NDN Blog

NDN Hails Progress Towards 2020 Pact on Disinfo, Hacking

Feb 12th - In anticipation of the DNC meeting here in Washington later this week, NDN is calling on the DNC, the State Parties and the 2020 Presidential campaigns to forge a pact agreeing to forgo the use of illicit campaign tactics in the upcoming Democratic Presidential primary. 

In this new pact, it is our hope that all the Democratic campaigns will pledge to forgo the use of bots, trolls, troll farms, fake accounts, fake sites, deepfakes and faked images, hacking and use of hacked materials; for the campaigns to pledge to be vigilant about reporting illicit activity to the proper authorities, the social media platforms and the DNC; and to discourage the use of these tactics by their supporters and allied institutions. 

The use of these tactics has no place in modern democracies, and the Democratic Party should take a very clear stand against their use in the 2020 election.  Negotiating and adopting a pledge like this will send a very strong signal that Democrats want the American people to conduct a debate and choose their leaders without interference from foreign or inauthentic actors.

You can learn more about our idea for a party-wide pact here

Feb 22nd - Great to see chorus growing louder, much louder for new norms and committments for how we will manage our politics in the social media age.  A broad consortium of European parties signed on to a pledge; Joe Biden endorsed the pledge concept; and all the early Dem 2020s agreed to never use hacked materials this cycle. 

This story from Natasha Korecki of Politico dives into a new report showing early and aggressive disinformation tactics being used already against 2020 Democratic candidates.  It is a reminder that the 2020 election is not happening next year - it is happening now.  It has already begun.  And the big question still remains - are we ready? What are we doing to prevent 2016 from happening again? This is not a question for next year - it is a question for right now, today. 

Feb 26th - Politico is reporting that the 4 early state Democratic Party Chairs - IA, NH, SC and NV - have sent a letter asking other party leaders to work together with the 2020 candidates towards a party-wide pledge to combat disinfo and hacking.  Very promising development.

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent offers a very smart take on the importance of the four early state Dem chairs pushing the party into a debate about these issues.  

April 23rd - Three exciting developments today.  Sen. Gillibrand pledged to forgo use of stolen or hacked materials in her campaign and challenged other 2020s to do the same.  According to the CNN story "the campaign hopes this pledge will launch a conversation that will allow all the presidential candidates, the Democratic National Committee and state parties to come up with a common strategy, ideally before the debates begin this summer."

Additionally, in a letter to her House colleagues today about the Mueller Report, Speaker Pelosi wrote "The For The People Act addresses the sweeping election protection, ethics reforms, and voting rights protections that the public has demanded to ensure that each voter has an equal voice and that their votes are counted as cast. We continue to urge our Senate colleagues to take up these reforms. And in light of the President’s defenders arguing in defense of receiving and weaponizing stolen emails, we continue to press our Republican House counterparts to take up our pledge to refuse to use stolen, hacked, or falsified information in campaigns because the American people deserve honest debate." Great to see the idea of a "pledge" - the establishment of new norms in this age of disinformation - so prominently referenced in this historic letter. 

Finally, DNC Chair Tom Perez in an open letter to the RNC called for both parties to establish new norms in the current elections.  Was an important early step in this process by Perez. 

Related Writings/Media from NDN

Protecting The 2020 Dem Primary From Disinformation, Bots and Hacking - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 1/29/19 - Democrats must come together now to prevent what happened in 2016 from happening again this time. NDN is calling for all 2020s to sign a pledge forgoing the use of illicit campaign tactics in the Democratic Presidential primary. 

Simon Discusses Protecting The Democratic Primary From Disinfo And Hacking On MSNBC's Joy Reid - Simon Rosenberg, MSNBC, 2/2/19 - Simon appeared on Joy Reid’s MSNBC show last Saturday to discuss his ideas for how Democrats should be working to protect the 2020 Presidential primary from bots, disinformation and hacking.

Trump Doesn't Take Russian Electoral Interference Seriously. This Is What Democrats Did To Oppose It In 2018 - Simon Rosenberg and Aaron Trujillo, NBC News, 12/18/18 - The U.S. and its politics are not powerless to stop the kind of foreign hacking and disinformation tactics we saw in 2016. In the 2018 midterms, the DCCC developed a series of tools and strategies for reducing the influence and impact of malicious actors. Far more can now be done to protect our democracy and our discourse — and doing so should be a very high priority for the new Congress in 2019.

