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Professional and Citizen Journalism in the Age of Fake News

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

With all the talk of “fake news” in the news lately, people are starting to look around for guidance on how to judge news worthiness. Some folks are all to happy to supply it, which has led to some homegrown efforts to make sense of news bias and the wildly tossed around accusation of “fake news”.  Below is a graphic that recently turned up on the internet to classify news, and quasi-news outlets.

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This graphic, which attempts to depict the quality and bias of news media outlets, appeared on Facebook. It may look interesting, but it is really misleading on many levels. The creator of this work is unknown That is enough to dismiss all credibility.  Furthermore,  nothing is known about what criteria the graph maker used or how vigorously those criteria were applied?

The very premise behind this depiction is flawed as well. The editorial leanings of a news outlet is an independent variable. It isn’t directly related to journalistic accuracy. Accuracy is a less subjective measure than political leanings. It is also objectively measurable, unlike the idea of quality, as the term is used on the Y axis. It would be a mistake to assume, for example, that the Wall Street Journal has biased or poor quality reporting just because it has a conservative editorial board. Some conservative bias is evident in its editorials and also in what it covers or considers newsworthy. But the choice of content is a bias that is present in every news outlet. In fact, the choice and treatment of content are the leading criteria for judging a news site as conservative or liberal. This bias, however, does not render the content false or inaccurate. Any two witnesses of any event will give different accounts. This doesn’t mean they are lying or making it up. It is only when obviously important facts or events are intentionally ignored, as in a news blackout, that the omission becomes an egregious bias error.

There are also sites included above, like The Daily Kos, that aren’t strictly news sites. It has a very left-leaning following for sure. Some of the writing on this site comes from professional journalists, or freelance professionals, but a lot of often accurate reporting comes from non-professional journalists as well. Hybrid information websites like The Daily Kos blur the line between professional journalism and citizen journalism. This blurring of the line between the professional and citizen journalist is happening more broadly as well. Amanda Harper’s article, Citizen Journalism vs. Professional Journalism, is a good primer on this topic.

Why does it matter if a journalist is a professional or not?

The theoretical distinction is sharp, even if the practical distinction is sometime blurry.  A profession, any profession, is characterized as a field of employment requiring specialized skills where members abide by a common set of standards and moral principles that are monitored and enforced by peer review and peer pressure. To be a profession there must be an organizational structure to review , refine, promulgate and enforce standards among its members. Being a member of a profession is a broader obligation than being an employee of any particular business or agency. Professionals are obligated to push back against employers or clients who would compromise their professional principles or standards.

So even, if I, as a blogger, hold myself to the same high standards as professional journalists, I am still not a professional journalist. I am not subject to the same journalistic peer review and enforcement procedures.  I am not under editorial supervision and I am not under a news agency’s employment. I am merely a citizen journalist. I am on my own.

So is it OK to call myself a citizen journalist? I think so, providing I am aware that there are serious caveats. The question brings up a very tricky point worth exploring.  Do “civilian journalists” have the same constitutional protections as other working journalists? Specifically, are bloggers protected by their states shield law?

Shield laws allow the public press limited ability to protect the anonymity of its sources. This protection is a constitutional interpretation of what a “free press” implies. Some form of shield law exists in every state with the exception of Wyoming. If there was not respect for the confidentiality of their sources, journalists could be reduced to law enforcement snitches. That would severely hamper their ability to gather the news. In fact, without this protection the press could not serve as a check on government power. It is because of this freedom that the press is sometimes referred to as the fourth estate. Regardless of how you feel about the press, their ability to protect their sources is really the last barricade between the us and government tyranny.

While the courts may show some deference to citizen journalists on a case by case bases, as a class they do not have the same constitutional standing. Specifically, there are currently no shield law to protect a blogger’s sources in the United States.  This is partly because they cannot be held to the same high standards as professional journalist who work in a peers group within a recognized news outlet. The editorial supervision and peer milieu help to challenge and reinforce professional standards.

While I may hold myself to the same high standard as professional journalist, you have no reason to believe me. I am not subject to the same peer review and peer pressures.  And governments, have some reasons to draw a bright line between professional journalists and current events bloggers. It would cause chaos if every person engaged in shady dealings could simply start a blog and claim journalistic privileges as a way to thwart law enforcement. That said, all of us have significant constitutional protections of free speech, free association and unreasonable searches and seizures. So if I respectfully videotape police publicly arresting someone on the street, for example, I can’t be forced to stop videotaping to to destroy the recording.

