Patterico's Pontifications


L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca Endorses Jerry Brown for Governor

Filed under: 2010 Election,Politics — Jack Dunphy @ 10:53 pm

[Guest post by Jack Dunphy]

The L.A. Times reports on the endorsement.

“Jerry Brown has championed the rights of crime victims, toughened criminal penalties and developed innovative crime-fighting technologies,” Baca said in the statement. “Jerry Brown has always stood with me and my deputies and I am proud to stand with him in his campaign for governor.”

Sheriff Baca, don’t look for too many of your deputies, or for any other cops for that matter, to be standing anywhere near you and Jerry Brown. Some of us remember that Brown, during his previous stint as governor, inflicted Rose Bird on us. Recall that Bird, as chief justice of the California Supreme Court, voted to overturn every single death penalty case that came before her, including some involving cop killers. Thus did she become the first chief justice to be tossed out of office by the voters, who did so by a 2-1 margin. What kind of judicial appointments might we expect from a new incarnation of Governor Brown?

–Jack Dunphy

Professor Hacks D.C.’s Internet Voting Machine Pilot System

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:33 pm

Via Bradblog (you heard me right!) comes the link to a story that should make everyone nervous, no matter which side of the aisle you sit on. Namely, a professor says that during an open public testing period for electronic voting machines in the District of Columbia, he and his team hacked the system, which “gave us almost total control of the server software, including the ability to change votes and reveal voters’ secret ballots.”

First, understand that the professor did this in an aboveboard manner — not hacking an actual election, but making his point during a test period:

The District of Columbia is conducting a pilot project to allow overseas and military voters to download and return absentee ballots over the Internet. Before opening the system to real voters, D.C. has been holding a test period in which they’ve invited the public to evaluate the system’s security and usability.

This is exactly the kind of open, public testing that many of us in the e-voting security community — including me — have been encouraging vendors and municipalities to conduct. So I was glad to participate, even though the test was launched with only three days’ notice. I assembled a team from the University of Michigan, including my PhD students, Eric Wustrow and Scott Wolchok, and Dawn Isabel, a member of the University of Michigan technical staff.

Within 36 hours of the system going live, our team had found and exploited a vulnerability that gave us almost total control of the server software, including the ability to change votes and reveal voters’ secret ballots.

What he accomplished is . . . frightening:

D.C. launched the public testbed server on Tuesday, September 28. On Wednesday afternoon, we began to exploit the problem we found to demonstrate a number of attacks:

* We collected crucial secret data stored on the server, including the database username and password as well as the public key used to encrypt the ballots.
* We modified all the ballots that had already been cast to contain write-in votes for candidates we selected. (Although the system encrypts voted ballots, we simply discarded the encrypted files and replaced them with different ones that we encrypted using the same key.) We also rigged the system to replace future votes in the same way.
* We installed a back door that let us view any ballots that voters cast after our attack. This modification recorded the votes, in unencrypted form, together with the names of the voters who cast them, violating ballot secrecy.
* To show that we had control of the server, we left a “calling card” on the system’s confirmation screen, which voters see after voting. After 15 seconds, the page plays the University of Michigan fight song.

But surely it’s a one-time thing, right?

The specific vulnerability that we exploited is simple to fix, but it will be vastly more difficult to make the system secure. We’ve found a number of other problems in the system, and everything we’ve seen suggests that the design is brittle: one small mistake can completely compromise its security. I described above how a small error in file-extension handling left the system open to exploitation. If this particular problem had not existed, I’m confident that we would have found another way to attack the system.

None of this will come as a surprise to Internet security experts, who are familiar with the many kinds of attacks that major web sites suffer from on a daily basis. It may someday be possible to build a secure method for submitting ballots over the Internet, but in the meantime, such systems should be presumed to be vulnerable based on the limitations of today’s security technology.

I have said in the past that I don’t think that concerns over electronic voting machines should be a partisan issue:

Fair voting should be a nonpartisan issue. Marc “Armed Liberal” Danziger has been writing about a couple of aspects of fair voting, and I agree with him on both issues.

The first issue is voting machines. Here in California, Secretary of State Debra Bowen has decertified e-voting machines from several companies, including Diebold. Marc cheers this development, and so do I. Diebold machines have numerous security problems, including the fact that (at least in September 2006) they could be opened with a hotel minibar key. This sort of thing is a recipe for disaster — and we should all be able to agree on that, regardless of which side we’re on.

In an Examiner piece, Marc writes:

[O]ur voting systems need to be robust enough that we’re not left in bitter dispute after an election on who voted and how. We don’t need voting technology less secure than airport poker machines in Vegas and less auditable than Enron’s books. This isn’t a partisan issue.

Indeed it isn’t.

Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Yet I notice that, for whatever reason, it often is. In fact, I rather expect many of the commenters here to raise arguments that this is no big deal.

