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Gordo

Dysfunctional US Politics

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And if anyone doubts that there's money to be had in the defense budget - see this: the pentagon's own internal study shows $125 billion in waste on the beaucracy - we're not even talking about money spent uselessly on armies and weapons, we're talking pure beaurocratic waste by deskbound paper-pushers, who number over one million people (bigger than most armies in the world).

 

So what did they do once they found all that waste in the report? Why, of course, bury the report so that congress wouldn't get ahold of it. Then destroy the data so that nobody could conduct such a study again. Not only are they wasteful, they're corrupt to the core.

 

They needn't have worried - it's not like a Republican controlled congress would cut a single penny of the defense budget, instead - according to Trump - they plan on pushing an even bigger pile of money into this pit of waste and corruption.

 

Meanwhile, the Republicans want to cut food stamps for poor people because "money is tight" - money never being tight for the pentagon though. I never want to hear a single word from a Republican about "waste" and "fraud" in the welfare system - they scream about every penny and penny ante supposed "waste" in order to starve poor people, but are dead silent about the real money and real waste going into the pockets of the corrupt, their real constituency. 

 

Pentagon buries evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste

 

The Pentagon imposed secrecy restrictions on the data making up the study, which ensured no one could replicate the findings. A 77-page summary report that had been made public was removed from a Pentagon website.

“They’re all complaining that they don’t have any money. We proposed a way to save a ton of money,” said Robert “Bobby” L. Stein, a private-equity investor from Jacksonville, Fla., who served as chairman of the Defense Business Board.

Stein, a campaign bundler for President Obama, said the study’s data were “indisputable” and that it was “a travesty” for the Pentagon to suppress the results.

“We’re going to be in peril because we’re spending dollars like it doesn’t matter,” he added.

 

 

Oh, but budget deficits! Obama is starving the military! No money! We're in debt! Cut food stamps! Why, where are we ever going to find the money to fund government - quick, cut out money for hungry kids!

Edited by TomBAvoider

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And what percentage of government spending not going to the pentagon has militaristic components?  Other cabinet level departments beyond defense with obvious ties to militarism:  state dept., veterans affairs, homeland security, and energy.  I imagine all the other cabinet level depts. have less obvious linkages to militarism as well.

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Exactly. Even though direct defense budget is over 50% of the discretionary spending, that's not even counting the further money that is spent on military related stuff like veterans (see Gordo's link). And just because the defense budget takes the lion's share of discretionary spending doesn't mean that they also don't take a giant share of mandatory spending - GWB put war-related costs (now running into the trillions) for his trumped up wars on credit cards so now it's all on bonds and future obligaitons which we have to pay off with interest, paid to our creditors such as China. Accounting tricks like "emergency allocations" have been funding spending outside of the budget altogether since 2004 when GWB launched his phony wars, every years like clockwork the pentagon gets funds outside of already provisioned money. It's all a giant scam.

 

And while we always will need the state department and other agencies, as so often happens, their budgets are drained by needing to service a militaristic empire - look at the overbuilt fortress area in Baghdad that is supposed to be our "embassy", but is staffed like a military base, same for embassies the world over. Tons of personell out there at the embassies working to deal with the blowback of our militaristic interventions. In return, we of course earn enormous enmity from populations of countries where we meddle or support dictatorships or destabilize whole regions - at which point you get terrorism and even more "reason" to expand the military - they create the jobs themselves and future job security. Guess who has to pay for all this.

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All,

 

Shortly after the election, I declared earlier in this thread (here) a somewhat pyrrhic & premature victory in the problem to fight fake news on Facebook, a problem which likely had some impact on the presidential election. I called it the #CleanUpFacebook campaign. At the time Facebook had just promised rather vague steps to stop or slow the spread of fake news among its users.

 

Yesterday they got much more concrete, announcing a partnership with 3rd-party fact checkers to vet stories reported by Facebook users as potentially fake. Astonishingly, it is exactly the plan I've been calling on Facebook and specifically my friend Yann Lecun (head of AI research at Facebook) to implement, via my rather vocal presence on twitter (although nothing like our President-Elect...). Here is my tweet with commentary on one of the many stories on the Facebook announcement to throttle fake news with the help of 3rd-party fact checkers. The writer who wrote it (Davey Alba at Wired) saw my tweet and tweeted back a thank you for reading it so thoroughly and providing my commentary. Twitter is cool that way - I didn't even know Davey, she just happened to see my critque of the article, and Facebook's plan.

