Republican Electoral Victory and the Necessity of Voter Suppression

There are a number of reasons as to why the Democratic Party lost control of the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections, most of them structural. Midterms are elections notorious for a meager turnout in general, and the meager turnout of the Democratic base: Hispanics, African Americans, single women, young people, etc. People who vote in off-year elections just tend to be older, whiter, and wealthier. Also, great number of the Senate seats in contention this last cycle were seats in more conservative states, thus compounding the effect of the low voter turnout.  However, there is a more sinister reason for their victory. Nate Silver, one of the best politicos, and interpreters of polling data, wrote back in November about a how every legitimate polling outfit predicted that the Democrats would received four percent more votes than they actually earned in the election. A four percent swing is significant for an off-year election with low turnout. Silver’s answer to this puzzling discrepancy was to conclude that the polls were simply skewed in favor of the Democrats.

Greg Palast, on the other hand, an excellent American journalist working for the BBC, among other non-American news outlets,  has devoted much of his reporting to efforts across the country by the Republicans to suppress voting. In a blog entry on his website Palasr responded to Silver interpretation; and his reporting has nothing to say about the usual angle to this story, vis a vis the attempts by Republicans legislatures in over two dozen states around the country to pass restrictive voter identification laws. Instead, Palast focused on the issues of voter purges, ballot spoiling, rejection of provisional ballots, and discounting absentee ballots, techniques that total lost votes in the millions. Incredibly, according to Palast and his investigative team, the four percent swing in the 2014 election is likely what gave the Senate to the Republicans. A computer program known as Crosscheck, that is supposedly designed to prevent people from voting twice in the same election in two different states, has been used to disenfranchise voters by creating a list of double voters. There are seven million names on the Crosscheck list. Though not a single person has been arrested and convicted using Crosscheck the program did provide the impetus for the removal of untold thousands of voters from the registration rolls.

The system is present in a number of states, but not every single name is purged from the rolls. The average number of voters purged, after examining what state records to which Palast and his team could gain access, is around 19 percent. “In North Carolina, Republican Thom Tillis upset incumbent Senator Kay Hagan by just 48,511 votes. North Carolina’s Crosscheck purge list targeted a stunning 589,393 voters. In Colorado, Cory Gardner, the Republican, defeated Mark Udall by just 49,729 votes. Colorado’s Crosscheck ‘potential double voter’ list totals 300,842. The Crosscheck purge list also swamped GOP Senate margins in Alaska and Georgia and likely provided the victory margins for GOP gubernatorial victories in Kansas and Massachusetts. No, states do not purge every name on the lists. Typical is Virginia which proudly purged 64,581 ‘duplicates’ from its voter rolls in 2013, equal to about 19% of its Crosscheck list. Other states refuse to provide numbers, but their scrub methods are the same, or even more aggressive, than Virginia’s. We can conservatively calculate that the purge of 19% of the Crosscheck lists accounted for at least three GOP Senate victories – and thereby, control of the Senate”.

They acquired a little over 2 million of the 7 million names from the lists across the country, using experts hired by the likes of American Express and Ebay to examine them; and they discovered something ‘surprising’. The names targeted were very common names like Michael Jackson, David Lee, and Juan Rodriguez. “As the US Census tells us, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics are 67% more likely to share a common name as a white American. In other words, the lists heavily targeted ‘blue’ Americans, Democratic leaning voters”. The Republican state officials make the claim that the voters targeted are matched by their full names, social security numbers, and other relevant identifiers. However, Palast and his team uncovered the reality that the names are only matched according to the similarity of their first and last names rather than taking into account the complete name and social security number. Amazingly, almost 2 million of the names matched in the accessed records were names that failed to match according to middle names. For “example, James Elmer Barnes Jr., who voted in Georgia, is supposed to be the same person as James Cross Barnes III of Virginia”.

This is not a unique event situated in time by a particular circumstance, or by a handful of corrupt government officials. This is not even a tendency within the Conservative Movement. This is necessary for their survival as a viable political party on the national level. One of the founders of the modern Conservative Movement, Paul Weyrich, is famously known to have said at a gathering of the Religious Right, “So many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome: good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down”. The above mindset is usually expressed in far more subtle ways such as when Conservatives argue that they would win every election, if only those meddling African Americans, Hispanics, single women, and young people did not vote. For these people winning the majority of the participating electorate is not enough, you must win the right kinds of voters, rural, white men, and married woman. As the country changes demographically, waxing diversity in the coming decades, these sorts of tactics are going to become more and more necessary than they already are if the Republican Party is to remain a national party in the Congress. Surely it is highly unlikely that they are going to be adopting less repugnant ideas about minorities, the poor, and women to address this evolving dynamic.

