Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

For those who know me personally, they usually find this particular opinion of mine surprising. I am a fan of online practically-everything-else. Online games, online food ordering, online shopping in general, online tax, online civil service in general, online insurance, email contacts online, online OIA databases, you name it, I think it’s a reality of modern business and a good thing too.

But I think online voting is a terrible idea, at least at the moment, and possibly inherently, and given that previous paragraph, you should take that opinion all the more seriously, because I would love it if we could square the circle and find a practical way to vote online. I just don’t think it will work.

Why? Well, I’m gonna have to delve into more election nerdery to explain. To start with, there are three critical things to running a good election, that will seem to be contradictory but won’t be once we define them narrowly. They are:

  • Security/Integrity
  • Transparency/Verifiability
  • Secrecy

What do I mean by those three words, and how aren’t transparency and secrecy contradictory requirements? Well because they’re secrecy and transparency of different aspects of an election, namely a secret ballot but a transparent process.

Transparency means you need to be able to tell from the means you use to vote that it will be counted as intended (assuming you actually followed the voting instructions, anyway) if delivered to an honest actor. This is why paper is such a great medium for voting- you mark your ballot, either with a pen or punch machine, and put it into a sealed box so it can’t be spoiled until someone with the key to count it comes along, and it can be secured adequately through purely physical means, and quite easily so. The only people you have to trust are honest are the counters, and they cross-verify, so they’d need to all be part of a conspiracy, or all make a mistake, for them to miscount your vote. Likewise, election officials also need to be able to tell who has voted, not just for statistical research, but also for security purposes. Paper ballots are the best way we currently have to do both of those things at once, especially as you can seperate the metadata part of the ballot from the rest in the counting process so that the people who need to see voter identities to prevent fraud can’t physically go and match that metadata to how a person voted. There is no good way to do that with digital voting. This is sometimes called transparency because for a voter to really be able to understand that any machines involved aren’t fraudulently affecting their votes, they need to actually be able to see and understand how the machine operates, thus the best voting machines are literally translucent so you can watch them doing their thing.

Secrecy, or having a “secret ballot,” refers to a very different part of the process, namely, it means that nobody can prove how you voted, or violate your privacy. The people counting the ballots don’t get to see the database of who voted on which number ballot, and the people who do get to see the metadata about how voters connect to ballots don’t get to see the actual ballots, or if they do, the metadata parts are seperated from the actual vote. The poll workers don’t get to inspect your ballot, but they do get to see that you’re not interfering with other voters, usually through some sort of privacy booth or privacy shield. There are some very narrow situations where it may be arguably better to allow certain voters to cast a non-secret ballot, (for instance, voters who can’t reliably mark a form but trust a friend, family member or carer to assist them) but by-and-large the secret ballot is a critical part of elections.

I’m pretty convinced that it’s fundamentally impossible to marry those two objectives with internet voting, and most approaches also cause issues with integrity. What do I mean by integrity? Well, basically, we should be able to assume that if anyone casts a fraudulent vote through any means, we should be able to easily find out and disregard that vote before a final result is declared, and therefore we should never have to “overturn” the results of an election because we later detect fraud after the fact. In short, the election needs to be secured against vote-tampering, and the public needs to see that it has been secured and have confidence in the measures taken. Some of this security relies on a lack of collusion between other parts of government and the part running the election, but once you have a truly independent election authority, it’s pretty hard to do any sort of mass fraud, so it’s largely down to preventing critical gaming of the election system, or catching people dumb enough to interfere in ways that may not make a significant difference, such as voter impersonation.

There are non-online election methods that don’t rigorously meet these three criteria too, but to my knowledge, most national-level elections in a developed country do, with the exception of the USA, which fails terribly on integrity, mainly due to partisan corruption of their electoral institutions, but we’ll get back to that in a bit.

New Zealand has a vote-by-mail system for local elections and sometimes for citizens-initiated referenda. Vote by mail is not secure, and it’s not secret, and it has some other less-critical problems with it, too, but it’s probably the most practical way to hold local elections if we don’t want to synchronize them with national ones.

How is voting by mail insecure? Simple. People can commit the crime of stealing each others’ ballot papers. If they’re smart, they will do so for people who are away at the time of the vote or who are registered but won’t notice the ballot is missing. There is no actual way to tell that the person who filled out and mailed back the ballot is the person who was supposed to vote with it, so voter impersonation, while not a problem in in-person voting, is an unknown unknown in vote-by-mail. I would trust such a system for institutional elections that nobody outside the institution knows about and where there’s no guarantee anyone aware of the election will know anyone else’s address, but that’s about it.

How is voting by mail not secret? Because there’s no observers, partial or impartial, to ensure that nobody looks at your ballot or coerces you into voting a certain way. This means that people are vulnerable to coercion as to how they cast their votes, as for example, an abusive/controlling parent or spouse can verify whether they’ve voted the “correct” way before they mail in their ballot. Technically, any system where you have the ability to match up a person to a ballot is vulnerable to this sort of coercion, even if that proof of how you voted can only be showed after the election has finished- you can still be threatened with future violence, or have your vote bought with rewards or cash, so long as you have some method to 100% demonstrate how you voted. We’ll come back to internet voting after another example of a bad election method.

I mentioned we’d also talk about the insecurity of US voting. The USA relies on voting machines manufactured by partisan businesses to conduct voting in several states. These voting machines run proprietary software, and in many cases voters can’t verify the paper trail themselves before the vote is finalised, or sometimes even at all. They are thus highly vulnerable both to individual voters bypassing their security and hacking them, (there are videos online of how to do it, in fact, for certain models) and of manufacturer tampering to fix the vote for a certain party, which there is some statistical suspicion might have occurred in the last handful of elections. (it was maybe even critical to Trump’s win of certain northeastern states) Anything that tells you on a screen you’ve voted a certain way can be lying to you if you can’t physically see a way to verify otherwise. It can be programmed to switch a selection of votes from the party the manufacturer doesn’t prefer to the one it does.

Basically the only way to secure a machine against provider fraud is to have its software be open source, (and even then, you need to be able to read code to personally verify that your vote is going the right place, and you need to be sure that the open-source code is actually what’s running on the election machines) however doing so means that if there are any technical vulnerabilities, they are incredibly easy to find. That’s okay if you secure the physical machines and they are disconnected from any and all networks, and if any hardware that could be used for vote tampering by officials or by voters is put in plain view rather than part of the booth or behind the shield that voters will use for privacy. The US largely doesn’t take those preventative measures, because the rules are set by whichever political party is currently in charge of the state, (as the constitution highly limits federal election law for some strange reason) and there is thus huge incentive to game the system, as the official responsible for the integrity of voting in the state has no requirement to be non-partisan. (in fact, the Secretaries of State (not to be confused with the federal one, who is the equivalent of a Minister of Foreign Affairs in a New Zealand context, these are like having 50 local CEs of the electoral commission each making different rules) are often overt partisans)

Traditional internet voting based on a single secure database system or network has all the problems of both vote-by-mail and of US voting machines, with the possibility of online hackers who can compromise the system without even bothering to go phishing for passwords added into the mix. (You also have to remember that the possibility for interference opens up to the rest of the world once you put the system online, so you’re making yourself vulnerable to foreign agents who could never set foot on your soil, too) I’m willing to go on record as saying I think it’s logically impossible to secure such a voting apparatus to a level that’s necessary for national elections, especially as the added problem of hacking makes it much more difficult to verify within an acceptable timeframe whether all the relevant information is authentic. (because instead of being to trust all the meta-information you’ve received about what barcode belongs to what vote, it’s possible that such information has been faked. So you can’t rely on the receipts from the system about how many people voted online until it’s been cleared of digital interference, which is a process pretty vulnerable to false negatives)

Some people are proposing blockchain voting systems. Blockchain is the distributed verification technology behind BitCoin and many similar cryptocurrencies, which is basically a protocol for distributed databases. Such systems could be acceptable for non-critical elections, like organisational ones, or maaaaybe local body voting and referenda. The difficult thing is, the ones that I’ve seen that in principle could be secure are fundamentally incompatible with a secret ballot.