A Primer on Social Media Bots and Their Malicious Use in US Politics - Tim Chambers, NDN, 9/13/17.  This new and compelling paper by long time NDN collaborator Tim Chambers explains what bots are, looks at their malicious use in US politics and offers some ideas on what to do about it in the days ahead.  

The RNC's Russia Problem - Simon Rosenberg, US News, 5/14/17.  The RNC was instrumental to the success of Russia's interference campaign in 2016.  It should take the lead to make sure nothing like this every happens again. 

Calling All Patriots - Simon Rosenberg, US News, 10/13/16.  In a new essay Simon calls on the RNC and other GOP leaders to stop aiding the ongoing Russian effort to disrupt and influence our election. 

Other Related Writings/Media

Every 2020 Candidate But Trump Promises: No Stolen Data - Sam Stein/others, Daily Beast, 2/21/19.  Every 2020 Presidential candidate agreed to not use hacked material in the 2020 elections except one - Donald Trump. 

Biden Calls on Candidates Not To 'Aid and Abet' Foreign Election Interference - Josh Rogin, Washington Post, 2/21/19.  Joe Biden joins the call for US Presidential candidates to forgo use of illicit campaign tactics in the 2020 election. 

2/16/19 Update - A new European initiative has adopted this "pledge" construct for the upcoming European wide elections.  Is an exciting development. 

Can American Political Candidates Help Stop the Flood of Disinformation with a Pledge? - Justin Hendrix, Just Security, 1/31/19.  A smart new piece which dives deeper into the idea of a pledge, or pact, among politicians and political parties as a way of countering hacking and disinfo.

Notes On The GOP's Erosion In The Southwest

This analysis was originally published on election night in 2018 and has been updated for release today.

As President Trump and Beto O'Rourke hold dueling political events in El Paso today, it is worth noting just how much the Southwest - an area which for the purposes of this analysis includes AZ, CA, CO, NM, NV and TX - has eroded for the GOP since Trump was nominated in 2016.  This erosion remains one of the most significant recent developments in American politics, as it involves a large region of the country which includes our two largest states. 

As background the three states which saw the biggest movement towards the Democrats in 2016 were, in order, CA (7pts), TX (6.8pts) and AZ (5.5pts). Polling throughout the 2018 cycle showed significant weakness for Trump in the region, and the bottom fell out here on election night 2018.  In Texas, Beto O'Rourke got within 2 1/2 points of Ted Cruz, helped Dems win 2 Congressional seats and many down ballot races, and held 6 GOP reps to 51% or less (TX-10, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 31).  Kyrsten Sinema became the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in Arizona since 1988, and Dems now hold a 5-4 advantage in the AZ Congressional delegation. Democrats had very good/blowout nights in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, so much so that there are questions about whether these states will remain in the Presidential battleground in 2020.  Democrats picked up 12 House seats previously held by Republicans in the Southwest, including 7 in California alone, a state where the GOP didn’t even have a Senate candidate on the ballot and where voters with no party preference now outnumber Republicans in registration (and the home of the two most significant GOP Presidents in the past 50 years).  We saw intensity too.  AZ, NV and TX saw more people vote early this year than voted in all of 2014, the only 3 states to see that level of increase.  All in all it was just a huge and game changing wipeout in this region for Trump.

Trump has remained extremely unpopular in the region since November 6th. According to Morning Consult's state polling project, Trump's approval was -18, -18, and -13 in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada in January 2019. Perhaps ever more worrisome for Rs, he was -7 in purple Arizona, and -1 in red Texas. These current ratings represent significant falls in Trump's approval even since his loss in the midterms. Compared to November 2018, his net approval today has fallen by 8 points in each of Colorado, Nevada, and Texas, and by 3 and 5 points in New Mexico and Arizona.

Over the last two years there was always this sense that while the President’s thunderous championing of white nationalist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies was hurting him in the heavily Mexican-American parts of the US, it was the key to unlock the Rustbelt and Midwest.  Given the really bad election the GOP had in the northern part of the US in 2018 that no longer appears to be true. Trump may have used the caravan to win in very red and rural places like Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee, but Democrats made significant gains in critical 2020 battlegrounds IA, MI, PA and WI. 

Trump's big play on the border appears to be a very costly failure for him and the GOP - it hasn't locked up the industrial north as they hoped, it has caused what I believe to be a structural shift against Republicans in a big region of the country and his overall poll numbers are far below where he was on his dismal election night in 2018.  Recall that as recently as 2004 Bush won AZ, CO, NM and NV and Senator Kerry didn't even contest CO that year.  Trump has accelerated the movement of the heavily Mexican-American part of the US from lean R to deep blue and purple now.  If CO, NM and NV are now gone for Republicans, and Arizona and Texas have become true 2020 battlegrounds, the political costs to the GOP of Trump's Presidency will have been significant. 

