Via Bruce Schneier, Michael Chertoff and Grover Norquist (of all people) explain in the Washington Post how we can make our elections more secure:
It should also be no surprise that hackers have U.S. voting systems in their sights. They’re a relatively easy target. Researchers have studied a range of electronic voting infrastructure — including touch screens, optical scanner systems and registration databases — and found serious vulnerabilities that could allow even moderately sophisticated attackers to pose threats to voting integrity. This year, about 40 states are set to use electronic voting or tabulation systems that are more than a decade old — many of which run on software that’s too old to be serviced with vendor security patches. A survey of nearly 300 election officials in 28 states found that a clear majority report needing new voting systems.
We believe there is a framework to secure our elections that can win bipartisan support, minimize costs to taxpayers and respect the constitutional balance between state and federal authorities in managing elections. In September, Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, introduced legislation that would help solve the problem with an elegantly simple fix: paper ballots. Meadows’s Paper Act would authorize cost-sharing with states for the replacement of insecure electronic systems with those that produce a voter-verified physical record. The bill also lays the groundwork for states to regularly implement risk-limiting audits — procedures that check a small random sample of paper records to quickly and affordably provide high assurance that an election outcome was correct.
Of course, the Trump administration has no interest in returning people's faith in the elections process. Like authoritarians everywhere, they benefit from FUD. So it's interesting seeing Chertoff and Norquist taking a position I completely agree with.
Lots of things popped up in my browser today:
And now, back to work.
Andrew Sullivan cautions the American left against turning into the very thing it hates about the far-right:
The idea of individual merit — as opposed to various forms of unearned “privilege” — is increasingly suspect. The Enlightenment principles that formed the bedrock of the American experiment — untrammeled free speech, due process, individual (rather than group) rights — are now routinely understood as mere masks for “white male” power, code words for the oppression of women and nonwhites. Any differences in outcome for various groups must always be a function of “hate,” rather than a function of nature or choice or freedom or individual agency. And anyone who questions these assertions is obviously a white supremacist himself.
Polarization has made this worse — because on the left, moderation now seems like a surrender to white nationalism, and because on the right, white identity politics has overwhelmed moderate conservatism. And Trump plays a critical role. His crude, bigoted version of identity politics seems to require an equal and opposite reaction. And I completely understand this impulse. Living in this period is to experience a daily, even hourly, psychological hazing from the bigot-in-chief. And when this white straight man revels in his torment of those unlike him — and does so with utter impunity among his supporters — there’s a huge temptation to respond in kind. A president who has long treated women, in his words, “like shit,” and bragged about it, is enough to provoke rage in any decent person. But anger is rarely a good frame of mind to pursue the imperatives of reason, let alone to defend the norms of liberal democracy.
Look: I don’t doubt the good intentions of the new identity politics — to expand the opportunities for people previously excluded. I favor a politics that never discriminates against someone for immutable characteristics — and tries to make sure that as many people as possible feel they have access to our liberal democracy. But what we have now is far more than the liberal project of integrating minorities. It comes close to an attack on the liberal project itself. Marxism with a patina of liberalism on top is still Marxism — and it’s as hostile to the idea of a free society as white nationalism is. So if you wonder why our discourse is now so freighted with fear, why so many choose silence as the path of least resistance, or why the core concepts of a liberal society — the individual’s uniqueness, the primacy of reason, the protection of due process, an objective truth — are so besieged, this is one of the reasons.
The goal of our culture now is not the emancipation of the individual from the group, but the permanent definition of the individual by the group. We used to call this bigotry. Now we call it being woke.
I'm not sure I completely agree with him, but I see some signs that he may be more right than wrong.
The answer to the right-wing's ascendance in American politics through obnoxious bigotry and inflaming feelings of identity-based resentment cannot be obnoxious bigotry and inflaming feelings of identity-based resentment. That's insane.
The Federal court in the Northern District of California ruled today that GrubHub delivery drivers are contractors, not employees:
The ruling may have far-reaching implications for other sharing economy companies, including Uber Technologies Inc., whose business models are built on pairing customers with products and services through apps and typically avoid the costs of traditional employment.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco concluded Thursday, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, that a gig-economy driver doesn't qualify for the protections of employees under California law.
Charlotte Garden, an associate law professor at Seattle University, said Corley's decision is a “doubly big” win for GrubHub due to California's relatively high standard for establishing workers as independent contractors.
“If they can make it here, they can more likely make it anywhere,” Garden said. “It is also the first federal court to reach a verdict on whether workers in the gig economy are employees or not, so companies like Uber and Lyft will also be celebrating this win.”
(Of course, Uber may not survive its ongoing struggle with the Justice Department for other reasons, but that's not the point.)
Judge Corley admonished the state legislature to fix the problem this case exposed: “Under California law whether an individual performing services for another is an employee or an independent contractor is an all-or-nothing proposition,” she wrote. “With the advent of the gig economy, and the creation of a low wage workforce performing low skill but highly flexible episodic jobs, the legislature may want to address this stark dichotomy.”
