Graphic: Quino Al via Unsplash (mod by Rayne)

Grab Your Phone and Dial Now: NO on Farr [UPDATE]

[NB: Check the byline – this is Rayne. Updates appear at the bottom of this post.]

Look, these Senate Democrats will explain why they will vote NO on Thomas Farr for federal judge better than I will:

Amy Klobuchar

Elizabeth Warren

Richard Blumenthal

Sherrod Brown

Kirsten Gillibrand

Cory Booker

Chuck Schumer says the Democrats are united and voting NO.

But here’s the thing: Shit happens. People slide when they think they have cover, when nobody’s watching.

CALL YOUR DEMOCRATIC SENATORS AND TELL THEM NO ON FARR.

You have a GOP Senator or Senators?

CALL THEM AND TELL THEM NO ON FARR because we are watching their votes closely when it comes to Trump’s policies and nominees. We are watching for senators who aren’t supportive of civil rights and voters’ rights.

These GOP Senators are particularly at risk — if they don’t retire — because they are up for reelection in 2020:

Dan Sullivan (AK)
Tom Cotton (AR)
Cory Gardner (CO)
David Perdue (GA)
Jim Risch (ID)
Joni Ernst (IA)
Pat Roberts (KS)
Mitch McConnell (KY)
Bill Cassidy (LA)
Susan Collins (ME)
Steve Daines (MT)
Ben Sasse (NE)
Thom Tillis (NC)
Jim Inhofe (OK)
Lindsay Graham (SC)
Mike Rounds (SD)
Lamar Alexander (TN)
John Cornyn (TX)
Shelley Moore Capito (WV)
Mike Enzi (WY)

MAKE THE CALLS RIGHT NOW — the Senate is supposed to invoke cloture any time now on Farr.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121

ADDER — 1:30 PM EST — In case you’re  not up to speed on Farr’s background and you don’t want to listen to the Senate Dems’ speeches linked above, here’s a backgrounder by Ari Berman at Mother Jones. In a nutshell, Farr exemplifies everything wrong with North Carolina’s politics — utterly racist and dishonest to boot.

UPDATE — 2:06 PM EST — Cloture was invoked; the vote is tight, forcing VP to cast the deciding vote. (Time stamp on tweet below is PST for some reason.)

CALL YOUR SENATORS ESPECIALLY GOP ONES. Make them own this vote when they finally confirm Farr.

_________

Treat this as an open thread.

 

First Steps Towards Change

I’ve written extensively about the path to neoliberalism, and there’s more to come. But with the House of Representatives now under Democratic control, I want to offer some ideas about moving towards a new understanding of the role of government in the US. In Capitalism: Its Origins and Evolution as a System of Government Bruce Scott explains the situation:

As articulated in [Chapter 13], the story of early US capitalist governance is on of a nearly 300-year commitment to a laissez-faire model of economic development. It is a story that begins and ends with the decisions of political, legal and economic actors promoting this model, thus disputing the assumption that actions were largely shaped if not quite controlled by “natural” market forces. P. 431

He thinks that after a brief Keynesian interruption, laissez-faire returned in the early 80s. Replacing a centuries-old ideology is really hard. So here are concrete steps the Democratic-controlled House could take. In each case, the House can do its work and force the Senate and its repulsive leadership to deal with the results, heightening the differences between the parties and enabling all voters to understand where their economic and social interests lie.

1. Taxes. The Trump tax bill is historically unpopular. Of the nine House Republicans representing the 25 largest users of sales and local tax deduction, six lost and one more is in danger as the vote count procedes in CA-45. Voting against the bil didn’t help either. Voting against the bill didn’t help either. At least four of those Republicans lost. The bill is widely regarded as grossly favorable to the rich and their corporations. The House has the Constitutional power to originate all tax laws. Richard Neal, D. Mass, is the ranking member. He says his priorities are health care, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and getting Trump’s tax returns. He should add a new tax bill to his list. Some suggestions:

A. Raise tax rates on the top earners. There should be several new brackets for the highest earners, with a top tax rate of 60%. The current capital gain tax rate should stay the same, but it should be raised in each bracket above $250K to a top level of 50%.

B. Corporate tax rates should be increased to 35%. For companies reporting to the SEC, the tax base should be the higher of the amount computed under the tax code and the amount reported as income to the SEC. For the largest private companies, the top tax rate should be based on income computed in accordance with the reporting requirements of the SEC. Income should be taxed at the same rate regardless of where it is earned. Audits should be increase so that at least half of all people in the top brackets are audited every other year.

C. There should be a wealth tax, computed at the rate of 1% of the wealth of individuals in excess of $25M with some higher brackets. A similar tax should be imposed on all taxable entities at higher levels. Foundations and all dynastic transfer entities should be taxed at much higher rates unless they distribute their assets at very high rates per year. PACS and other dark money groups should be taxed at 60%, or 40% if they publicly disclose the true donors.

D. Every taxpayer with adjusted gross income equal to or less than the median income should get a check from the government for $2000 regardless of the amount of taxes they pay. That should be phased out over the next $100K in income. Each check should be accompanied by a letter from the Treasury explaining it and noting that it was paid for by adjusting tax rates to a more fair level.

E. The cap on FICA and Medicare taxes should be reduced to $100K, and should be re-imposed on incomes in excess of $250K. The funds would be given to the Social Security Trust Fund and the Medicare Trust Fund, then to fund Medicaid, then to pay for increased audits.

2. The House Financial Services Committee will be chaired by Maxine Waters. it should investigate the connections between all banks and Russian oligarchs. This would include Deutsche Bank. This will enable a careful look at Trump’s relationships with those entities, and who knows what we will find out.

3. The House Judiciary Committee will be chaired by Jerry Nadler. It should obtain transcripts of the testimony of Samuel Alito, Neal Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh from each hearing in which they were confirmed to any judicial post. Then there should be a subpoena-powered investigation to determine just how much each lied and whether to impeach. The steady drumbeat of this testimony and investigation should lay the groundwork for reforms, including court-packing in the future. It may also impact the willingness of these hacks to strike down legislation on ideological grounds.

4. The Environment Subcommittee will be chaired by Peter Tonko, NY-20. None of the members are senior in rank. Nancy Pelosi should elevate this Subcommittee to Committee status and install an aggressive younger Member as Chair. A highly aggressive group of staffers should be hired, including scientists. We cannot live on this planet unless we start taking serious action. Noisy hearings should be held immediately forcing fossil fuel executives to explain their support of science denialism and continued pollution of the air and water. Renewable energy execs should be brought in to offer expertise in expansion of their efforts. I don’t know enough to offer better ideas, but this is critically important, and immediate action must be taken.

5. Every committee and subcommittee should commence oversight hearings of the agencies under their jurisdiction, focused on whether the agency is carrying out Congressional intent and on corruption. Each ashould focus on a crucial problem faced by the agency. For example there should be hearings on Flint water, the VA computer fiasco, and Puerto Rico after the hurricanes, including recovery, debt, and possible statehood. There are plenty of other issues that are not being addressed. Hold hearings.