Related Writings:

Backlash To Trumpism Brewing In The Border Region - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 5/7/18 - There is a growing body of evidence Trumpism is hurting the GOP brand in the border region. Big implications for 2018, 2020 too. 

Trump Is Right To Be Worried About Arizona (And Texas Too) - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 8/21/17 - It is instructive that some of the most powerful opposition to Trump's agenda is coming from Arizona. He is right to be worried about it.

The GOP Should Be Worried About Texas - Simon Rosenberg, U.S. News & World Report, 10/27/16 - Texas has a higher percentage of both millennials and Hispanics today than California, suggesting that with a significant investment in the coming years Texas could indeed follow California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and now Arizona from red to blue.

NDN Supports Bicameral Tariff Bill

“NDN is pleased to endorse and support the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act of 2019, introduced on January 31st, 2019 in the House and Senate. The legislation provides critical Congressional and Department of Defense oversight on the President’s Section 232 ability to use national security as a justification to unilaterally impose tariffs on our close trading partners. The bill will require that such a justification emerge from our defense community at the Department of Defense (rather than the Department of Commerce) and that any use of national security-based tariffs is approved by Congress before implementation.

The legislation was introduced by Senators Toomey (R-PA) and Warner (D-VA) in the Senate, and Reps. Kind (D-WI), Panetta (D-CA) and Gallagher (R-WI) and LaHood (R-IL) in the House. 

This legislation is consistent with NDN’s calls for Congress to challenge what we believe to have been the President’s repeated, illegitimate use of Section 232 authority to impose tariffs on our close allies. You can find NDN’s entire series challenging Trump’s tariffs as illegal, recklessly ignorant, and economically destructive here.”

The Trump Economy Is Not Working For Average Americans

At his State of the Union address this evening, Trump is likely to make grandiose claims about the state of the American economy. In just the past few months, he has claimed that the economy today is better than it has ever been, and that he has accomplished more in his first two years than any President ever. However, these claims are transparently false, and indeed, the economic performance of the US economy over Trump’s first two years has not even been better than that of Obama’s last two years, much less all of American history.

First, jobs growth. Although January’s payrolls report showing 304,000 new jobs was undoubtedly strong, we can’t let this cloud the fact that jobs growth has slowed under Trump (and indeed, monthly job growth was 300k or higher 4 separate times in 2015-16, compared to only twice in 2017-19). During the last 25 months of Obama’s second term, monthly jobs growth averaged 213,000. In the first 25 months of Trump’s term, meanwhile, it has slowed to 205,000 jobs per month.

Second, real wage growth. During the first 24 months of Trump’s term, real hourly wages have increased at a monthly average (annualized) of 0.9%. By contrast, real wages increased at a monthly average (annualized) of 1.35% during the last 24 months of Obama’s term.

Furthermore, median household income (which includes both private income and government taxes/transfers) grew by 1.76% in Trump’s first year, compared to growth of 5.15% and 3.13% in 2015 and 2016 under Obama.

Third, the deficit. When the economy is near full employment, traditional Keynesian economics would prescribe a reduction in the deficit, to provide the fiscal room for stimulus in the future. As a result, the deficit as a % of GDP fell under Obama from 9.8% of GDP in 2009 to 3.1% in 2016. Trump has reversed this trend, increasing the deficit from 3.1% of GDP in 2016 to 3.9% in 2018, and a projected 4.2% in 2019. Deficits this large while the economy is strong are unprecedented in US history. Trump’s budget deficits of 3.4%, 3.9%, and 4.2% in 2017, 2018, and 2019 will be the largest deficits while the unemployment rate is under 6% since 1950.

Fourth, the trade deficit. Perhaps Trump’s most signature promise was to end the so-called “foreign theft of American wealth” that he thought the trade deficit represented. Regardless of the lunacy of such thoughts, how successful has the President been in reducing the trade deficit? In fact, Trump’s policies have led to a surge in the trade deficit, as growth in imports has increased significantly while US exports have struggled. In June-October 2018, the average monthly trade deficit was 28% larger than during Obama’s second term.

