Listened to PURPLE EPISODE 4: Media to the Rescue? from On the Media | WNYC Studios

On the press's role to educate the public about participating in democracy.

As part of a month-long campaign called the Purple Project for Democracy, (a strictly non-partisan, apolitical effort that a number of other large news organizations have also contributed to) we are featuring a series of conversations about an alarming loss of trust, faith and devotion by Americans for American democracy — and what to do about it. Bob is one of the Purple Project organizers. In episode four, Bob examines the media’s responsibility for instilling devotion, or at least perspective, for our democracy.

A 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, showed only 23 percent of eighth graders in the United States attained “proficient” status in civics. A 2011 Newsweek survey found that 70 percent of Americans didn’t even know that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. And only 26% of those surveyed in 2017 by the University of Pennsylvania could name all three branches of government. And no wonder: with STEM curriculum and standardized testing squeezing the school day, civics has become the snow leopard of the social studies curriculum. 

So if the knowledge vacuum is otherwise filled by misinformation and disinformation, and the result is a loss of faith and trust in democracy itself, who is left to intervene? Jan Schaffer — ombudsman for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, Pulitzer Prize–winning former journalist and founder of The Institute for Interactive Journalism — talks to Bob about what responsibility the media have to become educators, and maybe even re-assurers, of last resort.

Listened to PURPLE EPISODE 3: Let’s Not Discount Reality from On the Media | WNYC Studios

How a propaganda war by the private sector led to a decline of trust in government.

As part of a month-long campaign called the Purple Project for Democracy, OTM is using its podcast feed for a series of conversations about an alarming loss of trust, faith and devotion by Americans for American democracy — and what to do about it. Bob himself is one of the Purple Project organizers. We recommend that you listen to this four-part mini-series in order. In this third episode he explores some of the causes for disaffection.

One of the reasons so many Americans have lost trust and faith is democratic institutions is simple misunderstanding about how the system is designed to work.  Another, however, is familiarity with how the system does work— which isn’t exactly of, by and for the People. Anand Giridharadas is author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. He says the founders also didn’t plan on politicians constantly trash-talking government itself and that a decline in trust in government is the result of a concerted, private sector propaganda war waged over the last four decades.

Listened to PURPLE EPISODE 2: “Low Information, High Misinformation Voters" from On the Media | WNYC Studios

How do we repair our institutions in the age of Pizzagate and flat Earth conspiracy theories?

As part of a month-long campaign called the Purple Project for Democracy, (a strictly non-partisan, apolitical effort that a number of other large news organizations have also contributed to) we are featuring a series of conversations about an alarming loss of trust, faith and devotion by Americans for American democracy –– and what to do about it. Bob is one of the Purple Project organizers.

The Pizzagate pedophile conspiracy, crisis actors at Sandy Hook, the flat Earthers...and on and on. Absolute nonsense peddled by the cynical and the naive, and eagerly lapped up by the gullible. Misinformation is a problem that Brendan Nyhan, professor of government at Dartmouth College, has studied for years. In this interview, Brendan and Bob discuss new research on how Americans form their political beliefs and how civic institutions may begin to win back their trust.

Listened to PURPLE EPISODE 1: “Is Democracy up for grabs? from On the Media | WNYC Studios

What happens when Americans lose faith in the democracy?

As part of a month-long campaign called the Purple Project for Democracy, (a strictly non-partisan, apolitical effort that a number of other large news organizations have also contributed to) we are featuring a series of conversations about an alarming loss of trust, faith and devotion by Americans for American democracy -- and what to do about it. Bob is one of the Purple Project organizers.

Democracy is in trouble. Not necessarily because of our current political mayhem, or even because of the accumulated sins and failures of American society, but because vast swaths of the public are giving up on the system that has governed us for 243 years.

