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The Atlantic — Behind the Big Lie by Jane Mayer

[couple of gaps below]

The Atlantic

Behind the Big Lie

Donald Trump’s attacks on democracy are being promoted by rich and powerful conservative groups that are determined to win at all costs.

By Jane Mayer

August 2, 2021

Bill Gates

Bill Gates, a Republican official in Arizona, is appalled by his party’s “national effort to delegitimize the election system.”Photograph by Stephen Ross Goldstein for The New Yorker

It was tempting to dismiss the show unfolding inside the Dream City Church in Phoenix, Arizona, as an unintended comedy. One night in June, a few hundred people gathered for the première of “The Deep Rig,” a film financed by the multimillionaire founder of Overstock.com, Patrick Byrne, who is a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump. Styled as a documentary, the movie asserts that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen by supporters of Joe Biden, including by Antifa members who chatted about their sinister plot on a conference call. The evening’s program featured live appearances by Byrne and a local QAnon conspiracist, BabyQ, who claimed to be receiving messages from his future self. They were joined by the film’s director, who had previously made an exposé contending that the real perpetrators of 9/11 were space aliens.

But the event, for all its absurdities, had a dark surprise: “The Deep Rig” repeatedly quotes Doug Logan, the C.E.O. of Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based company that consults with clients on software security. In a voice-over, Logan warns, “If we don’t fix our election integrity now, we may no longer have a democracy.” He also suggests, without evidence, that members of the “deep state,” such as C.I.A. agents, have intentionally spread disinformation about the election. Although it wasn’t the first time that Logan had promoted what has come to be known as the Big Lie about the 2020 election—he had tweeted unsubstantiated claims that Trump had been victimized by voter fraud—the film offered stark confirmation of Logan’s entanglement in fringe conspiracies. Nevertheless, the president of the Arizona State Senate, Karen Fann, has put Logan’s company in charge of a “forensic audit”—an ongoing review of the state’s 2020 Presidential vote. It’s an unprecedented undertaking, with potentially explosive consequences for American democracy.

Approximately 2.1 million Presidential votes were cast in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and accounts for most of the state’s population. In recent years, younger voters and people of color have turned the county’s electorate increasingly Democratic—a shift that helped Biden win the traditionally conservative state, by 10,457 votes. Since the election, the county has become a focus of ire for Trump and his supporters. By March, when Logan’s company was hired, the county had already undergone four election audits, all of which upheld the outcome. Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican and a former Trump ally, had certified Biden’s victory. But Trump’s core supporters were not assuaged.

As soon as the Fox News Decision Desk called the state for Biden, at 11:20 p.m. on November 3rd, Trump demanded that the network “reverse this!” When Fox held firm, he declared, “This is a major fraud.” By the time of the “Deep Rig” première, the standoff had dragged on for more than half a year. The Cyber Ninjas audit was supposed to conclude in May, but at the company’s request Fann has repeatedly extended it. On July 28th, the auditors completed a hand recount, but they are still demanding access to the computer routers used by Maricopa County and also want to scrutinize images of mail-in-ballot envelopes. The U.S. Department of Justice has warned that “private actors who have neither experience nor expertise in handling” ballots could face prosecution for failing to follow federal audit rules. Trump, meanwhile, has fixated on Arizona’s audit, describing it as a step toward his “reinstatement.” On July 24th, he appeared in Phoenix for a “Rally to Protect Our Elections,” and said, “I am not the one trying to undermine American democracy—I’m the one trying to save American democracy.” Predicting that the audit would vindicate him, he rambled angrily for nearly two hours about having been cheated, calling the election “a scam—the greatest crime in history.”

In June, I stood in the bleachers at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, where the audit was taking place, and witnessed people examining carton after carton of paper ballots cast by Arizonans last fall. Some inspectors used microscopes to investigate surreal allegations: that some ballots had been filled out by machines or were Asian counterfeits with telltale bamboo fibres. Other inspectors looked for creases in mail-in ballots, to determine whether they had been legitimately sent in envelopes or—as Trump has alleged—dumped in bulk.

As the audit has unfolded, various violations of professional norms have been observed, including inspectors caught with pens whose ink matched what was used on ballots. One auditor turned out to have been an unsuccessful Republican candidate during the election. As I watched the proceedings, black-vested paid supervisors monitored the process, but their role was cloaked in secrecy. The audit is almost entirely privately funded, and a county judge in Arizona recently ordered the State Senate to disclose who is paying for it. Last week, Cyber Ninjas acknowledged having received $5.7 million in private donations, most of it from nonprofit groups led by Trump allies who live outside Arizona, including Byrne.

I was joined in the bleachers by Ken Bennett, a former Arizona secretary of state and a Republican, whom the State Senate had designated its liaison to the audit. He acknowledged that, if the auditors end up claiming to have found large discrepancies, “that will of course be very inflammatory.” Indeed, a recent incendiary claim by the auditors—that the vote had tallied about seventy thousand more mail-in ballots than had been postmarked—prompted one Republican state senator to propose a recall of Arizona’s electoral votes for Biden. (In fact, the auditors misunderstood what they were counting.) Nevertheless, Bennett defended the audit process: “It’s important to prove to both sides that the election was done accurately and fairly. If we lurch from one election to another with almost half the electorate thinking the election was a fraud, it’s going to rip our country apart.”

Many experts on democratic governance, however, believe that efforts to upend long-settled election practices are what truly threaten to rip the country apart. Chad Campbell, a Democrat who was the minority leader in the Arizona House of Representatives until 2014, when he left to become a consultant in Phoenix, has been shocked by the state’s anti-democratic turn. For several years, he sat next to Karen Fann when she was a member of the House, and in his view she’s gone from being a traditional Republican lawmaker to being a member of “Trump’s cult of personality.” He said, “I don’t know if she believes it or not, or which would be worse.” Arizona, he added, is in the midst of a “nonviolent overthrow in some ways—it’s subtle, and not in people’s face because it’s not happening with weapons. But it’s still a complete overthrow of democracy. They’re trying to disenfranchise everyone who is not older white guys.”

Arizona is hardly the only place where attacks on the electoral process are under way: a well-funded national movement has been exploiting Trump’s claims of fraud in order to promote alterations to the way that ballots are cast and counted in forty-nine states, eighteen of which have passed new voting laws in the past six months. Republican-dominated legislatures have also stripped secretaries of state and other independent election officials of their power. The chair of Arizona’s Republican Party, Kelli Ward, has referred to the state’s audit as a “domino,” and has expressed hope that it will inspire similar challenges elsewhere.

Ralph Neas has been involved in voting-rights battles since the nineteen-eighties, when, as a Republican, he served as the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. He has overseen a study of the Arizona audit for the nonpartisan Century Foundation, and he told me that, though the audit is a “farce,” it may nonetheless have “extraordinary consequences.” He said, “The Maricopa County audit exposes exactly what the Big Lie is all about. If they come up with an analysis that discredits the 2020 election results in Arizona, it will be replicated in other states, furthering more chaos. That will enable new legislation. Millions of Americans could be disenfranchised, helping Donald Trump to be elected again in 2024. That’s the bottom line. Maricopa County is the prism through which to view everything. It’s not so much about 2020—it’s about 2022 and 2024. This is a coördinated national effort to distort not just what happened in 2020 but to regain the House of Representatives and the Presidency.”

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Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and one of the country’s foremost election-law experts, told me, “I’m scared shitless.” Referring to the array of new laws passed by Republican state legislatures since the 2020 election, he said, “It’s not just about voter suppression. What I’m really worried about is election subversion. Election officials are being put in place who will mess with the count.

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Woman in heaven information booth tells man he is dead.“You’re dead.” Cartoon by Zachary Kanin

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Arizona’s secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, whose office has authority over the administration of elections, told me that the conspiracy-driven audit “looks so comical you have to laugh at it sometimes.” But Hobbs, a Democrat, who is running for governor, warned, “It’s dangerous. It’s feeding the kind of misinformation that led to the January 6th insurrection.” QAnon followers have been celebrating the audit as the beginning of a “Great Awakening” that will eject Biden from the White House. She noted, “I’ve gotten death threats. I’ve had armed protestors outside my house. Every day, there is a total barrage of social media to our office. We’ve had to route our phones to voice mail so that no one has to listen to it. It can be really traumatizing. I feel beaten up.” She added, “But I’m not going to cave to their tactics—because I think they’re laying the groundwork to steal the 2024 elections.”

Although the Arizona audit may appear to be the product of local extremists, it has been fed by sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards of directors include some of the country’s wealthiest and highest-profile conservatives. Dark-money organizations, sustained by undisclosed donors, have relentlessly promoted the myth that American elections are rife with fraud, and, according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, supported, and in some cases taken credit for state laws that make it harder to vote.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island who has tracked the flow of dark money in American politics, told me that a “flotilla of front groups” once focussed on advancing such conservative causes as capturing the courts and opposing abortion have now “more or less shifted to work on the voter-suppression thing.” These groups have cast their campaigns as high-minded attempts to maintain “election integrity,” but Whitehouse believes that they are in fact tampering with the guardrails of democracy.

One of the movement’s leaders is the Heritage Foundation, the prominent conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. It has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (alec)—a corporate-funded nonprofit that generates model laws for state legislators—on ways to impose new voting restrictions. Among those deep in the fight is Leonard Leo, a chairman of the Federalist Society, the legal organization known for its decades-long campaign to fill the courts with conservative judges. In February, 2020, the Judicial Education Project, a group tied to Leo, quietly rebranded itself as the Honest Elections Project, which subsequently filed briefs at the Supreme Court, and in numerous states, opposing mail-in ballots and other reforms that have made it easier for people to vote.

Another newcomer to the cause is the Election Integrity Project California. And a group called FreedomWorks, which once concentrated on opposing government regulation, is now demanding expanded government regulation of voters, with a project called the National Election Protection Initiative.

These disparate nonprofits have one thing in common: they have all received funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Based in Milwaukee, the private, tax-exempt organization has become an extraordinary force in persuading mainstream Republicans to support radical challenges to election rules—a tactic once relegated to the far right. With an endowment of some eight hundred and fifty million dollars, the foundation funds a network of groups that have been stoking fear about election fraud, in some cases for years. Public records show that, since 2012, the foundation has spent some eighteen million dollars supporting eleven conservative groups involved in election issues.

It might seem improbable that a low-profile family foundation in Wisconsin has assumed a central role in current struggles over American democracy. But the modern conservative movement has depended on leveraging the fortunes of wealthy reactionaries. In 1903, Lynde Bradley, a high-school dropout in Milwaukee, founded what would become the Allen-Bradley company. He was soon joined by his brother Harry, and they got rich by selling electronic instruments such as rheostats. Harry, a John Birch Society founding member, started a small family foundation that initially devoted much of its giving to needy employees and to civic causes in Milwaukee. In 1985, after the brothers’ death, their heirs sold the company to the defense contractor Rockwell International, for $1.65 billion, generating an enormous windfall for the foundation. The Bradley Foundation remains small in comparison with such liberal behemoths as the Ford Foundation, but it has become singularly preoccupied with wielding national political influence. It has funded conservative projects ranging from school-choice initiatives to the controversial scholarship of Charles Murray, the co-author of the 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” which argues that Blacks are less likely than whites to join the “cognitive elite.” And, at least as far back as 2012, it has funded groups challenging voting rights in the name of fighting fraud.

