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Member since: Mon Sep 7, 2009, 12:57 AM
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Labour leapt into Brexit's fires - and now the party is burning


Party loyalists claim Wednesday’s government defeat in the Lords on the issue of EU citizens’ rights was a Labour victory. Not only is this untrue – Labour peers accounted for less than half of the 358 votes against the government – but it is also eclipsed by the importance of a much greater collapse by Labour at the start of this week, when the party voted against an amendment that would have encouraged a soft Brexit – not the hard version beloved by Theresa May.

Most fair-minded people accept that the referendum vote posed a hellish dilemma for Labour. The party, though not its leader, is pro-European. Labour was opposed to the referendum. It campaigned for remain. Its voters, never forget, voted by two to one to remain. But leave won the referendum. Inevitably, that put pressure on Labour to accept the result, not fight it. That was especially true in Labour constituencies where the majority of voters (though not necessarily the majority of Labour voters) opted for leave.

Gina Miller’s victory in the courts in January placed a weight on Labour MPs that they have struggled to bear. Labour voters and MPs are mostly remainers. Labour conference policy, endorsed at Liverpool after the Brexit vote, is to keep open the option of remaining in the EU if the final Brexit terms are unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, instead of standing up as much as possible for Britain’s post-Brexit place in Europe, Labour has increasingly kowtowed to the leavers’ mandate and to the noisy triumphalism of the anti-European press.

Fear of the effect in the Stoke and Copeland byelections played into this defeatism when the article 50 bill came before parliament. Since the referendum, Labour MPs have been transfixed by the belief that their vote in the north and the Midlands was now Ukip’s for the taking because of the issue of immigration. This is not true. As John Curtice put it here last week: “Labour seems to have forgotten (or not realised) that most of those who voted Labour in 2015 – including those living in Labour seats in the north and the Midlands – backed remain. The party is thus at greater risk of losing votes to the pro-remain Liberal Democrats than to pro-Brexit Ukip.”


The Problems with Facts and Persuasion

A trio of articles on this subject. None are the last word, and you may know of others.

Why People Are So Averse to Facts

Facts about all manner of things have made headlines recently as the Trump administration continues to make statements, reports, and policies at odds with things we know to be true. Whether it’s about the size of his inauguration crowd, patently false and fear-mongering inaccuracies about transgender persons in bathrooms, rates of violent crime in the U.S., or anything else, lately it feels like the facts don’t seem to matter. The inaccuracies and misinformation continue despite the earnest attempts of so many to correct each falsehood after it is made. It’s exhausting. But why is it happening?

Many of the inaccuracies seem like they ought to be easy enough to challenge as data simply don’t support the statements made. Consider the following charts documenting the violent crime rate and property crime rate in the U.S. over the last quarter century (measured by the Bureau of Justice Statistics). The overall trends are unmistakable: crime in the U.S. has been declining for a quarter of a century.

Now compare the crime rate with public perceptions of the crime rate collected by Gallup (below). While the crime rate is going down, the majority of the American public seems to think that crime has been getting worse every year. If crime is going down, why do so many people seem to feel that there is more crime today than there was a year ago? It’s simply not true.

There is more than one reason this is happening. But, one reason I think the alternative facts industry has been so effective has to do with a concept social scientists call the “backfire effect.” As a rule, misinformed people do not change their minds once they have been presented with facts that challenge their beliefs. But, beyond simply not changing their minds when they should, research shows that they are likely to become more attached to their mistaken beliefs. The factual information “backfires.” When people don’t agree with you, research suggests that bringing in facts to support your case might actually make them believe you less. In other words, fighting the ill-informed with facts is like fighting a grease fire with water. It seems like it should work, but it’s actually going to make things worse.


How facts backfire
Researchers discover a surprising threat to democracy: our brains

It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?

Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.


How to get people to overcome their bias

One of the tricks our mind plays is to highlight evidence which confirms what we already believe. If we hear gossip about a rival we tend to think "I knew he was a nasty piece of work"; if we hear the same about our best friend we're more likely to say "that's just a rumour". If you don't trust the government then a change of policy is evidence of their weakness; if you do trust them the same change of policy can be evidence of their inherent reasonableness.

