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A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Rural-area hospitals threatened by corporate priorities

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, July, 21, 22 or 23

When the 94-bed St. Mary’s hospital in Streator, Ill., shut down in January, it was devastating to residents of Livingston and LaSalle Counties, but as a medical center serving a predominantly rural population, it may have been an example of two troubling trends.

First, 72 rural hospitals closed between January 2010 and April 2016, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina. (The number of such hospital closures has increased each year since the Great Recession of 2008-09.) More shocking, perhaps, is that corporations’ business plans, not local needs, are driving many hospital closures, according to a new report looking why communities lost their hospitals and what happened afterward.

“A Look at Rural Hospital Closures and Implications for Access to Care: Three Case Studies,” from the Kaiser Family Foundation, reports, “The number of rural hospital closures has increased significantly in recent years. This trend is expected to continue, raising questions about the impact the closures will have on rural communities’ access to health care services.”

The report also finds that large, corporate hospital operators have closed rural health-care facilities based on their business interests, with little consideration of community needs or public input.

The study focuses on three communities that last year lost hospitals – hospitals that served rural areas: Mercy Hospital in Independence, Kan.; Parkway Regional Hospital in Fulton, Ky.; and Marlboro Park Hospital in Bennettsville, S.C.

“The large health systems that owned and managed the hospitals [that closed] made the decision to close … based not on community needs but on corporate business considerations that favored other hospitals in their system over the ones they closed,” says the report, written by Urban Institute senior research associate Jane Wishner, plus Patricia Solleveld, Robin Rudowitz, Julia Paradise and Larisa Antonisse. “Typically, there was little or no local process of consultations or public input.”

Using interviews with stakeholders and public records, researchers heard that corporations owning medical centers in Fulton and Bennettsville spent money on improvements for nearby hospitals that they also owned instead of investing in local hospitals.

In Kentucky, local leaders tried to work with for-profit owner Community Health Systems to find other providers to continue services at the hospital, the report says, “but CHS rejected this offer, likely, to preempt competition for patients in the county.”

CHS also restricted the use of the hospital, Kaiser says, noting, “It permitted no acute-care facility to operate there – an action that one respondent said ‘strangled’ the community’s access to local health-care services.”

In Independence, the Mercy Health system, a nonprofit, spent funds to repair its hospital 75 miles away in Joplin, Mo., damaged by a tornado. While rebuilding that facility, the company “ ‘lost its focus’ on the smaller Mercy Hospital in Independence,” the report says.

Hospital owners shifted their focus away from serving their rural communities and showed a “lack of consideration or planning for the impact on the community.”

Other factors influenced such unpopular decisions, the report says, including social and economic issues such as poverty rates, lack of insurance, and frequent use of Medicare or Medicaid programs. Also, patients using private insurance – which can reimburse hospitals more – started using other facilities, “weakening the hospital’s payer mix and also reinforcing local perceptions that the local hospital was of low or poor quality.” Plus, each of the three hospitals studied was near larger hospitals, which increased competition for patients and payers, and rural hospitals have been slow to change to a shift in medical priorities. (One South Carolina stakeholder said, “We used to pay hospitals to keep patients in; now we pay to keep them out.”)

Others blamed local leadership.

“Local residents and public officials often lack the expertise or experience needed to negotiate with large corporate health systems and have limited understanding of the transformations taking place in health care delivery or payment systems widely,” the report says.

This is a major problem since about half of the country’s 5,000 short-term, acute-care hospitals are in rural areas, and closing that kind of hospital hurts rural communities in key ways, the report says: reducing access to emergency care, losing physicians and other health-care providers, requiring patients to travel farther for care or do without, losing jobs, and making it difficult to attract employers.

Communities with substantial rural residents should anticipate such pressures, and must plan to fight corporate business models that sacrifice patient care for profits.

[PICTURED: Graphic from Kaiser Health News.]