Since the 2020 election, this movement has evolved into a broader and more aggressive assault on democracy. According to some surveys, a third of Americans now believe that Biden was illegitimately elected, and nearly half of Trump supporters agree that Republican legislators should overturn the results in some states that Biden won. Jonathan Rauch, of the Brookings Institution, recently told The Economist, “We need to regard what’s happening now as epistemic warfare by some Americans on other Americans.” Pillars of the conservative establishment, faced with a changing U.S. voter population that threatens their agenda, are exploiting Trump’s contempt for norms to devise ways to hold on to power. Senator Whitehouse said of the campaign, “It’s a massive covert operation run by a small group of billionaire élites. These are powerful interests with practically unlimited resources who have moved on to manipulating that most precious of American gifts—the vote.”

An animating force behind the Bradley Foundation’s war on “election fraud” is Cleta Mitchell, a fiercely partisan Republican election lawyer, who joined the organization’s board of directors in 2012. Until recently, she was virtually unknown to most Americans. But, on January 3rd, the Washington Post exposed the contents of a private phone call, recorded the previous day, during which Trump threatened election officials in Georgia with a “criminal offense” unless they could “find” 11,780 more votes for him—just enough to alter the results. Also on the call was Mitchell, who challenged the officials to provide records proving that dead people hadn’t cast votes. The call was widely criticized as a rogue effort to overturn the election, and Foley & Lardner, the Milwaukee-based law firm where Mitchell was a partner, announced that it was “concerned” about her role, and then parted ways with her. Trump’s call prompted the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, to begin a criminal investigation.

In a series of e-mails and phone calls with me, Mitchell adamantly defended her work with the Trump campaign, and said that in Georgia, where she has centered her efforts, “I don’t think we can say with certainty who won.” She told me that there were countless election “irregularities,” such as voters using post-office boxes as their residences, in violation of state law. “I believe there were more illegal votes cast than the margin of victory,” she said. “The only remedy is a new election.” Georgia’s secretary of state rejected her claims, but Mitchell insists that the decision lacked a rigorous evaluation of the evidence. With her support, diehard conspiracy theorists are still litigating the matter in Fulton County, which includes most of Atlanta. Because they keep demanding that election officials prove a negative—that corruption didn’t happen—their requests to keep interrogating the results can be repeated almost indefinitely. Despite three independent counts of Georgia’s vote, including a hand recount, all of which confirmed Biden’s victory, Mitchell argues that “Trump never got his day in court,” adding, “There are a lot of miscarriages of justice I’ve seen and experienced in my life, and this was one of them.”

Mitchell, who is seventy, has warm friendships with people in both parties, and she often appears grandmotherly, in pastel knit suits and reading glasses. But, like Angela Lansbury in “The Manchurian Candidate,” to whom she bears a striking resemblance, she should not be underestimated. She began her political career in Oklahoma, as an outspoken Democrat and a champion of the Equal Rights Amendment. She was elected to the state legislature in her twenties, but then lost a bid for lieutenant governor, in 1986. She told me that she subsequently underwent a political conversion: when her stepson squandered the college tuition that she was paying, she turned against the idea of welfare in favor of personal responsibility, and began reading conservative critiques of liberalism. When I first interviewed her for this magazine, in 1996, she told me that “overreaching government regulation is one of the great scandals of our times.”

On behalf of Republican candidates and groups, she began to fight limits on campaign spending. She also represented numerous right-wing nonprofits, including the National Rifle Association, whose board she joined in the early two-thousands. A former N.R.A. official recently told the Guardian that Mitchell was the “fringe of the fringe,” and a Republican voting-rights lawyer said that “she tells clients what they want to hear, regardless of the law or reality.”

In our conversations, Mitchell mocked what she called the mainstream media’s “narrative” of a “vast right-wing conspiracy to suppress the vote of Black people,” and insisted that the fraud problem was significant. “I actually think your readers need to hear from people like me—believe it or not, there are tens of millions of us,” she wrote. “We are not crazy. At least not to us. We are intelligent and educated people who are very concerned about the future of America. And we are among the vast majority of Americans who support election-integrity measures.” Echoing what has become the right’s standard talking point, she declared that her agenda for elections is “to make it harder to cheat.”

Mitchell told me that the Democrats used the pandemic as a “great pretext” to “be able to cheat”: they caused “administrative chaos” by changing rules about early and absentee voting, and they didn’t adequately police fraud. She denied that race had motivated her actions in Georgia. Yet, in an e-mail to me, she said that Democrats are “using black voters as a prop to accomplish their political objectives.”

Few experts have found Mitchell’s evidence convincing. On November 12, 2020, the Trump Administration’s own election authorities declared the Presidential vote to be “the most secure in American history.” It is true that in many American elections there are small numbers of questionable ballots. An Associated Press investigation found that, in 2020, a hundred and eighty-two of the 3.4 million ballots cast in Arizona were problematic. Four of the ballots have led to criminal charges. But the consensus among nonpartisan experts is that the amount of fraud, particularly in major races, is negligible. As Phil Keisling, a former secretary of state in Oregon, who pioneered universal voting by mail, has said, “Voters don’t cast fraudulent ballots for the same reason counterfeiters don’t manufacture pennies—it doesn’t pay.”

What explains, then, the hardening conviction among Republicans that the 2020 race was stolen? Michael Podhorzer, a senior adviser to the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which invested deeply in expanding Democratic turnout in 2020, suggests that the two parties now have irreconcilable beliefs about whose votes are legitimate. “What blue-state people don’t understand about why the Big Lie works,” he said, is that it doesn’t actually require proof of fraud. “What animates it is the belief that Biden won because votes were cast by some people in this country who others think are not ‘real’ Americans.” This anti-democratic belief has been bolstered by a constellation of established institutions on the right: “white evangelical churches, legislators, media companies, nonprofits, and even now paramilitary groups.” Podhorzer noted, “Trump won white America by eight points. He won non-urban areas by over twenty points. He is the democratically elected President of white America. It’s almost like he represents a nation within a nation.”

Alarmism about election fraud in America extends at least as far back as Reconstruction, when white Southerners disenfranchised newly empowered Black voters and politicians by accusing them of corruption. After the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, some white conservatives were frank about their hostility to democracy. Forty years ago, Paul Weyrich, who helped establish the Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups, admitted, “I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Like many conservatives of her generation, Cleta Mitchell was galvanized by the disputed 2000 election, in which George W. Bush and Al Gore battled for weeks over the outcome in Florida. She repeatedly spoke out on behalf of Bush, who won the state by only five hundred and thirty-seven votes. A dispute over recounts ended up at the Supreme Court.

Few people noticed at the time, but in that case, Bush v. Gore, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, along with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, hinted at a radical reading of the Constitution that, two decades later, undergirds many of the court challenges on behalf of Trump. In a concurring opinion, the Justices argued that state legislatures have the plenary power to run elections and can even pass laws giving themselves the right to appoint electors. Today, the so-called Independent Legislature Doctrine has informed Trump and the right’s attempts to use Republican-dominated state legislatures to overrule the popular will. Nathaniel Persily, an election-law expert at Stanford, told me, “It’s giving intellectual respectability to an otherwise insane, anti-democratic argument.”

Barack Obama’s election in 2008 made plain that the voting-rights wars were fuelled, in no small part, by racial animus. Bigoted conspiracists, including Trump, spent years trying to undermine the result by falsely claiming that Obama wasn’t born in America. Birtherism, which attempted to undercut a landmark election in which the turnout rate among Black voters nearly matched that of whites, was a progenitor of the Big Lie. As Penda Hair, a founder of the Advancement Project, a progressive voting-rights advocacy group, told me, conservatives were looking at Obama’s victory “and saying, ‘We’ve got to clamp things down’—they’d always tried to suppress the Black vote, but it was then that they came up with new schemes.”

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Woman talks to her dog who is helping to distract her from talking to her friends.“That’s a good boy—keep distracting Mommy so she can remember how to have conversations with humans.” Cartoon by Millie von Platen

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Mitchell was at the forefront of the right’s offensive. In 2010, she accused the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Democrat Harry Reid, who was running for reëlection in Nevada, of planning “to steal this election if he can’t win it outright.” Her evidence was that Democrats in the state had provided “clearly illegal” free food at voter-turnout events—a negligible infraction, given that Reid won by more than forty thousand votes.

A year later, Mitchell successfully defended Trump, who had been exploring a Presidential bid, against charges that he had taken illegal campaign contributions. She had been recommended to Trump by Chris Ruddy, the founder of the conservative media company Newsmax, which was also a Mitchell client. Later, Ruddy introduced the future President to Mitchell over dinner at Mar-a-Lago. (She told me that she found Trump “gracious,” and noted that, since the 2020 election, she has talked with him “pretty often.”)

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, eliminating the Justice Department’s power to screen proposed changes to election procedures in states with discriminatory histories, one of which was Arizona. Terry Goddard, a former Arizona attorney general and a Democrat, told me that “the state has a history of voter suppression, especially against Native Americans.” Before Rehnquist became a Supreme Court Justice, in 1971, he lived in Arizona, where he was accused of administering literacy tests to voters of color. In the mid-two-thousands, Goddard recalled, Republican leaders erected many barriers aimed at deterring Latino voters, some of which the courts struck down. But the 2013 Supreme Court ruling initiated a new era of election manipulation.

Around this time, Mitchell became a director at the Bradley Foundation. Among the board members were George F. Will, the syndicated columnist, and Robert George, a Princeton political philosopher known for his defense of traditional Catholic values. By 2017, Will, who has been a critic of Trump, had stepped down from the Bradley board. But George has continued to serve as a director, even as the foundation has heavily funded groups promulgating the falsehood that election fraud is widespread in America, particularly in minority communities, and sowing doubt about the legitimacy of Biden’s win. The foundation, meanwhile, has given nearly three million dollars to programs that George established at Princeton. He has written in praise of Pence’s refusal to decertify Biden’s election, and has lamented that so many Americans believe, “wrongly,” that “the election was ‘stolen.’ ” But he declined to discuss with me why, then, he serves on the Bradley Foundation’s board.

The board includes Art Pope, the libertarian discount-store magnate, who serves on the board of governors at the University of North Carolina.​ Pope, who has also acknowledged the legitimacy of Biden’s victory, declined to discuss his role at the foundation. Another board member is Paul Clement, a partner at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, who is one of the country’s most distinguished Supreme Court litigators. He could not be reached for comment.

Mitchell argues that the right spends “a pittance” on election issues compared with the left. “Have you looked at the Democracy Alliance?” she asked me. The Alliance, whose membership is secret, distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in dark money to many left-leaning causes. But, when it comes to influencing elections, the contrast with the Bradley Foundation is clear. Whereas the Alliance’s efforts have centered on increasing voter participation, the Bradley Foundation has focussed on disqualifying ostensibly illegitimate voters.

