Larry Hosken. Technical writer. Puzzlehunt enthusiast.
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Forget Details. Politics Today Are All About Big Ideas.

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I came of political age during the debate over the Iraq War. The soundtrack to my sophomore year of high school was Nelly and incessant chatter about weapons of mass destruction. The fate of countries and reputations hung on facts — or the administration’s reasonable facsimiles of them, anyhow — and what counted as proof (like, for instance, whether those little ole WMDs existed). By the time I headed to college, the countries and reputations were well on their way to being destroyed. Bad policy and poor reasoning were slowly killing a presidency, so I watched as the self-serious young men of politics’ next generation tried to correct for those mistakes. They read The New Republic and joined the campus Federalist Society, where they debated abstract topics and drank whiskey out of cut-glass tumblers their mothers bought them at Bed Bath & Beyond. Bush’s failures suggested that you had to have a detailed game plan for the country if you ran for office. The triumph of Barack Obama, meticulous professor, seemed to prove this.

At least until the 2016 primaries. On the Republican side, Donald Trump’s grasp of policy details seemed limited, yet he blew his competition out of the water. His big ideas about changing trade dynamics, banning Muslims and building a wall — and the bombastic, broad-strokes style in which he delivered them — swayed Republican voters primed for action after eight years of Obama. The Democratic contest was more policy-conscious, but Bernie Sanders caught flak from Hillary Clinton and her supporters for plans they thought were implausible, like free college and single-payer healthcare.

Thus far, the politics of the 2018 midterms and the looming 2020 presidential primary are filled with some of the same big ideas. The hang-up that many Democrats had about a lack of detail — “Anytime someone tells you it’s free, read the fine print,” Clinton said of Sanders’s free college plan in 2016 — has fallen somewhat by the wayside. Sanders introduced a free college bill last year that was supported by Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, two likely 2020 presidential contenders, while a federal jobs guarantee has now been embraced by Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, other likely 2020 candidates.

The universe of the politically possible seems to be expanding. The shift is happening on the right and the left, each end of the spectrum opening their windows wider, though on opposite ends of the house. Some people are waiting for a cross breeze that might never come, but there’s an unmistakable joy just to have the house aired out.

Voters’ increasing tribalism might be fueling this era of big ideas. According to Pew data from March, Americans increasingly prefer politicians who won’t compromise on their positions. In 2018, 53 percent preferred politicians who stuck to their guns, a radical change from 2017, when only 39 percent said they felt the same. Republican respondents to the Pew survey have long displayed this aversion to compromise, but 2018 seemed to mark a transition point for Democrats: In July 2017, 69 percent said they liked politicians who compromised, but in 2018, only 46 percent said the same. That data might indicate that politicians need to worry more about upholding ideological purity — promoting those big ideas — than they have in the past. That may mean that the accountability pressure has changed from the practical to the ideological, though it’s not clear how voters will feel if a lack of compromise also leads to a lack of, well, actually getting things done.

Most of the Republican Party’s shift appears to be related to what’s seen as acceptable in public life and leadership. A recent Pew survey showed that most of the president’s supporters prefer his approach to the job of the presidency over his actual policies.

Democratic voters have become a disillusioned bunch; 68 percent say that significant changes are needed to the design and structure of government itself. The party, meanwhile, has struggled to solidify its fundamental identity in the post-2016 universe. In this uncertain climate, rising Democratic stars have trafficked in the new currency of institution-shifting proposals.

First there was the Sanders single-payer health care bill of 2017, which most of the probable 2020 presidential primary contenders signed onto. It promises more generous coverage than nearly any other country with a single-payer system — Canada and the Netherlands included — but health care policy expert Sarah Kliff at left-leaning site Vox wrote that the Sanders bill “provides no information on how it would finance such a generous health care system. … This is a crucial part of any health care plan, and in the Sanders proposal, it is notably absent.” (A recent study found that the plan would cost the government $33 trillion, though Sanders said the same study showed that his proposal would actually save $2 trillion in overall health care spending.) The cost details here could be crucial to winning over Americans who are not a part of the Democratic base, but for now the push is to show a glimpse of a possible future to those already ideologically inclined to seek a change.

Perhaps the most galvanizing issue of the last few months for Democrats has been the movement to eliminate the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, a reaction in large part to the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the underdog winner of a Democratic congressional primary, picked up the “abolish ICE” mantle as she rocketed to political stardom. Just days after Ocasio-Cortez’s win, Gillibrand said that she too would get rid of ICE, and Warren soon hopped on the bandwagon. Harris stopped short of calling for the agency’s demise, but said, “We need to probably think about starting from scratch.”

