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Election 2020

Elizabeth Warren’s Opioid Plan Welcomed In Area Flooded With Millions Of Prescription Pills

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U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren speaks to a crowd in Kermit, West Virginia, on Friday, May 10, 2019. Photo: Kara Lofton/WVPB

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) outlined her plan to tackle the opioid epidemic during a campaign stop Friday in a small West Virginia town where many attendees were just happy to see a politician show up.

Kermit, with a population of 400, has been held up as an example of the nation’s opioid epidemic since it was reported that nearly 9 million hydrocodone pills were shipped to a small pharmacy in the town by the McKesson Corporation in the course of two years. Locals and people from the surrounding area gathered at the town’s fire and rescue station to hear Warren’s proposals, eager that someone from Washington was willing to listen to their concerns.

Jada Hunter, 74, is a retired principal and president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Association of University Women. She said that after watching her neighborhood “change for the worst,” she’s just happy to see someone put forth a plan to address the opioid problem.

“Too often people in our area feel neglected,” she said. “To me, just the fact that she has [an opioid policy plan], that’s enough for me.”

Warren is the second Democratic presidential contender to roll out such a plan this year, though this is an updated version of one she first introduced alongside Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) last year. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) unveiled a proposal to combat drug addiction and mental health issues last week. 

Durand Warren, 46, the director of behavioral services at the Williamson Health and Wellness Center, said that if someone wants to bring money to help fight the area’s opioid crisis, “I don’t care what party you are.”

“I don’t care who you support,” said Warren, who’s not related to the senator. “My main concern is keeping people alive.”

Wayne Williamson, 42, is a captain at the fire station, which is staffed by volunteers. He said Friday’s event wasn’t confirmation that anyone who worked at the fire department would vote for Warren, and expressed disappointment that a small group of Trump supporters protested outside Warren’s event.

“I wish people would just let these candidates come speak, do their thing, and let them go on to their next stop,” he said, noting that “this is Trump country and we know it.”

“Not only is she a presidential contender, she is a United States senator, and to get somebody from that forum to come down to our little town and be seen, you know, it just kind of puts us on the map and lets us know that people are out there in the big seats that know where we’re at now,” he said.

Williamson said if Warren’s opioid policy proposal becomes a reality, he hopes funds will help small towns like Kermit build in-bed facilities for addicts.

“If you can save five out of 20 people, that’s five, you know? As it is right now, you’re saving zero,” Williamson said, citing a lack of rehab facilities where people are comfortable going for help.

Dr. J.W. Endicott, who lives in Kermit, agreed that more treatment facilities could help patients in the area, especially those with financial burdens. He said he’s referred patients to outpatient clinics that are 30 miles away or more, which can be difficult for people who struggle to pay for food, vehicles and basic living expenses.

Warren received cheers when she told the crowd her plan would largely bypass state government to get funding to smaller communities like Kermit.

“To deal with watching your friends and neighbors die from something like this ― this isn’t right,” she said. “We’ve got to go community by community to fix this.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post, © 2019 Paige Lavender/HuffPost.  Used with permission.

Election 2020

Misinformation Efforts Over Kentucky Vote Could Be Playbook for 2020

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Anderson County Clerk Jason Denny looks over the printouts from the voting machines during the remcanvass of the results from the election for Kentucky Governor in Lawrenceburg, Ky., Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. Photo: AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

False claims of misconduct in the race for governor in Kentucky are likely a precursor to the coming combat over the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential vote.

The right-wing radio personality took to Twitter not long after the polls had closed and it seemed the Democtratic candidate had prevailed in the excruciatingly close race for governor of Kentucky.

“Today #ELECTIONFRAUD and what is going on in #kentucky is REAL,” the host of “Tore Says,” streamed on the Red State Talk Radio website, tweeted on Nov. 8. “How do I know? I am actually have EVIDENCE because me and my family are VICTIMS of it.”

The personality, whose real name is Terpsichore Lindeman, alleged that somehow she and her husband had wound up as registered Democrats in Kentucky, which she saw as a sure sign that Andy Beshear, the Democratic attorney general ultimately declared the winner of the race for governor, had been manipulating the voter rolls.

Lindeman said that she is not a Democrat, and that she had her name removed from the rolls when she and her husband left the state years ago. Indeed, she said her husband is not a U.S. citizen and should not have been on any voting roll.

