Police state tactics, propaganda, and election fraud were several of the democracy disruption scandals that reformers studied last week in separate meetings that the Justice Integrity Project attended.
We address them in summary to illustrate the many important but often under-reported news events occurring in the nation's capital. Also, the scope of a week of sample activity helps show our project's day-to-day research efforts.
Our most recent two columns before this focused on sex scandals that we had studied intensely for years before writing about them, as here. One theme in those columns was that political sex scandals sometimes have a blackmail and/or intelligence component and are thus far more important and complex than they may seem.
The same kinds of complexity sometimes is apparent in the events and people reported below. Most ostensibly fight for the public interest and in favor of pro-democracy, human rights, and similar civic-betterment reforms.
Yet any such goals deserve at least some appraisal, which is not possible to complete here and now in depth. Therefore, these meetings are best regarded as building blocks for additional research, both by our project and by interested readers.
The National Press Club's Press Freedom Committee hosted five young journalists visiting from European and Caucasus regions who described oppressive conditions in their countries for reporters and their audiences.
The visitors gave compelling first-hand experiences regarding police state tactics to suppress dissent and independent reporting in their home areas. The sessions were off-the-record to protect the journalists and their families from reprisal. The journalists were brought to the United States by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.
The five journalists "come from places where independent media are under extreme pressure from both local governments and Kremlin-sponsored media, both of which seek to dominate and shape the information space to fit their agendas," says Martins Zvaners, a spokeswoman for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. "They have also had to balance the demands of working as professional journalists with their personal need to take a stand in support of ethical media, human rights, transparency and democracy -- all core principles for RFE/RL."
At noon, this editor attended a VIP reception at the National Press Club in advance of a lecture by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, an heiress to the Pritzker family fortune and the finance chair of the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.
Shown in a photo courtesy of Noel St. John, she advocated during her lecture congressional passage of pending trade legislation, as reported by club volunteer Lawrence Feinberg in Commerce Secretary Pritzker defends Trans-Pacific trade pact at NPC luncheon. Lawrence Feinberg, Photo/Image: Noel St. John. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, strongly defending the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, predicted it would be ratified by Congress this year despite criticism from the leading contenders for both the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.
“I think the window [for Congressional ratification] is this year," Pritzker said, adding "at the end of the day I think we will do the right thing.”
She said support for the 12-nation agreement, signed by the Obama Administration in February, is “much stronger than reported in the press.” To become effective, the agreement must be approved by a majority vote in both houses of Congress.
Separately, and at dinner, I met at the club with a visiting delegation from the Republic of Sudan. It was led by Finance Minister Mahmoud Abbas Mukhtar, along with the President of the Central Bank of Sudan, and several of their colleagues, including the republic's ambassador to the United States, Maowla Khalid. Those Americans attending the dinner included a former U.S. ambassador to the Sudan and a former congressman who recently visited the country.
The purpose of the meeting, organized by Washington attorney Bart Fisher of Omni Advisors, was to hear the Sudanese officials describe their country's economic and human rights progress as they seek debt relief for Sudan and South Sudan. They said their external debt now amounts to $43.7 billion, $2.6 billion of which is owed to the United States. (Sudan Amb. Maowia Khalid and Bart Fisher are shown in a photo by George Thompson and Associates.)
"We believe that the time is ripe for the international community in general, and the United States in particular, to provide debt relief for Sudan and South Sudan," they said. "The International Monetary Fund (“IMF”) Mission Chief to Sudan stated in 2014 that 'providing the necessary debt relief to reduce Sudan’s external debt burden to a sustainable level is critical to supporting economic development in both Sudan and South Sudan.'”
They argued further:
A. Sudan Qualifies for Debt Relief. The principal rationale for debt relief for Sudan is that it qualifies for debt relief under the criteria that have been established under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (“HIPC”) Initiative of the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and World Bank. Sudan has (i) reconciled over 90 percent of its external debt stock in collaboration with creditors; (ii) it has approved appropriate Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (“PRSP”); and (iii) it has implemented 14 IMF Staff-Monitored Programs (“SMPs”) with the IMF, thus establishing a sound track record of cooperation on economic policies and programs.