On the other hand, if you are a whistle blower and want to assure anonymity you had better talk to a professional journalists. You might first want to check on the shield laws in your state as well.

Given the changing nature of society, the internet and the press, it may be time to rethink ways to strengthen protections for citizen journalist who increasingly provide invaluable news reporting to the more traditional news organizations.  As financial constraints continue to shrink the size of news bureaus around the country, citizen journalism have become an increasingly important supplement. Who knows? Maybe in the future citizen journalists might be trained and licensed to establish their integrity.  Until then it’s reader beware.

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Why I Blame the Democratic National Committee for Trump’s Election Win

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The following excerpt is from a recent Huffington Post article:

New Pre-Election Poll Suggests Bernie Sanders Could Have Trounced Donald Trump

by Ryan Grim and Daniel Marans

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would have beaten Donald Trump by a historic margin if he had been the Democratic nominee, according to a private pre-election pollprovided to The Huffington Post.

The national survey of more than 1,600 registered voters, conducted by Gravis Marketing two days before the general election, found that Sanders would have received 56 percent of the vote while Trump would have won 44 percent. The poll was commissioned and financed by outgoing Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, a Democrat who endorsed Sanders in the presidential primary.

The last election result that decisive was Ronald Reagan’s victory over Democrat Walter Mondale in 1984.

Of the result validity of these poll results I have no doubt. Bernie Sanders was to the Democratic Party what Ronald Reagan once was to the Republicans, except the DNC didn’t allow a fair contest between him and their establishment pick. Instead the DNC made sure that the most establishment candidate the Democrats had would run against the most anti-establishment Republican candidate in history.

The twin phenomena of Trump and Bernie movements screamed its warning about the mood of the people, but the DNC thought it knew better. And if you think Hillary lost because she wasn’t progressive enough, or effective enough, or because she was a woman, or because of the emails and FBI mess, then you still don’t get it. Her problem isn’t with her. It’s much bigger.

Our government is far more broken than most of us are ready to admit. Many of the folks who voted for Trump know this in their heart. They feel it every day. They just don’t know why government is broken and they have been lied to about it for years.  Their frustration and anger was exploited by this demagogue who goes around blaming the wrong causes for our brokenness in order to divide us and gain power for himself.

We, the People, have long been disempowered. We have been rendered irrelevant by the wealthy elite and corporate power. This is the source of our broken government, and the road back to a healthy Republic just got a lot longer.

I do not disparage Hillary supporters at all.  I love them for their ideals and courage. While I have differences of opinion with her, I respect Hillary Clinton as a person and a candidate. I agree she was the most qualified candidate on paper. Most of the terrible things people have said about her are nasty lies.  I’ve been saying that for years now.

That said, she was still the wrong candidate to face Donald Trump this year. The difference between her and Bernie Sanders is not just by degrees of progressive policies. The real difference between them is a whole paradigm shift in governance.  It is a paradigm that empowers citizens over businesses, power and wealth. This is what the pundits missed. This is what many Hillary supporters couldn’t see. (New paradigms are difficult to imagine when our thinking is rooted in the context of an older paradigm).

One more point, if I may. A lot of Democrats defend the early actions of the DNC’s loyalty to Hillary Clinton. They say she came so close the first time and deserved a second shot. But four years is a long time, and things change. It’s like when military generals base their planning on the last war.

More importantly, loyalty is the opposite of democracy. Party loyalty to a “chosen” candidate is critical for a successful a presidential campaign, but democracy is still essential in choosing the right party candidate. That’s why it is critical that the DNC always remain neutral and equitably support all candidates. Their role in the primary phase is to conduct a fair and free primary campaign, to let the people speak.

The DNC failed our party and we lost, not just the Presidency but many down ticket races. In fact, Democrats have been losing election cycle after cycle at every level because the DNC has been interfering in party democracy to effect a result that fits their ideology and keeps like-minded Democrats in power.

In short, the Republicans allowed a democratic process and nominated the democratically elected candidate, for which they have been rewarded. The Democratic Party interfered with democracy within the party and have been punished. The DNC’s loyalty to Hillary Clinton was grossly premature.

Let’s Elect.. The Democratic Party Platform!

I decided it would be a good thing to draft a condensed version of the Democratic Party Platform. I reasoned that a concise version of the document would benefit people who don’t have time to sit down and read it all, and it might help us keep Democrats accountable to what they say the stand for in the Platform. I didn’t realize what a daunting task it would be, or how little time I had to finish the job.