The claims gained no small degree of exposure. Lindeman’s dozens of tweets on the matter were retweeted hundreds of times. InfoWars, the conspiracy theory website, repeated her claims in multiple articles over a series of days. The website of the far-right activist Laura Loomer featured the story prominently. The Kentucky State Board of Elections received calls from alarmed voters, all while incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin — who’d lost the election — talked darkly, but without specifics, about “irregularities” on Election Day.

ProPublica decided to check out Lindeman’s claims, and none add up, falling apart in the face of routine checks of public records. Still, experts say the disinformation spread by Lindeman in Kentucky and the virality and confusion that ensued is a peek into what could befall voters in 2020, when similar techniques are expected to be part of the arsenal of both the right and the left.

Amy Cohen, the executive director of the National Association of State Election Directors, said that the spread of misinformation and disinformation are “serious concerns going into 2020 because they undermine confidence in the election process.” Her organization, which represents elections directors from across the country, works closely with Twitter and other social media platforms to report similar issues.

Debunking Lindeman’s claims starts with her and her husband’s voter registration information, which are public records. Their Kentucky registration forms show that both checked the box for Democrat when they registered to vote in Fayette County in 2008. Her husband, who Lindeman claims is not a citizen, also signed the form in 2008, which requires signers to attest they are a U.S. citizen. Lying on the form carries a penalty of fines or jail time of up to 12 months. The couple, records show, have never removed themselves from the rolls or changed their registration status until Nov. 8 of this year, which is when she began tweeting.

Neither Lindeman nor her husband appears to have voted in the last five years. Records also show that Lindeman was a registered Democrat in Florida, where her registration status is currently inactive.

Lindeman did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Her husband also did not respond to an emailed request.

Of her husband, Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins said: “If he’s really a noncitizen, he should be concerned. It’s a crime to register if you are a noncitizen; it says so right there above his signature.”

The claims by Lindeman were only one aspect of efforts to raise questions about the integrity of the vote in Kentucky this month.

Online, someone who routinely retweeted posts from the Democratic Socialists of America claimed to have shredded hundreds of ballots filed by mail by Republicans. State officials say there is no evidence that this took place. Twitter terminated the person’s account, but screenshots of the tweet went viral and became a talking point for conservative commentators.

In an emailed exchange with Jared Dearing, the executive director of the Kentucky State Board of Elections, and Cohen, Twitter declined to take down the screenshots. The company claimed they did not violate Twitter’s rules against misleading information.

Dearing said that Kentucky is ready to combat misinformation and disinformation. “We remain hopeful social media platforms will also take a responsible stance in taking these posts down as they are identified, and do so in a timely and meaningful manner,” he said.

Gideon Blocq, the co-founder and CEO of VineSight, a company that monitors the spread of misinformation online, said he watched as the tweet spread through thousands of bots. “This says something about what’s to come in the near future,” he said, saying that while Bevin did not specifically repeat the information in this tweet in any of his announcements or press conferences, the “similarity of the two storylines made this a more effective campaign.”

In the days after the election, Citizens for Election Integrity, a right-wing organization, held a news conference alleging mischief on the part of Democrats. Bevin publicly encouraged people and news organizations to attend.

At the news conference, Erika Calihan and Kristen Stuebs — both Bevin supporters — alleged, among other things, that a Louisville-area man had someone forge his signature and vote in his name at his precinct. The man was away at college at the time of the election, and his mother saw the signature and had filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. The pair played a video of the man complaining about the situation.

“We’re just two moms,” the pair told the local media, saying they had no expertise and were only concerned citizens offering “breadcrumbs” for reporters to follow up on.

The local media did follow up, but the crumbs led nowhere. The alleged forger was actually a legally registered voter with an identical name registered in the same district.

A person who works closely with the Republican Party said Bevin had been “on his own” when he alleged unspecified misconduct in the vote. The party, however, did nothing publicly to dispel the claims. A party spokesperson did not return calls for comment.

University of Kentucky election law professor Joshua Douglas wasn’t satisfied with that response, saying he’d called for the Republican Party to disavow Bevin’s statements.

“The way in which we handle these sorts of allegations from a losing candidate in 2019 will tell us if our democratic norms can sustain the same thing in 2020,” he said. “Not enough people were speaking out about this rhetoric.”

Update, Nov. 26, 2019: After publication of this story, Terpsichore Lindeman tweeted a denial that she and her husband had registered as Democrats in Kentucky, accusing the clerks of checking the boxes on the registration forms. “WE NEVER TICKED ANY BOXES EVER,” she tweeted. Don Blevins, the clerk in Fayette County, where the pair registered in 2008, said that clerks would not have ticked boxes related to party registration, as they are not required to complete the form. In a direct message on Twitter, Lindeman also said her husband had filled out the form in order to update his driver’s license address. In Fayette County, Blevins said, these are two separate forms. The form filled out by her husband states “FOR U.S. CITIZENS ONLY” along the top.

This article was originally published by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

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Election 2020

Commentary: On TV, Political Ads Are Regulated – But Online, Anything Goes

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There are different rules for ads on TV versus online. Photo: Goran Petric/Shutterstock.com

Ari Lightman, Carnegie Mellon University

With the 2020 election just a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.

Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.

Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.

I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.

Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it’s important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the FCC, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.

The birth of political ads

Eisenhower was one of the first politicians to use TV as a medium to spread his message to the American public.

In 1952, Eisenhower met with Rosser Reeves, an American ad executive, to discuss how to use this relatively new medium. They created 20- to 30-second slots to run during prime-time, called “Eisenhower Answers America.”

These ads helped usher in how political campaigns would use new broadcast media to campaign.

An ‘Eisenhower Answers America’ ad.

TV ads were also used in the campaigns of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon in the 1960s to shock viewers into going to the polls by catering to their fears of a world that might exist should their opponent win.

Over time, TV ads became more negative and critical of opponents’ ideology and positions. For example, in the late 1980s, George H.W. Bush attacked Michael Dukakis on his prison furlough program giving weekend passes to convicted criminals. They used convicted felon Willie Horton to provide added emphasis and provoke fear-mongering.

The Willie Horton ad.

From TV to Twitter

To understand how effective their ads have been, TV advertisers use measures of reach and frequency of views. These measures are based on a general understanding of the type of viewers that might be watching a given channel, show and time slot.

However, it’s hard to understand a given ad’s effectiveness in driving voters, especially as modern TV audiences migrate to video on demand and other streaming platforms.

In other words, TV political advertising today might provide highly skewed results based on demographics. That’s because the people who still watch live broadcast TV tend to be older than the average American.

With the advent of the web, political messaging went online. First, there were websites focusing on the campaign; then, videos on platforms like YouTube to show support for candidates; and now, political ads use social networks to campaign, create community and raise money.

Unlike TV, social networks offer the ability to hyper-target individuals by characteristics like geography, age and interests. They provide real-time measurable outcomes while rapidly disseminating political messages.

There is also the issue of cost. For example, a 30-second advertisement during the popular TV show “This is Us” cost about US$434,000 last year. Facebook political ads can run for a fraction of that cost and be much more effective at reaching specific audiences, due to targeting.

With a plethora of data on what drives people to click, share or pledge money, modern-day political strategists can now understand what messages help reinforce their base and slowly percolate them into the consciousness of those who might be swayed.

Hyper-targeting and tailoring messaging for individual users can reinforce a person’s deeply held beliefs. It also contributes to the spread of disinformation. This is a more fundamental issue than simply focusing on whether an ad is truthful or not.

The regulation gap

One of the other big differences between social network political ads and TV ads is the impact of regulation.

TV is regulated by the FCC, while social networks are self-regulated.

The FCC was established by Franklin Roosevelt with the assumption that the airwaves belonged to the people. With the growing popularity of TV in the 1950s, the FCC regulated obscene and indecent material. It also set out to ensure there would be balance and truth associated with political messaging.

FCC regulations stipulate that broadcasters must allow any qualified candidates for political office the opportunity to purchase an equal amount of advertising time at the lowest unit charge.

In addition, regulations required transparency from political groups running the ads, which includes mentioning in the ad the name of the group purchasing the commercial time, and whether the advertisement is part of the candidate’s campaign efforts, or if another political action group paid for the spot.

In contrast, without regulation, political ads on social networks can hide behind a cloak of secrecy. The Federal Elections Commission does provide guidance on advertising and disclaimers on any public communication made by a political committee – requiring, for example, statements such as “My name is [Candidate Name]. I am running for [office sought], and I approved this message.”

However, Katherine Haenschen, an assistant professor of communication at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, found that Google and Facebook often requested and received exemptions from requiring advertisers to include standard disclaimers.

