Archive for December, 2016

Electoral Integrity In The U.S.

by John Weckerle

In an op-ed piece published in North Carolina’s The Observer, co-designer of an approach used to measure the integrity of elections worldwide, presented a case for concluding that North Carolina is no longer a functioning democracy. The approach, according to Dr. Reynolds, was used as “the cornerstone of the Electoral Integrity Project” (EIP), a joint academic program operated by Harvard University in the U.S. and the University of Sydney, Australia since 2012.  Dr. Reynolds, an international consultant on democratic design and Professor of Political Science at the prestigious University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, uses the recent analysis by the EIP to make the case that North Carolina, with an electoral integrity score of 58 out of 100 in the EIP’s recent analysis of the 2016 U.S. election, ranks alongside Cuba, Indonesia, and Sierra Leone, and with respect to legal framework and voter registration, alongside Iran and Venezuela. He then examines non-electoral issues associated with the state. The article is relatively short and an easy read, and we recommend that our readers give it a few minutes.

The op-ed was picked up and reported on by a number of Internet news outlets, both mainstream and otherwise, but few if any provided links to the actual study.  A little searching brought us to two articles on the EIP website addressing the 2016 U.S. election: one containing the featured dataset, and another, Why It’s Not About Election Fraud, It’s Much Worse (referred to as “the article,” below), containing an analysis of the results. The latter article examines potential issues with the 2016, including fraud (noting that there was “next to no credible evidence for cases of voter fraud); suppression of voting rights (noting that there was evidence that stricter registration rights was clearer but that the magnitude of the effects is under debate); maladministration; and cybersecurity, among others.

The good news for New Mexicans is that our state ranks among the highest in the nation for electoral integrity, coming in fifth with a score of 73 out of 100 – only 2 points behind Vermont, which had the highest score. Our lowest scores were in the areas of electoral laws, district boundaries, voter registration, and media coverage.

The bad news for all of us is that, at least in terms of the parameters analyzed in the report, there are some serious potential problems with the way the U.S. electoral process functioned in 2016.  The article discusses the lack of substantive policy discussion, the role of fake news, false equivalency standards of journalism, and issues associated with party control of states. As discussed in the article:

In terms of campaign communications, the impact of fake news and Russian meddling in the campaign have both emerged as major issues of bipartisan concern after November 8th, despite some poo-pooing by Trump.

By contrast there are other broader issues about campaign media which should raise serious concern, as reports by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center have highlighted, including the lack of substantive policy discussion during the campaign, the false equivalency standards of journalism, and the overwhelmingly negative tone of news coverage.

Moreover the issue of gerrymandered district boundaries, regarded by experts as the worst aspect of U.S. voting procedures, was never seriously debated throughout the campaign. The practice ensures that representatives are returned time and again based on mobilizing the party faithful, without having to appeal more broadly to constituents across the aisle, thus exacerbating the bitter partisanship which plagues American politics. Gerrymandering through GOP control of state legislatures has also led to a systematic pro-Republican advantage in House districts which is likely to persist at least until 2022.  In 2016 House Republicans won 241 seats out of 435 (55%), although they won only 49.1% of the popular vote, a six-percentage point winners bonus.

The article also examines the influence of party dominance (Democrat vs. Republican) within states with respect to the parameters assessed, noting:

The results clearly demonstrate that, according to the expert evaluations, Democratic-controlled states usually had significantly greater electoral integrity than Republican-controlled states, across all stages except one (the declaration of the results, probably reflecting protests in several major cities following the unexpected Trump victory).  The partisan gap was substantial and statistically significant on the issues of gerrymandered district boundaries, voter registration, electoral laws, and the performance of electoral officials.

Noting that Mr. Trump won more states with electoral malpractices and Ms. Clinton won more states with better scores, the article states:

We do not claim, as we do not have sufficient evidence, that Trump won these states because of malpractices. But the correlation is clear. Thus, throughout the campaign, and even afterwards, it was Donald Trump who repeatedly claimed that the election was rigged and fraudulent. In terms of votes being intentionally cast illegally, the strict meaning of ‘voter fraud’, there is little or no evidence supporting these claims. But if the idea of integrity is understood more broadly, there is indeed evidence from this study that US elections suffer from several systematic and persistent problems –  and Donald Trump and the Republican party appear to have done well in states with the most problems.

Overall, the article, along with the associated publications, is very informative, and reveals substantial issues associated with partisan gerrymandering, campaign communications, campaign finance, and fake news/junk reporting. It ends with a caution, and one which we would do well to heed: “…countries which fail to reach a consensus about the legitimacy of the basic electoral rules of the game, especially those with deeply polarized parties and leaders with authoritarian tendencies, are unlikely to persist as stable democratic states.”

