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National Politics

The Fraudulence of the Republican Party, and the Adverse Shift in the Balance Between Good and Evil

by: Andy Schmookler

Wed Jul 23, 2014 at 19:29:00 PM EDT

In recent years, I've been deeply troubled by an adverse shift in the balance of power between good and evil forces in America. The evidence for that shift is plain to see in the damage that's been done in recent years to so many of the dimensions of American civilization. Clearly, the forces of destruction have gained ground at the expense of those forces that work constructively to improve the nation.

An important factor in this shift is a stark mismatch between the generally fine values of people like many of my rural Virginia neighbors and the goals and practices of the political force to which they give their support.

Most of my neighbors believe in conservative, patriotic, and Christian values. The Republican Party gains their support by claiming to be a champion of those values. But in these times, those claims are false: what today's Republican Party is serving is the very opposite.

Genuine conservatives, like many of my neighbors, understand that traditions are there for a reason, and should be honored and respected. But today's Republican leaders, though claiming to be conservatives, trample America's political traditions. Meanwhile, they misdirect their followers' attention to a few issues of concern, like abortion and gay rights, that have one important characteristic: they don't get in the way of the Republicans' deeper agenda -- transferring wealth and power from average Americans to those who already have the most.

Our country has had an established way, for example, of dealing with the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling has been raised, as needed, more than 80 times without a crisis because both parties know the full faith and credit of the United States is too important to play politics with. But, today's congressional Republicans swept that tradition aside in 2011, as no real conservatives would, to extort concessions to advance their political goals, and in 2013 they tried the same kind of blackmail again.

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Right-Wing Extremists Ken Cuccinelli and Rand Paul Come to Arlington

by: lowkell

Wed Jul 23, 2014 at 10:27:26 AM EDT

Not sure what the folks in the crowd think they're getting with Rand Paul (he's certainly no Libertarian, but "a standard-issue right wing extremist with a few opinions outside the GOP norm on military issues"), but here are his Project Vote Smart ratings:

*National Right to Life Committee - Positions (June 4, 2014) 100%
*Planned Parenthood Action Fund - Positions captured January 9, 2014 (reflect past 6 years' voting record) 0%
*NARAL Pro-Choice America - Positions 0%

*Animal Welfare Institute - Compassion Index 0%
*Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund - Positions 0%

*Human Rights Campaign - Positions on Marriage 0%
*FRC Action - Positions 100% (note: the Family Research Council has been designated as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center)

*Americans for Prosperity - Positions (Jan. 7, 2014) 100% (note: this is the Koch brothers' group)

*National Education Association - Positions 0%

*Gun Owners of America - Positions 100%

*Federation for American Immigration Reform - Positions 100% (note: FAIR has been designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center)

*American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) - Positions 0%

*The John Birch Society - Lifetime Score 94%

*Disabled American Veterans - Positions (Senate only) 0%

*American Civil Liberties Union - Positions (captured June 17, 2014) 27%

And a couple more, as if all that's not bad enough:
*Arab American Institute - Positions on Arab-American Issues 6%
*National Journal - Conservative on Foreign Policy 79%

Also check out these Rand Paul quotes, including that the "fundamental reason why Medicare is failing is why the Soviet Union failed -- socialism doesn't work" and "if you think you have the right to health care, you are saying basically that I am your slave." What a guy.

Discuss :: (5 Comments)

AG Herring Helps Successfully Defend Virginians' Access to Healthcare Affordability Tax Credits

by: lowkell

Tue Jul 22, 2014 at 13:27:54 PM EDT

Good news from Virginia Attorney General Herring's office, partially counteracting the outrageously a wrong/absurd decision by the right-wing judicial activists on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals this morning. Fortunately, the DC Circuit Court decision was so absurdly wrong that it will almost certainly be overturned by the full court ("en banc") and/or by the Supreme Court. Still, it's frightening how a bunch of radical, right-wing, "Federalist Society" judges have screwed up the federal judiciary so badly. THIS is a classic example why elections matter, and why we need to keep electing Democrats to the White House, Senate, etc. for the foreseeable future...


~ Virginia filed an amicus brief and presented oral argument supporting 177,000 Virginians who have already received financial assistance on exchanges ~


Richmond--Today, in unanimously affirming the lower court's decision in King v. Sebelius, now King v. Burwell, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Attorney General Mark R. Herring's position that Virginians are eligible for financial assistance to help them afford insurance purchased through the federally-operated exchange. Because of this ruling, at least 177,000 Virginians will keep an annual average of $3,048 in financial assistance they are already receiving. Attorney General Herring filed an amicus brief in the case and Virginia delivered oral argument defending the right of low- and moderate-income Virginians to access thousands of dollars in assistance to make healthcare coverage more affordable.


