Voter Fraud Tactic is Just Another Voter Suppression Tactic

mapofshame2015New Orleans  Score setting is boring. It’s almost Trumpian. Who cares about all of this inside baseball back and forth? No one but the players in all likelihood. But, vindication, now that’s different. Recognition of a reality where someone has being crying to be heard in the wilderness, oh, yes, that’s worth taking note, I think.

And, so we will!

Finally, there’s starting to be a drumbeat of deeper understanding starting to rise among the cognoscenti in the media and political class that might eventually be heard over the din of the spin machines down to the grassroots that recognizes that these claims of voter fraud are nothing more than election tactics designed to confuse voters, rile up the hater-base, inspire racists, and suppress minority votes. Trump’s total lack of any credibility whatsoever has finally forced some mainstream reporters out of their deep slumber because the antipathy to Trump is so great by so many that they see his claims of a “rigged” election as a threat to democracy, rather than the standard operating procedure for election cycles at least throughout the 21st century in the United States.

I don’t want to suffer from “premature certainty,” but first the Washington Post pointed out that this rigged election malarkey was also a feature of the 2008 election thanks to John McCain’s fallacious accusations that ACORN was about to carry out the biggest voter fraud in history. The story was run nationally on the Tribune wire. Now the Huffington Post has jumped in and, more weightily, the New York Times finally got off the duff and realized that this “crying wolf” about so-called “voter fraud” has been going on cycle to cycle since at least 2000. Hello, welcome aboard the reality train! They of course cite the fact that ACORN was targeted, wrongly, in 2008, though they could as easily with a little more work and research have also made the same case back several cycles before 2008 as well.

The facts rarely disrupt tactics that are working even if they are essentially little more than media-manipulation and campaign dirty tricks. They do throw some fuel into the fire of truth though, and we can hope the sparks spread. Here are some:

…a study by Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles…uncovered only 31 credible claims of voter impersonation between 2000 and 2014, out of one billion ballots that were cast. An Arizona State University journalism project reviewed 2068 allegations of election fraud between 2000 and 2012 and concluded that only 10 had involved misrepresentation.

Many of the allegations have been directed at efforts to register minority voters, so it’s hard to avoid the race mongering inherent in these claims and the intentional voter suppression, tragically backed up by targeted legislation largely in red-Republican states. Efforts to charge immigrants with illegal registration and voting, especially in 2012, but certainly in 2008, as well have all been pretty clearly unsubstantiated and at worse attributed to errors and confusion.

The Times concluded with an assessment from Lorraine Minnite from Rutgers, a voting expert, that,

“The frame is being controlled by those who are promoting the idea that fraud is a problem. If we shifted the framework to people who are trying to vote but don’t get their vote counted, we’d be having a different discussion.”

Been there, done that, said it often, so big whoop and amen to that!


Not O’Keefe Again!

organic-spies-spookNew Orleans    James O’Keefe, the infamous video scammer, showed up on my ACORN Google Alerts a couple of days ago, threatening once again to release daily videos that would overturn the election. Yawn. Really? He has been so thoroughly discredited so frequently in recent years that I have to admit I didn’t even open the alert and see what it was about. Just more self-promotion promoting a candidate whose entire platform and program is nothing but self-promotion.

Then a colleague mentioned a problem in their battleground state and the fact that there was a kerfuffle about videos having been mentioned by Trump in the debate. I replied that it was obviously minor since I hadn’t seen anything in local or national papers yet. Well, that was then, and this is now, since a story finally ran in the middle of the New York Times with comments indirectly alluded to elsewhere about “dirty tricks” for Hillary and troubling comparisons about the accuracy of the major candidates’ moral compasses.