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Italians see their strongmen like Mussolini in Trump

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., July 18, 19 or 20

Donald Trump’s described this week’s GOP convention as showbiz, and whatever razzmatazz occurs may be funny and tempt ridicule, but a simple “No, thanks” should suffice.

After all, Trump seems like a hiccup in a hailstorm, historically, to many Americans. However, during 12 days in Italy, I found the most common questions from everyday Italians were about guns and Trump.

Those days were between the Orlando shootings and the European Union’s loss of the United Kingdom, so the curiosity made sense. Still, American travelers’ almost universal response was laughter – even if somewhat embarrassed amusement.

Plus, Europe has its own Right Wing resurgence, as forces in the UK, France, Poland and Hungary are growing by similarly exploiting racism, nationalism, and inequities. And some increasingly turn to violence, like when Thomas Mair apparently assassinated the young progressive UK Member of Parliament Jo Cox while we visited Siena, Italy.

However, in Spain, the progressive Podemos is now the third most popular political party, trailing the Socialists and the Popular Party but ahead of the conservative Ciudadanos. And in Italy, the progressive Five Star Movement is advancing, during our stay electing Rome’s first woman mayor, 37-year-old Virginia Raggi, whose outsider campaign supports a guaranteed income for all, environmental sustainability, and free Internet. Five Star also won mayoral seats in Livorno, Parma and Turin.

One friendly waiter in Florence, a 38 year old named Giovanni, wondered whether Donald Trump was America’s version of Italy’s former prime ministers Silvio Berlusconi or Benito Mussolini. Like Trump, Berlusconi was a multi-millionaire businessman who promised an “Italian miracle” as president from 2001-2006, but he was forced to resign amid scandals and failures.

“Italy is no longer a laughingstock,” said Giovanni, wagging his finger and asking if our water order was for “fizz” or “still.”

“Trump could be far worse than Berlusconi,” he added, smiling – somehow. “Italy could not have started a World War like Trump could.”

In Sorrento, a 47-year-old hotel bartender named Antonio pushed Campari spritz drinks and smirked and said, “Trump is your Mussolini.

“He squints and has the face of Mussolini,” he said, laughing. “He waves his arms and uses language that’s about military things, trouble between people, between nations. He’s a bully.”

Mussolini used muscle to muzzle a free press, which he loathed as much as Trump does, but Italy had previous experiences with strongmen who won power with vague claims. In the 1490s, a firebrand monk named Girolamo Savonarola upended Florence’s ruling Medici family and took over the city by promising the Renaissance equivalent of “Make Florence Great Again.” So for a few years – until people rejected him – Savonarola soiled the city of Machiavelli and Michelangelo.

The United States still has time to spurn the 21st century equivalent, according to longtime Republican operative Rick Wilson.

“Man up,” Wilson said. ”Show courage. Say what's in your hearts; he's insane. He's poison. He's doomed. He's killing the Party.”

But Trump’s wealthy benefactors – such as financiers Stephen Feinberg, Wilbur Ross and Anthony Scaramucci – are enabling Trump.

Such campaign contributors should be aware of history, not be like Renaissance patrons of power and the arts. But whether wealthy and attracted by greed, or angered by injustice and lured by promise, sometimes people are swayed to blame others or accept vague or vacuous pledges.

After walking through the Vatican, the Old Testament book of Lamentations came to mind, warning, “Your prophets had for you false and specious visions; they did not lay bare your guilt to avert your fate. They beheld for you in vision false and misleading portents.”

There may be less malice in Trump than incompetence. He seems to be burdened by vanity born of privilege, with an attitude that some people are stars and the rest of us just don’t matter much. Rather than a Mussolini or Berlusconi, Trump seems to feel like he’s a hero in some TV show or movie, not appreciating that elections – or lives – aren’t Hollywood stories. Things don’t wrap up in tidy resolutions, and there aren’t insignificant “cast members.” Everyone has a role; everyone has value.