Once you learn about this mental habit – called confirmation bias – you start seeing it everywhere.

This matters when we want to make better decisions. Confirmation bias is OK as long as we're right, but all too often we’re wrong, and we only pay attention to the deciding evidence when it’s too late.

How we should {try} to protect our decisions from confirmation bias depends on why, psychologically, confirmation bias happens. There are, broadly, two possible accounts and a classic experiment from researchers at Princeton University pits the two against each other, revealing in the process a method for overcoming bias.


The Truth About The Trump Data Team That People Are Freaking Out About

Last December, a Swiss publication called Das Magazin credited an obscure consulting firm that advised Donald Trump’s campaign with having “turned the world upside down” on Election Day. The article was an underground sensation in German, in a bootlegged English translation, and then on Vice, raising concerns that the company, Cambridge Analytica, used sophisticated psychological tools to manipulate unwitting American voters.

Readers shared the article more than 350,000 times, according to analytics service BuzzSumo. With it, conspiracy theories gave the firm almost unlimited power to control our lives with what one critic called a “weaponized AI propaganda machine.” And Cambridge Analytica itself has hardly shrunk from the controversy: Alexander Nix, the CEO, boasted that it had “profiled the personality of every adult in the United States of America — 220 million people.”

But interviews with 13 former employees, campaign staffers, and executives at other Republican consulting firms who have seen Cambridge Analytica’s work suggest that its psychological approach was not actually used by the Trump campaign and, furthermore, the company has never provided evidence that it even works. Rather than a sinister breakthrough in political technology, the Cambridge Analytica story appears to be part of the traditional contest among consultants on a winning political campaign to get their share of credit — and win future clients.


John Major's incendiary speech branding Brexit a 'historic mistake' in full

The former Prime Minister has torn strips off Theresa May in a speech to Chatham House. Here it is in full


In Scotland, I believe a hard Brexit will encourage a second referendum on independence. This may seem improbable at the moment, but it would be reckless to ignore the risk.

... Many years of painstaking effort went into the Irish Peace Process which, even apart from Brexit, is at a fragile moment. Uncertainties over border restrictions between Ulster and the Republic are a serious threat – to the UK, to the peace process, and for Ireland, North and South. A special deal will be necessary.

... I can’t ignore what I learned in Government. Nor can I forget the people who voted to leave Europe in the belief it might improve their lives. If events go badly, their expectations will not be met, and whole communities will be worse off. The particular fear I have is that those most likely to be hurt will be those least able to protect themselves.


Freedom of speech is absolute in our country. It’s not “arrogant” or “brazen” or “elitist”, or remotely “delusional” to express concern about our future after Brexit . Nor, by doing so, is this group undermining the will of the people: they are the people. Shouting down their legitimate comment is against all our traditions of tolerance. It does nothing to inform and everything to demean – and it is time it stopped.



A sober, rather than incendiary, IMO, look at the uncertainties ahead and the inadequacy of preparations.

Major also echoes what some of us here have said about May's desperate hunger for a hurried trade deal with Trump, pointing out the obvious: that the UK is very much a junior partner in the "special relationship", that ironically, we're of less use to America out of the EU than within it, and that goodwill from the Trump administration is likely to depend on our willingness to fall into line with its agendas, so it's a funny sort of "independence" the Brexiters think they've won.

Tapper burns Spicer on Twitter


Jake Tapper ✔ @jaketapper

I imagine it must be really annoying when someone puts out false info about where you were born. Must really bother you!!

cc @BarackObama https://twitter.com/seanspicer/status/835583586602532864

Sean Spicer ✔ @seanspicer

For the record @nytimes @grynbaum can't even get where I was born right and failed to ask https://twitter.com/michikokakutani/status/835568432808660992

Then it should hold an internal party election.

The mechanisms for doing so are clear.

And this time, instead of the lame stalking horses who ran last time, let one or more of the "big hitters" show some guts and stand for the leadership against Corbyn (if he even chooses to run again) rather than carping from the sidelines like spoilt brats.

