🗳 June 2019 Los Angeles Special Election Ballot Analysis

Well, it’s that time again. I’ve received a sample ballot, but it’s an odd year, meaning an odd election:

There’s was another special election mid-May to fill a vacant LAUSD board seat. What that wasn’t combined with the parcel tax election, I have no idea.

So we have a situation where Council District 12 has two issues on the ballot (for which we’ve gotten voluminous mail — I’ve never gotten this much for a city council election before), and the rest of the city just has the parcel tax. Talk about a recipe for low turnout (and due to business travel, I’ll be voting absentee ballot).

Still, a sample ballot is a ballot, and calls for a ballot analysis. This may be LA County’s last election using ink-a-vote, unless we have something in November. In 2020, LA County is transitioning from polling places to vote centers, which will be open for 11 days, and voters will be able to vote at any center in LA County. How successful it will be is unknown, but hey, what can go wrong during the most critical Presidential election in this nation’s history.

On to the ballot analysis….

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🗯️ Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

userpic=trumpIn the era of Nixon and Watergate, I was a kid. We watched the news as 12, 13, and 14 year olds, but didn’t think all that much about it. We did, of course, read Doonesbury, and hence, the title of this post (and the flashbacks). Today, as an adult, I’m beginning to understand how adults felt in that era, with a President that had clearly committed crimes, stonewalling the investigation, with partisan supporters clearly asserting his innocence, while Congress endeavored to do their oversight job. The only difference between now and then is the magnitude of the crimes (simply burglary and theft for political campaigns seems so naive now) and the fact that we had a President then who understood the politics of the job, cared somewhat about the nation, and had the good sense to resign for the good of the nation. Today, on the other hand…

Stonewalling didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. The truth will eventually come out, the supporters will be proven wrong, and the criminals at minimum will slink away into obscurity, with reputations damaged and destroyed. The only question is: How long will it take for the Nation to recover?

So, some simple questions:

  • If the President is innocent and the report completely exonerates him, why is he hiding under claims of Executive Privilege and telling his aides not to testify? Before you answer: Remember that the Republicans asked the same questions regarding the Clintons, and they did testify.
  • Congress has an oversight role, as the Republicans so doggedly emphasized whenever there was a Democrat in power. The role does not go away or get diminished because the Republicans are in power. As the Republicans said with Hillary: investigate, and if there is innocence, let the truth come out in the investigation.
  • Regarding the tax return information uncovered by the New York Times: the American people have a right to know if the returns were legitimate, or if there was tax fraud taking place. Remember: Al Capone was brought down by tax evasion. Were those losses legitimate, or faked to evade taxes? If legitimate, what does that say about Trump and his business and economic acumen over the long term — and whom does he owe for bailing him out? If faked, what does that say about his respect of the rule of law?
  • In general, if Trump is innocent as he claims, let the facts prove it — the tax returns, sworn testimony, law enforcement investigations. If, as the Right claims, the facts are false, they should be able to prove that as well and present counter-evidence. But that won’t be known until the facts come out in the first place.

As I wrote before, I’m rapidly swinging to the impeachment camp. Yes, I understand it will solidify his base — but they are solid and unthinking and wouldn’t change their minds anyway. Yes, I understand the Senate will not remove him. But having the investigations in the House once charges are brought will provide a strong means of compelling testimony, and having a trial in the Senate will assuredly bring out the facts and compel testimony. Starting the process may be the only way to get to the bottom of the story.

Without that, and with all this stonewalling, President Trump looks quite a lot like President Nixon: as Mark Slackmeyer said, “Guilty, Guilty, Guilty.”

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🗯️ What I Want

userpic=trumpThere are those who say I should support Trump because of his economic results, or because of his attention to the border. I say “no” to that. Dictators and despots often get great economic results, at the expense of the “little guy” Dictators and despots often enforce the border at the expense of those truly in need, or at the expense of families. I want more than that in my President. I want a President that respects the rule of law, and that respects the roles inherent in our triparte government as defined in the Constitution (including Congress’ oversight role, which isn’t just oversight of Democrats). I want a President that respects the Constitution, and the rights defined therein — both for citizens and residents of this nation. I want a President that doesn’t try to push one religion’s moral values on those of other faiths in the nation. I want a President that doesn’t encourage the flames of hatred, that works to make this nation safe for ALL its residents — not just those that are white, straight, Christian, and male. I want a President that respects our agreements, actually understand economics, and actually thinks before he or she does anything. I want a President that cares. I want a President whose desire for economic improvement goes beyond the millionaires and corporations, but extends to the white and blue collar workers, the people toiling in offices, stores, and fields. I want a President whose concern goes beyond the economic to the general welfare: including the health of all the people in the nation. I want a President that defends all our borders: not just the Southern border against the ethnicity he hates, but our electronic borders — ensuring that our elections are OUR elections, that our infrastructure is safe from electronic attack, and that our Intelligence agencies are respected and can do their jobs to identify foreign and domestic threats. That includes also defending our people against the scourge of internal terror attacks.