Here are some alarming data points: One, in 2018 only 33% of the general population expressed trust for government. Two, among 1400 adults asked about the importance of democracy, only 39% of younger participants said “absolutely important.” Three, in a 2018 Democracy Fund survey of 5000 Americans, 24% of respondents expressed support for “a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress or elections,” and either a “strong leader” and 18% for “army rule.

The more complicated question is what as a society we are to do about it? In this mini-series we’ll be talking that over, but we’ll begin with the actual state of public sentiment and public participation. Eric Liu is the co-founder and CEO of Citizen University and Co-chair of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship. He and Bob discuss potential solutions for taking on widespread disaffection.

Listened to Can We Govern Ourselves? from On the Media | WNYC Studios

Can we govern ourselves? John Adams didn't think so. Brooke speaks with Jill Lepore about her book "These Truths."

As Americans battle for control of the future of the United States, it seems that we're always going back to founding documents and core principles: relying on them and reinterpreting them, in what seems to be an increasingly arduous effort to govern ourselves. It all starts to beg an uncomfortable question: in the end, can we govern ourselves? John Adams didn’t think so. He said that all political systems, whether monarchy, democracy, aristocracy, were equally prey to the brutish nature of mankind.

Harvard historian Jill Lepore wrote a sweeping history of the American experiment called These Truths: A History of the United States. Brooke spoke with Lepore about this country's history and the history of the contested — and supposedly self-evident — truths under-girding our shaky democracy. 

This segment is from our November 9th, 2018 episode, We're Not Very Good At This.

👓 How America Ends | The Atlantic

Read How America Ends (The Atlantic)
A tectonic demographic shift is under way. Can the country hold together?
This is interesting because I’ve been watching very carefully what the center right has been doing since before the election. I wonder how the geographic distribution of these people looks with respect to Colin Woodard’s thesis? 
Watched A bold idea to replace politicians by César Hidalgo from ted.com
César Hidalgo has a radical suggestion for fixing our broken political system: automate it! In this provocative talk, he outlines a bold idea to bypass politicians by empowering citizens to create personalized AI representatives that participate directly in democratic decisions. Explore a new way to make collective decisions and expand your understanding of democracy.

“It’s not a communication problem, it’s a cognitive bandwidth problem.”—César Hidalgo

He’s definitely right about the second part, but it’s also a communication problem because most of political speech is nuanced toward the side of untruths and covering up facts and potential outcomes to represent the outcome the speaker wants. There’s also far too much of our leaders saying “Do as I say (and attempt to legislate) and not as I do.” Examples include things like legislators working to actively take away things like abortion or condemn those who are LGBTQ when they actively do those things for themselves or their families or live out those lifestyles in secret.

“One of the reasons why we use Democracy so little may be because Democracy has a very bad user interface and if we improve the user interface of democracy we might be able to use it more.”—César Hidalgo

This is an interesting idea, but definitely has many pitfalls with respect to how we know AI systems currently work. We’d definitely need to start small with simpler problems and build our way up to the more complex. However, even then, I’m not so sure that the complexity issues could ultimately be overcome. On it’s face it sounds like he’s relying too much on the old “clockwork” viewpoint of phyiscs, though I know that obviously isn’t (or couldn’t be) his personal viewpoint. There’s a lot more pathways for this to become a weapon of math destruction currently than the utopian tool he’s envisioning.

