Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Russia Could Change Voter Registration Data - My Pollworker Experience Nov. 2016

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report Tuesday stating that
In 2016, cyber actors affiliated with the Russian Government conducted an unprecedented, coordinated cyber campaign against state election infrastructure. Russian actors scanned databases for vulnerabilities, attempted intrusions, and in a small number of cases successfully penetrated a voter registration database.
While it states that "The Committee has not seen any evidence that vote tallies were manipulated or that voter registration information was deleted or modified", it also says that "It is possible that additional activity occurred and has not yet been uncovered."

I don't know if California is one of the affected states, and what I'm about to say is completely anecdotal, but this is my experience with the 2016 presidential election. Make of it what you will.

I have been a pollworker since 2006, and a poll inspector in charge of my precinct for the last 8 years. I have dealt with many voter registration issues during that time. The way it works is that when you register to vote and you are accepted as a legitimate voter, your information goes into the state database, and then your name and address are listed in the roster of voters of your precinct, and cross-referenced by street index.

This means that if your name is listed in the roster, you are already confirmed as a legal voter. There is no statistically-significant such thing as noncitizen voting at the polls - that is, a noncitizen showing up to the polls and using a registered voter's name to cast an illegal vote. Contrary to what proponents of the "many millions of fraudulent votes by illegals" crown may claim, this is so rare as to be practically nonexistent. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, "After the 2016 election, The New York Times surveyed election and law enforcement officials in 49 states and the District of Columbia. They learned of two possible instances of noncitizens voting – out of 137.7 million voters nationwide." Hardly the millions of illegal votes cast that Trump blames for his loss of the popular vote.

 That's why we ask for a voter's name and address only - if their info matches up on the voter roster, they're already certified as being properly registered. "But..," the fraud proponents sputter, "What if an illegal immigrant uses the name of a registered voter at the polls to cast an illegal vote?" This does not make sense. Non-citizens have no interest in trying to cast an illegal vote that will do them no personal good, but will almost certainly result in fines, jail and deportation. There's nothing in it for them! It's ridiculously easy to catch

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Legitimacy is at the Core of Republican Hypocrisy

The arrogance of Republican hypocrisy is breathtaking. Trump, of course, is the most visible, blatant, and audacious, but it has been going on much longer than Trump has been on the scene. 

The most recent (as of this morning) has been the Eric Schneiderman debacle. After credible witnesses and contemporaneous corroboration of physical, mental and emotional abuse from someone who has been an outspoken advocate for #MeToo, Democrats rightly called for Schneiderman to step down, which he did. And Twitter was ablaze with the pearl-clutching condemnation of Republicans who were shocked and disgusted that a man in public office could behave so reprehensibly, and who must immediately be removed from that office.

But when confronted with abuse and assault accusations of their own, they stubbornly insist that A) all of the accusers, no matter how credible, are lying; B) the accused are denying any wrongdoing so must be believed; and C) that regardless of the truth or falsity of the accusations, their guy was elected by the people so it doesn't matter.

This extends to every corner of political and public life, from the accusations of corruption and self-dealing from the White House on down, to evangelical support of the most egregious moral failings of the President, and any kind of transgression that they would excoriate Democrats for. They lambasted President Obama for wearing a tan suit, which they accused of being 'disrespectful of the office', while giving a pass to the most vile insults that the current resident of that office throws around at anyone he doesn't like, including mocking a disabled reporter. They berated Michelle Obama for wearing a sleeveless dress, while giving the current resident's wife a pass for nude photographs.

It has always puzzled me, because it's not just the 'low-information' base and die-hard Trump fans who do this - it's smart, well-educated Republicans in and out of public office who do the same. How can they possibly keep a straight face? How can they constantly excuse and justify bad behavior of their own while being outraged over the slightest transgression - real or imagined - of any Democrat? How can they rail against the speck in their brother's eye while ignoring the beam in their own? How can they justify this to themselves?

I am thinking that it comes down to the issue of legitimacy.

