TPM Cafe: Opinion

This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis. 

Dismay over inequality comes in a variety of flavors. For many, it’s simply about fairness — nobody “deserves” a billion dollars, that level of wealth is nothing more than a byproduct of an unfair economic system.

But extreme inequality is not just about fairness. It’s about the sustainability of democracy. Concentrated wealth is concentrated power. We are seeing this on display with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who through shear financial means has propelled himself into the race for Democratic nominee. This shouldn’t be possible, yet it seems most of the Democratic nominees don’t understand the graveness of the situation.

At the Democratic debate in Nevada, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd broke character and asked a good question: Should billionaires exist?

Obviously, Bloomberg was okay with billionaires.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said, “I’m not going to limit what people make.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg seemed to agree: he began the debate by poking fun at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), describing him as “a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) supports a tax on billionaires’ wealth.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s solution to inequality is a familiar combination of higher taxes on corporations, increasing the capital gains tax — shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic kind of stuff.

Only Sanders seems to identify and talk about the threat billionaires pose simply by existing.

Here’s the problem: A country that permits people to attain unlimited wealth allows them to possess unlimited political power. They can donate unlimited sums of money to political causes and campaigns, a problem compounded by the fact that political parties draw their own districts. When unlimited money means unlimited influence, those with money will continue to invest in politics to protect and increase their influence. It puts the country on the road to oligarchy. Wealth taxes are not just important tools to redistribute wealth, they are a critical check on the political power of the super wealthy.

In many ways the debate over the existence of billionaires comes down to whether you value individual liberty more than you value human lives. As Sanders said, it’s immoral to have billionaires while there are homeless people. There shouldn’t be billionaires while there are starving children or people who can’t afford medical treatments they need to stay alive.

A system that allows billionaires but taxes them at a higher rate is a system not long for this world. Money is power and influence. Eventually, the billionaires will wrest power back and change the tax rates, much in the way the GOP bamboozled Americans by lowering the corporate tax rate under the ruse that it makes America more attractive for business investment.

Capitalism requires strict regulations to ensure fairness. But those regulations are always an election away from being removed by moneyed interests. Because capitalism is okay with inequality, it’s inevitable that all efforts to hinder extreme wealth accumulation will eventually be thwarted or removed. Unlimited wealth means unlimited political donations which means laws and policies that favor the rich. It’s a game of cat and mouse that will only end when the megarich have consolidated power and there are no more mice.

 


Joe Ragazzo is TPM’s publisher.

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Speaking in Colorado on Thursday, President Trump went after a favorite target: wind turbines.

“They want to use wind,” he complained. “Wind blow, wind please, please keep the birds away from those windmills, please.”

“You look at Palm Springs, California. Take a look. Palm Springs,” he continued. “They’re all over the place. They’re closed, they’re rotting, they look like hell,” Trump said.

When President Trump talks about climate change — beyond dismissing the problem outright — it often looks like this. He regularly blames windmills for cancer and claims that television will not work on calm or cloudy days.

Such absurdities are possible because comprehensive climate action still frightens many. The Democratic candidate that addressed it most clearly (Inslee) is gone and some in the moderate lane spend little time addressing it. Pundits fret over how to pay for strong action and many fear job or investment losses.

Democratic candidates are these days identified as radicals often in relation to three policies: 1) taxes on wealth or the wealthy, 2) Medicare for All, or 3) a Green New Deal. These assertions do not make much sense. Taxes on wealthy Americans today are proportionately lower than on middle class wage earners. Universal health care exists in all prosperous democracies except America. That said, my focus here is primarily on the Green New Deal.

One underlying reason the “radical” label sometimes sticks is, of course, asymmetric political polarization. Republican politics has moved well to the right, while Democrats as a whole have not moved significantly to the left. This asymmetry is so comprehensive (and conservative media so strong) that reasonable policy advocacy can be branded negatively. Amazingly, denying that climate change requires us to alter our behavior — or just ignoring it outright — are not considered radical.

The Green New Deal — as proposed in a 2019 bill introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) — offers action on renewable energy, infrastructure, transportation and agriculture and largely eliminating carbon emissions by 2050. The bill foresees cooperation with farmers and the creation of more “good, union jobs” than would be lost. It also includes job and retraining guarantees for those with fossil energy jobs at risk.

