Republicans still trying to keep folks from voting

…Even as Americans start heading to the polls for this year’s presidential primaries, laws remain in flux in a number of states — including North Carolina and Texas, where voter ID requirements are being challenged in court.

Now the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency charged with helping to improve the running of elections, has added to the confusion. And unlike most voter ID conflicts — which involve showing identification at the polls — this comes earlier in the process, when residents are first registering to vote.

The EAC has been in a long legal battle with Kansas regarding the state’s requirement that residents show proof of citizenship when they register to vote — even if they use a federal registration form, administered by the EAC. The federal form, which can be used throughout the United States as an alternative to local voter registration forms, requires individuals to swear that they are citizens. It does not require a birth certificate or other document as proof.

But late last week, the EAC’s new executive director, Brian Newby — a [Republican] former county elections official in Kansas — sent a letter to the state saying that the agency had updated the instructions on filling out that federal form to include the proof-of-citizenship requirement for Kansas residents. This came after previous EAC executive directors had refused to add the requirement.

That led one of the EAC’s three commissioners, Thomas Hicks — the only Democratic appointee — to issue a highly unusual statement Tuesday calling for Newby’s letter to be withdrawn. He said it “contradicts policy and precedent previously established by this commission,” and he called on the commission to review the matter in a public forum…

Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach’s push to require proof of citizenship is part of a larger, national fight over adding new voting restrictions, in what sponsors claim is an effort to prevent voter fraud. Opponents say it’s an effort to suppress voting rights.

Which is, of course, obvious. Nationwide, all of the Republican efforts to claim voter fraud by anyone from illegal migrant workers to Martians have failed. Here in New Mexico the state wasted $200K of taxpayer money to investigate claims by Republican officials of voter fraud by non-citizens. They came up with about a dozen people registered essentially by mistake – mistakes made by the folks registering them. Almost none of whom actually tried to vote.

But, wasting money trying to prove that states need to keep people from voting is OK as far as today’s Republican Party is concerned. If they reduce the number of potential voters who might not be old white men – they figure on another generation of maintaining whatever power they have. Especially if you add in ignorance, lousy education, gerrymandering and all the other old-fashioned methods for corrupt politicians to win and stay in power.

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White House appoints tech researcher – then denies him security clearance


What’s the Pulitzer Prize worth to the White House?

Ashkan Soltani, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and recent staffer at the Federal Trade Commission, recently began working with the White House on privacy, data ethics and technical outreach. The partnership raised eyebrows when it was announced in December because of Soltani’s previous work with the Washington Post, where he helped analyze and protect a cache of National Security Agency documents leaked by Snowden.

His departure raises questions about the US government’s ability to partner with the broader tech community, where people come from a more diverse background than traditional government staffers.

It also suggests that nearly three years later, the Snowden episode remains a highly charged issue inside the Obama administration. Recently some current and former administration officials said the former NSA contractor sparked a “necessary debate” on surveillance, even if they disagreed with his tactics…

…In December, Megan Smith, White House chief technology officer and a former Google executive, welcomed him to her team with an effusive post on Twitter that referenced Soltani’s account handle, @Ashk4n.

Soltani since then has been on loan from the FTC to the White House. He was in the process of getting approved for a clearance to work in one of America’s most secured office buildings. Soltani said he passed his drug test and the Federal Bureau of Investigation hadn’t yet finished his background check, meaning it would have been too early for the bureau to weigh in on his employment…

…Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union, said he wouldn’t speculate on why Soltani was being denied a job, though he did note that he published many stories that likely irked America’s intelligence officials.

“My guess is there are people who are never going to forgive him for that,” said Soghoian, who lauded Soltani’s technical acumen.

“At a time when the government can’t get cybersecurity right they deeply need people like Ashkan in the White House,” he said.

The move is a blow for Smith, the White House CTO, who has spent the past year trying to lure more pure-blood technologists to government. It can be a tough sell. Compared to Silicon Valley, the pay is less, the hours are longer and the cafeteria isn’t free.