Why? Because they rely on distributed ballot databases and a layer of public key/private key cryptography. Effectively, anyone can sign up to the blockchain and they get a copy of the database. Then whenever a change needs to be made, it’s submitted to a certain number of known holders of the database and tagged with the public key that requested the change, and all of those members of the blockchain ensure that they communicate that change to all other members of the blockchain they’re connected to, until it trickles through the distributed network. This means that any attempt to compromise the database has to simultaneously hit the entire blockchain to work, or anyone that they’ve missed will detect an error. That’s very good for security.

And to vote, someone would need to compromise your private key, which you personally control, so on that front you’re actually a little more secure than vote-by-mail, maybe. I’ll come back to this in a second.

However, it also means that some form of public identifier has to be attached to every vote. While that information is theoretically anonymous, in practice it can be tracked back to an individual. Blockchains rely on tracking where information comes from in order to maintain security, and public keys can be traced back to specific IPs and timestamps, which means they can be traced to specific users, which means you no longer have a secret ballot.

Likewise, the ability to use the private key also allows you to demonstrate to anyone watching you vote online who you voted for at the time of the election at a bare minimum, if not afterwards too, and you are also able to deliberately compromise your private key and let someone else vote for you, again opening up voter coercion. Any system where there isn’t a way to verifiably observe people voting in a way that is seperated from observing what they vote for is fundamentally insecure. You could arguably do so through webcams, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that the video data wouldn’t be fake without secure hardware, which defeats the economies-of-scale to online voting.

You could use such a system in contexts where a secret ballot isn’t necessary, such as local direct democracy, or organisational elections. But it’s fundamentally vulnerable to identities being compromised, because it relies on keeping those identities semi-public to secure the vote.

This is without even getting into the non-critical problems with online voting, such as the fact that when there’s not a specific Election Day, people will often forget the deadline and not vote in time. This is a big problem with voting-by-mail, too, which makes online voting actually a problem for turnout rather than a solution when it’s used as the primary voting method rather than in supplement to in-person voting.

Blockchain methods might be suitable for a sort of public-ballot electronic direct democracy on local issues where voter coercion, fraud, or voter harassment aren’t as likely to be problems, but that too has its issues, such as the “self-selecting oligarchy” problem with inclusive, high-volume democracy: that is, it’s so work-intensive to vote on every local issue that only very enthusiastic people tend to show up for it with any regularity, thus those with the time and/or interest tend to form an oligarchy among those who are actually eligible, as they usually hold the majority of votes on any given issue. You can also have the opposite problem of tyrrany of the ambivalent, where people who are only tangentally effected by on issue flood in and force a decision that key stakeholders hate. These are general democratic challenges of course, but electing representatives helps smooth them out a bit, wheras direct democracy is a little more difficult.

So, in conclusion: No to online voting for now, and probably no forever, as I’m pretty sure it’s logically impossible for online voting to hit all three critical points at once, and I am actually a fan of representative democracy. It provides a level of guarantee of human rights, it helps smooth out how democracy functions between the boring issues and the ones of great public interest, and quite frankly, it’s easier to keep democracy slightly at arms lengths from the average voter, so we can keep their powder dry in terms of democratic participation for when it’s really needed, rather than subjecting them to constant voter fatigue.

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So, I found out recently that someone I used to follow for commentary on politics, a man who aggressively claimed to be a feminist, and a good guy engaged in progressive activism, has in fact been behaving in an emotionally abusive way to women for a long time, including his former employee, who worked for him at a time when I was doing some minor volunteer stuff for his community of activists. (His ex-wife still hosts the podcast they were involved in, Citizen Radio)

His ex-wife has come out publicly and talked about the fact that she’s going to have to cut professional ties with him, and has at least managed to convince him into therapy. I genuinely hope it helps him, and that he can start acting on those principles he claims to have, and make up for some of the harm he’s caused.

Now, obviously it’s not news that sometimes guys who have been terrible to women end up in left-wing circles. There have been abusers of all stripes or degrees in a lot of left-wing activist groups.

I’m glad to say that this person hasn’t been an idol or even someone I’ve really been listening to in years. But I feel extremely bad about this whole situation.

Why? Because I noticed he was behaving in a way that worried me. I felt that he was being overly aggressive in talking about supporting women, something that is a classic covering tactic for abusive behaviour. That he seemed to want validation for being a feminist rather than really care about treating everyone as equals. That things were a little too much about What Reflected Well On Jamie. Men who are genuine about supporting women don’t need to be praised for it, it’s not about them, it’s about doing the right thing and being a decent human being, and feminism is something ordinary that they only get loud about if nobody else is doing it yet and someone needs to step up. If they want a cookie they’ll bake it themselves, because baking is men’s work too. ūüėČ

Jamie is someone who never handled criticism well. Who joked about having an eating disorder but really did need help around an unhealthy relationship with food that he wasn’t handling well, and had a hard time getting help for. Who admitted to manipulative behaviour publicly on smaller issues. It hurt me a lot to realise that I wasn’t even surprised at this news, it all clicked into place immediately and made sense with all of these smaller hints, and immediately horrified me. I can only imagine how Allison feels, having been married to him and having relied on him as her business partner. It was no surprise to me that he has declined to make any public statement or apology, and asked that it not be mentioned on what is now her podcast.

I hope he brings up those issues I mentioned in the therapy, and I really hope he gets the help he needs for everything, because if he doesn’t, then he’s gonna hurt people close to him one way or another, even if the word is out there on the internet now, it won’t get to all his casual acquaintances so easily, and he needs help to get some self-security so that he can avoid this sort of behaviour pattern in the future.

But that’s not an excuse to behave in an unsafe way, and not to listen when someone sets boundaries in place with you. There is no excuse for harassment when someone has told you to stop. I have had my own problems that I’ve needed to go to therapy for, as I allude to from time to time, and those are still no excuse for not reading the signs that you’re behaving unacceptably, especially when they’re made clear to you multiple times by different people.

I have a minor part in this play, and that’s the thing that’s worst about hearing this news. If you really want to know what’s going on, you should go read the personal accounts that some very brave women have put out in public about this, as it’s really their story. But even knowing that unjustified self-recrimination is part of the cycle of this sort of manipulation and harassment, I find myself wondering if I couldn’t have done something to stop this.

The incident that convinced me that I needed time away from that community was when a key volunteer who was a friend of mine had a jokey but slightly inappropriate discussion about what donor money was being spent on, that veered into some pretty invasive speculation about Jamie and Allison’s personal lives. As you may not be surprised to learn, Jamie had an immediate and pretty explosive reaction, didn’t even discuss the matter at all, and completely replaced him with no explanation, and installed me in his place with little to no transparency.

I felt horrible, this volunteer was a good guy who still supported me and also the community even after the incident. I was left trying to pick up a lot of pieces after an over-reaction about a stupid discussion that admittedly was out of line, but could have been handled so much better. It was easily fixable with an open letter to the community setting up some acceptable boundaries. I didn’t trust myself to handle the situation well, I simply got panicky whenever I thought about it, and in true fashion for someone with social anxiety, I simply faded away from the community.

I tried to hold it together for a while first, but I felt really bad about the whole thing no matter what I did, and I wasn’t yet entirely well in dealing with my own social anxieties at the time.

That wasn’t the right thing to do, obviously, but I did correctly recognise I needed to “put my own seatbelt on first,” and look after myself. I should have maybe outlined what went on and simply told everyone why I was bowing out. In hindsight I should have at least passed my concerns on to his then-wife and told her I trusted her to handle the situation if there was anything that needed to be done, so that maybe it would have clued her into things sooner. And I’m really sorry if my lack of action on this enabled this guy, who I thought shared my opinions and outlook, to get away with anything, because if I had had even a sniff of the allegations about abuse when this happened, I wouldn’t have faded away. I would have been with everyone trying to shout about this issue until it had been solved.

