A Good Election: Reflections on the 2018 Midterms

Not a great election, but a good election.

Was it a blue wave? The Democrats made sizable gains facing headwinds of gerrymandering and a strong economy. Whether it’s called a blue wave is immaterial.

More women in the House than ever before, which we can all hope will become a springboard to even more equal representation. They will be able to offer their own perspectives and help erase the blind spots in thinking that contribute to poor decisions when representation isn’t diverse enough.

Democrats with control of a chamber in Congress means we can have oversight of the executive. There will be surprises as their oversight unveils things the media either couldn’t find or just missed. The people will be informed moving forward and in 2020 can make better decisions based on better information about how our government is operating.

Ex-felons in Florida got their voting rights back, which should mean that state will be more representative and responsive to the people living there. When more people vote, good things happen. We need people to vote, and we need the government to let them share their voice. It’s what makes America work.

Several states voted to expand Medicaid in their states: Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah. This is a strong issue that allows more people to have access to vital health services, but it also creates jobs. It’s good for the economy and good for people.


While a few results are still outstanding, we know that the Democrats taking the gavel in the House of Representatives marks a turning point for our troubled nation. Without good information, we are left to the gaslighting of bad-faith actors in the Republican party who failed to provide oversight of this administration. If the full truth of the misdeeds had been known going into this election, it’s safe to say that the Republican party would have done worse for it.

But that’s why information is so important: we don’t know what we don’t know. We need journalism. We need checks and balances. Without them businesses make poor decisions and state and local governments miscalculate. The whole system suffers from bad information and from information droughts.

By opening this one spigot of information, the American people will empower themselves to make better decisions in the future. Businesses and communities rely on knowing that they get a fair hearing, that their concerns are heard by the executive branch. But under Trump there has been this lingering question about how much abuse, how much fraud, was happening. We’ll finally know, and businesses that were short-changed on bidding, or otherwise misrouted by a bad administration, will seek redress in the courts and other venues of appeal.

18-ish Weeks Until the 2018 Midterms

https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote

Handicapping the 2018 Midterms comes down to Mr. Trump, not messaging. The president who makes everything about himself inevitably makes the 2018 elections a referendum on his policies and his abuses.

That’s a bad sign for Republicans. Depending on how the announcement of a replacement for Justice Kennedy goes, and whether confirmation proceeds apace, the wind may be entirely let out of the Muralist voters’ sails. Nobody expects another justice beyond Kennedy to retire, so that’s one fewer reason for Muralists to turn out in 18 weeks.

The party in power does better in midterm elections when voters feel like they’re making an adjustment to their representation rather than having to weigh the overall direction of the country. People don’t like to make weighty decisions, and so when they feel like they’re forced to do, they tend to be irritated that the incumbents have put them in the position.

Mr. Trump has spent his entire time in office sticking his thumb in the eye of over half the voters, including his own. The notion that they’ll reward him for it is a bad misreading of America. And the voters will not reward all of the Republicans who have failed in their duty to conduct oversight of the tyrannical instincts of not just Mr. Trump but his cabinet as well.

Add to that the fact that there are so many Democratic women running, which can fuel female turnout (and to a lesser extent youth turnout). You have whatever spoils the hard work of things like the March for Our Lives and March for Science may offer. There will be people turning out to support public schools and health care.

Democrats also have a message: good governance. Social programs that work. Environmental policies, labor policies, and financial policies that build the middle class.


The man is an abuser. He abuses his office, his employees, his rivals, his friends, his family, his foundation and company, his country. America has no quarter for abuse. We split from an abuser before, and we will split from this one.

But just as there were Loyalists then, there are those who do not see the abuse for what it is. There are evangelicals, by some bad combination of drugs, who support Mr. Trump. Others, Republicans coddled by tax cuts, fetch him Diet Cokes (Mr. Nunes famously took a ride share under cover of night to deliver one to him). They lie for him. They hawk his cheap resorts and cheaper merch. They iron his clothes while he wears them. They arrange backchannels to hostile foreign governments on his behalf.

For that lot, there will be no second act. They will exeunt from public life. We will only be reminded they exist when future documentaries pan across their picture while recounting how foolish humans can be when they don’t bother to self-reflect.

For those worrying over who will wear black robes in the years to come, the only decision you directly have is to vote. Vote, raise your voice. For even though courts can undermine unions, harm women’s rights, and all the other things, they cannot fix the problems they create. The legislators alone can fix the messes left by bad judges. Your voice is more important at the midterms than it is at the general. On average your vote is worth 1.7 votes in the general election (to account for those who don’t vote). It’s worth 2.5 votes in the midterms. That’s nearly a whole other citizen that a midterm voter is counting for.

https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote

To Combat Fake News, Give People More Media Control

Whether it’s Sinclair’s five minutes of hate, Alex Jones’ rants, Russian Federation bots’ tweets, Assange’s leaks, or Fox News’ commentators’ lies, one of the biggest problems today is bad information, media pollution.

And there’s an open question of how to deal with it all. Well, to deal with some of it. Really, it depends whom you ask.

But the best solution is to empower people by giving them greater control over what they read and watch, how they read and watch it, and how they share content with others. That’s a heavy lift, as the same lack of control that empowers the bad actors helps the media conglomerates to exert influences that pad their own pockets.