👓 Why Ohio’s Congressional Map Is Unconstitutional | ACLU

Read Why Ohio’s Congressional Map Is Unconstitutional (American Civil Liberties Union)
UPDATE (2/27/2019): A federal trial, where the ACLU will argue that that Ohio's congressional map violates the Constitution, will begin on March 4 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The witness list includes plaintiffs, political scientists, former state Sen. Nina Turner, U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, and former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, among many others.We all know how representative democracy is supposed to work — each election cycle, citizens vote to determine which elected officials will represent them in Congress. That’s not what’s happening in Ohio, where Republicans designed the state’s redistricting map to keep their party in office in violation of voters’ constitutional rights.Today, the ACLU filed a lawsuit seeking to replace Ohio’s gerrymandered map with one that reflects the will of voters and complies with the Constitution before the 2020 elections.How did Ohio become one of the most egregious examples of partisan gerrymandering in modern history? It’s a sordid tale involving high-level Republican operatives, a secret “bunker,” a rushed vote, and enormous consequences for our democracy.Here’s what you need to know. How are congressional districts drawn?U.S. voters are grouped into districts that elect members of Congress, state legislators and many local offices. These districts are typically redrawn every 10 years, based on the results of the U.S. Census. Under current Ohio law, the state’s General Assembly — its legislature — is primarily responsible for drawing the state’s congressional districts, under the advisement of a bipartisan legislative task force.What happened in Ohio? In anticipation of the 2010 Census, the national Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) came up with a plan to secure Republican control of state legislatures, with a focus on states where legislative bodies controlled the congressional redistricting process. The RSLC identified Ohio as one of those states and spent nearly $1 million on Ohio House of Representatives races in advance of the 2010 election. Ahead of the election, the Republican National Committee also conducted a training session on redistricting, attended by the chief legal counsel for the Ohio House Republican Caucus. The theme of the session was “keep it secret, keep it safe.”In the 2010 election, Ohio Republicans succeeded in securing single-party control of the state and quickly got to work on drawing a map that would deliver favorable results for the next 10 years.National GOP officials also stepped up their support of local redistricting efforts. In a letter to all Republican state legislative leaders nationwide, Chris Jankowski, then-president and chief executive officer of the RSLC, offered a “team of seasoned redistricting experts available to you at no cost to your caucus for assistance.”In the summer of 2011, two of the highest-ranking Republican staffers in the state — the chiefs of staff to the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House of Representatives — hired two Republican political operatives, Ray DiRossi and Heather Mann, as consultants to undertake research and other activities for drafting the congressional map. They were retained exclusively by the Republican members of the supposedly bipartisan task force.Several other national Republican Party operatives also got involved with the drafting the map. Beginning in July 2011, the redistricting operations were based out of a secretly rented hotel room at the DoubleTree Hotel in Columbus, Ohio, rather than in the offices of the General Assembly. The national operatives and state officials driving the redistricting process referred to it as “the bunker.”The operatives and Ohio Republican officials often used their personal, rather than official, email addresses to conduct and discuss the state business of drawing Ohio’s congressional map. The draft map was kept from the public, the full task force, and even from members of the General Assembly until just two days before the full Ohio House would vote on it in September 2011.The map passed. Democratic leaders and advocacy groups quickly sought a referendum to allow the public an opportunity to repeal the map. Under threat of repeal, Republicans moved quickly to pass a slightly revised version. However, the revisions did nothing to change the partisan make-up of any of the proposed districts or the dramatic advantage it provided the Republicans.What did the operatives do to the map?Using partisan indices to draw the districts, the operatives designed a map that would allow Democrats to win four districts, while ensuring Republican wins in the state’s other 12 districts.As a result of the new map, Republican candidates earned 51 percent of the statewide vote in 2012, but secured 75 percent of the state’s congressional seats. In 2014, they earned 59 percent of the vote, and again held onto 75 percent of the seats. In 2016, the Ohio GOP took 57 percent of the vote, and — yet again — kept 75 percent of the Congressional seats.Ohioans who had voted as De

👓 Social media is an existential threat to our idea of democracy | Opinion | The Guardian

Read Social media is an existential threat to our idea of democracy by John Naughton (the Guardian)
Two reports for the US senate reveal how Russia’s Internet Research Agency has fomented distrust and division in the west

🔖 The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff

Bookmarked The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff (PublicAffairs; 1 edition)

Shoshana Zuboff's interdisciplinary breadth and depth enable her to come to grips with the social, political, business, and technological meaning of the changes taking place in our time. We are at a critical juncture in the confrontation between the vast power of giant high-tech companies and government, the hidden economic logic of surveillance capitalism, and the propaganda of machine supremacy that threaten to shape and control human life. Will the brazen new methods of social engineering and behavior modification threaten individual autonomy and democratic rights and introduce extreme new forms of social inequality? Or will the promise of the digital age be one of individual empowerment and democratization?

