Good News, Everybody! We Finally Know for a Fact that the Electoral College Has Outlived its Function

I outlined my thinking more fully about two weeks ago (here’s the post: The Final Test of the Electoral College), but I think it’s fair to say that the Electoral College has finally proven itself to be, at best, a quaint vestigial

(This "America golem" is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt this month. Expect to see him here often.)
(This “America golem” is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt this month. Expect to see him here often.)

growth on the Republic, and at worst a systemic effort at the national level to generally discount the value of votes in the most populous states (which are also, incidentally, where the densest populations of immigrants and people of color live) in favor of giving undue weight to those in the least populous (and, entirely coincidentally, predominately white) sections.

Please contact your state reps and encourage them to support the National Popular Vote. Abolishing the popular vote has seen support left, right, and center in recent years, including that of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  I have it on good word that the National Popular Vote way of going about getting this done is basically the only way it’s gonna happen; support them. usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26

(source)
(source)
(image source—I added the red labels to ease comparison)
(image source—I added the red labels to ease comparison)

Tech Companies: “How Dare You Suggest We’d Help Build the Muslim Registry We Already Built!”

So, when I saw this item the other day, I immediately thought of this blog post I penned in January 2015.  tl;dr on all this:

Trump transition team has been publicly mulling over creating/reviving a “Muslim Registry.” The Intercept started calling social media/tech companies and only one—Twitter—said “We’d never help with this!” (FYI, IBM has been down this road before, and yet still somehow doesn’t know the right answer to this question).  Yesterday, Facebook finally clearly said “No way! We won’t do it! We’d never build a Muslim Regsitry!”

But here’s the thing:

  1. As I pointed out back in Jan 2015, these companies have already built these databases.  They know when you are sleeping, they know when you’re awake, they know if you’ve been bad or good or if you even give two shits about Santa Claus.
  2. More to the point, the abstract threat I wrote about back in Jan 2015, when it freaked me out a little that Amazon had clearly flagged me as a Jew, became real in the Spring of 2016 when a bomb threat was called in to the Jewish Community Center housing my daughter’s daycare.  Because I sit on the Board of our congregation (which uses that building regularly for our religious services), I ended up touching base with the local police and FBI agents investigating the incident.  As it turned out six JCCs across the U.S. (in locales as far-flung as St. Louis, New York, and Louisiana) received the same threats at the same time—and all had very similar names.  When I did some googling, I found that all of us were listed together alphabetically in online Jewish education directories, with our phone numbers and addresses.  I.e., someone was just working their way down a list. This time around, it was just to make phone calls and fuck with us and our kids.  Next time?  Who knows; here’s what said in 2015, and it’s still about the same:

[I]n Amazon’s datacenter, I’m a row in a table. The index on that row is something like “CUSTOMER #2045674” and the cells include “kindle-owner” and “SF reader” and “owl pellet buyer” and “Jew” and my mailing address. Just another row, among millions–until that table gets resorted by the “Jew” column, and then I’m a box waiting to be ticked off by God-knows-who for God-knows-what-reason. Maybe they want to send me free Xanukah candles! Maybe they want to send me a bomb disguised as a printer cartridge! I guess I’ll have to wait for the mail man to come and find out then!

So I guess it’s swell that Facebook and IBM and Amazon and whoever else handwould never-ever-ever build the Muslim Registry they already built, but what if they maybe entirely accidentally do build a registry (which they already built, which is already being used to facilitate hate crimes and international terror)?  What then?

FYI, in business jargon, this is an externality.

 

The Final Test of the Electoral College

“The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.”

That Guy in that Musical Everyone is Nuts Over

It seems like we finally have an excellent test as to whether or not the Electoral College is worth the inequality it introduces to an already highly unequal system[1]: 

On the one hand, we have a popularly elected candidate with an enormous margin of victory (roughly 2.5 million votes?) who is highly qualified, thoroughly vetted, and has spent so many decades as a public servant that she is a very thoroughly known quantity.  On the other we have a historically unpopular candidate who has continued to behave in alarmingly erratic fashion since his election—for example, threatening to dismantle the First Amendment and strip individuals of their natural-born citizenship, as well as questioning the legitimacy of the election he won—who keeps himself cloaked in secrecy, is drowning in conflicts of interest, and eked out electoral victory on a technicality almost certainly because of the concerted effort of a foreign power antagonistic to US interests.

(DISCLOSURE: The first clause of the top tweet is untrue—see graph below—and the second clause entirely unsubstantiated.  The lower tweet ignores two decades of judicial precedence and sorta suggests that the PotUS should be able to jail people at will; both overstep the bounds of the Executive Branch.)

I’ve previously envied against the Electoral College (see, for example, footnote #1 below), but Lawrence Lessig is making a compelling counter argument in defense of the much-maligned Electoral College:

“Instead, if the electoral college is to control who becomes our president, we should take it seriously by understanding its purpose precisely. It is not meant to deny a reasonable judgment by the people. It is meant to be a circuit breaker — just in case the people go crazy.”

Or, as in the case this year, that the system itself seems to have been substantially short-circuited (or, perhaps more chillingly, to have become so well understood that it is now a completely deterministic game, like checkers—see also “The Book“—and thus will evermore be owned by folks with the talent for low intrigue, the little arts of popularity, and the technology to leverage radical uncertainty in a cognitively exhausted populace).