And this time, let the NEC not disenfranchise and smear a vast swath of the party membership and ban constituency branches from meeting on wafer-thin pretexts.

Don't get me wrong - I piped up at length over the anti-democratic way Corbyn was challenged last time, but he's stretched my patience. His "brand" over the years has been principled stands. I see nothing principled in the accommodations over the last few months, especially to do with Brexit and the frantic chase for supposed "lost" Labour voters to UKIP. Here's John Curtice on this:

Remain voters must now be Labour’s top priority – Stoke and Copeland prove it

Labour’s share of the vote has now dropped in every single byelection since the Brexit referendum. From leafy Richmond to windswept Copeland the message has been the same: the party is struggling to hang on to the already diminished band of supporters who backed it in 2015.

The party’s problems were, of course, in evidence long before 23 June last year. But the vote to leave the EU has exacerbated them.

Labour seems to have decided in recent weeks that its first priority is to stave off the threat from Ukip to its traditional working-class vote, much of which supposedly voted to leave in the EU referendum.

But in so doing it seems to have forgotten (or not realised) that most of those who voted Labour in 2015 – including those living in Labour seats in the North and the Midlands – backed remain. The party is thus at greater risk of losing votes to the pro-remain Liberal Democrats than to pro-Brexit Ukip.


Curtice conflates "supporters" with "voters" there, but anybody who imagines that Labour's problems would be solved merely by appointing a new leader is in for a rude awakening. The rot runs a lot deeper than that.

If you can get to the stage where the right wing of the Labour Party has fixated so much on demonizing Corbyn as the root of all evil and successfully sold that far and wide through the eager media, it's no surprise that you end up with situations like this, reported from last night's Copeland by-election:

Labour canvassers admitted before the byelection that the leader was the most common topic on the doorstep. Yet activists hoped the Corbyn factor might be drowned out by widespread anger at Tory-backed plans to downgrade the maternity unit at the West Cumberland hospital.

When it came to voting, however, many said they believed lifelong Labour voters turned blue in the hope it would trigger Corbyn’s removal and save the party from perceived electoral oblivion.

“This week I’ve spoken to a lot of people, lifelong Labour voters who I’ve known for a very long time, who voted Conservative because they want Jeremy Corbyn out,” said Mike Starkey, the independent mayor of Copeland.

Starkey said he believed the Labour revolt would claim further scalps in the party’s heartlands if Corbyn remained in charge.


Read it. By all accounts, there's not an ill some people won't now pin on Corbyn, no matter how outlandish (and bear in mind that the MP who resigned, triggering the by-election, was a very vociferous Corbyn critic, as was no doubt widely reported in the local media over the last couple of years).

It's a grim irony that the drive to oust Corbyn may lose many of the plotters' own seats because they've been so successful. And once lost, it's hard to see how Labour claws its way back to credibility - as I've witnessed myself here in Scotland, where they're a joke and haemorrhaging voters, and that's been a continuing process that began well before Corbyn took over the leadership.

These Couples Are About To Find Out If They Can Live Together In Britain After Five Years Of Waiting

The Supreme Court decides on Wednesday morning if thousands of married couples where one spouse is not British can live together in the UK.

Satbir Singh eats his breakfast every morning with his wife Gitanjali even though she lives more than 4,000 miles away. Propping up his iPad, he tucks into his porridge in his house in northwest London and talks on FaceTime to Gitanjali while she eats lunch at her desk in Delhi. Most days, this is the closest they come to normal married life.

For the last five years the couple have been trying to live together in Britain and failing, thanks to strict earning requirements that were introduced to spouse visas in 2012, when Theresa May was home secretary. On Wednesday morning at 10am the Supreme Court will announce a decision in a test case that could change their lives – and thousands of others – forever.

The 2012 rule change means British citizens must earn at least £18,600 a year to bring in a non-EU spouse. It has taken the Supreme Court more than a year to reach a decision on whether this is unlawful.


Yup. But as I said, beware.

