A.I. Influence in Elections

Intelligence and politics are two words that often don’t go together. But when you add the adjective “artificial” to further describe intelligence there should be no connection between that and politics. There is no room for artificial intelligence in American elections. But it’s beginning to happen.

In early March 2024, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) published an account of how Trump supporters have used AI in ads depicting Trump surrounded by black voters. A picture is worth a thousand words, and much of the AI produced by Trump supporters are photos of Trump with black voters – none of which are real. One such photo has a man with three arms. Another has people with fingers missing. People do miss fingers in accidents and such, but no one has three arms.

Mark Kaye, a Florida-based conservative radio host with more than a million followers, doesn’t deny that he and his team created some of those ads. As a matter-of-fact, he “told the BBC that it was the individual’s problem if their vote was influenced by AI images.”

Recently, the New York Times reported that Russia is creating “look-alike websites that are fake versions of real news outlets,” not only in the U.S., but in Japan, Israel, and other countries, creating artificial news. American and European intelligence agencies have warned that misinformation on the Russian efforts are “harder to trace and combat than Russia’s previous misinformation campaign.” For example, Russia, China and Iran are being accused by authorities in London that disinformation about Catherine, Princess of Wales, before she came out with news of her cancer, was widely spread throughout England in an “effort to destabilize the country.

Spreading misinformation through phony websites using artificial information is not a new concept, but it is an increasing concern throughout the world. A testing ground for A.I. in election propaganda could have been Argentina, where Russian influence was prominent in campaign material between presidential candidates Sergio Massa and Javier Milei, the eventual winner who was backed by A.I.-generated information.

Closer to home, “Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida shared a video showing the A.I.-generated images of Donald J. Trump hugging Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who has become and enemy on the American right for his role leading the nation’s pandemic response.”[1]

The Iowa House of Representatives passed House File 2549 a bill that prohibits the use of artificial intelligence in campaign material unless it contains a disclosure that informs the recipient that the material is produced using artificial intelligence. The measure passed by a vote of 93-1. But like any proposed law attempting to regulate political speech, it runs into a wall of constitutional obstacles. It could be those constitutional roadblocks kept it from emerging in the Senate State Government Committee, but I doubt it.

Another problem with the legislation is the provision creating a simple misdemeanor for certain violations. Not exactly a potent deterrent. Further, it seems as though organizations, corporations, and Political Action Committees are rarely charged with misdemeanors – felonies for that matter. You have to remember that “corporations are “persons” under the law. But how does the government enforce a misdemeanor with “confinement for no more than ninety days and a fine of not more than one thousand dollars” against a person who is not an individual?

The use of A.I. is coming to an election near you. You may not readily recognize it. If something looks phishy, it probably is. Look into various sources for similar information in order to form an opinion or decision based upon corroborated fact (minimum two sources).

Do not expect the government – any government – to be a service in guiding your information sources. That is not the responsibility of any government; federal, state, or local. Unfortunately, I have to agree with Mark Kaye above: it is “the individual’s problem if their vote was influenced by AI images.”

But, by all means, exercise your right to vote!

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/15/world/americas/argentina-election-ai-milei-massa.html

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The Pledge Paradox

The Des Moines Register has been running a series giving readers and voters information on upcoming candidates running for office. Although special interest groups help fund campaigns, it is hard-earned taxpayer money that pays the salaries and generous health and retirement benefits of those elected to serve the good people of Iowa. That’s why it’s important to weigh the words of campaigns carefully when determining who to vote for to represent your needs.

Non-incumbent candidates for public office often claim they will “work across the aisle” after they are elected, giving the false impression that things will change for the better if elected. The truth is bipartisan support happens in every general assembly. The majority of bills pass the Iowa Senate and the Iowa House without opposition. It just doesn’t get reported because the controversial bills are deemed more newsworthy.

It’s the controversial bills that send legislators scurrying to hideout in the highly restricted caucus rooms. The desires of political party and special interests blind those elected to office as they fully focus on the funding for future elections instead of fulfilling their pledge to listen and support the people who elected them to serve. Newly elected candidates will break the promise of working across the aisle as partisan politics pressures them to vote with the party or suffer the consequences of withholding campaign funds or in a few circumstances — threaten to “primary them.”