Pakistan and Israel To Nuke Each Other

by John Weckerle

Okay, not really, but we figured that the fake news enthusiasts out there would appreciate the title – and those who disdain fake news will very likely get a bit of a kick out of this story.

As reported by The Hill, “Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted, ‘Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh.Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too AH.'” This was in response to an “article” posted on AWD News which “Moshe Yaalon, Israeli Defense Minister” as saying “‘As far as we are concerned,that is a threat,if, by misfortune, they arrive in Syria, we will know what to do,we will destroy them with a nuclear attack.'” Moshe Bogie Ya’alon is actually the former defense minister.

We checked both gentlemen’s Twitter accounts and confirmed that Mr. Asif was correctly quoted by The Hill.  Mr. Ya’alon’s twitter feed is problematic; not only are most posts in Hebrew, which your editor has not yet learned, but they are posted as images (an apparent attempt to get around Twitter’s character limits) and thus could not be run through a translation app; we are therefore unable to assess any reaction Mr. Ya’alon may have expressed on Twitter to the idea of Pakistan’s involvement in the conflict with ISIS.

For those not familiar with Twitterspeak, Mr. Asif’s tweet more or less translates to “Israeli defense minister threatens nuclear retaliation presuming a Pakistani role in Syria against Daesh. Israel forgets that Pakistan is a Nuclear state, too, AH.” We find the final abbreviation to be perhaps the most amusing aspect of the story, perhaps even more so than the fact that Mr. Asif was taken in by the fake news story to begin with.  Those unfamiliar with this particular abbreviation may find an explanation here.  Apparently, the manners and decorum of international political discourse have taken a page from that seen during our recent electoral cycle.

U.N. Passes Resolution On Israeli Settlements In The Occupied Palestinian Territories

by John Weckerle

Yesterday, the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council adopted Resolution 2334 (2016), calling for an end to Israeli settlement in occupied Palestinian territory in accordance with past agreements and resolutions.  Reactions to the resolution have been swift, prolific, and predictable, with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan declaring it “a blow to peace” and the government of Israel decrying it as “shameful.” As reported by MSN here, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has threatened a reduction or suspension of payments to the U.N. and potential retaliation against members who supported the resolution.

Rather than wait for the alt-right blosphere/twitterverse to erupt and then challenge the rantings, we decided to take a direct look at the actual text of the resolution itself.  The text of the resolution is included in this announcement on the U.N. website.

The resolution begins by reaffirming eleven prior resolutions stretching back to 1967 and proceeds to reaffirm Israel’s responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention (Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, August 12, 1949).  It condemns “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character, and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.”  The resolution directly references the  Quartet Performance-based Roadmap to a Permanent Two State Solution (2003), which, among many other provisions, specifies a freeze on all settlement activities.

The resolution states that the U.N. Security Council “Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;” and “Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard.” It calls for immediate steps to prevent violence against citizens, including terrorist acts, and calls upon both parties (Israel and the Palestinians) observe international law and refrain from provocative actions. The resolution further calls upon the international and regional communities to intensify and accelerate efforts to achieve “without delay, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

There are a few things to consider with respect to the resolution.  First, it contains no provisions for sanctions whatsoever.  Second, as reported in the MSN article, it has been U.S. policy since the days of the Reagan Administration to oppose the establishment of these settlements. Third, the United States did not vote for the resolution, but simply abstained – effectively declining to veto it.

It is unclear why the expectation seems to be that we would veto it.  Israel has been been establishing these settlements and does not deny it, and these settlements are contrary to U.S. policy and international agreements to which Israel is a party. As an ally, Israel has reason to expect U.S. support in the event of a military attack, but it seems a little absurd to suggest that we should extend that support to protecting Israel from criticism regarding acts that are counter to our established policy and international accords. It is, perhaps, time for Israel to stand up for itself and its actions rather than have the U.S. do it for them, and to recognize that the U.S. is the only member of the Security Council not to vote directly in favor of the resolution.

We see nothing untrue or inappropriate in the resolution (and, in the end, very little if anything that could directly harm Israel), and the logic behind the outraged reaction to it is unclear. We suspect that it is more partisan or ideological in nature than substantive. As always, we suggest that people read the full text (rather than, or in addition to, stories about it) before reacting to it, or reposting/retweeting others’ opinions on the subject.