Finally, access to health insurance. Trump promised expanded access to healthcare coverage during the 2016 campaign and argued that Obamacare was stopping people from accessing quality insurance. In office, however, Trump has down the opposite, eliminating the individual mandate, reducing federal government subsidies to individuals on the exchanges, and encouraging work requirements for Medicaid that have kicked tens of thousands off of the program. As a result, 2017 was the first year that the uninsured rate didn’t fall since 2009, and the uninsured rate actually rose by 0.3% for households earning less than $100k/year. By contrast, the uninsured rate fell by an annual average of 1.6% in Obama’s second term, and by 1.7% annually for households making under $100k/year.

After two years of the Trump administration, then, how has the US economy performed? Jobs and wage growth have fallen, even in the face of a surging fiscal deficit. The trade deficit has increased significantly thanks to Trump’s own trade policies. And the most vulnerable Americans have seen their access to healthcare worsen for the first time in a decade.  

Protecting the 2020 Dem Primary from Disinformation, Bots and Hacking

In a long thread this past weekend, I called on the 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates, the DNC and the State Parties to band together to fight disinformation and illicit campaign tactics in the Democratic Presidential primary.  Among the things I called for is for the Presidentials to sign a pledge committing to forgo use of bots, trolls, troll farms, fake accounts, fake sites, deepfakes and faked images, hacking and use of hacked materials; and for the campaigns to be vigilant about reporting illicit activity to the proper authorities, the platforms and the Party, and to discourage the use of these tactics by their supporters. My hope is that either the DNC or the State Parties will demand they sign such a pledge, or for the campaigns to make their own pledges now, without delay, and not wait for the Party to get involved. 

I know the DNC is in the process of standing up a disinformation unit - it should be given ample funding and broad support to become a leader in this space and not a laggard.  This unit can help all the campaigns stand up their own disinformation teams, something which is now, unfortunately, a requirement in today's politics - a must to have, not a nice to have. 

Simply, we cannot let what happened in 2016 happen again.  As we learned at the DCCC in 2018, we are not powerless.  We got the social media platforms to do takedowns, refered illegal activity to the FBI and helped train our campaigns how to protect themselves and win in a fast changing information landscape.  Healthy democracies cannot accept the poisoning of their discourse, and must do everything they can to let the residents of their nation drive the daily debate not inauthentic voices from inside or outside the country.  

For more on the work we did at the DCCC this past cycle battling disinformation, see this NBC News op-ed I wrote with DCCC Chief of Staff Aaron Trujillo; this Washington Post article about our strategy to first "flood the zone" to make it harder for disinfo to work; a Reuters story which looks into one of our major take downs; and a great NBC News piece recounting right wing trolls complaining about the more aggressive countermeasures coming from the platforms - in this case the take down they were complaining about was a multi-platform campaign the DCCC found and worked with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to mitigate.  Here is a link to the DCCC's pledge" from the fall of 2018, and a smart deep dive from the Atlantic's Natasha Bertrand on the pledge and the GOP's refusal to sign on even after months of negotiation. 

NDN originally dove into this world through a paper we published back in the fall of 2017 on bots and disinformation, and I worked on a project in the fall of 2017 which deployed bot detection technology for the Democratic candidates in both the Virginia Governor's race and the Alabama Senate race.  Articles about that work in Virginia can be found in the Washington Post and Politico.  And this Alabama work should not be confused with the illicit campaign waged as a test by some Democrats - we were working for Doug Jones not the other guys. 

Finally, my vision for how we counter disinformation and illicit tactics goes far beyond a pledge.  What we learned in 2018 is that we are not powerless; using modern tools and being smart about hunting disinfo organizations and campaigns can provide an effective counter.  It is my belief that what must happen in the next two years is that parties, campaigns, governments, NGOs, and even the media must go on offense here, be louder and smarter on the Internet and social media, and learn how to better manage the discourse in their own particular areas of debate and discussion.  If all of us do our part we can together eliminate a lot of the low hanging fruit, the easy stuff.  The platforms while they have much more to do have made things harder.  But we can't wait for them, or for governments, to act.  We all need to do our part to clean up our areas of the Internet and social media, and ensure that authentic and well intentioned voices prevail.  The tools to counter disinformation are cheap and readily available - it is more about learning how this all works and making a true commitment to win debates in a very new and changing information landscape. 

Fri, 2/1 Update - Justin Hendrix has taken this pledge concept and turned into a thought piece on the Internet.  Go check it out and offer feedback.  He also discusses this idea in this new piece on Just Security.

Mon, 2/4 Update - Got to talk about all this stuff on Joy Reid's MSNBC program on Saturday.  Check it out - was a very good segment. 