B. South Sudan Qualifies for Debt Relief. According to the World Bank, half of Sudan’s population is living below the poverty line. The economic situation in South Sudan is even more alarming. Conflict in South Sudan since December 2013 has killed tens of thousands of people and forced nearly 1.3 million people from their homes. An estimated 500,000 additional persons have become refugees in neighboring nations, including at least 120,000 in Sudan. There are now 2.5 million persons facing emergency levels of food insecurity in South Sudan. Given the humanitarian needs in South Sudan, and its catastrophic situation, continued delay on debt relief is unthinkable.
As related background, the countries suffered from a brutal war from 2003 to 2010, which has been aggravated by declining oil and other natural resource revenues and renewed fighting, especially in South Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of people died during the War in Darfur, a region of Sudan. The International Criminal Court has been investigating genocide allegations, with seven suspects indicted as of 2012. A number of governments and human rights groups have accused the majority Arab government of Sudan of oppression of black Sudanese, but Sudan's president has denied that his government has committed crimes or is tied to those who have.
Our role was to learn more about the situation during the course of a dinner, which attracted slightly fewer than two dozen attendees gathered at one long table. The photos, including the one at right of this editor making a point during introductions, were by George Thompson of George Thompson Associates, whose company delivers educational programming by satellite to developing nations.
Wednesday, April 20
The thirteenth Annual Ridenhour Prizes were awarded at the National Press Club to three prominent civic heroes in honor of the late Ron Ridenhour, a Vietnam War veteran and journalist who brought the now-notorious My Lai Massacre of 1969 to the American public's attention.
This year's honorees were Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who exposed the ongoing water crisis in Flint, MI; Jamie Kalven of the Invisible Institute, who played a central role in exposing the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald, 17, with 16 shots; Joshua Oppenheimer, director of The Look of Silence, a documentary about the genocide in Indonesia that began in 1965; and Jill Leovy, author of Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, which placed a murder in South Los Angeles into a portrait of detectives and a community "bonded in tragedy," according to award-grantors, who said also that her book portrays "how the epidemic of killings might be stopped."
The event each year is sponsored by the the Nation Institute, the Fertel Foundation, and the Stewart R. Mott Foundation.
Leovy (shown in a photo) is a longtime newspaper reporter working for the Los Angeles Times. Her acceptance talk described the effects of homicide and other violence on the community she covers, as well as the growing impact of propaganda on the public's abiity to understand the news. Her five-minute talk is available below, with her comments on propaganda excepted also.
YouTube, 2016 Ridenhour Book Prize: Jill Leovy, April 21, 2016.
"There are some things about Ron Ridenhour's story that strike me extremely deeply," Leovy said. "One is pushing back against not just official stories but popular narratives and kind of popular emotional understandings of the world. I'm extremely obsessed with propaganda. I think we have a real crisis that's sort of unseen."
People do not realize how much control is now being exerted on information. We live in a propaganda-inundated society. It's getting worse and worse. I can tell you as a reporter for the last 25 years. It is much harder to get to the truth of things. It's much harder to get to reality. There are far more impediments in the way. People think this is an information age. It's just the opposite. What's provided online is often screened and makes it even harder to get to what's underneath it. and so this award pushes back against that, and I really commend the Ridenhour Foundation for that.
Thursday, April 21
Congressional Democrats held a briefing April 21 on the threat of voter suppression across the United States. Thirteen members of Congress attended the briefing in the House Rayburn office building, , including Rep. John Conyers of Michigan (shown in an official photo), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
The evisceration of provisions of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the Shelby case has allowed states to brazenly restrict voting rights. This includes, but is not limited to, proof of citizenship laws, strict photo identification requirements, early voting cutbacks, and practices that create extreme waiting lines in predominately democratic precincts where there is a large presence of African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and university students.
Recent studies reveal that new state voter suppression could stop approximately 1.3 million from voting in competitive states.
At the briefing, top national experts described how massive numbers of Americans are being denied the right to vote in states that have passed onerous voting laws. "In Texas alone," organizers said, "half a million people lack the photo identification required to vote. Thirty-two states have promulgated new Jim Crow laws to combat the largely mythical 'voter fraud.' Sixteen of these states will see their plans go into effect for the first time in the crucial 2016 elections."