We can expect multiple lawsuits in other Federal circuits any day now.
Via Bruce Schneier (and other sources), the Australian government suffered one of its worst-ever disclosures of secrets caused by not looking through used furniture:
It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply.
The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys.
They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill.
Inside was the trove of documents now known as The Cabinet Files.
The thousands of pages reveal the inner workings of five separate governments and span nearly a decade.
Nearly all the files are classified, some as "top secret" or "AUSTEO", which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.
But the ex-government furniture sale was not limited to Australians — anyone could make a purchase.
And had they been inclined, there was nothing stopping them handing the contents to a foreign agent or government.
The found documents ranged from embarrassing (to both major Australian parties) to seriously top secret (troop deployments, police investigations). In response, the Australian government is calling for increased penalties for publishing or even possessing secret documents—but as Schneier points out, in this case that would have made the breech immeasurably worse for Australia:
This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the threat. The Australian Broadcasting Corp gets their funding from the government, and was very restrained in what they published. They waited months before publishing as they coordinated with the Australian government. They allowed the government to secure the files, and then returned them. From the government's perspective, they were the best possible media outlet to receive this information. If the government makes it illegal for the Australian press to publish this sort of material, the next time it will be sent to the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, or Wikileaks. And since people no longer read their news from newspapers sold in stores but on the Internet, the result will be just as many people reading the stories with far fewer redactions.
In all, it's a reminder of the security adage that no security system can completely protect against human stupidity.
Over the weekend I made a couple of minor updates to Weather Now, and today I'm going to spend some time taking it off its Azure Web Role and moving it to an Azure Website. That will (a) save me money and (b) make deployments a lot easier.
Meanwhile, a number of articles bubbled up overnight that I'll try to read at lunchtime:
Back to Azure deployment strategies.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan tweeted early yesterday the great news about the tax breaks ordinary people are experiencing:
Never mind all the Democrats who call the GOP’s tax bill a deficit-busting giveaway to the rich; House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has been enthusiastically promoting it as a middle-class tax windfall.
He’s been coaching other Republican lawmakers to sell the $1.5 trillion tax cut to voters, and telling people on Twitter to check their paychecks for wage hikes. The bill — which was deeply unpopular when it passed along party lines in December — is now breaking even in a new opinion poll.
So Saturday morning, by way of good news, Ryan’s Twitter account shared a story about a secretary taking home a cool $6 a month in tax savings.
Wow. An extra $1.50 a week will make a huge difference to that taxpayer. That might even let her eat cake.
Confronted with the options that these guys are master strategists or they're not even thinking about their next move, Occam's Razor suggests we're dealing with serious stupidity here:
The war between the president and the nation’s law enforcement apparatus is unlike anything America has seen in modern times. With a special counsel investigating whether his campaign collaborated with Russia in 2016 and whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in 2017, the president has engaged in a scorched-earth assault on the pillars of the criminal justice system in a way that no other occupant of the White House has done.
At the start of his administration, Mr. Trump targeted the intelligence community for his criticism. But in recent months, he has broadened the attacks to include the sprawling federal law enforcement bureaucracy that he oversees, to the point that in December he pronounced the F.B.I.’s reputation “in tatters” and the “worst in history.”
In his telling, that bureaucracy, now run by his own appointees, is a nest of political saboteurs out to undermine him — an accusation that raised fears that he was tearing at the credibility of some of the most important institutions in American life to save himself.
This is insane. Even the Republicans in Congress who are enabling this behavior must know, on some level, it's insane.
In other news, the next presidential term begins in only 1,081 days...
Aside: how the hell is it already February?
Moving on. Two more articles popped up about Tuesday night's State of the Union speech. First, via Deeply Trivial, Andrea Jones-Rooy at 538 points out that very little of what presidents propose in the SOTU actually gets enacted:
From Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama, according to [Donna Hoffman and Alison Howard], presidents made an average of 34 proposals in each State of the Union or initial address to a joint session of Congress. The most requests a president made during this period were Bill Clinton’s 87 in 2000. The fewest were just nine by Jimmy Carter in 1980.
About 25 percent of policy announcements were ultimately successful, according to Hoffman and Howard’s definition of success, which is a complete enactment of the president’s recommended policy within a year of the address. They grade 14 percent more as partial successes — times when the president got a portion of the policy he asked for. The average policy agenda success rate increased to 32.7 percent when a president’s party controlled both houses of Congress, which Trump’s does.
Altogether, an average of 60.6 percent of policy proposals mentioned in the State of the Union never materialized, suggesting that any one request from Trump is more likely not to be turned into legislation. The least successful — or, if you prefer, most ambitious — president since Johnson was Gerald Ford, with a 71.4 percent failure rate over his time in office. Johnson was the most successful — or, if you prefer, most realistic — with a 47.1 percent failure rate.
Given a hostile minority and a comical lack of bipartisanship, I don't expect much of the president's program to survive until the election.
Meanwhile, James Fallows—who has written parts of SOTUs in his life—annotates this one.