6. The rules of the hearings should be changed. At least one younger member should be put in charge of asking at each hearing and be given at least 30 consecutive minutes. That member should also be responsible for public appearances. That way we can find out the skills of each member. Are they better at questioning, or staffing or public appearances? Which ones are charismatic even in routine matters?

7. There should be a steady stream of public appearances by Members forcing their actions into public awareness. Pelosi should make sure that the olds are not the public face of the Democratic Party; we don’t need her or Steny Hoyer or James Clyburn on the TV. We need the energetic younger people to step up and act. Democrats need to show their faces so that every American feels represented in government. This is how the bench is deepened.

Each of these steps will demonstrate that government is working and doing something necessary. That is the first step to changing the framework people use to understand the government. I read somewhere recently that most people’s lives are not affected by elections. That may have been true once upon a time, but now failure to act will have terrible consequences. Left alone, capitalism will kill democracy and then the planet. Government is our only defense against overwhelming greed.

What else?

Now back to Scott and Wood on the future of democracy in a capitalist world.

Three Things: Still Active Measures

[Note the byline. This post contains some speculative content. / ~Rayne]

Whether counter-arguments or conspiracy theories, it’s interesting how certain narratives are pushed when tensions rise. But are they really theories or conditioning? And if conditioning, could other media infrastructure changes create more successful conditioning?

~ 3 ~

In an interview with Fox News post-Helsinki summit, Vladmir Putin made a point of blaming the Democratic Party for “manipulations of their party.”

…“The idea was about hacking an email account of a Democratic candidate. Was it some rigging of facts? Was it some forgery of facts? That’s the important thing that I am trying to — point that I’m trying to make. Was this — any false information planted? No. It wasn’t.”

The hackers, he said, entered “a certain email account and there was information about manipulations conducted within the Democratic Party to incline the process in favor of one candidate.” …

Have to give Putin props for sticking with a game plan — increase friction within the American left and fragment Democratic Party support to the benefit of Trump and the Republican Party at the polls and ultimately Putin himself if sanctions are lifted. Christopher Steele indicated in the Trump-Russia dossier that the Kremlin was using active measures to this effect in 2016 to widen the divide between Sanders and Clinton supporters; apparently left-splitting active measures continue.

But this is only part of an attack on the Democratic Party; another narrative undermines both the DNC and the FBI by questioning the investigation into the DNC’s hacking. Why didn’t the FBI take possession of the server itself rather than settle for an image of the system? A key technical reason is that any RAM-resident malware used by hackers will disappear into the ether if the machine is turned off; other digital footprints found only in RAM memory would likewise disappear. “The server” isn’t one machine with a single hard drive, either, but 140 devices — some of which were cloud-based. Not exactly something the FBI can power down and take back to a forensic lab with ease, especially during the hottest part of a campaign season.

But these points are never effectively made as a counter narrative, though some have tried with explainers, and certainly not featured in broadcast or cable news programs. The doubt is left to hang in the public’s consciousness, conditioning them to question FBI’s competence and the validity of their investigative work.

If Putin is still using active measures to divide Democratic Party voters, is it possible this narrative about the hacked DNC server is also an ongoing active measure? What if the active measure isn’t meant to undermine the FBI by questioning its actions? What if instead the lingering doubt is intended to shape future investigations into hacked materials which may also rely on server images rather than physical possession of the hardware? What if this active measure is pre-crime, intended to tamper with future evidence collection?

~ 2 ~

I’d begun drafting this post more than a week ago, but came to a halt when FCC chair Ajit Pai did something surprisingly uncorrupt by putting the brakes on the Sinclair-Tribune merger.

Sinclair Broadcast Group is a propaganda outlet masquerading as a broadcast media company. The mandatory airing of Boris Epsteyn’s program across all Sinclair stations offers evidence of Sinclair’s true raison d’etre; Epsteyn is a Russian-born former GOP political strategist who has been responsible for messaging in both the McCain-Palin campaign and the Trump administration, including the egregious 2017 Holocaust Remembrance Day statement which omitted any mention of Jews. The mandatory statement Sinclair management forced its TV stations to air earlier this year about “fake news” is yet another. The forced ubiquity and uniformity of messaging is a new element at Sinclair, which already had a history of right-wing messaging including the attempt to run a Kerry-bashing political movie to “swiftboat” the candidate just before the 2004 elections.

Sinclair and Tribune Media announced a proposed acquisition deal last May. If approved, the completed acquisition would give Sinclair access to 72% of U.S. homes — an insanely large percentage of the local broadcast TV market effectively creating a monopoly. There was bipartisan Congressional pushback about this deal because of this perceived potential monopoly.

FCC’s Ajit Pai wanted to relax regulations covering UHF stations — they would be counted as less than a full VHF station and therefore appear to reduce ownership of marketshare. Democrats protested this move as it offered Sinclair unfavorable advantage when evaluating stations it would acquire or be forced to sell during its Tribune acquisition.

Fortunately, Pai had “serious concerns” about the Sinclair-Tribune deal:

We have no idea to which administrative judge this deal may be handed, let alone their sentiments on media consolidation. We don’t know if this judge might be Trump-friendly and rule in favor of Sinclair, taking this horror off Ajit Pai’s back — which might be the real reason Pai punted after his egregious handling of net neutrality and the pummeling he’s received for it, including the hacking of the FCC’s comments leading up to his decision to end Obama-era net neutrality regulations and subsequent “misleading” statements to the media about the hack. New York State is currently investigating misuse of NY residents’ identities in the hack; one might wonder if Pai is worried about any personal exposure arising from this investigation.

BUT WAIT…the reason I started this post began not in New York but in the UK, after reading that Remain turnout may have been suppressed by news reports about “travel chaos,” bad weather, and long lines at the polls. Had the traditional media played a role in shaping turnout with its reporting?

I went looking for similar reports in the U.S. — and yes, news reports of long lines may have discouraged hundreds of thousands of voters in Florida in 2012. This wasn’t the only location with such reports in the U.S. during the last three general elections; minority voters are also far more likely to experience these waits than voters in majority white areas.

Probabilistic reports about a candidate’s win/loss may also suppress turnout, according to a Pew Research study.

Think about low-income voters who can’t afford cable TV or broadband internet, or live in a rural location where cable TV and broadband internet isn’t available. What news source are they likely to rely upon for news about candidates and voting, especially local polling places?

Hello, local broadcast network television station.

Imagine how voter turnout could be manipulated with reports of long lines and not-quite-accurate probabilistic reports about candidates and initiatives.

Imagine how a nationwide vote could be manipulated by a mandatory company-wide series of reports across a system of broadcast TV stations accessing 72% of U.S. homes.

How else might a media company with monopolistic access to American households condition the public’s response to issues?

~ 1 ~

There was all kinds of hullabaloo about the intersection of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, his son Justin, and Justin’s employment at Deutsche Bank at the same time DB extended financing to Donald Trump. It looks bad on the face of it.

And of course one prominent defense-cum-fact-check portrays Justin’s relationship to DB’s loans to Trump as merely administrative:

The extent to which Kennedy worked with Trump on this loan, or possibly on other Deutsche Bank matters, is unclear. “In that role, as the trader, he would have no contact with Trump … unless Eric [Schwartz] was trying to get Justin in front of Trump for schmoozing reasons,” Offit said, adding that he had recently spoken with former colleagues at the bank about Kennedy’s work.