The majority party leadership sets the schedule, the tone, and the rules of the legislature. A legislator belonging to the minority party is not going to have any influence in an act of compromise with the majority party. It’s that simple. And when a candidate becomes part of the majority, that candidate will soon find out that there is no room for compromising with any legislator belonging to the minority party.

There are certain issues in which one party will never compromise with the other. Think of abortion, education, taxes, and a few matters of appropriating funds for certain agencies, departments, and pet projects. When the majority party decides what measures will be brought up for consideration, the minority party candidate can only vote against it.

Campaign promises have been in existence for centuries. “Read my lips: no new taxes.” “I will order Guantanamo closed.” “A chicken in every pot.”

“Called the ‘Pledge Paradox’, the difference between voter expectations and reality seems partially determined by the difficulty in how voters define kept promises and skepticism over whether elected officials can actually successfully achieve outcomes rather than actions[1]” Once elected, will general voters recall the vague promise of “working across the aisle?” We sort of doubt it.

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[1] Naurin, E. 2011. Election Promises, Party Behaviour and Voter Perceptions. Palgrave Macmillan. Quoted from Bonilla, Tabitha. Promises Kept, Promises Broken, and Those Caught in the Middle. Northwestern University and IPR. 2022.

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Grape Nehi

Like the character Radar O’Reilly on the long-running sitcom MASH, I love grape Nehi soda.

Growing up, I hung around a Texaco gas station on the south side of U.S. Highway 30. Highway 30, also known as the Lincoln Highway, is a main road traveling from the east coast to the west coast. Prior to the building of the interstate highway system, it was as busy a highway as you’ve ever seen. It was difficult to cross the road because of the hundreds of semi rigs, tourists in the summer, and regular traffic on a daily basis that had very few alternatives going from east to west or west to east across the continent. However, a Vail kid could always find a way to cross the two-lane road with ease, and did so, often. Amazingly, no one was ever hit by a vehicle.

The Texaco station was a busy place. Cars were pulling in to get gas so frequently the owner had very little time to wait on the gasoline pumps and provide auto repair in the back. I would sit in the station and watch Bob Loew or Earl Costello, or whomever else owned the place, wait on gas customers until I knew I could pump gas, check oil, air in the tires, and wash the windshield. As soon as I had it figured out, I would wait for the bell to go off – ding, ding! “I can get it,” I would yell. And I would run outside to take care of the customer. After a while, I was taken for granted. That didn’t bother me because I would be rewarded with a grape or orange Nehi soda from the soda machine. It cost a dime. There was a rack on the side where the empty bottles would be stacked.

The soda dispenser was the beginning of vending machines, as I know it. The bottles hung from the bottle neck. After inserting the dime, you could move the bottle to a mechanism that allowed you to lift the entire bottle from the machine. I swear that mechanism was designed to prevent children from using it. One slip of the hand and you would have to have another dime ready to use. But since I helped out whatever owner, I knew where the key was to open the back side of the dispenser and help myself. I never stole or told anyone where the key was. I never opened the back side if anyone was within an earshot of the cooler.

There were three other stations in town that sold gas. There was a difference between a service station and a gas station. Abbot’s Standard was just that – a place to purchase gas. The office was too small for anyone but Roy Abbot to occupy, and I don’t think he had a pop machine, candy, or any other sundries. Weiss’ DX Station on the other end of town had an office a little smaller than Roy’s, but all of the Weiss brothers managed to fit in it at one time. That was until Pete built a new station with two bays. He used one bay to park his brand-new baby-blue 1964 Ford Mustang. He rarely drove it. The final station was Hubie Jackson’s. I think the gas brand was Mobil. However, I never saw anyone buy gas there. Hubie fixed small engines, such as lawnmowers, but he did have gas pumps.

I learned how to change oil, rotate tires and repair tires, change wiper blades, and all sorts of minor tasks that gas station attendants/owners performed on a daily basis. I moved up into the world when Joe Fineran asked if I wanted to work for him. Joe owned an automobile repair shop. He did more than fix flats, pump gas, and change oil and filters; Joe tore engines down and rebuilt them, repaired them, and cursed at them. That job didn’t last long. All I did was wash parts in gasoline and he paid me fifty-cents a day. I began mowing yards after that and made some very good money for a young boy. And I was good at it.

