Trump Empowering Kris Kobach to Suppress More Votes and Cover His Tweets

New Orleans   President Trump named five people to a special election commission to supposedly review federal election procedures. Vice-President Pence is the titular chair. There will be more than a dozen members and the bipartisan claim arises from four active and former Secretary of State, two Democrats from Maine and New Hampshire and a current Republican Secretary of State from Indiana. Disturbingly, he appointed the notorious former Republican Secretary of State from Ohio, Ken Blackwell, who became infamous in the 2008 election when Ohio was a key battleground state then for his ham-handed efforts at voter suppression.

None of this would be that worrisome, if we were able to see this commission as simply a DC-boondoggle of a snipe hunt looking for evidence wherever they can find it to provide cover for Trump’s post-election tweets and continuing efforts to claim he really didn’t lose the vote total by millions because there were all of these undocumented illegals voting. Unable to find any proof of these claims or to convince the FBI or Justice Department to join the ghost hunt, this commission is his smoke bomb to cover his claims. We could almost live with this except for the fact that he has appointed Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State, author of countless pieces of immigrant bashing, and master of voter suppression in Kansas and nationally. It was small comfort that despite Kobach’s post-election Trump Tower meetings with Trump as president-elect, cooler heads prevailed preventing him from taking a faster train than this one to Washington.

Kobach is a danger to democracy, plain and simple. His previous efforts to reshape the national voting system had to be scrapped for clear racial bias. I have often cited his initial election campaign claims that he was running to stop ACORN from stealing the election in Kansas, despite the fact that we didn’t have any staff, office, or operation in the state. He started bad, but he keeps getting worse.

Of huge concern for this fake-fact finding commission will be Kobach’s claims for more voter identification systems based on his Interstate Voter Crosscheck Program, now enjoying the participation of thirty states, most of them Republican, which supposedly finds duplicate registrations. Most experts defame Walt Disney by calling the program Mickey Mouse.

One report said that following about its methodology:

The program, for instance, appears to count every instance in which someone has moved out of a state, registered to vote in their new state, but has not yet been removed from the old voter rolls, a process that can take several election cycles to happen automatically.

And while the program asks member states to submit 13 items of data for each voter, including the last four digits of his/her social security number and middle name, Kansas state department officials acknowledged in an email that all that’s required for the crosscheck program to generate a “possible duplicate entry,” is for the last name, first name, and date of birth to match.

A Rolling Stone report from before the 2016 election was more specific:

We had Mark Swedlund, a database expert whose clients include eBay and American Express, look at the data from Georgia and Virginia, and he was shocked by Crosscheck’s “childish methodology.” He added, “God forbid your name is Garcia, of which there are 858,000 in the U.S., and your first name is Joseph or Jose. You’re probably suspected of voting in 27 states.”

The reporter later underlined the issue, writing:

Every voter that the state marks as a legitimate match receives a postcard that is colorless and covered with minuscule text. The voter must verify his or her address and mail it back to their secretary of state. Fail to return the postcard and the process of taking your name off the voter rolls begins.

This commission has a fake mission to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and is likely to use a fake computer program that produces exaggerated and inaccurate data to provide high-level justification for the ongoing conservative political project of reducing the number of lower income, elderly, and minority voters in US elections.

Bad and sad!

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Please enjoy Alright Caroline by Third Eye Blind. Thanks to KABF.

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Bungled Comey Firing Ignites Firestorm and Fear

New Orleans  Make a note: running a television reality show where you get to fire people abruptly is NOT good training for how to fire big-time government officials! Make a couple of notes that when your administration is being investigated by the top cop in the government, it’s going to look bad, very, very bad if you fire him abruptly in the middle of his investigation, with or without cause.

I don’t want to write anything about this. I don’t even want to think about it. In fact I can’t believe it’s really happening.

How is it even possible that the White House was so inept and tone deaf. Reports, though possibly self-serving indicate that Vice-President Pence, son-in-law and confident Jared Kushner, and press czar Sean Spicer, all green-lit this calamitous move, although Spicer to small credit did so after raising some cautions. Stephen Bannon, chief strategist and resident flamethrower, seems to have been the only one consulted in his small circle who advised waiting before firing. How could that not have been a clue? If it’s too hot for former Breitbart Bannon, it’s a scalding firestorm coming.

