Saturday, November 12, 2016

America's First Hacked Election

It wasn't the Comey letters. It wasn't Anthony Weiner. It wasn't a nerd holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. It wasn't the hidden pneumonia, the "basket of deplorables," or the 9/11 fainting spell. It wasn't Rust Belt anger. It wasn't Wall Street money, It wasn't the Clinton Foundation.

It wasn't Jill Stein, and it wasn't Gary Johnson.

It wasn't two candidates, both equally despised and distrusted. It wasn't that the Obama coalition collapsed. It wasn't low turnout - not of blacks, or Latinos, or college-educated white women. It wasn't the God-gap and it wasn't the evangelicals.

It wasn't white racism; it wasn't nativist populism. It wasn't gender hatred. It wasn't dog whistles. It wasn't Putin. It wasn't Roger Stone, and it wasn't Steve Bannon.

None of the above.

It is the internet, and it is the screen by which you are reading my words.

Just as certainly as the 1960 election was transformed by televised national debates, using a technology that has been in place for nearly a decade, the election of 2016 was formed and contoured by a technology that had been around for over 25 years, and had even played a part in earlier rounds of presidential voting.

But it wasn't the effective use of technology that made the election of 2016 what it was. That had occurred 4 years prior, when the Democrats' networked app-based system worked, and the Republicans' ORCA system suffered a complete meltdown.

Instead, it was the hacking of an election. It was the clever use of digital platforms to solve a problem. Think of how the word "hack" is now used amongst coders - one of the premier conferences for budding start-ups is called "Disrupt Hackathon." It means looking at a system, peering into the nuts and bolts, and coming up with an intuition, an inkling of an elegant "hack" to disrupt the layers of conventionalism surrounding a supposed stable system.

It was president-elect Donald J. Trump, star of 14 seasons of The Apprentice and master of the 140-character digital haiku, who devised and deployed this hack.

The hack was elegantly simple - keep every eyeball on you. Say anything, do anything. None of it mattered. The dismissive fact-checking that would come afterwards was part of the hack. The outraged talking heads, the old-world newspapers struggling to become monetized digital platforms, the conventional attacks of 15 Republican contenders and one hot mess of a Democrat - all of it played into the hack.

Truth be told, Hillary Clinton had attempted a hack of her own, years before this campaign had taken shape. She and her husband had different concerns. They were looking for a non-conventional protective layer of digital privacy for matters weighty and trivial. Bill and Hillary Clinton came up with a kludge, Their inelegant hack was a basement private mail server with a 280-page instruction manual and nothing better than conventional security. It was a legacy system supporting a Blackberry.

Podesta emails; Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear; Julian Assange; even, are nothing compared to Donald's elegant hack. It had worked before in a post-modern liberal democracy. Silvio Berlusconi had leveraged his media business acumen and  celebrity status into pure political power. Trump had laid the groundwork - 14 seasons with Comcast-NBCUniversal and his old-Manhattan friend was Jeff Zucker, former CEO and President of NBCUniversal and now president of CNN Worldwide.

For most viewers of The Apprentice, Trump might be a rascal and he might be a character out of Sex and the City, but he was watchable. He did fail in the casino industry, he did own beauty pageants, he did appear on Wrestlemania, he did set up a phony university to bilk innocents of their money, he did discriminate in housing practices in the 1970s, he was a sexist pig who loved his daughter in a pervy way - so what? We the audience expect so much less from our celebrities, particularly the ones we get to see "up close and personal." As his celebrity character moved into the political domain, the bar for conduct was accordingly dropped - but just for him.

Donald Trump entertained as the host of a reality TV show. He broke through the wall that is our screens. I write with the utmost respect: Donald Trump hacked the American presidential election system.

There was a second hack, not nearly as significant. That was the hack of one particular social media platform, by creating a near denial-of-service overflow of attention-grabbing tweets. While Trump never got the hang of the RT just right, and the late night Android rants came to a trickle in the waning days of the campaign, Trump brought on fusion between digital video and social media. The mainstream national media was forced to produce daily digests of Trump's tweets (and the occasional Clinton counterpunch) and treated it as news.

