American Politics: A Vile Exercise Mired in Alt Facts, Fake Claims, and Personal Attacks

False charges from Rodella are rebutted here, plus examination of how five other developed nations manage their elections. Spoiler alert: none look remotely like the mire and muck of what is becoming perpetual, money/media dominated primaries & elections in the US.  

The blog also discusses the use of public space in Santa Fe and how we have an opportunity to integrate the resources from many sources to create vibrant open community spaces in our schools. At the end of the blog is a video shot by Andy Fertal, who seems to be everywhere taping social movements in and around Santa Fe. This time we share 10 minutes from the Poor People’s Campaign which occurred on Tuesday with a focus on militarism. While all the speeches are great, I especially recommend the final three talks by vets and victims of US militarism that begin at 5M56S into the video. They are very powerful.

Santa Fe Public Space.  Before diving into the primaries and how we might look to other countries to find a better process for electing representatives, a brief note on an important local issue: public space.

On Tuesday night, the Santa Fe Public School District Board debated the wisdom of closing three midtown elementary schools.  The future of three elementary schools — E.J. Martinez, Nava and Chaparral— is on the table, with discussion of where to locate southside charter Turquoise Trail also in the mix. The district wants the Turquoise Trail building back so it can serve students at a neighborhood school, rather than bus more than 100 students who did not gain admission to the charter elsewhere. In board members’ hands is a study that shows a dearth of students in the mid-town area, as well as aging buildings that will cost more to repair than to replace. But Tuesday night the School District did the right thing: they postponed their decision until next spring.

From our view, the City would benefit from a comprehensive conversation with the community about the use of public space and closing public schools seems to fit within that context. Not nearly enough has been done to explore alternatives or to see if there are not partnerships with the City that could make a better use of public space possible. From Miguel Acosta, Earth Care Co-Director:

“We need the city, and the county, to join the conversation about civic/public spaces. We need to talk as a community about how these spaces can be made available to all residents around the clock and how we finance that collectively. We need to talk about how development policies have put the mid town schools in danger and overcrowded those in the south and southwestern parts of the area. We need to talk about how district policies reinforce sprawl and gentrification. There is a need to re-start the conversation around the midtown campus that starts with establishing it as a land trust, includes all other publicly owned land like schools and parks, and establishes resident councils to determine best uses.

The school closures and the status of the midtown campus are an opportunity to reframe our relationship to land and access to public/civic spaces in SF. This could be a game changer.”
Miguel is one of my most valued allies as he has years of organizing experience and the wisdom that accrues only from that kind of intimate connection with the people of his community. We need more community stakeholders around the table with public agency leadership and elected officials and on a regular basis. Only through such a forum can the kind of collaboration and trust-building develop that is necessary to ensure that public space is used most effectively and that that use is responsive to the needs of our under-served neighborhoods.
His comments reminded me of the work conducted by my Oakland-based consulting firm during the 90’s when California funded hundreds of school-based partnerships. Not much funding was actually provided to each school site, but the funding offered was contingent upon city, county public agencies, school district, community college, university and law enforcement collaborating and co-locating services at the schools. The conversations resulting created some remarkable community centers at schools operating 7 days a week morning through the evening. I can recall one Modesto elementary school that provided a health clinic and dental clinic through co-located private non-profit health providers, county workforce development training for parents, mental health and family counseling services from the county, and after school and weekend youth development programming evenings and weekends. When the core state funding ended, the partnership was so committed to the concept that it found other funds to sustain the work.
This is the kind of thinking that is needed here in Santa Fe. So much of the south and west sides of our City are without public spaces for organizing, for providing cultural enrichment and youth development support. The schools offer a perfect venue, but the district can’t begin to do all the heavy lifting.
We are delighted that the District decided to hit ‘pause’ and allow for stakeholder meetings to occur and to tease out what may be possible with a thoughtful integration of resources not just at the schools on the chopping block but at site throughout the City.

 

District 41. Herrera vs. Rodella. We haven’t spent much time on Dist. 41. The showdown for District 41 pits, Incumbent Debbie Rodella, a National Rifle Association-backed incumbent who often votes with Republicans, crossing the aisle on issues of gun control, expanded voter registration and abortion, against Susan Herrera, a progressive political newcomer.

