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Fake News Is Nothing New

"Fake News" has become a popular phrase these days. Our president certainly likes to use it, often paired with another common phrase – "mainstream media". Both are convenient but meaningless labels that misrepresent the business of publishing the news in America. The general contempt that a lot of folks have for news media is certainly nothing new. A century ago, newspapers often engaged in what was called 'yellow journalism' and reporters were held in such low esteem that they were referred to as 'ink-stained wretches'. Newspaper publisher William Hearst was the poster boy of Fake News in those days. Hearst and his editors frequently printed misleading or entirely dishonest stories that promoted Hearst's personal views or demonized people he was at odds with. That's completely different from advocacy journalism, which most news sources practice. Some even acknowledge that reality. I was once the editor of the Haleakala Times, a bi-weekly newsp…

Who pays for all this?

By the time you read this, the total debt of the federal government may have reached 20 trillion dollars. Add in all of the estimated state and local government debts and America owes somebody nearly $25 trillion. But that's not enough; Congress is coming back into session in September and will probably raise its self-imposed debt limit in order to borrow some more. They always have before. There's no question who gets the bill for the interest on that debt every year: we all do. Who's paying down that debt? Nobody at all. No president or Congress has lowered the national debt for more than half a century... The cost of nearly 17 years of American military operations in Afghanistan is hard to calculate, but it's more than one trillion dollars. That amount will keep growing every day, because there's no real change coming in our overseas commitments. There's plenty of room to argue over what we're doing in a land long known as the Graveyard of Empires – maybe w…

The People Are The Problem

Most of the time I don't really care who the American president is, and neither should you. It's always been an important job, but its occupant was never meant to be Captain America or Leader Of The Free World. Our president is not supposed to create new policies except in an emergency; the task of setting the national agenda belongs to Congress. Presidential power was originally restricted to running the government and serving as Commander-in-Chief during times of war. Our first president, rest his soul, didn't enjoy his time in office and is probably appalled at how the American people have turned the presidency into a personality-driven media show. George Washington rejected the hero worship shown to him during his days as a living legend, and he warned of the danger that comes from giving too much power and having too much faith in any one person. And that's what we've done. We've surrendered power in a creeping process that started early and has grown steadi…

How to steal an election

If you were planning to steal an election, our long history of rigging the popular vote can help you. Controlling who counts the votes and how those votes get counted is the most direct and effective way of election thievery – especially when votes are cast, counted and stored by digital machines. Decades ago, with our typical enthusiasm for technology, Americans accepted voting machines – first mechanical, then electronic, now digital and tomorrow wireless – as a valid replacement for paper ballots. We were wrong. It's bad enough when machines malfunction, but storing votes on hard drives offers thieves an easy way to steal. They just need a few minutes of access to machines before an election to install malicious software, or similar access to storage drives after votes have been cast. That access is available to whichever political party controls a state government. It's much, much harder to rig elections that rely on paper ballots marked with a pencil. Lots of volunteers help…

Hacking the vote

"Something very strange happened on election night to Deborah Tannenbaum in Volusia County. At 10pm she called the county elections department and learned that Al Gore was leading George W. Bush 83,000 votes to 62,000. But when she checked half an hour later, she found a startling development: Gore's count had dropped by 16,000 votes, while an obscure Socialist candidate had picked up 10,00 – all because of a single precinct with only 600 voters." – Washington Post,  Nov. 12, 2000

"Anyone within a half mile of any machine could have modified every vote, undetected. I could teach you how to do it over the phone. It might require an administrator password, but that’s OK – the password is ‘admin’.”–Jeremy Epstein of SRI International on AVS WinVote machines, 2008

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we see high turnout because of vote-by-mail. It’s extremely convenient and accessible; it’s secure and cost-effective.”–Oregon Gov. Kate Brown On Election Day, Oregon…

Don’t Sell Your Vote

Don’t Sell Your VoteI’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections, but as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it.” – Billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson.
The difference between a campaign contribution and a bribe is simply this: a bribe goes directly into someone’s pocket while a contribution gets deposited into a bank account. The degree of influence remains pretty much the same in either case. But if we want to adhere to the Constitution, then we shouldn't try to stop corporations or really rich folks from investing millions of dollars in support of a candidate they like. The Supreme Court has so ruled, and they are right. On the other hand, Justice Anthony Kennedy offered this strange comment in support of the Court's decision: "We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." From where I sit out here in the woods, the amount of mo…

The Rise of the Independents

The Rise of the Independents "I don't want everybody to vote. Our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." – American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) co-founder Paul Weyrich, 1983A true democracy may be the least efficient form of government, but that's because it includes more freedom than any social construction ever devised. You need consensus for it to work well; you need to seek solutions on common ground, and you need mass participation by engaged and informed citizens. Those are hard things to find in 21st Century America. Just like every other country on the planet, we have a diverse population with multiple points of view regarding how a citizen-owned government should operate. Our electoral system, however, is dominated by two political parties that aren't nearly as different from each other as they want voters to believe. Flash back to 1952 when Dwight Eisenhower was elected president, then jump forward to 20…

How to own your government

How to own your government

"The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power." – "
Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a message to Congress in 1938
The American people own and operate the United States government. That's the underlying truth of our democracy, even when the reality is something quite different. Just about everyone agrees that the current state of our government is ugly and dysfunctional, while everyone blames someone else for the mess. But it's all our fault – yours, mine, and the folks next door, too. We let special interest groups pay lobbyists to bribeentertain members of Congress with lavish gifts, and we allow politicians to accept bribescontributions almost without limit. Those elected representatives of the peopl…

Can I Have A Third Party, Please?

If liberty and equality are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in government to the utmost. - Aristotle (384-322 BC)
Americans generally don’t vote much. Our voter turnout runs as low as half in a boring presidential election year and doesn’t even rise as high as two-thirds in an interesting one. In between those national elections, we’re lucky to get half the registered voters to cast a ballot, and we’ve dropped as low as one-third many places, many times. In the 1960 presidential election, only 63 percent of the eligible voters in America actually did. When it comes to citizens exercising their civic duty, that’s the best we’ve done over the past fifty years. We’re not alone. In the United Kingdom of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, voter turnout has dropped from 84 percent in 1950 to just 65 percent in 2010. Most of that decline has come during the last fifteen years. Here in Oregon, we set a state record this year for the…

The Bill Of No Rights

You have a right to privacy under the Constitution, but you have very little privacy in your life these days, and the Constitution can’t help you get more.

I used to joke with people that because I had been placed on a government No-Fly list, they should assume that all my phone calls and emails were being recorded. And I was right – because as it turns out, almost everyone’s email and phone messages are being recorded. What was once just a common delusion among paranoid schizophrenics is now a significant part of our reality.

How I ended up a watch list is irrelevant. It’s also not clear to me exactly how it happened, or who decided that it should happen, although publishing editorials that accused the Bush/Cheney administration of committing war crimes under international law may have been a factor. I just assumed I was subject to surveillance and behaved accordingly.

But someone may be listening to you these days, too, and it’s not because you’re communicating with me. When you use…