In 1994, Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist, with the help of pollster Frank Luntz, came up with the "Contract with America", a manifesto of conservative ideology and Republican campaign platform wish list that painted Democrats and liberals as not just misguided but illegitimate - not just wrong but immoral. They made the case that conservative values must prevail, not just to improve the economy or strengthen America, but in order to keep liberal values out of the public sphere altogether. This document referenced traditional Republican ideas such as cutting taxes, slashing the safety net, a balanced budget amendment, tort reform, term limits, cutting regulations, etc. Along with that came language that encouraged the Christian Coalition to consider it a legitimization of their 'place at the table' of government legislation and a rejection of the separation of church and state.

Frank Luntz helped Newt to make the case that America itself was conservative, and therefore anything non-conservative was, by definition, un-American. Luntz gave Newt a treatise on language to define his position and denigrate the opposition, telling Republicans to use words like choice, children, common sense, confident, duty, family, freedom, liberty, opportunity, precious, prosperity, protect, rights, strength, tough, truth. And he told them to use words to define Democrats like abuse of power, betray, bizarre, bureaucracy, cheat, coercion, corrupt, decay, destroy, fail, greed, hypocrisy, ideological, intolerant, liberal, lie, obsolete, punish, radical, selfish, shame, steal, threaten, traitors, unionized, waste, welfare.

Of course, there have always been fundamental differences between the two parties/ideologies, and plenty of partisanship, but even with all that there was the idea of the 'Loyal Opposition' with whom you had vigorous, even heated debate on the floor, but respected as a person and a fellow congressperson. You might completely disagree with your opponent but at the end of the day you did not question their right to be there. Newt and company weaponized disagreement, and promoted the narrative that Democrats and liberal values must be eliminated at any cost from a voice in American government. This is not an exaggeration. They speak of a permanent Republican majority, and warn that if Democrats are allowed to have a say, that America itself is endangered.

This is why you hear things like "a child molester/rapist/felon/thief/traitor in office would be bad, but not as bad as a Democrat."

What has seeped into the subtext of the Republican narrative (obviously not all Republicans personally, but the frame, which is embraced by a large portion of the conservative electorate) is the idea that Democrats do not belong in office, period. That their very ideas are not legitimate and that their policies will harm America.

This gives them the freedom to hold a different standard.

If Democrats are fundamentally illegitimate, any steps to eliminate them from government are acceptable. If you believe that the premise of liberalism is dangerous and destructive and immoral, it is easy to justify doing anything possible to prevent or remove them from office. It's a logical extension of "the ends justify the means."

So, no matter what a conservative may do that is questionable, unethical, immoral or even illegal, the bottom line is that they are in the right. They may not be personally honorable but they are standing with a cause that is honorable and essential for the survival of America, so they are legitimate. Trump is just the most egregious and offensive example of this way of thinking. This is why evangelicals will back him no matter what. If a sinner can further God's purpose, then the sinner is not wrong.

Conversely, if a liberal or a Democrat transgresses, it is a confirmation of their basic illegitimacy. There is no cognitive dissonance there if you consider it within the frame of legitimacy over illegitimacy. A Democrat admitting and accepting responsibility for wrongdoing is proof of their fundamental unfitness. A Republican refusing to admit any wrongdoing is proof of their innocence and legitimacy.

Although there are few Republicans who will consciously attest to this underlying premise, and of course many moderate Republicans who do not subscribe to it, I believe that this is an overall driving force in motivating the actions of the current Republican party. A lie in the service of the truth is no lie.

Until we contend with this directly, I think this toxic dichotomy will continue and intensify. We must address this before we are shut out of our country's political process for good. As long as a Democrat in office is considered worse than a criminal, we will continue to have to fight a war for basic legitimacy itself.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Democrats and Reasonable Republicans Need To Come Together

Let me start by saying that all of us are on a continuum, and our major differences stem from where we sit on that continuum.

As Americans, most of us believe in the same general ideas. For instance, in America we use the tax system to fund our government and the things we use in common that can't be built individually. So it's not that Democrats believe in taxes and Republicans don't; it's where on the continuum we stand on them. We have a set of laws and regulations that define us as a society. If every single thing we do in public or private is regulated by the government, we have no freedom; if nothing is regulated, we have no freedom either.