Still, it’s best – healthiest – for Americans to consider Trump (or his Right-Wing peers in Europe and elsewhere) without condemnation, exactly. Trump can be criticized for empty-headed statements or outright meanness, but voters ultimately need to view their rejecting him as merely deciding not to “hire” him as Commander-in-Chief.

Chaos may come, but it’s hoped that it won’t be unleashed by a Yankee Berlusconi.

That’s no laughing matter.




[PICTURED: Graphic from first-draft.com.]

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Ryan’s ‘reform’ plan would hurt many needy families

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, July, 14, 15 or 16

Most people in the last couple of months were fed Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan stories like “Will he endorse Donald Trump?” or “How can he call Trump a racist and pledge to vote for him?” or “Look at the Speaker try to work around Democrats’ sit-in.”

Meanwhile, the 46-year-old Wisconsin Congressman has unleashed a series of proposals that make Trump look like Trumka (Richard, that is, the AFL-CIO president).

It started with a muffled bombshell in May that’s echoing through labor, Capitol Hill and the nation: his “A Better Way” anti-poverty initiative. The conservative re-boot packages recommendations from a task force of House Republicans and includes work requirements for recipients of government assistance, and cutting 18 food and housing programs.

“In several areas, the poverty document that they issued proposes positive steps to address poverty,” concedes an analysis of the plan by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “These are largely in areas of growing bipartisan support, such as reforming juvenile justice policies to reduce incarceration, making it easier for low-income families to use rental vouchers to move to low-poverty areas with better schools and job opportunities, and restoring low-income students’ ability to use Pell Grants in the summer so they can complete their education more quickly.”

Still, the overall 35-page plan and its potential consequences are disappointing, even frightening.

“In some cases where the plan provides more specificity, the proposals would likely do more harm than good,” the CBPP says, “risking increases in poverty and even homelessness among poor families with children.”

Speaker Ryan – tentatively set to chair this month’s Republican convention – criticizes helpful programs ranging from protecting retirement savers from financial advisers’ conflicts of interest to school-lunch nutrition standards (but he ignores the minimum wage).

“Most fundamentally,” the CBPP’s Robert Greenstein says, “the plan ignores the ‘elephant in the room’ — House Republican budget policy. The budget plan that the House Budget Committee’s GOP majority approved in March would cut programs for low- and moderate-income Americans by a startling $3.7 trillion over 10 years — targeting those programs for 62 percent of the plan’s budget cuts.”

“A Better Way” seems to call for extending the type of rigid, often unrealistic work requirements that characterize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant program.

“In TANF, these requirements have proven problematic for many of the poorest parents with the most serious barriers to employment, which can include physical and mental-health problems and very limited skills or capacity,” Greenstein says.

Ryan’s plan also seems to apply that approach to low-income housing programs by placing their tenants into the TANF work-program system (apparently with no new TANF resources).

“As a result, housing recipients would likely get few useful employment services, face the same type of often inappropriate work strictures as those found widely in TANF, and be sanctioned if they didn’t comply with requirements often ill-suited for them,” Greenstein says.

Violations usually mean shutting off government assistance.

“House leaders justify this approach to work programs and work requirements by claiming that research shows it’s the most effective way to move recipients to work,” Greenstein says, “but the report misrepresents the research. It notes the results only from the first two years of the work programs, leaving out the more important long-term results.”

Besides doomed-to-fail work mandates, “A Better Way” would weaken federal school meal nutrition standards and reduce access to free school meals for low-income students. The CBPP list three key problems with Ryan’s rationale – the failure of existing poverty programs:

* It repeats the discredited claim that the United States has spent trillions of dollars on anti-poverty programs with little or no impact on poverty;

* It ignores analysts, progressive and conservative, who reject such claims (as a bipartisan panel of witnesses testified at a 2014 House Budget Committee hearing – chaired by Ryan); and

* More complete data tell a different story: Under the principal historical comparison that uses a broader measure of poverty, the poverty rate has fallen by two-fifths since the late 1960s — from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2014. So safety-net programs now lift about 36 million people above the poverty line each year.