And now I’m left wondering: Did I help him get away with this behaviour by never talking about my worries? That’s the most frequent thought I’m hearing expressed by everyone who’s had a story to tell about this guy, that they’ve all been apologizing for not coming forward earlier, not talking enough, not believing in themselves, but they all have the excuse that he was directly manipulating them. I won’t absolve myself, (if anyone wants to tell me I should have said something, that’s probably a fair call, as he never harassed or manipulated me directly, and if anyone wants a personal apology, I will send you a genuine one in private, I promise) but I think all the women who’ve actually survived this behaviour deserve a pass. Please don’t attack anyone for not being able to bear bringing their story into the public. It’s hard enough having to deal with the situation in the first place, I hope everyone can understand why many people stayed anonymous.

This isn’t something that’s easy to come to terms with, and even though nobody is currently talking about physical or sexual abuse, (I really hope it never got that far, but if it did happen to anyone, please be brave and come forward, we’ll support you!) successful harassers have a lot of strategies to make you doubt yourself, and Jamie is actually a charismatic guy despite his issues, and his response made me consider that maybe I was being unreasonable, and that I should give him a chance, and let the hurt feelings cool down. I regret listening to those impulses that seemed reasonable at the time. I wish word of this had gotten to me, I would have happily acted as a go-between to keep people anonymous while still getting their stories out. It’s ridiculous that this makes me feel powerless and angry even though I had only the smallest chance to help. But that’s what situations like this do to everyone, and it’s part of why this whole situation is so wrong and enraging, and people who know me know I’m not quick to anger. (any longer, another lesson learnt in adolescence, fortunately)

So, there are lessons to be learned here:

Firstly, for anyone who doesn’t already, believe women when they make allegations. (I think there is #believewomen on twitter if you want to follow general conversation about this point, assuming you are comfortable reading twitter) This doesn’t mean someone who’s accused is guilty until proven innocent, it just means the allegations are serious and you need to hear out everyone’s story, and support people who make allegations and take them seriously so that this sort of stuff comes out into the open. It takes real leadership to admit to something like this and put it right, so kudos to Allison, who deserves a lot of support for doing the exact right things as soon as she got a story she could substantiate.

Secondly, not every guy who says feminist things is okay. You know that whole “every man is a rapist” quote that MRAs love to harp on about with regards to feminists? What it’s actually talking about is that, as far as any woman can tell, any man could be a rapist. It’s referring to “Schr√∂dinger’s rapist,” if you will: that even the most aggressively feminist of guys can be manipulative, or harrassing, or compensate for their insecurity by being praise-dependent and manipulating women for that praise because they feel threatened by men, and the emotional abuse this guy commited is on the same spectrum as full-blown rape or rapey behaviour. Jamie hasn’t proven MRAs right, he’s proven feminists right: that it’s really difficult to tell who the “bad sorts” are, because those ideas that normalise harassing behaviour sneak into everyone’s psyche at some point, and even guys who are aggressively on the side of women’s rights can still do things that are hugely hurtful to women. Schr√∂dinger’s rapist (or harasser) is real, and he’s often in a superposition of “good guy” and “bad guy,” where he’s making excuses that actually he’s good and didn’t do anything wrong, honest, why won’t you understand? And sadly even for some guys that have been virtue-signalling super hard, when you give them a chance, that waveform collapses and it turns out you’re stuck alone with a guy who will blow up on you if you criticise him, or won’t respect your boundaries, or will outright commit abuse. There is no excuse for that, and it’s a problem for everyone who dates men, and sometimes even for women who don’t have any interest in the idea.

Thirdly, not every guy who supports women is going to have Jamie’s sorts of issues or respond to similar issues the way he did, but it’s okay if you’re not feeling up to trusting any particular guy or even all guys after this sort of incident, in fact, please do whatever you feel you need to to stay safe, whoever you are. Some guys who have a lot of female friends and are emotionally dependent on their good opinion of them aren’t very good at respecting boundaries and need clear communication and possibly someone to threaten them into doing the right thing. Some men don’t fall into that situation. Others, like me, have had issues judging social situations correctly in the past, but will actually respond well to feedback. One of my friends in college deserves a big thankyou for having been really nice about having a boundary discussion with me once and setting me right, because I was getting a little obsessive about our friendship and it made her feel uncomfortable. Thanks for being classy, and you’ll know who you are if you ever read this, because you’re the only person that ever had to do that for me.

It’s okay that people won’t know which kind of guy they’re handling until they’re in a situation like this. Women or anyone else being harassed should trust their guts around this sort of thing, if someone disturbs you it’s okay to set up boundaries or get away in any way you need to. They might be a good guy who’ll react well and respect their friend, or who will be a little taken aback but will get over it and be better in the future, in which case, no harm done. They might be a good guy who’s totally offended, or they might genuinely be a bad guy who’ll flip out, in which case, they didn’t deserve to be your friend in the first place, and it’s good to know you can ditch them, because everyone deserves better than that. If someone won’t respect your boundaries or you don’t feel comfortable having the talk to set them, talk to your friends, people you trust, people in authority, and find people who’ll help you sort it out. It’s okay to need help to get through it, especially if the person harassing you is your boss.

The good thing that has come about because of this is that there’s been a large discussion of this issue that’s almost exclusively positive. The closest I saw to anyone being a troll was one guy asking very aggressively for details of the story so he could “know what’s going on.”

It’s okay to be skeptical, that guy, but please have some sensitivity while you do it. If you’re going to ask questions, be super polite and accept “I don’t want to tell you” or “please follow this/these links” for an answer with grace. You don’t need to weigh in about what that says about someone’s credibility, you can be judgemental in your head rather than on social media if it doesn’t impact you personally. Please don’t imply that it’s not reasonable to default to believing people who bring up these allegations and then be skeptical if things don’t actually check out. Not every woman is going to be okay sharing every detail of their story in public. Some are, and they’re courageous and deserve praise. But not everyone can do that, okay?

Overall, every angle of this story sucks. Now we’re going to have MRA trolls arguing that every feminist guy is some sort of “beta male,” (haha sure, some of the strongest guys I know respect women, you assholes. Ironically I’ve never met someone who I would think of as anything near an “alpha male” who is actually concerned about who is “alpha” and who is “beta,” because they’ve all been way too cool for that insecure bullshit) that all guys are predators of women and that’s natural and okay, and there will be many women who will feel even more like they can’t trust men. (which okay, may be a reasonable starting point in some cases…) All I can say to everyone who disagrees with them, or who has survived this type of harassment, is that you have as much of my support as you’d like, and as much space as you want, too, at your own discretion.

How’s that for a title, huh? The new Trump administration in the US is making it very clear that the US is up against a (proto)fascist regime 1, as its very first actions have teed up a conflict between the judicial and executive branches, with Customs and Border Control going rogue in favour of the President, ignoring legitimate court orders based on internal instructions to comply with the President’s agenda, and mass protests assembling at airports in solidarity with immigrants who, in many cases, just want to return to their lives in the the US, or escape persecution.

The only time you get to ignore a court order in a well-constituted democracy is when a higher court contradicts it, so anyone at the US CBP who’s refusing to follow those court orders after being informed of them is actually breaking the law. The ACLU is going through heroic efforts to try and legally represent anyone impacted by this new executive order, however many are being illegally denied access to counsel. This is not the sort of story you expect to hear from a democratic nation, and of course, it’s made even worse by Trump firing his acting Attorney-General, a rare holdover from the Obama administration who took the logical step of advising the justice department not to defend the executive order, as it wasn’t legally defensible and its resources were better spent elsewhere. This of course put her in the nearly unprecedented position of publicly disagreeing with the White House, so her dismissal is understandable if wrong.