In 2017, Rodella sided with payday lenders in tabling a bill that would have capped interest rates at 36 percent. She also has voted to ban late-term abortions and is against same-sex marriage. The National Rifle Association gave Rodella an A-plus rating in 2015 and earlier this month sponsored a campaign meet-and-greet for the candidate. These are not the votes of good Democrats and Rodella has a reputation for being adept at manipulating the committee process to kill other progressive bills without a trace.

Apparently feeling the heat of a serious challenge, Rodella, in hopes of distracting voters from the issues, has leveled spurious and misleading claims in a series of mailers distributed earlier this month and a radio ad launched over the weekend on Española-based KDCE. The mailers claim Herrera ran a $3 million deficit between 2005 and 2014, substantially decreased the foundation’s investment in education programs and funneled grant monies from public schools to private schools. Neither of which is true. It also said Herrera “paid herself” more than $1.5 million over the course of those 10 years.

The President and Treasurer of the LANL Foundation penned a My View countering all of these claims:

  • “The compensation for all employees, including the CEO, is based upon an analysis of what employees are paid for similar positions in our region and in our field. The compensation for the CEO is set annually by the executive committee and approved by the board of directors,” i.e. Herrera does not ‘pay herself.’
  • “The foundation has never run a significant deficit… Our board of directors oversees the budget and assures that our financials and accounting practices are to the highest accounting standards. Our net assets at the end of 2005 were $56,344,240 and our net assets at the end of 2014 were $76,739,986.” That is a rather tidy amount of growth given that in the middle of that period is the 2008 recession, something many foundations are still recovering from–all done while Herrera was CEO.
  • “Over time, the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation’s total funding toward education in Northern New Mexico has increased. The committee fails to recognize that the foundation shifted from primarily giving out grants to working directly in area schools with programs such as the Inquiry Science Education Consortium, which currently brings hands-on science to public school classrooms in 44 schools across Northern New Mexico and trains more than 570 teachers how to teach science more effectively.”
  • “LANL Foundation does not support private schools, only public schools, and nonprofits supporting public schools.”

So Rodella’s claims are 100% alt facts and the tone and content of these mailers and the radio ads make it seem that Herrera did a poor job in her position. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jenny Parks, current LANL Foundation CEO described Rodella’s mailers as “misrepresentations” and applauded Herrera’s work with the foundation. “She did an excellent job running that foundation,” Parks said. “(When I signed on), I’d never worked at a place that was so well run and had such a great staff.” 

My point is that our political discourse has devolved into a series of mudslinging contests with ‘any means necessary’ the only guideline. Whatever it takes to win, is what the American political system has become. As the piece below demonstrates, there are other ways.

How Could US Elections Be Different?

I did some research to identify how the US political process differs from other democracies. I found a Nov, 2016 U.S. News & World Report report that examined US campaign practices next to five other countries: England, Australia, Canada, Germany and Japan: From the report: “The U.S. presidential election of 2016 is finally over. And if it seemed a long slog that cost obscene amounts of money and bombarded the nation with endless headache-inducing TV ads, you’d be right. On April 7, 2015, Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky (remember him?) became the first of 17 GOP presidential hopefuls to announce his candidacy. Five days later, Hillary Clinton became the first Democrat to officially enter the race.

That was 19 months ago. And money? The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that total spending by all candidates, parties and political action committees (PACs) this election could hit a whopping $6.6 billion. And clearly, a big chunk of all that cash was spent on advertising.” This is many times the amount the following five countries spend on elections and a fraction of the time, as well. Let’s take a look at how others manage their election processes.

England. In England, campaigns last 5 months, political media ads are banned and parties can spend only $24M on 650 races and candidates can spend less than $65,000. Can you imagine how much less horrific our elections would be with those rules?

Canada. In Canada, a typical Canadian general election campaigns lasts just 37 days (1/16 the length of an election cycle in the US- 80 weeks). Parties can spend 55 cents per voter in each district. Candidates are limited to spending between $55,945 to $85,782, depending on the population of their constituency. Parties, but not candidates, can receive donations from individuals, but not from corporations or unions, and donations are limited to $1,138 per calendar year. Candidates are allowed to give up to $3,730 a year of their own money to their campaigns. $1000 as a maximum campaign contribution is not going to provide the kind of leverage Wall St. and the 1% enjoy, nor would it buy them the kind of coverage and ‘dark money’ mailers that poison our process, but elect the candidates they’ve hand-picked.