What I learned while doing this is that this is a pretty good document. If achieved, it would significantly improve the lives of most Americans. It doesn’t address Democratic Party reform issues or primary voting reforms, but it does lay out a decent course of actions that most of us can rally behind. More importantly, it gives activist citizens a template by which we can judge the performance of Democratic office holders, including Hillary Clinton if she doesn’t loose.

So while I am still upset with the DNC, the establishment Democrats and Hillary for fixing the primary against all others, including Bernie Sanders specifically, I think I can in good conscious vote for the Democratic Party Platform with a self-made promise to hold Hillary and every other Democrat to task in carrying out the Party Platform.

So without further delay, here is the incomplete, condensed version of the Democratic Party Platform:

2016 Democratic Platform (condensed version)

Democrats believe cooperation is better than conflict, unity is better than division, empowerment is better than resentment, and bridges are better than walls.  We are stronger together.

Today’s extreme level of income and wealth inequality makes our economy weaker, our communities poorer, and our politics poisonous.  We need an economy that works for everyone. We can have more economic fairness, so the rewards are shared broadly, not just with those at the top. An economy that:

  • prioritizes long-term investment over short-term profit-seeking,
  • rewards the common interest over self-interest
  • promotes innovation and entrepreneurship
  • guarantees equal pay for women.. particularly women of color
  • protects every American’s right to retire with dignity
  • [create] jobs and security that come from [transitioning to] clean energy
  • incentivize companies to share profits with their employees on top of wages and pay increases

Race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind. We must face that reality and we must fix it.

A  good education is a basic right of all Americans. We will end the school-to-prison pipeline and build a cradle-to-college pipeline instead.

Greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior on Wall Street must be brought to an end. Wall Street must never again be allowed to threaten families and businesses on Main Street.

Democrats protect citizens’ right to vote, while stopping corporations’ outsized influence in elections. We will:

  • end the broken campaign finance system
  • overturn the disastrous Citizens United
  • restore the the Voting Rights Act
  • return control of our elections to the American people

Climate change poses a real and urgent threat to our economy, our national security, and our children’s health and futures.

The United States can mobilize common action on a truly global scale, to take on the challenges that transcend borders, from international terrorism to climate change to health pandemics.  We are stronger and safer when America brings the world together and leads with principle and purpose [and] strengthen our alliances. We believe in the power of development and diplomacy. Our military should be the best-trained, best-equipped fighting force in the world.

We must honor and support our veterans.

We respect differences of perspective and belief, and pledge to work together to move this country forward [and] strive to reach higher ground. We are proud of our heritage as a nation of immigrants.

We believe in protecting civil liberties and guaranteeing civil rights and voting rights, women’s rights and workers’ rights, LGBT rights, and rights for people with disabilities.

support workers through higher wages, workplace protections, policies to balance work and family, and other investments will help rebuild the middle class

Raising Workers’ to a living wage…  at least $15 an hour  [and]…  and index it [to inflation]. [Establish] one fair wage for all workers by ending the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and people with disabilities.

Support a model to leverage federal dollars to support employers who provide their workers with a living wage, good benefits, and the opportunity to form a union without reprisal.

Have the right to form or join a union – give all Americans the ability to join a union regardless of where they work, and create new ways for workers to have power in the economy and to:

  • make it easier for workers, public and private, to exercise their right to organize and join unions
  • direct the National Labor Relations Board to certify a union if a simple majority of eligible workers sign valid authorization cards
  • bring companies to the negotiating table
  • support binding arbitration to help workers who have voted to join a union reach a first contract.

[We will oppose] “right to work” laws are wrong for workers [and] vigorously oppose laws [or] efforts that:

  • eliminate dues check-off procedures
  • roll-back prevailing wage standards
  • abolish fair share requirements
  • restrict the use of voluntary membership payments for political purposes
  • attack seniority
  • restrict due process protections
  • require annual recertification efforts
  • legislation and lawsuits that would strike down laws protecting the rights of teachers and other public employees

We will support efforts to limit the use of forced arbitration clauses in employment and service contracts, which unfairly strip consumers, workers, students, retirees, and investors of their right to their day in court.

Make sure that the United States enacts national paid family and medical .. that provide[s] at least 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or address a personal or family member’s serious health issue.  [Establish a] workers the right to earn at least seven days of paid sick leave [and] encourage employers to provide paid vacation.

