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Russia’s SolarWinds Attack and Software Security

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The information that is emerging about Russia’s extensive cyberintelligence operation against the United States and other countries should be increasingly alarming to the public. The magnitude of the hacking, now believed to have affected more than 250 federal agencies and businesses — ­primarily through a malicious update of the SolarWinds network management software — ­may have slipped under most people’s radar during the holiday season, but its implications are stunning.

According to a Washington Post report, this is a massive intelligence coup by Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR). And a massive security failure on the part of the United States is also to blame. Our insecure Internet infrastructure has become a critical national security risk­ — one that we need to take seriously and spend money to reduce.

President-elect Joe Biden’s initial response spoke of retaliation, but there really isn’t much the United States can do beyond what it already does. Cyberespionage is business as usual among countries and governments, and the United States is aggressively offensive in this regard. We benefit from the lack of norms in this area and are unlikely to push back too hard because we don’t want to limit our own offensive actions.

Biden took a more realistic tone last week when he spoke of the need to improve US defenses. The initial focus will likely be on how to clean the hackers out of our networks, why the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command failed to detect this intrusion and whether the 2-year-old Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has the resources necessary to defend the United States against attacks of this caliber. These are important discussions to have, but we also need to address the economic incentives that led to SolarWinds being breached and how that insecure software ended up in so many critical US government networks.

Software has become incredibly complicated. Most of us almost don’t know all of the software running on our laptops and what it’s doing. We don’t know where it’s connecting to on the Internet­ — not even which countries it’s connecting to­ — and what data it’s sending. We typically don’t know what third party libraries are in the software we install. We don’t know what software any of our cloud services are running. And we’re rarely alone in our ignorance. Finding all of this out is incredibly difficult.

This is even more true for software that runs our large government networks, or even the Internet backbone. Government software comes from large companies, small suppliers, open source projects and everything in between. Obscure software packages can have hidden vulnerabilities that affect the security of these networks, and sometimes the entire Internet. Russia’s SVR leveraged one of those vulnerabilities when it gained access to SolarWinds’ update server, tricking thousands of customers into downloading a malicious software update that gave the Russians access to those networks.

The fundamental problem is one of economic incentives. The market rewards quick development of products. It rewards new features. It rewards spying on customers and users: collecting and selling individual data. The market does not reward security, safety or transparency. It doesn’t reward reliability past a bare minimum, and it doesn’t reward resilience at all.

This is what happened at SolarWinds. A New York Times report noted the company ignored basic security practices. It moved software development to Eastern Europe, where Russia has more influence and could potentially subvert programmers, because it’s cheaper.

Short-term profit was seemingly prioritized over product security.

Companies have the right to make decisions like this. The real question is why the US government bought such shoddy software for its critical networks. This is a problem that Biden can fix, and he needs to do so immediately.

The United States needs to improve government software procurement. Software is now critical to national security. Any system for acquiring software needs to evaluate the security of the software and the security practices of the company, in detail, to ensure they are sufficient to meet the security needs of the network they’re being installed in. Procurement contracts need to include security controls of the software development process. They need security attestations on the part of the vendors, with substantial penalties for misrepresentation or failure to comply. The government needs detailed best practices for government and other companies.

Some of the groundwork for an approach like this has already been laid by the federal government, which has sponsored the development of a “Software Bill of Materials” that would set out a process for software makers to identify the components used to assemble their software.

This scrutiny can’t end with purchase. These security requirements need to be monitored throughout the software’s life cycle, along with what software is being used in government networks.

None of this is cheap, and we should be prepared to pay substantially more for secure software. But there’s a benefit to these practices. If the government evaluations are public, along with the list of companies that meet them, all network buyers can benefit from them. The US government acting purely in the realm of procurement can improve the security of nongovernmental networks worldwide.

This is important, but it isn’t enough. We need to set minimum safety and security standards for all software: from the code in that Internet of Things appliance you just bought to the code running our critical national infrastructure. It’s all one network, and a vulnerability in your refrigerator’s software can be used to attack the national power grid.

The IOT Cybersecurity Improvement Act, signed into law last month, is a start in this direction.

The Biden administration should prioritize minimum security standards for all software sold in the United States, not just to the government but to everyone. Long gone are the days when we can let the software industry decide how much emphasis to place on security. Software security is now a matter of personal safety: whether it’s ensuring your car isn’t hacked over the Internet or that the national power grid isn’t hacked by the Russians.