Democrats up and down the ticket — and Republicans! — would do well to get behind some variant of this approach to clearly distinguish themselves sharply from Trump’s inability to even acknowledge the problem.

And legislators need not be concerned with the claims that the Green New Deal is a radical overhaul of the economy that Americans oppose: those claims don’t make any sense.

The need to reduce carbon emissions has been widely accepted by science and most nations for decades. Given that, what makes the idea so radical? In addition, most major American corporations and cities have already invested heavily in reducing emissions. And, reductions can be achieved while economic growth continues. Yes, some environmentalists advocate slower growth, but most versions of a Green New Deal do not.

While climate action does challenge fossil energy companies, it need not challenge America’s economic system as a whole. Nor will it necessarily challenge existing income or wealth distribution. Indeed a Green New Deal, as generally articulated, seeks restoration of pre-1980 wealth distribution, and can harness some of the populist outrage that has buoyed left-leaning Democrats as well as, ironically, Trump.

Important politically within the U.S. are the economic benefits of climate action to the relative advantage of rural, Southern and other Republican regions. Texas and the Midwest are windy and Florida is the Sunshine State for a reason. Likewise, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada — all purple states — are well-suited for renewable energy. Democratic candidates can sell strong climate action precisely where they need to grow their appeal.

Additionally, a Green New Deal would benefit construction and industrial workers as well as farmers (think solar on outbuildings, wind turbines on hilltops, soil as a carbon sink and climate friendly tilling practices). Democrats should repeatedly tell Republican voters that hostility to climate action is costing them money and mention frequently that fossil fuels in America even now employ fewer people than clean energy. What fossil energy corporations do, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is invest 13.7 times what clean energy does on political influence.

Nor does climate action threaten most firms. Even oil companies could gradually transition to become energy companies. Capitalism, business tells us, is all about adaptation. They are not wrong. Entrepreneurship can speed a transition to a low carbon economy. It is contributing already in large ways and small. So are shifting consumer choices like dietary habits and transportation choices.

A Green New Deal also can strengthen local government. Zoning and construction standards are crucial to reducing carbon emissions. Municipalities and states also bear responsibility for transit, cycling and walking routes. Decentralized decision-making was once a Republican mantra. Democrats could emphasize that climate action empowers local decision-making.

Democrats should make clear that many of the social policies they advocate go hand-in-hand with climate action. Universal, portable, health insurance enables career shifts, business start-ups and long apprenticeships. As important, reducing student debt frees ambitious young people to undertake or join start-ups. Small entrepreneurs in local, organic food, renewable energy and energy efficiency are crucial to building a low carbon economy. Similarly, higher wages via stronger unions or minimum wage increases would help existing households lower their carbon emissions. Selling climate action and social policies together reaches out to a broader political audience. This is crucial to avoiding future backsliding and to getting people engaged in the transition process as consumers, employees and investors (in addition to as political actors).

Climate action and a Green New Deal are especially important to mobilizing younger voters and broader support for climate action. That broader support can be built by making more visible, indeed celebrating, the changes people and firms have already made and those that have made them. Candidates can identify living examples of low carbon choices and opportunities in their districts and the local businesses those choices create and support.

It is important to recognize that creating a low carbon economy will take 30–50 years — a long time period, perhaps, for “radical” change, but an unavoidable one. Transition is necessarily slow because it requires new infrastructure and it requires re-learning how to do some basic things like mass air travel and metal smelting. Many existing carbon-emitting devices and installations are still new. Doing things in new ways, however, will provide a large boost to those nations or firms that succeed. America at the moment is inclined toward looking backwards.

This already emerging transition, made visible, grows its own political constituency. People who install solar panels are not going to support endless fossil fuel subsidies. Organic farmers will not support deregulating hazardous pesticides. The notion that a Green New Deal is radical will fade quickly when people see neighbors installing solar panels or watch them sprout over local parking lots or on church roofs. The people and enterprises of a low carbon future do not look very radical up close.

 


Robert Paehlke is a Professor Emeritus at Trent University. His books include: Environmentalism and the Future of Progressive Politics (Yale, 1989), Democracy’s Dilemma (MIT, 2003) and Hegemony and Global Citizenship (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

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The Democratic Party doesn’t have a great record of addressing race. Dialogue on the topic, including in recent presidential debates, has not emerged as a genuine focus. That’s unfortunate for everyone, especially as millions of Democratic voters will be selecting their nominee in the next days and weeks.