I don’t see any of that in our current President. Any short term economic improvements are not enough to offset what I simply don’t see.

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🗯️ We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us

userpic=divided-nationThe recent discussions of Ilhan Omar and antisemitism have reignited the debates of racism and divides in this country.  On the Democratic side there is the push to condemn antisemitism while not offending those who either disagree with the behavior of the Israeli government, or to include other racist attacks. On the Republican side, there is the push to condemn antisemitism while ignoring similar behavior within the Republican party. But the truth is, despicable behavior and intolerance — racial, political, and other — exists on both sides.

The Atlantic had an interesting article recently exploring this. The Atlantic asked PredictWise, a polling and analytics firm, to create a ranking of counties in the U.S. based on partisan prejudice (or what researchers call “affective polarization”). The result was surprising in several ways. First, while virtually all Americans have been exposed to hyper-partisan politicians, social-media echo chambers, and clickbait headlines, we found significant variations in Americans’ political ill will from place to place, regardless of party. The maps show that affective polarization occurs on both sides of the aisle: there is intense political hatred and bias occurring in both Red and Blue areas. A NY Times opinion piece refers to this as the culture of contempt:

Political scientists have found that our nation is more polarized than it has been at any time since the Civil War. One in six Americans has stopped talking to a family member or close friend because of the 2016 election. Millions of people organize their social lives and their news exposure along ideological lines to avoid people with opposing viewpoints. What’s our problem?

I know I’ve fallen into this. I’ve begun to block memes from the side I disagree with: I find them annoying, but it is pointless to comment on them and point out the errors because the other side won’t listen anyway. Why won’t they listen? Another article I found explores this quite well, detailing 24 cognative biases that shape our thinking. These are flaws in human reasoning that political machines can exploit to make our biases stronger. You can combat them to some extent if you know what they are (just as you can filter out the bias from news sources if you know it), but you will never succeed completely.

These biases and prejudices and hatred and contempt are playing out in many discussions we see in the news today. But it isn’t just the news. Racism and hatred can be anywhere, including your local knitting store. Online bots can take racism and hatred, and amplify it. The best way to combat it? First, educate yourself to recognize it. Second, speak out and don’t let it go unchallenged. Third, engage as much as you can. There is a balance between those who cannot be redeemed, and those whom you can educate about their bias. Don’t expect to change minds immediately; but do work to plant the seeds.

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🗯️ ✡ Musings on Antisemitism, Rep. Ilhan Omar, and the Response Thereto

All the news today about the resolution in the House in response to Rep. Omar has gotten me thinking, and that can be dangerous:

  • First and foremost, it is “antisemitism” (one word), not “Anti-Semitism”. The latter is a construct that plays on the word Semite, which could be used to refer to anyone from the mideast. The former is a term specifically referring to the hatred of Jews.
  • Here is a good explanation of the controversy, from Vox. It makes clear that the incident in question made use of a well-known antisemitic trope — that Jews have specific loyalty to the State of Israel, and are not truly loyal Americans. Similar tropes were used against Catholics when Kennedy ran for President — that they had more loyalty to the Pope than America. That same trope is what led to our putting Japanese Americans in Concentration Camps (yes, that’s what they were), claiming they had more loyalty to Japan than to America. And, by the way, the same trope is what leads Trump to mistreat Muslims, believing them to be more loyal to ISIS than America. It is all the same, vile, trope.
  • I do not believe that Rep. Omar was being intentionally antisemitic (or at least I choose not to believe that, for now). I believe that, in the environment she was raised, these tropes were present and internalized. There are many others that make similar statements. That doesn’t make it right — it means we need to do a better job about teaching about antisemitism and racism — and how to identify it.
  • I have a big problem with those who claim it wasn’t an antisemitic statement. Why is it that people believe women when they call a behavior sexist, and why they believe minorities when they call a behavior racist .. but they do not believe Jews when we call out a particular trope as antisemitic? What does that say about those people who are denying the ability of Jews to recognize an attack on their religion?
  • What should be the response? It should be a blanket condemnation of the use of any racist tropes (as it appears the House is about to do), and (ideally) a session — just as we have sessions on recognizing sexual harassment —  to educate people what common tropes are so that they don’t use them. That should include any sexist, racist, and broad anti-religion (e.g., antisemitism, anti-catholicism, etc.) tropes. It should also include anti-Muslim attacks.
  • But what about … in the past? We can’t change the past, and the fact that miscreants who used such language in the past weren’t called out doesn’t make such behavior acceptable today. It is wrong no matter who is doing it, no matter what party is doing it. Yes, Mr. President, that includes you: you can’t call out a Rep. for retweeting an antisemitic tweet when you’ve done the same thing. Both are wrong.
  • Do I think Rep. Omar should be removed from Foreign Affairs? No, because even if I don’t agree with her, she has the right to express her view on the committee. She is one voice among many. I don’t agree with the views of many in our government. She does, however, have to answer to her district. If they disagree with what she is saying, it is their prerogative to recall her, or to not reelect her. How she behaves reflects on her district. By the way, the same is true for any Congresscritter, Senator, or even the President — the racist and hateful views they express reflect on the people they represent, and their constituents should take that into consideration come 2020.
  • You can criticize Israel and the behavior of her government without using antisemitic tropes. You can also criticize AIPAC, but be aware that there are many organizations that lobby more or have larger lobbying budgets.  Everyone should do their research and find out the facts, draw their own conclusions, and speak out where there is wrong doing — just as you should always speak out against governments that do wrong, and the lobbying groups that support them. Here’s a good guide on how to do so without falling into the tropes.
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🗯️ Tearing Down the Wall

