Larry Hosken. Technical writer. Puzzlehunt enthusiast.
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What’s the strategy of Russia’s Internet trolls? We analyzed their tweets to find out.

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The Internet Research Agency posed as local news outlets and spread outrage more than fake news.
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lahosken
2 days ago
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"Only about 6 percent of all links the trolls shared on Twitter led to what Merrimack College researchers classified as known junk news sites; ...

But the number of links to junk news sites spiked sharply in the weeks immediately leading up to the election, suggesting that the trolls put extra effort into spreading falsehoods just before Election Day."
San Francisco, USA
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Florida is the Florida of ballot-design mistakes

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Well designed ballot layouts allow voters to make their intentions clear; badly designed ballots invite voters to make mistakes.  This year, the Florida Senate race may be decided by a misleading ballot layout—a layout that violated the ballot design recommendations of the Election Assistance Commission.

In Miami, Florida in the year 2000, the badly designed “butterfly ballot” misled over 2000 voters who intended to vote for Al Gore, to throw away their vote.  (That’s a strong statement, but it’s backed up by peer-reviewed scientific analysis.)

In Sarasota, Florida in the year 2006, in a Congressional race decided by 369 votes, over 18,000 voters failed to vote in that race, almost certainly because of a badly designed touch-screen ballot layout.

In Broward County, Florida in the year 2018, it appears that a bad optical-scan ballot design caused over 26,000 voters to miss voting in the Senate race, where the margin of victory (as of this writing, not yet final) is 12,562 votes.

Back in 2000, many Miami voters wishing to vote for the second candidate down the left-hand side, punched the second hole down; that hole was officially a vote for right-wing candidate Pat Buchanan.

(Although the butterfly ballot got all the attention, other ballot-design flaws in Florida 2000 in five other counties probably caused 6700 lost presidential votes as well, according to Professor Douglas W. Jones of the University of Iowa.)

Back in 2006, the Sarasota touch-screen machines showed one contest per page, like this:

But on one of the pages, two different contests were listed:

At top there is the 2-candidate race between Vern Buchanan (REP) and Christine Jennings (DEM), and at bottom there is a 6-candidate race for Governor.  The bottom race is more prominent in two ways: it occupies more space, and it has a boldface, blue-background heading, STATE.  You might think, “I’d never miss that!” and there’s an 86% chance that you’re right, which is to say, about 14.9% of the voters did undervote in the top race, where the normal undervote rate for congressional races is about 1.2%.

From this fiasco came a very simple principle of touch-screen ballot design: if you’re going to put only one contest per page, then stick to only one contest per page!  And perhaps, don’t let voters move to the next page if there’s an undervote on this page, unless they indicate in a positive way that they wish to undervote.

The 2018 Senate race in Broward County

This year in Broward County, the optical-scan ballot looks like this.  The race for Senate is hidden in plain sight at bottom left, just under the instructions in English, the instructions in Spanish, and the instructions in Creole.  Those of you who don’t read Creole very fluently might stop reading at that point, and skip to the top of the middle column.  In that case, you’d be in danger of undervoting in the Senate race.

The most official stylebook in the United States for designing optical-scan ballots is the 2007 publication of the Election Assistance Commission, Effective Designs for the Administration of Federal Elections, Section 3: Optical scan ballots.

The EAC’s publication uses this ballot as an example:

The Broward ballot violates these EAC guidelines:

  • §3.11 “Ballot instructions, running either vertically or horizontally, must be self-contained and separated from contest data. Vertical instruction treatments cannot share column space with contests—test voters often overlooked races located immediately beneath vertical instructions.”   This is the smoking gun.  The Broward County Supervisor of Elections, Brenda Snipes, did not follow simple and clear guidelines from an Election Assistance Commission document that must surely be required reading for anyone in this country designing optical-scan ballots.
  • §3.3  “Use one language per ballot . . . display no more than two languages simultaneously.” This made a difference! note that in neighboring Miami, where the op-scan ballot displayed shorter instructions in only two languages, with the first contest starting below that in the first column, there were far fewer undervotes.
  • §3.11 “apply color only to instructions.”    The EAC ballot’s instruction block has a light blue background, whereas Broward’s instruction background-fill was the same as the contests.

By the way, if you’re not sure which party those 26,000 voters might have intended to vote for in the Senate race, look again at Broward ballot.  In the race right below the Senate race, one party didn’t even nominate a candidate to run in that Congressional district.