Like most private nonprofits, the Bradley Foundation doesn’t disclose much about its inner workings. But in 2016 hackers posted online some of the group’s confidential documents, which showed that, once Mitchell became a director, she began urging the foundation to support nonprofit organizations policing election fraud. Mitchell has professional ties to several of the groups that received money, although she says that she has abstained from voting on grants to any of those organizations.

One recipient of Bradley money is True the Vote, a Texas-based group that, among other things, trains people to monitor polling sites. Mitchell has served as its legal counsel, and hacked documents show that she advocated to the I.R.S. that the group deserved tax-exempt status as a charity. To earn such a designation, a group must file federal tax forms promising not to engage in electoral politics. In a letter of support, she asserted that “fraudulent voting occurs in the United States,” citing a 2010 case in which the F.B.I. arrested nine Floridians for election violations. But, as with many voter-fraud allegations, the details of the case were less than advertised. The accusation involved a school-board election in a rural Black community in which a campaign had collected dozens of absentee ballots, in violation of the law. The charges were eventually dismissed. The judge found “no intent to cast a false or fraudulent ballot.” True the Vote, which was granted tax-exempt status, has since been the subject of numerous complaints from voters, who have accused it of intimidation and racism.

Last year, a Reuters report characterized Mitchell as one of four lawyers leading the conservative war on “election fraud,” and described True the Vote as one of the movement’s hubs. The story linked the group and three other conservative nonprofits to at least sixty-one election lawsuits since 2012. Reuters noted that, during the same period, the four groups, along with two others devoted to election-integrity issues, have received more than three and a half million dollars from the Bradley Foundation.

It’s a surprisingly short leap from making accusations of voter fraud to calling for the nullification of a supposedly tainted election. The Public Interest Legal Foundation, a group funded by the Bradley Foundation, is leading the way. Based in Indiana, it has become a prolific source of litigation; in the past year alone, it has brought nine election-law cases in eight states. It has amassed some of the most visible lawyers obsessed with election fraud, including Mitchell, who is its chair and sits on its board.

One of the group’s directors is John Eastman, a former law professor at Chapman University, in California. On January 4, 2021, he visited the White House, where he spoke with Trump about ways to void the election. In a nod to the Independent Legislature Doctrine, Eastman and Trump tried to persuade Vice-President Mike Pence to halt the certification of the Electoral College vote, instead throwing the election to the state legislatures. Pence was not persuaded.

Two days later, Eastman spoke at Trump’s “Save America” rally in Washington, hours before the crowds ransacked the Capitol in an effort to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s win. “This is bigger than President Trump!” Eastman declared. “It is the very essence of our republican form of government, and it has to be done!” He thundered that election officials had robbed Trump by illegally casting ballots in the name of non-voters whose records they had extracted, after the polls had closed, from a “secret folder” in electronic voting machines. He told the crowd that the scandal was visible in “the data.” There is no evidence of such malfeasance, however. Eastman, who recently retired, under pressure, from Chapman University, and was stripped of his public duties at another post that he held, at the University of Colorado Boulder, told me he still believes that the election was stolen, and thinks that the audits in Arizona and other states will help prove it. The Bradley Foundation declined to comment on him, or on Mitchell, when asked about its role in funding their activities.

Two other Public Interest Legal Foundation lawyers—its president, J. Christian Adams, and another board member, Hans von Spakovsky—served in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, where they began efforts to use the Voting Rights Act, which was designed to protect Black voters, to prosecute purported fraud by Black voters and election officials. Both men have argued strenuously that American elections are rife with serious fraud, and in 2017 they got a rare opportunity to make their case, when Trump appointed them to a Presidential commission on election integrity. Within months, after the commission was unable to find significant evidence of election fraud, it acrimoniously disbanded. Adams and von Spakovsky, who are members of what Roll Call has termed the Voter Fraud Brain Trust, have nevertheless continued their crusade, sustained partly by Bradley funds. Von Spakovsky now heads the Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative, which has received grants from the Bradley Foundation.

At Heritage, von Spakovsky has overseen a national tracking system monitoring election-fraud cases. But its data on Arizona, the putative center of the storm, is not exactly alarming: of the millions of votes cast in the state from 2016 to 2020, only nine individuals were convicted of fraud. Each instance involved someone casting a duplicate ballot in another state. There were no recorded cases of identity fraud, ballot stuffing, voting by non-citizens, or other nefarious schemes. The numbers confirm that there is some voter fraud, or at least confusion, but not remotely enough to affect election outcomes.

Even Benjamin Ginsberg, a Republican lawyer who for years led the Party’s election-law fights, recently conceded to the Times that “a party that’s increasingly old and white whose base is a diminishing share of the population is conjuring up charges of fraud to erect barriers to voting for people it fears won’t support its candidates.”

The Voter Fraud Brain Trust lent support to Trump’s lies from the time he took office. In 2016, when he lost the popular vote by nearly three million ballots, he insisted that he had actually won it, spuriously blaming rampant fraud in California. Soon afterward, von Spakovsky gave Trump’s false claim credence by publishing an essay at Heritage arguing that there was no way to disprove the allegation, because “we have an election system that’s based on the honor system.”

More than a year before the 2020 election, Cleta Mitchell and her allies sensed political peril for Trump and began reviewing strategies to help keep him in office. According to a leaked video of an address that she gave in May, 2019, to the Council for National Policy, a secretive conservative society, she warned that Democrats were successfully registering what she sarcastically referred to as “the disenfranchised.” She continued, “They know that if they target certain communities and they can get them registered and get them to the polls, then those groups . . . will vote ninety per cent, ninety-five per cent for Democrats.”

One possible countermove was for conservative state legislators to reëngineer the way the Electoral College has worked for more than a hundred years, in essence by invoking the Independent Legislature Doctrine. The Constitution gives states the authority to choose their Presidential electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Since the late nineteenth century, states have delegated that authority to the popular vote. But, arguably, the Constitution permits state legislatures to take this authority back. Legislators could argue that an election had been compromised by irregularities or fraud, forcing them to intervene.

In August, 2019, e-mails show, Mitchell co-chaired a high-level working group with Shawnna Bolick, a Republican state representative from Phoenix. Among the topics slated for discussion was the Electoral College. The working group was convened by alec, the corporate-backed nonprofit that transmits conservative policy ideas and legislation to state lawmakers. The Bradley Foundation has long supported alec, and Mitchell has worked closely with it, serving as its outside counsel until recently.

Mitchell and Bolick declined to answer questions about the working group’s focus, but it appears that Bolick’s participation was productive. After the election, she signed a resolution demanding that Congress block the certification of Biden’s victory and award Arizona’s electors to Trump. Then, early this year, Bolick introduced a bill proposing a radical reading of Article II of the Constitution, along the lines of the Independent Legislature Doctrine. It would enable a majority of the Arizona legislature to override the popular vote if it found fault with the outcome, and dictate the state’s Electoral College votes itself—anytime up until Inauguration Day. Bolick has described her bill as just “a good, democratic check and balance,” but her measure was considered so extreme that it died in committee, despite Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature. Yet, simply by putting forth the idea as legislation, she helped lend legitimacy to the audacious scheme that the Trump campaign desperately pursued in the final days before Biden’s Inauguration: to rely on Republican-led state legislatures to overturn Electoral College votes. Ian Bassin, the executive director of Protect Democracy, who served as an associate White House counsel under Obama, told me, “Institutions like the Heritage Foundation and alec are providing the grease to turn these attacks on democracy into law.”

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TITLE The TellTale Jingle




Cartoon by Ellis Rosen

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Bolick has since announced her candidacy for secretary of state in Arizona. Her husband, Clint Bolick, is an Arizona Supreme Court justice and a leader in right-wing legal circles. Clarence Thomas, one of the three U.S. Supreme Court Justices who signed on to the concurring opinion in Bush v. Gore laying out the Independent Legislature Doctrine, is the godfather of one of Clint Bolick’s sons. If Shawnna Bolick wins her race, she will oversee future elections in the state. And, if the Supreme Court faces another case in which arguments about the Independent Legislature Doctrine come into play, there may now be enough conservative Justices to agree with Thomas that there are circumstances under which legislatures, not voters, could have the final word in American elections.

Months before the 2020 vote, Lisa Nelson, the C.E.O. of alec, also anticipated contesting the election results. That February, she told a private gathering of the Council for National Policy about a high-level review that her group had undertaken of ways to challenge “the validity” of the Presidential returns. A video of the proceedings was obtained by the investigative group Documented, and first reported by the Washington Spectator. In her speech, Nelson noted that she was working with Mitchell and von Spakovsky.

Although the law bars charitable organizations such as the Council for National Policy from engaging in electoral politics, Nelson unabashedly acknowledged, “Obviously, we all want President Trump to win, and win the national vote.” She went on, “But it’s very clear that, really, what it comes down to is the states, and the state legislators.” One plan, she said, was to urge conservative legislators to voice doubt to their respective secretaries of state, questioning the election’s outcome and asking, “What did happen that night?”

By August, 2020, when the Council for National Policy held another meeting, the pandemic had hurt Trump’s prospects, and talk within the membership about potential Democratic election fraud had reached a frenzy. At the meeting, Adams, the Public Interest Legal Foundation’s president, echoed Trump’s raging about mail-in ballots, describing them as “the No. 1 left-wing agenda.” He urged conservatives not to be deterred by criticism: “Be not afraid of the accusations that you’re a voter suppressor, you’re a racist, and so forth.”

A younger member of the organization, Charlie Kirk—a founder of Turning Point USA, which promotes right-wing ideas on school campuses—injected a note of optimism. He suggested that the pandemic, by closing campuses, would likely suppress voting among college students, a left-leaning bloc. “Please keep the campuses closed,” he said, to cheers. “Like, it’s a great thing!”

Five months later, Turning Point Action, a “social welfare organization” run by Kirk’s group, was one of nearly a dozen groups behind Trump’s “March to Save America,” on January 6th. Shortly before the rally, Kirk tweeted that the groups he leads would send “80+ buses full of patriots to DC to fight for this president.” His tweet was deleted after the crowds assaulted the Capitol.

Turning Point, which has received small grants from the Bradley Foundation, is headquartered in Arizona, and it has played a significant role in the radicalization of the state, in part by amplifying fear and anger about voter fraud. Turning Point’s chief operating officer, Tyler Bowyer, is a member of the Republican National Committee and a former chair of the Maricopa County Republican Party. Bowyer’s friend Jake Hoffman runs an Arizona-based digital-marketing company, Rally Forge, that has been Turning Point’s highest-compensated contractor. In the summer of 2020, Rally Forge helped Turning Point use social media to spread incendiary misinformation about the coming elections. In September, the Washington Post reported that Rally Forge, on behalf of Turning Point Action, had paid teen-agers to deceptively post thousands of copycat propaganda messages, much as Russia had done during the 2016 campaign. Adult leaders had instructed the teens to tweak the wording of their posts, to evade detection by technology companies. Some messages were posted under the teens’ accounts, but others were sent under assumed personae. Many posts claimed that mail-in ballots would “lead to fraud,” and that Democrats planned to steal the Presidency.