We must help family caregivers.. to ensure family caregivers have the support, respite care, and training they need to support their loved ones. We will [do this by]:

  • creating a strong stable paid caregiving workforce by raising wages
  • improving access to training
  • giving workers the opportunity to come together to make their voices heard
  • address[ing] conditions that make it hard for workers with unpredictable or inflexible schedules to meet caregiving responsibilities.

We will take steps to:

  • expand and strengthen the home care workforce
  • increase investments to make quality childcare more affordable
  • boost wages for childcare workers, and
  • support the millions of people paying for, coordinating, or providing care for aging relatives or those with disabilities

We will preserve and increase the supply of affordable rental housing and:

  • substantially increase funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to construct, preserve, and rehabilitate millions of affordable housing rental units
  • provide more federal resources to the people struggling most with unaffordable housing: low-income families, people with disabilities, veterans, and the elderly

We will address the lingering effects of the foreclosure crisis through [expanding] programs like the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. We will expand programs to

  • prevent  displacement of existing residents, especially in communities of color
  • create affordable and workforce housing
  • preserve neighborhood-serving nonprofit organizations and small businesses
  • reinvigorate housing production programs
  • repair public housing
  • increase funding for the housing choice voucher program and other rental assistance programs
  • [provide] robust funding to end homelessness through targeted investments to provide the necessary outreach, social services, and housing options for all populations experiencing homelessness.
  • engage in a stronger, more coordinated, and better funded partnership among federal, state, and local governments to end chronic homelessness
  • build on and expand initiatives to end veteran and family homelessness
  • support more first-time homebuyers preserve the 30-year fixed rate mortgage
  • modernizing credit scoring
  • clarify lending rules
  • expand access to housing counseling
  • defend and strengthening the Fair Housing Act
  • ensure that regulators have the clear direction, resources, and authority to enforce those rules effectively.
  • prevent predatory lending by defending the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Social Security

  • fight every effort to cut, privatize, or weaken Social Security, including attempts to raise the retirement age, diminish benefits by cutting cost-of-living adjustments, or reducing earned benefits. expand Social Security.
  • cost-of- living adjustments may not reflect the spending patterns of seniors. We are committed to exploring alternatives that could better serve seniors.
  • make sure Social Security’s guaranteed benefits continue by taxing some of the income of people above $250,000.

Retirement

  • defend the right of workers to collect their defined benefit pensions and make sure workers get priority and protection when pension plans are in distress.
  • enact legislation to make sure that the earned pension benefits of Americans will not be cut
  • pay for it by closing tax loopholes that benefit millionaires and billionaires
  • fight attempt to roll back the Conflict of Interest Rule which requires that retirement advisors put the best interests of their clients above their own financial gain
  • support the Older Americans Act.

US Postal Service

  • eliminating the unsustainable mandate to “pre-fund” retiree health costs.
  • restore service to appropriate levels, including overnight delivery of first-class mail and periodicals within the same metropolitan area,
  • maintaining six-day and door-to-door delivery
  • expanding postal services [to include] basic financial services such as paycheck cashing
  • vote-by-mail to increase voter participation

Create Good-Paying Jobs

Build a full-employment economy, where everyone has a job that pays enough to raise a family and live in dignity:

  • rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.. expanding our roads, bridges, public transit, airports, and passenger and freight rail lines
  • build 21st century energy and water systems.. modernizing drinking and wastewater systems
  • modernize our schools
  • support the expansion of high-speed broadband networks
  • protect communities from the impact of climate change
  • address the backlog of deferred maintenance in our four key public land management agencies
  • create an independent, national infrastructure bank
  • support the interest tax exemption on municipal bonds..make permanent [a] version of Build America Bonds
  • revitalize hard-hit manufacturing communities
  • claw back tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas
  • defend the Export-Import Bank
  • investing in industrial energy efficiency

Science, Research, Education, and Technology

  • educate our people and train our workforce; support entrepreneurship
  • invest in research and development, innovation hubs, as well as in getting ideas to market
  • [provide opportunities for all students] opportunity to learn computer science by the time they graduate from high school.
  • High-speed internet connectivity is not a luxury; it is a necessity
  • connect every household in America to high-speed broadband
  • increase internet adoption
  • hook up anchor institutions so they can offer free WiFi to the public.
  • take action to widely deploy 5G technology
  • support a free and open internet at home and abroad
  • oppose any effort to roll back the historic net neutrality
  • protect the intellectual property rights of artists, creators, and inventors at home and abroad
  • increase access to global markets for American intellectual property and other digital trade by opposing quotas, discriminatory measures, and data localization requirements
  • strengthen support for NASA and work in partnership with the international scientific community to launch new missions to space

