Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Rough New Beast That Will Be Election 2020


I was in junior high school that I realized how easy it was to extrapolate the future. Coca-cola cost a penny an ounce then. Eight cents for an eight ounce bottle, a dime for a ten ounce bottle, and so on. Then the ten ounce bottles disappeared from the vending machines, replaced by eight ounce bottles -- still costing a dime. In a flash, I saw that the price of Coke would be twenty cents within the year and a quarter not long after. I told this to a friend and he said, "You're nuts!"

It all happened, of course.

Much later, when ATM machines first appeared, I read the description of how they worked and pondered how you could prevent someone from making a fake deposit into a nearly empty account and then withdrawing the same amount in cash. "Of course!" I thought. "They don't credit the deposit until they see it." It was blindingly obvious.

A week later, the newspaper recounted that the fancy new machines were being reprogrammed not to credit deposits until a human being had actually seen them. Because they had discovered that scammers were making fake deposits. That was when I realized how rare it is for people in authority to make even the simplest extrapolations of the future.

So it's not in the spirit of partisanship but in the spirit of the blindingly obvious that I want to look at the next American presidential election four years from now.

The CIA has stated that the Russian government interfered in the most recent election. Accounts vary at this point. They certainly hacked into DNC computers and leaked documents that either were doctored or didn't have to be. They seem to have sponsored a flood of very savvy fake news sites. Some even claim they monkeyed where they could with electronic voting machines. (This is trickier because many machines aren't linked to the Web, rendering them close to unhackable and those that are don't have a single unified system, making the prospect expensive. But, where it matters, the Kremlin has very deep pockets.)

I am wary of the CIA. But I believe them in this case for two reasons: 1) Trump will be the next President, no matter what; there's simply not enough time to put together a case that would make the Electoral College not appoint him. 2) If the CIA were lying, then they would be committing an act of treason -- something they must surely know the next administration would take unkindly.

So. Russia committed what might technically be called an act of war. Let's leave it to the historians to argue whether it worked or Trump would have won handily without it. The issues are bigger than that now.

Whatever the facts, the Russian bureaucracy is going to believe they turned the election. Why? Because they threw a lot of money at it and they have to justify the expenditures. The cyberwarriors of other nations are going to believe it too. Why? Because the  stakes are too high not to.

Most likely nothing serious will happen to Russia as a result. This will send a message to the world.

The US is still the biggest, richest, most dangerous nation on Earth. Every nation has a stake in who sets its policies. So four years from now, we can pretty confidently expect China to involve its cyberwarriors even more heavily in the election than Russia did in this one. They'd be fools not to.

Other nations I'm not so sure about. Israel? India? Germany? Japan? Saudi Arabia? Realpolitik says they all should. Various considerations might hold some of them back. At least until the 2024 elections.

But we're facing the possibility of the first American election in which the voters are minority stakeholders.

And I want to emphasize...

I'm not arguing politics here. Just stating the obvious.

And tomorrow...

The return of a holiday tradition.

Above: Not necessarily the future US electorate.I took this image from You can find their site and maybe buy a flag here.



Ironwood said...

I was considering mailing a Blue 5$ bill to every candidate, and copies of the letter to CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, NYT, WP, AP.

I've decided next time it will be a green 5$, not a blue 5$ (if they still exist).

I'm just 200 Km from the US border. And as you say the stakes are very very high.

Mark Pontin said...

Not to say that anything you propose about the future in 2020 is necessarily wrong, Michael. But ....

[1] About ten years back when I was working as a journalist, I was talking with a Pentagon consultant about the future. And he said, "Do you know THE COOL WAR by Frederik Pohl. It's going to be like that." (It's minor Pohl, but there are insights.)

The thing is, that Pentagon consultant wasn't actually saying anything new. If you go back to, say, Maugham's Ashenden stories or the accounts that became 'Reilly, Ace of Spies,' industrial sabotage and manipulation of other states' internal affairs was always a major part of what intelligence agencies did. Around the turn of this century, a couple of Chinese PLA colonels wrote a book called UNRESTRICTED WARFARE, that somewhat modernized thinking on this score and introduced some new wrinkles --

Nevertheless, the U.S., the Russians and most major states have _always_ carried out these kinds of activities, although we now have the added ramifications of the Internet and (not in the Chinese book, but a real possibility) potential use of non-lethal bioweapons on other nations' agriculture and populations. (Nothing novel, just refined variants of classical biological agents, things like targeted plant blights and flu releases).

[2] As regards the Russian intervention in the U.S. election, which you assume they've necessarily invested large sums of money in, one can realistically assume the Russians were active (see above). Nevertheless, there's actually no serious evidence of anything beyond some phishing -- which you’d possess the technical expertise to carry out with five minutes' instruction, Michael.

Seriously, there's no real evidence of anything that technically rises to the level of hacking that links back to the Russians. Go ask some Internet security pros.