Turning Point Action denied that it ran a troll farm, arguing that the teen-age employees were genuine, but a study by the Internet Observatory at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center documented the scheme, along with other dubious practices by Rally Forge. In 2016, the company fabricated a politician—complete with a doctored photograph—to run as an Independent write-in candidate against Andy Biggs, a far-right Republican seeking an open congressional seat in Arizona. The ploy, evidently intended to siphon votes from Biggs’s Democratic opponent, didn’t go far, but it was hardly the company’s only scam. The Guardian has shown how Rally Forge also created a phony left-wing front group, America Progress Now, which promoted Green Party candidates online in 2018, apparently to hurt Democrats in several races.

In October, 2020, Rally Forge was banned from Facebook, and its president, Hoffman, was permanently suspended by Twitter. Undeterred, he ran as a pro-Trump Republican for the Arizona House—and won. Remarkably, the chamber’s Republican leadership then appointed him the vice-chair of the Committee on Government and Elections. Since getting elected, Hoffman has challenged the legitimacy of Biden’s victory, called for election audits, and, in coördination with the Heritage Foundation, used his position to propose numerous bills making it more difficult to vote.

This past spring, at a private gathering outside Tucson, Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action—the politically active arm of the Heritage Foundation—singled out Hoffman for praise. As a leaked video of her remarks revealed, she told supporters that, with the help of Hoffman and other state legislators, the nonprofit group was rewriting America’s election laws. “In some cases, we actually draft them for them, or we have a sentinel on our behalf give them the model legislation so it has that grassroots, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe,” Anderson explained. “We’ve got three bills done in Arizona!” She continued, “We’re moving four more through the state of Arizona right now . . . simple bills, all straight from the Heritage recommendations.” One of the bills, she noted, was “written and carried by Jake Hoffman,” whom she described as “a longtime friend of the Heritage Foundation.”

Hoffman’s bills have made the Heritage Foundation’s wish list a reality. Voting by mail has long been popular in Arizona, with as many as ninety per cent of voters doing so in 2020, but one of Hoffman’s bills made it a felony to send a mail-in ballot to residents who hadn’t requested one, unless they were on an official list of early voters. Another bill, which Hoffman supported, will, according to one estimate, push as many as two hundred thousand people off the state’s list of early voters. Opponents say that this legislation will disproportionately purge Latinos, who constitute twenty-four per cent of the state’s eligible voters. Another bill by Hoffman banned state election officials from accepting outside donations to help pay for any aspect of election administration, including voter registration. (One of the bill’s targets was Mark Zuckerberg, whose foundation helped county election officials in Arizona handle the pandemic.) In February, at a hearing of the Committee on Government and Elections, a witness from the Washington-based Capital Research Center—also funded by the Bradley Foundation—testified in support of Hoffman’s legislation. Athena Salman, the ranking Democrat, told me she was incensed that Hoffman—“a guy who paid teen-agers to lie”—was put on the election committee. “It’s the fox guarding the henhouse!” she said.

Anderson, of Heritage, declined to respond to questions about the group’s collaborations with Hoffman, instead sending a prepared statement: “After a year when voters’ trust in our elections plummeted, restoring that trust should be the top priority of legislators and governors nationwide. That’s why Heritage Action is deploying our established grassroots network for state advocacy for the first time ever. There is nothing more important than ensuring every American is confident their vote counts—and we will do whatever it takes to get there.”

Hoffman, who formerly served as a town-council member in Queen Creek, a deeply conservative part of Maricopa County, did not respond to requests for comment. Kristin Clark, a Democrat who mounted a write-in campaign against him after the news of his troll farm broke, called Hoffman an “unintelligent man who wants to be a big guy.” She told me, “The Republicans here have changed. They were conservative, but now they’ve sold out. It’s money that’s changed it. All these giant, corporate groups that are faceless—it’s outside money.” In her view, “Jake Hoffman is but a cog.”

The spark that ignited the Arizona audit was an amateur video, taken on Election Night, of an unidentified female voter outside a polling place in what Kristin Clark recognized as Hoffman’s district. The voter claimed that election workers had tried to sabotage her ballot by deliberately giving her a Sharpie that the electronic scanners couldn’t read. Her claim was false: the scanners could read Sharpie ink, and the ballots had been designed so that the flip side wouldn’t be affected if the ink bled through. Nevertheless, the video went viral. Among the first to spread the Sharpiegate conspiracy was another one of Charlie Kirk’s youth groups, Students for Trump. The next day, as Trump furiously insisted he had won an election that he ended up losing by roughly seven million votes, protesters staged angry rallies in Maricopa County, where ballots were still being counted. Adding an aura of legal credibility to the conspiracy theory, Adams, the Public Interest Legal Foundation president, immediately filed suit against Maricopa County, alleging that a Sharpie-using voter he represented had been disenfranchised. The case was soon dismissed, but not before Adams tweeted, “just filed to have our client’s right to #vote upheld. Her #Sharpie ballot was cancelled without cure.” Arizona’s attorney general, Mark Brnovich, a Republican, investigated, and his office took only a day to conclude that the Sharpie story was nonsense. But, by then, many Trump supporters no longer trusted Arizona’s election results. Clark, the former Democratic challenger to Hoffman, told me that she watched in horror as “they took B.S. and made it real!”

A day after the election, the office of Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, reported that, based on a routine, bipartisan hand recount of a sample of ballots, “no discrepancies were found” in Maricopa County. Within days, the mainstream media had called the election for Biden, based on late returns from Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. But Cleta Mitchell, who had been dispatched by Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to help the Trump campaign in Georgia, told Fox News, “We’re already double-checking and finding dead people having voted.” As Georgia was ratifying its results with a recount, she tweeted that the tally was “FAKE!!!

Meanwhile, on the conservative Web site Townhall, Hoffman demanded “a full audit of the vote count in swing states,” adding that the election was “far from over.” He claimed that there had been “countless violations of state election law, statistical anomalies and election irregularities in more than a half dozen states,” and argued that state legislatures should therefore have the final say. By December, he had joined his friend Bowyer and other members of the state’s Republican Party in filing suit against Arizona’s governor, calling for the state to set aside Arizona’s eleven electoral votes and allow the legislature to intervene.

At the same time, another version of the Independent Legislature Doctrine argument was being mounted in Pennsylvania, by the Honest Elections Project, the group tied to Leonard Leo, of the Federalist Society. Local Republicans had challenged a state-court ruling that adjusted voting procedures during the pandemic. The Honest Elections Project filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the Pennsylvania court had usurped the legislature’s authority to oversee elections. The effort didn’t succeed, but Richard Hasen, the election-law professor, regards such arguments as “powder kegs” that threaten American democracy. Leo didn’t respond to requests for comment, but Hasen believes that Leo is trying to preserve “minority rule” in elections in order to advance his agenda. Hasen told me, “Making it harder to vote helps them get more Republican victories, which helps them get more conservative judges and courts.”

In the case of Arizona, it took only a week for a federal district court to dismiss Hoffman and Bowyer’s suit, citing an absence of “relevant or reliable evidence.” The court admonished the plaintiffs that “gossip and innuendo” cannot “be the basis for upending Arizona’s 2020 General Election.” Hoffman and the other plaintiffs appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the matter, but it waited to do so until March. In the meantime, election-fraud conspiracy theories in Arizona were growing out of control.

On November 12th, Biden was declared the winner in Maricopa County. Soon after, a Republican member of the county’s Board of Supervisors, Bill Gates, was picking up takeout food for his family when the board’s chairman—one of four Republicans on the five-person board—called to warn him to be careful going home. Ninety angry people had gathered outside the chairman’s house, and Gates’s place could be next. “We’d all been doxed,” Gates told me. He and his wife are the legal guardians of a teen-ager whose father, a Ugandan, was nearly killed by henchmen for Idi Amin. “It’s chilling to see the parallels,” Gates told me. “You’d never think there were any parallels to a strongman autocracy in Africa.” Gates considers himself a political-science nerd, but, he said, “I had no concept that we were heading where we were heading.”

Gates, who moved to Arizona as a teen-ager, was a latchkey kid whose idea of entertainment was watching C-Span. He is forty-nine and describes himself as a “child of the Reagan Revolution” who started a Republican club in high school. He attended Drake University, in Iowa, partly so that he could witness the state’s Presidential caucuses. Winning a Truman Scholarship opened his way to Harvard Law School, where he joined the Federalist Society, the Harvard Law School Republican Club, and the Journal of Law and Public Policy. At Harvard, membership in all three was called the “conservative trifecta.” Gates can scarcely believe how the Republican Party and the conservative movement have changed in the years since.

Couple breaks up because of bug bites.“I know this is hard, but I just can’t be with someone who gets so many fewer bug bites than me.”




Cartoon by Lars Kenseth

Over breakfast in June, in Phoenix, he apologized for his eyes welling up with tears as he described his efforts to stand up to his own party’s mob. He said that he and the other county supervisors had been “feeling great” about how well their administration of the election had gone despite the pandemic. But, as the final ballots were counted and Trump fell behind, Maricopa County became the focal point of conspiracy theorists. “Alex Jones and those guys start coming out here, and they’re protesting outside of our election center as the counting is going on,” he said. He could hear people screaming, and what sounded like a drum: “It was Lollapalooza for the alt-right—it was crazy.” He started getting calls and e-mails saying, “You guys need to stop the steal.” Gates told me, “I’d wonder, Is this a real person?” But some angry messages came from people he knew. They said they’d never support him again. “People thought I was failing them,” Gates said. “I have been called a traitor so many times in the last six months.”

Gates says that Karen Fann, the Arizona Senate’s president, confided to him that she knew there was “nothing to” the fraud charges. (She didn’t respond to requests for comment.) Nevertheless, she buckled under the political pressure and authorized a subpoena of the county’s ballots, for the “forensic audit.” At one point, county supervisors were told that if they didn’t comply they would face contempt charges and, potentially, could be imprisoned. For a time, the official Twitter account for the audit accused the supervisors, without evidence, of “spoliation” of the ballots. “I get a little emotional when I talk about it,” Gates said. “My daughter called me, frantically trying to find out whether or not I was going to be thrown in jail.” Trump supporters set up a guillotine on a grassy plaza outside Arizona’s statehouse, demanding the supervisors’ heads. Inside, Gates recalled, one Republican member after another rose to denounce the county supervisors.

A representative for the national Republican Party tried to silence Gates when he spoke out to defend the integrity of Arizona’s election. He told me that Hoffman’s ally Tyler Bowyer, of the Republican National Committee, paid him a visit and warned, “You need to stop it.” According to Gates, Bowyer made it clear that “the Republican National Committee supports this audit.” Andrew Kolvet, a spokesman for Bowyer, denied that the visit was an official attempt at intimidation, calling it instead a “personal courtesy.”