Seems odd there has been little note made of Jared Kushner’s relationship with LNR Partners LLC — a company which Manta says has only 17 employees — and its subsidiary LNR Property which financed the Kushner 666 Fifth Avenue property in 2012. There was a report in Medium and another on DailyKos but little note made in mainstream news media.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that along with his business partner, Justin Kennedy was named 26th on the 50 Most Important People in Commercial Real Estate Finance in 2013 by the Commercial Observer — a publication of Observer Media, then owned by Jared Kushner.

I wonder what Justin’s rank was on this list while he worked at Deutsche Bank (also with current business partner Toby Cobb).

How odd this deal and the relationship wasn’t defended. I guess it’s just coincidence all the amphibians and reptiles know each other well in the swamp.

~ 0 ~

Let’s not forget:

587 Puerto Rican homes still don’t have electricity.

All asylum seeking families haven’t been reunited. Children may still be in danger due to poor care and lack of adequate tracking. As of yesterday only 364 children of more than 2500 torn from their families were reunited.

Treat this as an open thread.

Radical Socialism or Clear-Eyed Realism?

[Check the byline — this is Rayne.]

A new commenter wrote that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ “rhetoric is pretty radical.” Ocasio’s the recent Democratic Party primary winner for House seat NY-14, unseating long-time incumbent Joe Crowley in the Bronx-Queens district.

But is Ocasio really radical? Is her Democratic Socialist platform all that far left? Looking at Ted Kennedy’s concession speech from 1980 and the points around which he’d wish to rally Democratic voters 38 years ago, probably not given the changes to our society and economy. Unlike 1980, before Ronald Reagan broke down PATCO — the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Union which went on strike in 1981 — we no longer have a thriving middle class based on employment with adequate job security and living wages. We have instead handfuls of billionaires who have amassed their record-breaking fortunes rapidly on the backs of half the country which can’t scrape together $400 cash for an emergency, whose real wages haven’t budged since the 1980s.

Two points that seem to be of particular concern to our new commenter in Ocasio-Cortez’ platform are the Universal Jobs Guarantee and Housing as a Human Right.

Is a Universal Jobs Guarantee more or less radical than Universal Basic Income? How are we going to deal with an economy in which tens of millions of jobs have been completely displaced by automation — like autonomous transportation, expected over time to replace millions of truck, hired cars, train drivers and ships’ pilots?

You might want to catch up, then. Save the “But capitalism!” and “But taxes!” rebuttal because

1) we live in a mixed economy already;
2) the socialist portions have been cut too far back and proven capitalism to be grossly inefficient in wealth distribution; and
3) leaders, particularly Democratic ones, already grasp the problem.

Housing as a Human Right is already embedded in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the U.S. voted in 1948. Yet in the U.S. there is no place a full-time minimum wage worker can afford basic housing (as if there are full-time minimum wage jobs since nearly all are structured as part-time to avoid unemployment tax). How can we expect to deal with this on a long-term basis when the Federal Reserve and other entities continue the decades-long suppression of wages?

Again, leaders (particularly Democratic/liberal ones) have already recognized this problem and encourage solutions. It may be far more radical to stick one’s head in the sand and ignore the mounting housing crisis.

Perhaps the real problem isn’t that a platform like the one Ocasio-Cortez has built her campaign upon is labeled Democratic Socialist.

Perhaps the real problem is the decades-long right-wing propaganda which denigrates reasonable, achievable political solutions to real problems average Americans face as radical and socialism as something we haven’t already accepted and relied upon within our existing social safety nets like Social Security and Medicare.

Perhaps the real problem is the same absolutist propaganda which has uniformly characterized any and all Democrats, even moderates, as “hippies”, “liberal bigots” and worse rather than see them as fellow Americans who believe in the Constitution and also believe the U.S. can do more for the common man through reasonable and distributive economic justice.

Is it really all that radical to want to form a more perfect union by establishing economic and social justice, insure domestic tranquility by ensuring every American has food and shelter, provide for the country’s common defense by promoting American’s general welfare?

 

Treat this as an open thread.

Let the Pro-Oprah Resistance Beware: Scam in Progress?

A majority of Americans are really frustrated right now but they shouldn’t let their guard down at the first sign of hope. Tapping someone’s anger is an easy way for scammers and other hostile agents to get access to personal information and in some cases, money.

One likely example of opportunism is the National Committee to Draft Oprah Winfrey for President of the United States 2020. There have been emails sent to folks soliciting their support to recruit Oprah Winfrey to run for president in 2020 — except the entity sending the emails looks like vaporware.

There’s a simple yet attractive website with a countdown clock to Election Day 2020 and a sign up form as well as a donate button, along with a means to share the website across social media.

A press release announcing this effort is published as a separate page at the website, too.

Except that the press release — unlike authentic press releases — gives zero information about the organization except for an email address.

The website itself has no About Us, no Directors or Founders or Managers or Team page. There’s no information about a nonprofit or other political entity behind this, only an organization name, a claim to copyright, and the two pages — Home and Press Release.

And absolutely no Privacy Policy or Terms of Use provided, nor is the page set up for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) protocol (for this reason I am not providing a link to the site).

The website’s domain registration is masked, only showing DomainsByProxy as the registrar. Do a WhoIs lookup on the Democratic Party’s domain for comparison; you’ll find the domain isn’t masked at all and both a physical address as well as contact information are readily available.

The worst part of this is the repeated use of a quote by Winfrey’s long-time partner, Stedman Graham, as a justification for this ‘movement’. Yet nowhere on the site does Graham appear as a founder, director, manager, team member, or even an endorser.

If one of these emails should show up in my inbox, I’m going to treat it as a spearphishing attempt and mark it spam. Because I haven’t received and looked at one of these emails, I can’t rule out these emails are, in fact, phishing attempts of some kind.

The website itself should be treated with suspicion; without more evidence of a legitimate organization behind it, it’s merely a pretty address harvesting tool and an opportunity for a scam artist to pick up some easy liberal cash.

How easily could an outfit like Cambridge Analytica match up these harvested addresses against Facebook and voters’ records, to identify which voters to suppress with Oprah-flavored micro-targeted messaging via social media? It’d be worth a pretty penny to an opponent (and their sponsors) facing stiff headwinds in 2020.

If there is a real movement which is serious about recruiting Oprah, for goodness sake show up at local Democratic Party meetings and learn how to do this correctly. Don’t let Oprah get turned unknowingly and without her consent into another Russian tool to fragment the party by drafting her from outside the party.

P.S. Hey Tom Perez and Keith Ellison — perhaps a little tighter control on domains.democrat addresses is worth your time, to prevent Democratic Party supporters? Didn’t the DNC learn anything from the past two years about cybersecurity?

[Image on home page via National Committee to Draft Oprah Winfrey for President of the United States 2020, published here under Fair Use.]

The Tuesday Night Massacre

As you may have heard, President Trump has just fired FBI Director James Comey.

This is truly Nixonian Saturday Night Massacre level action.

