FAKE NEWS IS MORE SPAM THAN CYBER

Fake news is a problem, everybody knows that. When technology helps bad actors spread lies and sow discord, it’s bad for democracy, which relies on citizens making considered judgments at the polls. It’s also a boon to authoritarians, who can stamp out criticism and bury unfavorable news by creating confusion about what’s true and what’s false.

The more interesting question is, what kind of problem is it?

Two recent data points offer some hope. Last week, we wrote about big social media companies’ decisions to ban the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the latest sign that the big websites where fake news often spreads are becoming more engaged with the problem. Less well publicized was the fact that DARPA, the Pentagon’s research and development arm, has been making progress in developing tools that can detect so-called “deepfakes,” the ultra-realistic fake audio and video created using artificial intelligence that some people worry could unleash a torrent of politically-motivated fakery.

Part of the problem with fake news is that people tend to believe what they want to believe – technology won’t solve that. But with industry and government both now paying closer attention, maybe, just maybe, technology can make the problem more manageable.

Wonder what might affect the levels of “ignorant” and “gullible” in the United States?

Fight against gerrymandering moves to states

❝ The movement to take politics out of setting legislative district boundaries seemed to suffer a grievous, and perhaps even mortal, blow this spring when the Supreme Court passed up three chances to declare partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional.

But it turns out that reports of its death are exaggerated. As federal courts dither over how to resolve the issue, activists have begun tackling it state by state at the grass roots.

❝ It is remarkable that five states are holding ballot measures on the issue in a single year; only five had taken them up over the entire preceding decade…

Just as unusual is how little opposition the measures are meeting, at least so far. Beyond Michigan, where the state Chamber of Commerce and the Republican attorney general are trying to block the anti-gerrymandering initiative, organized resistance to the proposals has been scant.

The usual drill in the past only involved upstarts, independents, progressives. Leaders of the two old parties figured they get to take turns screwing over one or another portion of the electorate – keeping themselves in power beyond the acceptance of few accomplishments actually useful to peoples’ needs. Instead of kissing corporate butt.

Useful article.

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.

The US Is an “oligarchy with unlimited political bribery” says former president

Former president Jimmy Carter said Tuesday on the nationally syndicated radio show the Thom Hartmann Program that the United States is now an “oligarchy” in which “unlimited political bribery” has created “a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors.” Both Democrats and Republicans, Carter said, “look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves.”

Carter was responding to a question from Hartmann about recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign financing like Citizens United.

HARTMANN: Our Supreme Court has now said, “unlimited money in politics.” It seems like a violation of principles of democracy. … Your thoughts on that?

CARTER: It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over. … The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody’s who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who’s just a challenger.

Just in case you feel good about the snow job we get on a daily basis from the leaders of the two old parties in the White House and Congress. They fill the air with blather and bluster about our constitutional tradition, free speech in action, the benefits we enjoy as a free people.

It has as much legitimate content as the average infomercial on network TV sold as filler in between fictional cop shows, comedies about fools and so-called reality TV. If you believe any of it – you are the fool.

Jimmy Carter continues to get my vote as the leading ex-president over the last century. He has the courage to tell the truth about everything from our phony foreign policy to criminal behavior in Congress.

Howard Schultz calls for a boycott of campaign contributions

Howard Schultz, the chairman and chief executive of Starbucks, has always been the kind of boss who wears his heart on his sleeve. So it came as no surprise to Starbucks employees when, on Monday, he sent out a long, passionate, companywide e-mail entitled “Leading Through Uncertain Times.”

In it, he wrote about his frustration over “the lack of cooperation and irresponsibility among elected officials as they have put partisan agendas before the people’s agenda” — creating an enormous crisis of confidence in the process. He said that Starbucks had a responsibility “to act in ways that can ease the collective anxiety inside and outside the company.” It needed to continue creating jobs. It had to maintain its generous package of employee benefits. And it was critical, Schultz wrote, for employees “to earn our customers’ trust by being respectful of their own life situations — whatever it may be.”

No, the surprise wasn’t the e-mail; it was what happened next. Although he has made his share of campaign contributions — “to candidates in both parties,” he told me on Friday — Schultz is hardly a political activist. Yet the response to his e-mail — not only from within the company but among a group of some 50 business leaders he shared it with — was so overwhelming that it galvanized him…

In effect, Schultz thinks the country should go on strike against its politicians. “The fundamental problem,” he said, “is that the lens through which Congress approaches issues is re-election. The lifeblood of their re-election campaigns is political contributions.” Schultz wants his countrymen — big donors and small; corporations and unions — to stop making political contributions in presidential and Congressional campaigns. Simple as that. Economists like to talk about how incentives change behavior. Schultz is proposing that Americans give Washington an incentive to begin acting responsibly on their behalf. It’s a beautiful idea…

He believes Congress needs to come back from the August recess now, instead of waiting until September. Then, he says, the president and Congress should hammer out a debt deal, which will restore confidence. And finally, and most importantly, they should start focusing “maniacally” on the nation’s most pressing concern: job creation. Once they’ve done that, the boycott would be lifted…

Is Schultz’s idea a long shot? Yes. Is it worth trying? You bet it is.

First, here’s a link [.pdf] to the original email to Starbucks employees, partners and the 50 CEOs outside the company.

Second, though I have been an activist in both the Republican and Democrat parties years ago – more so in the former than the latter – the contemptible, opportunist and egregious policies of most of our politicians was enough for me to turn my back on both their houses decades ago. I haven’t contributed a penny to either party’s electoral campaigns since the 1950’s.

What I have done and continue to do is support progressive political action within and without the Democratic Party. If I lived in one of the mythical enclaves where moderate Republicans who care about working people still live and breathe, I would do the same – as I did in the past. That’s not very likely in New Mexico.

As a cranky old geek living on my social security check supplemented by a couple of geek investments [no – I still don’t give public equities advice] I can’t afford to donate much of anything, anyway. So, I will continue to advocate for progressive politics, modern economics from Keynes to Leontiev, existential solutions to social, economic and political questions. None of which would I ever expect to find embraced by either dogpile of semi-useless politicians.

Go for it, Howard! Though buying “local” is our usual style, I’ll stop by for a coffee, this weekend, when we come to town for grocery shopping.