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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

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Rich people rule!

Everyone thinks they know that money is important in American politics. But how important? The Supreme Court’s Gilded Age reasoning in McCutcheon v. FEC has inspired a flurry of commentary regarding the potential corrosive influence of campaign contributions; but that commentary largely ignores the broader question of how economic power shapes American politics and policy. For decades, most political scientists have sidestepped that question, because it has not seemed amenable to rigorous (meaning quantitative) scientific investigation. Qualitative studies of the political role of economic elites have mostly been relegated to the margins of the field. But now, political scientists are belatedly turning more systematic attention to the political impact of wealth, and their findings should reshape how we think about American democracy.

A forthcoming article in Perspectives on Politics by (my former colleague) Martin Gilens and (my sometime collaborator) Benjamin Page marks a notable step in that process. Drawing on the same extensive evidence employed by Gilens in his landmark book “Affluence and Influence,” Gilens and Page analyze 1,779 policy outcomes over a period of more than 20 years. They conclude that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Average citizens have “little or no independent influence” on the policy-making process? This must be an overstatement of Gilens’s and Page’s findings, no?

Alas, no. In their primary statistical analysis, the collective preferences of ordinary citizens had only a negligible estimated effect on policy outcomes, while the collective preferences of “economic elites” (roughly proxied by citizens at the 90th percentile of the income distribution) were 15 times as important. “Mass-based interest groups” mattered, too, but only about half as much as business interest groups — and the preferences of those public interest groups were only weakly correlated (.12) with the preferences of the public as measured in opinion surveys.



No evidence of forgery in ancient text mentioning ‘Jesus’s wife’

By Lisa Wangsness

New scientific tests have turned up no evidence of modern forgery in a text written on ancient Egyptian papyrus that refers to Jesus as being married, according to a long-awaited article to be published Thursday in the Harvard Theological Review.

The findings support the argument of Harvard professor Karen L. King that the controversial text, the first-known explicit reference to a married Jesus, is almost certainly an authentic document.

The “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” was introduced to the world by King at a conference in Rome 18 months ago. The announcement made headlines around the world, and many of King’s academic peers, as well as the Vatican newspaper, swiftly dismissed it as a fake.

King maintains the document was probably part of a debate among early Christians about the role of women, family, and celibacy in spiritual life.



RNC Chair Complains That The Supreme Court Hasn’t Done Enough To Let Rich Donors Give The GOP Money



After the Republican victory in last week’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision, the $123,200 limit on total donations to candidates and parties is dead, but limits on how much a wealthy individual can give to a particular candidate ($5,200) or to the RNC itself ($32,400) remain in place. Moreover, although the McCutcheon decision effectively legalized several money laundering schemes that will enable a single rich donor to channel a few million dollars to contested races, it is unlikely that those schemes could be used to launder tens or hundreds of millions of dollars from a single donor. So if Priebus wants casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who spent about $150 million in to help elect Republicans in 2012, to write a nine-figure check to the RNC, he is currently out of luck.

This, according to Priebus, is a problem. During his interview with Hewitt, the RNC chair claimed that we should not “have caps at all” — so if Adelson wants to write a single $100 million check to the RNC he should have the right to do so. And then Adelson went after one of the few remaining categories of campaign finance laws that were explicitly endorsed by Citizens United and McCutcheon — disclosure laws. According to Priebus,

You’ve got now groups that are targeting people viciously, both businesses and individuals, because their names are disclosed. I mean, you want to be for disclosure. But when you start to see some of the cases out there where people are targeted, and businesses are targeted and picketed and threatened for political contributions, then now you’re suppressing free speech through disclosure.

Priebus’s decision to tell tales of donors being harassed for their political donations is not exactly surprising. The Citizens United opinion held that a campaign finance disclosure law “would be unconstitutional as applied to an organization if there were a reasonable probability that the group’s members would face threats, harassment, or reprisals if their names were disclosed.” So Priebus is prying on a crack that the justices already created for him. In the world Priebus seems to be advocating for, however, Adelson could not just write a $100 million check to the RNC, he could do so anonymously.


This seems ripe for one of EarlG's special graphics.

Has the NSA Been Using the Heartbleed Bug as an Internet Peephole?