The calls to get rid of the agency have proved compelling to many Americans horrified by the administration’s brutal approach to asylum-seekers, but the root causes of the deportations have been little addressed. Immigrants continue to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law under an executive order issued by Trump, and if the agency were dismantled, it’s unclear what would replace it, if anything, or whether redistributing its duties would result in any change in policy. Democrats like Cecilia Muñoz, who was the head of Obama’s White House Domestic Policy council, are concerned by the lack of nuance in these calls. She told Slate, “I think we need to be willing to address how do we think immigration enforcement should be conducted, what’s a way to do that, that actually values people’s lives and their civil rights. The abolish ICE argument doesn’t touch those questions, and I think that’s a mistake.”

Muñoz’s warning echoes Clinton in her post-campaign memoir, “What Happened.” “I’ve always believed that it’s dangerous to make big promises if you have no idea how you’re going to keep them. When you don’t deliver, it will make people even more cynical about government,” she wrote. Clinton was unsparing in her critique of Sanders’s primary platform — he “didn’t seem to mind if his math didn’t add up or if his plans had no prayer of passing Congress and becoming law” — and yet she seemed a little wistful that she didn’t go further in deviating from the slate of policies she thought were possible. “I have a new appreciation for the galvanizing power of big, simple ideas. I still think my health care and college plans were more achievable than Bernie’s and that his were fraught with problems, but they were easier to explain and understand, and that counts for a lot.” (When Sanders dropped out, Clinton adopted a version of a free college plan that the head of education policy at New America, a left-leaning think tank, said would be “a financial disaster.”)

Details, it turns out, are tiresome — they slow things down and draw you into the weeds, in part to discover how things might work in the realm of the actual, not the theoretical. And it’s hard to say whether the big ideas of today will eventually win over much of the country or drive a wedge deeper into it. It’s a thrilling gamble that the Democrats in particular are taking, one that has the potential to pay huge political dividends.

It’s also a rare moment in American history we’re living though. “I think that in no country in the civilized world is less attention paid to philosophy than in the United States,” Alexander de Tocqueville wrote in 1835. Perhaps that sentiment is dated, but it’s also true that we don’t have a reputation for being particularly contemplative. The historical success of the American experiment has made us ideologically complacent at times. Perhaps justifiably so, perhaps not.

But as the nation grasps onto audacious new ideas that say something is radically wrong with our present system, it makes a person wonder what the next political moment will be like, 10 or 15 years down the road. We might be hurtling towards a comedown, a wise-up or an actual paradigm shift, one that Baby Boomers, clutching at their Woodstock photos, will turn green with envy over. In the end, today’s policy details might be inconsequential compared to the real project of democratizing ideas in America. Perhaps what’s happening now proves that the direction of the country isn’t just in the hands of the boys of the Federalist Society and The New Republic. Its course might be more broadly determined.

Or we might learn that not very much has changed at all.

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lahosken
7 days ago
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Securing the Vote — National Academies report

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In this November’s election, could a computer hacker, foreign or domestic, alter votes (in the voting machine) or prevent people from voting (by altering voter registrations)?  What should we do to protect ourselves?

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine have released a report,  Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy about the cybervulnerabilities in U.S. election systems and how to defend them.  The committee was chaired by the presidents of Indiana University and Columbia University, and the members included 5 computer scientists, a mathematician, two social scientists, a law professor, and three state and local election administrators.  I served on this committee, and I am confident that the report presents the clear consensus of the scientific community, as represented not only by the members of the committee but also the 14 external reviewers—election officials, computer scientists, experts on elections—that were part of the National Academies’ process.

The 124-page report, available for free download, lays out the scientific basis for our conclusions and our 55 recommendations.  We studied primarily the voting process; we did not address voter-ID laws, gerrymandering, social-media disinformation, or campaign financing.

There is no national election system in the U.S.; each state or county runs its own elections.  But in the 21st century, state and local election administrators face new kinds of threats.  In the 19th and 20th centuries elections did not face the threat of vote manipulation (and voter-registration tampering) from highly sophisticated adversaries anywhere in the world.  Most state and local election administrators know they must improve their cybersecurity and adopt best practices, and the federal government can (and should) offer assistance.  But it’s impossible to completely prevent all attacks; we must be able to run elections even if the computers might be hacked; we must be able to detect and correct errors in the computer tabulation.