Copyright law badly needs an update for the modern world, where it’s easy and useful to share content beyond what the strictures of existing law allow. Having greater control over hardware and software that enables media access would shake up the marketplace while letting users spend their finite time more wisely. There is much work needed here, and there is little impetus for the incumbents to roll up their sleeves.

This past week on at least one cable provider The View and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert had their listing data screwed up. That meant that at least some users’ DVRs failed to record James Comey’s book promotions. It’s almost certain to be a screw up in the listing distribution chain, but it is an example of media pollution that people who have paid for the privilege may have missed content they wanted to see. They could jump through hoops to see the interviews, but it’s not in their preferred format or at their preferred time.

The technology industry could have a hand in empowering viewers, but the FCC blocked a proposal to force cable companies to grant access to third party hardware. For whatever reason, the Apples and Googles of the world did not lobby hard enough to make it happen. Missed opportunity. These talking-listening hubs they sell for homes would be much more useful if they allowed for interaction with the real main home hub: the television.

On websites like Twitter and Facebook, the limited access they give their users to filter and augment the feed means that people are forced to dig, scrounge, or put up with so many bad behaviors. Every single time I search on Twitter, I’m bound to find at least one tweet with every hashtag under the sun trying to advertise some stupid thing (or porn).

Now, you say, back when newspapers were the thing, people didn’t have control. But newspapers, I say, weren’t endless streams of data. Paracelsus says the dose makes the poison, and high-volume media vehicles like Twitter increase the dose considerably.


The media companies that aren’t thrilled about the likes of Trump, Fascism, and the Anti-American Way should give more power to the viewer. Make it happen. It’ll make you more money in the long run, and it will help to thwart bad actors like Sinclair in the meantime.

A Spam Filter for America?

How unusable would your email be if you didn’t have a spam filter? Would you even bother with email? Like spam, Russian attacks don’t have to be that successful if they are high-volume. Facebook estimated that Russia’s attacks reached over 100 million accounts. That would mean a lot of money if it were spam instead of influence campaigns.

The main impediment to spam filtration on these platforms is the control held by the operators, especially in the context of mobile apps, which are not readily extended or modified by third-parties to filter out nefarious posts. You cannot directly insert a Bayesian filter into the Facebook app, for example, even while you could probably whip something up in a webextension for the Facebook desktop website.

Another issue is that Russian attacks are not the only notable sources of spam in the American media diet. Television and radio platforms are not amenable to spam filtering, and overall the prospects for cutting down on those sources of spam are slim. You have something we haven’t seen with email: an entire class of media consumer dedicated to eating spam.

One important part of the spam filter model is that it is voluntary and transparent. You can always look at the crud filling up your spam folder. You can shape the filter to include items of annoyance or exclude items that you wish. It’s a tool to be used to improve your life and save you the aggravation of unwanted email.

Browser vendors and the W3C should work on implementing changes to the web that make filtration of unwanted content easier. This may include the introduction of an ad HTML element, with the design including a way to easily remove or block it from view. Vendors should block-by-default ads from sites that continue to display ads through other HTML elements. The ad element should include properties that make it easier to identify who paid for the ad, whether it tracked the user, and any keywords associated with the advertising that might become associated with the user.

Overall, it’s time for the online ad industry to step up its game in policing itself, or like many industries before it, it will face regulation that it does not like.

But while we’re at it, maybe we need to install a spam filter on the doors of the capital. A lot of lobbying goes on, and currently our nation is being sold a lot of boner pills and bad advice.

The Snappings-back to Come

There comes a time when things get stretched out. And then there is the snapping-back. Expansion and contraction. Not just financial, but ethical, procedural, and on other axes, too.

At some point, the US Congress will find itself overwhelmed with investigating the present and will busy itself enacting new restraints. At some point, online advertising will be regulated, not just against a malignant Russian Federation’s meddling, but against the ordinary scams we see advertised every day on sites big and small.

The bailouts of polluters will come to an end. The protections of financial companies, drug companies, and other overlarge snowflakes, long seen by some as too fragile to have real regulation, will terminate.

We see it now with the public recognition of Harvey Weinstein for the depraved exemplar of power run amok he is. We see shadows of other exemplars coming into focus, yet to be queued for their runs through the wringer. These things take time.

But there are axiomatic protections we should seek out as a society. Diversity is among these, not just of race or sex, but of background and of philosophy. Of saying, even if single-payer might be best, we can still walk calmly into that future rather than leap into what might end up badly. If tax cuts are so wonderful, we can cut taxes a point at a time and see the results unfold.

Why tear the Brexit bandaid off, risking reopening the wound it covers? Why not soak it, loosen the adhesive and then pull it off a bit at a time? The same goes for the Kurds in Iraq, the Catalans, and so on. Rome was not in one day built, and yet so many want to see every imagined panacea poured down the throat of the world at once.

In Colorado and the rest, they have legalized marijuana. The successes there seem destined to spread a new march against a failed war on drugs. And the less slack we leave, the more gradual the expansion, the less severe the contraction when we go too far.

We should reject all the Republicans who want to full-throttle their policies. But we ought also reject the Democrats equally on that measure. If the ideas be good, a pinch should convince before we go for the pound. Any politician that says otherwise is looking to rip us off. And they’re doing it, folks. We should unseat them.