Additionally, speakers described how aging voting machines and insecure vote-counting technology pose "serious questions about vulnerability and accuracy." The briefing was organized by The briefing is being sponsored by the Transformative Justice Coalition (TJC) and the National Election Defense Coalition (NEDC). Speakers included:
- The Rev. William Barber, Executive Director, N.C. NAACP,Leader, Moral Monday/Forward Together Movement
- Barbara R. Arnwine, President, Transformative Justice Coalition, Former Executive Director, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
- Ari Berman, Ph.D., Senior Contributing Writer for the Nation Magazine, Voter Rights expert, and author of Give Us the Ballot
- Robert J. Fitrakis, Ph.D. and J.D., Professor, Columbus State College, Election Defense Expert on Vote-Counting Security and Election Fraud
- Lindsey Nielson, Ph.D., Bucknell University, Visiting Professor and author of recent University of California at San Diego Report on How Voter Suppression Laws Are Restricting the Vote in Communities of Color
- Alejandra Gomez, Executive Director, Living United for Change in Arizona.
- Bernard H. Simelton Sr., President, Alabama State Conference, NAACP
The varied groups holding these meetings do not fit neatly into any political/ideological perspective. But that is the point of sharing our week's major meetings: To illustrate that conclusions often come from listening and questioning others, sometimes for extended periods before we offer analysis and conclusions.
Related News Coverage
Media Integrity and Press Freedom
Consortium News, How CBS News Aided the JFK Cover-up, James DiEugenio, April 22, 2016. With the Warren Report on JFK’s assassination under attack in the mid-1960s, there was a chance to correct the errors and reassess the findings, but CBS News intervened to silence the critics, reports James DiEugenio.
In the mid-1960s, amid growing skepticism about the Warren Commission’s lone-gunman findings on John F. Kennedy’s assassination, there was a struggle inside CBS News about whether to allow the critics a fair public hearing at the then-dominant news network. Some CBS producers pushed for a debate between believers and doubters and one even submitted a proposal to put the Warren Report “on trial,” according to internal CBS documents.
Huffington Post, Hardly Anyone Trusts The Media Anymore, People value accuracy, timeliness and clarity above all else, Nick Visser, April 18, 2016. Only 6 percent of people say they have a great deal of confidence in the press, about the same level of trust Americans have in Congress, according to a new survey released on Sunday. The study mirrors past reports that found the public’s trust in mass media has reached historic lows, according to data gathered by the Media Insight Project, a partnership between The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute. The report found faith in the press was just slightly higher than the 4 percent of people who said they trusted Congress.
Alongside the dire findings, the report found respondents valued accuracy above all else, with 85 percent of people saying it was extremely important to avoid errors in coverage. Timeliness and clarity followed closely, with 76 percent and 72 percent respectively saying those attributes were imperative among media sources. “Over the last two decades, research shows the public has grown increasingly skeptical of the news industry,” the report reads. “The study reaffirms that consumers do value broad concepts of trust like fairness, balance, accuracy, and completeness. At least two-thirds of Americans cite each of these four general principles as very important to them.”
International Trade, Globalization, National Security
National Press Club, Commerce Secretary Pritzker defends Trans-Pacific trade pact at NPC luncheon, Lawrence Feinberg, April 18, 2016. Photo/Image: Noel St. John. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, strongly defending the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, predicted it would be ratified by Congress this year despite criticism from the leading contenders for both the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.
“I think the window [for Congressional ratification] is this year," Pritzker said at a National Press Club luncheon April 18, adding "at the end of the day I think we will do the right thing.” She said support for the 12-nation agreement, signed by the Obama Administration in February, is “much stronger than reported in the press.” By cutting tariffs and harmonizing labor and environmental standards, the trade pact would expand American exports and increase American jobs, she said. Rejecting the TPP would cost $94 billion in U.S. economic output in one year, she added. To become effective, the agreement must be approved by a majority vote in both houses of Congress.
Since it was announced, the TPP has drawn criticism from Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernard Sanders. The only remaining major party candidate to support it is Republican John Kasich. The critics contend the pact will do little to expand the sale of American products abroad while reducing jobs and worker pay in the U.S.
OpEdNews, How The American Neoconservatives Destroyed Mankind’s Hopes For Peace, Paul Craig Roberts (shown in a file photo), April 18, 2016. When Ronald Reagan turned his back on the neoconservatives, fired them, and had some of them prosecuted, his administration was free of their evil influence, and President Reagan negotiated the end of the Cold War with Soviet President Gorbachev. The military/security complex, the CIA, and the neocons were very much against ending the Cold War as their budgets, power, and ideology were threatened by the prospect of peace between the two nuclear superpowers.
