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Inside Politics: Be counted

It’s no secret that Democrats are a minority in Idaho’s Legislature. We are also a minority party among registered voters, although estimating the real percentage of Democratic-leaning eligible voters is actually somewhat challenging. Our Republican friends believe that ain’t so. But it really is.

Many true-blue Idaho Democrats register Republican for various reasons. One is because many offices on state and local ballots often haven’t had Democratic candidates. So, at primary time many Democrats register Republican to choose the lesser-evil among Republican candidates who later run unopposed in the general election.

Secondly, many Democrats and independents are confused by laws governing how a person’s party registration affects their right to vote. Some believe they must stay registered Republican to be eligible to vote in the general election (absolutely not true). It is true, however, that a voter may vote only once at primary/caucus time. Republicans require that you be registered Republican 30 days before their primary. Democrats allow voters to declare (select or change) party affiliation the day of their primary/caucus. But again, even if parties hold their primaries or caucuses on different days, a voter can vote in only one party’s primary or caucus (Democrat, Republican, or another organized party’s primary/caucus).

Kind of confusing? That’s my point.

There are also social and psychological factors. Some Democrats think it isn’t worth their time to vote or even register, succumbing to Republican pregame-psyche that Democrats simply can’t win in Idaho. Stay at home. Save your gas. Watch “Big Bang Theory.”

Did your coaches allow that kind of thinking when you were behind at half time? Of course not!

Some closet-Democrats are simply uncomfortable swimming cross-current from their families or friends. They neither express political views nor vote at all (the don’t-make-waves mindset). They may go so far as conforming to their friends’ and family’s choices, even when they’re unfamiliar with the issues or unpersuaded by the rhetoric.

I’ve been describing the dynamics of self-defeat. When you predict your own defeat, you’ve set a self-fulfilling prophecy in motion. Convince yourself you can’t win and you’ve done the opposition’s work for them, handing them victory on a platter. The prospects for turning Idaho purple if not actually blue are better than disheartened Democrats realize.

Consider this statistics-based exercise. Look out your window. Choose five houses and pretend there’s an empty lot next to them. In your mind’s eye paint the first, third and fifth house red. Now paint the second and fourth house blue. You’re envisioning the typical election results for much of Idaho and the political makeup of average Idaho neighborhoods.

The empty lot?

That represents Democrats who convinced themselves registering and voting isn’t worth the time or effort. If there was a blue house on that lot we’d have real horse races every election. And the stable of winners would probably be divided 50-50 between red and blue saddle blankets.

Even now Idaho Democrats produce important positive results. The $695 million recently raised in school bonds and levies directly benefited from statewide Democrat-organized get-out-the-vote efforts. Two dozen Twin Falls Democrats called over a thousand voters. Superintendent Wiley Dobbs emailed me election night saying “On behalf of TFSD #411, I would like to thank you and the TF County Democrats and volunteers for your work and efforts to get the vote out.”

Meanwhile, Republicans boast about lifting 2016 education funding to 2009 levels (Huh?). At the same time they’re vigorously pushing legislation making it far harder to fund education through future bonds and levies.

Democrats unanimously supported redirecting proposed state income tax cuts for the rich toward eliminating grocery sales taxes instead. Reps. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, with the full Democratic House Caucus proposed student-loan forgiveness legislation for rural teachers to help mitigate Idaho’s acute rural teacher shortage. Democrat Ilana Rubel’s bill fixed Idaho’s abusive property forfeiture laws.

There would be even more common sense governance with more Democratic legislators. The 2018 election is already materializing, and it portends vastly different voter dynamics than any in recent times. Per my opening statement, it’s also no secret that a tsunami of buyer’s remorse and backlash is washing across America in response to Trumpism and conservative overreach.

The corporatist alt-right, alt-fact, anti-middleclass, anti-social security, anti-health care, anti-workplace safety, anti-clean air, anti-clean water, anti-public education, anti-voting rights agenda that has leapt onto America’s political center stage is of unprecedented unbridled recklessness. Voters are suspicious of deep Russian entanglements among Republican leadership. They’ve begun to despise the president’s and Republican leadership’s dissemblance, mendacity and open contempt for government integrity. Americans are awakening to the existential endangerment of 80 years of progressive accomplishments at every level of society and enterprise. And they’re pushing back — hard.

The backlash is even materializing in Idaho. Idahoans are enlisting in progressive causes and Democratic Party activities in unprecedented numbers. Rep. Sue Chew met three hours with 70 Twin Falls Democrats on March 18, discussing urgent legislative topics. She affirmed that demonstrations, legislative hearing attendance, calls, letters and emails are communicating messages to elected officials that they dare ignore only at their own folly.