In New Global Age, Dems Have Produced Prosperity, the GOP Decline

This essay originally appeared on Medium.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg News published a new analysis of America’s economic performance under the past seven Presidents. The report ranks the economic progress made during each Presidential term since 1977 based upon 14 gauges of economic and financial activity, from wage growth to job gains to economic growth. On aggregate, Clinton and Obama take the top two spots, followed by Reagan and H.W. Bush in third and fourth, with Carter, Trump, and W. Bush coming in fifth, sixth, and seventh. Perhaps most importantly, this ranking shows the deep discrepancy in economic performance between the two parties. The last two Republican Presidents have overseen the two worst economies since 1977, while the last two Democratic Presidents have managed the two best economies. In this new age of globalization since the end of the Cold War in 1989, the two Democrats (Clinton and Obama) rank one and two, while the three Republicans (H.W. Bush, Trump, and W. Bush) rank three, four, and five. For all his bluster about “the best economy ever,” Trump ranks second-to-last behind even Jimmy Carter, and ranks above average among the seven Presidents on only 2 of the 14 metrics.

Source: Bloomberg

This study is consistent with the big argument that NDN has been making through our Patriotism and Optimism Project that the two parties’ recent performances while in the White House are not symmetrical, particularly on economic issues. While Trump’s central argument about the economy has been that this new age of globalization has failed to deliver economic prosperity to most Americans, regardless of which party has been in power, it is actually the case that Democrats have made the new global economy work for everyday Americans, while Republicans have failed to do so. Since 1989, the two Democratic Presidents (Clinton and Obama) have overseen strong and inclusive economic growth, while the three Republican Presidents (H.W. Bush, W. Bush, and Trump) have seen economic under-performance and even recession and decline. Rather than broad economic trends, it is the wide difference in economic management between the two parties that has shaped America’s economic fortunes.

Aggregate data that NDN has compiled for our Patriotism and Optimism Project confirm the startling asymmetry between the two parties on the economy. On job growth, Clinton and Obama have overseen almost 4 times the yearly gains as H.W. Bush, W. Bush, and Trump (averaging an increase of 2.12 million jobs per year compared to only 0.63 million jobs per year for the three Republicans). In total, the two Democrats oversaw an increase of 34 million jobs during their tenure, while the three Republicans saw only 9 million new jobs.

Source: BLS

On median income growth, meanwhile, Clinton and Obama averaged growth of 1.2% per year, whereas the three Republicans averaged a decline of 0.4% per year. All the more alarming is that even though the Republican Presidents achieved poor job and income growth during their tenures, they did so while also increasing the budget deficit significantly more than the Democratic Presidents. H.W. Bush, W. Bush, and Trump increased the deficit by an average of 0.5% of GDP per year, whereas Clinton and Obama reduced the deficit by an average of 0.4% of GDP per year. As can be seen, the difference in economic performance between Democrats and Republicans has been stark and significant.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Looking over the data, it is clear that the Democrats have been the party of economic progress and fiscal sustainability, whereas the Republicans have boosted deficits while achieving poor job and income growth. It is unsurprising, then, that the two generations that have grown up since 1989 (Millennials and Gen Z) are strikingly Democratic-leaning. In the 2018 midterms, voters under age 29 supported Democrats by a 35-point margin, and voters under 45 by a 25-point margin. For these voters, who will soon make up the majority of the electorate, America has succeeded both economically and socially under two successful Democratic Presidents, whereas Republicans have had three consecutive failed Presidents.

The President Can't Speak To 2019 Priorities Until He Finishes The 2018 Budget

The President of the United States shouldn’t be giving a speech which historically lays out the agenda for the coming year until he finishes his budget from last year and the last Congress. We know the President is new to politics and doesn’t play by its rules but on this one he must – he simply must complete the budget process which was required by law to be finished on October 1st of last year.  Not finishing his 2018 budget, first proposed in early 2018, is at this point reckless and irresponsible.   His inability to do the very basics of governing, in this case completing budgets on time and keeping the government open, is doing extraordinary harm to the nation. 

He sold himself to us in 2016 as a can do guy – well he needs to get his 2018 budget done and the government up, operating and funded before it is appropriate for him to begin talking about 2019.  This isn’t Foxlandia, this is Washington, the real world, the American government, and he needs to roll up his sleeves, put down the golf clubs and his TV remote, and lead our nation as every President before him has.