But I won't ever call this the Twitter Election of 2016, though it might be the one-and-only time Twitter will matter as much. Four years is a long time for any social media platform. Just ask the owners of MySpace.

Instead, I call this the Hacked Election of 2016. And there is no doubt in my mind that this year's "Disrupt Hackathon" winner is Donald J. Trump.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Aftershow

Yesterday I participated in an aftershow to the reality TV series Survivor: Election 2016.

I live in a blue state on the East Coast. I also work in a sector of American society that actually has the word "liberal" in its masthead, a small and elite and highly-selective boutique residential "liberal arts college" which costs over a quarter of a million dollars for 4 years of undergraduate education. I live and work within a bubble inside the bubble. Liberal arts for the One Percent.

On Wednesday, as at many institutions of a similar ilk, the President of my college and the Dean of the Faculty wrote to us of the pain many students are experiencing from the outcome of the election. The Dean of Students office arranged two opportunities "to reflect and to tend to each other." The Dean wrote: "Some members of our community may feel particularly threatened by the actual outcome given the policy promises that have been made. I am writing to ask you to, where appropriate, find space in your classrooms for respectful discussion of the election and the result. Students should feel able to articulate their views and treat each other with respect as part of a democratic process. I hope and trust that you can help to facilitate these important discussions during this difficult time."

The cynic in me had to simply roll my eyes at this reaction. Would there have been support groups arranged for the losers had the election gone the other way? Of course not. Not in the bubble within the bubble. These were first-time voters who had been told by the interwebs that their choice for American Idol was a sure thing. And she lost to a crude man, a racist and a xenophobe! How can this be? What a crushing disappointment!

Hey kids, how about being on the losing side 6 out of 12 times? That's my track record. That's how elections work. It's even the second time in my lifetime that my chosen one garnered the popular vote but lost the electoral college. How about a grief counseling session for poor, poor pitiful me?

I knew I had to go to one of these events just to let the pain wash over me, and I spent both of my classes yesterday looking at the election - not to salve the hurt feelings of the losing side, but to teach. In one class on the Jewish tradition, we looked at exit polling data and talked about American Jewish politics and nativist anti-Semitism; in the other class on Middle Eastern affairs, we talked about how a Trump presidency would impact the Middle East.

My bet is that the fairly engaged student body, a group of educated, largely upper-class millennials voting in their first US presidential election, were 60-40 in favor of Clinton, and that was reflected in the discussions in my classroom. Maybe half of them actually voted. But at the "tending" session, the pain of the losers was quite clear to me. People of color, immigrants, first-generation Americans, women, LGBT were all devastated.

I intended not to speak at the "tending" session, but somehow I got in the last word, being prompted by the college Chaplain with a wink and nod that I, supposedly a wise old man, ought to say something. I'll tell you what I said in a moment.

I realized within minutes after the grief session began that I was attending what reality show programmers call an "Aftershow." If you are familiar with the aftershow phenomenon in reality show television programming, you know what this is all about. Think of "After Paradise" that comes at the end of a season of "Bachelor in Paradise" or "Big Brother After Show" at the end of a season of "Big Brother." After spending a season becoming emotionally attached to the contestants - whatever the outcome - producers discovered that the audience wanted to vent their elation and their grief over the contestants that had won or lost. For reality show producers, it is one last way to milk an extra episode out of the emotional outcome that the recently concluded results show had produced.

OK, this was more like an aftershow after a particularly jarring episode of "The Walking Dead" when one of the lead multi-season characters gets eaten by a zombie or beaten to death by Negan. Think of Chris Hardwick gently empathizing with the devastated audience. The aftershow I attended was prepared only for those who needed to grieve the loss of their standard bearer. There were no Negan fans or zombie advocates in the room. But it had all the trappings of an aftershow - in this case the therapeutic and indulgent self-reflection of the disappointed side, filled with caring professionals who are paid to deal with student trauma and to provide grief counseling.

