“Rigged,” What’s New?

2016-electionsNew Orleans   Headlines in both the local and national papers focused on Donald Trump’s unwillingness to commit that he would honor the verdict of the voters in a democratic election. Clinton responded in the debate that his position was “horrifying.” My question continues to be, “What’s new?” Am I the only one who wonders why this is such a flashpoint now, and hasn’t been for the last eight years or longer?

Part of this is both personal and political for me, as I have noted before. But at least I’m not alone. David Weigel writing in The Washington Post this week had a memory that was longer than yesterday’s news cycle, and began his piece this way:

According to the Republican nominee for president, his opponents were “on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history.” In an ad, his campaign warned of “nationwide voter fraud” that could swing the election. His running mate worried, in a fundraising letter, that “leftist groups” were trying to “steal the election.”


The candidate was not Donald Trump. It was Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who in the final weeks of the 2008 presidential election embraced the theory that ACORN, a community organizing group previously embraced by Democrats and Republicans, was helping to rig the election for Barack Obama by filing fake voter registration forms.

Poor Weigel. He’ll probably be fired soon for pointing out that the emperors continue to walk naked in Congressional hallways and DC corridors. It also goes without saying, and time has proven this out, so I’ll bore everyone by saying, that no such thing happened, nor was there ever any evidence then or now to back up such nonsense about voting.

Even for McCain in 2008 this was an old saw, rather than something he was inventing. Such claims on voter fraud based on voter registration work have been part of the standard operating procedure on election tactics for Republicans for a number of cycles, certainly since the concept of “battleground” states became prominent and the George W. Bush election turned into a Supreme Court disputed umpire call after Al Gore won the popular vote. In Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania for a number of election cycles before 2008, ACORN had been the subject of similar attacks and fabrications with fake FEC complaints and state election charges all of which would be withdrawn by early the following year after the elections were over. Our assumption had been that McCain had wrongly assumed that the election might be close with Obama and was tactically hedging in order to prepare claims in some states and hope for a repeat of the Bush 2000 scenario. As it turned out, he was stomped by Obama, so none of that emerged, though thanks to McCain the target for conservatives would stay on ACORN’s back.

And, let’s be honest about all of this. Of the hardcore 40% base that is sticking with Trump and listening to all of this balderdash, I would put good money on the fact that a huge percentage of that base has still refused to accept the legitimacy of President Obama’s two election victories and the work of his eight years. The continuing drumbeat of the Republican faithful up until recently that ACORN stole both elections and was preparing to steal this one is more than sufficient evidence for such a bet.

Once the votes are all counted, the winner will be named, and whether Trump and his Trumpeteers accept it or not isn’t relevant come Inauguration Day, except that such schoolhouse door resistance to the choice of voters in our fragile democracy only assures even more polarization and extremist from Congress on down to the grassroots.


WikiLeaks without Assange or WikiLeaks without Internet?

511004-keyboard-hackNew Orleans   First there was a note that the daily surge of WikiLeaks email dumps had suddenly stopped for two days prompting speculation that maybe Ecuador had cut the internet connects to Julian Assange in his hideout apartment in the Ecuadorian embassy in an upscale London district. Then there was confirmation, including commentary from Raphael Correa, Ecuadorian’s President, that, yes indeed, they had cutoff Assange’s internet access until after the United States Presidential election.

The explanation was short and sweet from Ecuador. Having had long experience with foreign intervention in Latin American elections, Ecuador didn’t want to be accused of having any role with interfering with another country’s election, and that included the current one in El Norte.

Clearly they were also bridling over the argument being made by US cyber-pros and politicians that WikiLeaks was essentially funneling emails in a silent partnership with whatever the Russian name for the KGB is now. Assange undoubtedly has also stepped on some toes with his blatant partisanship and disdain for the Clinton candidacy, while welcoming the sudden surprising embrace of the alt-right wing of the Republican Party and its banner man, Donald Trump. Correa had indicated earlier that he favored Clinton in the contest, though he felt, somewhat contradictorily, that Trump might be so bad that he would be good for the resurgence of left parties in Latin America, making an argument that was extremely hard to follow. At the same time Correa and the official Ecuadorean statements were clear that Assange would still be harbored in the embassy, and they had rescheduled the Swedish interviews on Assange’s remaining rape charge until after the election as well, presumably to allow Assange access to the internet to prepare with his lawyers.

What an interesting turn of events! Now, we’ll see if WikiLeaks is more or less than the sum of Assange’s parts these days.

