Everyone is Failing at the Electoral College

New Orleans   The Electoral College is meeting. There might be some momentary rumpus and some protests, but this deal is done. Trump’s claim to a landslide is more fake news of course. Counting the totals of 58 elections for president, Trump’s victory will rank as the 47th lowest in the list. His margin of the popular vote will be the 47th lowest of the last 49 elections, since he lost that vote to Hillary Clinton by more than 2 million votes.

This doesn’t seem like the way a democracy should work, but that is exactly how the founding fathers wanted this to work. They weren’t confused. They, like Trump, wanted to claim we had a democracy, while making sure that the elites could still imbalance the scales. Protecting slavery was part of it as well, especially when it came to the 1850 Compromise.

Reading the outrage of some electors shouting that they didn’t want California and New York to decide the election with their huge populations, but wanted to make sure that Alaska and Vermont were important as well, contains plenty of irony, since the historic compromise that led to the final say and balloting in the Electoral College was intended to make sure that Virginia, the big dog running at the time, was still able to be a kingmaker even as other states were coming in with large populations in the future. A lot of the heavy hitters of the colonial era were of course from Virginia, like Washington, Madison, and Jefferson. Such a deal could be made then because the elites wanted to make sure the rabble didn’t always carry the day and threaten their position and privilege.

The complaint that the Electoral College isn’t fair or democratic is simply a statement of fact. It wasn’t intended to be. It was intended to maintain the status quo and protect the power. Now it’s like a bad smoking habit that no one seems to be able to quit, no matter how bad it is for the country. When the Democrats win, they like it. When the Republicans win, they like it, and having won two elections in recent years while losing the popular vote, they like it a whole heckuva lot.

Having a president who lost the popular vote is not the only flaw of course. The fact that the game is only settled at the Electoral College creates the democratic deformity of assigning disproportionate status to “battleground states,” based on their electoral vote weight. The dominant parties can strategize about where to campaign and spend money on a calculus that assumes “firewall” states that are dependably red or blue, and voters in the battleground states in many ways get to see a real campaign and have their votes count more heavily. Of course to Trump’s credit he proved that the firewalls for the Democrats in the Midwest were paper thin and not to any builder’s code, and he burned right through them. Better for a democracy to have a truly national campaign where all votes are equal.

The reports that there were less than 80 allegations of voter fraud out of more than 137 million votes cast might prove that the US elections are about as fair and square as possible. Some might think this would calm down some of the rush to tighten rules and access, but the Electoral College opportunity for minority parties to win, incentivizes voter suppression, particularly in battleground states, but generally everywhere, in order to depress the popular vote and have a shot at the prize.

There’s no sign of any real effort to ditch the Electoral College, but it has become a bleeding scar on the heart of any claim of an American democracy.

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Good Political Parties are Good Community Organizations

dscn1993

volunteers making calls at night for the health care campaign

Amersfoort   Being embedded in the offices of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands for several days to help on the field programs involving their campaign to reform the private insurance-based health care system in their country, I have been able to sit in on a number of meetings with local chapter activists, leaders, and volunteers. After all of these days a lesson emerges that is surprising, but should not be: good political parties are good community organizations, and good community organizations create strong local parties. It seems simple to say that, but the task of getting it right is very difficult and complex.

There are forty different political parties in the Holland of all shapes and sizes. The Liberals are not liberal, but conservative. Labor is not all of labor. There is a Green Left Party which is building itself around social media. There is an Animal Party which is largely environmental. You get the picture. Interestingly, the health care reform effort initiated by the Socialists as a nonpartisan, national campaign has the support of many of these parties, even if not total agreement on each plank of the reform platform, along with a number of labor unions as well. 200,000 people have responded to the campaign at this point, and 75000 have asked for toolkits allowing them to take action and recruit more supporters. Just like any good, national organization, this is good, solid basic organizing where they have constructed a campaign around an issue with deep, broad-based support in order to win reform certainly, but also assuredly to build their party organization. That turns out to not be a simple task because of various privacy and database sharing restrictions in the Netherlands, but increasingly the glow from a popular and aggressive campaign is lighting the path to building a stronger party as well.

