Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Facebook's Own Account of Covert Disinformation Operations in the Last Presidential Election

Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The following was taken from Facebook's own account of foreign intervention into the 2016 election by Russia through Facebook. It is an except I saved from a much more detailed report published by Facebook. The link to that report was embedded in the following summary until I clicked on it to make sure it still worked before posting this blog. It worked, but it disappeared when I went to publish this blog post. I checked in my history but the URL didn't register on my internet history either. I apologize for that and will try to locate the full report.  When I do I will append it hereto.


In the last election: During the 2016 US Presidential election season, we responded to several situations that we assessed to fit the pattern of information operations. We have no evidence of any Facebook accounts being compromised as part of this activity, but, nonetheless, we detected and monitored these efforts in order to protect the authentic connections that define our platform.

One aspect of this included malicious actors leveraging conventional and social media to share information stolen from other sources, such as email accounts, with the intent of harming the reputation of specific political targets. These incidents employed a relatively straightforward yet
deliberate series of actions:

• Private and/or proprietary information was accessed and stolen from systems and services (outside of Facebook);

• Dedicated sites hosting this data were registered;

• Fake personas were created on Facebook and elsewhere to point to and amplify awareness of this data;

• Social media accounts and pages were created to amplify news accounts of and direct people to the stolen data.

• From there, organic proliferation of the messaging and data through authentic peer groups and networks was inevitable.

Concurrently, a separate set of malicious actors engaged in false amplification using inauthentic Facebook accounts to push narratives and themes that reinforced or expanded on some of the topics exposed from stolen data. Facebook conducted research into overall civic engagement during this time on the platform, and determined that the reach of the content shared by false amplifiers was marginal compared to the overall volume of civic content shared during the US election.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Seeing Politics in Three Dimensions

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Seeing our polarizing politics from the oversimplified linear perspective has bothered me for many years. The complexities of my political observations never seemed to fit neatly into this left/right dyad.

I set about creating a conceptual framework to describe our politics, one that was was more dynamic. It is a scheme that better fits my real-world observations and, sadly, alerted me to the political dangers Donald Trump represented before many others saw it coming.

I was aided in this quest by something I read. I can't remember where, but the thrust of it was that the opposite of liberal is not conservative, but tyranny. The result is this three-dimensional conception of our politics.

The subsequent exploration of the philosophic origins of the term "liberalism" supplied the insight I needed to identify a separate political dynamic at play in our politics. It was something apart from the left vs. right model we have all come to accept.

In a Huffington Post article in December of 2017, titled "Conservative Is Not Opposite Liberal: That’s Totalitarianism", this same idea was expressed. In that article the author said:
Liberalism is an independent political philosophy, with no inherent connection to either the Left or the Right.
By that point, I knew this to be accurate. The roots of liberalism are independent of the spectrum of social policies along the left/right or progressive/conservative continuum. The liberalism vs. tyranny continuum describes encompasses the wide spectrum of approaches to governing itself.

Using this new axis I created a two-dimensional graph to chart political dynamics. But then being dissatisfied that this two-axis graph didn't incorporate religious dynamics, so much a part of the American polity, that I added a religious axis to the graph to create a three dimensional model of American politics.

What this graphic display allows us to visualize is a three-dimensional space in which we live our political lives. A much-needed definition of liberalism and a few examples will help to explain how this three-dimensional graph works.

Liberalism is a term most people aren’t familiar with because of our colloquial usage of “liberal” to mean “progressive.” I don’t usually use Wikipedia for these discussions, but I like how it frames the terms associated with liberalism:

“Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed and equality before the law. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but they generally support free market, free trade, limited government, individual rights (including civil rights and human rights), capitalism, democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion.”

So, the opposite along the Liberal Spectrum are those political figures who would oppose these freedoms and the rights of individuals. Leaders who oppose all these things are classified as tyrants and authoritarians. At the time that I wrote about this, I had to use infamous figures in history to provide examples of authoritarian tyrants. Today, unfortunately, we only have to look to Donald Trump, Mitch McConnel and the ironically named Freedom Caucus in Congress.