Gates said that after he received death threats he fled with his family to an Airbnb. At one point, the sheriff sent two deputies to guard Gates’s home overnight. Trump supporters, Gates said, “are basically asking Republican leaders to bow before the altar of the Big Lie—‘You’re willing to do it? O.K., great. You’re not? You’re a RINO. You’re a Commie. You are not a Republican.’ It’s been incredibly effective, really, when you think about where we’ve come from January 6th.”

Part of what had drawn Gates to the Republican Party was the Reagan-era doctrine of confronting totalitarianism. He’d long had a fascination with emerging democracies, particularly the former Soviet republics. He had come up with what he admits was a “kooky” retirement plan—“to go to some place like Uzbekistan and help.” He told me, “I’d always thought that, if I had a tragic end, it would be in some place like Tajikistan.” He shook his head. “If you had told me, ‘You’re going to be doing this in the U.S.,’ I would have told you, ‘You’re crazy.’ ”

Some of the political pressure on election officials in Arizona was exerted directly by Trump and his associates, potentially illegally. Interfering in a federal election can be a crime. As the Arizona Republic has reported, the President and his legal adviser Rudy Giuliani phoned state and local officials, including Fann. The White House switchboard tried to connect Trump with the chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, but, even though the chairman was a Republican, he ducked the call, lest the President interfere improperly. Giuliani called Gates’s cell phone when he was shopping at Walgreens on Christmas Eve. Not recognizing the number, Gates didn’t answer. “You can’t make this stuff up,” he told me. Giuliani left a voice mail saying it was a “shame” that two Republicans couldn’t work things out—he’d come up with a “nice way” to “get this thing fixed up.”

“I never returned the phone call,” Gates said. A week later, when news broke of Trump’s notorious call to officials in Georgia, Gates was more relieved than ever that he hadn’t called Giuliani back. A panel of judges in New York has since suspended Giuliani’s law license, for threatening the public interest by making “demonstrably false and misleading statements” about the Presidential election.

By New Year’s Eve, when Trump tried and failed to reach the chairman of the Maricopa County board, his Administration was in extraordinary turmoil. Attorney General William Barr had resigned from the Justice Department after declaring that it had detected no significant election fraud. Even so, Trump continued to demand that the department investigate a variety of loony conspiracies, including a plot to erase Trump votes using Italian military satellites. According to a leaked e-mail, a Justice Department attorney disparaged the satellite theory as “pure insanity.” A man supposedly involved in the plot issued a denial to Reuters, and Italian police suggested that the allegation was baseless. But the conspiracy theory, which became known as Italygate, had bubbled up from the same pools of dark money that were funding other election misinformation. Records show that Italygate was spread by a “social welfare organization” called Nations in Action, whose directors included von Spakovsky. When Talking Points Memo contacted von Spakovsky, he said that he had resigned from the board on January 8th. But the money trail remains. Crooks and Liars, a progressive investigative-reporting site, dug up tax filings showing that the group’s 501(c)(3) sibling, the Nations in Action Globally Lifting Up Fund, had received thousands of dollars from the Judicial Crisis Network—a nonprofit enterprise, closely tied to Leonard Leo, that also funds Turning Point Action.

While Justice Department officials were fending off conspiracy theories being spread by tax-exempt charities in Washington, the pressure was even more acute on local officials in Phoenix. Trump tweeted relentlessly about the audit. He “clearly has had a fascination with this issue, because he thinks it’s the key to his reinstatement,” Gates told me. “It’s not about Arizona. We’re literally pawns in this. This is a national effort to delegitimize the election system.” Gates predicted that, if “Arizona can question this, and show that Trump won,” the game will move on to Colorado, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Virginia, all of which have sent Republican delegations to observe Arizona’s audit. Noting that both QAnon followers and his own state’s Republican Party chair had referred to “dominoes” in connection with the audit, Gates said, “We know what that game is, and how it works.”

It would be tempting for Gates, a lifetime Republican with political ambitions, to blame only Trump for his party’s anti-democratic turn. But he has few such illusions. What’s really going on, he believes, is a reactionary backlash against Obama: “I’ve thought about it a lot. I believe the election of President Obama frightened a lot of Americans.” Gates argues that the fear isn’t entirely about race. He thinks it’s also about cosmopolitanism, secularism, and other contemporary values that make white conservatives uncomfortable. But in the end, he said, “the diversification of America is frightening to a lot of people in my party.”

Gates believes that his party’s reaction may backfire. Polls show that, although the Arizona audit is wildly popular among Republican voters in the state, it alienates independents, who constitute approximately a third of the state’s electorate—and whose support is necessary for statewide candidates to win.

For now, though, conservative groups seem to be doubling down on their investments in election-fraud alarmism. In the next two years, Heritage Action plans to spend twenty-four million dollars mobilizing supporters and lobbyists who will promote “election integrity,” starting in eight battleground states, including Arizona. It is coördinating its effort with the Election Transparency Initiative, a joint venture of two anti-abortion groups, the Susan B. Anthony List and the American Principles Project. The Election Transparency Initiative has set a fund-raising goal of five million dollars. Cleta Mitchell, having left her law firm, has joined FreedomWorks, the free-market group, where she plans to lead a ten-million-dollar project on voting issues. She will also head the Election Integrity Network at the Conservative Partnership Institute, another Washington-based nonprofit. As a senior legal fellow there, she told the Washington Examiner, she will “help bring all these strings” of conservative election-law activism together, and she added, “I’ve had my finger in so many different pieces of the election-integrity pie for so long.”

Back in Arizona, where the auditors are demanding still more time, Gates believes that the Big Lie has become a “grift” used to motivate Republican voters and donors to support conservative candidates and political groups. “The sad thing is that there are probably millions of people—hardworking, good Americans, maybe retired—who have paid their taxes, always followed the law, and they truly believe this, because of what they’ve been fed by their leaders,” he said. “And what’s so dispiriting is that the people who are pushing it from the top? They know better.” ♦

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Bruce Potter
E-mail: <bpotter>
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Posted in Fun | Comments Off on The Atlantic — Behind the Big Lie by Jane Mayer

Fair Play . . . . or less. From The Smithsonian Magazine

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Why Are Jim Thorpe’s Olympic Records Still Not Recognized?

In 1912, Jim Thorpe became the greatest American Olympian of all time, but not if you ask the IOC

Jim Thorpe 1912 Stockholm Games Jim Thorpe’s epic performance in the 15 events that made up the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Summer Games remains the most solid reflection we have of him. (Bettmann / Corbis) By Sally Jenkins
Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

July 2012

It’s been 100 years since Jim Thorpe dashed through the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, and we’re still chasing him. Greatest-evers are always hard to quantify, but Thorpe is especially so, a laconic, evasive passerby who defies Olympic idealizing. A breakfast of champions for Thorpe was no bowl of cereal. It was fried squirrel with creamed gravy after running all night in the woods at the heels of his dogs. Try catching up with that.

He was a reticent Sac and Fox Indian from the Oklahoma frontier, orphaned as a teenager and raised as a ward of government schools, uncomfortable in the public eye. When King Gustaf V of Sweden placed two gold medals around Thorpe’s neck for winning the Olympic pentathlon and decathlon and pronounced him the greatest athlete in the world, he famously muttered, “Thanks,” and ducked more illustrious social invitations to celebrate at a succession of hotel bars. “I didn’t wish to be gazed upon as a curiosity,” he said.

Thorpe’s epic performance in the 15 events that made up the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Summer Games remains the most solid reflection we have of him. Yet even that has a somewhat shadowy aspect. The International Olympic Committee stripped his medals and struck his marks from the official record after learning that he had violated the rules of amateurism by playing minor-league baseball in 1909-10.

“Those Olympic records are the best proof that he was superb, and they aren’t official,” says Kate Buford, author of a new biography of Thorpe, Native American Son. “He’s like the phantom contender.”

Phantomness has left him open to stigma and errors. For instance, it was popularly believed that Thorpe was careless of his feats, a “lazy Indian” whose gifts were entirely bestowed by nature. But he was nonchalant only about celebrity, which he distrusted. “He was offhand, modest, casual about everything in the way of fame or eminence achieved,” recalled one of his teachers, the poet Marianne Moore.

In fact, Thorpe was a dedicated and highly trained athlete. “I may have had an aversion for work,” he said, “but I also had an aversion for getting beat.” He went to Stockholm with a motive: He wanted to marry his sweetheart, Iva Miller. Her family disapproved of the match, and Thorpe was out to prove that a man could make a good enough living at games to support a wife. Point proved: They would be married in 1913. Photographs of him at the time verify his seriousness of purpose, showing a physique he could only have earned with intense training. He was a ripped 185 pounds with a 42-inch chest, 32-inch waist and 24-inch thighs.

“Nobody was in his class,” says Olympic historian Bill Mallon. “If you look at old pictures of him he looks almost modern. He’s cut. He doesn’t look soft like the other guys did back then. He looks great.”

The physique was partly the product of hard labor in the wilderness of the Oklahoma Territory. By age 6, Thorpe could already shoot, ride, trap and accompany his father, Hiram, a horse breeder and bootlegger who would die of blood poisoning, on 30-mile treks stalking prey. Jim Thorpe was an expert wrangler and breaker of wild horses, which he studied for their beautiful economy of motion and tried to emulate. Clearly the outdoors taught him the famous looseness of movement so often mistaken for lassitude. “He moved like a breeze,” sportswriter Grantland Rice observed.

The discovery of Thorpe at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, the government-run boarding institution for Native Americans he attended from 1904 to 1913, between bouts of truancy, is a well-worn story. In 1907 he was ambling across the campus when he saw some upperclassmen practicing the high jump. He was 5-foot-8, and the bar was set at 5-9. Thorpe asked if he could try—and jumped it in overalls and a hickory work shirt. The next morning Carlisle’s polymath of a football and track coach, Glenn “Pop” Warner, summoned Thorpe.

“Have I done anything wrong?” Thorpe asked.

“Son, you’ve only broken the school record in the high jump. That’s all.”

Carlisle, a hybrid trade school and academy, was devoted to the forcible cultural assimilation of American Indian children. Those who knew Thorpe as a schoolboy received the purest impression of him; before he was a champion at his peak, or a guarded celebrity, he was just a head ducker with an uncertain mouth who would have been happy to hunt and handle horses for the rest of his life. He hated the shut-in strictures of school, and he bolted every formal institution he attended.

Carlisle’s piano teacher, Verna Whistler, described Thorpe as guileless. “He had an open face, an honest look, eyes wide apart, a picture of frankness but not brilliance. He would trust anybody.” Moore was an unconventional young Bryn Mawr graduate when she went to work as a teacher at Carlisle. She taught typing, stenography and bookkeeping, basic courses designed to help students conduct their business in the white man’s world. She recalled Thorpe as “liked by all rather than venerated or idolized….[His] modesty, with top performance, was characteristic of him, and no back talk, I never saw him irascible, sour or primed for vengeance.” Moore noted that Thorpe “wrote a fine, even clerical hand—every character legible; every terminal curving up—consistent and generous.” His appearance on the gridiron, she said, was the “epitome of concentration, wary, with an effect of plenty in reserve.”