userpic=divided-nationThere seems to be two worlds out there. In one world — let’s call it the red world — the only thing standing between us and death and destruction would be a physical wall on the Southern border. In the other world — let’s call it the blue world — the fear leading to the call for the wall isn’t there, and there is the belief that other mechanisms will suffice. The red world believes that the blue world want “open borders”, when that isn’t what they are saying. Neither side is listening to the other, and the government is (partially) shutdown. I’m a believer in risk management and risk reduction, and so I would like to offer some thoughts on the subject:

  • What is the threat? If the concern is true outside terrorists (as opposed to the homegrown ones who have been doing the mass shootings), they haven’t been sneaking through the unfenced areas of the Southern border. They have been coming through the airports, coming through normal border checkpoints, and overstaying visas. They are best addressed not through a wall, but through increased CBP mechanisms and personnel, technological observations, enforcement of visas. A wall does nothing to reduce this risk.
  • If the concern is “bad hombres” — i.e., gang members — again, there is no evidence that they are sneaking through the unfenced portions of the border. There is also scant evidence that the threat is there. Yes, there have been a single handful of police officers shot by undocumented immigrants. But what is the overall threat to the population at large? That’s negligible. We must deal with acceptable risk, not complete risk avoidance — and there is a level of risk in law enforcement. We are not seeing crimes throughout the country by this particular group, nor is the percentage of crimes by this group demonstrably rising. In short, there is no evidence that a physical wall would provide any reduction in anything related to “bad hombres”. It is fear and uncertainty, animated by racial hatred and a particular segment of the media who are using the issue to divide when there is no significant risk.
  • If the concern is the immigrant caravans on the border: they are not at unfenced areas of the border, nor is there any evidence that they are attempting to cross at those points. They are refugees, and the best way to address those individuals is to provide more personnel to process their requests fairly and expeditiously.
  • A physical wall is a band-aid on a wound: it addresses the symptom of the problem, not why the problem is happening in the first place. Although the red world is loath to consider spending money outside the US, the funds proposed for a wall would be better spent making the home nations of the immigrants better places. If conditions are better at home, there is no need to come to America for opportunity. Further, the cost of making those countries a better place is much less than building a physical wall, and has much less environmental impact or impact on the lands and properties of Americans living at the border.
  • Security must be looked at as a comprehensive picture. While we argue and shut down the government over a physical wall, we have furloughed significant work on improving and strengthening the Cybersecurity of our nation. NIST’s cybersecurity work is on hold. NSF’s cybersecurity research is furloughed. Increasing our cybersecurity is vital to our national security, and sacrificing that to the wall is idiotic. Our enemies have and will use our technology to subvert our systems and use them for their own aims — and they have done so in recent elections. They are perfectly happy to sit in their home countries and do it electronically, while laughing at our debate over a wall on a border they would never cross. The shutdown has also reduced the border security workforce at the airports (TSA) — again, weakening our security infrastructure.

Border security is important, and ensuring entry to the US is vetted and legal is significant. However, a physical wall is not the right way to do this, and it provides insignificant risk reduction. Fear has been created over a risk that just isn’t there, and the actual numbers don’t back up the claims. If there must be funding for a wall, let’s start the right way: determine the most impactful 100 miles that need new wall, and fund that now to provide risk reduction in conjunction with other security mechanisms, because the risk reduction of all wall segments is not equal, and not all require immediate funding. Most importantly, don’t let the focus on the wall battle distract from other border security, including securing our electronic borders.

P.S.: The answer to securing our electronic borders is NOT to declare a national emergency and shut off all electronic communications. Just imagine the impact of that on American business and commerce!

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📰 Politically Astute

userpic=trumpAnd what is the first box under the tree, Santa? Such sparkly red and blue wrapping, but the colors seem to want to stay away from each other? How odd. Oh, look, you got me some political news chum. Just what I … wanted …

 

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🗯️ Losing a Game of Nuclear War, With No Final Strike

Back when I was in college, one of the games we had in the UCLA Computer Club was Flying Buffalo’s Nuclear War. This is a card game where the players launch missiles at each other. If an opponent wipes you out with missiles, you can attempt to shoot off whatever is left in your arsenal to wipe them off the face off the map. Good times! But the game had a catch: If you lost your population due to a well played propaganda campaign, there was no chance of a final strike. You were wiped off the map, without retaliation.

Back when I was in college, we were in the middle of a cold war with Russia. They were our enemy. We had just come out of the era of Richard Nixon. The Russians were the bad guys, and there wasn’t any equivocation about that. After all, it was Khrushchev who said “We Will Bury You?” Even post college, politicians would distance themselves from Russian politics and Communism. Often, the strongest politicians to do so were the Republicans: “Better dead than Red”.

Then the Soviet Union fell. The wall came down in East Berlin. We established relations with Russia. We believed we had won the Cold War. But the Russians remembered. They still promised to bury us. Russians are patient.

Then came Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh. They figured out how to play the media game. Taking advantage of C-SPAN and the power of talk radio, they played up the tribalism and separation. They turned the ability to compromise and work together for the nation, despite differences, into partisan warfare. They turned it into a battle of Us vs. Them. This was a battle we saw during the Clinton presidency, during Bush 43, during Obama. The partisanship grew.

The Russians were also watching.

Then came the election of 2016: the first election where social media was significant (yes, it was there during Obama, but not like this). The Russians knew how to use propaganda. They manipulated social media to convince blacks not to vote — that neither Clinton nor Sanders were on their side. They launched a pro-Jill Stein blitz to siphon votes away from Clinton for the folks that couldn’t stand Trump. They whipped up Trump supporters with memes, and launched a specific campaign to elect Trump to office. They used every major (and even minor) social media platform to do this. They have continued to do this, spreading disinformation about the Mueller probe. They continue to run interference for Trump.

Was there collusion? The Russians are too smart to leave evidence of it, unless they specifically want to bring someone down. But that’s not their goal: their goal is to bury us — to destroy to US. They have already achieved their goal to do that: elect Trump, and destroy trust in the US. They didn’t need collusion, when people work towards the same goal without explicit cooperation.

Although we might have won that battle and outlasted the first USSR, that doesn’t mean that Russia didn’t remember. Russia and China are indeed burying us and destroying us by exploiting the very strengths of our political system — a free press and voting — to achieve their goals of electing a leadership too inexperienced and narcissistic to stop them, by electing a leader who cares only about himself. Essentially, by electing a Russian Oligarch, one of their own.

But what is most galling about this are those who are still Trump supporters, those who still espouse the Trump line, share the Trump memes, spread the same negative lies on social media from the same Russian-controlled and influenced sources. These are Conservatives — the party that hated the Reds, hated Russia, hated large deficits, believed in the power of the US military and working together with our allies against the Russians and Communist influence. These are the people that should be most up in arms about how they were manipulated. Instead, they roll over and say “Scratch my belly. More more.” As long as the Russians keep their party in power, they no longer care about the nation. It is tribe before country, party before patriotism.

It is insulting, and makes a mockery of their party.

It has also made me question my Conservative friends to continue to repeat these memes and these lies, who have not rebelled against the abduction of their once Grand Old Party. They have “drunk the kool-aide” and used it to wash their brains. I hate to say this — and I’ll still try hard to correct them — but we may need to write them off.

It is up to us — those who care about this nation, and those who see this propaganda attack for what it is — to fight back. We must say “enough”, and expose Russian involvement. We must investigate, investigate, investigate, and bring down those who are misusing and abusing the freedoms we have in this nation, or using power power for personal gain, or violating the laws. We need to figure out how to stop propaganda while still preserving a free press, to answer the question of when misinformation and leading information crosses the line.

Most importantly, in 2019 and beyond, we must not play into the propaganda games. We must spread truth, not disinformation. We must work for and elect candidates who will work for American interests, and not those of Russia  (especially when those Russian interests are hidden behind purported American patriotism). We must take our country back.

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