Trump previously ran on, indeed got elected on, and likely only on, the scurrilous rogue comments of Jim Comey starting with the rogue July 5, 2016 press conference where Comey went off all rails on DOJ and PIN protocols. Here is the New York Times original report:

Mr. Comey’s dismissal was a stunning development for a president that benefited from the F.B.I. investigation of the Democratic nominee during the 2016 campaign. Separately, the F.B.I. also is investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election.

The abrupt firing raised questions over whether Mr. Trump was trying to influence the Russia investigation. But he said he was following recommendations from the Justice Department, which criticized how Mr. Comey concluded the investigation into Mrs. Clinton.

Trump actually saluted Comey for this at one point. What a micro-moment self serving, not to mention narcissistic jerk.

If anybody in the world thought that that Trump is not as craven and against the Constitutional form of government we all were born and raised on, let that no longer be a question.

And if the media cannot get their heads out of their asses and realize the danger is NOT just to their First Amendment rights, but to the core of our republic and democracy, then they too should go the way of the dodo bird.

The foundations of this cowardly play were always there if you followed the ever changing voice and words of Donald Trump regarding the Clinton email issue and how the Department of Justice handled it.

If you thought this point, and/or Comey was the one only voice that could not be fired or silenced, you are sadly mistaken.

This blog has never, and I am being kind across my writings, Marcy’s and those of our departed friend Mary, been a friend of Jim Comey. He has long, and more presently, been an uneven and self serving voice mostly interested in preservation and enhancement of his own voice and position. Comey has been preternaturally successful at this.

That said, tonight I will be in Comey’s camp. I await what my friends at Lawfare and some others may have to say regarding the Tuesday Night Massacre.

Because this is a day that should live bright for a very long time.

People glibly talk about the “Resistance”. How naive. The battle is now, and has been joined in full by a cabal that makes Nixon look like a piker. The place is here. The time is now.

The temporal fact that it is Comey that tipped a scale of justice is immaterial. It has happened.

The Stein Recount Needle and the Damage Done

vote-recountI stated earlier my issues with the Jill Stein fueled “recount” effort. Since that time, there seems to be a hue and cry to the effect of “irrespective of Stein, these will be helpful and are especially needed after Trump’s lie!”.

There are many instances of that thought, but this from Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News, a friend whom I admire and like greatly, is indicative:

The stakes are too high to calculate. But there is one other thing about Trump’s big lie about the 2016 election. Ironically, before today, the case for a recount in the three states was a tad shaky. While the threat of Russian (or other) hacking has been a valid concern, little in the way of actual evidence of a stolen election has emerged since November 8. But now that Trump has alleged massive fraud, the integrity of the American system demands that the result be audited and properly certified. So let the re-counting begin.

I disagree rather strongly.

As said, I already stated my objection to Stein’s effort, as initially targeted to Wisconsin. Let’s take a look at the situation in Pennsylvania, where Stein has putatively filed today, the last possible day legally. A quote from Pennsylvania election lawyer Gregory Harvey in local Pennsylvania press is instructive:

The biggest obstacle to this getting anywhere may be deadlines. The recount petitions come on the very last day, and if they’re designed to generate enough evidence to contest the election, that’s going to be a stretch.

Harvey, the election lawyer says the deadline for an election contest, which must spell out the specific conduct that merits overturning the result, is also Monday, Nov. 28. With a compelling case you can always ask the court to make an exception, but they tend to be pretty strict about election law — that thing about not changing the rules after the game is played.

Harvey said Steins’ prospects for success are so remote that “raising money to do something in Pennsylvania must be intended only to publicize the Green Party.”

Again, remember, there is a difference between rote “recounts” and comprehensive “audits”. This is especially germane to WI as noted previously, but also to Pennsylvania, and Michigan, should it come too. Even if the recount found something, and there is no basis to believe it will, the legal timeframe is blown. And, no, courts are not likely to remedy such laches. (So, where has Stein been for weeks since the election and before she so conveniently glommed on to, and misrepresented, Halderman et al’s report?) Ah, late breaking, indeed Wisconsin has already denied the last second recount by hand from Stein and Stein is now suing to try to overcome the administrative ruling:

Unless Stein wins her lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court, officials in each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties would decide on their own whether to do their recounts by hand. That could mean some counties perform recounts by machine and some by hand.

Yes, shocking! And good luck with that. Again, as I have relentlessly stated, once you approach administrative boards and, even more so, courts, you need actual demonstrable bases for your argument of fraud, mistake etc. Which is something Jill Stein and her effort simply have never had. That does not cut it. Ooops!

Stein has until Wednesday to file in Michigan, but there is no reason to think the effort will be any more focused, intelligently drafted, nor timely, than has been displayed to date in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

But there are bigger issues here than Jill Stein’s folly, right? Right! Indeed there are, and Stein’s cynical effort only hurts those larger picture items. But, irrespective of all of the above, it is a wonderful thing that the votes are being recounted, right? Maybe, and quite arguably, maybe not.

If this effort involved intelligent and targeted meaningful “audits” of voting in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, that would truly yield the data we need to answer a variety of questions, I would agree wholeheartedly. But that is not what is afoot here via Stein. These are rote last second “recounts”, likely through the same tabulation mechanisms originally used, and are almost guaranteed to produce the same results, give or take minuscule deviation.

In fact, as close as I can discern from reportage, even in Stein’s first state, Wisconsin, to perform a truly different full hand count analysis requires leave of a court. And it is hard to see leave of court being given without a substantive evidentiary basis being proffered, of which there is, of course, none to date. In Pennslyvania, the outlook is no better, and arguably even more lame and adverse. That is before we ever get to Michigan, which the last second for Stein is Wednesday.

There are a lot of truly intelligent and proper purposes for all Americans, and currently Democrats, to want to test and audit the vote in this country. It is that important, and that germane to our democracy.

By the same token, it is also too important to be driven by a crass vanity project at the last second by a bit player glomming on for self promotion. This is the lifeblood of American plebiscite and democracy, and we deserve better.

But the current action is not just a curiosity that “can’t hurt” or that is suddenly necessary to react to some idiotic tweet by Trump. The stakes are higher than that. Stein’s effort is ill advised, ill counseled legally, ill targeted, ill executed and ill timed by every metric I can see.

And, yes, there can be real harm therefrom. An effort like this that does nothing but confirm the general overall propriety of the 2016 vote does nothing but confirm Trump’s election. But, more importantly, it lends a larger argument that our voting system is fair and accurate, and thus not in need of further reform and updating.

Sure, it may, for the next few weeks, counter the blindered fascination of many as to rebutting Trump’s idiotic tweet on “millions of illegal voters”, but that is transient and short sighted. In the long run, it will just feed the larger GOP effort, and they now hold both houses of Congress and the Presidency, to not reform and improve American voting mechanisms, but indeed to accept that it is all fine technologically and then go about further voter suppression and restriction measures generally.

Greg Sargent discussed this at the Washington Post Plumline this morning:

Trump has now made national news with this tweet, a response to reports that Hillary Clinton’s campaign will join a recount effort in Wisconsin and possibly Michigan and Pennsylvania as well
….
As Glenn Kessler explains, there is zero evidence that this happened. Trump will continue to reach deep into the fever swamps to shape reality for himself and his supporters — only now he’ll do so in the position as most powerful person in the world. Trump also tweeted that there was “serious voter fraud” in three states that the media refuses to report upon.