What do we really know in average Joe Citizen land, but James Comey as head of the FBI seems to have been moving from one bad judgment to another. The fact that he indicated in recent Congressional testimony that thinking he may have thrown the election to Trump through his various inexplicable actions about emails and investigations had made him “slightly nauseous,” pales in comparison to the life-support level of illness much of the country still feels over the election.

There is just so much smoke flying around all of this, especially with these latest shenanigans, that, it is becoming harder and harder not to believe there’s a smoldering fire that could burst out at any time. The cover story is one that would embarrass young children caught with their hands in the cookie jar, especially given that the letter seems undoubtedly written by the President himself to claim that he had been assured on three occasions by his former employee that he was not personally under investigation. Who in their right mind would write that? Who would see the draft and not raise a flag that this was the trigger to a bomb that would blow up in the White House’s face.

This to will pass. There will be peace in the valley some day. There will be happy days again in the future.

In the meantime it’s clear Trump and his hapless crew have now guaranteed that there will have to be an even more serious investigation of the Russian ties to the campaign and his staff, whether through a special prosecutor or some other mechanism. Sadly, that’s little comfort. Even as we might disagree, we desperately need to believe that competent, sober souls have their hands on the wheel of the US government, and sadly the lack of any continuing evidence that that exists has all of us walking with the dread of total panic ever present.

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Please enjoy Santiago by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Thanks to KABF.

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Bond Issues Along Protests on School Takeovers, Privatization, and Charter Expansion

New Orleans  Throughout the country parents, teacher unions, and community groups have been opposing the viral spread of privatization of public school systems and the efforts of charter school operators to expand their footprint in school districts. Perhaps the most controversial maneuvers are the state takeovers of local public school districts by removing duly elected school board members and replacing them with unaccountable managers.

The most famous was certainly the post-Katrina usurpation in New Orleans which has now led to all but four of the more than 100 schools in the district being run by charter operators. School districts have also been taken over in Indianapolis, threatened in Buffalo, in some California districts, and others as well. Despite only a small number of poorly performing schools of the forty-eight in the Little Rock School District, the state of Arkansas asserted control seemingly triggered by outside donors and advocates of charter expansion being opposed by the Superintendent, who was immediately replaced.

These fights have sharp dividing lines, but increasingly the claims of private and charter operators of improved education and test scores has not been proven by the actual results. Advocates of vouchers to accelerate the process of moving students out of public schools have also made progress in more than half of the states in the country and now have a staunch advocate as head of the Department of Education, but recent studies are indicating that students are falling behind in many of these private and parochial facilities. Claims from New Orleans and New York that such programs would decrease racial and ethnic segregation in public school systems are also achieving the opposite outcomes.

In the tug of war over school control, which is often cultural and ideological, the voice of protests have often been simply ignored by state governments and others. Events in the ongoing fight in Little Rock may have found a way to force authorities to hear their opposition using the ballot box to express their anger when presented with a school bond issue. A wide coalition of groups, including Local 100 and Arkansas Community Organizations, the former Arkansas ACORN, opposing the bond issue for new school construction and other programs in the district united under the banner of “Taxation without Representation,” made their protest of the state takeover clear.

Despite a united business community and being outspent by a ratio of ten to one, opponents smashed the bond issue by a margin of almost 2 to 1, 65% to 35%. The district is 70% African-American now and in many African-American precincts the margins against the bond issue ran 90% to 10%. Normally liberal districts in middle-income, hipper Heights area also defeated the bond issue strongly. The turnout was the highest for a bond issue in 17 years. The Governor Asa Hutchinson, whose administration was responsible for the takeover, campaigned for the measure and was embarrassed by the results. The state appointed Superintendent was forced to concede the loss even before balloting ended.

Bond mileage increases on property taxes funding school districts are usually the lifeblood of public schools. Often the district needs the money as much as the taxpayers do in these tough financial times, but even if this is playing with fire, there is no denying the power of the protest when a community unites to oppose privatization, charter expansion, and undemocratic takeovers of local districts. Little Rock protesters and voters may have shown others around the country the path to take to force their voices to be heeded.