Backgrounder: Trump, Immigration, And The Border

Research and policy recommendations about our border and immigration system have been one of NDN’s most influential areas of work over the past 13 years.  We send along some of our most recent releases below, hoping they will inform your own work and thinking in the days ahead.  What is happening on the border today is not an emergency; and the crisis, if there is one, comes from the failure of Trump’s extreme immigration approach which has created an extraordinary mess on both sides of the US border with Mexico.   Responsible policy makers from both parties should use this moment to advance smart solutions to the real challenges our immigration system faces, many of them made far worse by Trump’s misguided policies.  In that vein we offer a three part plan for what the nation can be doing now to improve our border and immigration enforcement system, shore up our neighbors to the South, improve our economy, and remove this toxic debate from our politics so we the nation can move on to other more important matters. 

Finally, it is our belief that the shutdown is not about the wall, but about our democracy.  It is whether our nation has a President, or a Mad King.  The stakes here are far higher than they may appear, which is why the Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans are right to stand and fight the worrisome and increasingly authoritarian behavior of Mr. Trump. 

You can find extended takes from Simon on the immigration and border debate in this new US News article by Susan Milligan, this USA Today analysis on the 2020 Democrats and immigration, this ABC/FiveThirtyEight piece by Geoffrey Skelley, a Telemundo piece by Maria Pena, a New York Times analysis from Tom Edsall, a Slate podcast and article with Univision's Leon Krauze, and a recent Washington Post piece from Michael Scherer and another by David Nakamura. 

Notes On The GOP's Erosion In The Southwest - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 2/11/19 - The dramatic erosion of the GOP brand in the heavily Mexican-American parts of the country over the past two elections is one of the biggest stories in American politics.  Trump's border extremism has cost the GOP dearly. 

The Ridiculous Shutdown, A President In Decline - Simon Rosenberg, Medium, 1/7/19 - The shutdown isn't about a wall.  It is about our democracy and whether Trump is a President, or a dangerous mad king. 

Some Thoughts About The Caravan - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 10/24/18 - The Caravan, composed of 3,000 poor, unarmed, mostly Honduran migrants, poses no threat to the US, and illegal border crossings continue to be way down. Some thoughts on what Democrats should do to respond to Trump's farcical attacks and inane policies.

Trump's Brand Is His Xenophobic Immigration Policy. That's Why He'll Go To Any Lengths To Enact It - Simon Rosenberg, NBC News, 8/6/18 - Trump's separation of kids at the border is the result of a political crisis for his administration, rather than any real immigration crisis on the ground. As Trump's immigration policies continue to fail in the face of legal roadblocks and public outrage, expect even more outrageous policies from the administration.

Rebutting Trump’s Ridiculous Attack On “Chuck and Nancy” And All Democrats - Simon Rosenberg, Medium, 11/28/17 - The Democratic Party that Trump describes - on immigration, taxes, and more - is one that exists only in his mind. The Party that he is facing everyday is one that has governed responsibly when in power, and left the country far better than they found it.

The Case For Optimism: Rejecting Trump's Poisonous Pessimism - Simon Rosenberg, NDN, 11/19/18 - Simon argues that the great rationale of Trump's Presidency  –  that America is in decline – simply isn't true, and must be challenged more forcefully. This is the piece that spurred the creation of NDN’s “Patriotism and Optimism” deck.

The Ridiculous Shutdown, A President In Decline

This essay originially appeared on Medium.

The United States government and legislature have become paralyzed because the President is demanding Congress fund something he explicitly promised the American people we would never have to pay for.  The President’s immigration ideas were rejected repeatedly by a GOP Congress these past two years.  Not content with that, seeking in essence a legislative do-over, the President shuts the government down right before Christmas after agreeing not to.  Both the Senate and House have passed bills which would re-open the government but fund DHS only through February so cooler heads could prevail and a deal on border policy could get worked out.  Even this reasonable path, supported by both parties and both chambers, has been rejected by the President.  Instead, he keeps the government shut down, causing real harm to the country

And now the President’s ransom note is becoming clearer.  $5.7b for more wall, $800m for detention facilities, controversial and potentially illegal changes in immigration law.  He is asking for all this to be passed by Congress before reopening the government without going through regular order – no hearings, no studies, no debates, no votes.  The letter and presentation the President sent to Congress justifying his demands was sophomoric, unpersuasive and reinforced how crazy his demands are.  He has still NEVER EXPLAINED why more wall is needed – where would it go? Has flow increased in those areas? Has the border been penetrated in ways it wasn’t before? We don’t have answers to these simple questions.  The legislative changes he is asking for are complicated, may violate both domestic and international law, and may be, in his hands, dangerous. Mad King George has returned to America after an absence of hundreds of years.