There are just too many structural incentives in the Right Wing ecosystem to overcome these trends. This movement is driven by the most extreme elements of the Right Wing Media Complex. A complex that has spent the last three decades instigating the resentment, fears, and hatreds of white upper class, middle class, and lower middle class Americans. Stoking the fires in this way has created a strong foot soldiery that turn out in every election, dictating the future course of the country by slowing taking over one part of the country after another. Now any time a Republican politician steps out of line they are targeted by the websites, Fox, and talk radio, sent hundreds of emails, and hundreds of phone calls, often threatening ones. That is the only reason that they have been as successful for as long as they have been. Authoritarians are always willing to sacrifice one of their own the moment he identifies with the enemy, or in some other way dilutes the purity of the brand. If you are a good southern boy caught being too nice to the ‘negroes’ you could lose your job, your entire social network, becoming an outcast, cut off from the system of Wingnut Welfare and the hundreds of thousands of dollars one can make on the speaking circuit, writing ludicrous books, and being a Fox ‘News’ Contributor. One of the worst aspects of this reality is that now there are True Believers on the United States Supreme Court. Last year these fanatics eviscerated the enforcement mechanism of the Voting Rights Act preventing states from instituting discriminatory electoral practices. The moment the ruling came down states throughout the former Confederacy began passing the voter suppression legislation agenda mentioned above, in the form of voter photo identification laws. These restrictions disproportionately affect Democratic Party voters because minorities, single women, and poor people are far less likely to own a car, and thus unlikely to have a photo identification. This is only going to get worse. And unfortunately, it seems less and less likely that the Nate Silver’s of the world are going to address it, especially given one cannot find stories about voter purges, ballot spoiling, rejection of provisional ballots, and discounting absentee ballots, techniques that total lost votes in the millions, in the American mainstream press.







Cult of Conservatism

No one should be astonished at the recent letter sent by Senate Republicans to the Iranian government. Tom Cotton, the leading Republican Senator behind the letter, is a product of the Conservative Wingnut Factory. Something that traces its history to long before this letter to Iran was crafted. Personally, I am not as outraged as many others are about this seemingly unprecedented breach of protocol. This is par for the course when it comes to these people. Frankly, this is nothing more than a stunt to gin up controversy for the sake of their pig people base who want to see the Kenyan Usurper humiliated before the eyes of the world. And frankly, again, undermining the Federal Government of the United States is their raison d’être. During LBJ’s peace talks with the North Vietnamese before the 1968 elections Richard Nixon had his underlings sabotage the talks to ensure the war would continue past his election and enable him to be the President who brought the war to an end. There are now tapes, recently made available at the LBJ Presidential Library, in which Johnson talks to a Republican representative about the “treason” committed by the Nixon campaign.

During negotiations between Carter and Iran regarding the embassy hostages taken the year before the Reagan campaign sabotaged the talks to ensure the hostages would not be released until Reagan was elected. The hostages were released minutes after Reagan took the oath on the steps of the Capital. And who could forget the Supreme Court decision that made George W. Bush president? A decision that went against the grain of every argument ever made about states rights, and federal intervention into states rights, by every conservative on that bench? These are only a few of the atrocities committed by Conservatism against American Democratic Republicanism. This is what they do, who they are. They only care about setting the federal government on fire, even, and especially, if they have to do it from within the federal government. The Republican Party of modern times is the direct ideological descendant of the Confederacy. Though by the looks of it the legacy of the Confederacy is present in other forms as well.

The Department of Justice recently released a report on the death of Michael Brown by Daren Wilson, and the Ferguson Police Department. The first part of the report deals with the specific case of Darren Wilson and Michael Brown, and how there was no credible evidence to support witness claims that Brown was killed while attempting to surrender. But the other DOJ report deals with systemic violence perpetrated against the African American community by the Ferguson Police Department and fills in the blanks regarding how, and why, such a confrontation between Wilson and Brown started, and ended, the way that it did. The Ferguson Police Department was far more focused on generating revenue for their operations than they were on protecting the public they exist to serve:

“This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing, and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the Ferguson community. Further, Ferguson’s police and municipal court practices both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes. Ferguson’s own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans. The evidence shows that discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities… Partly as a consequence of City and FPD priorities, many officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue…”

So, when Michael Brown was walking down the street and eventually pulled over by Darren Wilson, Brown did not recognize Wilson as a legitimate officer of the law. Instead he saw a gangster the likes of Henry Hill coming to shake him down. This is not far afield of how the rest of the society should view the Conservative movement. Not as a legitimate, good faith actor, interested in the common interest, but as a gang of cultists bent on destroying the institutions that work at cross purposes with their impulses. And they rarely have anything more than the impulse to make liberals scream because their paymasters in the American oligarchy have pumped their brains with Fox “News” and right wing talk radio bile.

There is no reasoning with these people. They are going to get what they want and they will get it at any cost. Even total victory would not satiate these people for they will always need an enemy, like the Ferguson Police Department, to justify their existence. A few resignations, as has happened in Ferguson this last week, is not going to be enough. They must be cut off from engagement with the national discourse. Any time these lunatics are permitted to spill their lies across the table, whether it be on television, online, or in newspapers, is another loss fore the future of this country. Therefore, we must target those useful idiots in the mainstream press who give them soapboxes from which to spout their deceptions.