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Bringing the Fight for Climate Change Home, Minnesota Style

Shreveport   There’s no real debate about whether climate change is huge threat. You don’t have to believe the science, but you can’t deny what Richard Pryor famously called the evidence available to your “lying eyes.” We see it everywhere around us from the diminishing coastline to earlier Springs and more violent storms. The problem for many people is figuring out what they can do to be effective besides turning down the thermometer, putting out their recycling, sending the occasional donation, and answering the call to march when it’s made. So much of the problem seems global past our reach, so how do we have impact on such a huge crisis locally?

One answer to this question was provided by Kevin Whelan when I was talking to him recently on Wade’s World. Kevin after years as a community organizer and communications specialist with ACORN and others, is now executive director of Minnesota 350, and in our conversation it became clear that he and his associates there are trying to develop an organization and action model that translates the horror of global climate change into local action.

350.org is a well-known campaign and advocacy formation focusing on climate change, started as Whelan described it, by a professor, in this case Bill McKibben, and “seven students.” 350 refers to the level at which carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere passes the critical point at 350 parts per million. It is now over 400.

As Kevin described it, Minnesota 350 is a rarity though. It is not an affiliate of 350.org nor was it organized by 350.org. Rather, there were some activists in Minnesota who saw climate change as a critical issue and wanted to figure out a way to respond to the crisis, and decided to organize and reached out to 350.org and essentially asked if they would mind if they used 350 as part of the name of the organization they wanted to build. So, yes, the website says Minnesota350.org, but that’s more of a website thing than anything else. They are certainly federated and allied with 350.org, but an independent and autonomous operation in Minnesota.

This has translated in recent years to a lot of involvement and organizational action in pipeline fights. They played a key role in opposing a pipeline from the controversial and dangerous Tar Sands area of Alberta, Canada that would have run to Lake Superior, that is stopped for now. They were also heavily involved in supporting the Standing Rock fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which galvanized a movement, though thus far has a less happy ending. Kevin movingly described four visits to Standing Rock and how much it meant.

Minnesota 350 has learned many lessons in how to bring this global catastrophe to the level of local action but in talking to Kevin, they believe they need to bring-the-fight-home by figuring out a way to inject the issue into local and state politics, which would also mean holding representatives elected to represent Minnesota in Congress accountable on this issue. It’s hard to argue with that conclusion, and it is worth keeping an eye on Minnesota 350, because we might all need to follow their lead.

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Alternative Mortgage Lending Tiptoeing Around a Broker-based Implosion – Again!

REUTERS/Chris Helgren

New Orleans   In the 2008 Great Recession, fingers pointed wildly in all directions and in some cases in little Taliban caves around the country they are still doing so, and trying to play the blame game at the expense of the victims. One of the more troubling terms to emerge from those terrible days for borrowers trying to stay in their homes was the notion of “liar’s loans,” as the subprime industry called some of these mortgages. The haters tried to claim the borrowers were the liars, though our work repeatedly found that the culprits – the big liars in the affair – were almost invariably mortgage brokers channeling huge volumes of paper to subprime lenders and blowing up the numbers on “stated” income mortgages.

ACORN understood the value of stated income mortgages because many of our lower income families worked in contingent employment that was impossible to verify because of cash transactions without social security statements. Tipped employees were just one of the examples. As we met with subprime company after subprime company (four in one wild day in Orange County, California, the subprime ground zero!), we raised our concerns about the supervision of brokerage networks accounting for much of the loan volume in the portfolios they were assembling and the incredibly high percentage of stated loans, often approaching or exceeding 50% of the lending they were making and packaging. They would then flannel-mouth something about a risk algorithm that was protecting them and assure us they were on top of it all, when in fact as it developed, they were doing the happy dance to bankruptcy and blindsiding our members, many of them whom had no idea what numbers brokers had claimed to be their income, often without so much as a wink-and-a-nod, and were shocked to find in some cases that their social security income had now been converted to six figures.