This regulation is the only way to force companies to provide safety and security features for customers — just as legislation was necessary to mandate food safety measures and require auto manufacturers to install life-saving features such as seat belts and air bags. Smart regulations that incentivize innovation create a market for security features. And they improve security for everyone.

It’s true that creating software in this sort of regulatory environment is more expensive. But if we truly value our personal and national security, we need to be prepared to pay for it.

The truth is that we’re already paying for it. Today, software companies increase their profits by secretly pushing risk onto their customers. We pay the cost of insecure personal computers, just as the government is now paying the cost to clean up after the SolarWinds hack. Fixing this requires both transparency and regulation. And while the industry will resist both, they are essential for national security in our increasingly computer-dependent worlds.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

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bronzehedwick
14 days ago
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Astoria NY
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Justice Department Charges Zoom With Suppressing U.S. Calls About Tiananmen Square, at Behest of China

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Drew Harwell and Ellen Nakashima, reporting for The Washington Post:

A security executive with the video-tech giant Zoom worked with the Chinese government to terminate Americans’ accounts and disrupt video calls about the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square, Justice Department prosecutors said Friday. […]

Prosecutors said the China-based executive, Xinjiang Jin, worked as Zoom’s primary liaison with Chinese law enforcement and intelligence services, sharing user information and terminating video calls at the Chinese government’s request.

Jin monitored Zoom’s video system for discussions of political and religious topics deemed unacceptable by China’s ruling Communist Party, the complaint states, and he gave government officials the names, email addresses and other sensitive information of users, even those outside China.

Outrageous in so many ways. How in the world can Zoom ever claim that calls are private and encrypted when they’ve clearly demonstrated the ability to monitor them, and abused that in patently offensive ways? Best to assume that every call made with Zoom is monitored by the Chinese government. Remember too that Zoom employs 700 Chinese nationals on its engineering staff. I’d be surprised if Zoom’s source code and server infrastructure was not riddled with backdoors and eavesdropping features.

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bronzehedwick
34 days ago
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Yikes. Tempted to repeatedly say Tiananmen Square in a Zoom and see what happens.
Astoria NY
zippy72
34 days ago
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FourSquare, qv
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1 public comment
jqlive
31 days ago
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Wow. the xenophobia in the last 2 sentences is strong. Just because you hire Chinese nationals, doesn't automatically mean they're up to no good.
CN/MX
kyounger
21 days ago
Do you think the likelihood goes up, the more you hire? This isn't a slight on the Chinese people, but their government.
jqlive
14 days ago
No, I do not. That's like saying if you hire enough Mexicans, you'll get some cartel members, or if you hire enough Russians you'll get FSB agents. One bad overzealous actor does not represent an entire group of people.

Should There Be Limits on Persuasive Technologies?

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Persuasion is as old as our species. Both democracy and the market economy depend on it. Politicians persuade citizens to vote for them, or to support different policy positions. Businesses persuade consumers to buy their products or services. We all persuade our friends to accept our choice of restaurant, movie, and so on. It’s essential to society; we couldn’t get large groups of people to work together without it. But as with many things, technology is fundamentally changing the nature of persuasion. And society needs to adapt its rules of persuasion or suffer the consequences.

Democratic societies, in particular, are in dire need of a frank conversation about the role persuasion plays in them and how technologies are enabling powerful interests to target audiences. In a society where public opinion is a ruling force, there is always a risk of it being mobilized for ill purposes — ­such as provoking fear to encourage one group to hate another in a bid to win office, or targeting personal vulnerabilities to push products that might not benefit the consumer.

In this regard, the United States, already extremely polarized, sits on a precipice.

There have long been rules around persuasion. The US Federal Trade Commission enforces laws that claims about products “must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.” Political advertisers must identify themselves in television ads. If someone abuses a position of power to force another person into a contract, undue influence can be argued to nullify that agreement. Yet there is more to persuasion than the truth, transparency, or simply applying pressure.

Persuasion also involves psychology, and that has been far harder to regulate. Using psychology to persuade people is not new. Edward Bernays, a pioneer of public relations and nephew to Sigmund Freud, made a marketing practice of appealing to the ego. His approach was to tie consumption to a person’s sense of self. In his 1928 book Propaganda, Bernays advocated engineering events to persuade target audiences as desired. In one famous stunt, he hired women to smoke cigarettes while taking part in the 1929 New York City Easter Sunday parade, causing a scandal while linking smoking with the emancipation of women. The tobacco industry would continue to market lifestyle in selling cigarettes into the 1960s.