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This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis. 

Former New York City mayor, ninth-richest person in the world, and candidate for president Michael Bloomberg has been rising in the polls in recent weeks and just recently qualified for his first debate of the primary season. As the candidate with a net worth of $61.7 billion takes his agenda to the national stage today, viewers may be surprised to hear him assert that addressing inequality is one of his top priorities. While Bloomberg gets some important points right about tackling inequality, there are some very important things that he either misses or doesn’t address when it comes to this critical issue.

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This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis.

In a towering act of sycophantry, the National Association of Manufacturers announced Friday that it will be giving Ivanka Trump the organization’s first ever Alexander Hamilton Award for “extraordinary support of manufacturing in America.” The organization made the outrageous claim that “no one”  — no one! — has ever “provided singular leadership and shown an unwavering commitment to modern manufacturing in America” like she has.

NAM is a trade group representing the interests of the manufacturing firms. In September, Ivanka and NAM’s Manufacturing Institute announced an expansion of a skills training and apprenticeship program created by Toyota Motor North America. Apparently, this constituted leadership and commitment to an industry like mankind has never seen.

Let’s set aside the fact that Ivanka’s own businesses (and her father’s) frequently manufacture their products abroad, and just focus on manufacturing in the United States. As the President runs for reelection, he is pointing to a strong economy as a “success” for American workers and touting what he says is a resurgence in blue collar jobs.

But this ignores a key fact: manufacturing entered a recession in 2019!

By October of last year, U.S. manufacturing had seen two consecutive quarters of contraction. The sector shed 5,000 jobs in December and 12,000 jobs in January. In December, the Institute of Supply Management’s manufacturing index displayed the fastest rate of contraction since June 2009. And although the ISM suggests an uptick may be on the horizon, the sector still lags behind most others.

So whatever Ivanka and the Trumps are up to, it ain’t working.

Unlike most sectors, manufacturing is one in which Trump has taken direct action in the form of tariffs and despite his righteous, self-congratulatory bluster, they have likely amounted to a net decrease in employment.

Let’s look at steel tariffs, ostensibly meant to increase domestic production of steel. Well, we have added roughly 1,000 jobs in steel production, but estimates show we may have lost 75,000 manufacturing jobs where steel is an input. So more people are making steel, but way fewer people are using the steel. It’s a net loss.

What is a manufacturing success? I think most of us would say increased employment and increased wages. Further still, we’d probably say improved working conditions. However, in this context it’s challenging to see any extraordinary results.

According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing employment peaked in June 1979 with about 19.5 million workers. Employment had already fallen precipitously by the time the U.S. entered the 2007 recession, when the number of Americans employed in manufacturing stood at 13.7 million. The industry bottomed out around February 2010 at 11.4 million. By the time Obama left office in December 2016, manufacturing had rebounded to 12.35 million. At the end of January, this figure was 12.85 million — following two straight months of declines.

Put another way: Manufacturing employment is 34 percent lower than it was at its peak in 1979. Manufacturing employment has grown 3.5 percent since Obama left office, lagging overall non-farm employment which has grown by 4.5 percent.

Diving further into the numbers reveals that manufacturing jobs are no longer more lucrative than the average job. From the BLS:

In 1990, average hourly earnings of production workers in manufacturing ($10.78) were about 6 percent greater than those of production or nonsupervisory workers in the total private sector ($10.20). By 2018, however, manufacturing workers were earning approximately 5 percent less ($21.54) than their total private sector counterparts ($22.71). Over this same period, manufacturing production workers’ share of total private sector employment fell by half, from 17.2 percent in 1990 to 8.5 percent in 2018.

Another way to measure success is to look at growth in total production. Every month, the Institute for Supply Management issues a report on the economic activity of the sector. The good news is that the index was 50.9 in January. (Anything over 50 indicates expansion, anything under indicates contraction.) The bad news is that while the broader economy has expanded for 129 straight months, this was the first time since June of 2019 that the index showed growth. Further, it’s unclear how real or sustainable this expansion is. The ISM report shows that to the degree there’s any positive change, it originates in either pharmaceuticals or computer and electronic products. Tariffs, Trump’s favorite thing, are not helping.