So after an interminable hour of grief counseling, here is what I blurted out.

"There is a silver lining to this election day. In Massachusetts, Question 4 passed. Starting January 1, 2018, I will be only 35 minutes away from a recreational cannabis dispensary. I'll be able to choose my strain, pick out my edibles, and as long as I can get back across the state border safely, I'll be perfectly fine."

It was the only laugh of the aftershow. I waited for the laughter to subside, and then I continued, ever so carefully:

"We live in a blue state. Blue states won't go along with the Trump agenda. California, Maine, and Nevada all passed laws permitting recreational cannabis. It's not just marijuana - blue states are places where the majority of citizens share your values. We will be living in an age in which the clarion call of states' rights - the default position of Republicans in defiance of the "encroachments" of a liberal Supreme Court - can now be used by progressives to fend off the de-engineering of the social compact of the former 5-4 court which will be attempted by the soon-to-become 6-3 or 7-2 conservative Supreme Court of the Republicans. We can use the state's rights position to keep marriage equality, to keep abortion rights, to keep all of it intact, at least on a regional scale. This a country of regions. Pick carefully where you decide to live. When you graduate, find a job in a blue state. We need to learn from the conservatives how to strategically keep our accomplishments intact."

Afterwards, a colleague who had shared her grief to the group and with whom I have zero contact approached to tell me that what I had said was the first encouraging thing she had heard in two days. I was her aftershow catharsis.

As the TV series Survivor: Election 2016 comes to a close, we must remember who produced it. Comcast-NBCUniversal may not get an Emmy, but deserves all the credit. Comcast-NBCUniveral created Donald Trump. And there was money to be made from this shitshow, enough to go around to all the tiny associate producers. As Les Moonves, a lesser competitor from CBS, said of the Trump campaign in February this year: "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS...bring it on, Donald. Keep going." 

I think I am done with this reality show metaphor and analysis. I will henceforth return to standard blogiating. But I really encourage you to read my entire series:

Part I: The Star of the 2016 Election (honestly, I think this was my best, and it is full of pertinent links to videos)
Part II: The Season Finale of Survivor: Election 2016
Part III: Survivor: Election 2016 - The results show
Part IV: The Aftershow - you just read it

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Walking Dawn in America

When I attempted three weeks ago to make a thoughtful prediction of the US Presidential election, I recalled that
I have a horrible track record predicting presidential elections. For as long as I have been blogging, I have been wrong, both in 2008 (when I got the right outcome, but with numbers that were woefully off) and 2012 (when I thought Romney would win).
Well, here I am again, as wrong as ever. I had predicted 305-233 in favor of Clinton. Turns out these two numbers might be right, but with the wrong colors, and the opposite outcome. To my credit, I thought it would be tight, much tighter than my fellow predictors had imagined, a victory without a mandate. At least that much was right. 

At least I was wise enough this year to avoid all bets. 

As an intital Bernie supporter who has never before pulled the lever before for Hillary Clinton, I felt I was #StuckWithHer. Personally, I am glad to be done with the Clinton family soap opera. Whatever political coalition emerges to oppose the future President Trump, the Clintons won't be part of it. Good riddance. I wish the Clinton Foundation great success. 

The only silver lining? Massachusetts passed Question 4. In a little more than a year my neighboring state will be selling recreational cannabis. I'll need it, because for the moment what I am ailing from (at least for the next 4 years) does not qualify for medical cannabis here in Connecticut.

I'll try later to place this within the analytical model of a reality show, which I have come to believe is one useful way of processing the outcome. The central character of 2016's most shocking reality series deserves his own account.

Monday, November 07, 2016

I Gotta Have Faith

I gotta have faith. I lost faith in God a long time ago. But I think I've found one thing I believe in - the wisdom of the American electorate. 

On the eve of the results show series finale, I'm rooting for lesser lead character Contestant B, the last one standing - damaged goods herself, a drama unto her own right - to beat the caddish, lewd, testosterone-fueled reality star, Contestant A. And like you, I've become emotionally attached to my choice. I hope my side wins.