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism is neither a hand-wringing narrative of danger and decline nor a digital fairy tale. Rather, it offers a deeply reasoned and evocative examination of the contests over the next chapter of capitalism that will decide the meaning of information civilization in the twenty-first century. The stark issue at hand is whether we will be the masters of information and machines or its slaves.

book cover of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

Can’t wait to get this…

On first blush, I’ll note that the cover looks a lot like that of Pikkety’s Captialism in the 21st Century. Certainly an interesting framing by the publisher.

🎧 “The Daily”: What the West Got Wrong About China, Part 2 | New York Times

Listened to "The Daily": What the West Got Wrong About China, Part 2 by Michael Barbaro from New York Times

The U.S. misunderstood not only how China would respond to economic growth, but how the U.S. would respond to China.

🎧 “The Daily”: What the West Got Wrong About China, Part 1 | New York Times

Listened to "The Daily": What the West Got Wrong About China, Part 1 by Michael Barbaro from New York Times

Many in the United States believed that capitalism would never work without political freedom. Then China began to rise.

I listen to this and it reminds me of the wealth and growth in America in the early 1900’s in part because of the fact that the U.S. had a mixed-economy. Sadly it seems like we’ve moved away from that towards a more capitalistic economy. Perhaps it’s time to swing back?

Sadly, China may be taking advantage of their mixed economy, but they don’t seem to have the level of freedom we’ve got.

📺 The Facebook Dilemma (Part 2) | Frontline | PBS

Watched The Facebook Dilemma (Part 2) from FRONTLINE | PBS

A major, two-night investigation of the powerful social media platform’s impact on privacy and democracy in the U.S. and around the world.

SEASON 37: EPISODE 4: The promise of Facebook was to create a more open and connected world. But from the company’s failure to protect millions of users’ data, to the proliferation of “fake news” and disinformation, mounting crises have raised the question: Is Facebook more harmful than helpful? On Monday, Oct. 29, and Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, FRONTLINE presents The Facebook Dilemma. This major, two-night event investigates a series of warnings to Facebook as the company grew from Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room to a global empire. With dozens of original interviews and rare footage, The Facebook Dilemma examines the powerful social media platform’s impact on privacy and democracy in the U.S. and around the world.

This documentary focuses on just one of the major failings of Facebook and its attendant effects on society. If you’re using Facebook, you should watch both parts before continuing to support them.

I’m not quite sure what to label this particular type of failure. Tragedy of the commons? It’s painfully obvious that Facebook not only has no real idea how to solve this problem, but it’s even more telling that they don’t seem to have any desire or drive to solve it either.  The more I watch what they’re doing to their product and their users, the more I think that they have absolutely no ethics or morality at all. In particular Mark Zuckerberg  is completely tone deaf in these areas, and as a result the entire fish stinks from the head.

The only solution may be massive regulation. The sadder part is that with both their financing and lobbying power, not to mention their social influence power which could be leveraged completely via dark posts, they could have a painfully out-sized influence on elections to get their own way.

I’m really worried that things will get far worse before they get better.

👓 Gab and the decentralized web | Ben Werdmüller

Read Gab and the decentralized web by Ben WerdmüllerBen Werdmüller (Ben Werdmüller)
As a proponent of the decentralized web, I've been thinking a lot about the aftermath of the domestic terrorism that was committed in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life synagogue over the weekend, and how it specifically relates to the right-wing social network Gab. In America, we're unfortunately used ...
I couldn’t have put it any better myself.