Here’s what progressive Idahoans should know moving forward. Democrats aim to have candidates on every Idaho ballot position in 2018. Expect primary contests in the Democratic Party. It’s time for bench sitters to register. Register Democrat. Do it. Don’t put it off. Don’t make excuses. Don’t believe those who tell you it’s a waste of time. A half-dozen races were lost statewide in 2016 by less than 250 votes. Democratic registration makes it easier for us to keep you informed and aware of opportunities to help us get blue houses built on all those vacant lots. You owe it to yourself and your families.

Letter: The Magic Valley needs more fun

The Magic Valley needs more fun

I recently just moved back to the Magic Valley after living in Boise for 12 years and I am surprised at how much Twin Falls has not changed. Sure there are the few stores along the canyon, but for a community the size of Twin Falls there is still nothing to do after 10 on a Friday and Saturday night. Twelve years ago we could at least go to Hastings and hang out there until 11, but now that they are closed. It seems like the town shuts down after 10 and everyone goes home. We have no community event centers, places for bands to play on a Friday night, no shopping complexes like the Village in Meridian. Our movie theater is mediocre at best. Movies that came out a month ago are no longer available in Twin Falls. Why is there no discounted movie theater? Why is there no ice skating rink, semi pro baseball team? Idaho Falls has one and Pocatello have one, why doesn’t Twin Falls? Why is Jerome and Twin Falls worried about expanding and allowing businesses the opportunity to grow the community? The city of Twin Falls and Jerome seem to be very excited about some manufacturing company coming into town, but they never improve the city and make it fun to live in. We need to start making this city enjoyable, and appealing for people visiting the area. There’s plenty of land in both Jerome and Twin falls that can develop and make a place people actually want to live in, instead of a place nobody wants to move to.

Buddy Price, Twin Falls

Other View: After Congress's repeal, only public outrage defends Internet privacy

On Tuesday, Congress voted to repeal privacy regulations that would have required Internet service providers to obtain consent before sharing the personal data of customers. As soon as President Donald Trump signs off, broadband providers like Comcast, Charter Communications and Verizon Communications will be free to intercept, track and sell the contents of everything we do on the Internet. Cool, I look forward to purchasing the browser histories of the Congressmen who voted in favor of repeal.

Broadband providers argue that if companies like Google and Facebook can profit off the collection of consumer data, they should be allowed to do so as well. In the interest of fairness, anyone should be free to monetize the personal information of anyone else! Here’s a celebratory statement from the Data & Marketing Association:

“This is an important victory for all who benefit from the data-driven marketing economy, including tens of thousands of businesses and nonprofit organizations and hundreds of millions of consumers. Consumers understand the value that relevant ads provide, and put the value of the services they get for free on the Internet at $1,200 per year.”

That estimate seems a bit presumptuous. Can we similarly assume that marketers put the value of the data they collect from each consumer at $1,200 per year? What if I demand more value for my data? Regardless of price, there is little opportunity to abstain from this transaction: 51 percent of U.S. households have access to only one high-speed broadband provider.

Consumer-privacy advocates are right to be outraged. Unfortunately, the horse left the barn a long time ago. Internet service providers have been tracking and selling customer activity since the early days of dial-up. Companies like Charter and AT&T Inc. previously inspected their users’ web traffic and inserted ads where they saw fit. Other service providers hijacked search-engine queries and redirected browsers to their own paid partners. It’s unclear how much of this is still going on. The Federal Communications Commission privacy rules that Congress repealed this week were only proposed last October, and would not have taken effect until December.

A common defense to data-privacy concerns is that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. But the argument extends to both sides: If Internet service providers had nothing to hide, they wouldn’t be using undetectable tracking cookies to collect users’ browsing data. What’s more, a company that has nothing to hide should have no problem with a rule that requires permission before selling personal information.

For the most part, data-driven marketing relies on the fact that people don’t know they’re being tracked. In one survey, 66 percent of respondents said that they did not want ads to be tailored to their interests. When the researchers explained how ad targeting actually works, that percentage went up to 84 percent. Last year, the Interactive Advertising Bureau found that 26 percent of desktop browsers use ad blockers, an increase of 34 percent over the prior year. Ad-blocker usage is expected to increase to a third of desktops this year. It turns out that most Americans don’t want to be judged and labeled without consent.

If the only thing previously stopping ISPs from selling user data was a proposed FCC rule, then the control we have over our information usage is tenuous at best. Consumers cannot remove personal data from the hands of Internet service providers, but they can make it harder to collect. Websites that use addresses beginning with HTTPS provide encrypted communications to protect the transferred content. Virtual Private Networks route traffic through private servers, and away from the eyes of service providers. A more drastic measure would be to use Tor browser, which anonymizes web traffic by sending it through distributed servers all around the world. Users can also reduce their overall marketability by running ad blockers.

The good news is that Tuesday’s repeal should bring more attention to the marketing of personal data by Internet service providers. The first step toward mitigating the effects of information asymmetry in any market is to raise awareness of the fact that such asymmetry exists. In past cases, broadband providers voluntarily stopped their most blatant tracking and interception activity after loud public complaints. Even the greatest advertisements are useless if consumers don’t trust the messenger.