When ex-government contractor Edward Snowden exposed the NSA’s widespread efforts to eavesdrop on the internet, encryption was the one thing that gave us comfort. Even Snowden touted encryption as a saving grace in the face of the spy agency’s snooping. “Encryption works,” the whistleblower said last June. “Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.”

But Snowden also warned that crypto systems aren’t always properly implemented. “Unfortunately,” he said, “endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it.”

This week, that caveat hit home — in a big way — when researchers revealed Heartbleed, a two-year-old security hole involving the OpenSSL software many websites use to encrypt traffic. The vulnerability doesn’t lie in the encryption itself, but in how the encrypted connection between a website and your computer is handled. On a scale of one to ten, cryptographer Bruce Schneier ranks the flaw an eleven.

Though security vulnerabilities come and go, this one is deemed catastrophic because it’s at the core of SSL, the encryption protocol so many have trusted to protect their data. “It really is the worst and most widespread vulnerability in SSL that has come out,” says Matt Blaze, cryptographer and computer security professor at the University of Pennsylvania. But the bug is also unusually worrisome because it could possibly be used by hackers to steal your usernames and passwords — for sensitive services like banking, ecommerce, and web-based email — and by spy agencies to steal the private keys that vulnerable web sites use to encrypt your traffic to them.



Thursday TOON Roundup 4- The Rest

Kerry vs. McCain







Thursday TOON Roundup 3- Lost Wages

Thursday TOON Roundup 2- Court ordered Oligarchy

Thursday Toon Roundup 1- Bowel Moving Pictures

Astronomers find 'diamond engagement ring' in space (big space pic)

(CNN) -- Planetary nebula Abell 33 has taken on romantic proportions.

The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope has captured a spectacular image of a planetary nebula aligned with a star in such a way that it looks like a diamond engagement ring.

Abell 33 came from a star that's going to become a white dwarf, which is one way that a star can evolve at the end of its life. White dwarfs are small, dense and hot, and they cool down over billions of years.

The star entering this last phase of its life blows off its atmosphere into space. This results in glowing gas clouds known as planetary nebulae, such as this one that looks like a round bubble or ring.

In the image, the original star appears in the center of the blue bubble. It is more luminous than our sun, and its ultraviolet radiation gives a glow to the ring of atmosphere that has been cast out. Scientists are not yet sure if it's actually a double star or just a chance alignment in the image.




Re-Telling America’s Origin Stories

By Matt Shuham

The social books website Goodreads has an incredibly handy user-generated list of The New York Times’s best-selling fiction and nonfiction books of 2013. Most notable was just how many of 2013’s nonfiction bestsellers were written by conservative television and radio personalities.

Bill O’Reilly was most prolific: three books of his, Killing Kennedy, Killing Lincoln, and Killing Jesus, all showed up on the Times’s list at one point or another, in all cases for multiple weeks. Other VIPs join O’Reilly on the list with their own efforts: Glenn Beck with Miracles and Massacres: True and Untold Stories of the Making of America, Brian Kilmeade with George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, and Mark Levin with The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic.

Besides the astounding fact that these books were written at all amid the media personalities’ hectic schedules (though some professed to the help of “co-authors”), it is even more interesting to look into the works’ subject matter. With only two exceptions, Glenn Beck’s Control and Charles Krauthammer’s Things That Matter, all of the books on the 2013 conservative-pundit-nonfiction-bestseller list are historical in nature.

This is affirming, not surprising: conservatives have always couched their arguments firmly in the past. The Tea Party is only the most visible recent example of the right appropriating historical imagery. We all remember Sarah Palin telling us that Paul Revere “warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms,” a reminder that “we were going to be secure and we were going to be free,” and Mike Huckabee’s enthusiastic, though inaccurate, reminder that 56 delegates signed the Declaration of Independence, “most of whom, by the way, were clergymen.” Indeed, conservatism almost by definition is historical. The Encyclopedia Britannica explains that conservatives value “traditional institutions and practices,” and that they prefer “the historically inherited rather than the abstract and ideal.”

Appropriating the past for political gain—that is, retelling history to suit one’s own ideological position—is a tradition that goes back to James Madison and his quest for a more centralized federal government. He, Alexander Hamilton, and others won that battle in no small part due to using historical propaganda as a talking point.


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