 

Into The Twitterverse

by John Weckerle

New Mexico Central now has a Twitter feed! It’s at:

@NMCentralEditor

Have Yourself A Deplorable Little Christmas (Shopping Experience)

by John Weckerle

It was with a certain degree of shock and disappointment that we read this article on MSN.com containing a video of a woman behaving very badly at a J.C. Penney store in Louisville, Kentucky.  Irritated by the addition of a couple of extra items to the order being checked out in front of her, this person entered into an apparently alt-right-inspired, ethnically charged rant against the two women whose items were being rung up.

J.C. Penney is seeking the two women accosted in the video with the purpose of reimbursing them for their purchase and apologizing for the experience.  Along with the Jefferson Mall management, they are also working to identify the foul-mouthed ranter, so that she may be banned from both the store and the mall for life. We suspect that the search will be short, given that her name and credit card number are probably on record after her purchase.

We understand that holiday shopping can be stressful, but there is no excuse for behavior like this.  If you’re feeling frustrated, just remember that everybody has a cell phone these days, including the denizens of NM-Central.com, and this is not the sort of national fame that anybody wants. So be good, for goodness sake!

A Picture Isn’t Always Worth Many Words

by John Weckerle

We continue to peruse the internet in search of local political commentary, and came across this post on Sandia Tea Party Official Internet Spokesman Chuck Ring’s blog.  With our curiosity in a state of pique, we decided to poke around the web and learn a little about the photograph contained within the post.

As it turns out, this image has reportedly been used in disinformation campaigns, including a posting of the photo by President Elect Donald J. Trump’s attorney in October suggesting that he had received an award from the NAACP.  We found this article from the Huffington Post to be very interesting.  The article points out that the award, correctly named the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, as well as the organization that awarded it (the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, or NECO) came into being as an outraged reaction to then-President Ronald Reagan’s decision to award the Medal of Freedom to 12 naturalized citizens.  NECO was formed by Mr. Trump’s real estate broker, William Fugazy, and Mr. Trump received the award in its first year.  We have found no specific reason for Mr. Trump’s receipt of the award.

According to the Huffington Post article:

Officially, the medal criteria are broad and inclusive: Winners should “uphold the ideals and spirit of America,” while “maintaining the traditions of their ethnic heritage.” In practice, the winners are mostly white Americans of European descent.

They certainly were the year Mr. Trump received the award; as reported by the Huffington Post and as documented in this New York Times article, only four of the 80 recipients that year were African Americans.

The NECO website states: “The Ellis Island Medals of Honor embody the spirit of America in their celebration of patriotism, tolerance, brotherhood and diversity.” It is perhaps rather ironic that, as the Huffington Post article points out, “At the time, Trump and his father held the dubious honor of having been the defendants in one of the largest-ever housing discrimination lawsuits, a case sparked by a Justice Department civil rights investigation that found the Trumps discriminated against prospective tenants who were black.” And it is perhaps even more ironic that the person dead-center in the photo posted on Mr. Ring’s site is none other than anti-gay activist Anita Bryant, whose name had by that time become synonymous with that particular form of bigotry.

We’ll leave it to our readers to form their own opinions (and, of course, post them here; unlike the Sandia Tea Party site and Mr. Ring’s, we allow comments) as to whether or not Mr. Trump is a racist.  We’ll simply observe that standing next to a civil rights icon in a photo doesn’t make one “not a racist” any more than standing next to an oak makes one a tree.

In closing, we note that the NECO website lists Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a past awardee.

A Little Catching Up, And A Little Clearing Up

by John Weckerle

With the election safely over, we turned to some of our local favorites to see what sort of high-fiving might be going on – and surprisingly found essentially none among our normal haunts.  After apparently selling its trademark to the fossil fuel industry (the site essentially became a re-posting venue for screeds by petroleum industry-funded fossil fuel advocate Marita Noon), the Sandia Tea Party site appears to have gone “dark” in October.  As expected (and hoped), the East Mountain Tea Party remains silent, but a little searching revealed that its former denizens Therese Cooper and Char Tierney are alive and kicking on the internet, dispensing their version of reality via Facebook. We don’t want to be raising the relevance scores on their accounts, so we won’t link directly, but on Facebook they are therese.cooper.9 and char.tierney.9, respectively, the latter having recently changed her Facebook account from CharTierney.  Both accounts are reminiscent of what we saw on the East Mountain Tea Party site and sites associated with the Table of the Remnant and Operation Jesus Pictures.  Silvana Lupetti is also apparently on Facebook (SilvanaLupetti). Unfortunately, we didn’t find anything particularly worth commenting on, but we’ll keep an eye out just in case.

We do, however, occasionally receive e-mails from readers containing what might be described in the current vernacular as “fake news,” and we thought we’d share a little of that with you today. We recently received an e-mail containing the following:

»» A Little Catching Up, And A Little Clearing Up