Therefore, our key recommendations are,

4.11.  Elections should be conducted with human-readable paper ballots.  These may be marked by hand or by machine (using a ballot-marking device); they may be counted by hand or by machine (using an optical scanner).  Recounts and audits should be conducted by human inspection of the human-readable portion of the paper ballots.  Voting machines that do not provide the capacity for independent auditing (e.g., machines that do not produce a voter-verifiable paper audit trail) should be removed from service as soon as possible.

In our report, we explain why:  voting machines can never be completely hack-proof, but with paper ballots we can–if we have to–count the votes independent of possibly hacked computers.

4.12.  Every effort should be made to use human-readable paper ballots in the 2018 federal election.  All local, state, and federal elections should be conducted using human-readable paper ballots by the 2020 presidential election.

5.8.  States should mandate risk-limiting audits prior to the certification of election results.  With current technology, this requires the use of paper ballots.  States and local jurisdictions should implement risk-limiting audits within a decade.  They should begin with pilot programs and work toward full implementation.  Risk-limiting audits should be conducted for all federal and state election contests, and for local contests where feasible. 

In our report, we explain why:  examining a small random sample of the paper ballots, and comparing with the results claimed by the computers, can assure with high confidence that the computers haven’t been hacked to produce an incorrect outcome–or else, can provide clear evidence that a recount is needed.

5.11.  At the present time, the Internet (or any network connected to the Internet)  should not be used for the return of marked ballots.  Further, Internet voting should not be used in the future until and unless very robust guarantees of security and verifiability are developed and in place, as no known technology guarantees the secrecy, security, and verifiability of a marked ballot transmitted over the Internet.

4.1.  Election administrators should routinely assess the integrity of voter registration databases and the integrity of voter registration databases connected to other applications.  They should develop plans that detail security procedures for assessing voter registration database integrity and put in place systems that detect efforts to probe, tamper with, or interfere with voter registration systems.  States should require election administrators to report any detected compromises or vulnerabilities in voter registration systems to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and state officials.

Many of these recommendations are not controversial, in most states.  Almost all the states use paper ballots, counted by machine;  the few remaining states that use paperless touchscreens are taking steps to move to paper ballots; the states have not adopted internet voting (except for scattered ill-advised experiments); and many, many election administrators nationwide are professionals who are working hard to come up to speed on cybersecurity.

But many election administrators are not sure about risk-limiting audits (RLAs).  They ask, “can’t we just audit the digital ballot images that the machines provide?”  No, that won’t work:  if the machine is hacked to lie about the vote totals, it can easily be hacked to provide fake digital pictures of the ballots themselves.  The good news is, well designed risk-limiting audits, added to well-designed administrative processes for keeping track of batches of ballots, can be efficient and practical.  But it will take some time and effort to get things going: the design of those processes, the design of the audits themselves, training of staff, state legislation where necessary.  And it can’t be a one-size-fits-all design:  different states vote in different ways, and the risk-limiting audit must be designed to fit the state’s election systems and methods.  That’s why we recommend pilots of RLAs as soon as possible, but a 10-year period for full adoption.

Many other findings and recommendations are in the report itself.  For example, Congress should fully fund the Election Assistance Commission to perform its mission, authorize the EAC to set standards for voter-registration systems and e-pollbooks (not just voting machines); the President should nominate and Congress should confirm EAC commissioners.

But the real bottom line is:  there are specific things we can do, at the state level and at the national level; and we must do these things to secure our elections so that we are confident that they reflect the will of the voters.

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lahosken
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Black-tailed Prairie Dog

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Black-tailed Prairie Dog

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mareino
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My dog liked this one.
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Driver Shortage in Japan Speeds Up Commercial Use of Self-Driving Tech

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In Tokyo, self-driving taxis that transport passengers for a fee are being trialed. A serious shortage of taxi drivers lies behind the move, but the development of laws and regulations to deal with accidents and other issues still is lacking.
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"The two companies are conducting the test in an area between Tokyo’s Otemachi and Roppongi districts, where the use of taxis by businesspeople and foreigners is high. In 2020, when the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will be held, a large number of foreigners are likely to visit the area. Under such circumstances, many people are expected to have trouble hailing taxis."
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(Untitled)

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pocket litter posted a photo:



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lahosken
24 days ago
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old news: Tractor Pull

new hotness: Tractor Pool
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Elizabeth Warren Unveils Radical Anti-Corruption Platform

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Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday unveiled a sweeping set of reforms that would radically restrict and publicly expose corporate lobbying in Washington.