With students from 6 to college age, at its height Carlisle had an enrollment of no more than 1,000 pupils, yet on the collegiate playing fields it was the equal of the Ivy League powers, one of the more remarkable stories in American sports. This was partly thanks to Thorpe, who won renown in football, baseball, track and lacrosse, and also competed in hockey, handball, tennis, boxing and ballroom dancing. At track meets, Warner signed him up for six and seven events. Once, Thorpe single-handedly won a dual meet against Lafayette, taking first in the high hurdles, low hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot put and discus throw.

The result of all this varied activity was that he became highly practiced in two methods modern athletes now recognize as building blocks of performance: imitation and visualization. Thorpe studied other athletes as closely as he had once studied horses, borrowing their techniques. He was “always watching for a new motion which will benefit him,” Warner said.

Until 1912, Thorpe had never thrown a javelin or pole-vaulted. He was so inexperienced in the javelin that when he competed in the Eastern Olympic Trials in New York’s Celtic Park, he didn’t know he could take a running start. Instead he threw from a standing position with “the awkwardness of a novice,” according to a reporter. Nevertheless, he managed second place.

By the time Thorpe embarked for Stockholm aboard the ocean liner Finland with the rest of the U.S. Olympic contingent—among whom numbered a West Pointer named George Patton and a Hawaiian swimmer named Duke Kahanamoku—he was in the peak shape of his life and spent a good deal of his time tapering and visualizing. This led to the legend that he was merely a skylarker. Newspaperman Francis Albertanti of the New York Evening Mail saw Thorpe relaxing on a deck chair. “What are you doing, Jim, thinking of your Uncle Sitting Bull?” he asked.

“No, I’m practicing the long jump,” Thorpe replied. “I’ve just jumped 23 feet eight inches. I think that will win it.”

It’s a favorite game of sportswriters to argue the abstract question of which athletes from different eras would win in head-to-head competition. The numbers Thorpe posted in Stockholm give us a concrete answer: He would.

Thorpe began the Olympics by crushing the field in the now-defunct pentathlon, which consisted of five events in a single day. He placed first in four of them, dusting his competition in the 1,500-meter run by almost five seconds.

A week later the three-day decathlon competition began in a pouring rain. Thorpe opened the event by splashing down the track in the 100-meter dash in 11.2 seconds—a time not equaled at the Olympics until 1948.

On the second day, Thorpe’s shoes were missing. Warner hastily put together a mismatched pair in time for the high jump, which Thorpe won. Later that afternoon came one of his favorite events, the 110-meter hurdles. Thorpe blistered the track in 15.6 seconds, again quicker than Bob Mathias would run it in ’48.

On the final day of competition, Thorpe placed third and fourth in the events in which he was most inexperienced, the pole vault and javelin. Then came the very last event, the 1,500-meter run. The metric mile was a leg-burning monster that came after nine other events over two days. And he was still in mismatched shoes.

Thorpe left cinders in the faces of his competitors. He ran it in 4 minutes 40.1 seconds. Faster than anyone in 1948. Faster than anyone in 1952. Faster than anyone in 1960—when he would have beaten Rafer Johnson by nine seconds. No Olympic decathlete, in fact, could beat Thorpe’s time until 1972. As Neely Tucker of the Washington Post pointed out, even today’s reigning gold medalist in the decathlon, Bryan Clay, would beat Thorpe by only a second.

Thorpe’s overall winning total of 8,412.95 points (of a possible 10,000) was better than the second-place finisher, Swede Hugo Wieslander, by 688. No one would beat his score for another four Olympics.

Mallon, co-founder of the International Society of Olympic Historians, who has served as a consultant statistician to the IOC, believes that Thorpe’s 1912 performances establish him as “the greatest athlete of all time. Still. To me, it’s not even a question.” Mallon points out that Thorpe was number one in four Olympic events in 1912 and placed in the top ten in two more—a feat no modern athlete has accomplished, not even the sprinter and long-jumper Carl Lewis, who won nine Olympic gold medals between 1984 and 1996. “People just don’t do that,” Mallon says.

The Olympics weren’t the only highlights of 1912 for Thorpe. He returned to lead Carlisle’s football team to a 12-1-1 record, running for 1,869 yards on 191 attempts—more yards in a season than O.J. Simpson would run for USC in 1968. And that total doesn’t include yardage from two games Thorpe played in. It’s possible that, among the things Thorpe did in 1912, he was college football’s first 2,000-yard rusher.

Numbers like those are the ghostly outline of Thorpe’s athleticism; they burn through time and make him vivid. Without them, myth and hyperbole replace genuine awe over his feats, and so does pity at his deterioration from superstar to disgraced hero. The Olympic champion would become a barnstormer—major-league baseball player, co-founder of the National Football League and even pro basketball player—before winding up a stunt performer and Hollywood character actor. In his later life Thorpe struggled to meet financial obligations to his seven children and two ex-wives, especially during the Great Depression. He worked as a security guard, construction worker and ditch digger, among other things. When he contracted lip cancer in 1951 he sought charity treatment from a Philadelphia hospital, which led his opportunistic third wife, Patricia, to claim weepingly at a press conference that they were destitute. “We’re broke. Jim has nothing but his name and his memories. He has spent money on his own people and given it away. He has often been exploited.” Despite Patricia’s claims, however, they weren’t impoverished; Thorpe hustled tirelessly on the lecture circuit, and they lived in a modest but comfortable trailer home in suburban Lomita, California. He died there of heart failure in 1953 at age 64.

The IOC’s decision in 1912 to strip Thorpe’s medals and strike out his records was not just intended to punish him for violating the elitist Victorian codes of amateurism. It was also intended to obscure him—and to a certain extent it succeeded.

Thorpe’s public reserve didn’t help his cause. He refused to campaign for his reputation, or to fight for his Olympic medals. “I won ’em, and I know I won ’em,” he told his daughter Grace Thorpe. On another occasion he said, “I played with the heart of an amateur—for the pure hell of it.”

It’s an astonishing fact that the greatest athlete in American history would not appear on a Wheaties box, the ratification of champions, until 2001, and only after a tireless letter-writing campaign.

Here’s another fact: Thorpe’s Olympic victories still have not been properly reinstated in the official record.

It’s commonly believed that Thorpe at last received Olympic justice in October of 1982 when the IOC bowed to years of public pressure and delivered two replica medals to his family, announcing, “The name of James Thorpe will be added to the list of athletes who were crowned Olympic champions at the 1912 Games.” What’s less commonly known is that the IOC appended this small, mean sentence: “However, the official report for these Games will not be modified.”

In other words, the IOC refused even to acknowledge Thorpe’s results in the 15 events he competed in. To this day the Olympic record does not mention them. The IOC also refused to demote Wieslander and the other runners-up from their elevated medal status. Wieslander’s results stand as the official winning tally. Thorpe was merely a co-champion, with no numerical evidence of his overwhelming superiority. This is no small thing. It made Thorpe an asterisk, not a champion. It was lip service, not restitution.

On this 100-year anniversary of the Stockholm Games, there are several good reasons for the IOC to relent and fully recognize Thorpe as the sole champion that he was. Countless white athletes abused the amateurism rules and played minor-league ball with impunity. What’s more, the IOC did not follow its own rules for disqualification: Any objection to Thorpe’s status should have been raised within 30 days of the Games, and it was not. It was nice of the IOC to award replica medals to Thorpe’s family, but those are just souvenirs. After 100 years of phantom contending, Thorpe should enter the record as the incomparable that he was.

Posted in Fun | Comments Off on Fair Play . . . . or less. From The Smithsonian Magazine

Washington Post: The Read Damage by Hannah Dreier

Some of the best writing I’ve read about the issue of land rights for poor, mostly Black residents in the US, and how it prevents them from receiving many forms of support and loans — specifically FEMA grants after disasters, as described in this terrific account. Some graphic glitches below.

On-line at < https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/07/11/fema-black-owned-property/ >

National

‘The real damage’

Why FEMA is denying disaster aid to Black families that have lived for generations in the Deep South.

Albert Nixon, 89, displays a photo of his sister Jessie Johnson, now 88, that was salvaged after a tornado destroyed their home in Greensboro, Ala., in March. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

By Hannah Dreier

July 11, 2021|Updated today at 11:34 a.m. EDT

HALE COUNTY, Ala. — Not enough people were signing up for help after a series of tornadoes ripped through rural Alabama, so the government sent Chris Baker to figure out why. He had driven past the spot where a tornado threw a 13-year-old girl high into a tree, past where injured cows had to be shot one by one, and past where a family was crushed to death in their bathtub. And now, as another day began in this patchwork of destruction, he grabbed a stack of fliers with a picture of an outstretched hand and headed to his car to let people know Washington had assistance to offer.

“So we’ll do a convoy?” Baker asked the local official who had offered to show him around, looking down to check that the badge identifying him as a specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency was in place.

He needn’t have bothered. “There goes FEMA,” called a woman on her porch as they drove by. Two burly White men in khaki cargo pants on a hot day — who else would it be? A majority-Black county named for an officer in the Confederate Army, Hale County is a place of little interest to outsiders; an area of dense forests, catfish farms and 15,000 residents, most of whom can trace their ancestry back to enslaved people or plantation owners.

President Biden has instructed FEMA to prioritize getting help to these kinds of “too often overlooked” communities — the places that climate change is already overwhelming with more storms, floods and heat waves. And Baker was eager to do just that. “That’s why we’re knocking on what doors we can,” he said.

Baker was new to the agency, and this was his second deployment to a disaster zone. His supervisors had asked him to spread the word that people who lost homes to the March 25 tornadoes still had time to apply for grants of up to $72,000. But as he canvassed the area, a different message was spreading much faster: That people here were in fact not eligible for anything, because of how they had inherited their land. Because of the way Black people have always inherited land in Hale County.

More than a third of Black-owned land in the South is passed down informally, rather than through deeds and wills, according to land use experts. It’s a custom that dates to the Jim Crow era, when Black people were excluded from the Southern legal system. When land is handed down like this, it becomes heirs’ property, a form of ownership in which families hold property collectively, without clear title.

People believed this protected their land, but the Department of Agriculture has found that heirs’ property is “the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss.” Without formal deeds, families are cut off from federal loans and grants, including from FEMA, which requires that disaster survivors prove they own their property before they can get help rebuilding.

Nationally, FEMA denies requests for help from about 2 percent of applicants for disaster aid because of title issues. In majority-Black counties, the rate is twice as high, according to a Washington Post analysis, in large part because Black people are twice as likely to pass down property informally. But in parts of the Deep South, FEMA has rejected up to a quarter of applicants because they can’t document ownership, according to the Post analysis. In Hale County, FEMA has denied 35 percent of disaster aid applicants for this reason since March.