During his State of the Union, Trump talked about a “blue-collar” boom and how we are “restoring our nation’s manufacturing might.” But he’s added fewer jobs than Obama did and manufacturing spent the final two quarters of 2019 in a recession. In the words of manufacturers themselves, further growth is far from guaranteed or even expected.

Meanwhile, this week the House passed meaningful legislation to help manufacturing workers in the form of the PRO Act. It has no chance in the Republican-controlled Senate. The PRO Act aims to strengthen workers’ union rights by limiting companies’ ability to interfere with organizing efforts, creating penalties for employers who fire or retaliate against workers trying to form a union, and protecting workers’ right to strike and protest (among other things). An organization that advocates for workers in manufacturing, as opposed to the owners of manufacturing — the AFL-CIO — strongly endorses the PRO Act.

It’s a law that will help America’s blue-collar workers, but will go nowhere.

This is the state of American politics. I’m sure the White House is preparing to take a victory lap based on Ivanka’s manufacturing award.

One could argue — and pundits do — that manufacturing is the symbolic foundation of the blue collar support Trump supposedly has. Trump loves the working people, they say. Nobody has done more for ordinary Americans than Donald and Ivanka, they say.

It’s all nonsense. This administration’s policies have hurt manufacturing and continue to do so.

 


Joe Ragazzo is TPM’s publisher.

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This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis. The following was adapted from Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, And The Threat To American Democracy, by Rick Hasen, out today.

As the 2020 election approaches, we are seeing intensifying attempts to suppress the vote. There’s an irony in these attempts, which come after four years during which arguments that such laws are needed to combat phantom voter fraud have collapsed under the weight of evidence. Even the White House’s own relatively high-profile foray into the voter fraud fever swamp sputtered to an inglorious ending. President Trump established the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity” in May 2017, but the following January he dissolved it with none of its work completed. It never issued a report.

The commission was started to back up Trump’s unsupported claims of massive voter fraud, which he advanced as the reason Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. Trump named Vice President Mike Pence the nominal chair of the commission, but then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chair, was the driving force behind its operation. Kobach is one of the country’s leading public figures contending that voter fraud is a major problem in the United States. He is one of a small group of public figures I’ve dubbed the “fraudulent fraud squad,” who built up the myth of rampant voter fraud that Republican legislatures have used to justify severe rules making it harder to register and vote. Kobach ran the meetings of the commission and seemed to dictate its agenda.

The collapse of the Pence-Kobach fraud commission was a watershed moment in the modern history of voter fraud mythmaking and attempts at voter suppression. For years, people like Kobach and the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky had spun stories of voter fraud by relying upon anecdotal accounts, innuendo, falsehoods, and accusations that almost never panned out. Most of this cheap talk was not subjected to cross-examination or rigorous study. The trial and commission fiasco changed all that.

The commission looked like nothing that had come before it. After the 2000 election debacle that culminated in the Supreme Court case of Bush v. Gore, former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford headed a blue-ribbon bipartisan commission looking for ways to improve the elections process. After more problems at the polls in 2004, Carter and former Republican secretary of state James Baker headed another commission. After long lines and still more problems in 2012, President Obama established a commission headed by his campaign lawyer, Bob Bauer, and Mitt Romney’s campaign lawyer, Ben Ginsberg. Each of these commissions was led by a prominent Democrat and a prominent Republican, with bipartisan representation and a professional staff. They received expert advice from the top social scientists in the United States studying elections.

The Bauer-Ginsberg commission, aided by its research director, Stanford law professor Nate Persily, issued a set of bipartisan proposals for shortening lines at the polls, ensuring that voter registration rolls were accurate, and making sure that eligible voters would be able to vote in an efficient way. It was no accident that Brian Britton, vice president of Global Park Operations and Initiatives at Walt Disney World Company and an expert in queue management at Disney’s theme parks, sat on the commission.

It was clear from the beginning that Trump’s commission was different. As soon as Trump took office, his administration removed from government servers, without explanation, the website and research of the Bauer-Ginsberg commission. In May 2017, he announced his new commission to look into voter fraud. Gone was bipartisan balance: the Republican Pence was appointed chair and the Republican Kobach was vice chair.