This week I did a search to find out if I could purchase Grape Nehi nearby. I was surprised to find out that I could, but at the price quoted I chose not to make the investment. Of course, I don’t drink soda pop, so I had no idea that the cost of all carbonated sugary drinks has exploded over the years.

And I thought coffee was expensive. Hah!

***

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What are the odds?

Mise en place [MEEZ ahn plahs] is the process of measuring and acquiring all the ingredients before the start of preparing a recipe. I practice the method religiously. However, when I decided to make some ham and scalloped potatoes last Sunday, I began putting the recipe together before ensuring that I had all the ingredients. I had milk, but not enough.

It had been cloudy all day, but my source of weather information suggested that there was a 29% chance of rain. That percentage wasn’t high enough for me to worry about having raindrops falling on my head. So, I decided to walk to the grocery store three blocks away. But I didn’t take the straightest line. Instead, I used the recreational trail near our house that will get you to the store by strolling along the river, but it’s a mile walk.

About two-hundred yards from the store’s entrance, it began to rain. The rain was light, so I didn’t mind getting a little mist on me. While in the store, accumulating necessary ingredients and a few impulsive purchases, I looked out to see that the rain was coming down harder. I made my purchases and stood by the door waiting for the rain to let up. After all, the chance of rain was only 29%. It couldn’t last long. But it did.

A few feet from the store was a long-supported overhang in front of a strip of several stores. I made it over there without getting too wet and walked to the end of the strip, but then what? There was only two things to do: stand like a fool until the rain stopped, or get wet. I got wet on the walk home.

The walk home was a short route. Even so, I began to think about that 29%. Isn’t the odds of it raining 50-50? It’s either going to rain, or it isn’t. In my opinion, the possibility of precipitation is always 50%.

More often than I appreciate it, people ask me: “What are the odds of that happening?” Fifty-fifty, I say. It would either happen or it won’t happen.

By the way, the scalloped potatoes and ham were just what I needed on a rainy day!

***

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Iowa Governor Reynolds’ “Poor” Math

Last December, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds turned down $29 million of federal funding that would have provided a low-income family $40 per month “to help with food costs” during the 3-month break in the school year. Her justification for snubbing the federal money was a cruel accusation that Iowa children are fat and that “childhood obesity has become an epidemic.” But let’s not have facts get in the way. Or, the lack of facts, thereof.

Erica Kenney, an assistant professor at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said “there is no evidence that a program like this has anything to do with childhood obesity. It’s absolutely true you can have obesity and be struggling to get food on the table for your family. It is not all true that helping people who are struggling financially means they’re going to eat more and gain weight.”

The governor’s heart may be in the “right” place when she claims that the $40 per month will not “promote nutrition,” but it’s not like the family receiving the assistance will give the EBT card to the kid so that the child can run down to Candyland and splurge on Mountain Dew and KitKat bars.

For someone who is family-oriented with parental rights at the forefront, the governor’s contradiction of total government control over the food choices of families is beyond flagrant.

Reynolds rejected the $29 million deal claiming that it would cost the state $2.2 million in administration fees. However, State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott questions that amount since it costs Iowa $2.2 million in shared administrative costs to run the entire Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the whole state.”  Moreover, the $900,000 for grants is a 15% increase in the already $6 million of federal money that was used by Iowa last year to fund the Summer Food Service Program. And supposedly, the money is for administrative purposes as well as money for healthy protein, veggies and fruits.

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack estimates Reynold’s rejection last December means “Iowa will take a $100 million economic hit. The federal assistance “rolls around” in the economy, creating jobs at grocery stores and other businesses.”

Let’s do the math: the program that was rejected by Reynolds would provide $40 per month per child for three months; that’s $120 per summer per child. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but with several children at home during the summer parents can determine which foods to buy with the extended SNAP dollars. Without subtracting administration costs, that would assist 241,666 children in Iowa. Using Gov. Reynold’s Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option, which is nothing more than a continuation of free breakfasts and lunches provided by the federal government, not every child who received free meal in school will be able to participate. There are two reasons for this. First, over one-third of Iowa’s counties had either no meal sites or one meal site per county in 2023. Second, there are three options to the plan.