I know about this, because I was part of it. I helped Reagan create the economic base for bringing the threat of a new arms race to a failing Soviet economy in order to pressure the Soviets into agreement to end the Cold War, and I was appointed to a secret presidential committee with subpoena power over the CIA. The secret committee was authorized by President Reagan (shown in an official photo) to evaluate the CIA’s claim that the Soviets would prevail in an arms race. The secret committee concluded that this was the CIA’s way of perpetuating the Cold War and the CIA’s importance.
The George H. W. Bush administration and its Secretary of State James Baker kept Reagan’s promises to Gorbachev and achieved the reunification of Germany with promises that NATO would not move one inch to the East.
The corrupt Clintons, for whom the accumulation of riches seems to be their main purpose in life, violated the assurances given by the United States that had ended the Cold War. The two puppet presidents— George W. Bush and Obama, who followed the Clintons — lost control of the U.S. government to the neocons, who promptly restarted the Cold War, believing in their hubris and arrogance that History has chosen the U.S. to exercise hegemony over the world.
The only achievements of the American neoconservatives are to destroy in war crimes millions of peoples in eight countries and to send the remnant populations fleeing into Europe as refugees, thus undermining the American puppet governments there, and to set back the chances of world peace and American leadership by creating a powerful strategic alliance between Russia and China.
Reader Supported News, Joshua Holland, The Nation's Truth Nazi, Needs to Calm Down, Bob Fitrakis, May 19, 2016. Robert Fitrakis is shown above in a Justice Integrity Project photo during a congressional briefing last month on unethical voting suppression techniques used around the nation for partisan purposes. He is a professor, attorney, author and newspaper editor based in Columbus, OH.
Dear Mr. Holland:
After studying and assessing your work this semester, it is with deep regret that I have to inform you that you failed Political Science Statistics 101.
As you know, you have characterized us as “conspiracy theorists” because in our "Strip & Flip Selection of 2016: Five Jim Crows & Electronic Election Theft," Harvey Wasserman and I have suggested that exit polls matter. You have also publicly denounced our colleague Richard Charnin, who has two separate Master’s degrees in Applied Mathematics, for his analysis of this year’s primary exit poll results versus election results.
Since you show so little interest in statistical analysis, let me briefly go over what you should know: First of all, exit polls are the accepted international standard for indications of election fraud and vote tampering. Here I refer you to Eric Bjornlund and Glenn Cowan’s 2011 pamphlet, "Vote Count Verification: a User’s Guide for Funders, Implementers and Stakeholders." Their work, done under the auspices of Democracy International for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), outlines how exit polling is used to ensure free and fair elections.
Washington Post, Supreme Court declines to block Texas voter-ID law, for now, Robert Barnes, April 29, 2016. The justices indicate that they will intervene if a lower court does not resolve the issue by midsummer.
Washington Post, Federal judge upholds North Carolina voter ID law, Sari Horwitz, April 25, 2016. Civil rights groups say the controversial law, which is among the strictest in the country, will discourage minorities from casting ballots in the upcoming presidential election.
WhoWhatWhy, Arizona Voters Outraged by Barriers to Voting in 2016 Primary, Ben Huang, April 23, 2016 (with video). Primaries throughout the U.S. continue to be marred by election problems. Here is a closer look at what happened in Arizona. In this eye-opening video, Secretary of State Michele Reagan (shown in a photo) faces angry voters and unhappy lawmakers for two hours. She vows to find out what went wrong. But does that promise ring hollow in light of the shameful record of Arizona election officials so far?
OpEdNews, How Voter Suppression Efforts Are Threatening Our Democracy, Marta Steele, April 22, 2016. "It is democracy time!" were words that led into this historic congressional briefing, "How Voter Suppression Efforts Are Threatening Our Democracy." Sponsors were the National Election Defense Coalition and Transformative Justice Coalition.
The moderator of the distinguished panel and members of the Congressional Black Caucus was Barbara Arnwine, former Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and presently co-sponsor of the Transformative Justice Coalition. What does the dismal handling of the primaries and caucuses held so far bode for the U.S. Congress?
The Young Turks, 2016: 1st Presidential Election w/o Voting Rights Protections in 50 Years, Staff report, April 21, 2016. Ari Berman, author of the new book Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, testified at a Congressional luncheon Briefing on the Threat of Voter Suppression April 21. Rev. Dr. William Barber, leader of the Moral Monday & Forward Together Movement served as the event's opening speaker.