Actually, “A Better Way” tries to be comprehensive – its web site links drastic reforms not just concerning poverty, but the economy, national security, tax reform, health care and even the Constitution.
For regular Americans, Ryan’s ideas to roll back regulations also include gutting labor and consumer rules, and letting states take over other protections.

“A Better Way”? No way.
:[PICTURED" Ryan photo from New Hampshire Labor News/nhlabornews.com.]

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Presidential endorsements too early or too late?

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., July 11, 12 or 13

Support by organized labor for national political candidates is no more universal than support from Hispanics or women. But months away from the November election, early union endorsements and disagreements by regular union workers caused friction.

Now – days from the expected endorsement by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton – one wonders whether labor will soothe that friction burn, or if Sanders’ endorsement is too late for his supporters to reconcile with their primary opponent.

It’s been almost a month since the end of the Democratic primaries, but Sanders has only said he’d vote for Clinton and hasn’t formally endorsed her. Her recent promises on student debt and other areas of agreement seemed to have smoothed the path to reconciliation.

But that path was made rough long before most primaries and caucuses started, when six big unions representing millions of workers endorsed the former Secretary of State: AFSCME, Machinists, the National Education Association, Service Employees, Teachers and the United Food & Commercial Workers.

That rankled the rank and file.

Meanwhile, endorsing Sanders were the Amalgamated Transit Union, Postal Workers, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, National Nurses United, National Union of Healthcare Workers, and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers – plus the huge Communications Workers of America (CWA), which actually polled members for their preference.

Sanders also got more than 100 union locals and regional councils, including 36 locals of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and had a robust volunteer organization, “Labor for Bernie,” assisted by former CWA president Larry Cohen.

Clinton’s labor supporters generally seemed to prioritize labor rights and wage protections; Bernie backers focused on job losses, especially blaming trade deals dating to the North America Free Trade Agreement pushed by President Bill Clinton.

“Manufacturing workers are very sensitive to trade issues, while service workers and teachers are focused on austerity budgets and government spending,” said professor Bob Bruno from the University of Illinois’ School of Labor and Employment Relations in Chicago.

“It’s playing out in a more dramatic way because there’s never been a Republican candidate who was so anti-trade [as presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump],” he added.

Labor’s divergence is probably less divisive than a good, healthy argument; the process at least engaged union members like few campaigns.

Further, endorsements by unions – like endorsements in general, from elected officials to newspapers – may be less important these days, said Chuck Deppert, former head of the Indiana AFL-CIO.

“The [labor] leadership is a lot closer to the Democratic Party than the average union worker is,” he said. “They elected Obama and expected great things, but the average guy in the factory doesn’t see much difference. The jobs are still slipping away.”

This year, Clinton launched her campaign as the frontrunner, and she led Sanders in pledged delegates (but only by a couple of hundred when 2,383 are needed), while Sanders gained throughout the year and won many states (as the only candidate with a 100-percent labor record).

If there’s division, it was slight – local activists and especially the rank-and-file differing from international unions’ leadership. For instance, despite SEIU going for Clinton, a New Hampshire SEIU local endorsed Sanders. Similarly, a Northern California UFCW local endorsed Sanders – with a 30-2 executive-council vote. Locals and individuals want more of a say in which candidate gets their union’s support, endorsement and campaign contributions.

Historically, labor has made few demands on candidates before elections (and few demands after inaugurations), so one wonders whether leaders of the Teachers, Service Employees, etc. got Clinton to pledge labor-law reform, card-check recognition, job-safety enforcement, and so on. If so, why not campaign on such issues? If not, why?

“Should Hillary become president and come out for anti-worker trade treaties, return to her former coolness on a living wage and other labor issues, and cater to Wall Street,” said two-time Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, “the insurrection could congeal against the big unions who will have taken credit, of course, for her victory, without having delivered a mandate for a labor agenda.”