Emotional appeals have likewise long been a facet of political campaigns. In the 1860 US presidential election, Southern politicians and newspaper editors spread fears of what a “Black Republican” win would mean, painting horrific pictures of what the emancipation of slaves would do to the country. In the 2020 US presidential election, modern-day Republicans used Cuban Americans’ fears of socialism in ads on Spanish-language radio and messaging on social media. Because of the emotions involved, many voters believed the campaigns enough to let them influence their decisions.

The Internet has enabled new technologies of persuasion to go even further. Those seeking to influence others can collect and use data about targeted audiences to create personalized messaging. Tracking the websites a person visits, the searches they make online, and what they engage with on social media, persuasion technologies enable those who have access to such tools to better understand audiences and deliver more tailored messaging where audiences are likely to see it most. This information can be combined with data about other activities, such as offline shopping habits, the places a person visits, and the insurance they buy, to create a profile of them that can be used to develop persuasive messaging that is aimed at provoking a specific response.

Our senses of self, meanwhile, are increasingly shaped by our interaction with technology. The same digital environment where we read, search, and converse with our intimates enables marketers to take that data and turn it back on us. A modern day Bernays no longer needs to ferret out the social causes that might inspire you or entice you­ — you’ve likely already shared that by your online behavior.

Some marketers posit that women feel less attractive on Mondays, particularly first thing in the morning — ­and therefore that’s the best time to advertise cosmetics to them. The New York Times once experimented by predicting the moods of readers based on article content to better target ads, enabling marketers to find audiences when they were sad or fearful. Some music streaming platforms encourage users to disclose their current moods, which helps advertisers target subscribers based on their emotional states.

The phones in our pockets provide marketers with our location in real time, helping deliver geographically relevant ads, such as propaganda to those attending a political rally. This always-on digital experience enables marketers to know what we are doing­ — and when, where, and how we might be feeling at that moment.

All of this is not intended to be alarmist. It is important not to overstate the effectiveness of persuasive technologies. But while many of them are more smoke and mirrors than reality, it is likely that they will only improve over time. The technology already exists to help predict moods of some target audiences, pinpoint their location at any given time, and deliver fairly tailored and timely messaging. How far does that ability need to go before it erodes the autonomy of those targeted to make decisions of their own free will?

Right now, there are few legal or even moral limits on persuasion­ — and few answers regarding the effectiveness of such technologies. Before it is too late, the world needs to consider what is acceptable and what is over the line.

For example, it’s been long known that people are more receptive to advertisements made with people who look like them: in race, ethnicity, age, gender. Ads have long been modified to suit the general demographic of the television show or magazine they appear in. But we can take this further. The technology exists to take your likeness and morph it with a face that is demographically similar to you. The result is a face that looks like you, but that you don’t recognize. If that turns out to be more persuasive than coarse demographic targeting, is that okay?

Another example: Instead of just advertising to you when they detect that you are vulnerable, what if advertisers craft advertisements that deliberately manipulate your mood? In some ways, being able to place ads alongside content that is likely to provoke a certain emotional response enables advertisers to do this already. The only difference is that the media outlet claims it isn’t crafting the content to deliberately achieve this. But is it acceptable to actively prime a target audience and then to deliver persuasive messaging that fits the mood?

Further, emotion-based decision-making is not the rational type of slow thinking that ought to inform important civic choices such as voting. In fact, emotional thinking threatens to undermine the very legitimacy of the system, as voters are essentially provoked to move in whatever direction someone with power and money wants. Given the pervasiveness of digital technologies, and the often instant, reactive responses people have to them, how much emotion ought to be allowed in persuasive technologies? Is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed?

Finally, for most people today, exposure to information and technology is pervasive. The average US adult spends more than eleven hours a day interacting with media. Such levels of engagement lead to huge amounts of personal data generated and aggregated about you­ — your preferences, interests, and state of mind. The more those who control persuasive technologies know about us, what we are doing, how we are feeling, when we feel it, and where we are, the better they can tailor messaging that provokes us into action. The unsuspecting target is grossly disadvantaged. Is it acceptable for the same services to both mediate our digital experience and to target us? Is there ever such thing as too much targeting?