But all this may also telegraph something concrete that we might see under a Trump presidency: A far more ambitious effort to restrict access to voting than we might have expected.

“My concern is that this might be a signal that we will see an assault on voting rights,” Wendy Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told me today. “Claims of nonexistent voter fraud and noncitizen voting are precisely the kinds of baseless justifications that we’ve seen for the wave of laws in the past couple of years restricting voting access.”

Yes, indeed. I think this is exactly what I am, and have been, saying. Well put by Sargent.

Democrats, and yes Greens to the extent they really care, should stop playing the game that is already lost, and 2016 is already lost, and start playing smartly as to the future. You want comprehensive and meaningful actual voting audits, as opposed to rote recounts, of the vote? Excellent! Let’s work on that for the future. Let’s do that for all states, and not just the three that Jill Stein glommed onto to self promote.

There is a fight out there to be won, but the instant “recount” effort is ill advised and not going to do squat to win it.

The Self Serving Jill Stein Recount Scam

ap_514085205775-021470928390Jill Stein, admittedly, always struck me as a bit of a naive and somewhat unhinged candidate. But, Stein was the “Green Party” candidate and, once Bernie Sanders lost, became the go to darling for ill advised voters and activists that were far too willing to wreck the world with Donald Trump than consider the circumstances and vote for an eminently qualified, albeit terribly flawed, candidate in the form of Hillary Clinton. It is hard to argue with anarchist, blow it all up, demagogues when trying to protect a lame, and status quo, candidate. Even when the ultimate opponent is a raging racist, bigoted, misogynistic, female choice hating and torture loving shill like Donald Trump.

So many otherwise Democratic voters went off and voted for Stein and/or Gary Johnson. Did it make the “final difference”? I have no idea, but there is certainly an argument that could be made.

Was it the Jim Comey FBI factor from the stunningly inappropriate rogue actions by the FBI Director putting his self righteous thumb on the electoral scale in both the start of the critical summer elections season and, then, yet again in the last two weeks before the election? It is easy to make that argument, irrespective of any other factor.

Was it that Hillary did not expend personal and campaign time and dime in Wisconsin and other Rust Belt states when she did a lost, but very much growing, cause venue such as Arizona? Easy case for that argument as well.

The actual data and competent reportage seems to indicate that all of the above were significant factors. It strikes me that is right.

All of the above factors fed into the defeat of Clinton and the election loss by her, if only by the electoral college, at the tiny hands of Trump. So be it. That is what happened under the electoral laws and process (yes, let us not forget the pernicious meddling of Russia and/or Wikileaks, whether they are coupled or not) pertinent to the 2016 US Presidential election. But, like the result or not, that was all pursuant to the Constitution and election laws as are currently extant in the United States. There is not one competent piece of evidence that the actual vote itself was “hacked” or “rigged”. Just none.

Which brings us to the much ballyhooed action of Jill Stein to crowd fund and conduct audits and or recounts in the key states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The second she started her effort, I opined it was an attention grabbing craven play by Stein, and not a legitimate effort with any eye to any substantive results. On a more private forum I intoned:

But that is the thing: It IS bomb throwing, and stupidly so. There is NO evidentiary basis for fraud or mistake that I have seen. The guy who started it, [J. Alex] Halderman himself, admits as much legally when he says he thinks it is most likely poll inaccuracy, not anything nefarious.

I know all the beaten down, especially Clinton diehards, that cannot fathom how she blew this election, want to grasp for something. But it just isn’t there.

I stand by that completely. What Jill Stein is doing is blatant self promotion, list building, reputational repair where it is undeserved, and slush funding for an incoherent Green Party. It is detestable to the extreme. Stein has glommed onto this recount scam as a way to serve herself, she certainly is not serving anything else.

To quote a significant Democratic election law attorney, and longtime friend of this blog, Adam Bonin:

“If there were something to do here, there are a lot of us who would be jumping on it”

Early on the hashtag #AuditTheVote was attached to this chicanery. Here is the problem with that – two out of three of Stein’s target states already “audit the vote” as a regular matter of law without the need for Stein’s self serving injection into the matter. In fact, Stein’s primary target, Wisconsin, has a reasonably robust random audit provision in Wisconsin Revised Statute 7.08(6), which has been generally deigned to require:

The voting system audit procedures consist of two independent processes: an audit conducted by municipalities of reporting units randomly selected by the State Elections Board and an audit of reporting units conducted by the State Elections Board. Number of Reporting Units to Audit: Per the requirements of section 7.08(6), Wis. Stats., each type of electronic voting system in Wisconsin must be audited after the general election to ensure that each system does not exceed the error rate prescribed in the federal voting system guidelines. The State Elections Board will randomly select fifty (50) reporting units across Wisconsin which will be subject to municipal audit, including a minimum of five (5) reporting units for each voting system used in Wisconsin. If fewer than five (5) reporting units for any voting system are selected through the random selection process, then additional reporting units will be randomly selected by voting system until five reporting units per voting system have been selected. If there are fewer than 5 reporting units using a voting system the State Elections Board staff will audit those reporting units if the reporting units are not selected as part of the random draw. until five reporting units per voting system have been selected. If there are fewer than 5 reporting units using a voting system the State Elections Board staff will audit those reporting units if the reporting units are not selected as part of the random draw.

Well, that is actually pretty robust. And all of which would have been, and will be, performed without the preening self interjection of Jill Stein in her first state of concern, Wisconsin.

Just Wisconsin? Nope. Pennsylvania also has an inherent audit provision, though not quite as robust as Wisconsin. The bottom line is, though, there are already “audit the vote” provisions in two out of three of Jill Stein’s targets, even though she declined to say so in her propaganda seeking funding to stay in the spotlight and reconstruct her reputation. In fairness, Michigan has no such automatic audit provision, so there is that.

Next, you need to consider that there is a substantive difference between “audits” of the vote and flat out recounts. Stein has always been about recounts, despite the bogusly applied #AuditTheVote nomenclature applied by Stein and her glommers on. Recounts are expensive, labor intensive, and time consuming. And they are asinine where there is not a single shred of competent evidence to support fraud or mistake that could, even in the remotest possibility, change the outcome in a given state or states.

And, let us be crystal clear here, there is still NO competent evidence whatsoever of fraud, mistake or other irregularity that could change the result. None. And that is the thing, unless there is fraud, mistake or systematic error, recounts can do nothing to legally support a challenge to the election results. A challenge has to stand up in court. It cannot be thin and based upon rote supposition and suspicion. Even if Stein’s folly turns up a minor discrepancy here and there, that will not suffice.

The vote differential, again in Wisconsin for instance, between Clinton and Trump currently stands at 27,259 votes. Yes, that is less than the total of Stein, so despite the wild claim she threw the election that some Clinton supporters have thrown, I will not. Some Stein voters were never going to vote for Clinton; so while Stein’s vanity run deserves ridicule, it does not, in and of itself, “prove” Clinton would have won but for Stein. Close enough for ridicule given that Trump is the result? Sure. But, again that, too, holds for ridicule of Clinton’s own arrogant and detached campaign and the fatally pernicious effects of the completely rogue arbiter of his own justice, James Comey.