We're not polar opposites; we are just on different places on the spectrum.

The way our democratic/republic system is supposed to work is that we have input from different points of view, and by negotiation and compromise, we come to a place where there is something for everyone - no one gets all of what they want, but everyone gets some of what they want. We are not an autocracy where everything is determined by one person or party. We are not supposed to be trying to stamp out the other's point of view. It is not good vs. evil.

Somewhere along the line, but brought to a fine point by Newt Gingrich in the 90s with his "Contract with America", came the idea that Democrats were not the loyal opposition but enemies to be eradicated, and that the goal was not a compromise between both parties in the marketplace of ideas, but to usher in permanent Republican rule, as Karl Rove declared. These radicals evolved into the Tea Party, and it's not too strong a statement to say that their aim is not cooperation but permanent political dominance. And this position has gotten more and more extreme, with little to no respect for the other side. Liberalism is not a balancing factor but a dangerous ideology, to be vanquished whenever and wherever possible. Hatred for liberals was a significant factor in Trump's election.

But it has not only been Democrats who have been demonized; it has also been reasonable Republicans. Moderate Republicans have been largely forced out or marginalized by this radical right, which is largely responsible for the inability of the Republicans to pass much significant legislation despite controlling the House, the Senate and the White House. In the meantime, a rogue President goes unchecked.

Reasonable Republicans are in a bind - they don't want to align with the radicals who are clearly out of their minds, who defy facts and science and math, who are racist and misogynist and homophobic and xenophobic and theocratic, who are going against everything that this country stands for - immigration, equal rights, public safety, separation of church and state, the integrity of the vote - yet they are not ready to identify with Democrats, either.

To them, I say: it's OK. You don't need to be a Democrat to help us regain what the radical Trumpists have taken from us. I know you worry that by aligning yourself with Democrats you are betraying your core identity as a Republican. But let's be honest - Democrats and reasonable Republicans have more in common than reasonable Republicans and the crazy Trump fringe. We're not asking you to give up your identity or be a Democrat or a liberal. We can agree on common facts and reality. They are in an 'alternative' universe. Which would be fine, except they have taken the power to inflict that alternate reality on us. This is already damaging us both inside our country and with our relationship to the rest of the world. And it can literally lead us to nuclear war. We have never been closer, even during the Cold War, because it would not happen as a deliberate policy decision by a nation, but as a confrontation between two unstable world leaders. Any little mistake, accident or provocation could bring it on.

As firmly as I believe in my liberal ideals, I also believe that my ideas should not be the only ones. I believe that Democrats and Republicans have to work together to temper each other's extremes or excesses. I don't want a permanent Democratic majority. There are good and bad ideas on both sides, and that's what America is to me - a place where everyone has a voice and can work together, a place that was built by and enriched by immigrants from its very inception, a place where one side does not control everything. It should also be a place where we share our common values, and respect facts and science.

So I'm calling on reasonable Republicans, not to become Democrats, but to take your party back from the fact-challenged extremists who are not even conservative. You don't have to give up your beliefs to join us, because at the end of the day we have more in common with each other than with Trumpism.

(I should add that this applies to progressive v. centrist Dems as well - we can hash out differences in party direction later, but right now this is triage. We cannot afford to dilute or fracture our vote and risk losing another election, or at least enough seats to have some kind of say rather than being shut out altogether as we are now.)

Our differences can be debated from a foundation of a shared reality. Not so with the Trumpists. They are neither real conservatives nor Republicans, but authoritarians following a narcissistic, childish despot-wanna-be. It is urgent that we come together to save a place where we can have those differences  - while we still can.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How About How Liberals Feel, For A Change?

Once again, it's the Left that's being asked to consider the Right's feelings. It's the Left that is, as usual, being asked to do all the compromising for the sake of moving past gridlock. It's the Left that's accused of not respecting the opinions of the Right.