The power dynamics of persuasive technologies are changing. Access to tools and technologies of persuasion is not egalitarian. Many require large amounts of both personal data and computation power, turning modern persuasion into an arms race where the better resourced will be better placed to influence audiences.

At the same time, the average person has very little information about how these persuasion technologies work, and is thus unlikely to understand how their beliefs and opinions might be manipulated by them. What’s more, there are few rules in place to protect people from abuse of persuasion technologies, much less even a clear articulation of what constitutes a level of manipulation so great it effectively takes agency away from those targeted. This creates a positive feedback loop that is dangerous for society.

In the 1970s, there was widespread fear about so-called subliminal messaging, which claimed that images of sex and death were hidden in the details of print advertisements, as in the curls of smoke in cigarette ads and the ice cubes of liquor ads. It was pretty much all a hoax, but that didn’t stop the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission from declaring it an illegal persuasive technology. That’s how worried people were about being manipulated without their knowledge and consent.

It is time to have a serious conversation about limiting the technologies of persuasion. This must begin by articulating what is permitted and what is not. If we don’t, the powerful persuaders will become even more powerful.

This essay was written with Alicia Wanless, and previously appeared in Foreign Policy.

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bronzehedwick
39 days ago
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Great essay on one of the defining, yet often hidden to the wider public, issues of our time.
Astoria NY
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Guide When Shopping for Safe Secure Connected Products #WearableWednesday

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Mozilla has compiled an amazing guide that shows you just how safe (or unsafe) your data is when using various smart devices, Via Mozilla.org

How creepy is that smart speaker, that fitness tracker, those wireless headphones? We created this guide to help you shop for safe, secure connected products.

Jabra Elite Active 85T dr4xwt
The full list of items including apple smart watches, Eufy security cams, Peloton Tread and much more is here! Check out their review of the Jabra Elite 85T

If you’re more the sporty type or if you just don’t like wearing big, over the ear headphones, these little earbuds might be for you. They do all the things: noise cancelling, custom sound levels for music, multiple microphones for calls, filtering out noise, and listening for you to ask Alexa, Siri, or Google to play that next song with 25-hours of battery life. All shoved right into your ears. These earbuds are truly small, truly wireless, and truly easy to lose.

What could happen if something goes wrong

Jabra does a great job with privacy and security because they are old school. They sell hardware. Not you. This means they don’t collect any personal information on you. And they don’t share data with third-parties or sell it ever. They even have two privacy policies. One is a general statement of privacy and one covers their app. Good work Jabra!

Check out the full guide!

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bronzehedwick
43 days ago
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Astoria NY
jepler
44 days ago
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Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
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Undermining Democracy

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Last Thursday, Rudy Giuliani, a Trump campaign lawyer, alleged a widespread voting conspiracy involving Venezuela, Cuba, and China. Another lawyer, Sidney Powell, argued that Mr. Trump won in a landslide, the entire election in swing states should be overturned and the legislatures should make sure that the electors are selected for the president.

The Republican National Committee swung in to support her false claim that Mr. Trump won in a landslide, while Michigan election officials have tried to stop the certification of the vote.

It is wildly unlikely that their efforts can block Joe Biden from becoming president. But they may still do lasting damage to American democracy for a shocking reason: the moves have come from trusted insiders.

American democracy’s vulnerability to disinformation has been very much in the news since the Russian disinformation campaign in 2016. The fear is that outsiders, whether they be foreign or domestic actors, will undermine our system by swaying popular opinion and election results.

This is half right. American democracy is an information system, in which the information isn’t bits and bytes but citizens’ beliefs. When peoples’ faith in the democratic system is undermined, democracy stops working. But as information security specialists know, outsider attacks are hard. Russian trolls, who don’t really understand how American politics works, have actually had a difficult time subverting it.

When you really need to worry is when insiders go bad. And that is precisely what is happening in the wake of the 2020 presidential election. In traditional information systems, the insiders are the people who have both detailed knowledge and high level access, allowing them to bypass security measures and more effectively subvert systems. In democracy, the insiders aren’t just the officials who manage voting but also the politicians who shape what people believe about politics. For four years, Donald Trump has been trying to dismantle our shared beliefs about democracy. And now, his fellow Republicans are helping him.

Democracy works when we all expect that votes will be fairly counted, and defeated candidates leave office. As the democratic theorist Adam Przeworski puts it, democracy is “a system in which parties lose elections.” These beliefs can break down when political insiders make bogus claims about general fraud, trying to cling to power when the election has gone against them.