And please, the argument he is standing on principle and fighting to fill a campaign promise is absurd.  His promise to all of us was clear - we would get a wall without paying for it, not by spending billions and billions of dollars.  He is betraying his core promise, not keeping faith with it.  And what makes his petulant demands even more galling is that he has used a worsening deficit as a reason to freeze the pay for federal workers next year.  No modest increase in wages for workers, but billions for an unjustified wall. 

What the President is asking for was rejected by a GOP Senate and was something he explicitly promised would never happen; his demands are controversial and unpopular, and has no back up explaining why what he is proposing will address what has become a crisis on the border through his current, deeply misguided immigration policies; he wants Congress to appropriate huge sums of money and make major legislative changes without going through the process we’ve used for hundreds of years to make decisions like this.  What the President is asking for and doing is unreasonable and potentially precedent setting.  If he succeeds at using these un-democratic/authoritarian methods to get his way what will stop him from doing it again and again? Democrats are right to play the issue the way they have – it would be reckless for them to give into the President at this point given how crazy he is acting. 

The President is not winning the argument with the public.  He made these issues central to his election argument and suffered one of the worst defeats of the modern era of American politics.  He has dropped 3 points in the polls since early December, from -9 to -12.   The economy is worsening, the market is way off and volatile, his tariffs are doing real material harm to the global and US economies, the President’s legal challenges are mounting and getting far more serious, and his foreign policy performance of late has been, frankly, scary.   At this point, given all the real challenges in front of the President, the shutdown has become a reckless indulgence by a very vain and self-centered man, a diva sitting in their dressing room angry over not getting their way.  His party needs to urge him to re-open the government and then bring his ideas about the border and immigration to Congress for a debate – like every other President has done throughout our history.  His repeated insistence on creating mechanisms to go around Congress is undemocratic and must be opposed; this wild man must play by the rules and work within the system which has created the most powerful nation in the history of the world.  This is not too much to ask and is, literally, what the Democrats are asking him to do right now.  

Now that we have begun this debate about immigration, no matter how the standoff plays out, Democrats should be aggressively putting forth their vision for how they want to improve our border and immigration system.  In a recent op-ed I offered a 3 part plan: 1) Convene a regional process to address the worsening conditions in Central America, 2) put comprehensive immigration reform back on the table, 3) offer ideas on how to best improve an immigration enforcement system weakened by the President’s failed policies.  We cannot defend the immigration status quo – the President took a creaky immigration system and has broken it.  We should step up and offer plans on how to best fix it now. 

How this ends isn’t clear but what is clear is that this standoff is not about a wall.  It is about ensuring we have a functioning democracy, and a President who plays by the rules established by our Founding Fathers a long time ago, rules which have indeed made this country great long before the Trumptrain arrived in Washington. 

Simon's Work With The DCCC On Disinformation, Cybersecurity

We are pleased to send along a new NBC News op-ed by Simon Rosenberg and the DCCC’s Aaron Trujillo which recaps the disinformation and cybersecurity work they did this past cycle for the DCCC.  The op-ed is here, and below.  They conclude by expressing confidence that in the coming years we as a society can make great progress against these new and complicated threats to our discourse and democracy. 

While this project Simon ran was outside of NDN’s own work, we felt our audience would find it of interest.  You can learn more about this exciting project through recent stories in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Reuters, and review NDN’s cutting edge paper on bots and disinformation published last fall.  

Trump Doesn't Take Russian Electoral Interference Seriously. This Is What Democrats Did To Oppose It In 2018

By Simon Rosenberg and Aaron Trujillo

In the last few years bots, trolls and hackers have become a new and unfortunate part of our politics here in the U.S., as new reports prepared for the Senate intelligence committee showed this week.

Those reports looked at the 2016 election, and found that Russia’s Internet Research Agency made extensive use of social media, including Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, to push right-wing conspiracy theories and engender distrust in the electorate among the left, ultimately recruiting people to take concrete political actions in real life.

While these reports address the broader social media campaigns of the Russians, it is important to remember that the Russians also directly hacked both the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (which oversees House campaigns) in 2016. Materials stolen from both committees were then used by Republicans in their campaigns against Democratic candidates.

Determined to never let these kinds of influence campaigns succeed again, DCCC Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., established a program designed to fight the malicious activity — which is poisoning our discourse and weakening our democracy — during the 2018 election cycle.