My hope spills over into belief. I gotta have faith that a majority of Americans - Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Third-party voters - agree on one thing: the central character of Survivor: Election 2016 should not be the next President of the United States.

I gotta have faith that enough Republicans of the "old school" note the deafening loneliness of a contestant without a single ex-President at his back.

I gotta have faith in the Independents and the Undecideds. I know that even now, Election Eve, there are still 5% undecided, and another 7% will go to third parties. In some states it won't matter, but in some states it will make all the difference.

I gotta have faith that the message of hate, ignorance, and despair emanating from Contestant A will repulse a majority of my fellow audience members, who will vote strategically. My plea to the 12% : if it is within the margin of error in your state, please consider voting for my Contestant B.

The reason is simple: this not particularly thoughtful man-child; this late-night hustler of universities, of steaks, of vodka; this hot mess of a celebrity "businessman" - is not fit to lead the country in any direction other than to its own quick demise.

I gotta have faith that the worst outbreak of native anti-Semitism in my lifetime will be rejected. I gotta have faith that the worst outbreak of Islamophobia in 14 years will be rejected. I gotta have faith that the misogyny, the nativism, and the brutality of Contestant A repulses a majority of fellow audience members.

I gotta have faith that a majority of Americans will vote to preserve a constitutional democracy. We've already gone 9 months without a fully staffed Supreme Court. We're engaged in three major military confrontations in the Middle East, but not a word is spoken of it. We've been distracted by the show.

The alternative is not unthinkable. Imagine Silvio Berlusconi with nuclear codes. Would it be the beginning of The Plot Against America? Aren't we already there?

I have to have faith that sometime - Wednesday at the latest - America will, in a moment of sheer irony, deliver a simple message to the central character of the greatest reality show of all time: "Donald, you're fired!"

And then whatever the outcome,  as we all know, the series isn't over.

Next up - the "after show" episode. 

Sunday, November 06, 2016

How to watch the results show

How will we know how election night goes?

By mid-day Tuesday we'll start getting some turnout rumors, and by late afternoon the National Election Pool will start producing exit polling numbers. Early election numbers will certainly be available, but those numbers won't be formally released to the AP and then tallied by the NEP until polls close in a particular state.

Polls close first in parts of IN and KY at 6 pm (all times eastern), both will ultimately go to Trump. If you start watching returns at 6 pm, be prepared for a long, long night.

The first real test of Clinton's firewall comes at 7:30, when NC and OH close. If the network decision desks make a quick call in either state, be surprised. Expect both states to be called in the 10 pm hour. In general, expect a 1-3 hour delay in calling the contested states. Expect lots of "too early" and "too close" to call results throughout the night.

Most of FL closes at 7 pm, but the panhandle stays open until 8 pm. FL will be called late.

At 8 pm NH, MI, and PA all close. All three are expected to go to Clinton. A win by Trump in any one of these three would be necessary for Trump to "have a path." If Trump should win 2 out of 3, Trump is the winner. Expect NH to go late, possibly MI. 

At 9 pm WI, CO, and AZ close. A win by Trump in any one of these three would be necessary for Trump to "have a path." If Trump should win 2 out of 3, Trump is the winner. All three could go late.

By 10 pm, a certain number of states will have been called. If the race is close, Trump will certainly have a lead at this point from called races in the south and midwest. No one would yet be near the mandated 270 electoral votes. Also at 10 pm IA and NV close. Expect at least one to go late. Trump must win at least one of the 2 to "have a path." If he wins both, he likely is the winner. 

Anytime after 11 pm one might expect a call for winner of the contest. 

Also at 11 pm, the west coast closes. AK is at midnight, and HI at 1 am.

If this is Clinton blowout, expect a winner declared in the 11 pm - midnight hour. In 2012, it was at 11:25 pm that hold-out FoxNews reluctantly called OH for Obama, giving Obama the win. This time around, the consensus is Clinton will win, but with less electoral votes than Obama in 2012, when he got 332. In that case, expect to be waiting well after midnight.