In a major speech at the National Press Club, she laid out the parameters of what she is calling the “Anti-Corruption Act.” If just half of it were implemented, it could transform the political economy of Washington and fundamentally upend the lawmaking process as it currently exists.

Warren began her speech by noting that only 18 percent of the American people now say that they have trust in the government. “This is the kind of crisis that leads people to turn away from democracy,” she said. “The kind of crisis that creates fertile ground for cynicism and discouragement. The kind of crisis that gives rise to authoritarians.”

In broad strokes, Warren is attempting to take the profit motive out of public service by making it extremely difficult for former lawmakers and government officials to cash in on their government experience, while simultaneously giving Congress and federal agencies the resources needed to effectively govern without the motivated assistance of K Street.

In 1995, when Newt Gingrich and the “Republican Revolution” took over Congress, he systematically dismantled the intellectual infrastructure of the institution, defunding major functions of Congress and slashing budgets for staff. The public-facing explanation was to cut back on wasteful spending, but the true intent was to effectively privatize lawmaking, forcing Congress to outsource much of the work of crafting legislation to K Street. What followed was an explosion in the lobbying industry in Washington.

Warren proposes much stricter restrictions on the revolving door between public service and lobbying, but, more fundamentally, flat-out bans on any lobbying on behalf of foreign governments, an industry that has come under increased scrutiny as a result of the trial of Paul Manafort, who made his fortune carrying water for foreign governments in Washington, often whose interests ran against those of the U.S.

Under current law, foreign agents must register and disclose any contacts with government officials — they would now be banned and under Warren’s law, all lobbyists would have to do what foreign agents do now.

Her bill would also mandate that the IRS release tax returns for candidates, and that the president and vice president be subject to conflict-of-interest laws. She would create a new Office of Public Integrity to enforce the new ethics laws.

The new proposal comes on the heels of the Accountable Capitalism Act, and is a window into what she sees as one of the main functions of government, to be a check against runaway capitalism but in significant ways to strengthen, rather than challenge, the free market. “I am a capitalist to my bones,” Warren said recently, in response to the conversation around democratic socialism.

Where some on the left view markets with deep skepticism, Warren’s ideology sees concentrations of corporate power as a great threat, but views functioning markets as a check against that consolidated power. For markets to function properly, she has long argued, robust government regulation and serious enforcement of laws must be in place, otherwise fraudsters and monopolists ripoff both consumers and investors. That ideology led to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and undergirds her more recent proposals.

The vision is not in conflict with democratic socialist reforms such as Medicare for all (which she supports) or free public college (which she also supports), but it’s more a matter of emphasis. Where Bernie Sanders made eliminating college tuition central to his campaign, Warren has for years focused on exposing abuses by student lenders. Where Sanders has become synonymous with Medicare for all, Warren this year unveiled a plan she argued should be implemented if the loftier goal is out of reach, relying heavily on cracking down on insurance companies and expanding subsidies for purchasers of insurance.

Corporate interests are ideologically opposed to proposals like Medicare for all, and will rally resources to oppose it if and when Congress considers it in a serious way. But Warren’s use of government and law enforcement to reshape the political economy hits corporate America in a visceral way. The animosity for the CFPB is difficult to overstate, as the agency was empowered to launch investigations into corrupt firms that had the capacity to destroy those companies. Bringing the hammer of the law down on Washington corruption will likely be met with an equally visceral reaction.

When it comes to Warren’s proposal, the elephant in the Senate is Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. If Warren were able to ultimately implement some of her anti-corruption agenda, it’s near certain those impacted would challenge elements of it in federal court — courts that Donald Trump is busy stacking with right-wing ideologues. That Warren is pushing forward nonetheless also goes to the heart of her approach to government, which is never to shy from a fight.

“I’m not here to describe the death of democracy. I’m here to talk about fighting back,” she said Tuesday.

Top photo: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., holds a news conference in the Capitol on banking deregulation legislation on March 6, 2018.

The post Elizabeth Warren Unveils Radical Anti-Corruption Platform appeared first on The Intercept.

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lahosken
28 days ago
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