Small Businesses

  • cut the red tape that holds back small businesses and entrepreneurs
  • open up access to credit
  • provide tax relief and tax simplification
  • expand access to new markets
  • make Wall Street work for the job-creating, productive economy—including by making loans more affordable for small- and medium-sized businesses

Jobs for America’s Young

  • make investments to spur the creation of millions of jobs for our young people
  • provide direct federal funding for a range of local programs that will put young people to work and create new career opportunities

Fight for Economic Fairness and Against Inequality

Reining in Wall Street and Fixing our Financial System

  • prohibit Wall Street from picking and choosing which credit agency will rate its products
  • [prohibit Wall Street] from imposing excessive fees on consumers
  • hold both individuals and corporations accountable when they break the law
  • stronger criminal laws and civil penalties for Wall Street criminals who prey on the public trust
  • extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting major financial fraud
  • providing the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission more resources to prosecute wrongdoing
  • vigorously implement, enforce, and build on President Obama’s landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform law
  • stop efforts to hamstring our regulators through budget cuts
  • oppose any efforts to change the CFPB’s structure from a single director to a partisan[or] to remove the Bureau’s independent funding and subject it to the appropriations process
  • [enact] a financial transactions tax on Wall Street to curb excessive speculation and high-frequency trading
  • use and expand existing authorities [and]empower regulators to downsize or break apart financial institutions when necessary
  • new authorities to go after risky shadow-banking
  • support.. an updated and modernized version of Glass-Steagall
  • nominate and appoint regulators and officials who are not beholden to the industries they regulate
  • crack down on the revolving door between the private sector—particularly Wall Street—and the federal government.
  • ban golden parachutes for those taking government jobs
  • limit conflicts of interest by requiring bank and corporate regulators to recuse themselves from official work on particular matters that would directly benefit their former employers
  • bar financial service regulators from lobbying their former colleagues for at least two years
  • [make] the Federal Reserve more representative of America as a whole
  • enhance its independence by ensuring that executives of financial institutions are not allowed to serve on the boards of regional Federal Reserve banks or to select members of those boards

Stop Corporate Concentration

  • stop corporate concentration in any industry where it is unfairly limiting competition
  • make competition policy and antitrust stronger and more responsive to our economy today
  • enhance antitrust enforcement [at] the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
  • encourage other agencies to police anti-competitive practices in their areas of jurisdiction

Making the Wealthy Pay Their Fair Share of Taxes

  • claw back tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas
  • eliminate tax breaks for big oil and gas companies
  • crack down on inversions and other methods companies use to dodge their tax responsibilities
  • make sure that our tax code rewards businesses that make investments and provide good-paying jobs here in the United States
  • end deferrals so that American corporations pay United States taxes immediately on foreign profits and can no longer escape paying their fair share of U.S. taxes by stashing profits abroad.
  • establish a multimillionaire surtax to ensure millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share
  • close egregious loopholes
  • restore fair taxation on multimillion dollar estates
  • tax relief to middle-class families
  • crack down on tax evasion and promote transparency to fight corruption and terrorism
  • tax relief to hard working, middle-class families

Promoting Trade That is Fair and Benefits American Workers

  • develop trade policies that support jobs in America
  • review agreements negotiated years ago to update them to reflect [Democratic Party] principles.
  • Any future trade agreements must make sure our trading partners cannot undercut American workers by taking shortcuts on labor policy or the environment.
  • [trade agreements] must not undermine democratic decision-making through special privileges
  • [trade agreements] must not undermine democratic decision-making private courts for corporations
  • trade negotiations must be transparent and inclusive
  • use all our trade enforcement tools to hold China and other trading partners accountable
  • These are the standards Democrats believe must be applied to all trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Bring Americans Together and Remove Barriers to Opportunities

Ending Systemic Racism

  • dismantle the structures that define lasting racial, economic, political, and social inequity
  • promote racial justice through fair, just, and equitable governing of all public-serving institutions and in the formation of public policy
  • remove the Confederate battle flag from public
  • make it clear that black lives matter and that there is no place for racism in our country.

