Helen of Marlowe's Blog

What would we have done?

Posted in Government, Politics by helenofmarlowe on July 2, 2017

At our UU forum this morning, the topic was Current Events, and we
were led in our excellent discussion by a member who is a US attorney. We
didn’t spend most of our time talking about our president who
tweets up storms almost daily, but that topic did take some of
our time. And I have a question I’d like to toss out to
anyone who will give thought to this question:
What would we, as a nation, have done, if President Obama had
talked about women (and others) the way Trump does?
I constantly hear people say, of Trump’s behavior, that this is
not acceptable. And I think, yes, apparently, it is acceptable,
because we are accepting it.  So I ask, if President Obama had
said these things, what would we have done? My reason for
asking is because I say, whatever it is that we would have done,
let’s do it.
I don’t want hyperbolic answers such as “shoot him” and I will
delete any such, but I want to think about what we, officially, as a nation,
would have done.
What would we have done?

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Democracy in North Carolina

Posted in "North Carolina", Government, NC by helenofmarlowe on December 26, 2016


Why did NC bother to hold an election?

We, the people of NC, voted for Roy Cooper, a Democrat, to be our next Governor.
In response, our legislators called emergency session and hurriedly, without
public discussion, passed bills that undermine the will of the voters.
The people voted for a Democrat to replace a Republican on the NC Supreme Court,
so the legislation will require constitutional challenges, now, to go to the
Republican majority Court of Appeals before a case can be heard by the NC Supreme court, where our votes created a Democratic majority. The legislators stripped our new governor of the power to appoint a majority to the state Board of Elections.
They stripped the governor of his ability to name members of the boards of state universities. They reduced the number of state employees the governor can appoint from 1,500, under McCrory, to 425 for Governor Cooper, and they will require Cooper’s appointments to agencies to be approved by legislators.
A Democrat won the office of Governor, so the Republican legislators will stop him, to the extent possible, from being able to perform the duties of the office he was elected to.
Andrew Reynolds, a Professor of Political Science at the UNC Chapel Hill and an expert on democracy and democratic systems, says that NC can no longer be considered a democracy.
This institutional brinksmanship in NC is being discussed on national news, the entire nation is looking at how we are losing our democracy in NC, and we must, in all seriousness, ask whether our elections matter and whether we want our democratic rule of law to continue to be eroded.

The voting machines, again

Posted in "North Carolina", Government by helenofmarlowe on October 15, 2012

More on the (un)reliability of voting machines.

This will make more sense if you have first read the immediately preceding post.  The course from the University of Michigan discussed in detail in previous post  explains in detail why paper ballots, available for counting and recounting, are essential.    Not sufficient, but essential.

I say not sufficient, because there are a number of reasonable scenarios in which paper ballots can be useless.  Perhaps worse than useless, since they can give the mistaken impression that  all is well, when perhaps all is not well.

Briefly, a few reasons paper ballots are helpful if actually looked at, but not a guarantee against voter-machine manipulation:

Software can be easily written to record a vote for Candidate A on the computer’s memory card, which is not the voter’s choice, but to print on paper that the vote was recorded for Candidate B, as the voter intended. Virtually all professionals in the field recommend open source software, such as Linux, which would make this sort of thing visible.

The print is often so tiny, and/or the ink so light, that the voter cannot read it.

Paper records are almost never looked at.   The paper audit is almost never used unless there is evidence of something wrong.   There are a few instances in which public announcements were made that there would be audits in certain states, and that the districts chosen would be random, but in fact, the districts were chosen ahead of time and the election officials were told which districts would be audited.

Here we see the memory card, much like the one in your camera, being changed to one which holds software that overrides the software shipped with the machine.

Although a paper trail cannot guarantee that votes have not been changed, it is still very useful if it is actually checked.

The course showed various ways that a person with only brief access to a machine can sabotage  the software or the hardware.

Recommendations for improving the security of our elections include requiring transparent certification by truly independent certification authorities (at present, machines are tested by certification companies chosen by and paid by the machine vendors), and using open-source software, so that computer professional from all over the world can see the code and look for and report bugs.

In summary, all the voting machines tested by university computer professionals were found lacking in security features.  All the testing universities (including University of California, Princeton, Johns Hopkins) reported sloppy coding in the software and  disturbingly easy access to the hardware.  Cards holding the votes and cards holding the program can be changed, “tamper-proof” seals can be removed and replaced without leaving evidence, jumpers that count the votes can be changed (changing the vote count). None of these problems were reported to the public or to election officials by the certification companies.  Vendors influence legislators, not just in efforts to make sure that their own machines are allowed in the states, but also to influence legislation that will make their competitors’s machines unacceptable.