Not that Baker knew much about that; not yet. His bosses had sent him out from his office in Atlanta with a list of metrics. Eight counties eligible for help. Four weeks until the deadline to apply. Eight hundred applications received so far, of which 100 had been approved. There was nothing on the briefing sheet about heirs’ property. He had visited several areas now, meeting with officials and volunteers. But when he arrived in Hale County, local emergency management director Russell Weeden had suggested a tour to see “the real damage.”

They pulled up a narrow dirt road, then got out and climbed a gravel path to the first stop of the day. The tornado had tossed debris across several acres of scrubby grass. The air was heavy and silent, with few trees left for birds to perch in. Baker passed an embroidered pillow and a sequined high-heel shoe, and then the full wreckage of a three-bedroom home that had stood since a generation after the Civil War came into view.

“Well, this house was certainly blown away,” Weeden said.

“Isn’t that something?” Baker said. He reached for his notebook and went to get a closer look.

***

Albert Nixon looks through the wreckage of his home in Greensboro. He has no clear title to the property, which was passed down to him. No clear title means no federal disaster aid. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

The question of what happens to heirs’ property after a disaster is not unique to rural Alabama. FEMA has been grappling with the issue since at least 2005, when 20,000 heirs’ property owners were denied federal help after Hurricane Katrina, according to a USDA report. It came up again in 2017, when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. That time, FEMA denied more than 80,000 applications because of title problems.

There is no legal basis for requiring disaster survivors to provide incontrovertible proof of homeownership. FEMA created that requirement on its own, to combat scammers who make off with as much as 1 percent of aid each year. In 2018, under pressure to resolve the crisis in Puerto Rico, the agency created a process for people to self-certify homeownership.

But the fix applied only to islands and tribal areas, and it was not extended to the Deep South, where in internal correspondence, FEMA has recognized heirs’ property as “a perennial issue.” A FEMA spokesperson said the agency still requires most disaster survivors to prove ownership because “land ownership is recorded as a standard practice” in all of the continental United States and “self-certification of ownership increases the agency’s vulnerability” to fraud and improper payments.

Black families denied disaster relief

Applicants for FEMA disaster aid in majority-Black counties are twice as likely to be rejected because they cannot prove that they own their home.

“So this was two elderly people, and they were at home,” Weeden explained as Baker peered into the house on the hill. There were just a few walls left, tipping at odd angles. Clocks lay on the ground, all stopped at 4:35, the time the tornado touched down. Weeden said the house belonged to a brother and sister who had lived there nearly 90 years and were found by rescuers sitting dazed on a log. “I don’t know if they’re going to rebuild or what.

Baker thought they sounded like ideal candidates for help. The information they would need was laid out in his flier, but he was starting to understand that there might not be anyone around for him to hand a flier to. “Sometimes you can get messages out on the highway overpasses,” he said — but Hale County didn’t have interstate highways. “It’s hard in a rural spot. You could put it on a cow, maybe,” he said, thenfell silent.

The ground they were standing on, like so much Southern land, had been purchased by a Black family during Reconstruction, a time when a generation of Black workers saved up and bought every plot they could, no matter how barren and unpromising. Within a few decades, a new class of landowners emerged: By 1910, Black people made up 10 percent of the U.S. population but 14 percent of its farmers. In Hale County, more than a quarter of farmland was Black-owned.

It was a short-lived era of prosperity, however, as Black landowners began buckling under what the USDA describes as a “well-documented” system of discrimination, including exclusion from loans and swindles by officials. Bands of poor White farmers threatened to murder Black landowners if they didn’t flee. Historians believe that many lynchings from this time, including hundreds in Alabama, were carried out to take Black property. By the end of the 20th century, the share of Black-owned farmland in Hale County had fallen to just 3 percent, including the plot on the hill, where the only sounds were the wind and a smoke alarm chirping somewhere.

“Sorry to be taking you out to an area where there’s nobody,” Weeden said.

“No, it’s quite all right,” Baker said. They got in their cars and headed to the next site the local official wanted to show Baker, unaware that a neighbor had been watching the whole time. Her name was Bernice Ward, and later that day, she went to see the owners of the house.

“I called y’all about five times and y’all didn’t answer,” Bernice said as she pulled up and saw two frail people sitting outside the suburban home where they were temporarily staying.

“We ain’t been nowhere but here,” said Albert Nixon, who was about to turn 90. “We probably didn’t hear the phone.”

“I was gonna come here and get you and take you to the house to talk to FEMA,” Bernice said.

“They were at my house?” Albert asked, surprised an agency that had twice rejected his applications for assistance would be seeking him out. “Ineligible — Ownership Not Verified,” the rejection letters had said, leaving Albert confused as to what the problem was. “I been living there all my days,” he said.

“I’m tired of being here,” his sister Jessie Johnson, who was 88, joined in.

“We’re a long way from home,” Albert said of the place where he and his sister had spent their childhoods picking cotton and had never left, even after their siblings had moved away or died. For Albert especially, his whole life was tied up in those 40 acres of fertile land and the shotgun shack to which he had added three rooms over the years. He had kept up the peach and pecan trees his father planted, and gotten up early each morning to feed the cows and chickens right up until the day the tornado hit.

It was part of a tornado outbreak that killed seven people, with 150 mph winds. The siblings had sought shelter in Albert’s bedroom, the innermost room of the house and the place where they had been born. As they clung to a four-post bed, the winds lifted off the roof and threw it into the woods, exposing a sky that looked to them like nighttime. The windows shattered, and something gave Albert a black eye. Within seconds, the storm ripped apart every room but the one in which they were sheltering. When it passed, they crawled out through a hole where the chimney had stood.

They had grieved to see their orchards and animals suddenly gone. And they were disoriented by what came next, when they moved to a house in another town that had stood empty since a family tragedy played out there. The siblings spent most of their time in the carport, where Bernice was now trying to help Albert understand the status of his application. She didn’t know the details, so she called their grandniece, who had contacted FEMA’s national helpline on the siblings’ behalf the day before.

“We have to prove that you own the house,” the grandniece explained.

“It ain’t in my name; it’s in my granddaddy’s name,” Albert said. “My daddy and them never did change it over.” Just before he died, Albert’s grandfather had warned the family never to let a White man take their land. Albert believed that by keeping the plot as heir’s property, he had minded his grandfather’s words. “A lot of folks been trying to buy the land. Trying to take it. But they won’t get it as long as I’m living,” he said.

The grandniece suggested that Albert might at least be able to show he paid the property taxes.

“I paid for it, but I told them, ‘Let it stay in my brother’s name,’” Albert said. “And my brother’s dead.”

“Oh well see, I don’t know,” the grandniece said.

“If I wasn’t old, I would’ve cleaned it up myself,” Albert said.

After a while, Bernice got up to leave. “I’ll come see you again in a few days,” she told the siblings.

“We’ll be here,” Albert said.

***

FEMA specialist Chris Baker tours a tornado-hit community in Central Alabama in May to hand out fliers advertising federal disaster assistance. (Hannah Dreier/The Washington Post)

All through the morning and into the afternoon, Baker kept following Weeden down red dirt roads that looked much like they had 50 or 100 years ago, except that with every turn, there was more wreckage.

“At least they had it bolted down,” Baker said as they passed a trailer so obliterated only the tie-down anchors were left. “Didn’t hold up too good, though.” He looked out at a home that had been stripped into planks, where black-eyed Susans were growing from a smashed pink dollhouse. “Tornados always seem to be attracted to the trailers,” he said. They saw a spot where a homeowner had piled the remains of his walls next to a sign saying, “Free bricks.” Not all the homes had been reduced to rubble. Weeden also took him by a five-bedroom house that was still standing but had 10 red, black and blue tarps where the roof had been. “That’s hard,” Baker said.

Stop by stop, Baker’s understanding of the need in Hale County was growing deeper. Five hours into the day, however, not a word had been spoken about titles, wills or heirs’ property. Weeden hadn’t mentioned it, if he was aware of it at all. Baker didn’t know to ask. And the people who might have told him were not around.

And so the men continued on with their mission, even as the owner of the house with the tarps was continuing with his, which was to prove that the home he had built for his wife and sons a quarter-century earlier indeed belonged to him.

What the owner was trying to do specifically was get signatures. That’s what a lawyer told Lonny Wilson, 60, to try to do after he received a denial from FEMA. He needed to get all the heirs to the family land to sign a notarized form attesting that he owned his house. There were 15 of them in all, scattered from Las Vegas to Boston.

With no other option to repair the damage from water seeping through his ceilings, Lonny set out to visit his sister, who lived nearby. Hers should have been the easiest of the signatures to get, but he had given her a form the week before and had heard nothing since.

He walked through a field of broken trees that smelled like sweet pine, worrying about what would happen if someone decided not to sign. So many things could go wrong. There were scams in which developers buy out a single heir and then force an auction of the whole plot, which was how Lonny’s wife lost her land. There were cases in which distant relatives who didn’t even know they had a stake in a property tried to sell it after receiving a call like the one Lonny would be making to his relatives. And there was just the simple fact of what can happen in families. “You never know what a person will hold against you. Sometimes blood is worse than water,” Lonny said.

His sister Evelyn Pickens came to the porch to meet him. “Hi, come on in,” she said. “It’s hot and the mosquitoes are out.”

“Thanks,” Lonny said and walked past her into the living room, where he saw the form sitting on her coffee table, still blank.

“It’s raining every other day in the house. If I keep waiting, I’m going to have to demo it down,” he said. “They’re telling me I need documentation.”

“It’s no problem to sign it. I just wasn’t in a rush,” Evelyn said, and soon was on her way to the county seat of Greensboro, parking next to a statue of a soldier with a Confederate flag, the tallest one on Main Street.

The town notary watched Evelyn sign Lonny’s paper and stamped it with a seal. “I bet you’ve seen a few of these,” Evelyn said. “How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing. I’m not charging to do those,” the notary said. She’d been stamping affidavits all month as families struggled to come up with something to show FEMA before the approaching deadline. “This is about all we can do to help right now.”

Evelyn thanked her. “The truth is we don’t even know if FEMA will accept this,” she said. She slipped the form into her purse and drove back to the house with the mismatched tarps, where Lonny was waiting outside.

One down, he thought when he saw the letter. Fourteen more to go.

***

Behind Lonny Wilson, 60, in Greensboro, is the now-tornado-damaged house he owns as heirs’ property. To potentially qualify for FEMA aid, he set out to collect declarations from 15 relatives. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

This abandoned house in Greensboro is an example of what often follows a denial of aid to owners of properties that have been in Black families for generations without clear title. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Greensboro police officer and storm victim Eric Wiggins passes storm debris near his former home. Lacking a property title, he opted against appealing FEMA’s denial of his aid application. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Baker and Weeden weren’t the only ones touring the back roads that afternoon. So was a police officer named Eric Wiggins, who made his own survey of the disaster zone five days a week.

Wiggins, 47, was one of Greensboro’s six patrol officers. He had moved back after retiring from the Navy and was living on heirs’ property handed down by his great-grandfather. He’d been renovating a trailer that once belonged to his grandmother, adding hardwood floors and new appliances. The family gathered there for holidays, and each summer, his cousins came back from the East Coast so their kids could swim in the creek and relearn how to run barefoot on rough red clay. Eric was planning to put in granite countertops next. But the tornado demolished the trailer, and after FEMA denied his application, Eric had decided not to appeal because he knew he couldn’t produce a deed.