The “consent of the governed” is another interesting term. On one hand, it implies that we allow politicians to represent our voting interests in Congress, but more importantly, it implies that we accept the majority opinion of those representing us. In other words, we accept majority rule as long as the majority opinions don’t infringe on our individual rights, personal freedoms and our equality under the law. This aspect of our republican form of government is most at risk in recent days.

So, with all of this in mind, we can place a point anywhere in this three-dimensional graph and pinpoint where a politician or a political system stands across all three dynamic spectrums. We can see for example that a politician can be a liberal-conservative and a moderate in his/her religious beliefs. Another can be a progressive authoritarian and very anti-religion, much as a former Soviet communist. Someone like Bernie Sanders might be both progressive liberals with moderate religious beliefs who is very unlikely, because of his liberalism, to support a fair and competitive version of capitalism that works for everyone. You can identify Donald Trump as a moderate to strong conservative (wildly fluctuating) who is radically authoritarian and probably much closer to an atheist than to a fundamentalist.

More importantly, we have to protect our liberal form of government from candidates who threaten it in the future. We have to judge future political candidates along all three political continua to determine their fitness for office. For example, where a conservative Republican candidate falls on the progressive/conservative spectrum must be judged along with where they fall along the liberal/authoritarian spectrum and the religious intensity spectrum as well. And yes, there is such a thing as liberal conservatives, but in our one-dimensional model we label them "moderate Republicans" don't fully see the danger signs when they are banished from the Republican Party. Likewise, liberal progressives should avoid supporting candidates who hold their social policy beliefs but stray too far from liberal views on governing. What democratic societies must avoid are political candidates on the right or left politically who can't abide by liberal democratic principles of governance. We shouldn't elect tyrants just because the can best enact our progressive or conservative policies. And we shouldn't elect religious zealots to enforce morality codes at the expense of our liberal form of government either.

So, once we succeed in reaffirming our democratic republic, we must adopt a more sophisticated system to identify and judge the worthiness of political candidates and elected leaders. We must never again be beguiled by the simplicity of a single dyadic continuum to judge our politicians or our own political tendencies.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Why Democrats Should Care About People Who Don't Vote

by Brian T. Lynch

Both political parties in America, along with virtually all television pundits and political opinion polling companies focus entirely on 60% of likely voters. We all ignore 40% of potential voters who don't vote. Polling surveys commissioned by both the Democratic and Republican Parties are always predicated on some variation of likely voters. The results are then grise for the mill of television and newspaper commentators and political party prognosticators. And so it is settled wisdom that all of our elections boil down to 7% of likely voters who are also the swing voters among us. Rightly or not, these much fawned over swing voters are considered most independent voters with centrist political ideology. These swing voters have a disproportionate influence over electoral strategies and policy positioning. As a result, we never hear from those who are disillusioned with politics.

The conventional wisdom is that these non-voters don't care about politics, but it is equally true that the body politic doesn't care about these non-voters. We have come to the point where non-voters are the largest block of eligible voters in America. But are they really unreachable? Or are they justifiably disengaged because they are neglected by both the Democratic and Republican Parties? What is the potential for re-engaging this huge block of the electorate, and which political party has the most to gain? Which of our current Presidential candidates have the best shot at reaching out to these non-voters? And who are they anyway?

Why Democrats should care more about non-voters than swing voters

·      Among likely voters, there are about 10 million swing voters or 7% of all likely voters according to Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight

·      There were 91.7 million non-voters in the 2016 presidential election or 40% of all eligible voters. Non-voters are the largest group of eligible voters

·      54% of non-voters (49.5 million votes) are Democrats or left-leaning non-voters

·      Another 10% of non-voters (14.7 million votes) have no political leaning

·      52% of all non-voters (47.7 million votes) want more government services, not less

·      The 64.2 million non-voting Democrats, left-leaning or neutral eligible voters represent over 6.4 times the number of swing voters in the 2016 election

·      This compares with 65.9 million Democratic votes for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election

Who are the eligible voters that are not engaged in voting?