Rikers Inmate Resuces Guard During Sexual Assault

Fyodor Dostoevsky is known to have said “You can judge a society by how well it treats it’s prisoners”. This has recently become relevant given a situation at Rikers Island prison. A corrections officer was attacked by a prisoner within a locked vestibule, and other inmates within the prison came to her rescue. The irony here is incredible. Every day in prisons across the country countless inmates are subjected to coerced sexual encounters, or to put it more simply, raped, by other inmates. Generally speaking the guards at these prisons turn their backs on such violence. So it is amazing to see the roles reversed, and to witness prisoners come to the aid of a guard. Surely this should shatter the perception so many Americans have of prison inmates as violent animals. They are caged, and they deserve to be caged, many do say, and few care about what happens to them while they are inside those concrete walls, as long as they are in those concrete walls. America has one of the most punitive prison systems in the world. More people are in American prisons than there are people in Chinese prisons, and China has far more potential people to imprison. In the late 1960’s, as drugs flooded American streets, and as violent crime began its two decade climb to the top of a very high mountain, government all over the country began policies that today we associate with the War on Drugs, begun by the Nixon presidency in 1971, and the slogan “get tough on crime”. But this change in penology was far more about a supposed war on drugs. Take a step back, and look at the big picture. “Cry havoc said he who fought chaos with chaos, and let slip the dogs of war”. In the 1960’s the United States undergoes one of its most turbulent decades of civil activism, disobedience and protest. The most radical, progressive, faction within the Left during this decade was the African American Civil Rights Movement. Get tough on crime was a single plank in a broad attack on working class people. To undermine the most effective activism was to derail the ability of the working class to create a broad based support network made up of not only working class blacks, but working people of all races and creeds. The Souther Strategy was the political arm of this attack. Break up the hold the Democratic Party held on the southern states by appealing to the bigotry of southern white people and turn them into Republicans. Want evidence of this? Take a look at a map of the most recent presidential election and see which states are painted red. We have the police arm, the political arm, and now the corporate arm. In the 1970’s with the emergence of Japan and western Europe as economic rivals to American industry Corporate America united behind a strategy designed by Lewis Powell, a man President Nixon would appoint to the Supreme Court. Victory after victory was won by working people in the 1950’s and 1960’s against Corporate America. Movements for racial, environmental, consumer, women’s, and worker’s justice were remarkably successful in pressuring the Congress to pass legislation protecting their interests.  Lewis Powell, before being a Supreme Court Justice, was a corporate lawyer. In 1971 he wrote a memo detailed the assault by working people on the power of capitalists to control the political and economic future of America. This memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce created a strategy for defeating the enemy by arguing for long term educational, political, and economic campaigns to target universities, think tanks, media, any and all institutions that play a role in informing the public about key issues that affect the bottom line of American corporations. As a result the next several decades would see the creation and expansion of organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, and several dozen other front groups for capitalist propaganda. Their goal was to flood the landscape with corporate spokespeople to overwhelm the media and the public. They advocated all the ideas we know so well today, ideas that had been abandoned by right thinking people since the Great Depression for the disaster they reap on the larger society: deregulation, privatization, tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, or Trickle Down Economics, as it came to be called. Their ideas have won the day for the last four decades. But we must think bigger, and more systemically than the notion that Corporate America is the enemy. Any and all institutions in a capitalist society are tools of the ruling class to maintain control over the working class. Returning to the issue that initiated this analysis. The police in a capitalist society acts as a repressive state apparatus created for the primary purpose of reinforcing the dominance of one class over the rest. Just because these institutions provide other services does nothing to negate their primary function as enforcers of class oppression. This argument holds not only for the police, but for the entire edifice of the legal system, in fact any legal system within a class society. In feudal society the political forces known as Kings and Nobles used Knights to maintain the stability of the existing social relations, which were in turn predicated on the material and economic relations of serfdom. In capitalist society the social relations are more dynamic and complicated, making it appear as if what is happening is not outright exploitation. In feudal society the Knights had occasion to protect their Nobles’ serfs from another Nobles’ Knights, or from the Kings, Nobles, and Knights of another nation state, but their ultimate internal role was to protect the Kings and Nobles from the serfs, just as the police and the military in capitalist society protect the ruling class from the working class. So, if working people are to seize power for themselves it will have to be beyond the electoral. We cannot take control over this society through the winning of elections alone. As long as the ruling class has control over the repressive institutions of the state such as the police and the military there is no long term victory. Reformers around the world have learned this lesson the hard way. Allende in Chile won elections. He promised that he was not going to wage a class war against the ruling class of Chile. He promised that he would work with them to govern the country. Eventually the men with the guns overthrew his government and killed him. A similar scenario happened in Egypt a few years ago. The working people of Egypt, through peaceful civil disobedience, overthrew their government, and eventually elected a new one. But they failed to shatter the institutions, particularly the military and police forces, that maintained the status quo under Mubarak for decades. Inevitably they moved against the elected government of the Muslim Brotherhood organizing a coup and replacing it with another military government. We can all learn from these lessons of history. If the working people of America are going to take control of their own lives we will need more than a People’s Congress, or People’s Presidency. We are going to need a People’s Army, a People’s Police Fore (And I don’t even like guns). If a handful of prisoners can come to the rescue of one of the people who keeps them imprisoned surely the rest of us can do something far more significant, and come to our own rescue.