In the middle of this mess, we still have some well-intentioned conservatives, moderates, and even left-wing advocates of non-violence objecting to punching a Nazi, a debate which is at best, a distraction. Let’s get it over with so we can move on to things that matter.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not my preferred tactic to punch anyone. But people are forgetting the extreme measures we went to in the Entnazifizierung (eng: denazification, usually of Germany) and that resistance against a regime employing the tactics of fascism might require several different approaches, some of which are distasteful concessions to the weaknesses inherent in a democratic system2. I maintain my stance that non-violent action is effective, ethical, and normally sufficient, and that if illegal action is required in protest it should be with the intention of getting arrested. However, there are reasons for violent action that go beyond appealing to moderates, which is largely what modern democratic protest is about. If I was given a definite choice between punching a Nazi in the face and facing a new fascist regime, you can bet I would be masking up and punching me a Nazi. (naturally, the real world is a little more complicated than that, and I have no immediate intention to go off punching anyone, as I don’t actually know that it’s necessary or sufficient to stop fascism, and fortunately, it looks not to be on the export into New Zealand just yet) The person who did punch Richard Spencer no doubt had legitimate objectives that have arguably been met by doing so: to intimidate neo-fascists, to motivate people opposed to them, to send the message that their policies of deportation aren’t viewed universally as non-violent, to act as a symbol of resistance, and so on. There is an argument that those type of tactics may be necessary against people setting up actual fascist regimes like Trump.

While I wouldn’t do it myself, I can’t condemn someone for punching a Nazi, and I think it’s an astounding display of lack of perspective as to the how much of a threat even muted whisperings of forced relocation (merely a more mild form of eliminationism, an ideology that has never met a genocide it didn’t like) that are going on within the new white nationalist wing of the Republican Party. Add to that influential advisors in the new administration such as Bannon and Sessions having close ties to white nationalism, and I’m frankly shocked that people don’t view punching nazis as an under-reaction, and for those who are still outraged at the idea of violence against Nazis, I hope you’re very regretful about World War 2, and pretty much any movies set between 1920 and 1945.

Let’s rewind back to post-war Germany, which was occupied in four zones by the UK, US, Soviets, and French. Freedom of association in post-war Germany was gone. The Nazi party was disassembled, and people were questioned about their support of the party, and put on trial based on its membership list once it was recovered. Imagine for a moment that the Republican Party were banned in the USA and understand what a cultural shock that would be and an enormous task it was. Merely being a member of the party prior to Hitler’s rise to power automatically made you a a suspect. Imagine if voting for Trump in the US primaries were a crime for a second, and compare the scale of that to punching one alt-right neo nazi in the face.The task was so big that in the American zone, young people as a category were exempted under the rationale that they had been indoctrinated. The French didn’t bring people to court because they essentially considered the entire country guilty anyway, so they focused on specific high crimes, but they still had to fire a huge numbers of teachers due to their role in indoctrinating young people, so many they had to let some back on probation to cover all the vacancies.

Denazification was considered so necessary that it went on even in countries occupied by the Germans, not just Germany itself.

Even after denazification ended, (it was viewed as an overreaction by the new West German government composed of the non-soviet zones) several people were banned from working for the government in the future, and the new German constitution in place today gives the ability to ban political parties to their federal constitutional court. Imagine for a moment if the next President of the US had to amend the US constitution to allow the Supreme Court to ban political parties because nazis undermined democracy that much in the US. That is the level of threat they are legitimately facing right now.

I don’t say this in support of these measures, but rather to give us context: One person punching another in the face over this will be us getting off easy. Fascist regimes have ended up much worse, and while I’m heartened by the existing non-violent acts of resistance, I would not be surprised if violence ends up being viewed by Americans as necessary to prevent the worst of what Trump may have in store for the US. And of course that’s regrettable because assault is a crime. But it may have been the morally correct thing to do. Or the politically necessary thing. So we should stop wasting time having an actual debate about whether minor acts of violence to prevent genocide is morally excusable, because of course they are. Preventing fascism by opposing confirmed nazis is pretty much a moral duty, and it’s difficult to over-react to an imperative like that.

I honestly can’t say for sure whether violence will be necessary to stop American fascism. I know there are non-violent ways to do it. I don’t know how effective they will be. (In an ideal world, non-violent activism can solve any political problem. However, the US has in many ways been trending away from those ideals that empower non-violence, and it will be a matter of effective messaging and resistance to make progress. I will be thrilled, of course, if they can resist fascism without hurting anyone) But I do know hand-wringing over vigorous opposition to fascism is stupid.

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I realise I haven’t yet done a breakdown of the US election, and given the quakes hitting New Zealand, this is probably a welcome distraction.

If the US ran its elections like any other country that votes on their President, Hillary Clinton would have won. This is the fifth time this has ever happened, and the President-elect had some oddly prescient feelings about the electoral college about four years ago. Of course now he’s totally respecting the result of the election because he won the most electoral votes and isn’t the United States’ system of government great?

This is not quite the nightmare scenario, as with a close result, Donald Trump effectively has no mandate, is the most unpopular President at the time of his election ever, with close to 60% unfavourables, and looks poised to screw things up massively in a way that could hand Democrats the mid-term elections in 2 years and possibly even the Presidency in 4.

The Electoral College is an interesting system that made a lot of sense in the in the era of America’s founding, back when the most practical way to send a message was to put a chap on a horse and have them ride to a recipient. In those days, there was little practical difference between simply having riders bring totals, and appointing riders to go to Washington DC and simply vote for whoever won their district or state.

While small states get an outsized share of the electoral college votes compared to their population, it’s not actually small states specifically that the Electoral College is biased towards. Why? Well because some of those small states already have very strong opinions on which party should control the federal government, and are considered “blue” or “red” states because they have recently supported Democratic or Republican candidates. Other states, however, have softer opinions or decide in ways that aren’t wholly contingent upon political party, and these states are called “purple” or “swing” states. As they typically decide the election, most campaign resources are spent on swing states, and US citizens who live in states like California or Texas or New York, despite having large electoral votes to distribute, effectively don’t count because everyone knows which way their votes are going to go in terms of the presidency. This generally takes the decision-making power on electing the president away from the northeast and west of the country, and giving the northern southern states a hugely disproportionate importance.

Now, in the age of phones and the internet, there’s no real positive reason to maintain an electoral college unless of course you live in a swing state. There have been attempts in the past to abolish the electoral college, but it’s rather hard to amend the US constitution, which mandates the electoral college choose the President. (whoops! Maybe it should have just mandated that a fair election be held and then left to Congress and the Supreme Court to decide what a fair election was)

A lot of Hillary supporters have been understandably upset with this result. Some have pointed out, with some reasonable basis, that the electors ought to vote for the person who won the popular vote. While I agree in principle, in practice electors are hardcore party faithful, and so-called “faithless electors” have never swung a US Presidential race in the past, so I can’t see it happening now. If you really want to stop this happening in the future, however, there’s a more practical way than an amendment. The states individually can simply pass a measure signing them up to the NPVIC, which is basically an agreement that once there are enough electoral votes signed up to the agreement to guarantee they all determine the President, then all the states who signed will instruct their electors to vote for the popular vote winner. Because the constitution and existing case law says that states get to determine how their electors vote, it’s a perfectly legal end-run around needing an amendment to abolish the Electoral College.

Other Hillary supporters have been less constructive, to whit, this Sesame Street-style garbage bin grouch masquerading as a journalist, who argues that Sanders caused Hillary to lose, drawing an analogy with Nader in the race between Bush and Gore. This again goes to how poor a system the electoral college is, as it results in 59 opportunities for near-ties that are likely to be decided through court battles, gerrymandering, and voter disenfranchisement rather than legitimate campaigning. It is also worth noting that it is Clinton’s responsibility to earn people’s votes, a fact that Gil Troy does not seem to get.

Back to Time’s “article.” Firstly, the analogy to Nader is a poor comparison, because if you ask anyone but the US Supreme Court, Gore actually won the 2000 election, and even if you do believe the Supreme Court was correct to halt the recounts, (in which case you don’t really believe in democracy, so why are you reading about election results?) not only were there multiple third party candidates in the race, each of which earned more votes than the margin between Bush and Gore, but there were also more registered Democrats that voted for Bush than the 560 vote margin as well.