The names of the commissioners were rolled out over weeks rather than announced all at once, as had been done with the other commissions. Eventually, four of the most notorious proponents of the myth of rampant voter fraud — Kobach, von Spakovsky, J. Christian Adams, a former Department of Justice lawyer, and former Ohio secretary of state Kenneth Blackwell — all joined. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law dubbed them “President Trump’s Four Horsemen of Voter Suppression.”

Adams, a frequent Fox News guest who warned of the dangers of voter intimidation by repeatedly citing the actions of a couple of “New Black Panthers” at a single Philadelphia polling place in 2008, now headed the Public Interest Legal Foundation. Among its other activities, PILF issued a report warning of an “alien invasion,” complete with an illustration of “a 1950s-style flying saucer approaching bucolic Virginia,” and giving the names of purported noncitizens on the Virginia voting rolls. Some of those falsely named “noncitizens” sued Adams for defamation, and Adams apologized to settle the suit. Blackwell was perhaps best known for his decision in 2004, which he later reversed under pressure, to have Ohio election officials reject some voter registration forms because the applications were not printed on heavy enough paper.

I myself received a shout-out from Adams in documents released in litigation after the commission closed. In an email exchange with von Spakovsky and some PILF employees at the time of the commission’s founding, Adams commented on my earlier criticism of their work perpetuating the voter fraud myth: “Rick Hasen is a raw enemy activist… He is the central organizing location of our foes. He is going to get very ugly toward me and Hans when/if we are nominated by the President to the Voter Fraud Commission.” Logan Churchwell, the spokesperson for PILF, urged Adams to “push” my “buttons” so I would become “unhinged.” “Sick of him being the elder statesman in the eyes of the MSM [mainstream media].”

When fully constituted, the commission had seven Republicans and five Democrats. Three of the five Democrats were unknown nationally in the election administration field. The other two were Bill Gardner, the secretary of state in New Hampshire, and Matt Dunlap, Maine’s secretary of state. Some Democrats who had long viewed Gardner with suspicion thought their doubts were confirmed when he agreed to serve on the commission. Dunlap claimed he joined in order to watch the process from the inside, a stance several election experts, including me, thought was naïve, but he later played a key role in the commission’s downfall.

We later learned from partially redacted documents, released through a Freedom of Information Act request, that the lack of partisan balance on Trump’s voter fraud commission was a feature and not a bug. Before Trump named any members, von Spakovsky sent an email, which later got forwarded to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, laying out the case for excluding Democrats, academics, and “mainstream Republicans” from the commission. He and Adams were offered spots on the commission soon after.

Once it got going, the commission immediately ran into problems. Kobach directed staff to request individual voter registration records from each state, including names, addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers. Apparently he meant to look for registered noncitizens by comparing those data to citizenship records at the Department of Homeland Security. Many states balked.

Some Democratic officials expected the matching procedure to be flawed and suspected the commission’s work would be used as a pretext for tougher federal or state voter registration rules. California secretary of state Alex Padilla released a statement reading in part: “California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the Vice President, and Mr. Kobach. The President’s Commission is a waste of taxpayer money and a distraction from the real threats to the integrity of our elections today: aging voting system and documented Russian interference.”

Some Republican officials thought the federal request was an intrusion on state sovereignty. Before he even received the commission’s letter, Mississippi secretary of state Delbert Hosemann said in a statement: “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from…. Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.” Colorado citizens began canceling their voter registrations after the state agreed to comply with the request because they did not want the Trump administration to have access to their data. They reasoned that they could use Colorado’s same-day registration policy to reregister whenever they wanted to vote.

Then there were the lawsuits. Common Cause and others sued the commission for violating the Privacy Act, which bars government collection of sensitive personal information under certain circumstances. The suits eventually led to the destruction of all collected voter data after the commission disbanded. Other suits argued that the commission’s rules violated the federal Paperwork Reduction Act as well as various state laws protecting the privacy of voter information.

Maine secretary of state Dunlap, one of the two prominent Democrats on the commission, sued it for violating a federal law governing transparency and fairness in the operation of presidential advisory commissions. He and other commissioners alleged that Kobach was acting in secret and without input from Democratic commissioners. Dunlap won and eventually obtained several commission documents he had not been allowed to see — which he then publicly posted. The released documents showed that even before they joined the commission, von Spakovsky and Adams were providing specific suggestions to Kobach and commission staff (but not its Democratic members) about the exact information to request from each state regarding its voter registration practices. The documents also show the commission never uncovered any evidence of significant voter fraud. The failure to find evidence supporting the need for laws to combat noncitizen voting and voter impersonation is the only plausible reason for the commission’s lack of transparency.