Soltani, 41 years old, has been drawn to working on public policy issues since spending years as a private security researcher. In addition to the Post, he has worked with the New York Times, the University of California Berkeley and the Wall Street Journal. In October of 2014 he joined the FTC as its chief technologist, where he worked on consumer protection issues.

He, along with his Post colleagues and the Guardian, won a Pulitzer prize in 2014 for their coverage of the Snowden affair…

❝“I’m definitely ready to go back to the west coast for a bit,” said Soltani, an avid mountain biker.I just wish I hadn’t spent all my money on suits instead of bike parts.”

Perish the thought our government should rely on principled talent, dedication to constitutional freedoms. Better stick stick with what is most available in Washington – well educated and obedient drones, dedicated to power and greed.

Absolutely the best quote out of Washington DC in weeks.

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Empire State Building gets in the way of drone

drone dork

A New Jersey man was flying his drone over Manhattan Thursday night when a historic landmark, the Empire State Building, very rudely got in its flight path. The drone crashed into the skyscraper’s 40th floor and ended up tumbling down a few stories to rest on the ledge of the 36th floor…

The drone pilot, 27-year-old Sean Riddle, enlisted the help of the security guards at the Empire State Building to try to get his robot back. Security said sure and then went right behind Riddle’s back and called the cops. Riddle was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and violating the city’s rules on flying these unmanned aerial vehicles.

Cops say they’re not sure if the drone is still stuck up there or not, so maybe keep an eye out when you’re on 34th Street.

Dork!

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Cartoon of the day

About the nicest depiction I’ve seen of someone who stands for every corrupt feature of our economic system.

Thanks, gocomics.org

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Jimmy Carter calls Citizens United campaign finance ruling “legalised bribery”


No outside dollar$ needed to run BITD

Former American president Jimmy Carter has warned that US politics has been corrupted by billions of dollars of campaign financing following a supreme court ruling that he said legalised “bribery”.

He described the landmark 2010 Citizens United court decision, which equated campaign spending with free speech, as an “erroneous ruling”.

Speaking after the Iowa caucuses, in which Republican candidates spent $43m on TV advertising and Democratic candidates spent $16.8m, Carter said the domination of money in politics represented the biggest change since he was elected president in 1976.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I didn’t have any money. Now there is a massive infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns for all the candidates. Some candidates like Trump can put in his own money but others have to be able to raise a $100m to $200m just to get the Republican or Democratic nomination. That’s the biggest change in America…”

Carter said: “The erroneous ruling of the supreme court, where millionaires, billionaires, can put in unlimited amounts of money, give legal bribery the chance to prevail, because all the candidates, whether they are honest or not, or whether they are Democratic or Republican, depend on these massive infusions of money from very rich people in order to have money to campaign…”

“As the rich people finance the campaigns, when candidates get in office they do what the rich people want. And that’s to let the rich people get richer and richer and the middle class get left out. All the statistics show that the middle class are stagnant or going down in their income for the work that they do.”

He added: “When I ran against Gerald Ford, or later Ronald Reagan, we didn’t raise a single penny to finance our campaign against each other … nowadays you have to have hundreds of millions of dollars to prevail.”

There is so much about American elections that is corrupt – and corrupting – it’s difficult choosing where to start. The primary process ties you to the 2-party choice. Limits you to choosing from a pool of candidates who believe either of the two parties best represents the future of this nation.

The buying and selling of campaigns at the primary and national electoral level is already well documented. Along with gerrymandering just another election trick – for both parties.

Conservative packing of federal courts combined with states rights folderol allows for the wave of laws and regulations moving backwards the individual right to vote by decades. All the way up to the Supreme Court – so far.

Pick and choose where you want to start, folks. I’m supporting activists here in New Mexico fighting for open primaries. These can easily be regulated down to one person, one vote, at primary time. Our courts are passing the buck to the state legislature – which is about as chickenshit as any other in the nation. So, expect nothing but nothing.

Poisonally, I’d like more of a Euro-style opportunity, an open primary with any number of candidates from all avenues – followed by a runoff if no one exceeds 50% in the popular vote. The California model comes closest.