I disagree. What this professor did is scary. It creates the ability to affect elections on a huge scale, without detection.

Our democracy cannot permit this sort of risk.

Poll: Coons 53%, O’Donnell 36%

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:01 pm

Here is the key quote:

Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell is actually better known to Delaware’s likely voters than Democrat Chris Coons: 93% say they have heard of Coons, while 97% say they have heard of O’Donnell. Nonetheless, according to the most recent poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, Coons leads O’Donnell 53%-36% in the special election…

Democrats have largely united behind Coons: 85% say that they will vote for their party’s nominee. However, only 68% of Republicans say that they will vote for O’Donnell. Independents lean to Coons by 46% to 37%.

Allahpundit says not to despair; she has lots of cash to spend and there is a debate coming up, so things could change. Also, at least some of the Republicans sitting on the fence will vote for her. I’d bet money she does better than this poll suggests. But the extremely high name recognition is not a good sign for her.

Todd Palin Issues Statement on Joe Miller E-Mail Flap

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:46 pm

Todd Palin issued a statement today:

My family has worked hard in supporting Joe Miller, so when I heard he’d said something less than supportive of my wife’s efforts, I responded. But it turns out we’d gotten our wires crossed and Joe hadn’t said anything like what I’d been told. So there’s no story here except the fact that the press put our personal emails online again, and again couldn’t even be bothered to conceal our email addresses or take any steps to protect our privacy.

I said yesterday that I thought Todd P. had flown off the handle a bit. Looks like he realizes that. Better to check what someone actually said before you lash out at them. It’s a lesson I hope he and his wife will both remember. They have been the victim of attacks based on misinformation so many times. They don’t want to do that to others.

You Can’t Fix the Courts Without Winning Elections

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 5:55 pm

Jeff Goldstein:

Note to Tea Party types:

Once you’re done demanding fiscal discipline by helping to sweep establishment politicians out of Washington, it’s time to turn your attention to the increasingly extra-Constitutional federal courts.

Because until we do that, no legislative pushback is safe — and no freedom is guaranteed should it run up against the whims of our self-styled philosopher kings.

Very true and well said.

Except, I have a hard time reconciling that with this, from Jeff Goldstein:

Here’s my most candid admission: I don’t care if Constitutionalists / classical liberals / fiscal conservatives lose the next 10 elections — provided they stick to their principles. The media and the reality on the ground can only fool the electorate for so long — and a break in the action where conservatives are out of power takes away the left’s ability to lay blame at the feet of the right for every ill it creates and perpetuates.

The way to deal with “the increasingly extra-Constitutional federal courts” is to appoint better judges. Which means electing a president who will appoint them. Which means we have to win elections.

As I pointed out in a post last month:

I’m all for sticking to principles. But my governing principles are rooted in the Constitution. Which is interpreted by a Supreme Court. Whose nominees are chosen by the President.

When we lose elections, the Constitution gets rewritten.

If Constitutionalists lose the next ten elections, we’ll lose the next five presidential elections. We will give away control of the Supreme Court for decades. And the principles of our Constitution will be written out of existence.

Now, some will argue that always supporting “pure” small-government candidates is a winning electoral strategy. This post is not about whether that argument is correct. (Sometimes it will be, and sometimes it won’t.) The issue in this post is whether we should care what the winning strategy is.

You can’t have it both ways. If you care about the Constitution, you can’t say: “I don’t care if Constitutionalists / classical liberals / fiscal conservatives lose the next 10 elections.” If that happens, this country is toast.

Elections matter — not just for the moment, but for the structure of the Republic.

L.A. Times Headlines Perpetrate Outrageous Distortion of Campaign Finance Figures in California Gubernatorial Election

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 7:47 am

Here is the typical format for an L.A. Times article on a political contest between a Democrat and a Republican:

Headline Disfavoring Republican in Bold

Somewhat longer headline in italics, called the “deck headline,” elaborating on why the story disfavors the Republican

DATELINE — Lead that disfavors Republican.

Second paragraph that disfavors Republican.

Later paragraph, expressed as an aside, that completely undermines point of entire story.

You can see how this template is filled in, in this story about the funds received by the candidates in California’s race for Governor:

Donations to Whitman undercut her no-special-interests claim

Reports show the Republican candidate has received more money from outside donors than has her Democratic rival, Jerry Brown, whom she paints as beholden to unions.

Donors with business before the state and corporate leaders poured millions of dollars into Meg Whitman’s campaign in the last three months, potentially undercutting her claim that her personal fortune makes her uniquely free of special-interest entanglements, campaign disclosure reports filed Tuesday show.

Whitman, the billionaire former chief executive of online auction house EBay, raised more money from outside donors than her Democratic rival, Jerry Brown, whom she has criticized heavily for his dependence on support from the state’s public employee unions. Whitman pulled in more than $10.7 million from individuals, businesses and other groups to Brown’s $9.5 million.