"If our tax dollars are helping working families afford healthcare then I will fight to make sure that working families in Virginia have equal access to that assistance," said Attorney General Herring. "Today's ruling is welcome news for 177,000 Virginians who have already purchased a plan and received financial assistance, and for those who may purchase healthcare through the exchange in the future. I'm glad the Fourth Circuit was not convinced by the specious arguments of the plaintiffs, which were based on strident opposition to anything related to the Affordable Care Act."

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GOP Mayor Marching to DC to Save Rural Hospitals Will Meet with Virginia Governor McAuliffe

by: lowkell

Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 13:53:04 PM EDT

I just received this from Eric Byler and wanted to pass it along:

(Richmond, VA) On Tuesday, July 22 at 2 p.m., Belhaven, NC, mayor Adam O’Neal (R), will meet with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) to discuss the need for Medicaid expansion and rural hospitals. Mayor O’Neal and his supporters will have completed 160 miles of their 14-day, 273-mile march to Washington, DC, where they will ask for the assistance of President Obama, the Department of Justice, and members of Congress.

“A ‘non-profit’ corporation that makes over $100 million per year, with $540 million in reserve, wants to cherry-pick the well-insured patients out of our rural community, but they don’t want to let us keep a critical access hospital we’ve had for 60 years because it will create competition,” O’Neal said. “Whether it’s Virginia, North Carolina, or anywhere in America, you tell someone that and they’ll say ‘That ain’t right.'”

Vidant Health, Inc., which enjoys a near monopoly in eastern North Carolina, recently purchased the Pungo District Hospital and closed it down on July 1. A placard next to the sealed emergency room door instructs people to “call 911.”

Thousands of rural North Carolinians were already traveling more than 50 miles to reach Belhaven’s emergency room. Now, they have more than 80 miles to go for emergency care. Mayor O’Neal will carry with him a framed photo of Portia Gibbs, 48, who died on July 7 waiting for an emergency helicopter. The photo was given to him by her 24-year-old son on the first day of the march.  

Governor McAuliffe has been fighting to expand health coverage by accepting Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which would insure as many as 400,000 Virginians. McAuliffe has made the argument that forgoing federal dollars which are then spent in other states is killing jobs and endangering rural hospitals. In eastern North Carolina, O’Neal has experienced exactly that.

What:    Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to meet with Mayor Adam O’Neal, and Save Our Hospital supporters

    Hon. Terry McAuliffe, Governor of Commonwealth of Virginia
               Adam O’Neal, Republican, Mayor of Belhaven, NC
               Bob Zellner, legendary Civil Rights activist, former field secretary of SNCC

  Tuesday, July 22 at 2 p.m. (ET)

  The Virginia Executive Mansion, Capitol Square Richmond, VA
Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Video: Rev. William Barber on the "snake line" and U.S. politics

by: lowkell

Sun Jul 20, 2014 at 11:12:20 AM EDT

Speaking at Netroots Nation Thursday night, is this guy - the driving force behind the "Moral Mondays' movement (note: this has been covered extremely well by Annabel Park and Eric Byler) in North Carolina - amazing or what? Here's a partial transcript of the conclusion to his powerful, hour-plus speech/sermon. Preach it, brother!
...don't walk out through the valley but climb up the mountain to higher ground...Snakes live in the lowland, but if you go up the mountain there's something...called a "snake line;" snakes can't live above it...they're cold-blooded animals and they die.

Well, in America, we've gotta get our politics above the snake line...There are some snakes out here. There are some low-down policies out here. There's some poison out here. Going backwards on voting rights, that's below the snake line. Going backwards on civil rights, that's below the snake line. Hurting people just because they have a different sexuality, that's below the snake line. Stomping on poor people just because you've got power, that's below the snake line. Denying health care to the sick and keeping children from opportunity, that's below the snake line.

But I stopped by to tell you, there's got to be somebody that's willing to go to higher ground, higher ground, where every child is educated; higher ground, where the sick receive health care; higher ground, where the poor are lifted; higher ground, where voting rights are secured...Neighbor, we've got to take America above the snake line...America is better than this. It's time to go above the snake line...

When I go up in the spirit and I listen to the Lord sometimes...I heard the Lord say...Tea Party may endure for a night, Koch brothers may endure for a night, oppression may endure for a night, but hang in there, make your way to higher ground...