But even ignoring that, Gore suffered from the same problem that John Kerry, who actually lost to Bush, and Hillary Clinton both suffer from. And that is that he wasn’t particularly good at connecting to voters. In Gore’s case he was able to squeak out a bare win in the electoral college, had the vote been counted fairly, and in Clinton’s she managed to hang on to the popular vote, but all three candidates were not good picks. (and this is an excellent argument against primaries, btw. It would actually be much better to use a voting system that allows people to pick between multiple Democrats and multiple Republicans without a spoiler effect) Gore was a technocrat who’s much better at making people think than making them feel, which makes him a great part of a leadership team, and arguably very good at governing, but a terrible Presidential candidate. Obama got things right in 2008 when he showed that you can make the public both think and feel, when he captured the progressive spirit of the US and won in a landslide. The Democrats unfortunately didn’t learn the lesson of 2012, where his support eroded significantly after it was revealed that Obama wasn’t a progressive, he just knew how to campaign like one.

Hillary didn’t campaign like Obama, she tried to pick up moderate Republicans, and effectively kicked the actual left aside. That done, it was actually suprising that many of the most progressive demographics worked out well for Clinton, (the BBC has an excellent article covering the demographics of the 2016 presidential race, the only thing it’s missing is a split of the “independent” vote, ie. people who weren’t registered as Democrats or Republicans, as I imagine they probably showed for Republicans and not Democrats a lot more than in 2008 or 2012) if not necessarily as well as they did for Obama. For that to happen, some of the new voters Sanders brought in to the fold must have come over, however she likely bled a huge amount of soft support from people who viewed her as emblematic of corruption, as a phony career politician, from people who dislike the idea of political dynasties, and of course from sexists and even racists who don’t like her strong ties to voters of colour.

Clinton’s vaunted electoral college “advantage” didn’t show up because the advantage was actually contingent on her popular vote performance being four to five percent above Trump’s like it was when his campaign was imploding, when it was instead bare fractions of a percent above his vote in the general election.

Arguably Sanders was less successful in bringing his supporters over with him when he endorsed Clinton than previous primary losers have been, but this is due to a fundamental misunderstanding much of the US establishment has had about both the Trump and Sanders campaigns. They were populist campaigns about two different visions of how to make the United States work for the working classes again. Sanders had a bold vision with further progress on healthcare, education, opposing pro-corporate trade deals, ending Wall Street fraud and misconduct, and fair taxation that refocuses on the wealthy instead of the middle class, who bear a disproportionate burden in terms of total taxation in the US, and of course, reforming the campaign rules so that candidates like him would stand a real chance again in future races, amending the constitution to get money out of politics. Clinton could never have kept all of Sanders voters no matter how he tried to bring them over without adopting those policies, and even then, some of them wouldn’t have trusted her to carry them out anyway. We saw this in action when she came out as against the TPP- her previous stance had poisoned the well for her in taking a populist position on trade, so all it did was limit the damage against her for that issue.

The one area where Clinton’s supporters are correct in apportioning a share of her blame is in directing their ire at James Comey for turning some additional emails uncovered in an investigation of Anthony Wiener into a political football against Ms Clinton. The re-appearance of email-related stories close to the election absolutely would have hurt her in some crucial states, although we can’t know by how much. I personally suspect she probably may have lost the Electoral College anyway, but we can’t know for sure. Ironically, this issue of emails is also a great counter-punch to Time’s stupid think-piece of pro-estabilshment propaganda: Sanders ran such a kind, issues-based campaign in the Primary that he deliberately refused to discuss her emails, because he actually wanted to talk about issues that mattered to the US people. If he managed to “hurt” Clinton in that primary enough to lose her the election, despite running such a positive campaign, she was obviously too fragile a candidate to ever be a serious contender for the Presidency. Any candidate that is hurt by more democracy doesn’t deserve to win anyway.

What a weird race for US President this has turned out to be. Most of us (bar some enthusiastic elites for Clinton) are looking at these two candidates and holding our noses if we have any preference. As I mentioned earlier, I am reluctantly cheering from the sidelines for Ms. Clinton, largely because Trump is an authoritarian, and I judge that a bigger danger than Clinton being an establishment candidate.

It’s hard to be enthusiastic about the US joining New Zealand in breaking the final glass ceiling when the person doing it only seems to be likely to make it because she’s running against the worst candidate ever.

For those of you who are interested but not following along, here’s a breakdown, with conclusions or rough probabilities for each front-loaded:

Trump: Not paying income Tax

Probability of being real: 90%+

Donald Trump has steadfastly refused to release his taxes during the campaign, a move that is unprecedented in recent Presidential history. He released an abridged version of his financials instead, which defeats the point of releasing taxes, which is to have a financial transperancy which can then be verified and confirmed officially.

Donald maintains this is due to an active audit of his company, however eminently qualified people have stated that an audit does not prevent him from releasing his tax returns, and when he tried to claim other business-owners would minimise tax similar to the way he is accused of, Warren Buffet, a Hillary Clinton donator, released his own taxes (showing he paid more than he had to) and confirmed he was under audit at the time, suffering no problems with the IRS, further disputing Trump’s protestations about not releasing his taxes.

Donald also claims that if he did avoid income tax, (he won’t confirm still) that it would make him smart, which not only is an argument whose logical conclusion is that the US shouldn’t have any public infrastructure at all, but it also backs up speculation that Donald views his supporters as “marks” who he doesn’t respect.

We also have a leaked tax return that shows he registered a paper loss of US$1 billion in a single year, which he could realistically have carried forward for several years. Doesn’t look like a particularly savvy business man to even be able to inflate his losses up to $1 billion.

There’s also reasonable speculation that Donald over-reports how wealthy he is and that he’s not even a billionaire any more, and that most of his wealth is from his inheritance. Given the level of narcissism he exhibits, this is actually more likely to be a reason he wouldn’t release his tax returns.

Clinton: Anthony Wiener email probe

Probability of any new emails coming out that actually impact Clinton: 5-10%

Much fanfare was given to the FBI “reopening” the case of Hillary Clinton’s emails, which is suprising given that’s actually not what’s happening.

Rather, a separate case about Anthony Wiener allegedly exchanging sexual pictures with an under-aged girl is being investigated, and there is a set of emails (and it’s a relatively large set, despite early incorrect reports that it was just 3 emails) that nobody has read yet that may or may not be relevant to that case, that happen to reside on a computer belonging to the Clinton campaign, because Anthony’s ex-wife Huma Abedin is a prominent member of Clinton’s staff.

Ironically, the real story here is that James Comey is probably breaking the law1 in making such an announcement so close to the election, especially given the confusing wording in his letter to congress that implied any of this somehow being related to Hillary Clinton or her private email server. While there are, potentially, emails that relate to Hillary Clinton or her campaign in this set, they were neither to nor from Clinton, and they may even be duplicates of emails already reviewed by the earlier probe.

Backing up the perspective that James Comey is out to make a political point, he held a press conference inappropriately to announce his conclusions to the original investigation, when his only role was to sign off a report to the DoJ recommending no prosecution, as it’s ultimately their call whether or not to go ahead, which paints a picture of a man wanting to increase his public profile.

There is no evidence that any of these emails could negatively impact Clinton, however it is an outside possibility given how many embarrassing revelations have been in the Podesta leak.

Trump: Sexual assault and rape allegations

Probability of at least one instance being real: All but confirmed.

With at least eleven women coming forward now, with them independently telling consistent stories that paint a pattern of sexual assault, it’s not only looking credible that at least one allegation is true, it’s looking very likely that all or most of the harassment happened as described. Trump is the Right’s own Cosby moment, and they’re handling it a lot less gracefully than the African-American community did.