In 2009, legislation was introduced by Rep. Rush Holt  entitled The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2009 (HR 2894), which would require non-proprietary software and create a national standard to ensure the verifiability and auditability of every vote, but the legislation did not pass the senate.

Finally, I want to encourage everyone to watch this 14-minute video of the Oct. 4, 2012 Charlie Rose show, in which Charlie Rose interviews Barbara Simons, author of Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?  A computer engineer, Dr. Simons confirms  in this video that we have no way of knowing who American voters are actually electing.

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 How can we trust our elections?

Posted in "North Carolina", Government, Politics by helenofmarlowe on September 30, 2012

Gov. Romney may end up in the White House not because the majority of voters choose him, but because Pres. Obama’s lead may not be large enough to survive the obstacles his supporters will face on the way to the voting booth, and inside it. The Obama supporters who will not be allowed to vote, or whose votes, once cast, will not be counted, may be in numbers high enough to put the wrong man in the White House. Again. We all know, and most of us acknowledge, that the photo ID laws and the purging of voter rolls disenfranchises many legitimate voters, and these voters are not evenly distributed among voter demographics. That burden falls most heavily onto college students, the elderly poor, and racial minorities. Guess how they usually vote.

I’m taking a coursera course, Securing Digital Democracy, from the University of Michigan. Most of what we’re learning, I already knew in general terms, but this course is revealing the details. Especially interesting to me are the intricate innards of the voting machines which were implicated in putting George W. Bush into the White House.

Code might be a million lines long. Any typos? Any errors? Any malicious code? What happens is unobservable. The process is secret.

The ways that these machines can miscount votes, either because of design flaws that have been discovered and reported but not corrected, or by deliberate manipulation, are too many to list. I take notes as I watch these lectures, with pen on paper, and my spiral notebook contains eight pages of ways these machines can miscount votes. In most cases, the software running the vote has never been tested. No independent tests. Diebold has threatened election officials with loss of their job if they request independent testing.

Instead of a hand behind a curtain, we have a secret program developed by a private company. We can’t see the code, but hey, it was approved by our government, so what could go wrong? Right?

Some of the troublesome source code is revealed and explained in the course. In some cases the teacher points out the errors, and in some he simply says, see if you can find the errors.

Here is an example of the latter. I cannot find the error(s).

Image

Computer Science departments were able to get hold of actual voting machines (through cloak and dagger adventures that I won’t go into here) and find hardware flaws as well. The many ways the votes can be changed involve the removable memory chips, the locks, the bootloader, the encryption keys, the memory cards, and the jumpers on the motherboard, to name just a few.

Memory cards (holding the votes) could easily be replaced without leaving evidence. And the machines were left unlocked in schools and other public buildings so that anyone with access could replace a memory card. A person with even brief access (the computer has a locked compartment, but the lock can be picked in about 10 seconds) can replace memory cards or even replace a chip that will cause the machine to boot to another program other than the vote recording program.

Once in, a hacker can even change the code so that when a vote is cast for Candidate X, the machine records a vote for Candidate Y, but the paper record shows that the voter voted for Candidate X, assuring the voter that all went well. This kind of malicious code is not as likely, as it would be caught in the case of an audit, but only in the case of an audit, and most precincts don’t end up in an audit.

Our voting machines are tested by independent testing authorities.  The testing companies are chosen by the voting machine companies and paid by them.  After machines are certified by ITAs, independent computer experts have found flaws that allow votes to be changed without detection.  Every independent testing has found serious flaws in machines that have been certified.

There is great incentive in a competitive market for ITAs to produce a glowing report, and no requirement that flaws be reported.

Exit polls were extraordinarily reliable predictors of wins until computer counting became the prevalent means of deciding outcomes.  There is overwhelming evidence that exit polls are more reliable than  the counts reported by private proprietary secret computer codes. Yet the National Election Pool had made a decision to eliminate exit polling in the 2012 election in 19 states.  This further erodes election integrity.

All this is troublesome, but it requires citizens to learn about the troubles. And that’s not easy. So should we just  trust our elections to private corporations with secret codes?   What could go wrong?

See the answer  here, at  Voting Machines, again.

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Is there no limit to the meanness of NC legislators?