Great speech, very if only everyone would listen to this. Speaking of which, why was the room only half-full for Rev. Barber? That's seriously screwed up (of course, scheduling Rev. Barber for 9 pm on Thursday night, when people presumably were just arriving, might have something to do with it).

P.S. Note to "Bishop" EW Jackson: this is what Christianity really teaches, and this is what a real Christian - one actually channeling the message of peace, compassion, common good and brotherhood preached by Jesus - really sounds like.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Gotta Agree with Kos on This One

by: lowkell

Sat Jul 19, 2014 at 12:28:28 PM EDT

I've never attended Netroots Nation, in part because I have no particular desire to spend hundreds of dollars of my own money to do so, but also in part because I never really saw the point. With the bizarre, brain-dead decision of Netroots Nation to hold their 2015 thingamabob (whatever it is exactly) in Phoenix, Arizona (the state being Anti-Latino-Immigrant Central, pretty much), there's less reason than ever to attend (although perhaps the corporate media, which otherwise could give a crap, will cover it just because there now will be "controversy," which they LOVE?).

Is there a broader point here? In my view, there is. Namely, that Democrats, liberals, progressives, environmentalists, etc. should try to live their values as much as possible. No, nobody's perfect, but I see no reason why we shouldn't try, to the extent possible, to...

*Boycott horrible companies like Hobby Lobby and Chick-Fil-A, and refuse to purchase products that enrich the Koch brothers, or support companies that pay their workers slave wages, etc, etc.

*Support businesses that DO conform to our values.

*Work to reduce our adverse environmental impact - carbon emissions, trash, meat consumption, water runoff from our roofs and yards, pesticide usage, lawns vs. native plants, etc. - in our personal lives.

*Choose to travel to, hold conferences/do business in places that we feel good about, and avoid places that do bad stuff like discriminate against whole groups of citizens.

*Refuse to appear as guests on Faux "News" or other right-wing propaganda channels, which in my view convinces none of their viewers/listeners, but DOES help lend them legitimacy, as they can claim they allow "both sides" to air their views and that they are thereby "fair and balanced." One of the most egregious examples of this was President Obama agreeing to an interview with hatemongering right wingnut Bill O'LIElly. That was utterly inexcusable on both moral and political grounds (e.g., it was wrong morally AND it didn't help Obama politically in any way).

Again, we're all human and none of us are perfect, but we can STRIVE to live our values as much as possible. In the case of Netroots Nation, last I checked there are 50 states in this country, including many that are far superior to Arizona in terms of reflecting the progressive values Netroots Nation stands for. Not that they care about my opinion on this, since they didn't even care about Kos' for god's sake (WTF?!?), but I strongly advise them to rethink this truly stupid decision.

Discuss :: (16 Comments)

Sen. Kaine Blasts "terrorist organization" Hamas, Supports Israel's Right to Defend Itself

by: lowkell

Fri Jul 18, 2014 at 13:23:30 PM EDT

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine released the following statement on the escalating conflict in Gaza a few minutes ago. I'm going to bold the parts I particularly agree with, but basically I agree with all of it.
"The escalating conflict between Hamas and Israel is deeply tragic and inflicts serious damage on the people in Israel and Gaza. Based on a cynical political calculation, Hamas, which is a terrorist organization, appears to be intentionally disrupting any chance for progress on peace discussions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas's decision to escalate rocket attacks on Israel was designed to provoke an Israeli defensive response that would necessarily endanger Gaza residents. I fully support Israel's right to defend itself against these indiscriminate rocket attacks, but they also should do everything necessary to minimize harm to civilians and facilitate humanitarian access.

"The entire global community must pressure Hamas to cease rocket attacks. Once that occurs, a cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas should be enforced. I appreciate the efforts of Egypt and other nations to promote a cease fire in Gaza and pray that such efforts succeed.  

"The Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas should break off attempts to form a unity government with Hamas and return to the negotiating table to discuss a peace deal between Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel.  Those discussions were making progress as recently as March before actions on both sides scuttled the negotiations.  The events of recent days demonstrate that the path toward peace will be incredibly hard. But those same events also demonstrate even more clearly the tragic consequences of failed leadership--destruction, rocket attacks, dead children and grieving parents."

