Category Archives: Politics

The Data That Turned the World Upside Down


Psychologist Michal Kosinski developed a method to analyze people in minute detail based on their Facebook activity. Did a similar tool help propel Donald Trump to victory? Two reporters from Zurich-based Das Magazin went data-gathering.?

An earlier version of this story appeared in Das Magazin in December. 

On November 9 at around 8.30 AM., Michal Kosinski woke up in the Hotel Sunnehus in Zurich. The 34-year-old researcher had come to give a lecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) about the dangers of Big Data and the digital revolution. Kosinski gives regular lectures on this topic all over the world. He is a leading expert in psychometrics, a data-driven sub-branch of psychology. When he turned on the TV that morning, he saw that the bombshell had exploded: contrary to forecasts by all leading statisticians, Donald J. Trump had been elected president of the United States.

For a long time, Kosinski watched the Trump victory celebrations and the results coming in from each state. He had a hunch that the outcome of the election might have something to do with his research. Finally, he took a deep breath and turned off the TV.

On the same day, a then little-known British company based in London sent out a press release: “We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communication has played such an integral part in President-elect Trump’s extraordinary win,” Alexander James Ashburner Nix was quoted as saying. Nix is British, 41 years old, and CEO of Cambridge Analytica. He is always immaculately turned out in tailor-made suits and designer glasses, with his wavy blonde hair combed back from his forehead. His company wasn’t just integral to Trump’s online campaign, but to the UK’s Brexit campaign as well.

Continue reading The Data That Turned the World Upside Down

How to Rig an Election

Victoria Collier | November 2012 | Harper’s Magazine 

Published in the November 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine, “How to Rig an Election” explores the long history of vote rigging in the United States. Read the full story here.

The G.O.P. aims to paint the country red  [abstract]

From the earliest days of the republic, American politicians (and much of a cynical populace) saw vote rigging as a necessary evil. Since the opposition was assumed to be playing equally dirty, how could you avoid it? Most Americans would probably have confessed to a grudging admiration for New York City’s Tammany Hall machine, which bought off judges, politicians, and ward captains, ensured the suppression of thousands of votes, and controlled Democratic Party nominations for more than a century.

By the beginning of the last century, however, sentiment had begun to shift. In 1915, the Supreme Court ruled that vote suppression could be federally prosecuted. In Terre Haute, Indiana, more than a hundred men had already been indicted for conspiring to fix the 1914 elections for mayor, sheriff, and circuit judge. The incumbent sheriff and judge went to jail for five years, and Mayor Donn M. Roberts spent six years in Leavenworth.

Roberts and his gang, declared the New York Times, had failed to grasp that “what is safe and even commendable one year may be dangerous and reprehensible the next.” Almost overnight, commonplace corruption had become unacceptable, and vote rigging a serious crime. It took a strongman like Huey Long to remain an exception to the rule. But the overall trajectory seemed to point toward reform, accountability, and security. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, seventy-two years after Elizabeth Cady Stanton first demanded women’s suffrage—the right that would, in Stanton’s words, “secure all others.” By the 1960s, Northern Democrats abandoned their Southern allies and pushed to end the mass suppression of black votes below the Mason–Dixon line. With the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many Americans began to believe that the bad old days of stolen elections might soon be behind us.

But as the twentieth century came to a close, a brave new world of election rigging emerged, on a scale that might have prompted Huey Long’s stunned admiration. Tracing the sea changes in our electoral process, we see that two major events have paved the way for this lethal form of election manipulation: the mass adoption of computerized voting technology, and the outsourcing of our elections to a handful of corporations that operate in the shadows, with little oversight or accountability.

This privatization of our elections has occurred without public knowledge or consent, leading to one of the most dangerous and least understood crises in the history of American democracy. We have actually lost the ability to verify election results.

The use of computers in elections began around the time of the Voting Rights Act. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the use of optical scanners to process paper ballots became widespread, usurping local hand counting. The media, anxious to get on the air with vote totals, hailed the faster and more efficient computerized count. In the twenty-first century, a new technology became ubiquitous: Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting, which permits touchscreen machines and does not require a paper trail.