It’s obvious how these kinds of claims damage Republican voters’ commitment to democracy. They will think that elections are rigged by the other side and will not accept the judgment of voters when it goes against their preferred candidate. Their belief that the Biden administration is illegitimate will justify all sorts of measures to prevent it from functioning.

It’s less obvious that these strategies affect Democratic voters’ faith in democracy, too. Democrats are paying attention to Republicans’ efforts to stop the votes of Democratic voters ­- and especially Black Democratic voters -­ from being counted. They, too, are likely to have less trust in elections going forward, and with good reason. They will expect that Republicans will try to rig the system against them. Mr. Trump is having a hard time winning unfairly, because he has lost in several states. But what if Mr. Biden’s margin of victory depended only on one state? What if something like that happens in the next election?

The real fear is that this will lead to a spiral of distrust and destruction. Republicans ­ who are increasingly committed to the notion that the Democrats are committing pervasive fraud -­ will do everything that they can to win power and to cling to power when they can get it. Democrats ­- seeing what Republicans are doing ­ will try to entrench themselves in turn. They suspect that if the Republicans really win power, they will not ever give it back. The claims of Republicans like Senator Mike Lee of Utah that America is not really a democracy might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

More likely, this spiral will not directly lead to the death of American democracy. The U.S. federal system of government is complex and hard for any one actor or coalition to dominate completely. But it may turn American democracy into an unworkable confrontation between two hostile camps, each unwilling to make any concession to its adversary.

We know how to make voting itself more open and more secure; the literature is filled with vital and important suggestions. The more difficult problem is this. How do you shift the collective belief among Republicans that elections are rigged?

Political science suggests that partisans are more likely to be persuaded by fellow partisans, like Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state in Georgia, who said that election fraud wasn’t a big problem. But this would only be effective if other well-known Republicans supported him.

Public outrage, alternatively, can sometimes force officials to back down, as when people crowded in to denounce the Michigan Republican election officials who were trying to deny certification of their votes.

The fundamental problem, however, is Republican insiders who have convinced themselves that to keep and hold power, they need to trash the shared beliefs that hold American democracy together.

They may have long-term worries about the consequences, but they’re unlikely to do anything about those worries in the near-term unless voters, wealthy donors or others whom they depend on make them pay short-term costs.

This essay was written with Henry Farrell, and previously appeared in the New York Times.

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bronzehedwick
56 days ago
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Ugh, unfortunately I’m inclined to agree.
Astoria NY
jepler
56 days ago
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Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
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evaryont
54 days ago
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> ...they’re unlikely to do anything about those worries in the near-term unless voters, wealthy donors or others whom they depend on make them pay short-term costs.

I wholly agree with this. For now, the destruction of democracy is a short-term win, and screw the long term. If it does hurt long term, the players will change the game before then.

People need to make it hurt short term, not reward this behavior. But that hurt can't come from outside, it must come from within.

For American democracy, this latest election shows us that means Republicans. How can we convince them that this was the wrong choice?
Phoenix, AZ
jgbishop
56 days ago
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Good read and so true.
Durham, NC

A Contested 2020 Election Would Be Way Worse Than Bush v. Gore

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It’s Wednesday, Nov. 4, and the vote count is too close to call. Neither President Trump nor former Vice President Joe Biden is conceding defeat, recounts are being conducted, disputes over recounts are being lodged, and a court case will soon be making its way to the Supreme Court of the United States. Trump has voiced his belief that there is widespread ballot fraud and as a result there’s already some degree of civil unrest.

This is the nightmare scenario for 2020, one in which a disputed election drives the country further apart. It’s also one that’s vaguely familiar. In 2000, there was no clear winner in the contest between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush. That triggered a recount and a controversial Supreme Court decision that ultimately determined the presidency for Bush. Yet even in the direct aftermath of Bush v. Gore, Americans still kept the faith in democratic institutions and the process. I went looking for lessons from that period of disruption. But all I found were the first cancer cells that have metastasized in our political system over the past 20 years.

It’s not that Americans didn’t think something had gone wrong in 2000 — in a CBS News poll conducted after the Supreme Court’s decision in mid-December, 60 percent of people said there had not been a fair and accurate count of votes. Still, 59 percent of people in an ABC News/Washington Post poll from the same time said their opinion of the court remained unchanged. The same poll asked what people would think if there were an unofficial recount and Gore were declared the winner. Would they consider Bush legitimately elected? Eighty-four percent answered, “Yes.”

