Categories
society

Facebook, Lies, and Politics

Twitter is banning political ads. Facebook is banning political ads from people they believe lie about being politicians. But Facebook will allow bona fide politicians to lie in ads.

What is the role for a platform, both in ads and in moderating?

That’s the wrong question.

The question we must ask is not what is the shape of a proper social network. Why not?

  1. There may be several, and they may coexist.
  2. The shape may change over time, including in cyclical ways (e.g., during an election cycle versus outside of it).
  3. These networks span the globe, so fighting for changes in domestic rules won’t help the most vulnerable overseas.
  4. We don’t know what we don’t know, per Donald Rumsfeld.

The proper question about social networks is: How do the people gain enough leverage to serve as a forcing-function to shape social network behavior, rather than merely being shaped by it?

Traditionally, the answer to that question has been money, and the answer to how to influence them through money has been competition. That is, if their income is threatened by the easy choice of users to go next door, then they don’t do things that harm users enough that they go next door.

In the case of Facebook, their money comes from advertisers of all sorts, including politicians, scams, major brands, and in the case of President Trump’s campaign, all three at once! (Gotta take the cheap shots as they come.)

But Facebook is global. It has diversity of users, including people who think their small business depends on it, including media types who think their traffic depends on it, including politicians who think they’re connecting with constituents, and, yes, including grandparents and such who feel social connection because of it.

Competition doesn’t seem to make sense in social networks, in terms of the need to maintain copies of one’s social graph in several services simultaneously. Instead, either you have several social graphs that look different per service, or you are migrating from an old social graph on one service to a new one on a new service.

But in what substitutes for competition, if you want to move people off of Facebook, you’re basically saying that those benefits need to flow to those users. You have to engage with the politician on Service X, so that their office recognizes that people are there, so that they care more about Service X. You have to let your grandparents see you responding to them on Service X. And so on.

That is how these networks function. People go where the people are. And a site like Facebook will respond only when they see that movement, or some other threat to their revenue. Lacking a brain, a heart, and courage, that’s all that can convince them that letting politicians lie for money is dumb as hell.

Categories
society

Superstition and Politics

One of the biggest problems with politics is superstition. Every time a candidate wins, their campaign strategists are treated as having conjured up a magical creature known as victory out of thin air. They are treated thusly by the party they won for, but also largely by the media. They pushed the right button combination, they cut the right wire, they made the thing happen. Never mind all the factors outside of their control, the flukes, the weather. They get credit without any definitive evidence that they even knew what they were doing.

But that’s not the whole of superstition in politics. It extends to all sorts of frets and worries that interrupt policy and legislation. The NRA has a monkey’s paw that will unleash torment upon Republicans if they don’t fall in line. Rich criminals like Weinstein and Epstein were insulated from accountability (again, in both the media and in political circles) by superstition, primarily. The worry about what it would mean to the unknown backwaters and backrooms of power to cross people who are the equivalent of made-men in those circles.

Superstition dictates that Republicans can’t compete in blue states, nor Democrats in red ones. They certainly shouldn’t treat those foreign lands as opportunities to throw some spaghetti at the wall on the cheap. I mean, it would be bad luck to run a Republican candidate in LA on the platform of (insert some idea that Republicans generally don’t run on but won’t be offensive).

The media similarly has its superstitions around politics, including what kind of coverage is expected, what polls really mean, which voters count more (evangelicals, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, etc.), who gets access, what the differences are between Republicans and Democrats, and so on. It has its superstitions about who is important and what ideas are important. Campaigns should be about identifying problems, but they’re mostly about offering canned solutions to undefined problems, and then the solutions become the focus and they aren’t perfect so candidates get tarred for that.


The problem of superstitions is quite extensive in our lives. They represent blockages that prevent honest progress, out of fear of the unknown. The media’s focus on the ten-year-cost of Medicare-for-All, despite the actual ongoing economic cost already being greater, is one example of this. The Republicans’ reluctance to give up on repealing the ACA, in favor of some real policy is another.

These superstitions exist because of mere coincidence. The apparent interest in Republicans around the time they championed repealing the ACA caused them to believe that people wanted repeal, rather than the people wanting further development of healthcare policy toward some unknown better system. The media believes then ten-year costs of Medicare-for-All are important because they believe big numbers are important.

I don’t think Medicare-for-All is the be-all-end-all of healthcare. It is one way to do the thing. But I do think that continuing to refine healthcare funding is entirely necessary, and systems that tend to diminish the involvement of employers in healthcare are generally superior to those that do not. Over a ten year period where healthcare isn’t provided by employers, ceteris paribus, we should expect a healthier economy and a healthier population.

Categories
society

2020 Democratic Debate 4.0

The version number keeps going up, but the bugs don’t seem to get fixed!