There’s still time for Clinton to be convincing in what she’ll do for working people, and for Sanders to accept party platform progress bargained by his committee representatives (including Cornel West, Bill McKibben and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison) as enough to attract his supporters to Clinton. But will that be enough for unions’ rank and file?

Clinton should remember that it’s foolish to assume all union members would vote for her. Labor’s support isn’t uniform and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In 2012, for example, President Obama was backed by 58 percent of union households; GOP nominee Mitt Romney got 40 percent.

She needs to persuade us by words – and action.

[PICTURED: Photo of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton Tuesday, from broadly.vice.com].

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Pope blasts exploitation as sin by bloodsuckers

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, July, 7, 8 or 9

On a recent trip to Italy, I finished Pope Francis’ recent book, “The Name of God is Mercy,” and toured Vatican City with a new appreciation of the Pontiff’s inspirational stand on workers and the poor. His is a fresh departure from centuries of church leaders acting like royalty – and one that closely connects with Jesus of Nazareth, conceived to an unwed mother and raised by a carpenter.

“We consider this drama of today: the exploitation of the people, the blood of these people who become slaves, the traffickers of people – and not just those who deal in prostitutes and children for child labor, but that trafficking we might call ‘civilized’,” he said May 18 during his weekly general audience. “ ‘I’ll pay you this much, without vacation, without health care, without… everything under the table… But I will become rich!’ ”

That’s not only wrong, the Pope said, but sinful.

“If I don’t throw open the door of my heart to the poor, that door remains closed, even to God, and this is terrible!” he continued. “No messenger and no message can substitute the poor we meet along the way, because through them we meet Jesus himself. Thus, the mystery of our salvation is hidden in the reversal of fortunes the parable describes, in which Christ links poverty to mercy.

“We must learn this well,” he added. “To ignore the poor is to despise God!”

Focusing on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Francis said that it’s a reminder of the “harsh reproach” that will come for those who ignore the needs of the poor. Lazarus represents “the silent cry of the poor of all time and the contradiction of a world in which vast wealth and resources are in the hands of a few,” Francis said.

By excluding Lazarus, the pope said, the rich man “made himself the center of everything, closed in his world of luxury and waste.”

The following day, Francis’ homily elaborated.

“Riches in themselves are good,” he explained, but they are “relative, not absolute. No one can take their riches with them. You cannot serve both God and riches.”

The Pope criticized “the exploitation of the people, truly a form of slavery. When riches are created by exploiting the people, by those rich people who exploit [others], they take advantage of the work of the people, and those poor people become ‘slaves’ … .without a pension, without health care…

“Those who do that are true bloodsuckers,” he added, “and they live by spilling the blood of the people who they make slaves of labor.

“This is starving the people with their work for profit!” he continued, “living on the blood of the people. And this is a mortal sin.”

When I went to Mass at the medieval Siena Cathedral in Tuscany, the service was in Italian, but the words of the Pope’s book seemed to echo from the hexagonal dome to the mosaic floor, bouncing from sculptures by Michelangelo and Donatello to colorful frescoes and centuries-old manuscripts housed there.

“How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich! [In Matthew, Jesus] describes the attitudes of those who tie up heavy burdens and lay them on other men’s shoulders, but who are unwilling to move so much as a finger; they are those who love the place of honor and want to be called master.

“Corruption is not an act but a condition, a personal and social state in which we become accustomed to living. The corrupt man is so closed off and contented in the complacency of his self-sufficiency that he does not allow himself to be called into question by anything or anyone. The self-confidence he has built up is based on fraudulent behavior: he spends his life taking opportunistic shortcuts at the cost of his, one’s and others’ dignity. The corrupt man gets angry because his wallet is stolen and so he complains about the lack of safety on the streets, but then he is the one who cheats the state by evading taxes, or else he fires his employees every three months so he doesn’t have to hire them with a permanent contract, or else he has them work off the books. And then he boasts to his friends about his cunning ways.”

Amen!

[PICTURED: Graphic from UFCW.org.]

