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Washington (AFP) – U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated economist Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve in a move expected to sustain the central bank’s easy money policies and efforts to curb joblessness.

If approved, Yellen would replace outgoing Ben Bernanke as chair of the Fed next February, under heavy pressure to make sure that global growth is not derailed when its longstanding stimulus policy is eventually reined in.

Obama called the first woman ever named to take the helm at the world’s most powerful central bank as “exceptionally qualified” for the job.

“America’s workers and families will have a champion in Janet,” Obama said at a White House ceremony, flanked by Yellen and Bernanke, stating that his pick “sounded the alarm early” about housing and financial bubbles that led to the 2008-2009 recession.

“She is a proven leader, and she’s tough. Not just because she is from Brooklyn,” he quipped, calling for Yellen to be quickly confirmed by the Senate.

“She doesn’t have a crystal ball, but what she does have is a keen understanding of how the markets and the economy work, not just in theory but also in the real world,” he added.

Yellen said she would not break with the U.S. central bank’s current easy-money policies aimed at pushing down unemployment, still high at 7.3 percent in August.

“More needs to be done to strengthen the recovery, particularly for those hardest hit by the Great Recession,” she added as she accepted Obama’s nomination.

“The mandate of the Federal Reserve is to serve all the American people. And too many Americans still can’t find a job, and worry how they’ll pay their bills and provide for their families.”

Yellen, 67, with years of experience in academia and the central bank, has served as Fed vice chairman since 2010.

In that time she has been closely tied to key policy changes, including setting targets for inflation and unemployment, and making the thinking of Fed policymakers more open.

Yellen studied economics at Brown University and then Yale, where she earned a doctorate. She is married to economics Nobel prize winner George Akerlof, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. Both are known for taking economic texts to the beach on vacation.

“The truth is,” Yellen once told an interviewer, “if you spent an evening at our house you would probably hear economics discussed over the dinner table.”
“You would eat a diet that is richer in discussions of economics and policy issues than many people would find appetizing.”

Her nomination was not a surprise after the presumed favorite, former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers, pulled out of the running after several top Democratic senators voiced vehement opposition.

Though criticized by conservatives as a Fed “dove” — one of a camp allegedly too determined to stimulate growth and not adequately worried about the threat of inflation — Yellen is certain to get a better reception in the Senate than Summers would have received.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was part of the Democratic revolt on the Senate Banking Committee against a Summers nomination, gave Yellen a thumbs-up on Wednesday.

“Janet has extraordinary experience and a proven track record of strong judgment and management savvy,” Warren said in a statement.

The committee’s senior Republican, Mike Crapo, was more measured, saying her nomination would be “carefully reviewed,” noting his own opposition to the Fed’s $85 billion a month bond-buying stimulus, known as quantitative easing.

Markets were little moved by the nomination, with the S&P 500 stock index ending the day flat, and the U.S. dollar edging higher along with long-term bond yields.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde called the nomination “great”.

“She’s very competent, she’s my friend, I’m delighted she’s there,” said Lagarde, who in recent months has sternly warned the Fed not to cut back its stimulus too fast to avoid injecting more turbulence into global markets.

However, one of Yellen’s first tasks will be to judge how quickly to taper the huge stimulus.

Economists and markets had expected the cuts to begin last month.

But the Bernanke-led Federal Open Market Committee held off, pointing to some signs of weakness in the economy and the threat to stability posed by Washington’s political paralysis over the budget and debt ceiling.

Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said the FOMC is likely to hold off on the stimulus taper until next year.

“It’s difficult to imagine sufficient improvement in the hard employment data could emerge in time for Dr. Yellen to push for tapering at her very first meeting as chairman, on March 18/19. The June meeting, in our view, is a better bet.”

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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

Screenshot from azaudit.org

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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