WikiLeaks claims, likely truthfully, that it has no idea who is sending them these hacked emails, no more than we can name the individuals who are named in our daily spam messages. Computer pros can suss out some clues from the IP addresses in messages, but it would be surprising if these dumps weren’t encrypted and sent through VPN channels making them hard to trace as well. But, surely these dumps are not going directly into Assange’s personal account for goodness sakes. The WikiLeaks website has the ways and means to receive blind data transmissions for goodness sakes, so technically, if they had something, they could continue to merrily attempt to poke their emails in the eyes of US-voters and the candidates.

Maybe despite the internet anarchist reputation of WikiLeaks, we are going to find that it’s really top down, command-and-control. Now we’ll find out if there is anything or anybody really involved in WikiLeaks other than Assange and a close clutch of comrades. There was a time when WikiLeaks seemed to be an organization of sorts that had people who could flesh out their claims to being a journalistic enterprise of a sort. As Assange’s legal troubles increased along with his bizarre efforts to find safe houses and escape extradition to Sweden, WikiLeaks seemed to be imploding around him.

The internet certainly hasn’t been shut down, so we might find out if WikiLeaks is just a one-man band or has a life separate from Assange. Or, alternatively, was there a message to Assange from Ecuador that said not only, “dude, sorry about that internet,” but also, “stop this stuff until after the US election or you are so out of here!” We’ll seen soon!


Issues Missing in Presidential Campaign

20160711_election_issues_2New Orleans    Not long ago there was an op-ed piece that ran in the papers about the fact that poverty and what to really do about the equity gap was missing as an issue in the campaign. More recently, others have noted that climate change has also been raised, but not engaged as a campaign issue. When you think about it, we’ve definitely seen issues around race and gender as centerpieces of the campaign, but when it really comes down to hard-and-firm debates about policy choices and decisions that we might face once we live through this campaign, there’s not much there, there.

We can infer that Trump would reboot our foreign policy with a Russian warmup of some kind. We know that Clinton traveled to a host of countries while Secretary of State, but I’m not sure if we know exactly what she would do on foreign policy as President, other than more of the same. If we grab at straws there are contradictory readings of some of the WikiLeaks email dumps that indicate that Clinton might – or might not – be tougher on Wall Street. Immigrants may have to learn to crawl the wall with Trump, but we’re guessing that Hillary would continue to push forward with Obama-lite programs in this area. We know Trump would appoint highly conservative nominees to the Supreme Court, and, we can guess that Clinton would not, but she has not committed to pushing forward on Obama’s stalled nomination or been clear where she might look in this regard.

It’s kind of amazing how little we know about what either candidate would really do as President, given the nature of this campaign. It has been so bitter and so divisive that it has drowned out any but the most strident messages of the candidates.

We can gather that something might happen on daycare, but Trump’s initiative here was tactical, rather than profound, so it’s not like we could take it to the bank. And, speaking of the bank, for all of the controversy about Trump’s non-payment of taxes, if a gun were pressed up against my head, I would still be hard-pressed to repeat exactly what Clinton has said that she would commit to doing to change the tax rate and how it favors corporations and the rich, even if we can be confident from Trump’s remarks that he thinks it’s fine and dandy, and even smart to not pay taxes. I’d say about the same on trade and jobs, which have surprisingly been clearer issues for Trump, than Clinton.

Maybe this is just real-politick. Perhaps we are seeing all of these sideshows from both candidates because neither are sure that they can get anything through Congress? The increasingly confident Clinton is putting more money into Arizona, Indiana, and Missouri to try and influence Senate races to switch control, but meanwhile polls are also indicating that people are tuning out and tired of the back-and-forth, particularly African-Americans and younger voters which could lead to lower turnout.

One thing that was clear in the Sanders campaign and his constant one-note repetition: voters knew where he stood. The only thing clear about this campaign as we come down to the wire is that voters know who they don’t like – not what they can expect to see over the next four years.


Rigged Elections and Sore Losers

Supporters carrying side arms wait for the start of a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Supporters carrying side arms wait for the start of a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

New Orleans   Polls are showing a consolidated lead for Hillary Clinton with three weeks to go and many states already beginning early voting. Republican strategists are warning that it may be too late for a Trump turnaround. The cascade of issues from racism to tax dodging to misogyny and sexual harassment and abuse seem to be baking all of the negatives into Trump’s prospects. Republicans from Speaker Paul Ryan on down the ballot and outsiders, including influential and deep-pocketed donors, have either deserted Trump or are actively arguing that he must be abandoned in order not to inflect permanent damage on the party.

