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In a sensible world, you wouldn’t be able to run on failed policies.

Economic gambits that led to massive inequality in the good days and a financial crisis that cost 8 million jobs in the bad days would be cast aside forever. Proposing a rehash of the foreign policy that destabilized the Middle East at the cost of thousands of American lives and trillions in treasure would exclude you from polite society. You wouldn’t, for instance, even consider backing the brother of the president who championed all these polices, especially a brother whose only major disagreement with that president would have left America with a net job loss, instead of just the worst job creation since the Great Depression.

In a sensible world, the guys who led us into Iraq to be “greeted as liberators” would be tarred and thumbtacked for suggesting that the poor should think about their life choices.

But we have to stop pretending this is a sensible world.

Since the early 1970s, America’s right wing has been bolstered by corporate America’s realization that its best investment was buying our government. By merging with the Christian right to foster the abomination known as Christian Libertarianism, business conservatives have created a movement that has taught itself how to sell its unpopular and cruel ideas.

Creating reality has brought Republicans to the verge of political power they have not seen in a century. It tricks millions into believing the stimulus — which prevented a Great Depression and created a green energy revolution that could prevent untold horrors — was a failure. The propaganda around Obamacare is so pervasive that even Republicans who’ve bought a plan in an Affordable Care Act marketplace, got a subsidy, and like their plan still hate the president’s health care reforms by a 74-35 percent margin. Meanwhile, the fiction that the Iraq War had suddenly been “won” after six years abounds. The only problem, Republicans have decided to argue, was that President Obama followed through on the agreement George W. Bush made with Iraq’s “democratically” elected government and didn’t insist on a permanent occupation of the country.

The power of repeating lies is undeniable. The power of repeating lies in a political environment of unlimited anonymous political spending, where the Koch brothers’ network alone plans to spend nearly a billion dollars to pick the next president — who will in turn pick up to four Supreme Court justices — should send out never-ending lightning strikes of fear across all of America.

Fortunately, Republicans’ fiercest opponents are themselves. Actual reality has proven to be a powerful countervailing force, when enough Americans vote. This is why you should expect an election filled with Bushian attempts to blur the differences between the two parties in order to encourage independents and discourage liberals. Despite that, there will be plenty of moments to call out the true differences between the two parties, besides one wanting you to have health insurance, voting rights, reproductive rights, and the freedom to organize, while protecting the sanctity of traditional… climate.

The truth behind the conservative mission to have America governed by big corporations is often exposed in the party’s most risible policies. Here are five ways Republicans reveal their cruel intentions and dare people not to vote for them.

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1. Thinking opposition to “big government” equals opposing government programs.
Conservatives have effectively trained Americans to hate the idea of “big government.” President Bill Clinton recognized this as he said, “The era of big government is over,” even as he was engaged in a battle to defend Medicare from withering cuts. Since the 1990s we’ve learned that smaller government leads to bigger banks, bigger corporations, and bigger inequality. People still hate big government, but they love Medicare and Social Security. And when made aware of how many of us will end up being dependent on Medicaid as seniors, they love that too. Heck, they’re even learning to love Obamacare, despite about a billion dollars in ads designed to make them hate it.

Mike Huckabee recognizes the affection for these programs and seems to be spouting conservative heresy when he says that he wants to preserve them for older Americans. But that’s even Paul Ryan’s line. He continually points out that his Medicare reforms — which reveal the lie in all Republican health care policies by turning Medicare into a version of Obamacare with a public option — would only affect people 55 and older. And the fact is that breaking two systems that work as well as Medicare and Social Security threatens anyone who depends on them.

Weakening the safety net in order to cut taxes for the richest is the GOP’s Prime Directive. But denying the reality of these cuts to the seniors whose votes keep them in power is their only means of survival.

2. Hazing the poor.
If you have any passing familiarity with the Gospels or any trace of a conscience, you’ve probably wondered, “How did a movement based on the teachings of an abstinent socialist, 1 percent-bashing rabbi join forces with the ‘Greed is the greatest good’ followers of an abortion-loving atheist romance novelist like Ayn Rand?”

Well, Christian Libertarianism includes a reverence for money as an infallible means of God/free market deciding your worth. Winners reap tract homes, timeshares, and tax breaks. Losers suck on pain, poverty, and piss tests.