Climate change in this nomination race got one forum on CNN and a couple of special episodes of Chris Hayes’ MSNBC show. Its mentions in this debate were scant. A shame.

But many of the issues could have been brought back to climate. For example, diversifying manufacturing and trade deals both have major consequences for the climate. Minimizing transportation costs in manufacturing are just as important as doing so in agriculture. Buying local veggies is good, but so is buying locally manufactured goods.

Trade deals are a net-positive, but they often fall short on worker protections and environmental issues. While some folks seem to think we should avoid trade deals, trade should be a tool for helping on climate. The basic idea is that, all things being equal, a country can prefer goods manufactured with worker protections and environmental protections.


These debates have grown more tedious. It might be the record-setting number of candidate present. It might be the repetition of the same questions and same answers (or same non-answers). There hasn’t been a lot of movement in the race, and most candidates haven’t had breakout moments in the debates. This debate was even less notable, it seemed.

My biggest complaint isn’t the questions or the answers, but the fact that their combined effect is a failure to debate. For example, pressing Warren to say that, yes, taxes will go up, but the total costs will decrease, doesn’t get to the actual meat of the policy difference between Medicare-for-All and public option proposals, which seems to amount to:

  1. Adverse selection—If a lot of people only switch to the public option when they need expensive care, the government costs will be far higher than if healthy people are in the risk pool.
  2. Employer-bound coverage—This has always been a bad thing, only better than people being without coverage. Having your insurance tied to your current employer makes switching jobs harder, makes taking risks on entrepreneurship harder, makes a lot of things harder. It also masks incomes, complicates income taxation, and stifles competition in unrelated industries (because companies compete on something outside of their core market when they have to fiddle with healthcare rather than making widgets).

All these other issues that don’t get covered at all in the healthcare debate because everyone wants to goad Warren into saying the thing she doesn’t want to say.

On other issues, like guns, there are people mad at O’Rourke for proposing a mandatory buyback of certain weapons. Most people will abide by the law, but apparently that’s hard for even Democratic candidates to fathom, so they talk of door-to-door confiscations as though that would be the policy. Not to say that mandatory buybacks are the way to go—any reasonable licensing and background requirements should be about as effective as buybacks. Only to say that treating it like it’s some completely irrational idea is wrong. Many policies are possible, and it’s unheard of for a candidate’s proposal to become law directly, so putting out ideas, discussing them, these are useful. Dismissing them because your opponent isn’t polling well is just lazy.


At some point we should acknowledge there’s a kind of show-your-math need here, where it becomes more important to discuss how you came to a policy than what policy you favor. Getting the right answer is important at the point where ideas become law. But up to then, process matters a lot. How a president deliberates policy is often more important than what their personal policy preference would be, anyway, because the former is what actually gets done. President Obama surely would have wanted a public option, but they didn’t see a way at the time.

Likewise now, we should hear more about why Warren thinks Medicare for All is a better choice and why she thinks it’s passable, compared to a public option. Or why some candidates think ending the filibuster is good, given the failings it’s already caused in nominations. Not whether they do—that won’t be their job or decision as president. But it might show us how they think about the issue. Is it more likely to persuade red state Republicans or to get Democrats elected continuously so that the filibuster becomes irrelevant? Dunno. I do know that unless the latter can be done, we’ll continue to live in a here-today-gone-tomorrow legislative landscape, which isn’t healthy.

Categories
unAmerican

A Lot is Going On for 12 October 2019

The president has pulled troops back in Syria, allowing Turkey to invade and attack the Kurds. Most everyone is opposed to this, and yet the Republicans can only be so critical before they worry it will hurt their next primary. Donald John Trump is unfit to be president, and everyone knows it, but only one party can actually say it and act to do something about it.

But speaking of unfitness, you have the likes of Apple, the NBA, Blizzard Entertainment, and ESPN, all trying to appease China’s authoritarian bullshit. Not with chocolate cake, this time, but with various moves to promote their worldview, either against Hong Kong, against Taiwan, or in favor of an unfounded claim over a body of water they share with about five other countries. The preference for short-sighted profit motives does not surprise, but it does prove to be the losing side of things. The day will come when China inevitably democratizes (whether as a whole or as a set of separate states), and those citizens will remember the failure of these companies and institutions when that day comes. They will not remember them fondly.

One cannot imagine a tale of modern international history being portrayed in Chinese cinema, because they cannot tell the truth. They don’t teach it properly in schools, and they don’t portray it in their media. A society cannot be built upon amnesia. As America continues to reckon with its own past, we should recognize that other nations face that challenge, too, and worse, are far less equipped to face it. That amnesia is exactly what these corporations are supporting, for a buck.

There’s no power for chunks of California while the power company out there tries to decide if it’s safe to turn back on. Rather than do sufficient work to clear fuel on the front end, they’ve decided it’s more efficient to not make money for days at a time and hope that the weather changes. It seems better than having major fires, but one would suspect that clearing the fuel around lines would be the easier and saner way to go.