The members met only twice. After their first official opening meeting, in Washington, D.C., in July 2017, they met in September 2017 in New Hampshire, where they were hosted by Secretary of State Bill Gardner. In that meeting, Kris Kobach presented and then walked back unsupported assertions he had first floated on Breitbart, that bused-in Massachusetts residents illegally voted in the Granite State.

Another meeting was planned for late January 2018, but President Trump pulled the plug on the entire enterprise, blaming “endless legal battles at taxpayer expense” and lack of cooperation from Democrats. He did not mention Republican resistance or Mississippi secretary of state Hosemann’s suggestion about local swimming spots. Kobach told Breitbart that the effort to find evidence of noncitizen voting would continue at the Department of Homeland Security, without Democratic interference and lawsuits: “The investigation will continue, and it will continue more efficiently and more effectively … By throwing their food in the air, they just lost their seat at the table.” He told NPR that he would remain as an “outside adviser” on the project. That announcement was quickly rebuffed by DHS officials, who said Kobach would play no role. As far as we know, DHS conducted no subsequent investigation of noncitizen voting.

One White House adviser, or perhaps it was Vice President Pence himself, told CNN that the commission was a “s[hi]t show” that had gone “off the rails.” The adviser suggested that the vice president’s “team … should have seen that assignment as a s[hi]t sandwich and treated it like a book report … Avoid trouble, cite real instances of voter fraud, address structural and technology problems, make recommendations and move on.”

 


 

The only rational conclusions to be drawn from the collapse of the Pence-Kobach fraud commission and another, subsequent watershed moment, the Fish v. Kobach trial in Kansas, is that voter fraud is extremely rare, and that spurious claims more likely serve as a pretext for passing laws aimed at making it harder for people likely to vote for Democrats to register and to vote. Kobach rejected this premise, telling NPR’s Robert Siegel after the collapse of the commission that “critics were making a bizarre and frankly idiotic argument. They were claiming that by looking at the issue of voter fraud, that was going to cause state legislatures to pass laws that would, in their view, make voting more difficult.”

But it was Kris Kobach, meeting with Trump during the 2016 presidential transition period, who used false claims of massive voter fraud as a basis for recommending legislation amending the federal motor voter law to allow states to require documentary proof of citizenship before voting. And the commission that Trump picked Kobach to head was designed to provide cover for such legislation. A sharp-eyed AP photographer captured a picture of Kobach holding a briefing outline after his meeting with Trump that included that recommendation; a $1,000 fine Kobach later received in the Fish case was for misleading the court and the ACLU about the outline’s content. He apparently had modeled his proposed amendment to match what the ACLU, in a 2016 legal brief, wrote that the motor voter law would have to look like if it in fact allowed Kansas to require documentary proof of citizenship before voting.

Fish and the commission’s work showed that noncitizen voting and voter impersonation fraud weren’t icebergs, or even icicles. They were puddles that evaporated in the sunlight of public inspection and legal examination.

 


 

Alas, the intellectual collapse of the voter fraud myth has done little to slow down the pace of laws, passed almost exclusively in Republican states, that make it harder to register and vote. Instead, green lights from the Supreme Court have accelerated the pace and deepened the reach of these laws, even as lawsuits and the commission’s failure undermined their premises, and even as some lower courts have rejected or softened some of the more extreme attempts.

In early 2019, the Texas attorney general Ken Paxton issued a “voter fraud alert,” declaring that up to fifty-eight thousand noncitizens voted in Texas, an announcement that coincided with the increase in Latino voter turnout in the state. Right after Paxton made the announcement, President Trump tweeted: “58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote. These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID! @foxandfriends.” Trump did not issue any corrective when, as was inevitable, Texas quickly walked back its claims, which relied upon faulty data. The early evidence suggested that almost none of the fifty-eight thousand people on Paxton’s list were noncitizens.

Kris Kobach ran for governor of Kansas in 2018, barely winning a primary against the incumbent Republican governor, Jeff Colyer, who took office when President Trump nominated Kansas’s governor Sam Brownback to an ambassadorship. After public pressure, Kobach stepped aside as secretary of state from overseeing a potential recount of his own primary race.