Thursday, July 7, 2016

As clumsy GOP woos workers, Dems take us for granted

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., July 4, 5 or 6

“Working class” isn’t just people who carry lunch buckets to jobs. This week – 81 years since the National Labor Relations Act was signed – it’s more likely defined by income, not whether you shower before or after work. Regardless, there seems to be a lack of respect for the working class by the Republican or Democratic parties.

The GOP seems to think so little of us that they assume we’re easy to manipulate; Dems’ speeches acknowledge us but they take us for granted.

Apart from party leaders, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Donald Trump (billionaire) appealed to people who feel ignored by the political establishment, Trump blames trade deals (and immigration) for jobs vanishing only for the same work to be done overseas. Sanders also criticizes one-sided trade pacts but doesn’t scapegoat minorities.

Republicans since the 1980s have wooed workers not with economic ideas but through divisive social issues, and the GOP is again targeting working-class voters, drawing on the appeal Ronald Reagan tried.

“Those Reagan Democrats – at least not as we usually think of them[, as] urban, Rust Belt laborers — didn’t last much beyond Reagan,” Neal Gabler wrote for BillMoyers.com. “They were a temporary blip. Trump Democrats might be something of a myth, too.”

Indeed, Trump’s support is less working class than assumed. Census data and polls show the median household income for Trump’s backers is $72,000, compared to the national median of $55,000.

Andrew Levison’s “The White Working Class Today” says that the Republican Party now believes working Americans mostly worry about the labor market, are skeptical of Wall Street and big banks, and feel that poor people have hard lives because government benefits are inadequate. So some conservatives advocate changing rhetoric to concede such concerns. However, other conservatives have doubled-down, criticizing workers or the jobless for their plight, citing broken families, moral flaws and even substance abuse.

“The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die,” wrote Kevin Williamson in the conservative National Review magazine. “The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles.”

And the Democrats? Working people – once a vital part of the Democratic Party – are now almost ignored by party leaders. Democrats “stood by as corporations hammered trade unions, the backbone of the white working class,” said author and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “Clinton and Obama failed to reform labor laws to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violated them, or enable workers to form unions with a simple up-or-down vote.”

There are exceptions. A few voices in Congress are strong advocates, from dozens of members of the House Progressive Caucus (including U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Jan Schakowsky) to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sanders.

“I am the son of working-class people,” Sanders has said. “It is incomprehensible to me that you have working-class people vote for a Donald Trump. Why?

“The answer is not so much what the Republicans are doing,” he continued. “The answer is what the Democrats are NOT doing. They have not convinced the working class of this country that they are prepared to stand up and fight for them.”

Rather than recognize the importance of the working class, some Democratic leaders or surrogates dismiss workers as racist, but Karen Nussbaum, director of Working America, said, “People are much more frightened than they are bigoted.”

A Democratic strategy has been to abandon a class orientation to instead organize by ethnicity, age or gender.

Democrats’ ultimate “trump card” (so to speak) is that there’s little choice for working people.

“Democrats often use the fact that Republicans have gone off the deep end to ignore their left flank, on the grounds that those liberals have nowhere else to go politically,” wrote David Fayen in The Fiscal Times. “Democrats put on the cloak of populism when they need to be bailed out of trouble during elections, but when they actually get into power, they shake off those slogans and advance the interests of the elites.”

In Rolling Stone magazine, Matt Taibbi wrote, “The maddening thing about the Democrats is that they refuse to see how easy they could have it. If the party threw its weight behind a truly populist platform, if it stood behind unions and prosecuted Wall Street criminals and stopped taking giant gobs of cash from every crooked transnational bank and job-exporting manufacturer in the world, they would win every election season in a landslide.”

America needs a President who takes a lunch bucket to the Oval Office.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Is democracy at risk from rigged elections?

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, June 30, July 1 or 2

As Independence Day approaches, Americans should wonder whether the electronic machinery used in most elections put their legitimacy, if not democracy, at risk.