Trump’s response has been to question the very validity of the election and raise the specter of refusing to accept the results of the voters in a direct threat to long and deeply held democratic traditions. Governor Pence, the VP on Trump’s ticket, has said in essence, of course we will accept the results, but Trump has pulled his Twitter-finger and seemingly backed off that pledge, so who knows.

None of this is new. In fact, this has been the Republican tradition in all of the recent elections they have lost and part of their concerted effort over the last eight years to deny President Obama the legitimacy of his two victories. The Atlantic magazine quoted a study in a recent issue saying,

“Backing a losing candidate can also damage voters’ trust in the political system. An analysis of surveys from 1964 to 2004 found that over time, voters who supported losers were less likely than others to see the electoral process as fair. They also tended to be less satisfied with democracy generally.”

It seems that what we are witnessing now is something on the order of “pre-emptive sore losing.” Preparing for a humiliating defeat for a candidate enamored of calling everyone but himself a “loser,” it was predictable that he would whine that he couldn’t win because the election was “rigged” against him and everyone ganged up against “poor little me.”

But, this has been a recurring Republican theme from the very base of the party for years. How else could we explain the fact that the majority of Republicans surveyed without a shred of evidence continued to believe for close to seven years that ACORN had stolen both Obama elections? Or the fact that almost a majority of Texas Republican voters already believe that ACORN is stealing the election for Clinton this time around.

The commitment to democracy of many Republican leaders and much of their hardcore base seems extremely weak. The finger pointing about rigged elections at large cities with minority populations like Philadelphia and others seems totally racist. Inventing excuses for losing elections so that no one has to face the consequences of politics and program seems to argue that party leaders do not want to either learn from their errors or listen to the voters.

It will be interesting once this campaign is over to see how we rebuild a semblance of democratic practice from the thin soup we’re being served in this election. Perhaps I should say “if” we can rebuild a semblance of democratic practice after this election.


A Beginner’s Guide to Alaska

most pictures for today's blog thanks to newly reopened Alaska State Museum

most pictures for today’s blog thanks to newly reopened Alaska State Museum

New Orleans   My nominee for our family’s best vacation ever was a camping trip, some twenty years ago, to Alaska. I had cashed out 100,000 frequent flyer miles on Continental Airlines for four tickets to Anchorage. These were the days before there were extra fees for baggage, so we were handed thirteen tags for everything from ice chests to tents to duffle bags full of fishing and other gear. We rented a Ford Explorer and stuffed everything in the back and up on the rack under the huge canvass ground cover that has been one of our camping staples for decades. We tied everything down tightly, and we were off to Wrangell, to Denali, down the Kenai Peninsula, and points in between.

We had to stop on the road at times to let the huge moose cross, like they were dawdling school children avoiding the opening bell. We watched scores of eagles fishing on the Homer spit. We caught salmon in Valdez Bay and cooked them in foil after ten at night for dinner in the last shadows of the midnight sun. Alaska as the 49th state also marked the 50th state in the union I had visited, so it had long been in my sights at the time, and the experiences there pushed the entire visit to the top of my list.


This trip was different, though almost as special, because now I was working and had crossed the line from the fan club in the stands onto the playing field where I could make a small contribution. By the time I jumped in a cab at 3:15 in the morning for a 5:00 AM milk-run flight across three time zones to home, I was excited that we might be able to make something important happen which would bring balance to my own personal payback ledger as well.

One of the things that has always interested me personally about Alaska has been its relationship to oil. I was raised in the oil field of the western United States, and it is what plopped me in Louisiana in the first place. Even as a short-timer, it was hard to ignore the changes and economic challenges facing Alaska these days. Alaskans with over one-calendar year’s residence all receive a dividend from the constitutionally established Permanent Fund, ranging from a low of about $800 per year up to more than $1500. Talking to several of our members who had worked for the Fund, the amount is based largely on average oil revenues for a 5-year period, so the full impact of the current low prices hasn’t really hit the state’s residents.

a section of the Alaska pipeline

a section of the Alaska pipeline

With 80% of more of the state’s revenue coming from oil, the state government endured a historic five special sessions by mid-2016 and still didn’t pass the Governor’s budget. Talking to one former aide to the governor, to balance the budget oil prices per barrel need to be between $80 and $100. Right now, the price of oil is still hovering near half of that amount.