So, where does that leave us? With a Norma Desmond like self promoting grifter, dying to redeem her name and stay in some/any spotlight, in the form of Jill Stein. She was a cancer on the election (hey, her dinner with Putin and Mike Flynn was cool though!) that, at a minimum, helped elect Trump, and she is sticking around to create more hell now that said deed is done.

This is absurd. Jill Stein is a grifter and a fraud. And she is playing this opportunity to, first off, list build for herself and the Greens, secondly, resuscitate her and their name, thirdly, stay in the press, and lastly, create an amorphous slush fund to continue those things. Stein is succeeding beyond wildest expectations if your idea of the normal course of business is Donald Trumpian level grifting.

For a woman who raised only $3.5 million during her entire vanity run for President, Stein has now raised nearly $6 million dollars in far less than a week on this scam. That is NOT because Stein has dedicated Green Party followers wanting to bleed yet more money into their candidate after the election; no, it is because desperate Clintonians are seeking some way, any way, to stop Trump. And playing on that desperation is exactly the fraud of Jill Stein.

A common refrain I see is that, “golly, there is no harm, and much good, that can come from confirming the vote”. But that is just more self serving balderdash from the desperate and/or Stein acolytes. In fact, there is great harm that can come from Stein’s shenanigans. Here is Rick Hasen from the Election Law Blog, quoting the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel:

Wisconsin could be at risk of missing a Dec. 13 deadline to certify its 10 electoral votes if clerks can’t complete an expected recount by then.

Hitting the deadline could be particularly tricky if Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein is able to force the recount to be conducted by hand, Wisconsin’s top election official said.

Stein — who received just 1% of the vote in Wisconsin — has promised to file for a recount by Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline in Wisconsin. She is also planning to ask for recounts in Michigan and Pennsylvania, which have deadlines next week.

A federal “safe harbor” law requires states to complete presidential recounts within 35 days of the election to ensure their electoral votes are counted. This year, that’s Dec. 13.

What is the upshot of this? Easy, Stein’s effort could easily place Wisconsin, in light of the December 13 deadline, of missing the deadline and disenfranchising all voters in Wisconsin. Yes, there are potential repercussions from actions like Stein is taking, especially when there is no known basis or grounds whatsoever evidentiary wise to support them. And that is just Wisconsin. Michigan and Pennsylvania are in even bigger jeopardy thanks to the self serving hubris of Jill Stein, should she actually continue on to file in those states as promised, without any rational basis for challenging the vote therein.

Lastly, while I have been writing the instant post, the attorney for the DNC and Clinton Campaign, Marc E. Elias, has weighed in on Medium with an official take for both himself and, by all appearances, the aforementioned campaign entities. The Reader’s Digest version, by my eyes, is that, while the DNC and Clinton camps are going to join into the Stein effort, they have never seen any basis for it, and are being dragged into a position of noticing their appearance and joinder simply in order to preserve their rights to be involved should Stein’s group go so far off the rails or, in the remotest of all potentialities, find anything. That is not joinder with enthusiasm, it is joinder to protect your legal voice. Trump is now doing the same for similar reasons. I do not blame either Clinton or Trump for doing so, in fact, Stein’s idiocy put both of said parties in that regrettable posture. Don’t cast your eye askew for one second at Elias and the Dems, nor even Trump and the Repubs, ….Stein and her idiotic self serving publicity play made them do it.

In short, this effort by Jill Stein is nothing more than a self promoting vanity play. If you want to donate to that grift, by all means, go ahead. But don’t blather about how it is going to help democracy or promote fair elections. That is absurd. In fact, just exactly as absurd as Jill Stein’s cynical grift on her current donors who are far different than her few and far between Green donors.

Stein is scamming the dispossessed. That is a Trumpian level fraud.

Flashback: The Road Ahead

Last of a four-part series. In this piece I’d laid out what needed to be done in a local organization which was, well, not organized. This is equally applicable for any other political party if any Greens, Pirates, Libertarians, etc. want to make a credible attempt down the road to local party development.

The Angry Left: A Starter Map for the Road Ahead

I’ve already published a 50,000 foot view, a personal look back, and a personal account of getting to this point in the rather bumpy road.

And now here’s a “road map” used along the way, stripped down for use by any local Democratic Party, third party entity or activist organization wanting to start their own journey.

Shortly after I took Howard Dean’s recommendation to heart and joined the local Democratic Party in order to change the system, I read the work of another progressive activist in Maine. They were kind enough to share a basic plan they were using to turn around their local party, based on a plan yet another had used in different state. I guess you could say this is a very old meme which I’m willing to spread around.

It was this same plan, customized for our county, which initially was welcomed by the local party, and which they began to push back against as too radical, too aggressive, and a bunch of other not particularly nice adjectives and adverbs to boot depending on which faction one belonged to in the party.

These goals are the kinds of things that every local party organization should consider carefully as a goal, even if not realizable now. One example is a local office: if you live in BumFrick, North Dakota, you may not have the means to have a permanent office, let alone the traffic to warrant one. Table it for the future in case things change, but it’s probably the very last goal your group needs to be concerned with. But if you live in a much more populous area of the country, setting up a permanent office may be one of the key and early objectives to establishing a brand identity in the mind of the voting public in your locale. A permanent office tells voters the organization is serious, not a fly-by-night, it’s going to be there to serve voters; it’s hard to put a price on that. If you build it, they will come.

Take a look at these and evaluate the circumstances in your county or parish; which ones will work inside the first year? Which ones are most critical? What kinds of numbers in terms of quantity you think belong in such a document for your area?

And how many people can you muster up to do this work, now, and year after year?  . . .

TEMPLATE: ORGANIZATIONAL GOALS

Communications Groups:

  • Fully develop communications groups, both at the city/township and County levels.
  • Develop strategies to cover properly the issues, media and frequency needed to be most effective.
  • Plan the strategy for the campaign re: supporting specific candidates.
  • Contribute articles and support to the [Group Name] newsletter.

Voter Lists:

  • Maintain lists for County, and city/towns/townships/villages in adjoining counties (for our dual-county candidates), at the County level with the commitment to provide key data elements to the State Data Base.
  • Add voter histories whenever elections occur.
  • Completely update voter lists for all County and non-county municipalities by January 1 of the next year.

Absentee (Early) Voting:

  • Continue to develop a process that includes City/Township Clerks.
  • Insure the presence of sufficient Notaries on Election Day (where applicable).
  • Include an “early voting” question in our Voter ID scripts (where applicable).
  • Continue to strengthen our process for tracking applications and resulting early votes (where applicable).
  • Start our planning earlier to insure a strong early voting program (where applicable).
  • Better training for our Voter ID callers to insure proper emphasis on “early voting” (where applicable).

Candidate Development:

  • Strengthen the Candidate Development and Support Subcommittee.
  • Survey all 20X0, 20X1 and 20X2 municipal, county and State office openings to determine the offices we need to focus on.
  • Define attributes of desirable candidates.
  • Develop a list of potential progressive candidates in the County.
  • Use all potential contacts to find potential candidates and screen to find most qualified.
  • Help potential candidates get exposure and experience.