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Rep. Gerry Connolly: "Putin's brinkmanship begets yet another tragedy in Ukraine"

by: lowkell

Thu Jul 17, 2014 at 17:47:22 PM EDT

I just got this statement from Rep. Gerry Connolly's office. Assuming this was pro-Russian separatists armed by Russia, I agree with Rep. Connolly that this is Putin's fault. The question is, now what? Just horrifying...
Rep. Connolly Statement on Crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine
"Putin's brinkmanship begets yet another tragedy in Ukraine"

Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued the following statement today on the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine:

"My condolences go out to the families of those aboard the downed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, which crashed today in eastern Ukraine.

"Prime Minister Putin's illegal action in Crimea and continued brinksmanship begets yet another tragedy in Ukraine, and the international community should be outraged. This latest instance of aggression committed by those who would rather perpetuate a cycle of violence than seek peace, is an unfortunate consequence of Russian meddling in Ukraine.

"This tragedy should compel the international community to strengthen its resolve to condemn and counter the violation of national sovereignty that precipitated this entire crisis."

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

Video: Tim Kaine on Central American Children Fleeing Violence Due to U.S.-Fueled Drug Trade

by: lowkell

Thu Jul 17, 2014 at 15:38:22 PM EDT

Tim Kaine is so right about this, which is not surprising given that he served as a Catholic missionary in Honduras and knows the situation inside and out. The question is, what should we do about the thousands of children fleeing violence and coming to the U.S.? According to Sen. Kaine: 1) Stop blaming the kids and show the same compassion as nations like Turkey and Jordan are showing to Syrian refugees; 2) Work on our legal process and particular protections these refugees receive when they arrive. 3) We need to do immigration reform; 4) More support for security in Central America; 5) We need to interdict more drugs; and 6) We need to tackle the U.S. demand for drugs, because that's what is driving the violence in the neighborhoods that's causing these kids to flee northwards to the U.S.

I couldn't agree more. Thanks to Sen. Kaine for speaking up for these kids, while Republicans are busy posturing politically and (of course) attacking President Obama for anything and everything...

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Video: Sen. Tim Kaine Delivers Floor Speech On Murray-Udall Legislation To Fix Hobby Lobby Decision

by: lowkell

Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 11:27:55 AM EDT

Sen. Tim Kaine nails it, that this is "NOT a case about religious freedom" but really about efforts to deny women access to "contraception." Thanks for your efforts on this.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Battles Forfeited

by: Andy Schmookler

Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 15:43:59 PM EDT

Part III of "Dispirited Liberal America"

This series is about the role of Liberal America in creating America's current dangerous political dynamic. The thesis is that it is the weakness of Liberal America that has allowed a destructive force to become to powerful, and that this weakness is due to a disconnection from the power of "the spirit."

The previous installment ended with this statement: "One side is serving the dark spirit. The other side is impotent to rise to the defense of all that's sacred that's being destroyed." The essay now continues thus:

But the sacred is something that Liberal America, by and large, has not been tapping into. That was not always true.

One can sense the sacred in the words of FDR, for example, engraved in the granite in that memorial on the National Mall. (And FDR was not shy about going toe to toe against his enemies, whether it be to help make the nation a better place or to stop the predations of the fascist powers against much of the world.)

That was then. But if one listens to the voice of Liberal America in these times, one does not get that same sense of being on not just a constructive effort but a sacred mission.

Lacking connection with the spirit and the power it confers, Liberal America has been consistently weak as this crisis has grown. For the spirit not only gives hope, but strength as well.

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Evil Spirit v. No Spirit = Triumph of Destructiveness

by: Andy Schmookler

Thu Jul 10, 2014 at 14:16:18 PM EDT

( - promoted by lowkell)

Part II of "Dispirited Liberal America"

Part I discussed how hopelessness is a sign of loss of contact with what might be called "the spirit," because the spirit infuses a sense of possibility. History shows, too, that when the spirit enters in, "the apparently impossible can happen."

Liberal America's disconnection from the power of the spiritual dimension is not only manifested in this hopelessness I've heard from people. The costs of this condition go a lot deeper. Indeed, it is through Liberal America's "dispirited" state that this side of America's political divide has played an important role in letting destructive forces wield so much power in our political system.  

The whole of the American body politic is exposed as defective by our current political pathology.

A famous line from the poet Yeats: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are filled with a passionate intensity."

Here is what I see as the two-part central truth regarding our current national crisis.

  • The once-respectable Republican Party has become the instrument of something that warrants being called an "evil force"; and the response from Liberal America to this threat has been woefully weak in ways that reveal important defects in much of Liberal America in relation to the spirit.
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Tim Kaine Introduces Legislative Fix to "Hobby Lobby" Decision

by: lowkell

Wed Jul 09, 2014 at 16:19:09 PM EDT

From Sen. Tim Kaine's office. Not that this will ever pass the Teahadist House, but it's good work nonetheless. 




WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine introduced the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act to restore the contraceptive coverage requirement guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act and protect coverage of other health services from employers who want to impose their beliefs on their employees by denying benefits. Kaine joined lead Senate sponsors Patty Murray and Mark Udall and 34 of their Senate colleagues to introduce the bill in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby last month. Representatives Diana DeGette, Jerrold Nadler, and Louise Slaughter are introducing companion legislation in the House of Representatives.


“I am proud to sponsor important legislation to protect women's right to health care from interference by their employers,” said Kaine. “The Hobby Lobby case held that certain companies could deny women contraceptive coverage for religious reasons while also citing that religious objections could not be used to bar coverage for other conditions. Contraception is an important preventive health service which has been constitutionally protected since the 1960s, but the Court has now made it fair game for corporate interference. This legislation will protect women's health choices.”


When the Supreme Court first heard arguments in Hobby Lobby, Kaine stated his firm belief that a woman has the right to make her own health care choices and that such decisions should not be left to corporate leadership. Kaine reiterated that sentiment when he expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the contraceptive coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act.


“With this bill, Congress can begin to fix the damage done by the Supreme Court’s decision to allow for-profit corporations to deny their employees birth control coverage. The Supreme Court last week opened the door to a wide range of discrimination and denial of services. This bill would help close the door for denying contraception before more corporations can walk through it," said Cecile Richards, President, Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "As the nation's leading advocate for women’s reproductive health care, Planned Parenthood Action Fund is committed to making sure women can get the no-copay birth control benefit that we and others fought so hard to pass and protect. No woman should lose access to birth control because her boss doesn't approve of it.”


"Last week, we heard a collective gasp across the country as Americans everywhere tried to make sense of five male Justices on the Supreme Court deciding that our bosses could have control over our birth control in the Hobby Lobby decision,” said Ilyse Hogue, President, NARAL Pro-Choice America. “Today, we hear those gasps turn to cheers as we see champions in Congress move to right this wrong. Ninety-nine percent of American women use some form of birth control in our lifetimes, and all medical experts agree that these remedies should be included in comprehensive healthcare. Anything less than this amounts to discrimination against women in the workplace. If there's one thing we can agree upon more than the idea that politicians aren't equipped to decide for us how and when and with whom we have families, it's that our bosses are even less so. This bill is the first step in making sure those personal healthcare decision stay where they belong -- in the hands of the women whose lives are affected."


“This critical legislation will protect women’s health care services guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act and safeguard their rights,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President, National Women’s Law Center. “Women have worked for and earned the right to have their health needs covered—just as men do.  This legislation makes it unmistakably clear that businesses, in the name of religion, can neither discriminate against their female employees nor impose their religious beliefs on them.  Bosses should stick to what they know best—the board room and the bottom line—and stay out of the bedroom and exam room.”


In introducing the legislation, Senator Kaine joined Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Mark Udall (D-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Carl Levin (D-MI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), John Walsh (D-MT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).


The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act has been endorsed by:

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

American Sexual Health Association

Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Association of Reproductive Health Professionals

Black Women's Health Imperative

Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR)

Gender Justice

Global Justice Institute

Guttmacher Institute

Innovation Ohio

Institute for Science and Human Values

Lambda Legal

Law Students for Reproductive Justice

Maine Women's Lobby

Methodist Federation for Social Action

Metropolitan Community Churches

NARAL Pro-Choice America

National Council of Jewish Women

National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

National Partnership for Women and Families

National Women's Law Center

People For the American Way

Physicians for Reproductive Health

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Population Connection Action Fund

Secular Woman

The Center for Women Policy Studies

The National Abortion Federation

The United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

The Women's Media Center


Women's Business Development Center

Women's Law Project 

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Sen. Warner Raises Questions About Facebook Experiment that Manipulated News Feed Information

by: lowkell

Wed Jul 09, 2014 at 15:09:08 PM EDT

From Sen. Mark Warner's office:



~ Facebook data scientists manipulated content of nearly 700K users to study emotional response ~


WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) asked privacy and consumer protection experts at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to provide more information on recent reports that the social network Facebook conducted an experiment involving nearly 700,000 users to study the emotional impact of manipulating information on their News Feeds. In a letter today to the FTC, which has worked with Facebook on its privacy policies, Sen. Warner asked the agency to explore the potential ramifications of the experiment, and to consider questions about what, if any, oversight would be appropriate for behavioral studies conducted by social media platforms. Sen. Warner also asked for an opinion on whether best practices should be developed and enforced by the industry, or by the FTC.