Old-school ballot-box fraud at its most egregious was localized and limited in scope. But new electronic voting systems allow insiders to rig elections on a statewide or even national scale. And whereas once you could catch the guilty parties in the act, and even dredge the ballot boxes out of the bayou, the virtual vote count can be manipulated in total secrecy. By means of proprietary, corporate-owned software, just one programmer could steal hundreds, thousands, potentially even millions of votes with the stroke of a key. It’s the electoral equivalent of a drone strike.

Read the full story here.

Hillary Clinton Used Bleachbit To Wipe Emails

Slashdot | August 26 2016

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Neowin:

The open-source disk cleaning application, BleachBit, got quite a decent ad pitch from the world of politics after it was revealed lawyers of the presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton, used the software to wipe her email servers. Clinton is currently in hot water, being accused of using private servers for storing sensitive emails. “[South Carolina Representative, Trey Gowdy, spoke to Fox News about Hillary Clinton’s lawyers using BleachBit to wipe the private servers. He said:] ‘She and her lawyers had those emails deleted. And they didn’t just push the delete button; they had them deleted where even God can’t read them. They were using something called BleachBit. You don’t use BleachBit for yoga emails or bridesmaids emails. When you’re using BleachBit, it is something you really do not want the world to see.'” Two of the main features that are listed on the BleachBit website include “Shred files to hide their contents and prevent data recovery,” and “Overwrite free disk space to hide previously deleted files.” These two features would make it pretty difficult for anyone trying to recover the deleted emails.

Slashdot reader ahziem adds:

The IT team for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton used the open source cleaning software BleachBit to wipe systems “so even God couldn’t read them,” according to South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy on Fox News. His comments on the “drastic cyber-measure” were in response to the question of whether emails on her private Microsoft Exchange Server were simply about “yoga and wedding plans.” Perhaps Clinton’s team used an open-source application because, unlike proprietary applications, it can be audited, like for backdoors. In response to the Edward Snowden leaks in 2013, privacy expert Bruce Schneier advised in an article in which he stated he also uses BleachBit, “Closed-source software is easier for the NSA to backdoor than open-source software.” Ironically, Schneier was writing to a non-governmental audience.

Have any Slashdotters had any experience with BleachBit? Specifically, have you used it for erasing “yoga emails” or “bridesmaids emails?”

Where Median Incomes Have Fallen the Most

Justin Fox | August 19 2016 | Bloomberg View

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Of all the indicators describing the not-very-impressive U.S. economic performance of the first decade and a half of the 21st century, the least impressive is probably median household income. It hit an all-time high in 1999 of $57,843 (converted into 2014 dollars), and as of 2014 stood at $53,657 — a 7.2 percent decline. Monthly estimates by the former U.S. Census Bureau officials at Sentier Research indicate that median income made a big recovery in 2015 (the official 2015 numbers aren’t out yet), but as of this June was still below the 1999 level. The typical American household remains poorerthan it was 16 years ago.

In a nation as vast and diverse as the U.S., economic trouble like that tends not to be evenly distributed So I was curious: How does the Great Median Income Slide break down by state? Thanks to a Census Bureau spreadsheet that you can download right here, I have the answer. Here are the states where median household income has slid the most since 1999:

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Continue reading Where Median Incomes Have Fallen the Most

Most Welfare Dollars Don’t Go Directly To Poor People Anymore

Andrew Flowers | August 25 2016 | FiveThirtyEight

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Protesters demonstrate against welfare reform outside the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles Sunday, Aug. 4, 1996. AP PHOTO/FRANK WIESE

Twenty years after President Bill Clinton fulfilled his vow to “end welfare as we know it,” it’s fair to say: mission accomplished. The old U.S. welfare system is dead. Whether the system that replaced it is better for the poorest Americans remains the subject of fierce debate.

The welfare reform bill that Clinton signed into law 20 years ago this month fractured the U.S. welfare system, from one managed mostly by the federal government to one largely directed by individual states. As each state became empowered to spend its welfare grant as it saw fit, one monolithic system devolved into 50 different ones — with far less money going directly to low-income families.