Trump claims the women coming forward are liars who are just out for fame. There are a couple of good reasons to doubt this claim. Firstly, none of the victims came forward until after the Billy Bush tape was leaked to the public. This is consistent with their stories of feeling intimidated and dis-empowered by his sexual assaults, and is exactly what you would expect in this sort of case. Were they some sort of hatchet job from the Clintons, it might have made sense to bring them out earlier in the campaign. While one set of allegations could plausibly be politically motivated, it would be astoundingly difficult to get women from so many different backgrounds, some of them with real conservative credentials, and coach them to consistently lie with similar stories. At least some of these women are definitely telling the truth. (whether or not the allegations ever end up being tested in court)

Adding to the credibility of these allegations, there was also a prior allegation by an (alleged) victim of child rape and sex trafficking, which did not go to trial due to minor technical errors in the filing. The details in that allegation contain some incidental facts about Mr. Trump that check out, (including naming a friend of Trump’s who has already been convicted for similar behaviour as a co-offender) so Donald’s assertion that those allegations are also a lie would require it to be a very well-researched one. There’s also the fact that she had a witness willing to testify to the events, and while coaching up a witness to corroborate a single story is a more credible claim, taken together with the other 11 allegations which represent the profile of a sexual predator, and the creepy treatment of his daughter Ivanka, such a crime would not be out of character for Donald.

Clinton has, demonstrating her feminist credentials, decided not to politicise the rape allegations without the consent of the victim, who hasn’t come forward because she is still protected by anonymity.

Clinton: Unethical use of the Clinton Foundation?

Did Clinton behave unethically? Confirmed2.

Let me state at the outset that the Clinton Foundation, unlike her opponent’s “charitable” foundation, actually did real charity work, and there is no question of funds being misappropriated.

The issue here is rather a question of corruption and the appearance of corruption, and whether it is appropriate for a candidate to “house” their staff in a charitable organisation, as Podesta wikileaks have made it quite clear that the Clinton Foundation was viewed by those running it as primarily a political vehicle, not a charitable cause.

We can tell by the behaviour of those donating to the foundation that many of its prominent donors viewed it this way too, as they did not donate to other charities dedicated to reducing global poverty, which is behaviour you would reasonably expect from wealthy heads of state and similar. Instead it seems that her donors, at least, perceived that the Clinton Foundation provided them enhanced access to Hillary Clinton, and the Podesta leaks paint of picture suggesting the same thing.

Is there concrete proof that Clinton used her influence inappropriately as a result? (ie. can we prove she engaged in “pay-to-play” politics?) No, not yet. I suspect there never will be, as that’s not how things are done in Washington and Clinton is too careful for that, and most of the Sec State’s influence is through advice to the President, which is largely verbal.

But this absolutely does meet the “appearance of corruption” test which is the standard all cabinet offices should be judged by regarding corruption. If this scandal had come out while Ms. Clinton was still Secretary of State, my opinion would have been that she should have resigned as a result. It is a definite black mark on her candidacy, and were she running against a normal Republican, you would expect something like this to lose her the race. I am continually surprised that this isn’t where the Trump campaign is hitting her, as he’s essentially conceding to Hillary that she gets to keep much of her soft support. He is spending too much time on emails and Bill Clinton’s behaviour, and not enough on Hillary’s conduct regarding the Clinton Foundation.

Then there’s also the murky ethical issue of whether it’s appropriate to provide “jobs for the boys” in your charitable foundation when you’re not yet campaigning for president. I have heard mention that campaign activities prior to a certain time period are illegal, but couldn’t find a reference for that myself, so take that with a grain of salt for now.

Trump: Colluding with Russia?

Probability of Trump actively colluding with Russia: 5-20%

Probability of Trump being unduly influenced by Russia: 90%+

Previously there was no evidence that Trump was in any way colluding with Russian interests, but a recent story came out with some interesting evidence here!

Before that story, all we could say was that Russian interests held a lot of Mr. Trump’s debts, which would have opened him to unprecedented influence by a foreign state.

While arguably a warming of relations with Russia would be a very good thing for the US, essentially being a neighbour to Russia, that shouldn’t be achieved by electing a puppet-president who might ostensibly simply do what his debtors tell him to.

Slate has an interesting article suggesting collusion with Russian interests through a dark server sending private mail to the firm Alfabank, The Intercept also has a counter-piece with some evidence that the server in question was probably just sending out low volumes of spam, so I don’t rate it very high probability at this stage that there’s any secret collusion with Russia going on.

In short, you should be concerned about Trump and Russia, but more because he’s a loser who’s in debt to Russians, and less because of media and Clinton campaign stories about cyber security to deflect from their own Wikileaks issues, but if you’re a Clinton supporter, you should probably be asking her to be a bit less aggressive towards Russia.

Clinton: Coordinating with Super PACs?

It has been confirmed, at least if you believe that Wikileaks is a reliable source2, which I do, that the Clinton Campaign is illegally co-ordinating with Super PACs. This is not only a violation of campaign finance law, it’s also a pretty worrying mistake for a candidate who thinks that the Citizens United decision (which allows Super PACs to exist) should be remedied by constitutional amendment that she can’t even abide by the current law under that decision. If she does repeal Citizens United, I’m not sure how Hillary Clinton would run a successful re-election campaign, so I’m pretty pessimistic about her likelihood of successfully doing this in the first four years.

Incidentally, repealing Citizens United by constitutional amendment is basically the very least the US could do to clean up its elections. That would basically just reset the donation playing field back to the 1990s. There is still the issue of undue influence of large donors, gerrymandering of congressional districts, the unrepresentative and disproportional nature of plurality voting to determine the house, the electoral college distorting the winner for the presidency to the point that the “wrong” candidate has won in the past3, and two-party domination. Neither main-party candidate is proposing anything that will put a serious dent in this problem.

Trump: An actual authoritarian?

Yes. Political scientists have been¬†commenting for media throughout the campaign that Trump bears many of the classic signs of being an authoritarian candidate, and that isn’t just something that happens in less-developed countries, it’s about a candidate, usually right-wing, exploiting a populist mood among an electorate.

That does not necessarily mean he’s the next Hitler, but it does mean that if elected, he will likely start doing things like discarding the idea of separation of powers, of judicial independence, of freedom of speech and association, of relatively open immigration policies, jailing his political opponents and threatening his personal enemies, using his office to enrich himself, etc…

These democratic rights are very difficult to claw back once they’ve been systematically violated or even repealed, as has been demonstrated with the US backing out of its conviction against torturing detainees and the Obama administration’s refusal to even hold non-judicial inquiries into the matter, let alone prosecutions, despite torture actually being illegal.

Clinton: Illegal private email server?

As I mentioned earlier, James Comey, a Republican, concluded that Hillary had taken no illegal action in using a private email server. It wasn’t secure practice and it certainly wasn’t entirely ethical to do so, but it’s less a scandal and more an issue of the law needing to require public officials to use public emails only for official business.

The main bulk of this is a non-issue and the kind of thing that, for anyone who wasn’t in a cabinet position, would be resolved by a simple meeting with your supervisor or maybe an official warning.

The one place where Republicans may have a point is that she was potentially not sufficiently informed to take the appropriate care regarding confidential emails, but there is no public evidence to date that suggests this caused any intelligence leaks or that any information that was classified at the time was handled through the private server. Much of the “classified material” was due to retroactive classification.

Trump: Racial profiling to deny housing to black people?

Yep, he got taken to court for it and lost, and the case was regional one in New York, not part of some national-level investigation like he claims.

Clinton: Benghazi?

No. This is categorically not a thing, and anyone talking about it is essentially just redistributing hot air. In fact, if anything, the real “scandal” here is that the policies supported by the very people who are outraged by Benghazi likely caused it, ie. the US’ entire approach to terrorism causes blow-back and exacerbates the problem. (which, ironically, is one of the few areas Trump has been correct in critiquing Hillary’s judgement. Of course his “solutions” seem to be even more of the same with a side-dish of extra war crimes, so…)

Trump: Misappropriating charity money

This is a massive yes.