As interestingly to me have been the stories that lie at the infrastructure of strong local party chapters, because they are almost invariably stories of strong local campaigns. Chapter leaders from Utrecht, one of the largest Dutch cities, met the field and educational team for several hours. They told of having identified a particular neighborhood where they had little organization historically, but usually a solid vote. They wanted to build an organizing committee and door knock the area to build support. They even created a rudimentary application for smartphones with or without internet as a tool to use on the doors with pre-loaded addresses and a way to upload in the field or on a home computer the results of the visits as well as a ranking system from “a to e” to classify interest and support of their organization. The committee and the door knocking process turned up an issue around housing improvements that was compelling for many people. All of this is good, solid, basic community organizing. They had built a pool of 30 people who were willing to door knock and could reliably pull out 15 or so to do the work. This committee was largely from outside of the community and they did not ask people to join, so there were differences, but when they told of winning a housing issue that delivered a victory for about 240 families, it wasn’t so different from the best stories ACORN community groups would tell. When they did get around to asking for support in the form of selling a local newspaper, 90% of the folks were glad to pitch in a euro to do so.

They weren’t alone. Another chapter in a smaller city in the south won a local, neighborhood issue in a area with many elderly families. In a small suburb of Amsterdam, attendance at a local meeting soared to 200 on a national program where even the largest chapters were only pulling 80 to 120. The secret was no secret to any community organizer. They had knocked on the doors.

Historically, political parties were built like grassroots, community organizations. Where party members who are volunteers are still willing and motivated to do the work, that’s how strong local organizations are still built. The result is infectious and leads to things like a national healthcare reform campaign. It’s nice to be reminded that this is how politics can still work from the bottom up, since we witness too many campaigns, like the current one in the United States where everything is from the top down and local organization is mostly rumor and rarely fact.

dscn1994

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Koch Brothers Teach Community Organizing

grassroots-leadership-academy900x507px-opt_0New Orleans   This is scary, and not because it’s the devil trying on a pair of angel wings, but because it’s reads like it is smart, comprehensive and effective. I’m talking about the fact that the Koch Brothers are looking past Trump and 2016, win or lose, and going for the long term victories at the grassroots level by implementing a training program to develop activists and, gulp, community organizers. They appear to have picked up our playbook, financed it, and are getting ready to run way past us!

An extensive report in the New York Times detailed the work of their “secret weapon,” the Grassroots Leadership Academy, a division of Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the political education arm of the Koch network. The curriculum appropriates “Saul Alinsky, the Marxist-inspired Frankfurt School, and even President Obama’s Organizing for Action.” This program isn’t small potatoes either. They claim to have held training sessions since February 2015 in three dozen states that have been attended by 10,000 people at a cost to the Koch’s of a bit more than $3 million which the intend to scale up even bigger in 2017 and beyond.

Here’s what’s worse. In many ways, they “get it” about community organizing. Maybe even more than progressives do these days.

Listen to Levi Russell, Americans for Prosperity’s communications director:

“We want a cultural shift of people being able to know what they want and how to talk to the people in their communities, so that in the future, when there are political leaders that want to demagogue free-market issues, they do hit resistance.”

With all of the discussion about the impact of demagoguery on the natural, working class base of the Democratic Party, wonder why they don’t understand this?

Listen to Slade O’Brien, vice president of the Grassroots Leadership Academy about what he learned from progressive political tactics:

”It was incredibly relationship-driven; it was truly at the grass-roots level. And they didn’t have to agree on everything to agree to work on something – that incremental victories matter, and they would work on those rather than swing for the fences and try to hit a home run.”

This is scary. They do have an understanding of the basics of community organizing, and they are making it their tool!

O’Brien added, astutely, that “You can’t just show up at somebody’s door six weeks before an election and build a relationship with them…” Like I say, he gets it, and if he gets it, the benefits are going to accrue to conservatives of the Koch stripe.

This is smart strategy, just like any national community organizing strategy. The Koch’s are trying to plant organizers all around the country. They are giving them tools, including how to attract media and use props in demonstrations. Sure not all of this will work. Not every root will branch, but if they keep this up, they will develop a more effective grassroots base and plant their own forest around the country. I would guarantee that.