The two of us led that team over the past two years, and now that the midterms are over, we offer some observations from the front lines of this new political battlefield.

We regularly found accounts on the major social media platforms that were in violation of the rules set by Twitter, Facebook and YouTube; nothing we found was on the scale of the Russian’s extensive efforts in 2016, but the activity wasn’t insignificant either. So, as part of the DCCC’s efforts, we deployed unprecedented defensive tools to help us identify malicious activity on social media, using a customized bot-detection tool to diagnose robotic, inauthentic activity and a commercial off-the-shelf social listening platform that allowed us to better see what was happening in near real-time on the major social media platforms.

When we found malicious activity, our internal team went through a rigorous review process to make sure it was in violation of the social media platform’s terms of service, rather than just something we didn’t like. Offensive accounts and activity were then reported to the platforms both through their public systems and through teams specifically assigned to the U.S. elections. While not everything reported was addressed, a great deal of it was.

We also found, as is common among cybersecurity researchers, that the easiest way to secure against cyber intrusions is to arm every user to recognize the tactics common among hackers. And, as in 2016 (and at every organization in the world), we did see phishing and spear-phishing efforts directed at the party and at individual candidates, from various sources we did not or could not identify.

We don’t believe the DCCC had a large breach like we did in 2016, but can’t be certain. But, when campaigns encountered problems, we worked quickly to mitigate the damage and reported these intrusions to the FBI. And, working with outside partners, we were successful in helping staff internally and at campaigns embrace new behaviors and tools that were effective, affordable and simple — like two factor authentication, encrypted messaging and better data protections. Much of the DCCC’s strategy work was inspired by the highly regarded cybersecurity framework developed by the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) — a set of smart protocols which should become far more familiar to those of us in politics.

This big new emphasis on digital is being driven by how Americans’ own media usage is changing; it will be any day now that more Americans get their news from digital sources than television, something which is already true for those under 50 in the U.S. Which is why, as the intelligence committee reports show, the Russians in 2016 leaned so heavily on targeted ads to access voters on various social platforms, where news and ads (or sponsored posts) can feel (and often are) indistinguishable. Learning how to win in this new digital-first landscape will be increasingly important for those in politics here and around the world.

The first step in winning in this new information landscape is be far louder on the internet and on social media. The DCCC had the most ambitious digital advertising and organic communications effort in its history, and encouraged its candidates to not cede this space to either the Republicans or malicious actors. In politics the best defense remains a very good offense.

The DCCC also made an unprecedented public pledge to combat these new malicious tactics by committing to never use hacked materials in the election, as was done against us in 2016. We think future pledges like this one should include promises not to hack, use hacked materials or use fake accounts, bots, troll farms or “deep fakes.” Whether the parties themselves can agree to a common approach remains to be seen — it didn’t work this time — but the DNC and sister committees should lead by example and get every Democratic presidential campaign to sign on to some set of practices similar to the pledge released by the DCCC in 2018.

Everyone in US politics, regardless of party, should follow our lead and commit to not use the tools the Russians used — and continue to use — against us and other democracies in our own work. But we also need to commit ourselves to higher cybersecurity standards in general, and to being more cognizant users of email and the internet.

Based on our time working with cybersecurity at the DCCC, we strongly recommend that Congress also dramatically upgrade the way it handles the cybersecurity of senators, House members and their staff by mandating cybersecurity and counterintelligence training.

Toolsets for identifying inauthentic social media — like what we had at the DCCC — should become commonly used throughout American politics, from campaigns to advocacy organizations to official Senate and House offices. Users of these tools should be disciplined about their submissions to the platforms so as not to overwhelm systems which are not yet fully mature, and they should rely, as we did, on the many incredibly able researchers and think tanks who are making their findings public. We learned a great deal from them throughout this process.

While the social media platforms did make things far harder for malicious actors over the past year, far more must be done — and Congress should pass some of the many smart, already introduced bipartisan bills which address these matters without delay.

It is also our belief that the best way for the government to help support to our nation’s elected officials in their official, political and private roles is for the Department of Homeland Security to partner with the major federal party committees to share information, best practices and emerging threats through a similar arrangement to the ones it has with the financial services and energy industries, among others, though it may require legislation.

But the most important lesson we learned in the last two years is that the U.S. and its politics are not powerless to stop the kind of foreign hacking and disinformation tactics we saw in 2016. Far more can be done to protect our democracy and our discourse — and doing so should be a very high priority for the new Congress in 2019.

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