Closing the Racial Wealth Gap

  • close this racial wealth gap
  • eliminat[e] systemic barriers to wealth accumulation for different racial groups
  • improv[e] opportunities for people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds to build wealth.
  • remove barriers to achieving sustainable homeownership
  • provide for greater diversity in federal and state contracting practices
  • incentivize and expand access to retirement investment programs
  • increase opportunities for quality jobs and education
  • challenge the deeply rooted structures that perpetuate and exacerbate current disparities and ultimately stagnate the nation’s economic growth and security

Reforming our Criminal Justice System

Democrats are committed to reforming our criminal justice system and ending mass incarceration. Something is profoundly wrong when almost a quarter of the world’s prison population is in the United States, even though our country has less than five percent of the world’s population. We will reform mandatory minimum sentences and close private prisons and detention centers. Research and evidence, rather than slogans and sound bites, must guide [reforms].
(PS: Notice that the person whose name is plastered everywhere is not mentioned here.  What a relief, right?)

Making Corrupt Politics Illegal

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

For most American’s, democracy is dead. A Princeton study found that if over 90% of us support a bill or policy idea in Congress, it has about a 30% chance of passing. BUT, if over 90% of us really hate a bill or policy idea in Congress… it has about a 30% chance of passing. Why? The system is corrupt. Our democracy is broken.

So here is a novel idea.Make corrupt political practices illegal. On the federal level alone the top 200 most politically active companies spend over $5.8 billion a year funding politicians (buying our democracy), often promising politicians high wage jobs after they leave office.  All of this allows the lobbyists to write the laws that congress actually passes, sometime without even reading the bills first. In exchange for all this political cash, these 200 politically active corporations receive over $4.4 trillion in favorable tax supports. That is equal to a 75,900% return on their political investments. It’s a racket and it’s all perfectly legal.

As the video below explains so well, that mean that 90% of everyone in the lower economic groups in America has “a minuscule, near zero, statistically insignificant.” influence over what laws our representatives pass in the Federal Congress.

Watch this video that explains the finding of a scholarly study out of Princeton. [Note: prior link was incorrect. This is the corrected link]

Copy and paste link to your browser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tu32CCA_Ig&spfreload=1

The creator of the above video have a possible solution which they explain in their second video, How to Fix Corruption in America. The fix is to make political corruption illegal though passage of a simple law. But getting anything passed in the Federal Congress to fix the way they do business now is impossible. So the strategy is to start by passing the law locally and then statewide so that federal representatives elected from these states aren’t already tainted by corrupt politics. Once enough states pass the anti-corruption law, there will be enough congress people from those states to pass a federal anti-corruption law.  Here below is the video:

Copy and paste link to your browser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhe286ky-9A

And so, like all politics, the solution to make our voice count once again is in our hands if we act locally while thinking globally. All politics is local. Let’s make local politics the place where we restore democracy in America.

If you are disturbed by these facts, please do your part in getting this information out to your friends across the internet. and get active locally to start turning things around. The level of political corruption is inversely proportional to the level of citizen involvement.

Bernie, DNC and Hillary Connections to Big Data

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is conceived to be a neutral Democratic Party facilitator working on behalf of all Democratic political campaigns. It raises money for candidate races, it helps develop political ads and, most importantly, it has this huge national database on registered Democrats, Democratic donors, etc. This database is the most important tool candidates need in running for public office, especially Democratic presidential candidates. The DNC allows presidential campaigns to access all of this national data on individual voters, and use the database to enter their own voter information collected in the field and through their own direct voter contacts. The analysis of this information is essential for developing and monitoring campaign strategies.

Because the DNC database contains both shared and private candidate voter information, a firewall and other safeguards are in place so that competing campaigns can’t peek at the private data being collected and analyzed by their Democratic rivals. This too is essential for fair and free primary competition. Candidates would have unfair advantages if they could see the information developed by their rivals. At the end of the election cycle, however, the private field data collected by the campaigns are merged and used to update the DNC’s national database.

BACKGROUND

This huge database is run under a contract with a company called NGP-VAN. NGP-VAN is a partisan company; that is it is a company comprised of Democrats working for Democrats. It is the DNC’s choice to contract with a partisan company. There are many competent non-partisan company providing comparable services, but the DNC believes there are advantages to hiring a partisan firm. The key reason is to develop secure, less open technologies that feed data from NGP VAN’s systems into tools and platforms that put it to use, such as mobile apps used by door-to-door campaign volunteers. The motivation for hiring a partisan company seems to be an overriding need to protect the data platforms from GOP intrusions. (See http://adage.com/article/campaign-trail/political-tech-picks-sides-stay-sidelines/294800 )

But Democratic politics is also an insider’s game. There is competition within the Democratic party to be the Democratic candidate on the ballot. There are many primary candidates, campaigns and primary elections that must be fair and free if our democracy is to be properly preserved. Special interest corruption or establishment favoritism within either political party is a direct threat to our American democracy. The will of Republican or Democratic voters within their party is just as sacrosanct as is the will of the people in general election voting. It is the role of the DNC to preserve American democracy for Democratic voters. Maintaining the security of the DNC database is a principle obligation. Assuring proper access of the data to all candidates is an essential responsibility of the DNC. Making sure there are no political pressures or conflicts of interest to taint or corrupt the democratic process within the party is paramount.