And that’s not even getting to the ongoing impeachment saga. The president continues to deny that he’s accountable for anything. The White House even sent a letter saying that impeachment was contrary to the law. One wonders, given all the times Donald John Trump has received beautiful letters from Kim Jong Un, why the White House never sends beautiful letters (re: impeachment or otherwise).

New revelations continue to come out about various worries officials have had from other phone calls and incidents. One suspects before it’s all over, Trump will claim Clinton won the election and it’s all her fault for not contesting the vote and taking the job. He already tried to pin the blame for the call on Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.

On the other hand, we’re finally having another Democratic debate this Tuesday (15 October 2019). Will be good to see the gang back together. Will be good to see Senator Bernie Sanders back at it. If the Republicans could find it in their hearts to ever have this kind of sanity in a group running for their nomination, it would be a great blessing for our nation.

Categories
unAmerican

If Impeachment, then Trial.

There’s a lot of questions floating around the journals of late about impeachment. The basic flavor, from both the left in fret and the right in hope, is will the Senate shrug? The majority leader has said they will take them up, but then came suggestions of the inevitable motion to dismiss.

The first thing is that you will never see articles move out of the House unless Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues find them damning enough for four or more Republicans to vote with the Democrats against dismissal on at least one of the articles. Perhaps the only way the House moves on articles without that locked down is if the Senate Republicans signal they have given up entirely on their oaths and take to the Mall to fly kites. At that point, the House would vote articles to place an asterisk on this chapter in American history so that future generations will note how craven a party can become under the poison spell of a filthy fool like President Donald John Trump.

To go through preliminaries—which they’ll need to before they can receive a motion to dismiss—and then accede to such a motion would be disastrous. They would have set the stage for a trial, with the public’s understanding already formed, and then said there’s nothing to be done about that understanding. It would speak against the entire purpose of the separation of powers—that, the executive being unable to properly investigate and indict emself, must have eir actions subject to review by a separate branch. If that separate branch cannot bring itself to successfully review executive actions, we have a whole systemic breakdown.

From the timber of the Trump–Ukraine (now –China?) scandal to-date, at least a handful of Republicans should vote against dismissing some of the articles. Such motions are a low bar in all but the most worthless cases, whether civil or criminal. The fact of the coverup using the code-word NSC system, the fact of the attempts by Secretary of State Pompeo to block testimony, the facts of Attorney General Barr and the citizen Giuliani jetting about and phonecalling to dig up dirt, all point to there being enough witnesses and awareness of the wrongdoing to push this into the territory of impeachment. There was something else…. Oh—the call itself, where the President directly asked a foreign government for dirt on a political opponent!

The other reason that the Senate would want to hold a full trial is that they should want the thing put to bed, either way. If they refused to hold a real trial upon the basis of valid and dire articles of impeachment, the House could simply reissue them again and again, to drive home the point much the way that parents waking their children find particularly grating ways. If the Senate dispensed anything approaching real justice, allowing for the case to be presented, and then decided to acquit, at least history would be served, if not justice.

Which brings us to Chief Justice Roberts. He will preside over any presidential impeachment. He represents the third branch, but the main reason for his presence is that a removal of a president automatically elevates the vice president, which means the vice president has a natural conflict. To obviate the conflict, the chief justice presides in his place. And in that role, he is the presiding officer of the body, including the fact that he may break ties on votes requiring a majority. Under Senate precedents, Roberts will offer preliminary rulings on legal questions before the body, subject to reversal or affirmation by a majority of the body. He also reads out the questions posed by senators, in writing.

All of which is to say that the Senate has that extra reason to behave in the midst of an impeachment trial. They will not want to make Roberts look bad. They will not want to cast a bad reflection upon our judiciary.


A reminder: impeachment and removal are there to fix the government. They are not punishment; any criminal behavior can be prosecuted after removal and punished accordingly. The question of removing President Trump boils down to the fact of his abuse of our standing in the world to seek personal benefits, which is a matter that surely harms our national interest and our security particularly.

For now the matter remains in the House, where the inquiry is getting started. It’s unclear how the House will proceed, with some folks on the right calling for it to be formally voted as an inquiry and held inter partes as the Nixon and Clinton inquiries were. If the House Republicans wish that vote so badly, they are free to push a resolution to that end and vote for its adoption (rather than the feckless resolution they’re seeking on Representative Schiff for paraphrasing the readout of the Trump–Zelensky call). Instead, their entire strategy seems to be more about the lack of any defense for the president’s wrongdoing. That said, one expects a vote at some point, and that the president’s counsel will be allowed to participate, if only to ensure the get a close-up view of the grave position this White House is now in.