Others think differently from Lessig—Orin Kerr being the standout example—but I don’t know that I’m persuaded by Kerr’s thinking, which seems extremely obtuse, mostly because it treats an actual matter of life and death (think I’m being hyperbolic?  Tell that to 100,000 dead Iraqis and Afghans, courtesy of President G.W. Bush) as though it’s a damned game of groundies.  If you’re more into fantasy fiction, this novel Electoral College solution strikes me as simultaneously both more realistic and more far-fetched than anything else I’ve seen—which is kinda par for the course this year, right?  Shit, given how 2016 has gone, I wouldn’t be shocked if we ended up with a Romney/Stein inauguration come January.

(source: Eric Rauchway)
(source: Eric Rauchway)

At any rate, taken at face value, we now will finally know:  If Trump is inaugurated next January—contrary to the will of a clear majority of Americans who cast votes which were counted (a number that is itself a subset of the total votes cast, and a sadly small subset of the total adult American population) and despite serious flaws in character and qualification—then the Electoral College has certainly outlived its usefulness, and it’s time to make a big change.

If someone else—hell, almost anyone else—is inaugurated in 44 days, then we’ll finally really and truly know what the Electoral College is for in the 21st Century.

Continue reading “The Final Test of the Electoral College”

“It’s Rigged, I Tells Ya! *Rigged*!!!” UPDATES

Just trying to get this all in one place, ’cause shit is kind of accelerating:

We live in interesting times, mutherfuckers!🇺🇸🔥

I Have Been Pwned; You Probably Have, Too (Alt Title: “God Fucking Dammit, LinkedIn!!!”)

THE SHORT VERSION

If you use LinkedIn, then your email and LinkedIn password have probably been compromised.  If you reuse the same password across several sites, then you are likely a total sitting duck waiting to get exploited.  Go change passwords NOW!

THE LONG VERSION

This breach seems to have gotten less press than usual, even though it’s liable to have a broader impact on folks, so I want to make sure it’s on everyone’s radar:  

An enormous hack of LinkedIn accounts has surfaced (details).  Crackers snagged ~164mil login credentials; since the passwords were stored as a unsalted hashes (i.e. “not securely”), the vast majority of these passwords were cracked.

I took the liberty of checking a couple friend/client email addresses while I checked mine (using this tool), and found that most of the emails I checked were included in the hack (as was I).  LinkedIn hasn’t proactively informed anyone I’ve contacted about this. So, I’m spreading the word.

The immediate problem is losing control of your LinkedIn account (which, let’s be real, doesn’t necessarily mean much for most people).  The bigger problem is that many folks reuse the same password on many sites.  If the email:password you used on LinkedIn is the same as the one you used on Twitter or Facebook or Gmail, then those accounts are now also up for grabs.  While a LinkedIn account may be of limited value to criminals, a Twitter or Gmail account can be much more useful, and a bank or credit card account—let’s not dwell on it.  Did you start changing passwords yet?  Go change passwords NOW.

THINGS TO DO RIGHT NOW

  1. Go here (Yeah, it looks sketchy; it’s legit) https://haveibeenpwned.com/
  2. Plug in the email address you use to log into LinkedIn (or any email you use to log in to any site; this service tracks many data breaches)
  3. If you get a green bar, you lucked out.  If you get a red bar with “oh no!” in it, continue to step #4
  4. Read whatever details the site offers about the breach(es) you’ve been included in, and change your password(s) immediately.
  5. Also set a new password anywhere else that you used that same password 

EXTRA CREDIT

Passwords are inherently crappy.  It’s just a fact of life.  Consider upping your security in two ways:

  1. Set up “two-factor authentication” (also called “2FA”) on any account that lets you do so.  Different sites have different systems (and, alas, call them different things), but they all boil down the same: Once 2FA is set up, logging into your email account (or whatever) will have an extra step.  First you enter your username and password and hit submit (like normal).  Then they ding your phone (either with a txt or via app) and wait for your to respond (either by clicking “accept” on the app or entering the six digit code they’ve texted you). If you don’t respond, you can’t get in.  This makes it impossible for someone to log into your account unless they have your username, password, and your phone.  Much more secure.  (I’ve added 2FA to several personal web tools I depend on, as I was getting hammered with a brute force attack a couple weeks back.)
  2. Please seriously consider using a “password manager” or “password locker.”  This is a piece of software (or service) that securely stores your usernames and passwords for all of your accounts.  That way, you don’t have to chose easily remembered passwords for all of your accounts.  Instead, you choose one very good password for your locker, and then let the locker generate insanely hard passwords for your individual accounts (all of my passwords are now 20+ characters long and randomly generated).  Lots of folks like LastPass and 1Password.  I prefer KeePassX and use MiniKeePass on my phone (I have lots of nit-picky reasons, but the tl;dr: The software implements good encryption algorythms in a secure way; it’s open source and well vetted; it’s not “cloud based”—”the cloud” is just “some other dude’s computer” [with all that implies, viz. security risks], and a cloud computer full of the master keys to folks’ online lives strikes me as an attractive nuisance, at best).

Sorry to be your bad news bear today; I hope you all get green bars and nonetheless CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS, GET A PASSWORD MANAGER, AND START USING 2FA WHENEVER YOU CAN!!!