Germany. Germany has no spending limits, but campaigns last but six weeks and media advertising is banned except for a single 90 second ad that runs with the frequency determined by the proportion of votes the Party received in the last election.

Australia.  While there are no limits to campaign spending or advertising, campaigns only last 6 weeks.

Japan.  Japanese elections last a mere two weeks, and TV advertising is heavily proscribed, but parties also get free government-funded air time on broadcast networks. There’s no limit on paid ads parties run, but the ads cannot mention individual candidates. . Candidates cannot run ads, but they are given free air time to run short statements, which typically air in non-prime time hours. Together these proscriptions make it nearly impossible to run the kinds of smear campaigns we find in the US. There are no spending limits on parties. But candidates’ spending is capped — using a formula based on constituency population and type of election — at around $184,321 for lower-chamber elections and around $223,126 for the House of Councillors.

Taken together, the structures in place in these five countries do several things:
  • Shorten the length of campaigns significantly;
  • Eliminate entirely or proscribe media advertising making it far less likely that personal smear campaigns can be utilized;
  • Public funding is the primary vehicle in most of the five countries and campaign limits are otherwise employed everywhere but in Australia.
  • Paid/subsidized advertising is common, with strict limits on what can be aired, creating a far more dignified and civil public discourse.

The result is that the voting public is not subject to excruciatingly long campaigns filled with misinformation and personal attacks. It is almost impossible to conceive of the US looking elsewhere and considering making wholesale changes in our campaign practices. Certainly there are efforts being made to reverse Citizens United and while that would get us part way there, even more work needs to be done to publicly finance campaigns, limit advertising, and create regulations that eliminate personal attacks.  Click here to review the full report.

The biggest barrier to these reforms are the same barriers that impede implementation of a national living wage, universal healthcare, criminal justice reform, and a swift pivot to renewables. In each instance it is self-interest, greed and hubris that prevents serious consideration of anything that might advance any form of public good. In relation to elections, the media industries will fight hard to prevent any limitation on the trough of paid advertising that balloons their profits and the coporatocracy and 1% are not in the least interested in any reforms that loosen their iron grip on our political system, a system that does their bidding to ensure maximal profit and minimal interference with their increasingly monopolized corporate practice.

For now, the one antidote we possess is our own power of speech, our own power to engage our neighbors in the civil dialog so absent in campaign rhetoric. We are five days from the primary (and sadly five full months from the general). I encourage all of you to click here for contact information for all five of Retake’s supported candidates. Raise your voice against the din of charges and countercharges and talk to your neighbors. It requires that you get a bit out of your comfort zone. But as I’ve often repeated, a person only grows when they stretch themselves and venture outside past practices and explore something that is initially a bit scary.  As Leah found when she canvassed for the first time:

“I spent several hours today canvassing for Janene [Yazzie] in Cerillos. It was inspiring to hear how many people felt energized to vote for her and spread the word once they understood the importance of this election and what Janene’s platform is all about.”

And before you say to yourself, “Does canvassing really matter?” more from Leah:

“People are ready for change! Canvassing made me realize that our efforts are crucial because most people initially had no idea what the PRC is or does. Neither did I, before I started getting the Retake Our Democracy newsletter.”

So, no matter who your favorite candidate is, I highly recommend devoting an evening or afternoon to calling or canvassing, with canvassing being by far the more gratifying and impactful activity. You will find yourself welcomed and you will be able to have civil conversation outside the dispiriting glare of the media and mailers. There are canvassing opportunities nearby in Dists. 41 and 46 and in ABQ for Janene Yazzie (PRC), to name a few.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne.

 

5 thoughts on “American Politics: A Vile Exercise Mired in Alt Facts, Fake Claims, and Personal Attacks

  1. At some point we need to look at the many organizations — some multi-government and some not — that have been created by LANL and others over the years. To some extent, they do good; yet they also buy acquiescence in whatever LANL does. Some, like the LANL Foundation have built on original government funding to add private funding. Some like the LANL Foundation, use the LANL name but are not that transparent to the public. Others like the Regional Develop Corporation remain dependent on government funding. Some, like the Regional Coaltion of LANL Communities have become open to the public. Others, like the Regional Development Corporation, spend public dollars in secret. Some like Siete del Norte simply avoid public notice. I have not mentioned them all. Among them they develop at least three regional plans for the same area.