During the general election, Kobach’s opponents unsuccessfully tried to get Judge Robinson to publicly release the video of Kobach’s deposition in Fish v. Kobach, which, according to Kansas City Star reporter Bryan Lowry, “shows Kobach to … appear uncomfortable during some portions of the deposition, rubbing his eyes and crossing his hands as the ACLU peppered him with questions.” The video had been played in court, but the court allowed release of only a transcript. Even without the video, Kobach lost the governor’s election to Democrat Laura Kelly, raising the possibility that he might join the Trump administration in some capacity related to immigration or voting. He seemed to blow his opportunity to become Trump’s immigration czar when he made ten demands, including 24/7 access to a government jet, walk-in privileges into the Oval Office, and a promise that the president would nominate him to be DHS secretary within six months if Kobach wanted the position.

As the post-truth 2020 election season began, there was no indication that the Republican drumbeat of voter fraud might subside. Instead, more states passed new laws aimed at curtailing voter registration drives in the face of high African American turnout in recent elections. Armed with no more than an icicle, purveyors of the voter fraud myth, including President Trump, stood ready to undermine voter confidence in the election by simultaneously convincing Republicans that Democrats were trying to steal the election and convincing Democrats that Republicans were trying to do so.

 


Rick Hasen is Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine. In 2013 he was named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal, and his previous books include Voting Wars, Plutocrats United, and The Justice of Contradictions. He lives in Studio City, CA.

Excerpted from Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy by Richard L. Hasen. Copyright © 2020. Reprinted by permission of Yale University Press. All rights reserved.

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This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis. 

With the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is again in the national spotlight, as she looks like she just might vote to hear witnesses at the Senate trial. That impending Collins vote became especially crucial this morning, when new allegations against Trump’s involvement in the Ukraine pressure scheme surfaced in the unpublished manuscript of ex-National Security Adviser John Bolton’s new book. Collins indicated on Twitter the news may sway her vote, arguing the accusations “strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversation among my colleagues.” If Collins votes to allow additional documents and witnesses, she’d be one of the few Republicans to do so. If it happens, it’s likely she’ll be lauded for her independence, and headlines in Maine will likely make this their focus. 

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This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis. The following is an excerpt from “The Fixers: The Bottom-Feeders, Crooked Lawyers, Gossipmongers and Porn Stars Who Created the 45th President” (Penguin Random House, on sale Jan. 14, 2020).

In the predawn hours of Monday, April 9, FBI agents filtered into a side entrance of the Loews Regency Hotel on Manhattan’s Park Avenue and took the service elevator to the seventeenth floor. They knocked on the door to room 1728. When a surprised Michael Cohen answered, an agent asked if he had any firearms. Cohen led the agents to a drawer where he kept his gun, which they confiscated. The agents furnished a warrant to seize financial records, evidence related to the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, and information about his taxi business and loans from banks and credit unions. Cohen’s wife, Laura, sat on a bed as the agents carted away materials from Cohen’s hotel suite, where he was staying while his apartment underwent renovations after a flood.

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This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis. The following is an excerpt from A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy (Ecco, on sale Jan. 7, 2020).

 

Workers who fought to build strong unions turned horrible jobs in the auto factories into the kind of employment that became the backbone of the American Dream. Liberals yearn nostalgically for a time when corporate leaders seemed more responsible, for an era when CEOs seemed to understand that employees, the people who make the profits, were considered more important than, if not equal to, the shareholders. Elite thinkers today seem to think the CEOs of the inter- and post-war period actually cared about “their” workers. But the “leadership role” CEOs once played, like the corporate culture liberals yearn for, was produced by the power of workers on strike. It’s workers, through their unions, who played the leadership role.

By 1947, just twelve short years into many American workers having the freedom to wage effective strikes, the Northern big business elite chose to ally with Jim Crow racists in Congress, and pooled their money and power into eviscerating those freedoms — outlawing the most effective strike weapon, the solidarity strike — when they passed the Taft–Hartley Act or the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947. Even so, the gains made in just twelve years were so strong that they lasted until the early 1970s, when the employers began a second major offensive, increasing tenfold the number of union-busting firms and weaponizing trade and “globalization” — taking direct aim at the 56 percent unionization rate in American factories.