Posted in "North Carolina", Government, NC by helenofmarlowe on June 19, 2012

I’d go along with some limits on the kinds of TV inmates could see.   I’d go along with allowing only PBS or only The History Channel, or The Nature Channel, or BBC.   There is much evidence, after all, that movies and video games affect our behavior. If there were a Jane Austen channel, I’d go along with a bill to let them watch only that (dreaming here).  But this?

RALEIGH, N.C.

A divided House committee agreed Wednesday to prohibit North Carolina death-row prisoners from watching television despite the warning by Central Prison’s warden that removing TVs could increase violence among the condemned inmates. (The Associated Press, June 6, 2012 )

I’d like to suggest that our legislators read Ernest Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying.   Read Gaines’s lesson in how a condemned prisoner should be treated.  Do our legislators know or care that the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world? Are Americans really more evil than citizens of any other country, or is there some other reason – such as profits for the private prison industry – that the US fills its prisons with (mostly black) non-violent unfortunates? 730 per 100,000 citizens.  More than Russia or El Salvador or Rwanda. Our 730 per 100,000 compares to 333 in Iran, 310 in South Africa, 160 in Saudi Arabia, 129 per 100,000 in Australia, 30 per 100,00 in India. Are people in America 24 times more dangerous than people in India?

After our legislators read A Lesson Before Dying, they might start on The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. The facts about mass incarceration in America are hard to take, but really should be a part or our national conversation.

In The New Jim Crow, we learn, if we didn’t already know, that a life sentence for a first-time drug offense is unheard of in the rest of the developed world.    “Remarkably, in the US, a life sentence is deemed perfectly appropriate for a first-time drug offender.” (page 89)  Mandatory life sentences are used in the US for non-violent offenders for crimes other countries consider to be minor.    “In fact, fifty years to life was the actual sentence given to Leandro Andrade, whose sentence for stealing videotapes was upheld by the supreme court.” (p. 90).

When I read a book like this, and then hear people say they’re proud to be Americans, I want to respond, Then you’re not paying attention.

Coursera — free online university courses

Posted in Government, Politics by helenofmarlowe on April 19, 2012

I heard about Coursera on NPR. Apparently it’s so new that it’s not yet in Wikipedia – at least, I didn’t find an entry.     Hosted by Princeton, Stanford, University of California, Berkeley, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and University of Pennsylvania,  Coursera offers free on-line classes in several dozen subjects. The courses are free, carry no credit or grade and don’t lead toward any degree.

You can find Coursera, look at the course offerings, sign up if you like, at https://www.coursera.org/courses

I’m tempted by several of their offerings, such as History of the World Since 1300, Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, Listening to World Music, Health Policy and the Affordable Care Act.  All these tempt me, but I think I’ll start with Securing Digital Democracy.

I’ve been interested in electronic voting since Dr. Avi Rubin’s analysis of the 2004 election (and many other analyses and reports) convinced me that the 2004 election was stolen electronically. I’ve looked for Dr. Rubin’s statistical analysis, which concluded that the reported results could not be accurate, but I’ve changed computers several times since 2004, and my bookmarks didn’t move with me.  I have the printed copy of that report somewhere, but life is too short for me to start looking for it.  I do find some summary comments here

http://www.jhu.edu/jhumag/0204web/vote.htm

But back to Coursera and their on-line course offerings. I followed a link from the Coursera web page, a link found on the  Digital Democracy description page introducing the assistant professor who will teach the course, and read “He recently led a team from the University of Michigan that hacked into Washington DC’s internet voting system. In his spare time, he reprogrammed a touch-screen voting machine to play Pac-Man.”  Why Pac-Man?  

He says, “We could have reprogrammed it to steal votes, but that’s been done before   and Pac-Man is more fun!”

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American Theocracy — A Tiresome Re-run

Posted in "North Carolina", Government, Government Politics, Local Government, NC, Politics, Religion by helenofmarlowe on February 21, 2012

Not to be outdone by Forsyth County Commissioners, who spent many thousands of dollars and much county time litigating a losing battle which was finally settled by the U.S. Supreme Court,  Rowan County (NC) County Commissioners have apparently decided to fight the same fight.

SALISBURY, N.C. — Commissioners in one North Carolina county plan to continue offering Christian prayers at public meetings, regardless of a letter from a civil liberties group citing a recent Supreme Court action upholding a federal court’s ban on the practice.

The Salisbury Post reported (http://bit.ly/xtafV5 ) that a huge crowd turned out for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night to offer their support to the elected officials, who say they’ll defy a decision by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down so-called sectarian prayer, or prayer that’s explicitly linked to a particular religion, such as Christianity.