Here's Mensch on Twitter in a more ... er ... lively phase not so long ago:

I want precision bombing raids. Bank hacks. Massive cyber war. Russia is a paper bear cub let @Potus show Putin what alpha means https://t.co/gLXbjHxKvi

— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) December 10, 2016

Putin should, in my view, be completely removed by the USA, by any means necessary. Regime change in Russia. Flex American muscle. https://t.co/YDlflTEeZX

— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) January 5, 2017

She's since deleted those tweets for some reason, but they live on in Google's cache.

ETA: DOH! DU messes up any URL that includes a tweet URL nowadays, even if it's embedded. Just Google any phrases from those two tweets and the cached version comes up in the top four or five results.

And then there was the time ...

Louise Mensch blames Corbyn supporters for anti-Semitism - turns out it's her own offensive search history

Former Conservative MP Louise Mensch has faced widespread ridicule after accusing Jeremy Corbyn supporters of anti-Semitism - over Twitter searches that turned out be her own.

Ms Mensch posted a series of screenshots showing what she said were autocompleted twitter searches alongside the name of Mr Corbyn’s fellow Labour leadership contender, Liz Kendall.

The supposedly autocompleted phrases alongside the @lizforleader handle included “nazi” and “Zionist”, which Mensch implied was the work to Corbyn’s supporters.

However, twitter users were quick to point out that Twitter doesn’t quite work that way and that, in fact, Mensch must have searched the phrases herself.


I could go on.

She's built up a decent reputation recently on the back of one particular scoop thanks to informants. But she could go off the rails again at any point, and nobody here should go with her.

"Secure" Trump website defaced by hacker claiming to be from Iraq

Source: Ars Technica

Someone calling themselves "Pro_Mast3r" managed to deface a server associated with President Donald Trump's presidential campaign fundraising on Sunday, The server, secure2.donaldjtrump.com, is behind Cloudflare's content management and security platform, and does not appear to be directly linked from the Trump Pence campaign's home page. But it does appear to be an actual Trump campaign serverits certificate is legitimate, but a reference to an image on another site is insecure, prompting a warning on Chrome and Firefox that the connection is not secure.

The page, now displaying an image of a man in a fedora, displays the following text:

Hacked By Pro_Mast3r
Attacker Gov
Nothing Is Impossible
Peace From Iraq

The source code contains a link to javascript on a now-nonexistent Google Code account, masterendi, previously associated with the hacking of at least three other websites. As Italian IT journalist Paolo Attivissimo pointed out, an archive of the script shows it to be a snow animation script, not malware.

Read more: https://arstechnica.com/security/2017/02/secure-trump-website-defaced-by-hacker-claiming-to-be-from-iraq/

Image of the hack:

The server - http://secure2.donaldjtrump.com/ -was still offline at time of posting. Trump's other servers are still operational.

Which all goes to prove that bragging about your yuuuge abilities to counter hackers is just waving a red rag at a bull.


Meanwhile, Trump is still using his old, unsecured phone for some communications, possibly the one he was using when his Twitter account was hacked in 2013, his "cyber tsar" Giuliani was one of 14 Trump staffers who had their passwords leaked during 2012-2016, and Giuliani's own commercial website is rumored to be far from secure ...

Japan's interpreters struggle to make sense of 'Trumpese'

As political leaders in Japan pay close attention to how U.S. President Donald Trump will go in office, so, too, are interpreters who have had a nightmarish experience translating his disjointed speeches.

“He rarely speaks logically, and he only emphasizes one side of things as if it were the absolute truth. There are lots of moments when I suspected his assertions were factually dubious,” said Chikako Tsuruta, who routinely covers Trump-related news as an interpreter for CNN, ABC and CBS.

“He is so overconfident and yet so logically unconvincing that my interpreter friends and I often joke that if we translated his words as they are, we would end up making ourselves sound stupid,” Tsuruta, who is also a professor of interpreting and translation studies at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, said in a recent interview.

Like Tsuruta, English-Japanese interpreters recall being dumbstruck by Trump’s disregard for logic and facts as well as his unabashed use of a litany of sexist and racist remarks during the election campaign.

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