Limited campaign time, limited campaign expenses.

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Watch out for shoulder-surfing at the checkout counter

A man who cashed $300,000 worth of counterfeit checks using personal information stolen by peeking over the shoulders of hundreds of Wal-Mart customers was sentenced to prison Thursday.

Robert MacVittie and his wife lined up behind customers trying to cash payroll checks at “dozens and dozens” of Wal-Mart stores in 20 states and recorded them providing their Social Security numbers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Melucci said at the hearing where MacVittie received a 34-month sentence. The couple would then use the victims’ identities to create counterfeit checks, which they cashed at other Wal-Marts.

Melucci called MacVittie, 35, and his wife Jennifer, 32, “the Bonnie and Clyde of counterfeit checks…”

More than 400 people had their identities used on the successfully cashed counterfeit checks, Melucci said.

In all, the MacVitties stole or attempted to steal the identities of more than 900 people, Melucci said. They failed to cash more than $600,000 in other counterfeit checks…

The fraud started in October 2013 and the couple was finally arrested at a Nevada casino in November 2014, Melucci said…

MacVittie was also ordered to repay Wal-Mart for the check losses. Half of his menial prison salary will go toward that debt, as well as 10 percent of any wages he earns after his release from prison.

ApplePay and similar electronic means of checkout absolutely rule. We prefer the former because encryption is guaranteed. The checker doesn’t even get your name.

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Legal marijuana sales reach $5.4 Billion in 2015

Grow the economy

This week two marijuana analysis and investment firms released a summary of a report that appeared to confirm that the industry has become a gold rush. National legal sales of cannabis grew to $5.4 billion in 2015, up from $4.6 billion in 2014, according to the firms, the ArcView Group, based in San Francisco, and New Frontier, based in Washington.

Demand is expected to remain strong this year, with a forecast of $6.7 billion in legal sales…

The promises and headwinds of the industry are potentially far-reaching and attracting notice on Wall Street. As more states legalize marijuana sales, analysts are weighing the stock market benefits of new businesses as cannabis goes corporate. Funds are considering the ethics of investing in marijuana. Parents are even debating whether to allow their children to buy the stocks.

And say goodbye to the common resealable bags and heat lamps in the closet. Lucrative legal side businesses are spinning off, like the climate systems for growers built by a company in Boulder, Colo., and the FunkSac odor-proof and child-resistant marijuana bags produced in Denver…

The report summary said that by 2020, legal market sales were forecast to be $21.8 billion…

Four states and the District of Columbia allow full adult use, and this year, seven more will vote on allowing it: California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Twenty-three states already permit medical cannabis use, and four others — Florida, Ohio, Missouri and Pennsylvania — are positioned to advance medical laws…

Legalization is also a hot topic of national debate, making the industry vulnerable in an election year.

Given that the ranking indoor sport in the United States is hypocrisy – followed by ignorance – that’s an understatement.

I live in one of the states with medical marijuana regs. They’ve functioned well until we acquired a Republican governor. Governor Susana does her “best” to screw medical consumers of weed. Our state legislature is in session doing their level best to ignore public polls which show support for legal weed in the 60-70% range. I sincerely doubt if any legislation allowing a state referendum on legal weed will somehow squeeze through.

And then there’s Congress, Congressional Republicans – and Congressional Democrats often as cowardly on questions like these as Republicans are backwards.

Keep on rocking in the Free World, folks.

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Cartoon of the day

Thanks, gocomics,org

There are some sharper cartoons around, today, that might fit the edges of this blog better. But, I just couldn’t pass this one up.

My favorite bumper sticker, here in New Mexico, says, “Hey, man, I’ve been this way since 1969.”

Actually, I’ve been this way since about 1955. :)

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Bureaucrats in DC deny Arlington Cemetery to women pilots from World War 2


Click to enlargeHarmon family photo

First Lt. Elaine Danforth Harmon, a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot, or WASP, was one of many women who served their country when it needed them the most. More than 70 years after Harmon flew military aircraft, her family wants to place her ashes at Arlington National Cemetery.