    Although we barely notice them, they spend millions of public dollars. I’d estimate more than a million from the City and the County of Santa Fe. We need a systematic look at them, and in general we need greater transparency. Until we have done that I am not willing to think that Herrera’s past affiliation with the LANL Foundation is proof of her progressive bona fides.

    • I plead guilty to not knowing nearly enough about the workings of LANL and even less about the myriad of NGO and coalitions that surround it or feed off of it. You are one of the most thorough people who comment on the blog. We don’t agree on everything, but we certainly agree here that a closer look at how these various organizations and LANL itself is warranted. Are you interested in doing some research on this? I think many Retake folks would much prefer that LANL was entirely out of the nuclear arms development industry and focused on other innovations in technology, communication, transition to renewables…. A start would be to understand the relative level of effort put into each of its projects and then how the various organizations that you have highlighted contribute to or feed off of that work. Interested? Should keep you busy for a day or two. 😉

    • Don’t know about all the organizations you mention, but the LANL Foundation is actually quite transparent. IRS form 990 gives a great deal of detail on the revenue and spending of almost any non-profit. These can be sourced either from outfits like “GuideStar” that collect information and produce reports on non-profits, or, in the case of outfits large enough to keep a website up to date such as the LANL foundation, one can usually find these filings as well as annual reports on their website.

      GuideStar: https://www.guidestar.org/Home.aspx
      LANL Foundation reports and publications: https://www.lanlfoundation.org/about/reports-publications

  2. This is a real issue around here. These foundations have their own agendas, and priorities, that are often not in the best interest of the public. They are mostly just good public relations and give the appearance of helping the community. Local news outlets paint everything they do as positive and above reproach. Corporate news, has a vested interest in selling us on the idea that these foundations and non profits are the answer for societal problems. If we look around the state we can see that it is not working very well. They might mean well, but they choose where or who deserves the money and attention. Certain projects are more attention getting or more media friendly.
    Local news organizations tend to leave out the fact that many of these groups, foundations and non profits are getting public funding, unless there is criticism. Often when public money is used there is little oversight, and they do not have to follow many regulations. The new Administration in DC would like to remove the few Federal Regulations there were, and allow discrimination based on race, religion or gender. Here in New Mexico, we see politicians, and cronies setting up non profits, to cash in on state and federal funding. All the while local news gripes about “Big Government” pointing to the non profits as a “Solution.” They leave out the fact that these non profits rely on state and federal funding.
    The public has been misled about how this is really our money, and we should have some kind of accountability. There is no way to evaluate any of this, other than to look at where some of the money went, or might be going.. There is a pervasive myth about how foundations, non profits, or some beneficent billionaire, is going to fix a social problem, so we don’t need public investment. The corporations have taken over, and have gotten the biggest tax break ever, yet we don’t see any of that trickling down. If we look at the plight of New Mexico’s children, even right here in Santa Fe, there is a big disconnect between reality, and what the local media is presenting. The facts are just bad for business, and that is all that matters to local media. In the meantime, with the children’s plight suddenly newsworthy, they will offset the facts with Salient Exemplars, of one program, foundation or non profit, that appears to be helping. They might be helping, but only in a limited and obvious way, aided by a complicit media.

    • I have approved your comment, but as someone who has worked with foundations and non-profits very closely for 40 years, I must disagree with most of what you wrote. You make many disparaging comments about foundations and non-profits, making it seem as if they are self-serving and not in the best interest of the community and only serve their priorities. Most foundations are proudly public about their priorities, how else would donors know what foundations to support. LANL Foundation’s major priority is education. How is advancing high quality education not in the best interests of our community? Can you provide evidence of foundations receiving public support? Can you give examples of politicians setting up foundations to obtain federal funds? You assert as a ‘pervasive myth’ that foundations and non-profits don’t need public investment? Certainly you may hear that from the DeVos and Koch foundations, but not from LANL or any truly progressive foundation. These foundations routinely decry the absence of an expanded role for government, recognizing that the private sector is not capable of addressing social problems effectively. In short, I thank you for your comment, but must disagree strongly with most of your views. But great minds can disagree and I appreciate your comment.

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