If operating a congregate meal, federal regulations require that parents and caregivers cannot pick up meals for their children, and “all meals must be consumed on-site.” However, a child may take “one fruit, vegetable, or grain item from their meal off-site to eat later.” According to the government website, a “typical lunch, for example, could include a [cold] turkey sandwich on wheat bread, milk, and apple, and a salad.

Another option is that the program is free to all children who attend camp, which is not defined, but most likely includes Vacation Bible School.

The third option is a non-congregate site where meals may be offered “to-go,” where a recipient or parent may pick-up the meal, or possibly delivered. How this differs from the first option is not explained.

All options for new meal site under the grant “must be located in an area where at least 50 percent or more of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.”

A huge problem with Reynold’s program is that many adolescents sleep in during the summer. Having to be at a congregate site at a certain time will cause many teens and pre-teens to miss the most important meal of the day – breakfast. The program rejected by Iowa would have provided a breakfast meal at home. No walking in the rain, the sun, and scorching heat.

The Seamless Summer Option is a political response to an apparent uproar over criticism that the governor cares little about feeding hungry children.

This is a program that should be audited in the Fall. However, since this administration has tied the hands of Iowa’s Auditor, duct-taped his mouth shut and blindfolded his eyes, don’t count on that happening.

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This article first appeared in the April 2024 issue of the Prairie Progressive.

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No Comprendo!

“Get your number two pencils out. Nothing else, just your number two pencils.” At that point the nun teaching the class would go to the child who was never prepared for anything and take away his ink pen, or other pencil, or other writing instrument that was unauthorized to complete the Iowa Test of Basic Skills [ITBS] ‘score card.’ Sharpies had not been invented, yet.

Most students in Iowa, and across the nation might be familiar with the ITBS. “The ITBS tests are designed for kindergarten through 8th grade students and include nine themes: vocabulary, word analysis, listening, reading comprehension, language, math, social studies, science, and sources of information.”

I can remember Sister Williametta being very proud of me that I scored in the ninety-ninth percentile of the social studies category, and above ninety in every other category – except reading comprehension. My scores on reading comprehension were in the thirties. As of this day, I can’t imagine how that could happen. But I have a theory.

In order to complete the math questions about a train leaving Philadelphia at 3:00 pm traveling west at 50 mph, and a train leaving St. Louis at 5:00 pm traveling east at 40 mph, etc., you have to comprehend what the question is seeking and produce the correct answer. I aced those questions that require some comprehension. So why did I not do well in comprehension?

The New York Times recently posted a few new questions of the recently revised SAT exam. It’s all digital now. I got around SAT testing by taking a class here, a college class there, and a college class in between. When it came time for entrance exam it was obvious that I could achieve at the college level. So, I accepted the challenge to try a few questions on the part of the exam that the NY Times provided. I failed comprehension.

There have been people who insist that I may have ADHD, ADD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I have never been diagnosed with any of the mental deficiencies, but I probably have or still experience symptoms of each. Although I am not a behavioral health professional [thank God], I do believe the low scores on comprehension have something to do with one or more of those three mental disorders. So what? I manage to enjoy life.

Give me something challenging that doesn’t have to do with mechanical tinkering and I will try to work on it, like the trains above. But comprehend some boring story in which I’m given a sentence or two. Forget it. Boring! Often, I can see where two answers appear to be the same.

I haven’t changed much since 7th grade. Oh, I can comprehend what I write, or read a book and comprehend the storyline. However, I continue to procrastinate, get lost in thoughts, and move to a different task before finishing another.

By the way, if you think the answer to the train question is Indianapolis, you could be correct. But I would need more information, such as: how many stops did each train make? Each must have had to switch crews, refuel, wait for a coal train (coal trains have priority), or switch boxcars on a siding before reaching their respective destination. I always thought of those possibilities.

Don’t think too much. And “get that eraser out of your mouth!”

***

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