It’s difficult to imagine similar sentiments in December 2020 if the Supreme Court intervened. Already, Americans say they are worried about something going wrong. In a late September Monmouth University poll, 39 percent of people said they were “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that the 2020 election would be conducted “fairly and accurately.” A FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll from about the same time found that while 60 percent of people surveyed said the election would be fair, 39 percent said it wouldn’t be. The open seat on the Supreme Court has only complicated matters.

Journalists’ recitation of engrained partisanship is now somewhat rote, but the scale of our almost-religious alienation from one another is sort of breathtaking; we were not this divided a nation in 2000. Pew Research tracked partisanship trends in America from 1994 to 2017 by measuring responses to the same questions about things like views on gay marriage and immigration. In 1999, there was a 15-point difference between Democrats and Republicans on these questions. In 2017, the difference was 36 points.

But man, did we think we had it bad back in the 15-point difference world.

The history of the 2000 election recount generally tells about the partisan spin that polluted the airwaves during the counting of the ballots. (If you are too young to know what a “hanging chad” is, please Google; it was important in American life for a few weeks, but I just don’t have the strength to get into it here.) Gore’s team wanted officials to recount ballots by hand in four heavily Democratic counties where the vote was quite close, while Bush’s team wanted to stop the recount entirely.

James Baker was Bush’s point-man in Florida, having served as George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state, and was quick to realize that the campaign would need to wage a war for public opinion. “We’re getting killed on ‘count all the votes.’ Who the hell could be against that?” Jeffrey Toobin quoted Baker as saying in his book about the recount, “Too Close to Call.” Gore’s team thought it had the “moral authority to make his case,” according to a New York Times report from two days after Election Day. It allowed “Democrats to suggest that the Republicans are trying to subvert the will of the people.”

As the drama unfolded, many Americans thought more votes needed to be tallied, but they also thought Gore should concede defeat. In a Fox News survey from late November, the plurality of people, 47 percent, thought that not all the votes in Florida had been counted. But the same survey also found that 56 percent of people thought Gore should concede.

This psychology is fascinating when seen through 2020’s rearview mirror. It speaks to a certain satisfaction some people had with the general political state of things: Either Bush or Gore would do just fine. It’s the sort of laissez-faire attitude toward election outcomes that 15-point partisan differences buy you. In the 36-point era, we’re discussing all-out civil war if things are too close to call on election night.

We have accelerated the formation of our separate partisan worlds over the past four years. These worlds accept different realities. Democrats generally accept fact-based conclusions (alongside their partisan, subjective beliefs), and Republicans — or at least the Republican Party — generally eschew the conclusions of experts on things like climate change and COVID-19 (alongside their partisan, subjective beliefs). Given all this, doesn’t it necessarily follow that we would continue down this garden path of separate realities when it comes to an initially indeterminate election outcome? One version of reality accepts a President Biden while the other accepts a President Trump, each with baroque arguments — about the eligibility of certain ballots or the legitimacy of the Electoral College — nicely retrofitted to match a predetermined conclusion.

In a piece in the 2010 collection “The Presidency of George W. Bush: A First Historical Assessment,” David Greenberg, a professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, traced this inability to accept a common reality to the 2000 election and the postmodern brilliance of Baker and company: “The Bush team didn’t just contend that a recount would fail to identify the true winner more accurately; more radically, they argued that any accurate tally was unattainable — that the truth was unknowable.”

Greenberg points to a famous quote given to the New York Times Magazine by a Bush aide for further proof of the roots of this kind of thinking:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Professionally, I’m a member of the reality-based community. I try to think empirically about America, her culture, people and oh-so-screwy politics. That’s been a challenge as Trump and the Republican Party have perfected the creation of one’s own reality and the belittling of the reality-based community. During the first debate, the president waffled on whether he would concede defeat, falling back on his go-to line about the fraudulent — and unfounded — dangers of mail voting. If he actually does this post-Election Day, media organizations will be forced to grapple with reporting on the news of the day — the president’s words — and battling misinformation and mistrust. It’s more than the press had to contend with in 2000, and it’s an unwinnable scenario. But it’s the reality of our 36-point world.

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bronzehedwick
105 days ago
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Astoria NY
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