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Steps to Counter Voter Suppression

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(NNPA) Hopefully by now you have heard a thing or two about efforts on the part of the Republicans to suppress the votes of minorities, youth, the elderly, union members and many veterans. The plot is fairly simple: make it especially difficult to vote by setting up all sort of systems of identification in the name of avoiding alleged voter fraud. The fact that voter fraud has not been a major issue in the U.S. in recent memory is irrelevant for the Republicans since their principal objective is to decrease the potential turnout on the part of voters likely to go with Democratic candidates.

In the last year, with the increased attention on voter suppression efforts, there have been counter-efforts undertaken to minimize this threat. Various organizations have worked to ensure that voters have the proper identification. Many courageous individuals and groups have also challenged these anti-democratic laws in courts and, in many cases, won.

On Election Day, however, there are a variety of challenges for which we must prepare. Among other things we have to make sure that the voting machines correctly tabulate the vote. This will be helped by good poll watchers who can get a sense of the mood of the voters. If there are apparent regularities we need to be ready to yell “foul” immediately.

Another ominous challenge is that of right-wing outfits that are assembling volunteers who are going to be sent to challenge voters who they believe to be engaged in alleged fraudulent behavior. It is not clear how they will approach doing this, but we must be clear that their objective is the intimidation of voters. For this reason defensive measures will need to be taken.

One measure is to make sure civil liberties, civil rights, and labor union organizations have volunteers at the polls to make sure that there is fairness. Should voters have questions or if there is an attempt to intimidate anyone, liberal and progressive volunteers need to be ready to intervene to ensure that everyone has a chance to cast their ballot.

An organized presence is critical, a point that needs double underlining. The right-wing has whipped itself up into a frenzy repeating over and over that the Democrats (and most especially President Obama) plan to steal the election. The irony is that demonstrable efforts at disenfranchising have not come from the Democrats but from the Republicans, including the infamous 2000 election; the 2004 mysteries in Ohio; and the post-2008 efforts by Republican state legislators across the country to pass legislation that makes it more and more difficult for citizens to vote.

There are those who seek to make the notion of democracy the equivalent of a movie set with all of the trappings and none of the substance. Our resistance to such shenanigans will again be tested this November 6th.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.

Prop 32: Silencing the Voice of the People

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By Doug Moore


The backers of Proposition 32, a measure that would give corporations yet another political advantage over California working men and women, claim it’s about political reform. The backers of Proposition 32 are being dishonest.

The billionaires who are doing much of the backing know that the measure going before voters on November 6 is really about keeping working men and women – and the unions that represent them -- from having a say in politics.

The facts speak for themselves.

Prop 32 would prohibit unions from using members’ dues to fight for ballot measures and candidates they support. It would also ban union members from having dues deducted from their paychecks for this cause. But corporations? They’d still be free to give as much as they want to their causes and candidates.

Even though Prop 32 supporters claim that unions and businesses would be treated the same under the initiative because it applies to both, most California corporations don’t use payroll deductions for political giving – they use profits. So in fact, businesses and their super PACs would be exempt from Prop 32’s controls, free to spend unlimited amounts of money to force their agenda on the rest of us. At the same time, the voices of Homecare providers, sanitation workers, teachers and firefighters, to name just a few, would be silenced across the state.

Let’s take a look at who is pushing Prop 32: oil companies, super PACS, Wall Street firms, hedge funds, real estate developers, and insurance companies. And now let’s take a look at who is exempted from Prop 32’s provisions: oil companies, super PACS, Wall Street firms, hedge funds, real estate developers, and insurance companies.

And why wouldn’t they be pushing it? Consider this: Unions are already at a huge disadvantage when it comes to playing a role in politics. For every $1 a union member spends advocating for her rights politically through her union, businesses spend $15. Prop 32 is an unbalanced and unfair piece of gimmickry that will widen that gap immeasurably, because it restricts unions and their members, but does not similarly restrict corporate special interests. That will create a political system that is even more skewed toward the wealthy and well-connected than it already is.

Unions – in particular, public employee unions – have historically created a route to the middle class for black and Latino Californians. Anything that significantly weakens the power of unions and limits unions’ ability to have a say in the political process – which is exactly Prop 32’s purpose – has a disproportionately harmful effect on these workers.

Prop 32 also belies the notion of “reform.” True reform improves a system so that it works better for everyone. It doesn’t create a system that works well for one group but puts others at a disadvantage. That’s discrimination, and there is no place for it in our state or our nation.

If Prop 32 passes, it’s not hard to predict what workers in California can expect from this corporate power grab: laws that threaten jobs, overtime pay, retirement security and the very right to form and join unions. In short, laws that upend decades of progress in workers’ rights.

Ultimately, Prop 32 is about fairness. Rules should apply equally to everyone, no group should be exempted from real campaign finance reform, and as citizens, all of us should have the same ability to impact our democracy.