In the wake of the horrific and tragic Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shootings, the ever-temperate and moderate bothsiderist David Brooks tells us that "The people who defend gun rights believe that snobbish elites look down on their morals and want to destroy their culture."

His answer, of course, is that "(i)t’s necessary to let people from Red America lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points." After all, if we snobbish liberal elites would just get off our high horses for a minute and try to understand how the Real Americans of the Heartland™ feel, and not just be hating and thinking we're so superior all the time, then maybe we can all move forward.

And of course, we always do.

Cue the tsunami of articles about Trump voters and how they feel and why they feel and why they're so downtrodden and ignored by the arrogant Left. How, they bemoan, can we understand the Red Staters better? What can we say to them to show them we're not haters? When are we going to show them some respect and stop telling them "who they are and what they think" from our lofty elitist towers?

Oddly, enough, this always seems to be a one-way street.

Have you ever gone to any right-wing sites or read any right-wing Facebook posts asking each other to consider the left-wing point of view? To try to put themselves in a liberal's shoes? To wonder why liberals think the way they do, and maybe understand them better?

Go ahead; I'll wait.

No. I haven't, either.

I can tell you that I have spent a LOT of time 'trying to see the other side's point of view'. In fact, I wrote a whole book trying to figure it out. Before I stopped posting my political viewpoint on Facebook, even in my most angry rants, I tried to show respect for those who believed differently than I did and to acknowledge that they (some, anyway) were trying to be the best people they could be and believed in the righteousness of their position as much as I believe in mine. I asked for those people to have an honest and respectful dialogue with me to see where our beliefs connected and did not connect without insults or attacks.

I can count on one hand the people who were actually willing to have that discussion. There were a few people that would, but they were very much the exception. And it was at my invitation, not theirs.

And I never saw, from those on the right, requests for liberals to explain why they believe as they do. I never saw someone from the right reach out to the left asking for respectful dialogue with an open mind to hear an opposing viewpoint with the approach that we are both people of goodwill trying to understand one another. That doesn't mean that it never happens, of course, but I never saw it and I have looked.

We are both - right and left - accused of operating within our own bubbles, more comfortable with surrounding ourselves with those who share and reinforce our own point of view. And this is pretty much true. But I can tell you that, at least with my own experience, when I try to engage the other side, most of the time I am not met with respect.

There are some people who thrive on argument and conflict and do well with confrontation, and they will go out there and give as good as they get. But I have yet to see an argument on Facebook that has resulted in "Gee, you're right! I need to change my point of view to yours!"

In any political conflict where there are diametrically opposed positions, it is always the left that is asked to capitulate for the sake of breaking a stalemate. It is always the left asked to make concessions to their beliefs. When Republicans are in power, Democrats are expected to compromise - and they do. As opposed as Dems were to George W. Bush's agenda, they gave him most of what he wanted, including a disastrous, unnecessary war. They cannot bear to be seen as 'obstructionist'. They believe that you have to give in order to get - you know, the way that the government worked back in the good old days when Dems and Repubs would argue bitterly on the floor, and then go out for drinks afterwards. But when Democrats are in power, they are treated as illegitimate by the Republican party (thanks to good ol' Newt) so that obstructing the Democratic agenda is seen as a virtue, and to compromise at all is to abandon conservative principles. And, of course, we can't be faulted for standing up for our principles, can we?

We're supposed to feel for the Red-Staters who Brooks quotes as "offended by the lawn signs that said, 'Hate Has No Home Here.' The implication: Hate has no home in my house, but it does in yours." It's understandable, even justifiable, for them to be offended by the slights that they see themselves subjected to by the thoughtless and uncharitable Left - but at the same time, they deride liberals who feel offended by their treatment by the right as being "special snowflakes". The Left are always the 'real racists' if they point out racism, and intolerant if they object to being discriminated against because of religious objections. They are 'haters' if they object to being hated.

As the bleeding-heart, open-minded liberal I am, I am willing - more than willing - to consider or even embrace an opposite point of view if you could empirically prove it to me. If you could really show me that tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations truly make the economy better for everyone, I would change my position on tax cuts. I'm not married to them ideologically - I want results. But of course, it has never been shown to me to work  - but if you had proof to show me, I would not ignore it.