For another forty years, until the 2010 midterm elections (when Scott Walker passed a series of sweeping laws to systematically dismantle public-sector unions in Wisconsin), public-sector unionization — which also kicked off with a decade of strikes from the late 1960s through the late 1970s — was enough to sustain a decent standard of living for public servants. But we often glance over how public-sector unionization helped all workers because, even as workers in the private sector were being hammered overall, union financial contributions in elections continued to help balance the power of corporate wealth. Even though 1978 was the final year that workers, through their unions, matched big-business donations in national congressional elections, pro-worker Democrats were still receiving sizable union contributions and winning elections. To the Koch brothers and their ilk, this meant that corporations had to find a strategy that could attack the legal system outlined by “states’ rights,” because — unlike private-sector unions — public-sector unions are governed by state, not federal, laws.

Those rights are something in which the Kochs and the right wing believe, except when they don’t: “states’ rights” is the rhetoric first devised by segregationists in the South in defense of slavery, and it’s trotted out whenever convenient, such as in debates about gun rights. But public-sector unions are governed by state laws, not a single national law like the one that controls the private sector. Big corporate interests had to hatch a different strategy, based on a different power analysis.

Thus the Koch brothers and other billionaires launched a plan to maneuver a union attack in states in which the Koch brothers and the right can’t win the kind of slash-and-burn state legislative assault Scott Walker got away with in Wisconsin. A December 2018 article from the right-wing Heritage Foundation read, “Assuming that an average union member pays $600 in annual dues or agency fees, public-sector unions collect around $3 billion a year from the 5 million unionized employees in the 22 states where agency fees were legally permissible. Ninety percent of those employees are located in 11 states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington,” and Oregon, Illinois, and other states where public-sector unions were strong. Clearly, these billionaires have been scheming to take down today’s public-sector unions.

Taking advantage of the changing Supreme Court, they engineered three successive legal cases, each one nibbling at public-sector union law, each laying the foundation case by case for the coup de grâce, the Janus decision in June 2018. Janus determined that workers in government-sector unions can’t determine, even by majority vote, that their coworkers shall have to contribute either dues or a lesser fee, called agency fees, to their union, fabricating an argument that contributing to the union constrains free speech, as outlined in the First Amendment. Corporations had to manipulate the process to attack the public sector in similarly clever but different ways from when they set out to destroy the private-sector unions. They sought to offshore the most heavily unionized jobs in the 1970s as they increased spending to fight unions workplace by workplace. Today, driven by Silicon Valley, they are weaponizing technology, using AI and robots not only to help rid the country of the remaining unions but — hell — to eliminate the need for workers at all.

The conventional narrative about union decline places most blame on globalization and technological changes. These two forces of change are presented as facts of life and are considered somehow neutral, structural, inevitable. But humans — mostly white, wealthy men who can buy their access to decision makers — are behind every decision regarding robots, trade, workers, and unions (and the planet, too). Like the decision made by executives in Silicon Valley icon Apple, who began the assembly of iPhones in factories in China, where most iPhones are still made and where real unions — that’s independent unions — are forbidden.

A big innovation that’s not pictured in Apple’s slick-hip-cool ads with people dancing with their iPhones is the suicide net. Yes, in China, in the Foxconn factories where one million workers assemble iPhones cheaply so that Apple executives and top shareholders can live like kings, so many distraught workers try to jump to their deaths that the company had to strategically hang nets throughout the plants to prevent suicide. Uber and Lyft can also be dinged with the iSuicide claim: eight taxicab drivers in New York City killed themselves because their once-profitable taxicab medallions are now valued at $200,000, down from $1 million. This kind of despair is the real outcome of the disruptor-billionaire Party of Inequality.

There’s nothing neutral about suicide nets; there’s nothing inevitable about creating a greater climate crisis by offshoring jobs so ships bigger than small towns cross oceans, killing the ecosystem and creating a need for more fuel; there’s nothing comforting about creating millions of close-to-slavery working conditions in faraway lands that Americans can’t see when they happily upgrade to the latest phone. We don’t need robots to care for the aging population. We need the rich to pay their taxes. We need unions to level the power of corporations.

As the Parkland youth say, I call bullshit.

 


Jane McAlevey is an organizer, author, and scholar. She is currently a Senior Policy Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley’s Labor Center, part of the Institute for Labor & Employment Relations. This piece is excerpted from her new book A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy (Ecco, 2020).

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