Elections are outsourced, and computerized tabulations can’t be controlled or confirmed, critics say.

The danger dates at least to 1970, when Kenneth Collier lost a suspicious election in Florida. He and his brother James soon wrote “Votescam: The Stealing of America,” and daughter/niece Victoria later picked up the torch, writing a comprehensive 2012 piece for Harper’s magazine.

“Easily rigged and hacked, these computers are controlled by a handful of shady corporations who fight to keep their vote-counting software a ‘trade secret’,” Collier said. “Local fixers, insider operatives, rogue hackers and even foreign countries could all rig U.S. elections – in whole or part, in 50 states and most of the United States’ 3,143 counties – electronically, and without detection.”

Other countries prohibit electronic voting, but here, some 80 percent of the country votes on electronic voting machines – most of which cannot be verified through a paper record.

Although the GOP has been accused of rigging multiple elections, election-integrity organizations’ political leanings run the gamut. For instance, Watch the Vote is a conservative watchdog group that was key to overturning the false announcement that Mitt Romney defeated Rick Santorum in Iowa in 2012.

Alleged mischief on the Democratic side may have happened in New Hampshire in 2008, as then-candidate Barack Obama consistently led Hillary Clinton in polls, but supposedly lost in a narrow defeat. Clinton’s optical-scan total was almost 53 percent but just 47 percent in hand-counted ballots; Obama’s 53 percent hand-count results mysteriously fell to 47 percent in optical-scan results.

Some Touchscreen ballots reportedly flipped from Republican to Democrat in Illinois in 2014, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is mentioned, too.

“Democrats definitely do it,” said Harvey Wasserman, author of the forthcoming book “The Strip & Flip Selection of 2016: Five Jim Crows & Electronic Election Theft.”

“We have strong questions about Emanuel being re-elected in Chicago,” he added. “We have no doubt that [Republican] Scott Walker stole his re-election in Wisconsin.”

Other weird election results include Ohio in 2004, when Bush totals allegedly were shifted from Democratic nominee John Kerry, suspicious presidential numbers from Ohio in 2012, and Kansas’ U.S. Senate race in 2014, from reports of votes being changes and the unexplained appearance or disappearance of ballots, to totals much difference than expected outcomes.

Discrepancies between projections and official results usually tie to polling, and polls – pre-election polls and exit polls – are gauges to judge final tallies. Projections used to be very close to official results.

“When you compare exit polls, which are generally accurate to within 1 percent, with the electronic outcome, there are huge variations,” Wasserman said.

But polls are increasingly discounted if they disagree with official outcomes. When concerns arise, the typical response is to assume polls are wrong without examining their methodology, and any hint of corruption discounted out of hand.

Beth Clarkson, a Wichita State University mathematician with a Ph. D. in statistics, concluded she could find no explanation of the Kansas’ 2014 election besides voting machines being used to rig the numbers.

“My statistical analysis shows patterns indicative of vote manipulation in machines,” she said. “The manipulation is relatively small, compared with the inherent variability of election results, but it is consistent. These results form a pattern that goes across the nation and back a number of election cycles.”

A “surge” of votes from a few urban precincts came in at 8 p.m. – after the polls closed.

This goes beyond candidates winning or losing.

“This is a Right-to-Know issue,” Collier said. “Until we design our American voting systems around the iron-clad principle of transparency – the right of citizens to oversee and verify our own elections - we will never secure democracy.”

Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting Foundation, a nonprofit agency created to safeguard elections in the digital age, warned of consequences.

“There is a cost for not knowing the results are right in each election,” she said. “It becomes kind of corrosive of voter confidence because over time you can never be sure.”

Wasserman summarized the situation with an edge of pessimism.

“We’re going through this huge charade here of a national campaign, primaries, and then a general election, where hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent, and on election night – in 60 seconds – the actual outcome can be flipped electronically in key swing states with no verification whatsoever,” he said.

There ought to be fireworks about this.