·      66   million non-voters (72%) are under age 50. They are mostly younger voters
·      59.6 million non-voters (65%) are dissatisfied with the way things are in the country
·      54.1 million non-voters (59%) are White (non-Latino) citizens
·      19.3 million non-voters (21%) are Latino citizens
·      11   million non-voters (12%) are Black citizens
·      55  million non-voters (60%) either graduated or dropped out of high school
·      54.1 million non-voters (59%) are single
·      46.8 million non-voters (51%) experienced unemployment in their household in the prior 12 months
     39.4 million non-voters (43%) have household incomes of $30,000 or less per year

      By far, the largest number of eligible non-voters are people who once made up the base of the Democratic Party. They are citizens for whom the rightward and upward shift of both political parties over the year has left them without a voice in government. It is not only the right thing to do to reconnect with these less-fortunate Americans, but it is also in the best interest of the Democratic Party and the Nation. These disillusions, often angry citizens are most vulnerable to the nationalistic authoritarian appeals to which they are being targeted. 


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Wealth, Carbon, and Human Culture

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The rising accumulation of private wealth is to civilized governments as rising levels of CO2 are to Earth’s climate.

Let that sink in. Extremes accumulations of private wealth in human society and the extreme build-up of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere are both transformative, disruptive of a complex equilibrium and ultimately destructive for humanity.

Human culture is both a cause and a barrier to solving these two great threats to our collective welfare. In fact, these two looming catastrophes of extreme wealth inequality and extreme climate change are different aspects of a singular human flaw - personal greed. More specifically, both of these threats are outcomes of a powerful cultural priority that places profits over people. We don’t do what is our health best for human society because the cost would reduce personal profits for those who profit the most. The idea that we would not sacrifice personal wealth to save our immediate family from ruin is unthinkable, yet in the abstract of corporate enterprise, the concept of sacrificing business profits to benefit society as a whole is equally unthinkable.

We are at the second great inflection point as a species. We once again face social deterioration and possible extinction, despite being at the apex of our success as a species.

Humanity's first inflection point was over 50,000 years ago when we almost became extinct. We were down to a very small number of survivors in Ethiopia. As a species, we were incapable of self-sacrifice to benefit the survival of the clan. This nearly caused our extinction. In this regard, we were much like many other species in this regard.

Consider the wolf. In the presence of a kill, the strongest wolf defends its right to eat its fill. It cannot eat less in order to save some meat for members of the pack who are starving. This is how evolution ensures the survival of the fittest among these top predators. But humans were never top predators. Our strength as a species is in our social bonds and the coordination of our collective actions. We, as a species, needed to suppress our self-preservation instincts to achieve our survival as a species.

We are told that this genetic alteration happened at this point around 50,000 years ago. It allowed individuals to sacrifice their personal welfare for the sake of the welfare of the group. This great self-sacrifice gene has carried us forward to the present. It has allowed us to create this massively interdependent human culture we enjoy today.

But now our more primitive personal greed tendencies are finding expression in an inability to sacrifice corporate profit (a hypothetical construct, and not an actual reality) to benefit the welfare of human society as a whole. Our inability to sacrifice corporate profits is once again threatening our existence as a species.

It is my curse to see this so clearly when so many seem incapable of seeing it at all.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Centrist Threat to Democracy and the Globe

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW 

An editorial (and request for reader support) in The Guardian caught my attention because it so well states what is at stake for the United States and the world in the 2020 election. Please allow me to share part of it here and follow-up with an editorial comment of my own.

In his editorial, Hamilton Nolan of the Guardian writes:

"Even in our pitifully broken semi-democracy, rich people shouldn’t be in charge. The math is against them. There are, by definition, comparatively few rich people, and many middle- and lower-class people. In a two-party system where one party represents the interests of the rich and the other party is meant to represent the interests of everyone else, logic says that the rich people party should lose most of the time, based on sheer numbers. The political power of plutocrats should be arbitraged out of existence as parties seek a larger base." So true! This expresses in other words what I have been trying to say."