All of ACORN’s fights against predatory practices by subprimes came roaring back to mind when ACORN Canada shared an article with me about the cash-crunch and turmoil that ousted the top officials and plummeted the share price of Home Capital Group, a leading company in what the Financial Post called the “alternative mortgage lending” space, which is just another name for subprime loans. The problem was simply described:

Home Capital’s current crisis began on April 19, when the Ontario Securities Commission accused the company and some of its officials of misleading disclosure. The OSC alleges that the company misled shareholders because it knew there was fraud in its broker channels before July 2015, when it announced the findings of its internal investigations and disclosed it had cut ties with 45 brokers as a result.

The Post commentators were aghast that regulators were investigating Home Capital for what they viewed as dated and minor problems with the company’s brokerage channels and accused the OSC of what Republicans in the US would now call “regulatory overreach.”

How quickly people forget! The Ontario Securities Commission fortunately had some memory cells left from watching the real estate American meltdown a decade ago, and recognized what US regulators have still failed to grasp in the patchwork quilt that regulates and licenses brokers in this country on a state by state basis. Broker fraud is inevitable in the mortgage supply chain whenever brokers are substantially paid by commissions based on closings, rather than standards that include buyer affordability. We always demanded, and often won, though sometimes too late, agreements that US-subprimes not allow mortgage brokers in their networks to be paid that way. Given the hammering of stock prices for all the companies in the Canadian subprime industry, smarter investors must suspect that all of them are only loosely supervising brokerage networks, and that’s scary.

Low-and-moderate income families need a subprime market so that they can access mortgages for houses and apartments, but they also have to demand that the companies not be predatory and that they work as hard to keep their acts together as families do who are busting their butts to pay their bills and their house notes. Let’s hope Canadians are coming to grips with these companies and have learned the lessons that Americans are living in denial and still trying to forget.

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Church Exemption: Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander

New Orleans   The membership of legacy religious institutions may be falling like a rock, but their privileges are increasing. President Trump last week signed an executive order that sought to do a couple of things for churches. On one hand he wanted to give them some more flexibility in opposing abortion for their workers and institutions, but most of that had already been done by the courts in the Hobby Lobby case. The other penance he offered was protection for political endorsements being made by pastors right from the pulpit, and that’s interesting.

The Internal Revenue Service provides a tax exemption under its 501c3 classification for religious institutions and other nonprofits providing charitable, educational, and other benefits. In exchange for such a tax exemption there are some restrictions including the level of profit-making enterprises escaping taxation, unless they are directly related to the mission and purpose of the exempt nonprofit. There is also a ban on political activity and endorsements.

Trump’s executive order was a promise to the evangelical and religious community that he would get them around the Johnson Amendment and its restriction on religious endorsements. In some ways this was a bit of a straw man. Priests and pastors have been making political endorsements from the pulpit for years without provoking any investigations from the IRS, so they have been able to do so with impunity. Evangelical preachers have hardly been quaking in their brogans as they have embraced and endorsed conservative politicians from right to far-righter for fear of losing their tax privileges. Archbishops and Cardinals in heavily Catholic cities and states have sometimes jumped into the middle of political campaigns, including threatening excommunication of parishioners for voting for governors, senators, and representatives bold enough to support abortions. Trump’s claim was that his order would now protect them and give them license to jump into politics at their will and whim.

Talking to the director and organizer of an environmental group the other day who was debating whether his tax exempt group needed to form an entity that could be more aggressively active in pushing climate change into the political agenda, I had jokingly suggested that since a lot of environmentalists already talked about nature as their church, a simple fix for this problem would be to just say his outfit was now religious, and say whatever they wanted to say. Now in truth Trump’s order doesn’t mean much. The IRS will likely just ignore it and given the way they’ve ignored such blatant politics in the pulpit in the past and their depleted ranks in the exemption debate, it doesn’t add up to much.

But, what’s good for the goose, should be good for the gander. If the IRS lightened up on one group of nonprofits, they would have to lighten up on the whole bunch, equal protection being what it is once the matter finds its way to the courts. Nonprofit staff and leadership wouldn’t have to dance around whether they were speaking and acting personally and not as representatives of their organizations as they jumped into politics any more than pastors and priests. The President may not care that if he opens the door for one, everybody can walk in, but if this order has any weight, that’s what it should end up meaning. What’s good for one is good for all.

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