Alaska is one of those places like Nevada where almost everyone has a story about how they ended up here, and relatively few were really “from” Alaska. I asked everyone, and heard a lot of stories, but all of them add up to a special decision individuals made to come to the “Last Frontier,” as their license plates say. The state is ruby red for the Republicans, but that’s not simple either. For a coming radio show, I got a short course in the libertarian streak that runs deep in the state. For years for example marijuana could be legally cultivated in your own home for your own use and in 2014 the state passed a referendum making marijuana legal for recreational use. Beginning next year, there will be a budding industry there, similar to what Colorado has done. The governor was elected as an independent as was one the senators when she failed to win the Republican nomination. There weren’t many Hillary signs in Juneau, but there weren’t many Trump signs either, though he is expected to win the state.

a t-shirt from the fight to clean up the Exxon spill in Valdez Bay

a t-shirt from the fight to clean up the Exxon spill in Valdez Bay

The state may be large, but the population is small, which actually makes life at least in a capitol city like Juneau somewhat more civil. We might be building an organization that would be pressuring the state and some of its institutions for change, in this instance for mental health consumers, but that didn’t mean that we weren’t welcome in the governor’s and mayor’s office to offer progress reports on our work or weren’t greeted warmly on the street by legislative aides and members of the Mental Health Trust. Like Arkansas in the 1970’s, there aren’t many degrees of separation in Alaska in the 21st century, which will make watching closely how the state meets its challenges something that might teach the lower 48 some lessons as well.

whaling guns

whaling guns

timber, fishing, mining, and natural resources for the USA

timber, fishing, mining, and natural resources for the USA


Discrimination by Math

5399389a5e1ae61cf1eda5d0e84ef070Seattle   Having spent a week in Juneau, Alaska working with men and women dealing daily with the stigma and discrimination that comes with mental health challenges and disabilities, I should have been prepared for Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction and its warnings of the pervasive, powerful, and often destructive and discriminating role that Big Data and the algorithms it is fueling are having on all of our lives. I wasn’t. But, I also wasn’t surprised.

One of the issues I heard about from the members of MCAN included being fired from jobs in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They didn’t know the half of it! O’Neil detailed the way that huge employers including lower wage service establishments like McDonalds and others are using personality tests with data driven questions that sort out people with any kind of mental health issue. A lawyer in Tennessee watched his son, a super student with two years at Vanderbilt University who had dropped out for a couple of semesters to deal with depression successfully, somehow failed to land any minimum wage jobs as a janitor, burger flipper, and so forth from a number of companies using the same blunt instrument of a personality test. He filed a ADA class action suit that is still pending. Even that may be only the tip of the iceberg since data driven, resume reader machines are also discarding applications with a few misspellings, bad typos, and other trivialities.

These WMD’s, as O’Neill cleverly calls them, are perhaps most destructive when it comes to the way too many of them from police and crime statistics to loan applications to even the efforts to get insurance or an apartment from a landlord are discriminating, often invisibly, based on the zip codes identifying where someone lives. The question may never say race or risk, but the zip code identifying the neighborhood plots the Big Data odds, and they do not stack up in your favor. Stop and frisk programs, common under New York mayors Guilliani and Bloomberg and now touted by Trump, under analysis revealed huge racial profiling and targeting of African-Americans and Latinos because of misapplied and understood algorithms.

It was also disconcerting, given our long experience in the United States and Canada in providing service at citizen wealth centers for low-and-moderate income families to find that algorithms employed by payday lenders, diploma mills, and other shyster, predatory operations that are datamining names and contact information from people who are going online to ask for information and access to programs to provide them advice or assistance. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I can remember complaining to our tech people years ago when we used Google Ads about the fact that I could be writing a Chief Organizer Report on our fights against payday lenders and find, embarrassingly, ads running alongside my blog for some of the same blood sucking, scammers I was calling into account in the paragraphs next to their ads. Duh!

It goes on and on. O’Neill cautions that there are dangers here, and they need to be regulated not just for privacy along the European opt-in system, but for transparency. If you ever thought, even for a second, that some of the “value-added” tests for teacher evaluations that many states have employed were valid or about the meaning of things like body-math-indexes and wellness, your application for McDonald’s would also probably be rejected.

She does argue that it is not the math’s fault, as much as the way the math is being used. With a different objective some of the same algorithms could be pointing people in the right direction, connecting them with resources, getting them out of prison, rather than in, and into a job rather than out on the street.

There seems to be no mathematical formula on when that miracle might happen.