 

But the really exciting news is that since that premature victory party over Facebook's promise, I've stopped just yelling and have started doing. Specificially, I've been organizing an effort to use machine learning and natural language processing to try to help apply AI to fixing the fake news problems. It is called the Fake News Challenge and it is a competition in which teams will try to build the best system to flag claims (e.g. "Pope endorsed Trump!") as True or False based on data they can glean from the web.

 

It started out as an off-the-cuff challenge and bet with my machine learning buddies on twitter, and has snowballed in just the last couple weeks. We now have nearly 40 volunteers, and 23 teams signed up to compete. Most exciting of all, a story just came out this morning in Wired about our efforts, called The Bittersweet Sweepstakes to Build an AI that Destroys Fake NewsCade Metz, the writer, did a really great job accurately capturing the quixotic nature of the challenge. Here is my tweet about it, with a few comments about things the story left out. 

 

It remains to be seen how successful either our efforts to use machine learning on this problem will be, or Facebook's efforts to deal with fake news and hoaxes in general.  Facebook is already getting pushback from the Right. A nice gentleman was kind enough to tweet a picture of noose to me yesterday - a not-so-pleasant surprise when it showed up in my notifications.

 

As the story mentions, even the twitter hashtag I created for the challenge, #FakeNewsChallenge has been completely hijacked by partisan people who are using it to tag very hateful accusations that the mainstream media is complicit in uncountable conspiracies to cover up all kinds of terrible crimes by perpetrated by the Left.

 

It just goes to show how toxic things have become, with all trust apparently gone. In fact, a recent Gallup poll showed that just 14% of Republicans have a "great deal" or "fair amount" of trust in "mass media".

 

Addressing the fake news problem is an extremely daunting task, but we're trying to do what we can to restore the trust that's been lost, via our competition at FakeNewsChallenge.org. If anyone would like to join our fight, please contact me or sign up at the website to volunteer or form a team.

 

--Dean

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Hey folks. I'm not sure if anyone is still following this thread, but someone asked me in a DM about my efforts combating fake news. I wrote up the following in response and figured I'd share it here in case anyone is interested:

 

The Fake News Challenge is going like gangbusters. We launched Round 1 on Feb. 1st, and we now have over 350 individuals and 223 teams from over 25 countries around the world who have signed up to compete!

 

You can learn more details on the Fake News Challenge website and in my blog post about it.

 

If you ignore the clickbait title, this is a pretty good article on our efforts from a couple days ago.

 

And if you want to see me speak about it, below is a debate on the resolution "We can Solve the Fake News Problem" that I was just part of in NYC last week. My teammates on the 'pro' side were Jane Elizabeth from the American Press Institute and Sally Kohn, commentator on CNN & columnist for Buzzfeed. My speech starts at 

. We won.

 

I still think we're doomed, but I'm not willing to go down without a fight. I'm trying to do my part to rescue facts and rational, civilized dialog in this increasingly scary and polarized post-truth world.

 

--Dean

 

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Congratulations, and bless you Dean. But as you say yourself "we're doomed". Here's the sad truth: the divisions in the country include each side listening predominantly if not exclusively to their own news sources and never or very rarely the other side. So, for example, in multiple studies and polls it's firmly established that for instance Trump voters rely almost exclusively on Fox News. I don't see how trying to do anything about fake news is going to touch that - it's Fox News that controls Fox News and you're not going to have any impact. Everybody is outraged by the non-stop stream of bald-faced lies coming from Trump, but they don't seem to realize that those who voted for Trump live in an alternate reality where what Trump says is unvarnished God given Truth, free of "PC", telling it like it is. So good luck trying to tell people what fake news is - haven't you noticed that Trump labels actual news as "fake news"? So you see, it's "he says/she says" and while you label them as fake they label you as fake. Like you say, we're doomed. Let the 4 or 8 years pass and then we'll see if there's anything salvagable left in the wreckage. Until then, I salute you for your efforts, and thank you.