The question rarely asked is this; If NGP-VAN is a company made up of Democratic partisans, how can we be sure they are scrupulously unbiased with respect to all Democratic primary candidates? How can we be sure the DNC is unbiased, for that matter. These are the haunting questions that still hang in the air even after the fireworks set off by the Sanders campaigns data breach has ended. Even though the DNC quickly unblocked the Sanders campaign from its data, and Senator Sanders apologized to Hillary Clinton for the intrusion, the integrity of the DNC and NGP-VAN remains a   question. This is especially true in part because there was so little concern expressed about the incompetence of NGP-VAN for the firewall failure.

UNDISPUTED FACTS

The undisputed facts regarding the data breach by the Sanders campaign staff are:

  • NGP-VAN rolled out updated software for this database on the morning of Dec, 17th.
  • Afterwards, for about 4 hours, any data search on the system pulled up the private files of all the Presidential candidates.
  • The breach was discovered by Sanders campaign staff after 10:00 am, at least 90 minutes later.
  • At least 4 Sanders campaign staffers obtained access to 24 Hillary campaign files over the next 40 minutes
  • NGP-VAN became aware of this activity and immediately notified the DNC
  • The DNC shut down the Sanders’ campaign access to the database before notifying Senator Sanders, who was unaware of the breach until the chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz called him.
  • Some of the Clinton campaign files were copied to the “Vote Finder” system of the DNC’s database, meaning those files were still in DNC custody.
  • Whether files were copied to private location, or viewed and analyzed in any detail is in dispute.
  • One of the staffers who opened multiple files was Bernie Sanders Data Chief, Josh Uretsky, who was immediate fired.
  • The extent of actions by other Sanders campaign staffers who accessed files is still in dispute and under review.
  • The Clinton campaign accused the Sanders campaign of stealing data. The Sanders campaign filed a federal lawsuit against the DNC for illegally terminating access to their data and hindering their campaign.

According to a blog post written by the Stu Trevelyan, CEO of NGP-VAN, shortly after the breach was fixed the company audited its system and determined that only the Sanders campaign, and no other outside parties, could have possibly retained any of the exposed data.

Within less than a day of the Sanders lawsuit against the DNC, they restored his campaign access to the database. Bernie Sanders maintains that this isn’t the first breach of data systems between the Sanders and Clinton campaign. (Although the prior breach involved a different data vendor.)


DISPUTED FACTS

The most innocent explanation of the data breach comes from Josh Uretsky, the former Data Chief. In an interview with Steve Kornacki on MSNBC, Steve said he was, “… trying to create a clear record of the problem.” He was fully aware that his every move was being recorded by the NGP-VAN system. His thinking was that this breach happened hours before and he needed to determine if the Sanders data was as accessible at the Clinton data. He said he had to assume that they had accessed data as well in the hours before he discovered the breach. He denies any information was analyzed or saved anywhere out side of the NGP-VAN system. He believed his probative inquires were reasonable attempts to assess,”the scope of the problem.”

When the

NGP-VAN notified the DNC of the breach and the activity of Sanders staffers, they being the only ones to access opposition files, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chairwoman, acted on the worst case scenario, that data was being stolen which could then be manipulated using the DNC database to analyze Clinton’s campaign strategies. The DNC acted swiftly before consulting with Senator Sanders. Senator Schultz claimed that the data was copied off the NGP-VAN system and demanded that it be destroyed before the DNC would consider restoring access to the database.

Throughout this controversy the DNC has reserved its anger for the actions of a handful of staffers on Senator Sanders campaign. It has exhibited litter anger or outrage towards the NGP-VAN for having compromised critical DNC data for hours.


CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

This all caused me to wonder, just who is this seemingly incompetent company that lost their firewall for four hours in the middle of a Presidential campaign? And what of the Sander’s campaign long standing complaint that the DNC is trying to undermine Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

Here is what I found:

NGP-VAN (www.ngpvan.com): Claims to be the leading technology provider to progressive organizations and campaigns. Among its clients are; Obama for America, the DNC, Democratic state parties, the DSCC, the DCCC, the DLCC, a majority of Democratic state legislative caucuses, Democratic candidates and other organizations.

Co-Owner, Nathaniel Goss Pearlman: Is a political technology consultant aligned with the Democratic party. He founded NGP Software, Inc., in 1977. The company provided political software to a majority of federal Democrats including most Democratic candidates for President (including Dean, Gephardt, Kerry, Graham, Edwards, Obama, and Clinton). He was the chief technology officer for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. In 2010, NGP Software merged with another company, the Voter Activation Network, and became NGP-VAN

NGP-VAN CEO, Stu Trevelyan: Was the founder of the Carol/Trevelyan Strategy Group (CTSG) which serve progressive groups and candidates starting around 1995. Before that Trevelyan worked directly on a number of campaigns, including the 1992 Clinton-Gore “War Room” and then in the Clinton White House. He was an early “Hillary for President” supporter and donor in 2013.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz: She is the current DNC chairperson and was the national co-campaign chairperson of Hillary’s 2008 Presidential Campaign.

[12/28/15 Update]

NBJosh Uretsky, Data Chief for Sanders: Bernie Sanders fired this person after the data breach. Media outlets are now reporting that he was hired in September by the Sander’s campaign on the recommendation of both the VGP-VAN company and the DNC. This has raised further concerns among leadership in the Sanders’ campaign.

WHERE THINGS STAND

Obviously the partisan nature of NGP-VAN, the connections to Hillary Clinton, the Hillary Connection between Hillary and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz who was Hillary’s prior co-campaign manager, doesn’t prove anything or suggest anything nefarious. It doesn’t, however, rule out the possibility of a conflict of interests either. The Sanders campaign has not retracted their claim that the DNC might not be acting as a neutral third party and the lawsuit is still pending as of now.

Both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, as well as the DNC, are calling for an independent “audit” of the incident and the records to rule out a wider scandal or a conflict, and also to identify and fix any vulnerabilities in the DNC’s database. This is as it should be, but there is just enough of a bad smell left in the room to require our fellow Democrats to maintain their scrutiny and to press for even more transparency at the DNC.

The idea of contracting with only partisan technology companies should be reconsidered and a broader conversation should generated on these issues. Finally, future DNC chairs should probably not be former campaign managers for any likely presidential candidates during their tenure.

Correction: An earlier version indicated a connection between the DNC chair and an employee at DGP-VAN which was an error. The error was widespread on social media and was apparently made because of confusion as to whether or not a Wasserman at NGP-VAN was her brother’s son. He is not. I extensively investigated this myself on social media and confirmed to my satisfaction that the information I had originally been given was wrong.

Cycle of Death for Our Republic

CycleOfDeath

Any questions?

Republicans Having a Selma Moment

by Brian Lynch, MSW

It’s been fifty years since marchers seeking voting rights were beaten on the Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama, yet Republican leaders still can’t join hands with African Americans on that bridge without offending bigots in their base. Fifty year later and a show of unity on that bridge is still the wrong message coming from the Republican Party? Really?

Edmund Pettus Bridge Pic

This begs further questions. Just how much of Republican politics is driven by the desire to preserve white privilege? What percentage of their base feel hostile towards inclusion and justice for all? And who can be surprised after this missed opportunity to learn that 90% of African Americans vote for Democrats, or that Latinos are increasingly turning to the Democratic Party?

Media pressure was put on the Republicans when it was learned that no leaders were planned to go to Selma. At the last minute House Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced he will to join in the 50th anniversary events. McCarthy is a close friend of Democratic Congressman John Lewis who was beaten on that bridge 50 years ago. The cynical view is that McCarthy is the best Republican representative since his attendance can be forgiven by the bigots on the grounds that he is Lewis’ personal friend. This isn’t to impugn McCarthy’s motives for attending, which I’m sure are genuine.

Political spinners can say whatever they want, but no rational citizen who wants our society to advance can accept any more excuses from those who hold us back. The Republican Party has clearly chosen the wrong side of history. This time it is Republicans who are beating themselves on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

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Historical foot note: The Edmund Pettus Bridge is named for Edmund Winston Pettus, a former Confederate brigadier generalU.S. Senator from Alabama and Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan.