Citizen Janes

“The modern girl’s guide to picking the leaders of the free world.”

As our semester draws to a close, I would like to give a shout-out to my primary source for amalgamated political news stories: citizenjanepolitics.com.

CJP is a non-partisan, independent news blog. It is not snarky or opinionated. It does what most blogs do not do — presents just the facts (plus a few extras, but those are not opinion pieces, just fun stuff). If I would like to know how experts or citizen bloggers feel about the new changes of power, or who said what in the campaigns, I could go to any host of other blog sources (like the ones we monitored earlier in the semester).  These, however, taint the news with opinions, even those that pretend they don’t.  It is now typical for the reader to gather the facts and turn to the news for analysis and opinoin.  There is certainly a place for opinions  about current events, but I have found it a relief to find such a high-quality and reliable site.   Citizen Jane Politics is a news outlet featurign all political and major news, but focusing on female issues.  The point of this blog was to increase female political awareness, because more women than men vote, but more men than women work in public office.  CJP is never snarky, always honest, and honestly fair.   Bravo, CJP.  I recommend you to all my friends, Janes and Joes alike.

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Taxation without Representation

DC’s Right to Vote

The 2006 Census estimates that 581,530 people live in the District of Columbia. These nearly six hundred thousand residents pay “state” and federal taxes (the second highest income tax per capita in the nation).  They are governed under the Constitution, just like the rest of the nearly 300 million American citizens.  Literally hundreds of cases presided over by the U.S. Supreme Court include verdicts which specify that their rulings apply in the District as one of the states.  And yet, while the amount of this population is on par with or bigger than many states, these 581,530 people have no vote in Congress.

            This never bothered me too much, that is, until I had to change my residency from Illinois to the District of Columbia a few years ago.  It bugged me that I love this city, but I probably won’t live here when I “grow up” and have a family of my own because I cannot live and act as a citizen of the United States of America without that most essential citizenship right — suffrage.  Our representative in Congress, Elenor Holmes Norton, has a voice to argue bills but cannot vote.  When Mayor Fenty declined an invitation to sit next to the First Lady at the State of the Union address because the Bush Administration does not support DC voting rights, I began looking into the matter myself.

            This scholarly article by Senator Hatch (see above) outlines a clear, consice, and convincing arguement for DC to be treated as a Congressional district, thus having a vote in the House of Representatives.  I don’t think that DC should have two senators like the other 50 states, but I also disagree that perhaps DC should just be ceded back to Virginia and Maryland.  Hatch’s point that hit me hardest is that in 1800, Virginia and Maryland ceded this district land at the request of the fledgling government so that it could establish a federal city.  The people living in the district did not break away from the country or secede from the Union.  By witholding any representation, the US government treats these 581,530 people (and those 200 years into the past) as if they had violated a law and forfeited their rights.  Even Americans living abroad may now vote in US elections.  It’s the beginning of a new administration.  President-elect Obama has indicated that he supports Fenty and Holmes Norton in their quest to end “taxation without representation.”  I’m not going to be a lifelong resident here, but this is a cause worth supporting.

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The Tortoise and the Hare this is not.

A frontrunner candidate could use the Internet just as successfully as an insurgent candidate.  The vehicle is not the issue – the issues are the issue.  If the populace does not support a candidate’s stance on “the issues,” then it does not matter how his or her message is delivered to the electorate – Internet or not.

The voters have wised up, and will no longer accept mere broadcast advertising, which means that any and every candidate must learn to employ more direct messaging, including emails, message boards, and mobile phones.  Because these methods require nuance, the message can’t be vague either.  The more campaigns communicate with the voters interactively, the more transparent the whole process becomes, and the number of people who become involved with it increases.  Again, this is not the tool only of insurgents, although it certainly enables them to gather a community around them and “surge” ahead in the polls.

If a frontrunner has the popular message, if he’s the guy the people are going to vote for, then what does it matter where he is in polling?  Obama may have set the example because he used the Internet as an insurgent candidate to achieve his presidential win; however, I really think that if he had been the frontrunner all along, he still would have employed the technology as he did if only to keep himself as the frontrunner.  If a candidate “gets it” as Trippi says, then the technology can help him regardless of poll position.

One point I will concede is motivation to continue fully using the Internet, setting up a tortoise and hare situation.  The frontrunner could get lazy and arrogant, knowing that the online community supports him, allowing the insurgent to pass him with his own online community.  This could happen in any host of manners, not just with the Internet.  So again, it’s the message and the candidate, not just the Internet.  The Internet enables what is already bright a shining chance.