In Kansas, this is happening on another level.

The rich and their richresentative failure of a governor, Sam Brownback, have broken the state — literally — with tax breaks for the wealthy that were supposed to pay for themselves and instead bored massive holes in the budget. Someone has to be punished for this, and the obvious answer is the poor.

“The legislature placed a daily cap of $25 on cash withdrawals beginning July 1, which will force beneficiaries to make more frequent trips to the ATM to withdraw money from the debit cards used to pay public assistance benefits,” The Washington Post‘s Max Ehrenfreund wrote. “Since there’s a fee for every withdrawal, the limit means that some families will get substantially less money.”

But guess who will end up with more money? The big banks. That’ll learn ’em.

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3. Playing games with women’s health.
When Scott Walker was facing a tightening re-election campaign, he made this ad which starts by saying he’s “pro-life” and then ends with him seeming to argue that the decision of when to have a child is ultimately a woman’s choice, which would suggest the opposite.

He, of course, wants to ban abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother. This is the official position of the Republican Party, one that only about 1 out of 5 Americans shares. So you see why he’d want to hide it. And now, of course, he’s pursuing a new limitation on reproductive rights as he faces a tough presidential primary election.

This strategy is also at play for Republicans who want to hide the fact that they want to reverse the historic expansions of contraceptive access in Obamacare by pushing over-the-counter birth control pills. This argument — which worked for Cory Gardner in Colorado — sells voters on what feels like a new right. But it’s actually a right to pay for something that’s now free for all women.

4. Running on war without consequences.
The Iraq War wasn’t just one of the worst strategic mistakes in American history. It was one of the most expensive. And was made even more expensive by financing it with debt. Not only was it the first war that didn’t see some element of new taxes to cover its expense, but it also followed two of the largest tax breaks for the rich in American history.

Separating war from its cost is a necessity. When Republicans ache for a return of ground troops to Iraq or a possible escalation to war with Iran, they’re never asked about the costs of such policies. We can’t afford to feed the hungry but we can always afford to feed the hunger for war.

Democrats did a decent job of pointing out the first “credit card” war in 2008. But since then Republicans have edged back to the same aggressiveness that marketed our post-9/11 failures. It’s time to corner the right on this again by proposing a law that requires any new wars include a progressive tax increase. Even if such a law is politically impossible or technically unworkable, it makes it clear that when Republicans are demanding new wars for questionable motives, we can’t just ask the 1 percent of Americans who serve in the armed forces to sacrifice for it. Since we’re all going to pay for it eventually.

5. Saying the only problem is that we’re not conservative enough.
Conservatism is magic. It can’t fail. It can only be failed.

Congressional Republicans are seeing lows in the polls that are usually reserved for Congress itself. Part of the problem is that the party’s base is unhappy with its leaders, imagining that taking over the Senate should have resulted in the repeal of Obamacare, an end to anything they want to call “amnesty,” and the president’s deportation.

In a new study, Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins find that “the rise of the Tea Party movement among Republicans in recent years has not been accompanied by an equivalent ideological insurgency among Democrats.” Democrats in disarray is a constant narrative, but the fact is that liberals are far happier with their party and their presidential frontrunner than Republicans could ever imagine.

Republicans depend on a fundamentalist base that regards all compromise as sin and a business community that recognizes that indulging its base too much wouldn’t just lead to economic catastrophe, it would lead to something worse — electoral defeat.

The right likes to pretend that conservatism only wins when it’s pure. But this ignores that its greatest victory in 1984 had more to do with economic growth of 6.8 percent than an embrace of conservative policies, as Democrats kept their majorities in the House and Senate.

Leaning to the center is an inevitability of a presidential campaign. But there’s evidence that suggests that if the GOP’s nominee leans too far in 2016, the party may crack.

Image: DonkeyHotey via Flickr


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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

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As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

The Arizona Template

In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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Michael Carvajal

Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

The search is on for a new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons after Michael Carvajal announced on January 5 that he’s retiring from his appointed post and will leave when the Department of Justice finds his replacement.

The Biden Administration needs to replace Carvajal with a person who knows prisons inside and out: someone who’s been incarcerated before.

When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

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