy to look the other way as Trump and his supporters plunder the country, spread racism and bigotry and undermine our democracy, so long as they get a crack at destroying Social Security and Medicare.

So, putting the election aside and looking to the future, Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek has a long article that shows how T—p’s business would (or will) lead to major conflicts of interest. They even have a 3-minute video that summarizes the sad story.

“The Slime Factor Was Overwhelming”

T—p slithered into the offices of The New York Times this week for an on-the-record chat with the paper’s publisher and a few editors, reporters and columnists. Times columnist Charles Blow didn’t attend. He explains why:

I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: Never.

Mr. Blow concludes:

No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.

I know this in my bones, and for that I am thankful.

Amen to that and thank you, Charles Blow.

His column, which deserves reading in its entirety, is here.

Audit the Vote. Fight for Truth.

Every four years when we vote for President there are stories about ballots being miscounted or results being manipulated. It’s an American tradition to wonder if a close election was stolen, especially when your candidate unexpectedly lost. That tradition has only gotten stronger as electronic voting machines have become more common.

When I voted two weeks ago, I pushed invisible buttons on a big screen that made little ‘X’s appear, followed by a red button marked “Cast Your Vote”.  As always, I assumed my votes were accurately transmitted somewhere and were properly counted. It’s a matter of trusting our political institutions and civil servants.

But these days it’s also a matter of trusting the private companies that sell the machines and software that count millions of votes. That’s why, for years now, experts on voting have called for changes that would make electronic voting more secure and easier to audit. For instance, all voting machines should create a paper trail that could be used to check the results (I don’t even know if the machines we use in our county create a paper trail that could be reviewed if the results were audited).

This year, of course, there is another reason to wonder about the election results. Russia has some of the best computer hackers in the world and it’s almost certain that they successfully interfered with our election. National security officials released a statement in October accusing Russia hackers of collecting and distributing thousands of personal emails from the Clinton campaign. We don’t know precisely what effect the publication of those emails had on the campaign, but it’s fair to say it didn’t help the Democrats.

Stolen emails weren’t the only subject of that October statement: 

Some states have also recently seen scanning and probing of their election-related systems, which in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company… [Our agencies] assess that it would be extremely difficult for someone, including a nation-state actor, to alter actual ballot counts or election results by cyber attack or intrusion. This assessment is based on the decentralized nature of our election system in this country and the number of protections state and local election officials have in place. States ensure that voting machines are not connected to the Internet, and there are numerous checks and balances as well as extensive oversight at multiple levels built into our election process.

Nevertheless, [the Department of Homeland Security] continues to urge state and local election officials to be vigilant and seek cyber-security assistance from DHS. A number of states have already done so. DHS is providing several services to state and local election officials to assist in their cyber-security. These services include cyber “hygiene” scans of Internet-facing systems, risk and vulnerability assessments, information sharing about cyber incidents, and best practices for securing voter registration databases and addressing potential cyber threats.

All right, so considering the longstanding concerns about electronic voting in general, and the likelihood that Russia tried to access some of our election systems this year, it isn’t crazy to be more concerned than usual about this election. Throw in Clinton’s surprising defeat in a few key states where she was expected to win, plus some strange-looking results from those states, and we’re now seeing stories like these from the Guardian: 

“Hillary Clinton urged to call for election vote recount in battleground states” (here)

“Jill Stein prepares to request election recounts in battleground states” (here)

It should be noted that it wasn’t the Clinton campaign (or even the Stein campaign) that began calling for an audit of the election results. Two election experts, Ron Rivest and Philip Stark, made their case a few days ago in USA Today. (Rivest is the Institute Professor at MIT and a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission Technical Guidelines Development Committee, while Stark is Associate Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at UC Berkeley and a member of the board of advisers of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission).

They’ve been joined by J. Alex Halderman, who is Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan and the Director of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security & Society. Halderman is an acknowledged expert in the field of electronic voting security. This is from a statement he posted today:

Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack? Probably not. I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked. But I don’t believe that either one of these seemingly unlikely explanations is overwhelmingly more likely than the other. The only way to know whether a cyberattack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence — paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, nobody is ever going to examine that evidence unless candidates in those states act now, in the next several days, to petition for recounts.

Halderman also explains how a foreign power might tamper with the election in a few key counties in a few key states, giving an unearned Electoral College victory to a walking disaster.

We don’t know yet whether Clinton will request recounts in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and possibly pull out her own Electoral College victory. It’s rumored that some senior Democrats don’t want to rock the boat and give credence to T—p’s claim that the election would be “rigged”. I sincerely hope that’s not the case. This isn’t one of those times when it would be better for the country if everyone relaxed and supported the apparent President-elect. (That’s what many leading Democrats said during the 2000 election fiasco and look where it got us.)

Finally, as an example of the kind of unaudited result that’s drawing attention, below are the voting histories of two counties in Michigan going back to 1980. Macomb and Oakland counties have usually shown similar levels of support for Democrats and Republicans in presidential elections. 

For some reason, however, this year the two counties swerved apart. It looks like Macomb County’s support for the Democrat went way down and its support for the Republican went way up. That’s in comparison to Oakland County’s vote this year and Macomb County’s election history. Maybe it’s just one of those things. Maybe it’s the beginning of a new voting pattern in Macomb County. Or maybe it’s evidence that something went seriously wrong in a key county in Michigan and needs to be looked into. Who knows? (Outside Russia, I mean.)

 Delta Macomb
1980 40.4% 35.6% 4.80% 51.0% 54.7% -3.70%
1984 33.3% 32.8% 0.50% 66.2% 66.7% -0.50%
1988 38.8% 37.8% 1.00% 60.3% 61.3% -1.00%
1992 37.4% 38.6% -1.20% 42.3% 43.6% -1.30%
1996 49.5% 47.8% 1.70% 39.4% 43.5% -4.10%
2000 50.0% 49.3% 0.70% 47.5% 48.1% -0.60%
2004 48.8% 49.8% -1.00% 50.2% 49.3% 0.90%
2008 53.4% 56.4% -3.00% 44.7% 41.9% 2.80%
2012 51.3% 53.4% -2.10% 47.3% 45.4% 1.90%
2016 42.1% 51.7% -9.60% 53.6% 43.6% 10.00%

Curious, isn’t it? This is why we need to #AuditTheVote before it’s too late. We don’t have anything to lose by fighting for the truth.