Although those figures don’t tell the whole story — unions and other special interests separately spent a further $13.7 million supporting Brown through independent political committees not controlled by the candidate — they highlight that Brown is not the only one getting a big assist from wealthy individuals and groups.

You have seriously got to be [expletive deleted]ing kidding me.

Look at all the money that Republican Whitman got! Republican Whitman got more money (coughdirectlycough) than Brown has received!!! It may really hurt Republican Whitman that she has received all that money!!! OkbythewaytheunionshavespentwaymoretosupportBrownthanWhitmanhasreceivedfromanyonebutnevermindthat. Now back to our thesis about how Republican Whitman has gotten a ton of money — more than Brown!!!

The spin becomes even more outrageous when you go searching for the comparable sum that Whitman has received from special interests. It turns out it is a mere $450,000 to Brown’s $13.7 million (or more, see below).

I had to poke around to find these figures. I found them here, at the web site of the California Fair Political Practices Commission. When I clicked the link and opened the spreadsheet, I was so astounded by what I saw that I spent some time with a calculator adding it all up, and took a screenshot so you could see it for yourself:

(Ignore the yellow line; I’m not sure how it got there. Maybe it indicates the new donation since the previous report.)

At first glance it all looks about equal. Then you look at the column on the right side saying “Support/Oppose” and realize: nearly all of it is support for Brown and opposition to Whitman.

I got out a calculator and added it all up. Feel free to correct my math. A total of $10,656,676 was donated to support Brown in the general election, combined with $10,606 in the primary season. Add to that $2,688,091 to oppose Whitman in the general, plus $682,573 in the primary season. The totals: $13,344,767 spent to support Brown or oppose Whitman in the general. When you include funds from the primary season, unions and other special interests have spent a whopping $14,037,946 to support Brown or oppose Whitman.

That all compares to a mere $450,000 to support Whitman, from a single group: California Law and Order IEC.

Here’s what the story should have said:

Brown supported by millions in union and special interest donations

Donations on his behalf outnumber Whitman’s more than 30 to 1

Unions and special donors with business before the state and corporate leaders poured millions of dollars into supporting Jerry Brown’s campaign in the general election, lending credence to Meg Whitman’s claim that Brown is dependent on support from the state’s public employee unions. Only $450,000 was spent to support Whitman by special interests and unions, compared to more than $14 million to support Brown and oppose Whitman in the general and primary elections combined.

Although those figures don’t tell the whole story — Whitman directly pulled in more than $10.7 million from individuals, businesses and other groups to Brown’s $9.5 million in direct donations — they highlight that Brown is virtually the only one getting indirect support from unions and other groups.

The spin on this story is truly outrageous. It’s a prime example of why this paper needs to die.

L.A. Times’s Fake Front Pages Nothing New — And Doing Nothing to Save the Paper

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 12:06 am

In a fascinating David Carr column about the trainwreck that is Tribune Company’s management, we find these nuggets about the dying Los Angeles Times:

While its television division has since done well in the advertising rebound — over all, the 23 stations are on track in 2010 to pass $1 billion in revenue for the first time since 2007 — Tribune’s newspapers have continued to underperform the rest of the industry.

Advertising has been inserted into The Los Angeles Times in new and unsettling ways. In March, an ad mimicking the front page for Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” was wrapped around the first section and in July, a fake version of the newspaper’s section for late breaking news, called LATExtra, was wrapped around the real one, promoting Universal Studios’ King Kong attraction, with a lead “story” that read “Universal Studios Partially Destroyed.” In April 2009, an advertisement posing as a news article about NBC’s new show “Southland” appeared on the front page.

In July, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the governing body of the county of Los Angeles, sent a letter of protest, saying that the use of advertising disguised as news “makes a mockery of the newspaper’s mission.”

The ads do not seem to have helped. The Chicago Tribune’s circulation continues to slide, with weekday circulation down 9.8 percent in the first half of 2010. The Los Angeles Times is in worse shape, having lost 14.7 percent of its weekday circulation in the period. (Over all, the industry lost 8.7 percent weekly circulation in the period.)

I guess that fake front page we discussed recently is nothing new. Good to see it’s paying dividends!

It appears it is not too popular at the paper, either:

“You have advertising wrapping around sections and being disguised as news and empty desks all around you, and then you read about these ridiculous bonuses and feathering their nests with severances, you want to scream,” said Steve Lopez, a longtime columnist at The Los Angeles Times.

Steve, your paper has had fake stories disguised as news for quite some time, in case you hadn’t noticed. At first, it made me want to scream. Then I cancelled my subscription. I’m much calmer nowadays.

Looks like more and more people are taking my pathway to peace.

I used to want the paper to survive, and just get better. Then I got pissed off, and wanted it to die. Now I’m just getting bored waiting for the inevitable death to become final. Die, already, L.A. Times. Get on with it.

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