Here is the article:


More from the above Editorial:

"For the past four years, it has been clear that Sanders and Trump each represent a direct response to the severe (and warranted) disillusionment of average Americans, who have seen the American dream of economic mobility die during their lifetimes.
Trump represents the dark path of racism, nationalism, and division; Bernie represents the other path, of socialism, multiculturalism, and solidarity... Any sane and moral political party should want to do everything possible to make Sanders’ vision become a reality. The alternative is not a fresh flowering of centrism. It is something much, much worse.
America is at a tipping point, finely balanced between truth and lies, hope and hate, civility and nastiness. Many vital aspects of American public life are in play – the Supreme Court, abortion rights, climate policy, wealth inequality, Big Tech and much more. The stakes could hardly be higher."

Everyone, please hear me out!

We must reject the urge for safe, centrist candidates who believe they can still reach across the aisle for bipartisan support for their half measures and incremental steps. This didn't work in 2016 and it isn't going to work now. The number of disillusioned citizens far outnumber the entire Democratic Party, let alone the elites and centrists within it. A centrist candidate may feel safe, but we are beyond normal politics. We are in a war against a well funded, wells organized global authoritarian movement threatening democracies everywhere.

Donald Trump has had three more years to harvest disaffected "likely-voters" and 45% of all eligible voters who stopped voting for either party years ago. He is coaxing these folks to join his dark and vile plutocracy.

If the Democratic party doesn't boldly reconnect with poor people and the working poor (our traditional base), the opportunity to beat back the dark forces of fascist-style authoritarianism will be lost for a generation. The consequences will be atrocious, if not actually bloody. And a generation lost is enough time for the very worst effects of global warming to be baked into the future of the planet for a millennium.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Grasping the Scales of Wealth Inequality

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The human brain has inherent limitations built-in when it comes to imagining the relative differences of huge numbers, whether they are describing the very small or the very large. Genetically speaking, we don’t have the intuitive capacity to handle very large numbers. We distort the scale and tend to group together orders of magnitude that aren’t at all alike. The best we can do is evaluate good, often visual comparatives.

Another brain limiting feature is that we tend to perceive things by putting similar things into the same buckets in order to make sense of a world of infinite variability. If we see a color that is red, slightly bluish red or slightly red-orange, our brain puts the visual input into the red bucket, and that is what we see.

In the same way, when we see big numbers or even bigger numbers we tend to group them in the big numbers bucket without really noticing just how out of scale our perceptions might be.

This human limitation doesn’t often matter in the day-to-day experience of most people, but it matters a great deal when it comes to understanding concepts such as our growing wealth inequality. There is at least a thousand-fold difference between a millionaire and a billionaire, yet most of us put them both in the “rich” bucket.

If we say that one dollar equals one unit of social power (social power being the ability to coordinate the actions of other, as a quick and dirty definition), then a “rich” billionaire is a thousand times more powerful than a “rich” millionaire, but it doesn’t seem that way to us. Many US billionaires have more than 20 billion dollars and they are major influencers in government policy and political decision making, yet we see them as merely rich.

So, this is an attempt to put wealth into a proper sense of scale using visual comparisons.


$100 in singles

A single US dollar bill (a US Treasury note) weighs .04 ounces. Stack a hundred $1 bills together and they weigh just 4 ounces. In other words, a hundred dollars in singles weighs 4 ounces. That happens to be the exact weight of my favorite sandwich, peanut butter and jelly. I would never pay for my PBJ according to its weight in dollar bills, but to me, it tastes like a hundred bucks.



A thousand one-dollar bills, or 10 stacks of one-hundred US Treasury notes, weighs as much as 10 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or 2.5 pounds. That weight is equal to a very full glass of water in a pint-sized beer glass. But, beer weights less than water in case you happen to be staring at your fresh pint of Guinness right now.


A million dollars is a thousand times more than a thousand dollars. It’s a big leap, so all the weights go way up. A million one-dollar US Treasury notes weigh 2.5 tons (or the same as 10,000 PBJs). Your average pickup trucks couldn’t haul that much weight. You would need two ¾-ton pickups to haul a million one-dollar bills around town. And if you do, you really need to trust that other driver.



