The Kitchen Sync

November 13, 2020

Reported voting "glitches" in MI & GA

What's new: Reports of software "glitches" in Georgia and Michigan are raising concerns among some US voters about the integrity of the US presidential election.

Why this matters: Resolving questions about the security and reliability of voting machines will help to bring the 2020 presidential election to a responsible conclusion.

Key points:

  • Dominion Voting Systems is a Canada-based company, whose US headquarters is in Denver, Colorado.

  • The company's voting machines and software have been tested and certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in accordance with federal Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG), and 28 states have selected Dominion for their voting services.

  • Some claim that voting machines and software from Dominion Voting Systems had significant "glitches" in two counties in Michigan and in three counties in Georgia and that these problems could have changed the outcome of voting in these locations.

  • The concerns have been subsequently investigated by the company and by local voting officials -- with each concluding there were mistakes, but that these mistakes were due to human error and were caught by built-in redundancies specifically tasked with surfacing such mistakes.

  • Experts from a nonpartisan, not-for-profit election security organization also reportedly concluded there were no serious issues; but, we have no details on the time, scope, or nature of this review.

​Specifically ...

  • In Atrim County, MI, election personnel configured Dominion voting systems with a ballot that slightly differed from the ballot that was used for voting, causing the votes to be improperly recorded. When election officials ran a check, the problem was discovered and fixed -- showing President Trump beating Vice President Biden by 2,500 votes.

  • In Oakland County, MI, Dominion machines and software were not even used. An initial counting of the votes in this county was mistaken after it was discovered that votes from the city of Rochester Hills had been counted twice. Again, the error was discovered and corrected.

  • In one Georgia county, a problem with Dominion software delayed the reporting of vote tallies, but did not affect the vote count itself. In the state's other two counties that used the company's software, "glitches" slowed poll workers' ability to check in voters -- but again, did not change or manipulate any of the votes themselves.

What we're thinking: It is completely reasonable for American voters to want transparency when it comes to the operation and reliability of voting machines and software. In the case of the issues raised in Michigan and Georgia, it appears ​the only verified voting irregularities were caused by human error and that software "glitches" only temporarily impacted administrative functions. In both cases, redundant accuracy checks ​appear to have caught and corrected these mistakes.


Alternative social media gets a boost

What's new: Conservative adoption of alternative social media is growing rapidly.

Why this matters: Concerns about online bias and a general distrust of large platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter appear to be driving conservative users away, potentially shaking up the social media marketplace. 

Key points: 

  • Following last week's election, user numbers for social media sites Parler, Rumble, and Newsmax have skyrocketed, according to The New York Times.

  • Last weekend, Parler was the number one download on Apple's App Store and, as of Monday, it had nearly doubled its members from 4.5 million last week to more than 8 million.

  • Rumble projects that between 75 million and 90 million people will use its platform this month, up from just over 60 million last month.

  • Newsmax has also been a top-10 performer in Apple's App Store and the company reports that more than 3 million people viewed its election night coverage.

Key context:

  • Since last week, Twitter has labeled at least 38% of President Trump's tweets, many of which directly called into question the legitimacy of reported election results.

  • Next week, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter's Jack Dorsey will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding their platforms' actions against the New York Post's reporting on Hunter Biden.

What we're thinking: One, we're pro-competition so the more platforms the better. Two, having said that, these conservative "safe spaces" have a long way to go before they constitute a material challenge to Facebook, Twitter, etc. In any case, one thing is clear: the relentless erosion of trust in social media is changing the US political and economic landscape, but it remains to be seen if these changes will be for the better or if the online public square will simply be more factions speaking to themselves.


COVID-19 update

What's New: A series of new developments demonstrate Americans have good reason to be concerned in the near-term and cautiously optimistic in the mid- to long-term about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Why this matters: Eight months into the pandemic and it is still the defining issue for Americans' daily lives.

First, the hard news:

  • Total US deaths attributed to the Coronavirus is now more than 240K, with as many as 400K possible by February. 

But, there's good reason for hope!

  • Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech (BNT) announced that their experimental COVID-19 vaccine is performing much better than was anticipated, causing a lot of researchers to express genuine hope for an effective treatment by early 2021.

Why the Pfizer/BNT vaccine is especially cool:

  • Human cells use mRNA as a reference to build new proteins -- like a builder uses a set of blueprints.

  • The mRNA in the Pfizer/BNT vaccine teaches a human cell to build a mock coronavirus that cannot infect other cells but that is foreign enough to the human body that it trips the body's immunity defenses.

  • Even better, these mock coronavirus proteins appear to be so convincing that they train the body to recognize and respond to the virus if/when it is encountered in the future.

  • An mRNA vaccine has never been approved for human usage and, if successful, this type of vaccine will be a massive leap forward in vaccine treatments.

What we're thinking: While serious challenges remain, the progress that has been made when it comes to potential vaccines is nothing less than amazing. Until now, the fastest we have ever come up with a vaccine for a novel disease was four years. We are now on the cusp of doing so within a single calendar year!


Drones join Armenian-Azerbaijani fight

By John "JV" Venable, Sr. Research Fellow for Defense Policy

What's new: In the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Azerbaijanis have employed three different drones against Armenian armor and personnel to great effect.

Why this matters: These drone operations in the Armenia-Azerbaijani conflict demonstrate that drones will play an increasingly significant role in future conflicts. 

Key Points:

  • These drones include the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 and the Israeli-made Orbiter 1K and Harop drones.

  • The TB2 is a large drone, in the same class as the MQ-9 Reaper, and carries laser and infrared-guided anti-tank munitions.

  • The Israeli drones have been used for reconnaissance and recovered to fly again, or employed in kamikaze-style attacks.

What we're thinking: For now, the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict highlights the deadly mechanisms at play in modern warfare where drones can find and destroy virtually any target on the battlefield. As long as these unmanned aerial systems have free movement above the enemy, they will wreak havoc on their armor, vehicles and fielded forces. Specifically, saturating an area with unmanned hunter-killer systems like the Orbiter 1K and Harop drones can overwhelm even the best air defense artillery and missile systems currently fielded.


FEDs grab $1 billion in Silk Road ₿

What's new: The DOJ has seized 69,370 bitcoins -- and other cryptocurrency variants -- from an unnamed criminal hacker, according to Wired Magazine.

Why this matters: The seizure is associated with the government's ongoing actions against the notorious Silk Road online drug bazaar. 

Key points:

  • Seven years ago, Ross Ulbricht was arrested for running the illegal Silk Road website.

  • When taken into custody, authorities were only able to recover some of the cryptologic keys that secured Ulbricht's illegal online earnings. 

  • Last week, nearly one billion dollars of these secured assets were taken from someone identified as "Individual X" in DOJ paperwork.

  • Apparently, "X" successfully hacked the Silk Road between 2012 and 2013, making off with a ton of the site's encrypted drug money.

  • "X" was eventually tracked down by the IRS and "allowed" the government to take control of the assets.

What we're thinking: One. Billion. Dollars. Life comes at you fast.