Recent studies reveal that new state voter suppression could stop approximately 1.3 million from voting in competitive states. At the briefing, you will hear from the nation’s top experts on how scores of Americans are being denied the right to vote in states that have passed onerous voting laws. In Texas alone, half a million people lack the photo identification required to vote. Thirty-two states have promulgated new Jim Crow laws to combat the largely mythical "voter fraud." Sixteen of these states will see their plans go into effect for the first time in the crucial 2016 elections.
Gothamist, New York Voters Sue The State, Claiming Mass Voter Roll Purges, Nathan Tempey, April 18, 2016. Dozens of New York voters are suing the state, saying that their voter registration changed without their input, costing them the ability to vote in Tuesday's primary. The lawsuit, filed this afternoon in Long Island federal court by the group Election Justice USA, argues that the voters' alleged registration changes deny them equal protection under the constitution, and demands a blanket order allowing "tens of thousands" of potential plaintiffs to vote in tomorrow's presidential primary.
"Plaintiffs are in imminent harm of losing their right to vote," the suit reads. "They have beseeched the various Boards of Elections without result. Nothing can save their right to vote save an order from this Court." New York's primaries are closed, meaning only members of a given party can vote in that party's primary, and the deadline to change parties is more than six months before Primary Day, the earliest in the country. Those who signed onto the lawsuit say that their paperwork was in order, and in many cases they had voted repeatedly in Democratic primaries from the same address, but that recent checks of their voter registrations revealed that their party had been changed or could not be found at all. The accounts echo online reports of other spurned would-be voters.
"We were seeing an alarming number of voter affiliations changed without people's knowledge or consent, people who were registered listed as not registered," said Shyla Nelson, a spokeswoman for Election Justice USA. As the primary neared and the group solicited accounts of irregularities, reports poured in, she said: "What started as a trickle is now a river."
San Diego Union-Tribune, UCSD researchers: Voter ID laws suppress Dems, minorities, Daniel Wheaton, Feb. 10, 2016. Researchers from the University of California San Diego have created a new statistical model indicating that voter identification laws do what detractors claim — reduce turnout for minorities and those on the political left. Overall, the researchers found, strict ID laws cause a reduction in Democratic turnout by 8.8 percentage points, compared to a reduction of 3.6 percentage points for Republicans.
The study focused on the 11 states with the strictest voter ID laws, generally requiring photo identification to cast a ballot. Researchers used a large voter survey database to compare turnout in those states to those in states with lesser or no ID requirements.
Several states have passed less strict ID laws. But in 17 states including California, New York and Illinois, a more traditional honor system still applies at the ballot box.
The ID requirements have been pushed by groups who say they want to protect the integrity of the ballot box, but critics say fraud is minimal and the real motivation is to suppress minority and liberal voters.
The report by Prof. Zoltan Hajnal, a UCSD political scientist, sheds no light on the motivations of lawmakers passing such requirements, but does indicate the laws have an effect on turnout. Hajnal wrote the paper with UCSD researcher Nazita Lajevardi and Lindsay Nielson of Bucknell University. California doesn’t have a voter ID law, although conservative talk show host Elise Richmond of Palm Springs tried unsuccessfully to gather signatures to get one on the ballot in 2014.
Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues
RT "Watching the Hawks," No More Visas for Al Qaeda, April 18, 2016. (11:22 min.) Hosts Tyrel Ventura and Tabetha Wallace interview Michael Springmann, former State Department Foreign Service Officer and author of the book Visas for Al Qaeda. Springmann joins the Hawk’s Nest to discuss how the U.S. created Al Qaeda.
Washington Post, As McDonnell awaits Supreme Court, another governor watches from prison, Robert Barnes, April 25, 2016. Along with the state officials and law professors who are happy that the Supreme Court this week is reviewing the corruption conviction of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, add inmate No. 24775-001 at the federal prison in Oakdale, La.
He is otherwise known as Don E. Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, whom many of those same people supported when the justices decided — twice — that his conviction did not warrant an extended review.
[Justice Integrity Project Editor's note: Siegelman, a Democrat, was convicted for 1999 actions before the corrupt federal trial judge Mark Fuller, a Republican who has since resigned from the federal bench in disgrace after beating his wife. Whistle blower disclosures after the conviction showed that the judge secretly controlled as by far the largest shareholder a defense contracting company that received $300 million in no bid Bush administration contracts for such services as refueling Air Force planes and training Air Force and international military pilots. Siegelman's co-defendant Richard Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth, has said repeatedly that most media accounts of the case are based on misleading prosecution statements.]