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Correlation does not prove causation, but…

The most significant achievement of the 2008 campaign is just how pervasive and interwoven it became in our global society. The Deanie babies planted the seeds in 2004. This year, the United States presidential campaign turned into veritable kudzu. It consumed many an attention span and schedule for months and even years. As exhausted as anyone who followed much less covered the whole process may be now, it must be acknowledged what an amazing time it was. That candidate (now president-elect) Obama could turn his political message into a worldwide social outreach is awesome (truly, and not in the surfer sense). As everyone has said in every way possible, Obama registered such success because he seized the opportunities of the Internet and social media. This was the ground-breaking moment for the beginning of what our country needs – change.
I think what surprised me most was a dual discovery. The first element of this is that polls of voter disposition are gathered mainly through calling landline phones. Coupled with the fact that 30% of the youth-voter demographic only owns mobile phones, and that youth swings liberal and Democrat, I was stunned to realize that there existed such a swath of un-polled and un-targeted opinions. The second element of my surprise was the apparent discrepancy with how the two political parties treated this 30% of youth. I hesitate to say that Obama won because his campaign collected the cell phone numbers of his supporters to further target them. Correlation does not prove causation, so I will say this: Obama’s campaign collected and used cell phone numbers. Obama’s campaign won. McCain’s campaign did not collect nearly as many cell phone numbers. McCain’s campaign did not win. Again, perhaps the Republican ticket did not lose because it did not take advantage of current technology, but: the Republican campaign did not take advantage of current technology. The Republican campaign did not win the election. I am surprised that the Republican Party did not learn this earlier in the campaign, and so was not able to adjust or fix this issue.
Truly, though, what surprised me most is that my (ultra conservative) uncle Charlie did not move out of the country when Obama won the election, as he swore up and down he would. Uncle Charlie also thinks that the District of Columbia should revert to a ten-block federal city encompassing the White House and Capitol buildings, and that all the rest of the land and residents should turn back into Maryland. Best of luck there, Charles.

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What a difference 36 years makes.

The biggest difference between 1972 and 2008 is the movement from pack and broadcast journalism to personalization and micro-targeting. Pack journalism and broadcasting certainly still exist, and are likely still the most prominent forms of mass communication. Personalization is the present and the future of the media, and its vehicle is the Internet. Back then, the most efficient form of getting out a candidate’s message was to have the pack of journalists (the boys on the bus) write updates of the campaign and publish them in newspapers or in quick television sound byte broadcasts. Technology has evolved to allow personalized messaging through emails and specific websites. Today’s tools are generally quick and easy compared to the old way. Then, a journalist had to be part of a newspaper or television channel to share information in any meaningful way. Now, anyone can start a blog to not only comment on, but also produce, news. The power has devolved from the centers of power back to ordinary citizens who wish to take part in the process of campaigning. Successful candidates realize this and target their messages to individuals through emails and on their web sites. When journalists in the pack miss something, it doesn’t get swept under the rug like it used to; now, independent members of the news media may find a platform for publishing any and all information through blogs. Then, television ads distilled a candidate’s message or an attack on a rival into 30-second spots to be sent out to the masses and absorbed as they will. There was no conversation, just the controlled and manipulated broadcast from the powers of the campaign. Now, those ads still exist, but the Internet provides the platform for citizens to react. When these ads are on YouTube, people may comment on them. People are generating their own ads, their own content and messages about the same candidates. The Internet provides a tool for the voices of the people to be entered into this conversation. It’s no longer a shady lecture – today’s campaign communication is turning into a bright and participatory seminar.

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Datamining is creepy.

I’m trying to be a good student here.  I’m trying to learn about our ever-evolving political system and campaign technology.  I’m reading about fundraising numbers and Catalist and Voter Vault.  And then I come across this statement, from Catalist’s chief technology officer, Vijay Ravindran:
“We aspire to be much more than just a database provider—we’re looking to build an ecosystem.”
Okay, that statement totally creeps me out!  Let me explain; as I said, I’m trying here.  I’m trying to understand how new political technology uses my consumer information to define me and cater to me.  But even after reading all our materials about micro-targeting and data-mining, I don’t understand how people are okay with this.  As Garrett said in class, if the FBI or CIA had all of the data that Catalist has, people would be going to jail.  This is a huge violation of privacy – I think.  I realize that many corporations (Amazon, CVS, Borders, Safeway) track my purchases.  I know that social media accounts broadcast information that I choose to publish about myself (where I live, my job, my school and major).  I am aware that I do all of this voluntarily.  I just never realized that it is acceptable to have one main company gather up everything.  I never realized that I have opened myself up to becoming a data point on an infinite map, a cog in a machine.  Basically, I feel like I’ve been used.  I doubt that I’m the only one who feels this way.  I do NOT think that the trade-off for tailored political messages is worth this loss in personal privacy.  It gets back to my thoughts on liberal and conservative news blogs – in the end, it’s just not a good idea to only get your messages from one side or the other.  So, I don’t think that a data-mining company should use my information for this very similar purpose.  I’m not a manipulated plaything in an artificial ecosystem.  I’m an autonomous, free-thinking person, and I expect to be treated as such.  I guess I’ve expected too much.

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