It turned out this time that the O’Keefe video burned a couple of tangential operatives that may or may not have been obliquely involved in low levels of the Clinton campaign. The discussion ostensibly was about planting provocateurs in Trump rallies who might or might not provoke Trumpeteers into random acts of violence. Yes, you’re wondering, why bother, isn’t this an organic and natural part of Trump rallies anyway? Well, perhaps but the operatives were trying to entice O’Keefe’s pretend “donors” and may, or may not, have been gilding the lily for the bucks. One of the operatives who was off-camera reportedly was an old friend and colleague, Bob Creamer, a native of Shreveport and former community organizer with Illinois Public Action in the 1980s, who used to stop by and visit during Christmas when he was visiting his family, and in later life, now married to Congresswomen Jan Shaklowsky of Chicago, has made his career as a political consultant and organizer. In short, I’m biased. I like Bob. I detest O’Keefe.

All of which is neither here, nor there, because my real problem is not this tempest in a teapot, because I have to admit how jaded I am since all I see is small potatoes, but how is it still possible that any and everyone involved at any level of political, activist, or organizing life has not learned the lessons from the ACORN-O’Keefe attack to thoroughly vet any and every one that they do not know well when they are doing any business whatsoever. Ok, you may say I’m not a trusting person, but that’s OK, because I’ll freely admit, I’m not a trusting person, but why would anyone fall for O’Keefe’s ridiculous ploys anymore?

Is it possible on the right or the left that part of the standard interview process and contractor terms don’t require a guarantee against loose lips and sinking ships mandating vetting or permissions before any discussions in or away from the office with random folks? How can it be that the lessons of the slanderous ACORN takedown are not tattooed on the arms or worn like an amulet by every political organizer and campaign employee from high to low? I don’t get it.

Somehow memory is fleeting from cycle to cycle and 2009 is so yesterday, but geez can’t we get our act together finally and do right on this? O’Keefe continues to be a bad penny who keeps popping up, simply because we allow his shtick to survive.


“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.


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.


Government and Peer Pressure are Hobbling Scientists

usa-climatechange-marchNew Orleans   Just when I thought I might be out of my element and moving into the quicksand of squishy opinions in areas outside of my expertise, I just caught a lifeline thanks to Scientific American.

Ok, what the heck am I talking about?

Careful readers and listeners may remember my objections to the way super lead-head West Virginia research, Dr. Marc Edwards, who has been mega-helpful to Local 100 and ACORN’s efforts around lead testing in schools and elsewhere, was characterized by headlines in the New York Times Sunday magazine calling him a “zealot,” as well as quotes from other scientists that seem to be taking him down and denigrating his research, because he was speaking out on lead dangers. A year earlier, I trumpeted Professor Naomi Oreskes’ work in looking at how scientists had banded together to research explaining continental drift because it was not part of prevailing elite scientific consensus at the time. I’ve even argued that maybe Tom Wolfe has a point on linguistics, if for no other reason to encourage scientific argument about prevailing consensus, if it advances knowledge. Some might wonder what this has to do with organizing and my usual interests and concerns, and the simple answer is that the heart of organizing is a way of thinking critically and looking past prevailing consensus in order to advance the empowerment of people, so science is not off limits to that broad definition. Now, the October issue of Scientific American pulls the curtain aside and lets us understand better a couple of prevailing trends that make a mockery of the ideology of the scientific method.

First, they raise the issue of what are called “close-hold embargoes” being increasingly used by the government to release their research and by many other elite universities and research institutions in order to curry the most favorable press. An embargo in the press world is common. It is a message to the media that they are getting the information early so they can pay attention and give it priority, but they cannot write about until the date named when everyone has their shot at the news. A close-hold embargo is often in secret to a select number of papers or in this case science reporters, which gives them the research release early and restricts who their ability to even get comments or reactions from other experts and scientists in the field in exchange for the exclusive report. One professorial observer who writes a blog about these embargoes argues that they are reducing reporters to little more than stenographers, simply mouthing whatever the government or university wants them to write. The reporting by Charles Seife was eviscerating on this practice with universities and government response fumbling and dissembling. For all of us biscuit cookers the message becomes, “be careful about believing what you read” when these science reports come out until they have a chance to ferment in the community.

Perhaps as devastating was another piece in the same special section of Scientific American which looked at the way the scientific community bans together in a sort of elderly high school clique to punish so-called “celebrity scientists.” You know scientists like Marc Edwards who are in the news and acting as advocates for the public. The authors had interviewed and surveyed scientists who had written popular works allowing the general public to access scientific information better or who were regular commentators or public spokespeople for their work. Overwhelmingly, the message from all of these scientists is that their best advice was “keep your mouth shut” until you had tenure protection at your university or were well-advance and established in your field or you would be punished. The scientific community seems more like a secret society than a public good.