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The 1996 reform didn’t result in a reduction in total spending on welfare, now known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Since 1998, the first year for which we have complete data, total TANF spending — both from federal block grants as well as required state matching funds — has remained essentially flat, after adjusting for inflation,1 according to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank that is critical of welfare reform. Per-person spending has fallen, however: In 2014 there were about 12 million more people below the poverty level than in 1998, according to the Census Bureau. The U.S. population has grown nearly 20 percent during that time.

Continue reading Most Welfare Dollars Don’t Go Directly To Poor People Anymore

Last Word on Sanders

So, this has turned up over at Washington’s Blog:

“The difference between the reported totals, and our best estimate of the actual vote, varies considerably from state to state. However these differences are significant—sometimes more than 10%—and could change the outcome of the election.” ~ Fritz Scheuren, professor of statistics at George Washington University, President of the American Statistical Association (ASA)


It’s called Democracy Lost: A Report on the Fatally Flawed 2016 Democratic Primaries.


The larger picture
It’s unusual that a candidate loses one close primary/caucus after another (Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and on and on and on), and then doesn’t challenge any of them.

Here is the bigger question for Sanders’ supporters:

If he doesn’t fight for himself and what he believes in, what makes you think he would have fought for you?

In the end, it probably turned out the way it was supposed to be.



We will never know if Sanders and his ideas could have made a difference; he lost most of his credibility with people when he endorsed Clinton (yes, he did say he would do that when he started).  Most movements don’t last too long after the figurehead is gone.  All Bernie ended up being for the millions who followed him was just fling, a disappointment, and a heartbreak who got some of their money.   The lesson learned is that if people want change, it’s up to them and not the politicians.

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NDP Note (also related to this post):

Why Bernie Sanders Was Not The One They Were Waiting For

It’s as If They’re Trying to Lose: Democrats’ Optimism Ignores the Struggles of Millions

Jake johnson | August 01 2016 | Common Dreams

(Photo: The Globe and Mail)

Writing in 2008, months before the year’s presidential election, Ezra Klein — an ostensibly clear-headed, data-driven policy wonk — lavished effusive praise upon Barack Obama, praise that verged on the metaphysical.

“Obama’s finest speeches do not excite. They do not inform. They don’t even really inspire. They elevate,” Klein informed readers of The American Prospect. “He is not the Word made flesh, but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair. The other great leaders I’ve heard guide us towards a better politics, but Obama is, at his best, able to call us back to our highest selves, to the place where America exists as a glittering ideal, and where we, its honored inhabitants, seem capable of achieving it, and thus of sharing in its meaning and transcendence.”

Though they so frequently congratulate themselves for their ability to jettison emotion and opinion in the service of objectivity and respectability, mainstream analysts often, as Klein did above, forget their self-professed role precisely when it would best serve the country.

For the eventual victory of Obama in 2008 was also — as Noam ChomskyAdolph Reed, and others noted at the time — a victory for the advertising industry: Obama’s success represented an astounding achievement for the politics of imagery and personality, for a political message that provides a kind of blank slate onto which voters can project their ideological preferences.

Having been enraptured by the brilliant oratory and soaring rhetoric, self-described wonks failed to notice that, behind this rhetoric, there was very little of substance.

Some, however, did get it.

“As far as political positioning goes, his strategy seems to be to appear as a sort of ideological Universalist, one who spends a great deal of rhetorical energy showing that he recognizes the validity of all points of view,” Matt Taibbi wrote of Obama in 2007. “His political ideal is basically a rehash of the Blair-Clinton ‘third way’ deal, an amalgam of Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton and the New Deal; he is aiming for the middle of the middle of the middle.”

Continue reading It’s as If They’re Trying to Lose: Democrats’ Optimism Ignores the Struggles of Millions

Des Moines Register Editorial: Iowa Medicaid Privatization Nightmare Becomes Reality

Des Moines Register | July 16 2016

Gov. Terry Branstad insisted his plan to privatize administration of Medicaid would save the state money. It made no sense that handing billions of public dollars to for-profit companies would miraculously reduce spending in the health insurance program for 560,000  Iowans. His administration provided no meaningful details about how savings would be achieved. The public was just supposed to have faith and hope for the best.