You have to wonder: why aren’t we doing this?

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Is Labor Day for Workers or Politicians?

highlight-img2Berlin   Every four years Labor Day marks the official beginning of the “real” campaign for President in the United States. Of course these campaigns are endless and began years and years before for most candidates, like a Hillary Clinton. Even Mr. Surprise Candidate, Donald Trump, has been hard at it for at least a year now. Both candidates had their big-bodied planes in Ohio on the same tarmac on Labor Day. Reporters could run back and forth between the planes. Candidates could nod in each others’ direction and note how important Ohio is as a battleground state. Democrats could show up at some of the few remaining Labor Day parades, marches, picnics, or whatever we might call them and genuflect to what’s left of the remaining power of labor unions, much of which is in fact on the goal line stand defense of politics and elections.

It is worth wondering if Labor Day really exists anymore to celebrate workers and their unions or just an easy access bridge for politicians to have their photo ops with workers, and then move on to more fundraisers and other touchstones of micro-targeting. It goes without saying for most people Labor Day is more the mark of the end of summer and perhaps the beginning of school sessions, and a last chance at a 3-day holiday in the long stretch until Thanksgiving. What’s labor got to do with it?

Judy Duncan, ACORN Canada’s head organizer forwarded me this piece she had gotten commemorating Labor Day, and it’s worth sharing:

In 1894, it [Labor Day] became a national holiday in Canada. The Canadian government was seeking to accommodate the Labour Movement after the rise of the Knights of Labor and the strengthening of unions in the 1880s. Shortly after, the American government followed suit, wanting in particular to offer a counterpoint to May Day, which commemorated the state violence against the 1886 Haymarket demonstrators. The contrast remains between the North American Labour Day holiday and May Day, which is Labour’s day elsewhere. While May Day stands for the international struggle against capitalism, Labour Day signifies the accommodation of workers within the capitalist system. Canada and the U.S. are the only countries where Labour Day rather than May Day celebrates the achievements of workers.

Accommodations are much, much different than achievements, especially with the disappearance of any social contract between labor and management involving an equal sharing of the benefits of work and wealth. When Labor Day becomes little more than a showcase and access point for politicians, that’s an even further dilution of the critical content of the day.

We have to hang on to it of course. At least we have one day that we can still try to claim as our own, since almost every other day of the year seems to celebrate business and the rich for all of us, and perhaps especially for politicians.

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New York Times Columnist Beats ACORN Dead Horse

c99e3db826c0f4cc2688a36ce3b60e1a_XLNew Orleans   A New York Times columnist, Timothy Egan, opined in his op-ed piece on what he called the dumbing down of democracy. It was largely a semi-rant covering a wide range of topics that you would expect from what the alt-right, or whatever it’s called, would say is still the elite, effete, northeastern corridor so prized by Nixon’s Vice-President for a time, Spiro Agnew.

His unhappiness was general. People don’t read. Trump has stepped up as a non-reader leader. What they do read, they don’t understand. An alternate reality of one’s own choosing from conspiracies, the internet, friends on Facebook has substituted for real information, real books, real maps, real news, and even real temperatures. Egan points out for example that even during the hottest year ever last year found 45% of the Republican masses telling the Gallup pollsters that they “don’t believe the temperature.”

Egan’s leading point on the polarity of politics and the disease of denial for the Republican base though came from Texas, where he wrote:

“A recent survey of Donald Trump supporters there found that 40 percent of them believe that Acorn will steal the upcoming election.”

Egan could have pointed out that that figure shows progress, which it does, since following the 2008 Obama victory polling of Republicans in various areas has found the number annually who believe that ACORN stole the first and then the second election has gone from a huge majority to the lower 40 percent range. To only have 40% in Texas believing that ACORN is ramping up for ballot box theft in 2016 seems somehow encouraging to me.

But, no, Egan’s then has to beat the ACORN horse with a vengeance, saying,

“Acorn? News flash: That community organizing group has been out of existence for six years. Acorn is gone, disbanded, dead. It can no more steal an election than Donald Trump can pole vault over his Mexican wall.”