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lahosken
6 days ago
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"The race for Senate is hidden in plain sight at bottom left, just under the instructions in English, the instructions in Spanish, and the instructions in Creole. Those of you who don’t read Creole very fluently might stop reading at that point..."
San Francisco, USA
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Trump Cancels Afghanistan War Due to Weather

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Trump Cancels Afghanistan War Due to Weather
WASHINGTON — A light drizzle in Kandahar has prompted the president to cancel the war in Afghanistan, according to a white house press conference. Weather forecasts were optimistic at first, saying that the rain was going to pass within a few hours, but it soon became clear that the inclement weather wasn’t going anywhere. “At first, […]
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lahosken
7 days ago
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San Francisco, USA
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Democrats Who Voted to Deregulate Wall Street Got Wiped Out in a Setback for Bank Lobbyists

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The most high-profile bipartisan legislation of the Trump era turned out to be electoral poison — or at least, not a prophylactic — for the Senate Democrats who decided to support it, which could serve as a lesson for party leaders wishing to join with the president on other bills next year.

The “Crapo bill,” a bank deregulation measure co-authored by Senate Banking Committee chair Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and several centrist Democrats, passed Congress this spring with the help of 17 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus and 33 House Democrats.

In the 10 states where Donald Trump won in 2016 and a Democratic senator stood for re-election this year, the three who opposed the Crapo bill all won a greater share of votes in their states than the seven who voted for it. Senators voting “no” averaged 54.7 percent of the vote and won by 10 percentage points, while the “yes” votes averaged 48.1 percent and lost by 1.5 points. The only Republican who lost, Dean Heller of Nevada, also voted for the Crapo bill, and fell by 5 points to Jacky Rosen, who voted against the legislation in the House.

The Crapo bill rolled back a number of elements of the Dodd-Frank Act, including, in particular, stiffer regulations on banks that have between $50 billion and $250 billion in assets. A recent proposal from the Federal Reserve, using authority granted by the Crapo bill, expands that deregulation up to banks with as much as $700 billion in assets.

Senate Democratic supporters justified their votes by casting the legislation as a tweak to benefit community banks in small towns and rural areas, despite its greatest impact occurring well up the chain. In fact, the bill has already led to accelerated consolidation and further disappearance of community banks.

In reality, the Democrats’ rationale was likely more cynical: They thought supporting the bill would unlock campaign contributions from the financial industry. And they were right.

The three Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee who co-authored the legislation — North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, and Montana’s Jon Tester — became the top three senators for financial industry donations in 2017, as the bill was being written. By the end of the cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the largest Senate recipients of campaign money from commercial banks were Heitkamp ($320,891), Tester ($274,944), bill supporter Claire McCaskill ($236,743), and Donnelly ($232,966). A little behind them was the Democratic Senate candidate from Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema ($173,204), who voted for the Crapo bill in the House.

The American Bankers Association ran an ad for Tester, and Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded group, launched a spot thanking Heitkamp for her vote. The Independent Community Bankers of America sent mailers for both Democrats.

By contrast, three more liberal Democrats running in Trump states — Bob Casey of Pennsylvania; Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, ranking member of the Banking Committee — decided that it wasn’t worth increasing industry donations by deregulating the banking sector. Their own results showed them to be right.

The following chart lists the share of the total vote each Senate Democrat running in a Trump state earned in the election, based on CNN’s numbers as of November 8. Casey, Baldwin, and Brown were the biggest winners, followed by Debbie Stabenow, who ran in a state more Democratic on Tuesday than Ohio but received a smaller percentage of the vote. Heitkamp and Donnelly, two of the co-authors of the Crapo bill, lost their races, as did McCaskill; Nelson’s race is headed to a re-count.

Candidate Percentage Margin of victory
Bob Casey, Pa. 55.5 +12.7
Tammy Baldwin, Wis. 55.5 +11.0
Sherrod Brown, Ohio 53.1 +6.2
Debbie Stabenow, Mich. 52.3 +6.6
Jon Tester, Mont. 50.2 +3.3
Bill Nelson, Fla. 49.9 -0.2
Joe Manchin, W.Va. 49.5 +3.2
Claire McCaskill, Mo. 45.5 -6
Heidi Heitkamp, N.D. 44.6 -10.8
Joe Donnelly, Ind. 44.5 -6.9

Note: Sinema ran against Martha McSally, and the race is still too close to call, though Sinema has a lead that appears strong. Notably, both Sinema and McSally supported the Dodd-Frank rollback as House members.

Heller, who was the top Republican in terms of commercial banking industry donations ($227,325), also did poorly, losing his race.

None of this is to say that the banking bill was the primary cause of defeat or sluggish performance on Election Day; there were far more important factors, from the relative conservative lean of the states, to the Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation vote, to Trump’s racist fearmongering.

But the rationale for supporters was that voting for the Crapo bill would help them electorally. Not only could they tout working together on bipartisan relief for local lenders, but they could haul in campaign donations to outpace their rivals. This was the myth that was proven wrong by the results.