Now perhaps it is becoming clear how the Medicaid belt will be tightened: by not paying health care providers for services. Three months after the governor’s pet privatization project was implemented, the billing problems are piling up.

Many Iowans who provide in-home care for disabled people have gone without pay for weeks or months, according to a state workers’ union. These are individuals who change bedpans, bathe and feed patients while earning $9 to $12 per hour. “Missing even one paycheck can be detrimental,” said Danny Homan, state president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

He said his office has received multiple calls about problems. Though the providers filled out mounds of paperwork for the managed-care companies contracted by the Branstad administration, they report not being paid at all, being paid late and other billing problems.

Some health workers, nonprofits and businesses are turning to state lawmakers for help.

Continue reading Des Moines Register Editorial: Iowa Medicaid Privatization Nightmare Becomes Reality


Just in case you wondered why your local public schools and universities were having problems getting funded, it’s not all their fault.  Nor is it the highway departments’ fault your state roads and bridges are not getting fixed and are becoming dangerous.

And if your state has been having budget problems, there’s one primary reason: under both Democrats and Republicans, states have mirrored the federal government in handouts to profitable corporations to the tune of over $180 billion.

Taxpayer money that used to go to fund public schools, public libraries, public services, Meals-on-Wheels for seniors, and many other taxpayer-funded services, now go to profitable companies to help pad their profits.

When Republicans and Democrats talk about privatizing government functions, you can always count on this happening: you will get less and pay more.  And someone who is rich will get richer.


Here is a list of the subsidies and awards listed by state:

AK$676,803,280$676 million
AL$3,413,018,766$3.41 billion
AR$682,215,269$682 million
AZ$435,037,197$435 million
CA$2,670,247,463$2.67 billion
CO$773,824,248$773 million
CT$4,246,915,669$4.24 billion
DC$336,094,328$336 million
DE$324,280,692$324 million
FL$3,450,556,194$3.45 billion
GA$1,522,717,351$1.52 billion
HI$515,430$515 thousand
IA$2,908,329,068$2.90 billion
ID$310,702,207$310 million
IL$4,875,121,771$4.87 billion
IN$5,505,983,189$5.5 billion
KS$793,317,346$793 million
KY$7,725,418,949$7.72 billion
LA$16,659,935,692$16.65 billion
MA$1,121,502,357$1.12 billion
MD$1,020,557,805$1.02 billion
ME$681,443,625$681 million
MI$14,199,793,452$14.19 billion
MN$2,421,601,745$2.42 billion
MO$5,505,983,189$5.50 billion
MS$3,804,387,807$3.8 billion
MT$48,810,402$48 million
NC$4,494,206,385$4.49 billion
ND$110,524,376$110 million
NE$443,936,362$443 million
NH$8,382,095$8 million
NJ$8,900,756,858$8.9 billion
NM$4,067,819,794$4.06 billlion
NV$3,174,859,740$3.17 billion
NY$23,974,689,789$23.97 billion
OH$4,637,654,611$4.63 billion
OK$1,667,965,854$1.66 billion
OR$6,653,054,666$6.65 billion
PA$5,011,816,496$5.01 billion
RI$462,565,091$462 million
SC$2,533,880,431$2.52 billion
SD$123,437,018$123 million
TN$3,804,492,345$3.80 billion
TX$6,653,709,245$6.65 billion
UT$1,000,738,632$1 billion
VA$565,547,785$565 million
VT$336,895,134$336 million
WA$13,378,264,962$13.37 billion
WI$1,832,327,312$1.83 billion
WV$426,777,726$426 million
WY$1,226,569$1 million


Good Jobs First Subsidy Tracker, which provides the data, also shows which profitable companies get your tax dollars simply by clicking on the state.


Walmart gets a lot of public money to help keep the Waltons from going hungry and so they don’t have to shop at Dollar General or Goodwill.


Think about that as you go to vote in November.


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NDP Note (Also related to this post):


HONEST CAMPAIGN: If Elected, I Promise To Give Trillions To The Rich, Spend Trillions On War, And Cut Everything For Working People





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