Ok, Ok, I get the point, and true enough ACORN didn’t steal any elections in the past any more than we will in the future. I’ve said the same ad infinitum, ad nauseum, but still “gone, disbanded, dead,” geez, and in the same paragraph with Donald Trump? Let’s show some respect!

And, speaking of illiterate, how can Egan and the Times-sters write “Acorn” that way with lowercase letters, when the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now was as much an abbreviation as an acronym? The New Yorker and just about everyone else knows better, but I don’t want to get off the point.

ACORN is alive and well all around the world and through ACORN International even continuing to be active in the United States with affiliates in anti-lead fights in Louisiana, internet access campaigns in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Arkansas with Comcast, housing rights in Pittsburgh and Arizona, the rights of mental health consumers in Alaska, and the beat goes on. Furthermore, many of the ACORN affiliates that reorganized several years ago have been continued the strong tradition in California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arkansas, and elsewhere. The conservative blogosphere and the Breitbart folks and their friends continue to keep ACORN’s name in front of their viewers rightly aware that the movement of low and moderate income families for their own organization and the power they need to win justice and equity is not easily stopped and could rise and erupt at any moment.

So, yes, election theft is a ridiculous fantasy for the Republicans in Texas and elsewhere to hold on to, but sometimes your enemies know you better than your friends, and they just might be onto something by keeping an eye on ACORN itself and its progeny, because the work goes on, the spirit is indomitable, and as ACORN members have always chanted, The People United Can Never Be Defeated.

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Rigged Elections and Delegitimized Democracy Increasing Polarization

 A rally last week in Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton said voter registration efforts were the best tactic against Donald J. Trump. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

A rally last week in Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton said voter registration efforts were the best tactic against Donald J. Trump. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

New Orleans    The early warning signal was a report that 40% of recently surveyed Republicans already believed that ACORN was going to steal the election between Trump and Clinton. Yes, that’s down from the even higher percentages reported on other surveys since 2008 arguing that ACORN stole both elections for President Obama, but it’s still total falsehood and fantasy backed by not one iota of proof, not to mention the fact that ACORN has not operated in the United States since 2010, which seems to trouble none of these conspiratorialists in the least about such a zombie attack on election purity.

Now Trump partnered with the hate mongering, fact-adverse Breitbart bunch is putting out its first television advertisements with the subliminal headline, “Rigged,” flashing across the screen. Trump told his rallies in Pennsylvania that the polls were all corrupt and that the only way he could lose the election in Pennsylvania was if the election was stolen and the whole process was rigged. Normally, these would be tactics only associated with what we would usually call, “sore losers,” except that Trump seems to have virtually trademarked the word “loser,” and may not realize yet, as he undoubtedly will soon, how permanently that moniker will stick to him for the rest of his life, perhaps even in epic, historic terms.

If this were just about Trump, we could easily ignore his attempt to inoculate his fanboys and girls from what is increasingly seeming like the inevitable. The problem, as we have all sadly seen in the eight-year war by the right to delegitimize Obama, is that such a strategy is designed to polarize and erode democracy, which in the vicious circle of our political life, also paved the way for a Trump candidacy. Many will remember from his earliest days in office when President Obama, then a naïve democracy advocate, tried to remind the Congressional Republicans that he “had won the election,” believing that the mandate from the voters came with an understanding that some of his positions should be implemented in policy. We don’t believe any of that nonsense in Washington anymore that somehow the voters will deserves respect. It’s dog-eat-dog period, and the people take the hindmost, which is happening on a state-by-state basis where the rightwing has been able to work their will without restraint.

What does this augur? If Hillary Clinton prevails, will we once again watch her try to be bipartisan, as Obama did, and fail while the right quickly tries to reframe a defeat as not about them but about the flawed Trump candidacy?

Some are advancing the theory that the Senate could change hands if the Trump defeat continues on its current abysmal trajectory. A turnover of four or five seats would make the difference there for four years until 2020 when more Democratic seats are up for grabs, but that wouldn’t break through the logjam, even if it would hedge against our worst nightmares. For the House to flip, thirty or so seats would have to change, and most pundits are estimating only half of that will happen.

It’s depressing when the end of this polarized dysfunction still seems nowhere in sight, even as November’s outcome seems more and more inevitable.

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