Friday, July 20, 2018

Kristi Noem: 20th Century Thinking For 21st Century Problems?

Russia's hacking of American elections may be the tip of the iceberg.
Now intelligence agencies and security companies have connected Russian hackers to the shutdown of a German steel mill, the cutting off of phone and Internet service to some 900,000 Germans, and most ominously, two disruptions of the power grid in Ukraine. The right takeaway from Russian interference in 2016 is not just that Washington needs to protect American elections; it’s also that what Russia does in cyberspace in its near abroad should be a warning about what can be done in the United States.
The job of protecting the the United States from foreign cyber aggression got a bit tougher. Yesterday, three people in charge of protecting the grid and the election infrastructure announced their retirement. They will be taking jobs in the private sector.
Three of the top cybersecurity officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation are retiring from government service, according to people familiar with the matter—departures that come as cyberattacks are a major concern for the country’s security agencies. 
Senior U.S. intelligence officials warn that the country is at a “critical point” facing unprecedented cyberthreats, including Russia’s ongoing attacks on the American political system. They retirements also come as the FBI is facing regular criticism from President Donald Trump and his supporters, and is working to attract and retain top cyber talent.
Other that driving experienced people from the FBI to the private sector, Republicans seem to have no plan to deal with foreign cyber attacks. In May, the White House eliminated the position of cybersecurity coordinator. Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted against funding extra election security measures. The vote was a strict party line vote.

Instead of protecting the nation's election infrastructure, a Republican leader offered a 20th Century solution to a 21st Century problem.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, discounted the need for any new security spending. 
“I know what we need for safe and secure elections, and that’s voter ID,” Jordan said.
A laminated card with a photograph won't prevent voting machines from being hacked. Further, Republicans have not made protecting the country's power grid a priority. When it comes to digital infrastructure Congressional Republicans seem to maintaining a Commodore 64 mindset. 

Representative Kristi Noem joined her Republican cohorts and rejected extra funding for extra election security measures. I have not heard her criticize President Trump for his attacks on the FBI nor his decision to eliminate the office of cybersecurity coordinator. The energy section of her House of Representatives webpage promotes Keystone XL Pipeline and tax credits but says nothing about protecting the power grid. In short, she's advocating issues and policies that would have been at home in the Reagan administration, the era when the Commodore 64 was new.

The next governor of South Dakota will have to deal with economic, political, and cultural issues brought on by the digital age. Noem's candidate page mentions increasing rural broadband, but "the creation of  'a national, competitive, deregulatory telecommunications policy' to bring the promise of broadband communications networks and services 'to all Americans wherever they live'" was an issue in 1999. It's certainly not a cutting edge proposal. If Representative Noem has nothing to offer but 20th Century thinking, she is unprepared to serve as governor in the 21st Century.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Charting Different Political Universes

I know!  I need to move on! The fact that political affiliation seemingly determines the color of the sky one sees fascinates and worries me. 

The following chart from Axios provides a solid visual of how Republicans see Trump far differently than independents or Democrats. I am not vouching for the poll's methodology, but the visual illustrates the diametrically opposed views of Trump I have been reading and deepens my belief that gap is widening dangerously.

Axios online poll conducted June 16-17.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Are South Dakota's Republican Leaders Running A Caucus, A Kids Club, Or A Cult?

Dakota Free Press, Dakota War College, and Right Side South Dakota all cover a letter Republican cause leaders sent to Republican legislative candidates. (Given how Blogger seems to load slowly, I am not going to paste images of the letter which one can find at all three sites.)

I really don't know if the letter is recruiting people to a meeting to indoctrinate them into a cult or is an adult version of "Do you like me? Please check yes or no."

The letter begins, "As we just celebrated the birthday of our great country, we take time to pause and reflect how important it is for our great state of South Dakota to have a strong and united  Republican caucus. We have all agreed and wish to share the following points . . . "

Translation: We're the cool kids and we want you to be cool kids to. Nothing cool has happened without us. If you want to be a cool kid, we have decided you have to do everything we say.

Later, the letter says , "All members will be expected to maintain the highest degree of confidentiality within the caucus."

Translation: Don't tell anyone our secret passwords or show anyone our secret handshake. Whatever you do, don't mention that thing with the pocketknife and candle! (I'll leave the rant about transparency for another post.)

The letter continues, "History dictates that members of the Senate and House Republican Majority Caucuses, respectively, have been considered and assigned for positions of chair and vice chair of committees.  Members of minority caucuses are not considered for these positions."

Translation: Did we tell you we're the cool kids? Yeah, just remember, we're really freakin' cool!

Later, the caucus leaders pour on the charm: "We consider the Senate and House Republican Majority Caucuses to be a family of Republicans working together to ensure that conservative Republican principles are protected and preserved in South Dakota."

Translation: We love you. You need our love to be whole. We'll be just like mommy and daddy but without the vegetables. If you accept our love everything will be great all over. Remember, mommy and daddy make you eat yucky stuff, but we love you.

The charm ends with the next sentence, however. "Therefore it requires you to be a sole member of the Senate or House Republican Majority Cause, respectively.

Translation: We have the only good ideas and a monopoly on all that is right. We're like that Joshua guy in the Bible, and you have to choose us or nothing. Remember we're on the side of freedom and good stuff. Also, you won't be one of the cool kids if talk to anyone isn't one of us.

I would prefer my legislators to be adults who are able to think independently not members of a kids club or a cult. Republican leaders, however, seem to value conformity, secrecy, and a forced show of unity.

