Items filtered by date: Thursday, 07 December 2017

Minnesota governor Mark Dayton is expected to appoint lieutenant governor Tina Smith to replace United States Senator Al Franken, who resigned amid sexual harassment allegations. But Smith is now contemplating running for reelection in 2018, which has Democrats applying pressure on Dayton to appoint more than just a caretaker to the Senate seat.

Democrats have a stable of good horses to win the 2018 race for Franken’s vacated seat, but U.S. House Representative from Minnesota’s fifth district, Keith Ellison, is the thoroughbred. Ellison has served as the fifth district’s House Representative since 2007, so he’s put in the time to earn a promotion to the Senate. Furthermore, he’d vacate another U.S. Congressional seat Democrats could easily win back in 2018 given its Minneapolis voting base. But who will replace Ellison if he indeed runs for the U.S. Senate in 2018?

Here are the candidates most likely to run for Minnesota’s fifth district if Ellison does run for Franken’s Senate seat.

Lori Swanson, Minnesota Attorney General

Rumor is Swanson wants to run for governor, and her office didn’t return our call as of this writing, but she’d probably be a shoe-in for the U.S. House. For an attorney general, Swanson has pretty good name recognition throughout the state and even the nation. She was named one of America’s top ten lawyers by Lawyers USA in 2009, and the very next year, she was named Public Official of the Year by the Minnesota Nurses Association, whose support would be essential for a Democratic victory in Minnesota’s Fifth U.S. House District.

Ginger Jentzen, Socialist Alternative Party

Jentzen was the big story out of Minnesota during the 2017 municipal elections despite losing a bid for Minneapolis’s City Council. She won the popular vote in seven of 12 precincts, but lost the seat to ranked-choice voting. She didn’t get enough second- or third-choice votes to get a majority. That wouldn’t be the case in a race for Minnesota’s fifth district for the U.S. House, where a win would make her the first Socialist in the House of Representatives since Victor Berger of neighboring Wisconsin in 1910 (Bernie Sanders served in the House as an Independent, and retains that affiliation in the Senate). Jentzen had no comment when asked if she’d be interested in running for the U.S. House seat at a Socialist Alternative event on Saturday night.

Raymond Dehn, Democratic Farmer Labor

Dehn was a close second to Jacob Frey in the Minneapolis mayoral race in 2017, garnering 42.8 percent of the vote, but was fourth in first-choice votes. Tom Hoch and incumbent Betsy Hodges received more first-choice votes than Dehn, but Hoch gave money to Republicans, and Hodges isn’t likely to perform well given her third-place finish as incumbent mayor of Minneapolis.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, Democratic Farmer Labor

Pounds was fifth in first-choice votes for Minneapolis mayor, but would certainly receive the endorsement of Ellison given her work as President of the Minnesota NAACP. Ellison was the first black Representative elected out of Minnesota, and was the first ever Muslim Congressman elected in the United States.

If Smith intends to run for reelection, however, Franken’s vacant Senate seat would be ripe for Republican picking. Franken barely edged Republican Norm Coleman back in 2008, and Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016 by just 1.5 percentage points in 2016.

Update: Pounds returned a message stating she has no interest in running for the District 5 U.S. House seat, but offered two candidates who might.

Jamal Abdulahi, Democratic Farmer Labor

Abdulahi announced his candidacy for Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District when Ellison was being considered as chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2016. He is a Somali American who grew up in Minnesota and would be the first Somali American in Congress. He'd be continuing a trend in Minnesota, which has the largest Somali American population in the country by far. Minnesotans elected the first Somali American Muslim woman to the state legislature last year.

 

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Published in News & Information
Thursday, 07 December 2017 21:35

The wild ride of Bitcoin

So, what’s going on with Bitcoin?

 

First of all, for those that do not know -- Bitcoin is what is known as a “cryptocurrency”, a virtual "coin" that is "mined" by and stored on computers. Wikipedia lists 1324 types of cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin is, by far the most popular.

 

Lovers of cryptocurrencies are huge fans of the anonymity of using them. Bitcoin is not one hundred percent  untraceable as there is a log of all transactions and information does leak but coin owners are not identified by any immediately identifiable ID. Which makes it easy to use Bitcoins (and other cryptocurrencies) to buy -- well, you know -- illegal shit (and legal shit). Basically it’s virtual money used to purchase goods. Virtual money that is really hard to trace back to the buyer.

 

I first heard the term “Bitcoin” about four years ago at a job interview. The interviewer proudly told me that his website accepts Bitcoin and is the first MPLS based retail store of its kind to do so. Despite my zero understanding of what a Bitcoin was I nodded sagely and pretended to know what he was talking about, hoping that he would like me more and give me the job.I did, after all, need the job.

 

I did not get the job. But whatever. That was then and now my job is writing to tell you about the wild ride that is Bitcoin.

 

Where does Bitcoin come from?

 

Well, like a good spy novel the origins of Bitcoin are shrouded in a bit of mystery. In that, no one really knows who invented Bitcoin. I mean, we have a name -- Satoshi Nakamoto and either no one actually knows who he is or no one is talking about his identity.

 

In 2008 the domain name “bitcoin.org” was registered and late that year a link to a paper called, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” penned by Mr. Nakamoto himself was posted to a cryptography mailing list.

 

In 2009 the bitcoin software was released as open source code. Open source code, as you may or may not know,  is software (usually) published and made available to the public, enabling anyone to use or alter the code without paying fees. But the identity of Mr. Nakamoto (Miss Nakamoto?) remains unclear.