I find this scary and dangerous. It allows there to be concocted controversies on issues like climate change, chemical and pollution dangers, food, environment, space, and almost every area where modern life intersects with basic health and welfare thanks to manipulation of the public by our own government and the scientific community based on what they believe we “need to know,” rather than what we “want to know” by taking away our ability to decide and act in our interest on what we need to know.


The Tentacles of Bollore-Socfin Stretch Far and Wide

DSCN1867Douala   We listened carefully to two more reports from our delegation at the Organizers’ Forum about the land grabbing of Bollore-Socfin, the Paris and Brussels-based conglomerate. One was from two organizers from the Ivory Coast and the other was from an organizer in Cambodia who was on his way to our meetings, but turned back arbitrarily at the airport. The company’s strategy and colonialism became crystal clear.

In the Ivory Coast, Bollore in fact blinked in the negotiations over its expropriation of land, but then it spit. They had promised to rebuild the villages and provide other development aid when they expanded to 38000 hectares, but they had not done so after decades. They finally settled and came to an agreement with the villages where on a per hectare basis they agreed to pay 75 million francs per year to the more than 30 villages impacted adversely. Fine so far, but then, outside of the terms of the agreement, they created a middle-man, an association ostensibly with representation from each of the villages, which would receive the annual payments and approve them for the villages once a development program was submitted. The association’s leaders were pretty much hand-picked though and fairly quickly there were charges of corruption where a school that would normally cost one-million francs to build was being set at thirty-million francs and awarded to a company run by relatives of the leadership. Elections were cancelled when opposition arose. Many members and villages complained. An alternative association was organized. Bollore claimed it would not deal with the second association because it wasn’t registered, but then neither was the original association until recently. Bollore, once it agreed to the settlement, seems to have shrewdly created a divide-and-conquer strategy to keep the villages jammed up.


In Cambodia, Bollore has stalled but has finally agreed to tripartite negotiations after actions with the company, locals, and the state all at the table. There they agreed to even allow certain NGOs to monitor the negotiations, and after a lot of back-and-forth the UN Human Rights Commission was allowed a representative. The company has already agreed to not disturb sacred forests and cultural sites in its rubber plantations. Issues on the table include compensation. Are these negotiations for real? Our organizer wasn’t sure, but we’re going down that road.

Striking to me is the very determined way that Bollore has adopted a different strategy in each country, I now suspect it is based on what it believes its clout is place to place. In Liberia, the company simply shrugs off its agreement and promises. In Cameroon it does much the same, except that every time there is an action, it agrees to negotiate, but is dilatory in doing so, and bargains in exceptional bad faith on a strategy of containing the conflict in the villages far from the cities. In Ivory Coast, it is divide-and-conquer with a middle-man fabrication that allows them to claim innocence. In Cambodia, they seem to be negotiating in earnest. Clearly this is all a strategy cleared and implemented from Europe, but how outrageous.

During the last discussion I had internet for a fleeting minute. Hitting Bollore and Cameroon on the search, an article popped up that Chairmen Bollore had visited the President again for the first time in four years in May. The article asked if Bollore had replaced France as the colonial power in Cameroon? For good reason, it seemed. Bollore was reviewing its primary investments in Cameroon, and the plantations didn’t even make the top of the list. They own the largest trucking company in country. They have a concession to manage the Douala port. They just “won” a contract under controversial and suspicious terms to build and manage the first deep-water port in central-west Africa. They are building a train between Douala and the capital, Yaounde, to shorten travel time to three hours in another major concession. The list goes on.

Bollore seems to think all of these countries in central Africa are colonies there for its private exploitation and its own financial bottom line. Promises and agreements with the local people are just pieces of paper to them, a means to their ends, and nothing that they take very seriously or seem to be very worried that the governments will bother them about, since they, and not the government, are the big dogs barking here.