Harmon, a Congressional Gold Medal recipient, died in April 2015 at the age of 95. Her daughter, Terry Harmon, sought to fulfill her mother’s wish to be inurned at Arlington’s Columbarium. However, she received a call from the cemetery telling her that former WASPs were ineligible for inurnment, a fact she argues contradicts an earlier decision.

The result is a new chapter in a long-running fight — wrapped inside a bureaucratic rigmarole — over resting privileges for America’s World War II-era women pilots.

The WASPs emerged during a period of rapid change and progress for the U.S. military. As the shadows of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan loomed, two female aviators, Nancy Harkness Love and Jacqueline Cochrane, proposed two separate plans to train female pilots in the event of American entry into the war…

Love’s first group included 28 female pilots and became the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. Cochrane’s squadron soon followed, comprising 30 women. This group would later become the WASPs. They helped alleviate manpower shortages by taking on jobs in the home front, allowing the men to fight overseas.

In her last report to Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Cochrane noted 1,074 pilots made it into the WASPs’ tough training program, out of the 25,000 who applied.

Among these women was Elaine Harmon…

❝“This is our national cemetery. This is our most hallowed ground and it’s just not credible that they would turn away these women, considering how long they fought for their veterans’ rights,” Terry Harmon said. “They were an integral part of supporting the army during World War II. The Army was the branch of the service they served in and it’s the Army that’s turning them away from Arlington Cemetery.”

I’m never surprised when any branch of public service dominated by a good ol’ boys network discriminates against women. They are, after all, the same sort of cretins who supported racist rules for decades, gender identity-discrimination even longer. They’re reaching out like any obedient conservative bigot to hang onto each remaining strand of bigotry like it’s holy writ.

RTFA for the history of women pilots in the war. And more.

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Is this a record the United States should be proud of?

Researchers found that 149 people were cleared in 2015 for crimes they didn’t commit — more than any other year in history, according to a report published Wednesday by the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School. By comparison, 139 people were exonerated in 2014. The number has risen most years since 2005, when 61 people were cleared of crimes they didn’t commit…

The men and women who were cleared last year had, on average, served 14.5 years in prison. Some had been on death row. Others were younger than 18 when they were convicted or had intellectual disabilities. All had been swept into a justice system that’s supposed to be based on the presumption of innocence, but failed.

The high number of exonerations shows widespread problems with the system and likely “points to a much larger number of false convictions” that haven’t been reversed, the report said.

Here are some patterns the organization found in 2015 exonerations:

Official Misconduct

About 40 percent of the 2015 exonerations involved official misconduct, a record. About 75 percent of the homicide exonerations involved misconduct…

False Confessions

Almost 20 percent of exonerations in 2015 were for convictions based on false confessions — a record. Those cases overwhelmingly were homicides involving defendants who were under 18, intellectually disabled, or both…

No Crime Was Actually Committed

In about half of the exonerations in 2015, no crime was actually ever committed by the people put behind bars — a record, according to the report. Most of these cases involved drugs. Some included homicide or arson…

Flawed Forensic Evidence

Many of last year’s exonerations involved flawed or invalid forensic evidence. According to the Innocence Project, improper forensic science is a leading cause of wrongful conviction…

Faulty Eyewitness Identification

False identifications of innocent people happened in several cases the exoneration registry report outlined.

The Innocence Project says eyewitness misidentification of a suspect plays a role in more than 70 percent of convictions that are later overturned through DNA evidence…

Here’s the worst of it

There’s no clear data on how many innocent people have been wrongfully convicted. The Innocence Project, citing multiple studies, estimates from 2 percent to 5 percent of prisoners are actually innocent. The U.S., which leads the world in incarceration of its citizens, has approximately 2 million people behind bars. That means a wrongful conviction rate of 1 percent would translate to 20,000 people punished for crimes they didn’t commit. On death row, 1 in 25 are likely innocent, according to a recent study.

Innocent until proven guilty. Really?

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