[PICTURED: Graphic from anonymousartofrevolution.com.]

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Labor coping with short-term vs. long-term gains

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., June 27, 28 or 29

Organized labor has had schisms before, from the upstart CIO competing with the established AFL and the Mine Workers’ 1947 disaffiliation, to the 2013 departure of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Change to Win coalition (now the Teamsters, Service Employees, and Farm Workers after four other unions left).

So it’s nothing new, but when Building Trades unions last month denounced the AFL-CIO’s ties to environmentalist Tom Steyer and a new Super PAC, “For Our Future,” it brought up an inherent problem unions face: short-term vs. long-term gains. Further, even manageable disagreements during an election year sow division that could hurt working people and threaten the years ahead.

The latest dispute revolves around the partnership between Steyer – a wealthy progressive who’s worked against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline – and the labor federation and major public-sector unions. But it shows the tension between corporations’ promise of construction jobs for a while on the one hand, and the risks of environmental damage from leaks and the increasing reliance on fossil fuels on the other.

That choice has always been difficult.

A long-time director of a downstate Illinois building-trades union group was once asked if construction unions are so focused on immediate employment that they’d support building stockades for union organizers. With a twinkle in his eye, he leaned forward, smiled and asked, “How many jobs?”

But it’s a serious debate, as shown in a May letter sent to AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.

“A growing trend within the federation seems to consistently minimize the importance of building trades jobs and our members’ livelihoods in the pursuit of a coalition strategy with outside organizations that has produced mixed results at best and disastrous results at worst for our members,” said the letter signed by leaders of the Laborers, Operating Engineers, Plumbers, Plasterers, Roofers and others.

They said they won’t contribute to “For Our Future” and asked the AFL-CIO to reconsider its involvement.

“The AFL-CIO has now officially become infiltrated by financial and political interests that work in direct conflict to many of our members’ lives,” the letter said. “This is a disturbing development.”

The argument grew out of a long-simmering quarrel with Steyer, a former hedge-fund manager who’s said he’d support politicians who opposed the Keystone pipeline, the controversial project to transport dirty tar-sands oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries for export. Opponents such as the National Nurses United union said claims of new jobs were exaggerated and the pipeline would dramatically add to global warming. But Building Trades unions had signed a Project Labor Agreement with pipeline developer TransCanada. Nevertheless, President Obama last year vetoed the bill funding it.

Announced last month as a collaboration between Steyer and the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers and the unaffiliated National Education Association, “For Our Future” wants to raise $50 million to work to elect progressive Democrats to the White House and Congress. Steyer pledged to match donations that unions contribute.

Its potential to add to labor’s resources doesn’t seem a comfortable fit to Laborers president Terry O’Sullivan, who penned a second letter that was harsher than the group’s note.

Accusing the AFL-CIO of selling out to “a job-killing hedge fund manager with a bag of cash,” O’Sullivan added, “this Super PAC creates a significant conflict between the interests of hard-working union members and the interests of those running the Super PAC.

“This scheme is the logical outcome of an obsession with, and a desire to throw open the doors of labor to, outside organizations that are completely out of touch with the needs and concerns of ordinary, blue-collar working Americans,” O’Sullivan said.

One can’t help but wonder whether this will provoke miners (Trumka formerly led the United Mine Workers) to distance themselves from unions such as the Steelworkers that take part in the labor/environmental BlueGreen Alliance because of worries about clean-energy initiatives resulting in fewer coal-mining jobs. And it revives thoughts of the historical disruptions to crafts such as projectionists and pin-setters, coopers and telegraphers, and many others.

The anxiety about climate change is certainly as legitimate as the anger about decent jobs, and if the planet’s climate continues to deteriorate, that will kill a lot more jobs – and people.

This schism needs healing patience, but that’s easier said than done.

As Bohemian novelist Franz Kafka in 1917 said, “Perhaps there is only one major human sin: impatience. Because of impatience they were expelled from Paradise, because of impatience they do not return.”