“I come from the technology world, and I understand that social media companies are looking for ways to extract value from the information willingly provided by their huge customer base,” Sen. Warner said. “I don’t know if  Facebook’s manipulation of users’ news feeds was appropriate or not. But I think many consumers were surprised to learn they had given permission by agreeing to Facebook’s terms of service. And I think the industry could benefit from a conversation about what are the appropriate rules of the road going forward.”


Sen. Warner has been a leader in the Senate in calling for improved consumer protections in the new digital economy.  Yesterday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence included his amendment  to produce a comprehensive report of the threat from cyberattacks and cybercrime in their bipartisan cybersecurity package. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner chaired a Senate Banking subcommittee hearing on the recent massive credit and debit card security breaches impacting major retailers like Target and Neiman Marcus and millions of American consumers. He also successfully pushed retailers to establish an information sharing platform to better coordinate with law enforcement agencies and partners in the financial services sector to more efficiently combat cybersecurity threats, in the wake of the Target data breach.  


Full text of Sen. Warner’s letter is below and a PDF is available here.




July 9, 2014



The Honorable Edith Ramirez, Chairwoman

The Honorable Julie Brill, Commissioner

The Honorable Maureen K. Ohlhausen, Commissioner

The Honorable Joshua D. Wright, Commissioner

The Honorable Terrell McSweeny, Commissioner

Federal Trade Commission

600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20580


Dear Chairwoman Ramirez and Commissioners Brill, Ohlhausen, Wright, and McSweeny:


I am writing to urge the Federal Trade Commission to fully explore the potential ramifications of the behavioral experiment performed by Facebook in 2012. Recent reports indicate Facebook altered the news feeds of almost 700,000 of its users to determine whether emotions and moods might be transmitted between users. As the collection and analysis of “big data” continues to increase, and as it assumes a larger role in the business plans of Internet-based companies, it is appropriate that we consider questions about what, if any, oversight might be appropriate, and whether best practices should be developed and implemented by the industry or by the FTC. Given the FTC’s leadership in this area, including your recent data brokers report, and your previous oversight of Facebook’s privacy policies, I also would be interested to know if this 2012 experiment violated Section 5 of the FTC Act or the 2011 consent agreement with Facebook.


According to reports, it is not clear whether Facebook users were adequately informed and given an opportunity to opt-in or opt-out. I also have concerns about whether or not Facebook responsibly assessed the risks and benefits of conducting this behavioral experiment as well as the ethical guidelines, if any, that were used to protect individuals. According to Facebook, the effects of its news feed manipulation were relatively modest, with as little as one-tenth of a percent of those studied showing any observable change in behavior. However, I am concerned that the exponential growth in the universe of social media consumers could place us on a slippery slope. Future studies like this, without proper oversight or appropriate review, could have a significant impact upon a large number of consumers.


The very fact that important questions remain unanswered highlights the lack of transparency around these business practices. For example, while Facebook may not have been legally required to conduct an independent ethical review of this behavioral research, the experiment invites questions about whether procedures should be in place to govern this type of research. 


To be certain, big data has the potential to help power economic activity and growth while serving consumers in meaningful ways. Companies like Facebook may have to perform research on a broad scale in order to improve their products. However, because of the constantly evolving nature of social media, big data and the Internet, many of these issues currently fall into unchartered territory. 


I am not convinced that additional federal regulation is the answer. Public concerns may be more appropriately addressed through industry self-regulation. As the federal regulator with oversight of privacy and consumer protection policies, I would be interested in your responses to the following questions: 


1.      Does the FTC have a role to play in improving transparency, accountability and consumer trust in industry’s use of big data? 

2.      Are there better ways to educate consumers, or otherwise improve transparency, about the practices consumers agree to through their use of social media platforms? Are there incentives in place for companies to voluntarily create, or to consult with independent review boards, or to utilize other means of self-regulation before conducting studies such as this?  Additionally, are there incentives that could encourage the hiring or designation of a Chief Privacy Officers at social media companies, or to establish other credible internal review programs? 

3.      Does the FTC make any distinction between passively observing user data versus actively manipulating it? Should consumers be provided more of an explicit option to opt-in or opt-out of such studies? Additionally, is it appropriate for any research findings to be shared with participants prior to public dissemination?

4.      Does the FTC or another federal entity require any additional regulatory authority or technology in order to monitor this type of data-mining?