A Minor Musing About The Loss Of Truth

Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief of the Toronto Star, has taken upon himself the herculean effort of keeping track of every false claim President Donald Trump has made while in office. The total as of this writing is 2029. During the last week of June and the first week of July 2018 Trump made 100 false claims each week.

Let's be clear, Presidents Obama, George. W. Bush, Clinton, and George H.W. Bush all made claims shown to be false. The statements "...if you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor ..."; "Mission Accomplished"; "I did not have sexual relations with that woman . . ."; and "Read my lips: No new taxes" have all become punch lines.

Still each of Trump's predecessors understood what former President Obama said yesterday during his Mandela lecture:
We see it in state-sponsored propaganda; we see it in internet driven fabrications, we see it in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment, we see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more. Politicians have always lied, but it used to be if you caught them lying they’d be like, “Oh man.” Now they just keep on lying.
Meanwhile President Trump was asserting:
It should have been obvious, I thought it would be obvious but I would like to clarify just in case it wasn’t. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t.” The sentence should have been “I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t” or “why it wouldn’t be Russia.” So just to repeat it, I said the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t,” and the sentence should have been, and I thought I would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video. 
The sentence should have been “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,” sort of a double negative. So you can put that in and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself. I have on numerous occasions noted our intelligence findings that Russians attempted to interfere in our elections.
In schools, the young'uns are often told to use context clues, so let's look at the original comments for some context from the Helsinki press conference transcript.

TRUMP: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven't they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? 
I've been wondering that. I've been asking that for months and months and I've been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying? 
With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. 
My people came to me, Dan Coates, came to me and some others they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. 
I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server but I have, I have confidence in both parties. 
I really believe that this will probably go on for a while but I don't think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? 
Where are those servers? They're missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton's emails? 33,000 emails gone, just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn't be gone so easily. 
I think it's a disgrace that we can't get Hillary Clinton's thirty three thousand e-mails. 
I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today and what he did is an incredible offer. 
He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer. Ok? Thank you. [emphasis mine]
Given the fact that he questions the FBI handling of Hillary Clinton's email server and says Putin "was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," it beggars belief that he meant to say "wouldn't." Of course, Trump made it very clear that he himself doesn't believe what he just said when he later asserted, "I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. It could be other people also. There’s a lot of people out there."

The result of yesterday's speeches was that the members of the various populist tribes all issued social media pronouncements reminding the world about Obama's statement about keeping one's doctor. The #neverTrump tribal members all pointed out that Trump could not have meant what he said.

Those predictable responses are dangerous. First, the "everybody does it" or "what about that one time" never move to the key question "HOW DO WE FIX THE PROBLEM?" (Yes, I am shouting.) 

The most recent and best example of the failure of "your guy did it too" is the family separation situation. The fact that Presidents Trump, Obama, and George W. Bush all separated families at the border and housed children in cages does not justify the practice. Pointing out that Obama and Bush did it does not mean Trump should continue the practice. It does nothing to help create policy that distinguishes refugees from migrants and it does not create a policy on legal migration. Pointing out the sins of previous administrations leaves kids in cages without their parents.

Lying and the justification of one's preferred leader's lies over the lies of whoever preceded or followed him not only leads to bad policy; it also destroys democracy's foundation by encouraging the lying and weakening curiosity. Former President Obama made the point eloquently yesterday,
And, as with the denial of rights, the denial of facts runs counter to democracy, it could be its undoing, which is why we must zealously protect independent media; and we have to guard against the tendency for social media to become purely a platform for spectacle, outrage, or disinformation; and we have to insist that our schools teach critical thinking to our young people, not just blind obedience.
I don't know how to solve the problem of habitual liars. I was always tempted to require my Debate II to students to read "On Bullshit" as way to deal with false claims. I never gave in to that temptation. I commend it to everyone now. I also ask that everyone start asking "What caused the problem?" and "How can we fix it?" before screaming "What about that time that . . ."

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

An Update On Signing Up For Campaign Newsletters

Last week I bemoaned the fact that I could not sign up for campaign spam for some of the candidates for statewide office in South Dakota. In the past week, Tim Bjorkman has updated his website.  The site now looks professional done and no longer has a mile of empty blue space. It matches the claims in this Bjorkman tweet
 On the other hand, Jason Ravnsborg's site still fails to provide a space for newsletter signup and Steve Huff's name is still spelled Steve Hff.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Is Senator Mike Rounds Asserting Donald Trump Tells Bigger Lies Than Putin?

I cut and paste. You decide.

It's Tough To Make Sense Of The World When People React As If They're In A Comic Book Multiverse

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their summit today. Following their one on one meeting, they held a joint press conference. Reactions to the press conference were fairly uniform. CNN called it "The most shameful, stunning moment of the Trump presidency."  Senator John McCain said, 
“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain.”
Even folks who should be reliable Trump supporters like the daughter of the U.S. Ambassador to Russia and a Fox News Anchor are outraged.
CBN's David Brody calls it "plain bad."
 And yet, there is one political group that can praise Trump's performance, the leaders of religious right.

Graham doesn't seem to be alone. As Brody notes, there are other religious conservatives defending Trump's performance.

The only analogy I have is the DC Comics multiverse. On one Earth-1, there's the Justice League; Earth-X is populated by evil doppelgangers known as the Crime Syndicate of America. I am not trying to make light of the situation or hype today's events. I am trying to underscore the fact that it seems as if it will soon be impossible for Americans to discuss any event because they they won't be seeing the same facts. The Republic works when people argue interpretations of agreed on facts. I don't know if it works when groups of citizens live in two different universes and refuse to agree on both facts and interpretation.