“If they tell county commissioners they can’t pray, soon they’re going to be in my church telling me I can’t pray in the name of Jesus,” said Terry Brown, a county resident who came to the meeting.

The appeals court’s ruling was in the case of the Forsyth County Board of Commissions. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by that board, letting the Fourth Circuit’s ruling stand. Since then, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has contacted 25 and 30 government bodies in North Carolina in response to complaints from residents about sectarian prayer.

Only one of about two dozen members of the public who spoke Monday night argued that prayers offered to a specific deity don’t belong in government meetings.

“I think what’s going on right now is a clear example of why we need this law, and why it should be obeyed,” said Salisbury resident Chris Crowell, who compared the atmosphere of the meeting to a religious revival.

Rowan County residents might as well gear up for a long and losing battle.  For a preview of what they have to look forward to, here’s how it went in the Forsyth County Commissioners meeting two years ago, when the Commissioners, in defiance of all good sense and good law, decided to appeal two lower court rulings and send their case to the Supreme Court.

Can’t these benighted North Carolina citizens look around the world and see what it’s like to live in a theocracy?   Is that really what they want for our nation?

What’s the Significant Difference?

Posted in Government, Politics, Religion by helenofmarlowe on February 18, 2012

What is the significant difference?

There is something I’m  missing here. The Catholic church went into a frenzy in their moral outrage at the idea that a Catholic institution should be required to provide for their employees an insurance policy that includes birth control, which they say they believe is immoral.

I won’t get into the seeming contradiction that they hate abortion even more than they hate contraceptives, and are sticking by their guns in spite of the evidence that the one reduces need for the other. There’s probably some logic there that I just don’t get.

And I won’t yet try to understand why the compromise offered by the White House, that insurance companies would instead provide contraception coverage separately and at no cost, was not welcomed by the bishops.

What I’m really trying to figure out is this:  What’s the significant difference between appeasing the Catholics on this issue, and requiring Quakers to pay for war (via taxes)?

Quakers are  opposed to war and to all forms of violence.

And what about requiring Seventh-day Adventists to support our government’s policies on  factory farming?

 For more than 130 years Seventhday Adventists have practiced a vegetarian dietary lifestyle because of their belief in the holistic nature of humankind. (http://www.sdada.org/position.htm)

Yes, I see that in the case of the Quakers and the Seventh-day Adventists, it is tax policy that pulls them into the fold of a behavior that contradicts their religion, but is that a substantial difference?  Does it follow, logically, that Catholics should impose upon non-Catholics their beliefs (well, just some of their beliefs; institutionally, they are also against the death penalty but I haven’t heard our Catholic presidential hopefuls mention that)?  That they should impose upon non-Catholic employees, for example, a Catholic rule that even 98% of Catholics don’t actually follow?  And what about Christian Scientists?  Should employees at Christian Science establishments be required to forego health insurance altogether and rely upon prayer?

Is there really a substantial difference, or is it just that Quakers and Seventh-day Adventists, and Christian Scientists,  are not trying to defeat our president?

A UU Forum on Occupy

Posted in "North Carolina", corporatocracy, Economy, Government, NC, Politics, Unitarian, UU, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on February 7, 2012

At our Sunday morning forum yesterday (2/5/12), our guest speaker was Ethan Smith, representing the local Occupy Winston-Salem group. Most UUs (Unitarian Universalists) are familiar with Occupy and some have been participants.  I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter and occasional participant.

Here's a screenshot of me (on right) at a protest against Wells Fargo, when the top Wells Fargo management was speaking our the convention center. Since we don’t have a TV, my son Chris sent me this screenshot. I was surprised he recognized me, since it was such a fleeting report, and he didn’t know I was participating (probably didn’t even know about the event).

 

Occupy’s mission includes public education and civic participation to reveal the 1%’s crimes centering in war and money, end the crimes through arrests of the criminals, and enact policies for 100% of Earth’s inhabitants.

A hand-out gave a little bit of the history and philosophy of Occupy, and talked about local issues:

“Occupy Winston-Salem stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the globe as a non-violent, leaderless movement of Americans united to fight the corporate abuse of our democracy, and to take the reins of power away from profit-driven interests and assert our rightful place in the political process.” The handout goes on to mention “the shackles of corporate greed.”

Ethan recounted some of the recent activities of the local group, talked about the commitment to non-violence, and  about the reliance on rotating facilitators at meetings.   Although there have been extreme police reactions to protesters in some cities, the local Winston-Salem police have done their profession proud.  Our local police, our protesters, and our city officials have worked in co-operation.  Some Winston-Salem churches have given strong support.