Why the howling and pearl-clutching from the Bezos-owned Izvestia and Sulzberger-owned Pravda? Very simply, Trump’s accession threatens to break a lot of rice bowls among factions of the East Coast establishment that had already paid for and expected a Clinton win. Most especially, the military-industrial contractors have never been that fond of the War on Terror, which is getting long in the tooth anyway, and want more big-platform spending (big ships, expensive warplanes, heavy artillery, nuclear missile systems, etc.). Big-platform military spending needs a big-platform enemy to justify it. Thus, the Russkis, and the U.S. provocations against Russia and Putin since 2008. Clinton was all in with her military-industrial donors on continuing that. Trump appears serious about not doing so.

You have Russian friends, Michael, and what they would probably advise is: "Don't believe anything you read in the official media, till they deny it."

Michael Swanwick said...

I really don't have the time to write about all of this. But your last paragraph is dispiriting in the extreme. I've been to Russia several times and one thing I've seen is how full of conspiracy theories even the most sensible people are -- simply because there are no reliable sources of information.

I find it terribly sad to see America going down that road. I am absolutely convinced it's a terrible mistake on our part.

If I can find time, I'll write a blog post about that.

David Stone said...

The CIA's report did not rely only on information gathered from the hacking attacks. It also claimed knowledge based on inside sources and methods that they did not disclose for obvious reasons. So it comes down to this: would the CIA invent a fake threat and sell it to us? Michael made a good case for why they wouldn't intentionally lie about it.

I feel a bit more optimistic about the next election. Whoever opposes Trump won't be nearly as incompetent with information tech as Clinton (who apparently does not even use desktop computers) and her people were. I only hope that whoever runs against him is qualified and not compromised in terms of integrity. The problem is, the experienced candidates are the ones most vulnerable to the slander as well as legitimate criticism and exposure. I bet that if the Russians are behind the hack they knew that even if Trump can't get elected twice, the whole thing will weaken the presidency in the long run regardless of who is in office.

Sandy said...

It's hard to decide whether we've fallen into a Philip K. Dick novel or one by Norman Spinrad. Most disturbing.

Michael J said...

Hi Michael,

Regarding the leaked emails, the Democrats haven't denied the authenticity of the messages. And Wikileaks has repeatedly stated that they were given the messages by Democratic Party leakers who were irate over the DNC rigging the primary against Bernie Sanders, not by the Russians.

Even assuming the Russians did hack the DNC, that simply points to pathetically bad security on the part of the Democrats. A few news stories, not necessarily credible, have claimed that the DNC was hacked by multiple different foreign governments -- so perhaps it was the Chinese, or the British, or the Israelis, or cannibals from Papua New Guinea.

But, as said, Wikileaks themselves have stated that it was DNC insider leakers who handed over the information, so Occam's Razor says to go with that.

Secondly, the CIA never said the voting machines were hacked. Jill Stein has been flogging that narrative, basing it on three computer science professors' argument that the reported votes don't match what their election models predicted.

The problem with this, of course, is that their election modeling software is just a model. Consider the infamous "hockey stick" temperature rise "predicted" by East Anglia University's climate change model, which the university's so-called "scientists" kept promoting without releasing their code for evaluation -- was the model any good? did the source code have bugs? were we all doomed to a fiery death? No one knew.

Then, of course, East Anglia's CRU got hacked and the hackers dumped all of their source code and documentation and emails out into public view, and so the world got to see that East Anglia's model's source code hardwired in the "hockey stick" temperature rise. In other words, the "model" was a sham.

A model is only as good as the worst of many factors that go into creating it: the data, the coding, and the thought process for creating the model, just to name a few. And in the end, if the model's predictions don't match the results, that's generally the fault of a flawed model, not of the results.

The election boards, a couple of federal judges, and multiple testers have found no evidence of hacking or of systematic voting machine fraud from hacked machines. The CS professors, who are not professional election modelers, are the first ones to check to see if they produced a flawed model, not the voters or alleged Russian hackers.

But what has been found, thanks to Jill Stein's little crusade, is fraud on the part of election officials in Detroit, who intentionally ran paper ballots through tabulating machines multiple times in order to drive up vote counts for Clinton. In one precinct, fifty (50) paper ballots were placed into a sealed envelope which was marked as containing three hundred and six (306) paper ballots. That precinct submitted a certified vote count to the state of Michigan of 306 votes, 90% or so of which were for Clinton.

Yet there were only fifty ballots in the sealed envelope. Oops. Somebody has some 'splainin to do. And it isn't voting-machine programmers, Russian hackers, Trump, Republicans, or even Jill Stein.

Thirty-seven percent (37%) of precincts had such fraud. Some even had more votes counted than the number of registered voters in the precincts.

Just good old election-rigging, same as the Democrats have been doing for generations in Chicago, Detroit, Boston, NYC, and elsewhere.

So, anyway. In the end, neither of the "Russians hacked the election!" narrative really matters. The only U.S. citizens whose votes almost didn't matter were the Republicans in Michigan who nearly saw their state stolen -- if the Democrats had run through another ten thousand or so fraudulent votes, Michigan might have been flipped. Luckily, Trump's victory margin was higher than the amount of fraud the Democrats thought they could get away with.

Kind regards,