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Agreed Tom - it doesn't look very promising for our future, to put it mildly.

 

There is a segment of the population that seem entirely under the spell of Trump and "Fox & Friends". That segment is large enough that the Republicans appear totally ok with letting Trump flail. This will continue until Trump either does something undeniably egregious (perhaps even gets a lot of people killed), or more optimistically, gets so bogged down in reliving his "landslide" victory over HRC and fighting the MSM that he gets nothing done on the conservative agenda, so the Republicans start fearing for their re-election chances in 2018.

 

If either of those happen, things could change. Until then, we're hosed; things will continue to fall apart and become more polarized both in our country and on the world stage.

 

Hold onto your hats.

 

--Dean

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Good discussion, and I agree that fake news is a species of spam, created by people trying to make more money, and that it's solvable through technology. I agree with what you say when you say that spam still hasn't been eliminated, it's just been pushed into a corner, and that a huge percent of daily email is still spam, we just don't see it. I open my Junk folder in my iPhone and there it is -- all the span I never see because it's been filtered out.

 

Fake news is similar to spam, but also different. Yes, we can filter out fake news but then the issue of truth and objectivity in news reporting arises. By filtering out (fake) news -- or some news I'd rather just not read -- do I further isolate myself from opinions and sources I simply oppose and no longer wish to support?

 

I find myself asking what is true, what is objective, what is factual, and isn't all news tainted by particular viewpoints of the delivery service? But this seems to be over reaching the question, as Dean comments. And the problem of fake news is much more manageable than another philosophical exploration of questioning what is truth.

 

Good discussion panel -- why are you Dean so apparently pessimistic that we won't manage (not solve) the fake news problem similar to how we now manage (not solve) the spam problem, and through technological means?

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There are multiple types of fake news.  The "spam-like" stuff that is driven by simple economics from pretty traditional spamer like people (the kind seen all the time on facebook, i.e. "Tom Brady suspended for using X").  But there is also a growing type of fake news that is driven by a jaded journalists and desperate traditional media industry that is a shell of its former glory (and income), trying at all costs to remain relevant.  A good example of this are the recent stories about so called "immigration crackdowns".  What does ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) have to say about it?

ICE: Raid reports fake news, Obama grabbed 350% more

 

Some of these types of fake news stories have been pretty hillarious, with traditional media, including CNN, not to mention the CIA getted outright PUNKED by fake news and treating it like fact.  The best recent case of this was the now infamous "Golden Shower" story (which led to the epic Trump press conference where he nailed CNN with the zinger "You are fake news!": 

OMG! FAKE NEWS and CIA Fell for Incredible “Golden Shower”Fable about Trump

Most citizens seem to be able to see through this nonsense:  

Americans' Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low (and that gallup poll was done before the election)

All these shenanigans have resulted in Americans trusting Trump more than the news media:

 

Americans Trust Trump Administration More Than News Media in New Poll

Edited by Gordo

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@Dean, you might be interested in this book by one of the most brilliant political theorists in the US right now: "Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace" by Jodi Dean.

 

Jodi Dean started out a committed to the framework of Habermas, that reasonable people in discussion with each other can persuade each other to the best outcome for all. But then she started focusing on people who believed in alien abductions. These people have "scientific" conferences, journals that are "peer reviewed," etc. From a purely descriptive anthropological perspective what they are doing is indistinguishable from deliberative democracy and scientific discourse. Yet it's completely bogus. So what ultimately is the difference between these conspiracy theories and scientific research?

 

Jodi Dean had to turn towards a more psychoanalytic perspective to find the distinction, and I think it is relevant to what you are working on.

 

One important difference between most spam and most fake news is that although people are duped by spam every day, the usually don't want to be duped by spam. Whereas with fake news it is so effective because people want to believe that it is true, it reconfirms what they already think.

 

The slogan for the X-files was "I want to believe." The people at the alien conference want to believe in alien abductions.

Edited by Thomas G

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Thanks Sthira, Gordo and Thomas.

 

Sthira wrote:
 

why are you Dean so apparently pessimistic that we won't manage (not solve) the fake news problem similar to how we now manage (not solve) the spam problem, and through technological means? 

