Are we seeing the dying days of party politics? — [I certainly hope so]

zippy politics
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As the nation begins the process of electing a new president, the roles of the Republican and Democratic parties are undergoing fundamental shifts that are threatening their impact on both elections and policy.

Built in the 19th century, grown dominant in the 20th, they are largely out of date in this new age.

Folks ignorant of American political history need to know that up through the end of World War 2 alternative parties, third parties, even radical parties were often successful forces in local, state and national politics. Part of the purpose of McCarthyism and the domestic portion of the Cold war was the suppression of independent electoral politics. Americans have been thoroughly brainwashed into believing 2-party politics is God’s Will, the core of constitutional freedom.

They – the 2 old parties – still control the ballot and machinery such as the primaries. But they do not hold the loyalty of the people. The largest party in America now is no party – with the ranks of people calling themselves independents at the highest level in more than 75 years of polling. The parties do not control the message. People learn about politics from social media instead of traditional means such as mailings or campaign rallies. And the parties are no longer the sole banker of politics. Big-money interests now effectively create shadow parties with extensive networks of donors of their own.

The result: People are tuning out and turning away.

In 2012, average voter turnout for statewide primaries for president, governor and U.S. Senate plunged to its lowest level since the modern primary system became popular in 1972…

Just 29 percent called themselves Democrats last year, it found, “making it safe to conclude that the current (number) is also the low point in Gallup polling history.” Republican loyalty was only 1 percentage point above its recent low of 25 percent three years ago.

The bloc of independents reached 40 percent in 2011, and it has stayed at or above that level ever since…

Most indifferent to parties: young Americans. Nearly half the millennials identified as independents in 2014, Pew found, more than the combined total of those willing to be called either Democrats or Republicans…

Historically, children adopted their parents’ political views, including identification with the two major parties. Not anymore.

Millennials get information from sources other than from family dinners, neighbors or campaign brochures. If something piques their interest, they turn to Twitter, text messaging, The Skimm and other modern forms of instant communication…

Political parties are seen as too narrowly focused, too interested in keeping incumbents in office.

They gerrymander congressional districts to maximize their chances so that election after election only a handful of House of Representatives races are true contests. Of the House’s 435 seats, 402 incumbents are considered safe bets for re-election this year, said the nonpartisan Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report.

Those safely partisan seats help keep Washington gridlocked – and turn off more Americans…

The parties now thrive by firing up the fringes. Republicans once had a strong bloc of abortion-rights supporters, for example, but in 1976 the party formally included in its platform support for a constitutional amendment “to restore protection of the right to life for unborn children.”

It’s now unmistakably the anti-abortion party, the comfortable home for conservatives and therefore the party that dominates the South and the Rocky Mountain West. Democrats are the party of the Northeast and the West Coast…That generally includes lots more folks with better than a 6th grade reading level.

While independents are gaining clout, so are the big-money groups that now operate as virtual political parties…Take Freedom Partners, an organization sponsored by brothers Charles and David Koch of Wichita, Kansas. Last year, the group committed to spend $889 million on politics and policy in 2015 and 2016…

And the Koch network does more than just spend money. Twice each year it hosts about 400 executives, who pay dues of $100,000 each, for meetings on politics and policies. And its spending goes beyond the planned $250 million to help candidates, to include grants to organizations to help promote small-government policies as well as college scholarships and fellowships.

As Peter White, a cabin manager in Nottingham, N.H., put it, “You feel the two parties both work for Wall Street and don’t care who wins.”

The chunk of the article I left out is mostly ideological pimping for the wonders of middle-of-the-road folks who feel left out nowadays. They still are the group the two old parties try to rope into obedience. True independence of thought and progress – which includes fiscal conservatism as often as progressive social and structural reforms – scares the crap out of party loyalists of either Republican or Democrat flavor.

Segments of the discussion about new media, the facile communications available with amazing speed, nowadays, are something everyone now understands as part of the matrix of coming change. Personally, I think the biggest significant conflict still lies between top-down leadership and grassroots activism. Conflicts as critical to the Left as the Right – though I think the Leftish flavor of populism, equal rights and personal liberty will succeed in grassroots building. Rightwing ideologues ranging from Ayn Rand out-of-date to Ted Cruz/Donald Trump out-of-date should fail and will.

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“FREE PARKING” ain’t always a good idea – especially on a frozen lake

Around 20 cars sank into a lake in Wisconsin…after visitors to a winter festival parked on its frozen top.

Emergency crews had to pull the vehicles out of the water Saturday after the vehicles fell through the ice during Lake Geneva’s Winterfest…

Since parking was scarce in the area, officials had allowed people to park on the frozen lake, but the ice cracked under the weight of the vehicles during the judging of the the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition…

Officials had told people they could park on the ice because parking in the area is scarce – but at least two rows of cars ended up in the water…No one was inside the cars when they began to sink…

So, officials said parking was allowed. Did any of them say it was safe? In front of witnesses. :)

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Big pharma got people hooked on opioids — made tons of money while people died

How did America get to a point where legal opioid painkillers, marketed as medicine, killed nearly 19,000 people in 2014?

One alarming explanation is that the drug companies behind these opioids wanted more people to buy their product, so they led a misleading campaign to get doctors to prescribe their drugs.

The result: Drug companies profited as more and more people got addicted and died of overdoses. This chart, from a 2015 study published in the Annual Review of Public Health, tells the story:

…The opioid epidemic began in the 1990s when doctors prescribed a tremendous amount of opioid painkillers to help treat pain — a serious problem, given that chronic pain alone afflicts about 100 million Americans.

But one reason doctors were so willing to prescribe these painkillers, despite the clear risks of addiction and overdose, is heavy marketing from the pharmaceutical industry.

Andrew Kolodny and other public health experts…detailed Purdue Pharma’s involvement after it put OxyContin on the market in the 1990s…

Between 1996 and 2002, Purdue Pharma funded more than 20,000 pain-related educational programs through direct sponsorship or financial grants and launched a multifaceted campaign to encourage long-term use of opioid painkillers for chronic non-cancer pain. As part of this campaign, Purdue provided financial support to the American Pain Society, the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the Federation of State Medical Boards, the Joint Commission, pain patient groups, and other organizations. In turn, these groups all advocated for more aggressive identification and treatment of pain, especially use of opioid painkillers.

Often, these campaigns propagated highly misleading claims — including assertions that OxyContin and other new opioid painkillers were safer than other medications on the market.

The claims were so misleading, in fact, that Purdue Pharma eventually paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for them…

Purdue learned from focus groups with physicians in 1995 that doctors were worried about the abuse potential of OxyContin. The company then gave false information to its sales representatives that the drug had less potential for addiction and abuse than other painkillers, the U.S. attorney said.

But in the midst of the misinformation campaigns, doctors prescribed hundreds of millions of prescriptions for opioids — in 2012, enough to give a bottle of pills to every adult in the country. And as people became addicted to opioid painkillers, they also began turning to a cheaper, more potent opioid — heroin — to satiate their cravings.

The result: In 2014, there were a record 47,000 drug overdose deaths in the US, nearly two-thirds of which were opioid-related, according to federal data. And all along the way, drug companies made a lot of money.

Purdue Pharma and company officials were ordered to pay fines totaling over $600 Million in 2007 for false advertising. A lawsuit by the state of Kentucky could have resulted in another $1 billion added to payment for their crimes. The Republican attorney general settled for $24 million. Perhaps the fact of his law firm representing Purdue had something to do with that.

No officials have ever been charged with crimes. They’ve only killed thousands. Barely up to the level of many of our presidents.

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Cartoon of the day


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Thanks, gocomics.org

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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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