I believe this conversation will be useful both for industry, which will learn more about consumer expectations, and for consumers, who will benefit from a reminder about online privacy and the potential commercial uses of their personal information. I look forward to your timely response to these questions.






Mark. R. Warner

United States Senator 

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Wondering About Hillary

by: Andy Schmookler

Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 11:00:01 AM EDT

( - promoted by lowkell)

An article in the Wall Street Journal reports on some ways in which Hillary Clinton is distancing herself from President Obama, as she tries to convey to the electorate that a Hillary Clinton presidency wouldn't be a "de facto third Obama term."

At one point, the article says: "In another contrast, Mrs. Clinton has said U.S. presidents must never stop courting Congress."

At that point in the article, I inwardly screamed, "Oh, no!"

Let me put it this way. I can understand the politics of such a statement. It's probably smart to say. But if that's what she really thinks, she's not the president we need.

Not courting the Republicans in Congress could hardly be further from President Obama's error. They have made war on him from Day One, and his repeated attempts to "court" -- and appease -- them has brought him to his present pass: a president who can achieve virtually nothing legislatively.

(And now the Republicans are taking him to court to stop his accomplishing things by executive order. Next year, they quite possibly will try impeachment.)

Again and again, Obama reached out to the Republicans in Congress, only to get his hand bitten again and again. This president's giving up on the idea that the Republicans had any interest in accomplishing anything for the good of the nation was an important step forward.

A Democratic president dealing with this congressional Republican Party has no business "courting" them. But I'd agree with Hillary's statement (assuming the WSJ reported it rightly) to this extent: there's something better to do with this Congress -- i.e. with the obstructionist Republicans who control (by strangling) the legislative process -- than merely ignore it.

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Iraq Trap: Remember, It Wasn't the "Surge"

by: Dan Sullivan

Sun Jul 06, 2014 at 11:46:33 AM EDT

 photo 140706AbuGhraib_zpsb1c88e26.jpgThough tempting to believe American military power turned the tide in Iraq when President Bush sent in additional troops and that today that same resolve can save an illegitimate government, neither is true. We learned this lesson in Viet Nam. The military answer is simple. Obama's political choice is not.

Two important forces converged at the moment George Bush decided to throw more troops into the fray against the growing Iraqi insurgency. Neither were military. Neither were affirmations of support. It was the story of choosing the lesser evil as perceived by the Iraqi people.

American military forces committed atrocities that alienated the most important factors in any insurgency: the hearts and minds of the populace. It is a convenient fact that the American people were never allowed to grasp the full impact of Abu Ghraib and other moral lapses committed by our troops and their leadership. That failed leadership extends, by the way, all the way to Washington D.C. and is not limited to the principal resident of the White House. But as my Australian officer classmate, Mal Reardon, liked to aver, "Winners are grinners."

If you love America, you should read this even though it won't be pleasant. But for you super-patriots who love a place that doesn't exist, beware of cognitive dissonance.

In the fall of 2003 the rules of engagement for the invasion of Iraq included sweeping suspected regime sympathizers into custody. The term sympathizer was applied broadly and interpreted by at least one unit to include reporters for Arab news media. As told to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Iraq After The Invasion, one reporter from al Jazeera was taken into custody when he responded to an explosion of a mini-bus in Diyala province north of Baghdad.  He had been detained before and thought it would be the same questions and same result: release after an hour or two. This time was different; he was taken to a prison that had been infamous as a site of torture and execution under the Hussein regime: Abu Ghraib. We had taken part of the facility and used it as a military prison.

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We See Now More Clearly All that The Supreme Court Stole from the People in Bush v. Gore

by: Andy Schmookler

Wed Jul 02, 2014 at 17:08:31 PM EDT

( - promoted by lowkell)

The decision in Bush v. Gore was so disgraceful on the face of it that the Court itself warned against using its "reasoning" in other cases. The five conservative justices elected Bush president.

After eight years -- after, that is, a couple of botched wars, and after the dismantling of financial regulation combined with the mishandling of monetary policy in the face of a hugely inflated housing bubble wrecking the American economy, and after the degradation of our political system -- we managed to get rid of the man the Supremes appointed president.

But this week reminded us, if any reminder were needed, that the impact of presidents outlive their terms in office. Because of Bush v. Gore, we now have Roberts and Alito on the Court. The Court that gave us Bush v. Gore was bad enough, but their decision ushered in a Court still worse.

And now, too, it becomes more visible what has been the essential purpose of the right's long and determined campaign to create this Court: to shift power from the American people to the Corporate system.