 

My pessimism stems from the following observations, partially covered by Gordo and Thomas:

  1. The diversity of types 'fake news' and the cleverness of its creators - making it very hard in some cases to distinguish from true stuff.
  2. The commandeering of the term 'fake news' and the general undermining of trust in the media brought about in large part by the clown in the WH. This has caused people (such as yourself) to call into question who/what to believe, and even the very possibility of getting at the truth when it comes to events on the national & international political stage.
  3. When the bad actors are motivated solely by money (usually the case with spam), it is relatively easy to combat them by cutting off their revenue stream. But when they are politically motivated, and potentially even state-sponsored, they are much more persistent and pernicious.
  4. Plus when it is political, fake news can hide behind the 'free speech' principle at the foundation of our country & constitution, claiming any attempt to deal with the problem is an infringement of their rights and a form of censorship.
  5. Unlike spam, politically/ideologically motivated 'fake news' is appealing to some demographics. Some may not know it to be entirely fabricated, and some even may know it's fake but support it anyway. It entertains them, gives them a LOL, and allows them to engage in social signalling with like-minded peers through sharing and liking on social media, email and word-of-mouth. In contrast, traditional spam (e.g. fraudulent viagra email) is just annoying. 
  6. Certain psychological quirks and biases of our primitive brains, including most notably risk aversion, negativity bias, the fundamental attribution error, and confirmation bias, all conspire to make inflammatory fake news and propaganda both salient and appealing to people, particularly those more accustomed to going with their gut / heart than employing their rational faculties.
  7. There is a certain, relatively large segment of the media ecosystem (Breitbart, Alex Jones, and even Fox News) who benefit quite explicitly from the entertainment factor of fake news, and pandor to that demographic by spreading the lies that are at the base of many of the fake news stories.
  8. All the media outlines, even the 'mainstream' ones, are being held hostage by the current administration. They must cover his craziness (he is the president after all), but the more they try to point out his lies and stupid decisions / policies, the more he and his followers disbelieve them and claim he's being unfairly persecuted. And certain bean counters in the mainstream media may even relish the increased ratings they are getting as Trump leads us all to hell. There seems no way out of this.
  9. Tragically, it's not just the media outlets who benefit from fake news. It is also very much in in the interest of the social media & internet giants themselves, including both Facebook & Google, to avoid dealing with fake news, because unlike spam, their users like it. Fake news serves as engaging content which earns Facebook & Google a lot of money, both through direct $$ paid to Google & FB to promote fake news by those who generate it, and through keeping its users engaged and therefore viewing and clicking on more ads. Watch the video at the bottom and/or read this if you don't know about the dirty little secret behind how Facebook makes so much money. When the incentives of the largest facilitators of fake news (FB & Google) run counter to fixing the problem, you know you're in trouble. This is particularly true since the leaders of those companies (esp. Mark Zuckerberg) are naive / blaise / deluded about the impact they are having, largely I think as a result of physically living in Silicon Valley and mentally residing somewhere along the spectrum of autism disorders.
  10. The only people with any real power to put a stop to what's going on (the Congress) are cowards and hypocrites, unwilling to take a stand since they are hoping they can slip through their regressive/repressive legislation while Trump is busy distracting everyone by tearing down the good things about this country, and our global cooperative civilization, like a bull in a china shop.

 

With all this conspiring against fixing the problem of fake news and our political dysfunction more generally, it seems very hard to see how we will pull out of the death spiral our society seems to have created for itself.

 

--Dean

 

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To me the real "death spiral", and this ties into the theme of dysfunctional us politics, is REALLY the debt spiral.  It seems like few have focused on this which only makes me more concerned about it.  As has been demonstrated already, the president has little real power, executive orders are easily overturned by the courts, he can't make law, can't set the budget, can't declare war, he's just a big cheerleader and at least in economic terms, he's been very good at that so far (market has rallied, and there is a very real rise in business confidence which has even trickled down to me peronsally, but who knows how long that can last).  All this hype and emotion people have and are expending is misguided in my opinion, while the real problem lingers.  The road to serfdom is paved with debt.  To "bring it home", the best thing for humanity (and the end of much human suffering) is a robust economy and billionaires to fund the necessary R&D.

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