While the Clinton Foundation is the one really knock-out scandal out there for Clinton, it not only pales in comparison to Trump’s other scandals, it actually also pales in comparison to Trump’s scandals regarding his own foundation, which is likely a vehicle for tax evasion, has been used to pay legal settlements owed by Mr. Trump personally, has engaged in self-dealing, and he has a poor record in donating to his own foundation to the point that he’s now actually stopped donating since about 2010, when normally a family foundation like this is funded in large part by its namesake. Oh, and it’s been ordered to stop soliciting donations. (Trump’s lack of donations to his own foundation also fuel the case made by speculation that he’s not as rich as he says he is)

Clinton: Advocating fixing foreign elections?

This one’s a little tricky. Clinton has, back in 2006, made some comments about Palestine that are relevant to free elections. However, whether she was advocating election-rigging hangs on how you determine the meaning of the word “determine” in context:

I do not think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake, and if we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.

You can either take this to mean they should have ensured that Fatah, their preferred partners, won the election, as many seem to be doing, or if you’re a bit more charitable, you can take this to mean that Clinton wanted to have information about who the likely winner was, ie. polling, before advocating for an election, and then only advocate elections if Fatah would win. (see definitions 1 & 2 of determine here)

On the balance I’m willing to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt that it’s the less objectionable option for now, (it’s still pretty objectionable anyway…) not that the US in general and people Clinton holds in esteem in particular haven’t done things just as bad as election-rigging in the past.

Now, this is definitely hypocrisy from Clinton, who supports democracy at home and derides Trump for undermining it, but it’s orthodox hypocrisy in foreign policy, where most nations believe in realpolitik4 for foreign policy, and she wouldn’t have been viewed as a contender for Sec State if she wasn’t willing to undermine democracy in developing nations. This is a legitimate criticism of US foreign policy, but it’s not on the same level in my opinion as Trump’s authoritarianism, as Clinton is essentially stopping democratic values from spreading, while Trump is effectively advocating to get rid of it at home too.

Trump: Trump University

It’s a scam, and again, it fuels the case that he’s not as rich as he says, because genuinely successful people do not risk this kind of exposure to lawsuits.

Trump: Bad at business

This one is also true. Donald Trump’s entire image is one of being a winner who’s great at business and is with only the most attractive women. While the occasional bankruptcy isn’t proof that someone is objectively bad at business, serial bankruptcies are a different story,¬† and he has business failures beyond his bankruptcies. There’s also been allegations of him engaging in unreasonable management practices.

The sad thing is that there are also probably newsworthy Trump scandals I’ve missed evaluating here, because the man is just that odious. (I mean, the man just recently used a racially-charged insult and kicked out one of his African-American supporters from one of his rallies because he assumed he was a protestor) But this should cover the main ones people may have heard mentioned in election coverage and give you some idea if you’ve been cruising through this terrifying roller coaster because it’s all happening overseas.

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My feelings on Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate are very mixed.

The Positive

On the one hand, as several feminists I respect have pointed out, she is the most overqualified candidate for president in modern history, to a point that she’s comparable with one of the greats such as Thomas Jefferson in that regard, who also came to the Presidency through the State Department. (And of course, women do have to be overqualified to break that last glass ceiling in each country, sadly) She is the candidate, of the two likely to win, who I prefer. She has “waited her turn” for the nomination of the democratic party. She was a good supporter of President Obama, even after her understandably hurt feelings at essentially having the nomination swept away from under her feet by him. (because supporting men they lose out on promotions to is expected of women in the workplace, even when men in the same position are allowed to spit the dummy and have a hissy fit) She has played the system extraordinarily well and by any conventional wisdom, deserves to be the USA’s next president.

Which is of course, precisely the problem, and were she not running against a authoritarian narcissist and loser1, who is a fraudulent libel bully2 and likes to brag about sexual assault of attractive blondes3, but some other kind of populist, she would be practically guaranteed to lose because she has essentially been looking for an endorsement of the political establishment, not the people.

Does the fact that she’s a woman and the USA hasn’t yet had a female president play into this? Of course it does. There are absolutely bros out there voting for Gary Johnson or even Donald Trump (or perhaps writing in for Bernie Sanders, despite the fact that he has endorsed Ms. Clinton) who don’t yet understand, like¬†practically the entire rest of the world, that a woman can be a good leader, and what being led by a woman looks like and feels like. (the answer is mainly “good”) I have been a defender of women as Heads of Government before, so I hope I can say this without being accused of disliking the idea of a female president, as I feel that women in particular, and diverse candidates in general, have been long overdue as US Presidents. It should have been a woman’s “turn,” insofar as such a concept should apply to politics, long before Hillary.

Let’s be charitable and not bring up the issue of Hillary’s approval ratings in the negative section, as it’s likely to have been significantly bumped down by pure virtue of her gender, which is not acceptable.

The Negative

That said, is everyone who is being called a Bernie Bro coming to their decision based purely on unconscious sexism? Absolutely not. There are so many legitimate arguments against Clinton as a candidate it’s not funny. She is an establishment candidate running during a populist mood. (which incidentally explains a lot of Trump’s popularity- the fact that the man’s a moron is actually a plus for him with certain voters, as they don’t want someone who sounds like a politician, and they want someone they believe will put the interests of ordinary people first, which Trump at least has passable rhetoric for, if your definition of “ordinary” is restricted to white people) She is the most right-wing candidate (some would argue that, normalising for America’s general rightward lean, she’s a centrist. That may be fair) to succeed in capturing the Democratic nomination since the southern strategy, and yes, I am including her husband in that calculation.

As a President, there is evidence that while she will enthusiastically support certain liberal (as opposed to Left) issues like women’s rights in general and abortion rights in particular, queer rights, (albeit as a follower of public opinion rather than an actual leader) compromise gun reforms, and expanding access to healthcare, but taken overall she’s also pretty dangerous on a policy-based analysis. While she does support higher taxes on the rich to pay for expanding access to education, this was actually a concession to her primary opponent, and not a policy she came up with herself. She opposes sufficient regulation on big banks, corporate accountability, refuses to take a side on the Dakota Access pipeline, an unnecessary relic of fossil fuel infrastructure in an era where all new infrastructure needs to be planning for a carbon-zero future, and that’s all before we start mentioning the things she was for before she was “against” them,¬† like the Keystone XL pipeline, and, thanks to Wikileaks, we have absolute confirmation that she is only pretending to be against the TPPA to score points with voters, and thus cannot be relied upon to prevent its passage into law.

She was the wrong nominee. Her primary opponent, while an elderly white man, would also have been the most left-wing Democratic nominee for President in modern history, and the first Jewish nominee, (and thereby also the first nominee that didn’t openly claim to be Christian) so his nomination would also have been historic, even if it pushed back the first female nominee. Bernie Sanders polled significantly better head-to-head with Trump at the time when he was all-but-nominated as the Republican candidate, and Bernie and Clinton were the only Democrats in the race, at which time it’s likely that opinion around the nominees had solidified to a point that head-to-head polling was reasonable. (At the time, Clinton was losing head-to-head against Trump, precisely because she needed Sanders’ supporters to get her over the line) His policies were objectively better for America: extending Medicare to everyone, a more universal education program, a dovish foreign policy, and real restraint for the US’ billionaire class and their servants on Wall Street.

And on top of that, there’s evidence that, unlike in the general election, (where voter fraud appears to be on Trump’s side) the contest was unfairly stacked against Bernie Sanders. The Democratic campaign was supporting her behind the scenes during the primary, because Bernie Sanders wasn’t an establishment democrat, despite his pledge to support the party and its nominee even if he lost, a pledge he didn’t have to make. They colluded with Debbie Wassermann-Shulz to put primary debates on at obscure times and to run as few as possible, going so far as to back out on the last debate after they had been pressured into running more. They manipulated primary procedure to disadvantage his campaign in Nevada. They illegally colluded with SuperPACs, despite Hillary’s supposed opposition to the Citizens United decision. They took advantage of voter suppression in several primary states in order to win. And there is evidence from our friends at Wikileaks to suggest that Hillary’s campaign did so enthusiastically.