So far, though, I have not been met with either respect, good faith, willingness to listen or empirical truth from the right. Until we get some sort of reciprocity (see what I did there?) from the other side, I am not especially interested in continuing the same dynamic where one side does all the reaching out, all the understanding, all the capitulating. Because it will continue exactly like that as long as we allow it to.

And I am not willing to roll over on a matter of principle as important as preventing mass murder.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Evangelicals Approve of Trump - No Surprise!

Everyone seems to be surprised that far-right evangelicals and fundamentalists, who are so very critical of American society’s immorality and sinfulness, are completely embracing Trump, possibly the least-Christian President ever - venal, profane, vain, envious, greedy, a liar, a cheat, a thief, an adulterer, a glutton - when they howled at the perfidy of a Bill Clinton or even attacked the Christianity of a Barack Obama, surely one of the most scandal-free, family-values men ever to occupy the White House.

It is not so surprising if you know the history of the relationship between evangelicals and Big Business Republicans.

Evangelicals took a drubbing during the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. Even though William Jennings Bryan prevailed against celeb lawyer Clarence Darrow and obtained a conviction against John Scopes for teaching evolution, the evangelical community were ridiculed in the press and painted as ignorant and backward. As a result, they retreated from public life and developed their own commmunity apart from the mainstream culture.

In the 60s, the Republican Party was essentially a business-oriented party, not especially concerned with religion. And the religious right was not interested in engaging in politics, which they considered ‘worldly’ and sinful. But when a 1964 Supreme Court decision removed prayer from public schools, a man named Paul Weyrich envisioned a Christian Right with political power.

It took him some time to convince both Republicans and Christians that they could empower each other. In 1978 the IRS threatened to revoke tax-exempt status from private schools that were not sufficiently integrated, and at this point the evangelicals decided that their isolation could no longer protect them, and decided to accept the help of the Republicans. Paul Weyrich convinced a Baptist minister to organize a Christian protest against the IRS called Christian School Action. Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Jerry Falwell Sr. (who donated his massive direct-mail list) got on board, and Christian School Action was successful in getting the IRS to drop the desegregation plan.

This led to the birth of the Moral Majority, and the joining of the religious right and the Republican Party.

Up to this point, the Big Business Republicans did not have, by itself, the means to dominate the political landscape. And the religious right had no recourse to government power, especially with the separation of church and state. But together, they became a juggernaut, with Republicans utilizing a disciplined, organized and obedient religious voting bloc to achieve their secular ends.

In return, the evangelicals were promised that their religious goals would be prioritized.

Disappointed by the liberal bent of one they considered one of their own, born-again Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter, the religious right mobilized to elect the divorced ex-movie star Ronald Reagan, who although not particularly religious himself, wooed them ardently.

However, although the Repubs talked a good game, the religious right didn’t always get a lot of bang for their buck. The evangelicals always delivered their vote and held up their end of the bargain, but once their guy was in office, the big promises did not materialize. Few evangelicals were appointed to top positions and their issues were not paid much attention to.

Even during the George W. Bush era, who was a genuine born-again Christian, the religious right was not given the legislation and policies they felt their support entitled them to.

The lesson learned for the evangelicals was that a President who was truly religious or who talked the good game was not necessarily going to outlaw abortion or same-sex marriage. Sunday-school teacher Jimmy Carter didn’t. Their beloved patriotic Ronald Reagan didn’t. Their born-again Dubya didn’t.

So - when someone comes along who does pay real attention to what they want, no matter how personally vile and licentious, they could not care less. Their saintly candidates didn’t do squat. So maybe it takes God utilizing an ‘imperfect’ man to produce Godly ends, like King David or King Solomon.

They will embrace and adhere to the one who gives them power - and Trump has done more than any other president to support their agenda.

So don’t expect the hypocrisy to end anytime soon. That will have to wait till the next Democratic president, when they will once again rail at and condemn his or her awful sinfulness.