The BLS and that 7.8% Unemployment Rate

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By Brad Furnish

On Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shocked the world of business, finance and economics by declaring that unemployment in September fell to 7.8% from its August level of 8.1%. Coming just a month before the Nov. 6 Presidential election, this dubious finding gave rise to widespread rumors and even accusations of collusion between the Obama campaign and the Bureau.

It is highly unlikely that the President's men conspired with Bureau officials or employees to invent or alter employment data. The Obama campaign would have too little to gain relative to its potential loss. A 0.3% fall in the unemployment rate hardly delivered a passkey to the Oval Office, but proof of a collusive conspiracy would doom Obama's chances - even if undiscovered until after the election.

That does not mean there was no wrongdoing here - far from it. It should be obvious to all that something was indeed terribly wrong with the way this episode was handled.

Start with the fact that BLS's unemployment number is obviously wrong. "Wrong" does not connote fraud or deceit. It means there was a short-circuit in the chain of reasoning leading to 7.8% unemployment. The BLS household survey estimated a seasonally adjusted total of newly employed workers exceeding 873,000 in September. This was the largest total since June, 1983 (when annualized GDP growth was 9.3%) and January, 1990 (when growth was 4.2%). (Two larger totals in 2000 and 2003 are not comparable because of data adjustments made by BLS.) Yet our current reported growth rate is 1.3%. Moreover, some 582,000 of those estimated workers were part-time.

The BLS also conducts a survey of job growth based on a sampling of business payrolls. This estimate has declined in each of the last three months, from 181,000 to 142,000 to September's total of 114,000. It isn't just that the two surveys differ - they often do. But not by this much. And the fact that recent payrolls detect falling job growth contrasts starkly with the September household survey's stratospheric increase.

Private-sector forecasters each have their own individualized reasons for thinking that the BLS has lost its marbles. My firm, Access Advertising, is a national leader in placing truck-driver recruiting ads. We compile the Driver Recruiting Index (DRI), which estimates the demand for commercial drivers in real time by sampling classified driver ads in 32 major-metropolitan newspapers throughout the country. The DRI has been declining on a year-over-year basis throughout 2012 and by 10-20% since June. In September, the DRI fell by an average of over 14% compared to August. In order to believe the 7.8% figure, I would have to believe that the agency has detected a major economic expansion from which trucking - which carries two-thirds of the nation's freight - is somehow excluded. This is wildly unlikely.

Here is a sampling of characterizations of the 7.8% unemployment rate and the 873,000 job gain in the household survey: "Must be an anomaly;" "statistical anomaly;" "just a fluke;" "statistical quirk;" "implausible;" "almost certainly a statistical fluke;" "huge statistical outlier on the upside;" "not reality;" "an aberration." All of these comments come from respected economists, forecasters and consultants, one of whom is a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. Some of them are known to be supporter of the Obama administration. None are rabid anti-administration partisans.

Suppose you are Hilda Solis, Obama-appointee as head of BLS. It is 8AM, Oct. 5. You have just been handed the report including the 7.8% unemployment and 870,000 household survey figures. You should: 1. order a double-check of all relevant data generation and calculation. 2. (assuming your results checked out) accompany a press release with an announcement that your sampling procedures produced one estimate that defies common sense. 3. Advise the public that no weighty conclusions be drawn from the 7.8% unemployment estimate, since it is highly suspect. 4. Invite scrutiny of your methods, results and checks by any interested parties.

What did the BLS do? Apparently, none of the above. Instead, they simply released the results with no special emphasis. (Later, Ms. Solis even refused to cast doubt on the suspect estimates and even defended them, somewhat obliquely.) This had the effect of inviting the general public, the press and even sophisticated analysts to take the information at face value. Quite a few people did. Others viewed it as a slap in the face. And some of those started to question the honesty of the whole process.

Why did the BLS do nothing instead of the right things? Their inaction may have been due to political bias or to bureaucratic inertia. In this case, the outcome of a Presidential election might ride on the procedures for handling a foul-up like this.

But the point would apply just as strongly if the data had been released on Nov. 7 or any other day. There are always important matters riding on the content of government data releases, and people want to believe that government employees are acting in good faith and providing reliable information. The best way to convince people that the government is here to help them is to go out of your way to do just that.