A billion dollars is another giant leap. It isn't in the same bucket as a million bucks at all. It is a thousand times more than a million dollars. A billion US treasury notes would weigh a whopping 2,500 tons (ten-million PBJs). That is just shy of the weight of two fully grown Sierra Redwood trees with trunks so wide you could carve out a tunnel through them and drive the two pick-up trucks above right under the trunks. Keep in mind the weight of a million Treasury notes is only the cargo in the bed of two pickups, not the trucks themselves.  I visited the Redwood Forest last summer and I still can't imagine the weight of those trees.

The point here is to help everyone see that billionaires and millionaires are very different species. We must be put them in a very different bucket when we think about wealth and wealth inequality. Most of the billionaires in the world are here in the USA. We have over 500 of them. Together they control almost all of the wealth in this country.  They exsert an unimaginable influence over our government. If 90% of the people in this country want sensible gun control legislation and can't get it passed in Congress, it is because of the enormous power of a handful of uber-wealthy individuals who control enormous wealth and power.

So, the next time you pick up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, remember that someone like Jeff Bezos privately owns the dollar-weight equivalent of a billion PBJs and Michael Bloomberg's wealth in the weight of a dollar bill is equal to the weight of 120 redwood trees.


Instead of a US Treasury Note's weight, how do millionaires and billionaires stack up based on the thickness of a $100 dollar bill?  If you are of average height, make two stacks of $100 bills the hight of your knee cap. That is approximately one million dollars. Now keep stacking those two piles of $100 bills until they are about 400 feet above the Empire State Building. Congratulations, now you have your first one-billion dollars. And if you are Michael Bloomberg, you have about 160 stacks of bills higher than the Empire State Building.

And here is why it matters so much in our republic, in the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt:

"The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power." 

Here are a few graphs to consider when thinking about Wealth and Income Inequality

Saturday, February 1, 2020

A Solution to "Sh*t-Life Syndrome" in America

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

I shared on Facebook a recent article at the CounterPunch Website by Bruce E. Levine titled, “Sh*t-Life Syndrome,” Trump Voters, and Clueless Dems. I got back a surprising question from a conservative friend and Trump supporter. He asked, “What is your solution to this problem?

I will offer one solution below, but first, let’s define the problem. You can read the above article for yourself, but the premise of it is stated in the first sentence:

“Getting rid of Trump means taking seriously “sh*t-life syndrome”—and its resulting misery, which includes suicide, drug overdose death, and trauma for surviving communities.”

The author goes on to say,

“The Brookings Institution, in November 2019, reported: “53 million Americans between the ages of 18 to 64—accounting for 44% of all workers—qualify as ‘low-wage.’ Their median hourly wages are $10.22, and median annual earnings are about $18,000… For most of these low-wage workers… “Finding meaning in life is close to impossible; the struggle to survive commands all intellectual and emotional resources.” 

That last statement also explains part of the reason 91.7 million eligible voters didn’t vote in the 2016 election. So many of them are barely hanging on day-to-day. I have written elsewhere that for decades neither political party has addressed the needs of the 45% of all Americans who live below the middle-class. These are the people who stopped voting. Referring to non-voters, I have written elsewhere:

“For too long politics has failed to make any difference in their lives. It doesn't matter which party is in power. Nobody cares about them. For the past 30 years, politicians have only cared about the middle-class or special interest groups. Even after 10% of the voters voted for the first time in the 2016 election, 40% of all eligible voters still didn't vote. We can do better because much of this 40% were once a big part of the Democratic base. We stopped attending to the needs of the poor and working class.”

What is the solution?
No one has all of the solutions figured out, but we can start by valuing everyone who works for a living. We can start by paying the lowest wage workers a living wage for a week’s work. Hear me out.

A living wage is a market-based minimum wage index. It isn’t an arbitrary, one-size-fits-all government number. A living wage respects all regional economic conditions. A living wage in Biloxi would be lower than a living wage in the Bronx because of their different cost of living conditions. A living wage law would require business owners to provide their lowest-paid employees a sufficient wage package for full-time work so that a low wage employee is not dependent on taxpayer assistance for housing, food, essential transportation or medicine. It wouldn’t pay a mortgage, or for vacations or luxury items. It doesn’t replace competitive, merit-based wage compensation for the rest of the experienced or more skilled workforce. It sets a wage floor below which workers financially qualify for public assistance (aid to the working poor). It set the wage minimum at a level that makes an employee marginally self-sufficient and therefore it maintains the dignity of work.