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Unhinged! Fresh Evidence in the Aftermath of Cochran's Victory in Mississippi

by: Andy Schmookler

Thu Jun 26, 2014 at 14:43:05 PM EDT

( - promoted by lowkell)

We often hear about the disconnect from reality on the right.

Paul Krugman keeps exclaiming about the way his peers as professional economists, who are on the right, continue to generate zombie ideas (disproved but never die) and refuse to recognize when they've been proven wrong-- contrary to every value of intellectual integrity that Krugman holds dear.

Here at Blue Virginia, Lowell Feld tells us, again and again between parentheses in the morning news report, how bat**** crazy so much of what we see on the right (think E.W. Jackson) is.

And so on.

The picture keeps being presented, showing a disconnect from reality over there on the right. Unhinged in some really troubling way.

Now from Mississippi there comes further proof of the unhingedness of that spirit, and why it's something America must reject.

I saw it last night on Rachel Maddow's show, when she reported -- in a piece called "Schism"-- how the Tea Party world is responding to Cochran's victory-- particularly to the way he won by appealing to black Democratic voters to support him against McDaniels, a fiercely right-wing candidate who seems to appeal to the Klan and militia types.

A lot of right-wingers reject the outcome, and McDaniel himself refuses to concede defeat, questioning -- for no good reason that I can see -- the legitimacy of Cochran's victory.

Now, I don't like open primaries, but that's the law in Mississippi. And politics is played to win however one can, for the most part, and anyone who follows the rules and wins the election has done what he's supposed to do-- by the ethics of political campaigns. Particularly if there is no lying involved, as it seems there was not in Cochran's play for black voters.

Cochran won, fair and square.

And he had no need to lie because the black Democrats of Mississippi simply needed to see the truth: they had a strong and quite legitimate stake in preventing someone to come to power who seems to represent (albeit with some subtlety) the very force that inflicted generations of pain upon African Americans -- in slavery, in Jim Crow, in the politics of segregation.

And one would think that a sane Tea Party might interpret the willingness of black people to vote for Cochran as a sign that maybe they are showing themselves to be something too ugly to win acceptance from America, taken as a whole. Maybe it would get these Tea Partiers to take a closer look in the mirror.

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My Take on Billy Graham (and Liberty University), in Spiritual Terms

by: Andy Schmookler

Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 04:28:47 AM EDT

( - promoted by lowkell)

A Reader (a conservative Christian) commented, on a post in which I condemned Liberty University as a "bastion of hypocrisy"-- [see Note below for what I wrote about Liberty]:
Just curious; what do you think of Billy Graham ?
He's deluded ?
A false 'prophet' ?
I think he did not object to his grandson attending Liberty (?)
Do you think he could help the cause of Christianity by denouncing Liberty U ?
And I responded:

I basically have respect for Billy Graham, and I think he was in some ways a man of God. One could tell that he had some godly virtues that were real.

(He's a whole lot more whole a spirit than this Franklin Graham (his son?) who seems a very warped spirit, at heart.)

But he was in other ways broken, too.  Billy Graham truly believed in some Christ-like things, but he also had a weakness for power, for being seduced and attracted by power.

His relationship with Richard Nixon is powerful evidence that within Billy Graham there was another spirit -- a spirit of brokenness -- besides the Christian spirit.

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Right Wing of GOP Not Pleased About Kevin McCarthy?

by: lowkell

Thu Jun 19, 2014 at 17:14:32 PM EDT

Is the right wing of the Republican Party unhappy about the election of Kevin McCarthy as the new Republican Majority Leader in the House of Representatives? Perhaps not, if The Bull Elephant post, "Breaking: The Stupid Party Doubles Down", is any indication. (note: the Bull Elephant is the leading conservative blog in Virginia, according to none other than Ken Cuccinelli)
McCarthy, as conservatives know by now, is a Cantor clone. The party elite could not have been more tone-deaf in this selection, but of course all they listen to are the lobbyists who facilitate the flow of campaign donations. The GOP has long been known as "the Stupid Party" (as opposed to the Democrats who are "the Evil Party"), and if ever there was confirmation of that moniker, we got it today.

That sound you hear? That's the sound of your party leadership flipping you the bird.

I don't know how McCarthy is going to be able to function as Majority Leader when he is vehemently opposed by a majority of his own party's voters. But one thing I am quite sure of is that the GOP Civil War just went national, and things are about to get real.

The party could not have picked a more offensive, outrageous candidate for Majority Leader.

It's on.

All I have to say is...pass the popcorn, please! :)
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