Polls Don’t Decide Elections

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By Julianne Malveaux

NNPA Columnist

In late September, the “nonpartisan” Web site Real Clear Politics reported that President Obama leads Republican nominee Mitt Romney is several battleground states.  According to the polls, President Obama leads by 5.2 percent in Ohio, 4.5 percent in Virginia, 4.2 percent in Nevada, 4 percent in Iowa, and 3 percent in Florida.  Do we believe the polls?  I’m not so sure.  But I surely don’t believe these polls should alter an aggressive effort to re-elect this Democratic president. There are lots of ways to do voter suppression.  One is to deny people ballots, or to change the rules on voting. Mandatory state-issued ID, new and more distant polling places, and all of the shenanigans documented by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law are methods of voter suppression. In some cities and states, police cars have been parked outside polling places, intimidating those who may have minor infractions of law, including unpaid parking tickets. Another ways to suppress the vote is to attempt to influence voter attitudes.  For example, in the 2008 election, a Republican operative did robo-calls to the Black community telling people they didn’t need to vote because Democratic candidates President Obama and Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland had already won.  He was convicted of four counts of fraud last year and faces jail time. Other communities have experienced similar pranks, including one that crudely told people that the election was on a Wednesday instead of a Tuesday, and another that said polls were open until 10 p.m., although they closed at 8p.m.. Well-informed voters repel these shenanigans, but some voters fall for them. If such tawdry tactics affect only a few voters in a few precincts, they can have an impact on an electoral outcome.  That’s why it is so effective to go door to door on Election Day, to provide rides for those who need them, and to do anything and everything to ensure that every voter gets out.  That’s why it also makes sense to encourage early voting, especially for the elderly and others who may have challenges getting to the polls.

I am wondering if these polls showing President Obama in the lead in key swing states represent another form of subtle voter suppression.  If we think the president is leading, then some will pull back on their efforts.  And that’s exactly what some Republicans are counting on.  Jay Cost, who writes for the conservative Weekly Standard, told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt that “Democratic enthusiasm is going to recede.”

Another analyst said that the current polls are assuming a “record Democratic turnout.”  Still another said that while 90 percent of registered Republicans will vote for Romney and 90 percent of Democrats will vote for President Obama, the race will be decided by independents, many of whom are not polled.

My grandmother used to say, “Don’t feed me fat meat and tell me it ain’t greasy.”  Or, “Don’t spit on me and tell me it’s raining.”  In other words, don’t believe the hype.  To be sure, President Obama may be leading the polls in some states, but polls are like putting your finger in the air to see which way the wind blows. They are like calling the basketball game based on who is leading after the first half. They are like handicapping the horse race based on who is first out of the gate.  They tell a story about a point in time, but not about the outcome.

Thus, polling results are both good news and provisional news. The good news – the polls tell us that an Obama win is not only possible but likely. The provisional news – President Obama won’t win unless we work for it.  Imagine that the basketball team started chilling in the second half because they led in the first, or that the horse first out of the gate decided to slow up because, after all, the win was decided.  We’ve all heard about the flash in the pan, the tortoise and the hare, and the importance of persistence.

These polls ought to be a motivator for those who support President Obama.  The goal ought to be to make these poll results a reality by ensuring that Democratic enthusiasm increases, not recedes, and that Democratic turnout does hit record numbers.  It ain’t over til it’s over, and the outcome of this election will depend on the work that is done in the next several weeks. Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.  She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Why Romney and Ryan want to Eliminate Labor Unions

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By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

NNPA Columnist

Let’s be clear: The Republican ticket for the presidency – Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan – have their eyes set on eliminating labor unions from the U.S. scene.  No, they will not pass a law eliminating unions; they don’t need to.  The existing labor laws are so weak that they make it difficult for workers to join and form unions.  Additionally, Romney and Ryan would make sure to appoint individuals to the National Labor Relations Board and the Federal Labor Relations Authority who are eager to undermine unions. Further, they could just turn a blind eye to employer attacks on unions. Why?  The answer is quite simple.  As opposed to the Republican Party of the early 1970s that contained notables who accepted the right of workers to join and form unions, the situation has changed dramatically.  The Republican Party has become deeply hostile to workers having any organizations.  They like to portray unions as being contrary to productivity and growth.  Actually, the facts are a bit more complicated.  If you look at the construction industry, for instance, unionized construction is both more productive and of higher quality than non-union construction.  Repeated studies have demonstrated this.  Nevertheless, people such as Romney and Ryan do not wish to let the facts stand in the way of their opinions.

Fundamentally, Romney and Ryan see in unions an obstacle to their objectives of increasing wealth for those at the top.  Unions demand that workers receive fair compensation for the work that they provide.  Unions demand that working conditions be safe in order to protect the lives of the workforce, even if such protections cost the employer a little bit.  Unions demand that workers have retirement income so that the latter years of workers’ lives are not ones found in poverty, malnutrition and poor health.  Most of the world recognizes that these demands are basic human rights.  Unfortunately, the Romney/Ryan ticket looks at them as obstacles to profits. So, when you hear attacks on unions by Romney and Ryan, and suggestions that unions somehow get in the way of growth, it is fair to ask:  ”Whose growth?”  When you hear attacks on unions for being greedy, it is fair to ask:  ”Are unions responsible for all of the wealth going to the upper 1 percent of the population?”

Blaming unions, as popular as this is in many Republican circles these days, has a very simple objective:  to keep your eyes off of the prize, i.e., to keep you from focusing on who has the wealth and power.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, the co-author of Solidarity Divided and the author of the new book introducing readers to unions entitled “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty other myths about unions. He can be reached at HYPERLINK "mailto:papaq54@hotmail.com"papaq54@hotmail.com.

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