Casey, Baldwin, and Brown didn’t chase the banker cash, and they did fine — better, in fact, than those who did. That shows that deregulating the financial industry was unnecessary as a political tool. To quote Adam Jentleson, former deputy chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, it was “One of the all-time stupidest votes. This bill had no business passing.”

The industry took notice of the stumbles of their Democratic backers in Congress as well. Ian Katz, a partner at Capital Alpha Partners, told Politico, “Since so many moderate Dems who supported S. 2155 lost, it may now be harder to get the Dems needed to get to 60 on financial services legislation. … It would be hard for Dem senators to think that cooperating with Republicans on financial policy is helpful to winning re-election.”

It will be interesting to see whether that point resonates with the Democratic leadership. Already, there’s been chatter in some circles about bipartisan cooperation with Trump on infrastructure spending or bills to lower the cost of prescription drugs. The devil would be in the details with those bills, but the idea that Democrats must show that they can reach across the aisle, particularly in pursuit of industry friendly deregulation, would seem to be disproven by this outcome.

Moreover, the new crop of freshman Democrats must consider the real value of Wall Street cash as well. It’s long been tradition to drop freshmen onto the House Financial Services Committee as a way to cultivate relationships with big-money lobbyists and shake down the industry for donations. The banks want something in return for that, and this leads to round after round of bipartisan deregulation. The midterm results show that such shilling for Big Finance has little utility in present-day elections.

The post Democrats Who Voted to Deregulate Wall Street Got Wiped Out in a Setback for Bank Lobbyists appeared first on The Intercept.

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lahosken
10 days ago
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"None of this is to say that the banking bill was the primary cause of defeat...

But the rationale for supporters was that voting for the Crapo bill would help them electorally. Not only could they tout working together on bipartisan relief for local lenders, but they could haul in campaign donations to outpace their rivals. This was the myth that was proven wrong by the results."
San Francisco, USA
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Bus Report #1015

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Last night, because I had to be at the post office before it closed, the bus took forever. Not a hyperbolic forever, an actual one. Over an hour.
I got out at Masonic and walked down to the post office, behind a guy in a face mask who stopped every few feet to take a picture of the sky. I did the same, a block later: it was peach and pink and streaked with smoke, the sun an almost neon orange. A fire sky.

Got to the post office with just a few minutes to spare, then got back on the 38 and rode up Geary to get my watch fixed.
Didn't expect to get mansplained about how to take care of my watch from the humorless watch repair guy, but he went on an on as he replaced the battery. Don't get it wet, the seal isn't as good as it used to be, you want to take good care of this, replace the battery before you need to, etc., etc.

As though I've never worn a watch before. I nodded and paid him and left, heading home via the produce market (McIntosh apples! Russian ladies laughing and jokingly speaking Spanish to me!).

This morning, last night's blood red fire sky was back, gradations of matte black, green, blue and rose against a blazing orange sun.

I walked to the bus stop coughing all the way. I know I shouldn't complain, people in the fire zones have it much worse, but that feeling of suffocating, of drowning inside your own body is so strange.

Our driver wore a face mask but I don't think it was the right kind.

Two passengers spent the entire ride squirting eye drops into their eyes. Their technique was lacking, they just aimed in the general area of their eyes with heads tilted back. 

One woman went around closing all the windows and for the first time ever, I didn't argue. I sat slumped against the side of my seat, headphones on, Dessa on repeat to get me ready for my day.

In the Castro, the cat in the window on 18th stared out at us, unimpressed but flicking his tail anyway.

By the bank, black and white photo banners of George Moscone and Harvey Milk flapped above a memorial for someone who died far too young, recently, at 28. I'm not the praying type, but he'll be in my thoughts today.

Hopped out of the bus at Potrero and walked down 16th. The sun was hiding far over to the right, a jewel-toned lychee hovering alongside the overpass.

By Philz, an odd sight: a woman smoking a cigarette, then covering her face with her scarf, then taking another drag off the cigarette. And repeat.
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lahosken
11 days ago
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Life in the smoke downwind from wildfires "...an odd sight: a woman smoking a cigarette, then covering her face with her scarf, then taking another drag off the cigarette. And repeat."
San Francisco, USA
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Why it can be rational to vote

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If your vote is decisive, it will make a difference for 300 million people. And even if not, you could influence whether the winner seems legitimate or embattled.
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lahosken
17 days ago
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"Surveys show that voters choose based on who they think will do better for the country as a whole, rather than their personal betterment. Indeed, when it comes to voting, it is irrational to be selfish—but if you care how others are affected, it’s a smart calculation to cast your ballot, because the returns to voting are so high for everyone if you are decisive."
San Francisco, USA
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