This could easily be an election that spills into the morning of Nov. 9 without a declared winner.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Survivor: Election 2016 - The results show

In two previous posts, I tried to make the case that we are not being subjected to a normal presidential election cycle, but rather to a reality TV series. In my first post, I made the case that the central star of the show is the accomplished reality show host and participant Donald J. Trump. In my second post, I explained how in normal reality show arcs, the central character is subjected to a shocking "reveal" which throws the competition into disarray, driving the audience's emotional attachments into discombobulation. At the end of that second post, written 3 weeks ago, I wrote:
Producers of reality shows know there is one final ploy to release upon the audience - a dramatic invocation of the rules of the show - a kind of breaking of the fourth wall. Contestants get disqualified, the rules can suddenly be changed. Rumors abound that the call-in vote is somehow "fixed." Part of the drama lies in the capricious rules/no rules that can be invoked by the producers to apply one last shuffle of the deck. As long as the audience keeps watching.
Last Friday we indeed were subjected to just such a "unseen hand" changing the rules of the show's arc with the announcement that there might be a "foul" on the part of the lesser "Contestant B," the last contestant standing in the way of the far more controversial "Contestant A" winning the show. We've also seen charges that the national preferential vote is rigged, or that members of the audience who support "Contestant B" are not being able to register their vote.

Everything is playing out true-to-script for a reality show producer's wet dream - the highest-rated reality show final episode, the episode usually known as the "results show." Typically the "results show" is a reminiscence - the former contestants make brief appearances, the last standing contestants are trotted onstage, and the results are announced. Tears for one, joy for the other, and then a triumphant final ritual crowning of the victor. Catharsis.

So here it is the Friday before the results show finale. Fridays have become the day of dramatic shifts in the show's narrative (Friday October 7 - the "pussygrab" tape is revealed by the Washington Post; Friday, October 28 - FBI director Comey's letter to Congress). Are there any tricks left in the producer's bag to keep the audience riveted to the screen? Is there some unpredictable wild-card event that might be introduced into the narrative arc that is even beyond the grasp of the contestants and the producers? Have the producers created a behemoth of a mega-hit that even they cannot control?

So the final bit of drama could be a further breaking of the "fourth wall" - this time throwing not only the contestants but also the producers for a loop. On Survivor, it could be a medical episode hitting one of the contestants; on Big Brother, it could be unwanted interference from outside the hermetically sealed guest house. In our context, this could be a DDoS attack, a terrorist event, or a riveting act of violence.

There is certainly enough already in the narrative pipeline to keep the audience riveted. Already a full fifth of the total audience has already registered its preference. The online fanboy prediction sites have already issued their final prognostications. The consensus of all the prediction sites has the main character losing, but warn the audience that "anything can happen."

All of which makes for an unprecedented series finale - a results show that might either be a drawn-out bit of contrived drama, or a shocker that ends before midnight eastern time. Either way, the producers have delivered to their corporate owners a fantastic juggernaut. The audience is ready for one last orgiastic event - must see TV.

 Note: The reality show analysis continues here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

One Week Out - The Tightening

This has been a strange election. Wouldn't it end perfectly if Nate Silver, who got 49 out of 50 states right in 2008, and 50 out of 50 right in 2012, turns out to be all wrong this time, missing 4 or 5 states?

Using my simple 70% yardstick from's electoral map, nothing has changed from last week to this week. We're still at 272-179 with 87 battleground electoral votes. But the tightening trend places both CO (75.4% Clinton) and NH (72.7% Clinton) on the cusp of being reclassified as battleground.

Let's take a look at the current 80% map:

Compared to the 80% map from 2 weeks ago, Clinton has "lost" a number of states: CO, WI, PA, and NH. Trump has lost UT. Odds remain good that none of these states are "lost" - I am just showing what the floor for each candidate is likely to be. And it also gives a sense of where the final week's ad buys and candidate appearances ought to be.

Two weeks ago, I predicted 305-233. I am going to stick with that, though such an outcome might be the best the Democrats can hope for.