Which of course, brings us to the issue of Wikileaks, and that the Clinton campaign’s defense against their allegations is itself problematic. Firstly, let me say that if any of the actual content of the leaks were incorrect, there would be sufficient proof for her campaign to come out with documentary evidence outright saying so. That they have not done so is a classic “non-denial denial,” ie. implied evidence of absence. Secondly, let me say that leaking documents is not a “cyber attack.” It is either espionage or data breach. Cyber attacks fall under “sabotage,” a charge much too serious to apply to some documents that have been copied and released publicly without permission. (which, by the by, is basically the definition of whistle-blowing once you add in “public interest,” which the fact that Ms. Clinton is a Presidential candidate clearly does) Now, the Clinton campaign have instead pivoted their defense to the provenance of the leak, which they contest (with no information provided to the public to prove so, even though there is reasonable circumstantial evidence available in the data itself) that they are a result of Russian espionage. So what? What does that matter if the leaks are true and of public import? (Nobody has yet provided any reasonable argument that anything Wikileaks has ever published has been false, fyi, so it’s actually a pretty reliable source)

Ms. Clinton has given paid speeches to Wall Street in which she has claimed it is acceptable to have both a private position and a public position, and despite her protestations, she was clearly talking about double-talk to the electorate when you read the leaked transcripts. That said, the upside of that particular speech is that if you look into it carefully, her admission about being out-of-touch with working class Americans is actually genuine, and something she really should be saying on the campaign trail- “I used to be one of you, and just because I’ve risen above that now doesn’t mean I won’t continue trying to advocate for the working class” is simultaneously honest, genuine, and good policy. Hillary is not good at letting us look at the genuine parts of her that make her a good candidate, and they’re there, look at how positively received her defense of abortion rights was, for instance.

But back to her campaign’s defense about Wikileaks, this brings us to the issue of how hawkish Ms. Clinton is on foreign policy, and why that’s a problem with tensions so high with Russia. She is openly accusing them of manipulating the election in her country without concrete evidence, (to which she is lucky the extent of the response has been to humorously request to observe the election in certain non-critical states) she is openly trying to increase tensions by calling for a no-fly zone in Syria when the only people bombing it are aligned with Russia, and she supports encroaching on Russian territory so far by admitting new members into NATO that the metaphorical equivalent would be Russia having bases along the Canadian and Mexican borders with the USA, despite the fact that the Allies promised after German reunification4 that NATO would go no further east than Germany.

The fact is that, regardless of the sexism against her, Ms. Clinton is an over-scripted establishment candidate, appealing to the rich and trying to steal establishment Republicans away from Mr. Trump in an election environment where there is a real hunger for a populist candidate that understands that working class (no, not middle class, I mean working class) people are suffering, that the US is tired of political corruption and political dynasties, (of which Ms. Clinton is now part, in campaigning for the Presidency after her husband had won) and that they want someone who will not only provide them proven leadership and sound policy, but will attack the people who are economically bleeding them dry. The former Secretary of State isn’t that person, although of course, despite the perceptions of the rust belt and certain authoritarians, neither is Mr. Trump.

In Summary

Hillary Clinton may be the most qualified candidate in modern US political history. She may be the best shot at the first woman to become US president, and the hardest campaigner among the major parties. But she was neither the best candidate in her primary, (that was, objectively, Bernie Sanders) nor is she the best female candidate in the race. It is, of course, fortunate for her that she’s fighting against perhaps the most unqualified man to ever become a major party nominee. (I will count Ronald Reagan as more qualified because at least he had charisma)

I hope we look back at the US election and see it as the missed opportunity for a Sanders Presidency. I hope we don’t end up with a resumption of the cold war between the US and Russia, despite indications that Hillary Clinton’s provocation of Russia are above the level that occured in the original Cold War. I hope I’m wrong about not being able to trust Hillary’s will-I-won’t-I opposition to the TPPA. I hope I’m proven wrong and that she works with Mr. Sanders in fostering the new progressive caucus within the Democratic Party. I hope I’m wrong about my pessimism that she’ll fight climate change adequately. I hope I genuinely get to celebrate the US joining the rest of the civilised world in electing a woman, instead of bemoaning that on the issues she’s the worst female candidate we possibly could have gotten. But I’m not optimistic yet.

(more…)

So lately we’ve seen some right-wing politicians in the USA come out swinging against the idea of Net Neutrality. The current favoured talking point about why they’re doing this is that Net Neutrality is a form of price control. For those who aren’t aware, the internet has informally functioned on a system described as “Net Neutrality” for most of its lifetime- until recently. It’s the principle that internet traffic should work like phone calls. That is, barring certain exceptions for law enforcement reasons, all traffic should be forwarded to its destination without interference or delay.

The argument that Net Neutrality is a price control relies on people not understanding how the internet works in order to be persuasive. They argue, look, you pay your Internet Service Provider to deliver you content. Why shouldn’t the content provider have to pay for this? They’re getting content delivered to you for free.

Only someone who has never had to deal with the realities of hosting a website would say this. Everyone who puts up a website pays hosting fees either directly or indirectly. If you have your own server in your home, you pay your ISP for the ability to upload certain amounts of bandwidth. For small websites that probably works fine. You might instead pay a specialised hosting company to perform this service for you as well, in which case, they manage the server. You also pay a fee to have a human-readable address (like “google.com”) to the Domain Name Registry Service.

Sites like WordPress.com that offer “free” hosting services for certain types of content manage these fees for you and gamble that they can make money off advertising on your pages. Ending Net Neutrality would essentially open anyone hosting content to blackmail from large ISPs. They could block access to services that compete with them or their parent company, (so you wouldn’t be able to use the internet to move your service to a new ISP, for instance, or if your ISP owns a video streaming service, they might block or dramatically slow down competing services to the point they don’t function) and they could slow down sites hosted by large content providers if they refuse to pay for so-called “fastlane service” in order to extract extra fees. (in reality, they would be paying to get out of a slow lane that had been newly invented, as currently all “lanes” travel at the same speed)

This won’t just affect customers of one ISP, either. Internet traffic uses a system called “routing” that has regional servers direct your traffic. You’re often passing through six or ten intermediary servers when you request internet content. If just one of those intermediary servers slows or blocks content, it effects the whole route. Other ISPs who don’t support this sort of behaviour would need to develop systems to skip biased parts of the internet that don’t forward traffic on a neutral basis.

It’s as if someone actually had the power to mark a speed limit on a section of the ocean, or actually block it off altogether. The way ships are navigated would have to change.

The other argument used by opponents of Net Neutrality is, as I’ve alluded above, that the ability to prioritize certain types of traffic allows them to offer better service- that is, they can fast-lane the things that are important to their customers.

This is a better argument, but it’s still wrong. If prioritising internet traffic is helpful, (and I can see why it would be) a better way to handle it would be to allow software developers to opt in to having certain internet traffic handled slowly. This would allow things like periodic e-mail checks to be deprioritised, (because do you really need to know the instant you receive a new email?) but manual e-mail checks to go through at a full speed that might be slightly faster, and it would also let developers expose options to have all internet traffic sent at full priority.

That puts whether your traffic is handled as a priority in your hands, and the hands of people who actually design software, and whose job it is to know when an internet request needs to be fast or slow. Centralising the priority of internet traffic with ISPs leads to situations like torrent throttling, which slows down things like peer-to-peer video game updating in order to also discourage pirating of TV and blu-ray content, or at worst political censorship by ISPs or simple anti-competitive behaviour like mentioned above.

The worst thing is that if this happens in the USA, it sabotages the Internet for everyone else as well, given the large amount of traffic routed through the USA. It would pose big routing issues for any New Zealand or Australia-based ISPs wanting to avoid slow service. All internet users should be crossing our fingers that a Democrat (most likely either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton) ends up winning the USA’s next presidential election, otherwise this is going to be a problem we have to deal with.