Candidate Support:

  • Develop training session for new candidates.
  • Develop candidate orientation and training program.
  • Train and mentor all candidates, especially new candidates.
  • Provide candidates with advice regarding the recommended campaign organization and offer help to create the needed organization.
  • Increase efforts to communicate County support capabilities to candidates.
  • Provide Voter ID calling results as soon as available, especially undecided voters.
  • Have town sign captains and a County coordinator to handle candidate sign distribution, maintenance and retrieval.
  • Provide volunteers from County list to candidates to support all desired activities – literature distribution, drive candidates around, canvassing on behalf of the candidate, persuasion calling and canvassing, etc.
  • Provide “walking around” lists when needed for previous tasks.
  • Do preliminary research like a district profile.
  • Provide forums, house parties and fundraising events for each candidate.

Voter ID Calling:

  • Using the HQ phone bank and municipality quasi-phone banking, make Voter ID calls (including all candidates and all parties) during the period from August 1st (or date immediately following primary) to September 15th. Include a volunteer question and an early voting question. An estimated [XX,000] calls will be needed to achieve at least a X0% hit rate on our list of phone numbers in each town.
  • Improve phone caller training.
  • Provide data to candidates ASAP.

Volunteer (or member) recruiting:

  • Recruit XX,000 volunteers over the course of the next two years.
  • Recruit and train a volunteer coordinator and volunteer coordinator assistants.
  • Develop more “key” volunteers who can run HQ on their own to enhance the effectiveness of current leadership.

Canvassing:

  • Develop canvassing teams in each town able to do literature drops, informational canvassing, persuasion canvassing and candidate support.
  • Over the next two years, have these teams visit each voter at least three times and hopefully more, to insure the accuracy of our lists and knowledge about town voters.

Persuasion Calling and Canvassing:

  • During the period from September 15th until October 25th pre-election, provide persuasion work for any candidate desiring support.
  • Use canvassing teams and phone bank capabilities already developed.
  • Do extensive training in persuasion techniques during the next two years.

GOTV:

  • Utilize town GOTV captains to coordinate GOTV calling during the week leading up to the election, recruit poll watching teams, recruit poll runners, sign up drivers, and oversee the GOTV activities.
  • Develop a list of lawyers who will be available to assist during that period, especially on Election Day.
  • Establish the procedures for interface with towns regarding poll watching and early voting early in the process so there are no misunderstandings.
  • Prepare detailed calling sheets including all 1’s and 2’s (1-Identified as supporter and 2-Identified as a leaning supporter).
  • Prepare detailed poll watching sheets for Election Day.

Technology:

  • Develop an approach to a County Database.
  • Develop the County website and publicize effectively.
  • Expand the County and municipality email lists, automate sign-up and sign-off and utilize email and social media communications more fully.

Events Calendar:

  • Recruit municipality coordinators who will keep coordinator informed regarding upcoming events in their city/township/town/village.
  • Establish a County coordinator who will insure that event information is put on our web site and communicated to all our candidates.

Community Outreach and Issues Development:

  • Establish and invigorate an Issues Subcommittee.
  • Develop a strong message/vision statement.
  • Help candidates develop their own message to the voters.
  • Call on High Schools to reach future voters.
  • Develop special events.
  • Develop more media contacts/opportunities.
  • Nurture strong town leadership.
  • Host forums for candidates.
  • Host issue-based house parties/forums.

Municipality (City/Township/Town/Village) Committees:

  • Insure that every municipality has a functioning committee with strong leadership.
  • Conduct education-training session with each municipality committee individually (e.g., Wellstone) as many times as necessary to support their development.
  • Expand the regional municipality committee meetings throughout the County to insure proper coordination in Headquarters.
  • Year-round presence – A headquarters office with volunteer staff open 2-3 days per week for part (ex: 1pm to 6pm) of the day with staff and open other times as needs become clear.
  • A campaign office which ideally will be open for 5 months (Mid-June to Mid-November) in campaign years – 7 days per week, 12 hours each day (8:30am to 8:30pm).

Fundraising:

  • Raise a total of [$XXX,000] over the two-year cycle, [$XXX,000] to finance the off-year and [$XXX,000] for the election year. Be realistic with this plan. [NOTE: If this is a new organization, be sure to research and establish legal entities according to local, state and federal regulations. All fundraising must be compliant with local/state/federal laws.]

Issues Forums:

  • Have an issues forum in each municipality or grouping of municipalities to develop “What it means to be a [Group Member]” and the “Three Principles that will be our message for 20XX”. Have a County process to create a consensus document.
  • Have regular monthly issues meetings around the County.
  • Have an issues portion of the monthly [Group Name] meeting.

So there you have it, a general template “road map” to building your activist organization should you choose to accept it. There are a few items which aren’t included in this list of objectives; they’re what we might call “advanced activism” and the kind of thing we’d consider “proprietary knowledge” unique to the locale and to the organization. Once you get a handle on this map and begin to make some traction on the items, you’ll soon figure out what the “advanced activism” components are for your area.

Oh, and for those of you hungering and yearning badly for a third party: Get going. I can’t make it any easier for you short of spoon feeding while holding your hand.

I’m too damned busy to do that for you.
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And that’s it for this series. I sure hope we continue to have a representative democracy for which this map still works. Best of luck to us all in the days ahead.

Flashback: Rougher Roads

Part Three of this four-part series looking back at popping my activist cherry. So not a virgin any more, and a damned good thing given how much rougher the road ahead.

The Angry Left: Rougher Roads Steeper Challenges to Get Here

I’ve already offered a 50,000 view of the road to here for some of the angry left — the road some of us who were progressives in 2003 took as we sought to wrest the country away from conservatives. And I’ve shared my personal journey up to the 2004 presidential election.

The next leg of the journey was harder and the challenges steeper.

In late November 2004 after the election, while many of us were still shell-shocked by the outcome of the election, former candidate Howard Dean traveled the country to talk with supporters to figure out what to do next. I explained already the decision-making process, but one of the most important points which came out of his sessions was the call to become more active in the Democratic Party and to leave no seat uncontested.

Most of us new activists had discovered the hard way during the campaign that the Democratic Party was facade-like; it was not democratic (little d) and it was hardly a party. If we were going to generate the kind of critical mass in numbers we needed to reach our goals — like ending the war in Iraq and getting a national health care program — we were going to have to go inside what was left of the beast and take it back. Dean was certain that if we could articulate clearly our populist progressive agenda that we could win voters, but we had to have the organization from which to do it.

In a matter of days after Dean spoke with activists in my state I went to my first local party meeting. I’d received a little coaching from a high school friend’s dad who’d been involved in the party; he’d explained how their monthly meetings typically ran and what to expect so I’d be more comfortable.

The meeting started at 7:00 p.m.; they said the Pledge of Allegiance, went through what looked like a time-worn agenda of going through acceptance of minutes from the last meeting, treasurer’s report, new mail, old business…by this time it was 7:20 p.m. and some of the folks were already beginning to look at their watches. The chair held his gavel aloft and asked for any new business before he gaveled the meeting adjourned.