Facebook recently decided on its own to require disclosures from advertisers when they purchased political ads, including the organization’s government-issued identification number.

However, social networks like Facebook will have a difficult time providing complete transparency on why members might be seeing a particular political ad. Financially, it is not in their best interest to do so. This is reflected in the company’s recent stance toward several petitions against posting false political ads on the network.

What the future holds

I think the future of political ads on social networks involves greater levels of checks and balances.

In my view, the networks’ efforts on self-regulation and transparency are steps in the right direction.

Senators Amy Klobuchar, Lindsey Graham and Mark Warner have proposed the Honest Ads Act, which would force online political advertising to adhere to the same stipulations as political ads on TV.

Independent media outlets, like ProPublica, are also taking steps to inform the public about the power of targeted political messaging.

However, the size and scope of the problem of political disinformation and hyper-targeting in social networks still needs to be addressed. This is simply too powerful for political campaigns and political operatives not to exploit. I fear that it will invariably lead to greater manipulation of public opinion in the runup to the 2020 campaign.

[ Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter. ]

Ari Lightman, Professor of Digital Media and Marketing, Carnegie Mellon University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Election 2020

Rural References Bounce in and out of Democratic Debate

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From left, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro are introduced for the Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC on the campus of Texas Southern University Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, in Houston. Photo: Eric Gay/AP Photo

Immigration, healthcare, and environmental issues include passing references to rural. In the debate over trade policy, candidates use farmers as an example of who is getting harmed.

Rural issues emerged in passing in some of Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate. Candidates touched on rural issues in their comments about immigration, healthcare, market consolidation, and trade policy.

Immigration. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg plugged his rural development plan, which includes “community renewal visas [for immigrants] that would allow cities and towns and counties that are hurting not only for jobs but for population to embrace immigration as we have in my city.”

Healthcare. Rural hospitals got a shout out from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. In describing her plan for to create public insurance for all Americans, Warren said Americans would continue to have access to “all of their doctors, all of their nurses, their community hospitals, their rural hospitals.”

The closure of rural hospitals has received attention in the Democratic campaign, with conflicting viewpoints on how a public-insurance option might affect hospitals’ financial health.

Open markets. New Jersey Senator Corey Booker turned a question about his dietary preferences into a chance to criticize corporate consolidation in agriculture. Asked whether more Americans should join him in eating a vegan diet, Booker said no, then ricocheted into corporate ag:

The factory farming going on that’s assaulting this corporate consolidation of the agricultural industry, one of the reasons why I have a bill to put a moratorium on this kind of corporate consolidation is because this factory farming is destroying and hurting our environment. And you see independent family farmers being pushed out of business because of the kind of incentives we are giving that don’t line up with our values.

With another bounce, Booker was on to veterans affairs.

Foreign trade. With rural references few and far between in this debate and previous ones, we have to take our rural issues where we can get them. And that usually comes down to agriculture, which most politicians (and many journalists) consider synonymous with rural. (It isn’t, not by a long shot.)

With that caveat, farmers were exhibit A in discussions about what candidates called the harmful effects of President Trump’s trade policies.

“The tariffs [enacted by President Trump] are pummeling producers and farmers in Iowa who have absolutely nothing to do with the imbalances that we have with China,” entrepreneur Andrew Yang said.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar said President Trump “is treating our farmers and our workers like poker chips in one of his bankrupt casinos.”

Warren said she would add small farmers to the mix of representatives who would be at the table when trade deals are hammered out. (She also included labor unions, environmentalists, and human rights activists in that list.) “We can use trade not to undermine American workers and not to undermine American farms and not to undermine small businesses in this country,” she said.

California Senator Kamala Harris called out farmers as a group harmed by trade uncertainties. Trump’s trade policies have “resulted in farmers in Iowa with soybeans rotting in bins, looking at bankruptcy.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said trade policies should represent workers and “farmers in the Midwest and elsewhere, who are losing billions right now because of Trump’s policy.”

Environment. Former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke said farmers need to be compensated for actions they take to combat climate change. “We’re going to pay farmers for the environmental services they want to provide,” he said. “Planting cover crops, keeping more land under conservation, using no-till farming, regenerative agriculture can pull carbon out of the air and can drive it and sequester it into the soil.”

This article was originally published by the Daily Yonder.

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