Most people already agree that we must end wasteful taxpayer subsidies to wealthy corporations for all sorts of tax breaks they receive. We should start by ending labor subsidies for low pay workers in America. Let’s end government assistance to the working poor by making Corporations pay their low-wage workers enough so taxpayers don’t have to supplement workers’ income to pay the rent, put food on the table, care for their children while they work, or pay for a doctor and medicine every time their kid gets sick. When we pay a living wage to low wage parents, it frees them up to be better parents and good role models to their children.

Every time the government steps in to pay for necessities it is degrading for the workers who must request this assistance. It says to them that their employer doesn’t recognize their true worth. Their employers won’t even pay them the bare minimum it takes to live a life. This takes a toll on a worker’s self-esteem. It often forces them to work overtime or take a second job to make ends meet.
When the working poor and working-class families try and get off government assistance they are often forced to work more hours. They become absentee parents by degree. Without parental supervision, their children are less disciplined and more peer-influenced. Their children might stop doing their homework, for instance, or lose their focus on school making them less successful in school and in life. When parents aren’t home to structure their time children may start hanging out with the wrong crowd. They face greater temptations and risky behaviors that lead them into a vicious cycle of declining prospects, and the “sh*t-life syndrome” is passed along to another generation.

It traces back to the degradation and loss of dignity that so many Americans experience when they are unable to make a viable living in the world’s richest nation. The enormous wealth-gap and the huge compensation paid to CEOs in this country are all evidence that the money is there for the working poor. Paying the lowest wage worker, a living wage wouldn’t even leave a dent on the highest-paid corporate leaders or wealthiest Americans.


And for the 40% who can't imagine attaining a middle-class life or a politician really caring about them or their community, I offer this poem read on video by its author, the late, great Maya Angelou:

Saturday, January 25, 2020


by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
What do the tapes tell us so far? They show that just 18 months before Trump blocks aid to Ukraine, and a day after the first javelin missiles were delivered to Ukraine, Donald Trump hosted a dinner party at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort in Palm Beach, Florida. His guests include Don Jr, Donald Trump’s buddies Lev & Igor, some national security advisor and others, who knows who at this point.
Igor apparently tape records the whole dinner conversation, over an hour of tape recording. Trump Can be heard chatting about the javelin missiles that had been delivered and other topics. At one point in the conversation is heard asking, presumably, his security advisors how long Ukraine would last against Russia without US military aid. He is told that Ukraine would be quickly overrun.
Later during the dinner, Trump asks how things are going in Ukraine. It isn’t clear who the question is directed to, but Lev pipes up to say he is hearing how bad Ambassador Yovanovich is and that she is telling Ukraine’s officials that Trump is going to be impeached. Word of these rumors came to Lev through Igor, who had recently been to Ukraine.
Trump doesn’t ask one further question. He doesn’t turn to his advisers for validation. He instead goes into a tirade and immediately calls for Ambassador Yovanovich’s immediate removal.
We know now that the Ambassador was the victim of an insidious smear campaign by corrupt, Russian friendly former Ukrainian officials. Judging from Trump’s extreme reaction it seems apparent that this was not the first time Trump has heard these rumors against Yovanovich. So, the question becomes, who had been feeding him these planted lies about her before this diner that he would blow upon hearing Lev’s report?
These tapes were just released late last night by ABC news and haven’t been fully transcribed or vetted as of this moment. Still, it is looking more and more to me like the President’s moves to undermine Ukraine is the result of a Russian covert psy-ops operation targeting our weak-minded, Putin loving, paranoid President to act once again in service to Russia’s national interest. I want to know more about the origin of this tape, who made it, how it was released and who was in the room where it happened. Let’s start calling some damn witnesses and demanding documents from this strange administration.