That was it? That’s all they were going to do after getting their asses kicked a mere month ago? I thought I’d faint.

My friend’s dad was there and looked at me encouragingly. I raised my hand. The chair started and stared as if to say, Who the hell are you? And I introduced myself, said it was my first party meeting, and I had two questions to ask. Where was the party’s website, and what were their goals and objectives for the coming year?

You could have heard a pin drop.

Two other folks across the room raised their hands and said it was their first meeting as well, and they had come wanting to know the same thing.

There was a bit of a rush after that, an explanation that they had no website, questions as to whether I knew anything about creating one and would I discuss it next month, did I want to become a member, could we table the question about goals, gaveling out the meeting.

A more senior member of the party offered to pay for three memberships to get us started; we three newbies managed to get connected with each other. Inside the next three months we were plunged into communications and memberships committees and started on projects which made sense to us as persons with corporate and academic experience. Like updating membership databases, and creating a website with information about the local party — really elemental stuff.

And at first it seemed easy. It was almost too easy. The first twelve weeks went by and we thought things were going smoothly.

But then we ran into push back after push back on what should have been some of the easiest things, including goals and finance. By the end of summer it was clear there were factions within the local party who were pissed off at us for rocking the boat, other factions which did little or nothing and didn’t want to, and yet other factions who wanted to do something constructive but were clearly disenfranchised and dis-empowered.

In short, it was a dysfunctional mess. We just didn’t get a bead on how dysfunctional for several months while they waited to see how serious we were.

We learned as we compared notes about the problems we were running into that the party chair had actually kicked volunteers out of the office during the final stretch of the presidential election season for using the phone excessively. The volunteers had been phone banking, for crying out loud; of course they’d be using the damned phones. They ended up at a different site set up across town by another group because they couldn’t work at the Dem Party office. The problems were clearly systemic from top to bottom of the local organization, and toxic to candidates.

It became clear that we were going to have to find a different way to operate so that we didn’t run into roadblocks at every turn, before the election season began. We agreed to pursue chartering a separate Democratic club, one which would have a bias toward action and results, whose mission would be to get more progressive candidates elected to office.

The squabbling about the chartering process was ugly, because the local party had to sign off. (Pulling the charter has been a threat at least one chair has used since the charter was issued.) But in the end we managed to start an organization.

A couple of our team found a sympathetic landlord who agreed to “rent” office space to us if we agreed to improve the property. We pooled our resources and painted and patched a decrepit 150-year-old place, each of us doing what we could to create an entity which would get people elected. In my case I cobbled up a network and a fellow Deaniac cobbled up some computers so that we could begin to phone bank using VoIP. We identified candidates to support, knocked on doors, dropped literature, made thousands of phone calls, raised money and made donations to candidates.

And by the end of election day 2006, we knew what we could call our wins.

By the end of 2007 candidates called us.

By the end of 2008, after winning and losing control of the Democratic Party chairmanship, we won it back.

We are the local party now, although it was messy getting here. I’ve spared you the ugly part of losing the party and having our club charter threatened. I’ve spared you all the dull, tedious long hours of work doing mailings and working on voter data and membership drives and slow, dragged out meetings about resolutions and bylaws.

But we got here because we planned, we executed and we delivered. We didn’t always win; one of our hardest fought and most painful losses was for a state seat for which one of our own ran. But we learned a lot from the experience, and the state party now knows what that candidate and the club can do. And right now they are grinding away working for Democratic candidates, several of which are truly progressive.

So what did I learn along this leg of the road?

— It takes a lot of motherf*cking actual work to build a grassroots political apparatus. I cannot understate this. One must be willing to do some really tedious, grotty scut work to make it happen. I’ve cleaned toilets, washed floors, painted, vacuumed, swept, cooked and cooked, licked envelopes and stamps, fixed computers and printers, set up wired and wireless networks, babysat, made phone calls, typed and printed and folded and collated, you name it, and I’ve only done a small portion of work that others have done for our team.

— In every county of my state there are roughly 25 people on average that are hardcore activists who are willing to do the work. Half of them do the majority of the work. Which means in a state of roughly 10,000,000 residents, roughly 2,000 people do it all for the left. And that’s not just Democrats, that’s the entire left. (Many Greens, Libertarians and unallied environmental and peace activists overlap with Democrats, so I think I can say my estimate is pretty solid.) I would bet right now the ratio is pretty much the same for all but the most populous states.

— There are people who will cling to their old perception of the party until they die. Some will not relinquish that vision without a bloody fight. You can expect to be bruised in such battles; develop emotional callouses and find a good source of mental Kevlar. And quite frankly, you may have to outwait some of your detractors quite literally until they die. We euphemistically call this “a generational shift.”

— Once you have some success, you will be attacked. You will also find others attempt to co-opt your success. You are doing it right if you have candidates calling you for help while you are being insulted by the remaining old school machine members.

— And the attacks will show up in the local media. You will see distortions of everything you’ve done through a conservative lens, and everything reported will draw multiple letters to the editor from conservatives.

— There are not enough candidates in the pipeline. There are races up and down the ticket right now where we cannot field a candidate, where a conservative is going to have a cakewalk to a win. A substantive number of our candidates are Hail Mary passes which won’t succeed; the candidate is either willing to run simply to force the conservative opponent to spend down money, or the candidate is simply not prepared enough or the right caliber for the race. I can think of one candidate who is just plain dumber than a box of rocks, hasn’t won in three attempts and won’t win again, but they are all we have in that district. We’ve had many training sessions to encourage folks who may be thinking about running, at least two sessions a year and we still don’t have enough candidates.

— Money is chronically short. This is another truth which can’t be understated. In some highly specific cases, where the population is denser, the till may have a lot more money, but the money must be spread over even more candidates. It’s never enough.

— There are not enough people who have the skills let alone the commitment to do some of the necessary work. Being an officer sounds like it’s prestigious and a lot of fun, right up until you are the one having to deal with the angry callers or the stupid media, the one having to record all the donations and file the financials on a timely basis, the one having to take all the meeting notes and record them religiously. Parliamentarians are a pain in the ass, but they are also one of the most critical roles in the organization. Think you can cut corners and do without all this stuff? Good luck earning the trust of candidates and incumbents who need serious, reliable people.

Before I began this journey on the road of activism, I believed there were adults in charge, that I could simply show up and vote at mid-terms and presidential elections, and those trusted adults would make sure that our democracy continued to run smoothly.

What a stupid and naive notion that was.

One of the most important things I’ve learned along the way is this: Leadership is showing up.

Things don’t change, progress isn’t made until leaders show up and do the damned work. For too long nobody showed up, and there are still not enough people showing up.

The corollary lesson is this: Leadership-by-default runs this country.

In other words, the person that showed up, did the work or spent the money to get the work done, got elected. They may have been the biggest, stupidest asshole on earth, but they showed up. And they were assisted on the road to victory by people who showed up. The folks who get more people to show up to work for them are far more likely to win. This is the case in the overwhelming majority of races up and down the ticket across this entire country.

More about that in my next installment.
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Part Four, the final installment of this series, will post tomorrow.

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