A UU member (one who is not involved in Occupy, and I don’t know whether or not he sympathizes) objected to the word greed, saying our narrative is wrong. I (though I didn’t speak out) think some of the language often used to describe the Occupy movement reveals a lack of understanding.  I often hear that the Occupiers are pushing for  “redistribution of wealth” (or of income). There are many people who will mis-interpret that, sometimes deliberately.  I think  “redistribution of opportunity” or “expansion of opportunities” is a more accurate description of what we in Occupy want.  Or how about distributive justice.

Ethan talked about our government’s encroachment on liberties, such as the Patriot Act, NDAA, laws and ordinances limiting free speech, arrests of journalists, mass arrests of protesters, such as, in NYC, 700 protesters arrested at once, with journalists being swept up along with protesters.

Freedom of the press in the US has fallen to 47th in the world

Other UUs wondered why Americans are complacent. The data has been out there for years – the data on the wealthy getting richer while the middle class fades into history amidst government policies that favor the powerful.  Why are people so complacent? Is it because we are constantly told we must keep up with sports, fashion, acquisitions and amusements, and so we don’t pay attention to our democracy?  Another UU  suggested the nature of coverage in the news media invites confusion and shallow understanding – everyone tries to look as though they are  “fair and balanced” – and gave as an example the Komen controversy in which news reports did not link this with  faith-based initiatives and the connection of a Komen leader with the congressional investigation of an organization that didn’t need investigating.

I believe there is much than can be done to make America work for all of us.  How about  a tiny tax on stock trades, especially on high frequency ‘flash’ trading.  How about huge fines for corporate criminals, the CEOs of the “corporate people”, aka banks,  responsible for evictions based on robo-signing?

Economic mobility in America has stalled. “Parental income is a better predictor of a child’s future in America than in much of Europe, implying that social mobility is less powerful.” (From The Economist) And as Jason DeParle writes in the New York Times, social mobility is a lot lower in America than in most other developed countries.   The   “work hard and save” formula doesn’t work any more.   Now the best advice for Americans is to choose your parents wisely.

Regardless of where Occupy goes from here, the movement has forced our nation to discuss the increasing inequality that has been hurting middle-income workers for thirty years.

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Credit where credit is due

Posted in Government, Obama, Politics by helenofmarlowe on November 21, 2011

I came across this (click photo to see) post on Facebook. Darrell Garrett, whom I don’t know, is apparently a friend of a friend, and that’s how I saw this. (Anyone with more than 750 friends is bound to cross that six-degrees-of-separation line somewhere.) I wanted to respond to Mr. Garrett’s challenge, since he says that no one has been able to. But I don’t know how to write in the “response” block. I don’t hang out on FB a lot. Perhaps FB allows responses only from Friends. And I think Mr. Garrett and I would agree on one thing at least – that we would not be companionable Friends.

Click to open

I’ve been disappointed with President Obama. He has moved much further to the right than I expected, and he seems to have been very late in discovering that what he called negotiating we called betraying his supporters. He has referred to liberals as “sanctimonious”. And like everyone else in American politics he has become beholden to big money. Some of his largest contributions come from Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Time Warner, IBM. But in this era of he-with-the-most-money gets the most “free” speech, I don’t know what he can do about that.

But he does deserve some credit, so here goes: my late-night effort to look for reasons to support President Obama.

1. President Obama has proposed a Jobs Bill that will reduce unemployment, and will not increase the deficit. Republicans have blocked it, but he has done what he can do get around the blockade.

2. He has created a Consumer Protection Agency, which you will benefit from. The Republicans have tried to gut it of all it’s authority and have refused to accept as its leader the woman who has done the most work on it, but at least it now exists.

3. He has appointed two moderates to the Supreme Court, moderates who actually have legal credentials and high scores from the bar.

4. He has cut taxes for the middle class and for small business, and has tried valiantly to reduce the loopholes that allow the rich to take more and more from the poor. (Yes, hard-earned money from the working poor IS being re-distributed to the rich. And no corporations actually pay the tax rate that Republicans are fond of quoting.)

5. He captured Osama bin Laden

6. He has made some effort to address the very real and serious environmental problems.

7. He has put a stop to the policy of allowing politicians to re-write scientific reports.

8. He has instituted a more humane policy on Cuba, allowing Cuban families to travel to visit their parents and children.

9. He has removed restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research.

10.He can put a sentence together, even a compound or complex sentence, complete with subject and verb. This may not be important to you, but it is important to our standing in the larger world.

Would anyone care to add to my list? Or challenge my list?

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