 

In 2010 Mr. Nakamoto handed control of the Bitcoin core code to Gavin Andersen, and then subsequently disappeared from all involvement in bitcoin. If Mr. Andersen knows who Mr. Nakamoto is, he certainly never told anyone.

 

Andersen took over and immediately decentralized control of the Bitcoin core code so that, in his own words, if he ever got, “...hit by a bus … the project would go on.”

 

The value of the first bitcoin transactions was negotiated between parties. And so folks decided themselves how much an individual bitcoin was worth including a famous early Bitcoin transaction for a Papa John’s pizza delivery.

 

Which brings me to this -- on Thursday December 7th the market decided that the value of Bitcoin was -- sixteen thousand dollars. Each.

 

Oh. Wow.

 

I remember hearing about this crazy little thing called Bitcoin and thinking that only a sucker would buy virtual money for three hundred and eighty five dollars per coin (at the time). That was a few years ago.

 

Today they’re worth sixteen thousand. I guess the joke is on me.

 

There are huge retail chains that accept Bitcoin. Some folks think Bitcoin is in a bubble and will pop -- to disastrous results. Some folks think regulation is a coming. Luke Kawa over at MSN Money writes:

 

“Given bitcoin’s checkered history as the means to purchase illicit materials, a vehicle for capital flight, and a victim of theft, it’s no surprise that regulators around the world have cast a watchful eye over the asset class. As such, the specter of a complete crackdown on cryptocurrencies remains an ever-present tail risk. The SEC has been keeping an eye on crypto and has given guidance saying some tokens may be securities, making them subject to their oversight.”

 

And later, Kawa writes, “Federal Reserve Chair nominee Jerome Powell said bitcoin isn’t big enough to matter right now, but alluded to the possibility that it could impede the central bank’s transmission mechanism "in the long, long run."

 

Maybe. Nothing is, after all, perfect. Maybe some regulation will be in order. After all, in 2010 someone spotted a vulnerability in the Bitcoin protocol and exploited it, creating 184 billion Bitcoins; but within hours the transaction was spotted and erased by the Bitcoin gods. The vulnerability was repaired and now Bitcoin remains pretty safe.  

 

But still hackers and theft remains a huge issue, obviously. Regulation might lead to more protection. Or not. I think it’s too early to tell. The Bitcoin ride has been wild. Perhaps the Bitcoin bubble will burst. It took years for many folks, including me, to take it seriously. But there are many that love, love, love Bitcoin and anonymity of cryptocurrencies so I don’t see it going anywhere any time soon.

 

Anyway. Sixteen thousand dollars per Bitcoin. That’s a lot of Papa John’s pizza.

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Published in News & Information
Thursday, 07 December 2017 18:52

Back to Voting on Paper Ballots?

A hue and cry is mounting around the country that voting machines used on Election Day are eminently hackable. Congress is investigating charges by the Office of Homeland Security that Russia attempted to hack into voting machines in 21 different states. So is the integrity of our election system being undermined? Are computer hackers able to change election results? What gives?

Obviously, there is something fishy going on. It’s not just the election system being hacked. New reports have told us that computer systems of major companies like Sony, Equifax and even the U.S. Office of Personnel Management have been broken into. So how can we be sure that your vote cast the polls on Election Day is secure?

There is a recent push by election reformers to go back to, can you believe, paper ballots. That’s right. Just like the first American elections back in the 1800s. There is a non-profit group called Verify Voting that is telling state officials: “We have a single technology at our disposal that is invulnerable to hacking: paper.” So will elections officials do an about face and reinstitute the paper ballot system?

When I was elected as Louisiana Secretary of State back in 1979, there were a number of election fraud allegations. I formed an Election Integrity Commission and appointed former Secretary of State Wade O. Martin to head up the effort to weed out voter fraud. Were election shenanigans going on in the Bayou State? I often quoted former governor Earl Long, who once said: “Oh Lord, when I die, let me be buried in Louisiana. So I can stay active in politics.” Of course there was voter fraud back then using paper ballots.

As one retired local sheriff told me, you could make the election results dance with paper ballots during absentee voting. Here’s how one could beat the system. During the two-week absentee voting period, the sheriff would have his deputies pick up agreeable voters and bring them to the courthouse to vote.

A piece of paper was cut as the same size as the official ballot. The first voter was given the fake ballot and instructed go into the Clerk of Court’s office where absentee voting was taking place. He was instructed to drop the fake ballot into the voting box, put the real ballot into his pocket, bring it back out to the sheriff, where he was paid five or ten dollars, whatever the going rate was to buy votes back then.

Once the first official ballot was in hand, the vote buyer would mark the ballot for whoever he was supporting, give it to the next voter, tell the voter to put the official ballot into the ballot box, return with an unmarked ballot, and he would be paid for his effort. This could go on all day for the two-week voting period with hundreds of illegal votes being cast.

This scheme was used, particularly in rural areas in the state, by numerous candidates who were trying to beat the system. So no system at the present time seems to be foolproof. But elections officials should move cautiously about throwing the current system to the wind and go back to paper ballots.

Louisiana presently has some 10,000 voting machines in 64 parishes. Current Secretary of State Tom Schedler is confident that the present election system works in Louisiana. He’s done a commendable job so far. But he has his work cut out in the future in putting in place cybersecurity that protects the integrity of the ballot, but still makes it easy for citizens to cast their vote.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

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Jim Brown is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. His column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show, Common Sense, each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Communication Network.

 

 

Published in News & Information