To him, the destroyed houses he passed each day were evidence of government neglect. “Two months, no progress. Is that going well?” Eric asked on one of his rounds. “But this is a segregated town, and the community that got hit was predominantly Black. So there’s no urgency.”

Eric liked to slowly circle the area in his cruiser, stretching each lap out to an hour and a half. He tapped his horn and waved when he spotted children playing or older people on porches. He felt lucky to be able to stay with his mother while he figured out what to do next. Otherwise, he might have ended up like people he knew of who were in far worse shape, such as Joe Lee Webb, sleeping in his truck next to his destroyed family home, or Clarissa Skipper, living with two kids in an old trailer with a fallen tree in the middle of it.

The roads were quiet except for an occasional wild turkey stepping out of the forest. Before long, Eric saw one of the people he most worried about — a man named Ronald Reaves, who had moved to a hotel with his daughter after a tornado smashed their home into a hillside. Eric stopped his cruiser next to a house where Ronald was rebuilding a porch. “How’ve you been?” he called out.

“I’m hoping it gets better,” Ronald said. “I’m thinking maybe we’ll get one of those storage sheds or a camper. I just need a little place for a bed, a place for a bathroom.”

“It ain’t that hard for me because I’m at my mama’s. But I know what it’s like,” Eric said.

“It been real rough, man,” Ronald said. “We can’t get no help. FEMA’s taking too long, you know what I’m saying?”

“I know it. They denied me, too,” Eric said.

“Oh, for real?” Ronald said.

“They denied a lot of people,” Eric said. “They want you to show ownership, and a lot of people are on heirs’ property.”

“This is all heir property, though,” Ronald said. “I don’t understand how they’re doing us like that, to all these folks.”

“Don’t nobody understand,” Eric said, and wished Ronald luck.

“I’m about ready to give it up,” Ronald said, shaking his head.

Turning back toward town, Eric pointed out Briana Bouyer’s place, which was roofless and teetering. She, too, had been denied with a letter that began, “Ineligible — Ownership Not Verified.” Instead of trying to sort out the title, she and her husband got a loan to buy a small house elsewhere.

“I saw that on Facebook, and good for them, but you lose something when you move away from family land,” Eric said.

He looped around and passed a museum marking the place where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once hid from the Ku Klux Klan. On the other side of the street now named for the civil rights leader, the homes were mostly abandoned, the paint peeling, roofs sagging, windows broken. “See what I mean?” Eric said. “Things change if nobody stays.”

Finally, he stopped at a clearing that looked like it had been swept clean except for a red wooden porch. Only the trees, which were full of pink building insulation and twisted metal, gave any indication of the home that had stood there. These were the remains of Eric’s trailer. “It took five minutes and everything was gone,” he said. He hoped eventually to get a bank loan to rebuild. “If I was to leave, this land would grow up and look like a forest,” he said. “There would be no life in it.”

***

Briana Bouyer, seen at her damaged home in Greensboro, which was hit by the tornado in March, was denied FEMA disaster relief because she could not prove she owned her property. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

“So this is pretty much how it looked the day of,” Weeden said when they pulled up to the last stop of the day. There was no house, only a red wooden porch. There was pink insulation and metal in the trees. A cop had lived there, Weeden said. “When we got here, he was at home, but his trailer was no longer at home.”

“At least the porch survived,” Baker said quietly.

In all, he had visited a dozen properties, talked to no owners, and posted one flier. He asked Weeden to keep spreading the word. “It’s horrible when something like this happens,” Baker said, “but we get to come in and help.”

“That’s what I tell them: At least apply. All they can do is say no,” Weeden said.

And that was how Baker’s day in Hale County came to an end.

Two weeks later, he was back at his desk in Atlanta. His team was preparing for what was forecast to be an especially punishing hurricane season, and Baker had a stack of reports to look through. But he was still thinking about the need he had seen in Alabama, and about a conversation he’d had with a state official just before he left. The official explained that many Black families, including his own, shared inherited plots of land and were cut off from federal help as a result.

“That can’t be right,” Baker had said. “We must have something in place for that.” But the official insisted, so on his drive back, Baker called his FEMA supervisor, who told him that this was indeed a problem throughout the South. No clear deeds. No clear wills. No clear property tax records. And that was how Baker finally learned about heirs’ property.

Now he found himself turning to FEMA’s 300-page Individual Assistance handbook to figure out what could be done for the people whose homes he had visited, who already seemed to have vanished from their land.

Flipping through the arcane rules, Baker saw a list of documents the agency will accept as proof of ownership. The first was an original deed. “Well we don’t have that,” he said. The next was an insurance bill. “That’s not going to work,” he said.

He remembered how random and extreme the destruction had been. The sequined high heel. The dollhouse sprouting yellow flowers. He didn’t like to think that he had been advertising help that people had no chance of getting.

Next on the list was a property tax receipt. “But that’s not going to be in their name,” he said. The last option was a formal will. “But they don’t have that, either,” he said.

Then Baker got to a caveat. “FEMA may accept a written statement as a last resort,” he read, relieved to have found a workaround. This was the fix allowing people in Puerto Rico to self-certify ownership. “Oh, but that’s just for the islands,” he said, and sighed.

Baker was proud to work for FEMA. He believed in its mission. But he didn’t understand why the rules would be set up like this. The deadline to apply for help was just days away now. The owners of the houses he had seen would have to appeal to local charities or make whatever arrangements they could on their own. “One case like this is too many, honestly,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s the family that we care about, not how the land came down.”

He thought of the elderly siblings who had ridden out the tornado in their home. The way the walls must have shuddered and then been wrenched loose. The daze they must have been in when they crawled out. Baker looked over the list one more time. “It’s too bad. There’s nothing in here,” he said.

Andrew Ba Tran contributed to this report.

Steps to nowhere mark the spot where a house stood in the town of Sawyerville until a tornado tore through Hale County, Ala., in March. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Posted in Fun | Comments Off on Washington Post: The Read Damage by Hannah Dreier

WaPo: Climate change could cost condo boards billions. They aren’t ready for it.

Based on my limited two years of experience in the Severn House Condominium, I tend to agree with this analysis.

From the July 4th, Washington Post — < https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/surfside-condo-climate-change-cost/2021/07/01/b6699a98-da76-11eb-9bbb-37c30dcf9363_story.html >

Outlook
Perspective

Climate change could cost condo boards billions. They aren’t ready for it.

The Surfside, Fla., building collapse is just one example of a bigger looming problem

Investigators are trying to figure out why Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., collapsed. Climate change could leave other condo buildings around the country facing expensive repairs and upgrades to avoid disasters. (foot credit:Octavio Jones/For The Washington Post)

The collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Fla., is a terrible tragedy. Besides the stories of the victims and their grieving loved ones, early attention has focused on the causes of the collapse, such as how the building was constructed, the effects of saltwater on reinforced concrete and whether the condominium association was properly maintaining the high-rise.

Those are important matters, but the disaster exemplifies a bigger problem, one that will still loom once we have answers about what went wrong in Surfside: The untrained, unpaid and unsupervised volunteer directors of the nation’s more than 350,000 condo and homeowners’ associations, armed with limited financial resources, are expected to deal with the unprecedented infrastructure challenges that climate change poses to their communities. And there is no reason to believe that they are up to that task.

More than 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in property administered by condominium and homeowners’ associations, nonprofits run by volunteers elected by the owners. These directors and officers are responsible for an estimated $7 trillion worth of private property and infrastructure, including high-rise buildings, private streets, parks, pools, sewer and water systems, lakes, garages, and many other building systems and amenities

As condos and HOAs blossomed across the country in the last 50 years, little or no thought was given to the eventual effects of climate change, in terms of location or construction quality. The common-interest housing sector emerged in the 1960s as a way to put more people on less land, increasing developer profits and local property tax revenue. The model spread rapidly, and condos and HOAs are now the default options for new construction in many states, not just across the Sun Belt where they originated but in older metro areas as well.

Many locations are problematic from the outset. Developers often build in places that appeal to buyers but pose environmental challenges — such as on reclaimed wetlands or beaches next to rising seas, as in Surfside. Other developers place subdivisions at the top of artificial slopes that turn into mudslides in hundred-year storms, which now occur more often than they used to. Terrible disasters have struck neighborhoods built in areas that are prone to drought-induced wildfires. Local governments may approve these location decisions because they are great for sales and the property tax base, but they drop environmental issues right in the laps of condo and HOA boards.

Condo and homeowners’ associations were never designed or empowered to handle such conditions. These associations are essentially on their own, with virtually no support from any level of government. Although most of them operate well most of the time, paying for routine maintenance and repair has always been a challenge, long before climate change made things worse. For years, industry insiders have pointed out that although directors and officers are responsible for maintaining the property, most unit owners are notoriously unwilling to see their housing costs go up now to sock away funds for repairs in the future. Why, they ask, should they pay today so someone else can have a new roof long after they’ve moved out? Yet that is precisely what they are expected to do. Somehow, dozens, hundreds or even thousands of owners are supposed to overcome their self-interest and collective-action problems and commit to maintaining their private infrastructure in perpetuity.

Now the maintenance and repair responsibilities that condo boards struggle with every day, with varying degrees of success, are being amplified by the effects of global climate change. It is increasingly clear that owner resources and volunteer expertise are inadequate to meet the challenge of maintaining buildings, preventing and mitigating climate-related damage, and restoring property that is severely harmed or even destroyed.

The Surfside disaster is an instructive example of an association faced with environmental challenges beyond its means. The 12-story condo tower with 136 units was built 40 years ago on reclaimed beachfront wetlands, where the proximity of a rising ocean, saltwater and gradual land subsidence have been constant threats to structural integrity. A few years ago, engineers told the condo board that they had an expensive problem on their hands with deteriorating reinforced concrete. After much internal back-and-forth, the board recently assessed a total repair cost on the owners of $15 million. That averages out to more than $110,000 per unit for this midsize association, an eye-popping figure for any homeowner and one that would undoubtedly put many into foreclosure for failure to pay. Repairs were set to begin soon; residents were initially supposed to decide whether to pay their share of the assessment at once or in monthly installments by this past Thursday.

Some are claiming that the collapse could have been avoided if better maintenance had been done earlier. Maybe. But there are thousands of beachfront condos on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts. We cannot expect all of them to be maintained consistently to industry standards with sea level rise, storm surge, land subsidence and a host of other coastal climate issues in mind. We know there will always be some that risk skipping maintenance, thinking the worst won’t happen there.

Sea level rise is not the only climate-related problem that places owners in harm’s way and that local governments and developers never anticipated. It is clear by now that climate change produces heavy rainfall, including hurricanes and so-called 100-year storms, that can cause major flooding, landslides and other stormwater-related disasters. Condo and homeowners’ associations have been severely affected by such events, and developers have been sued from coast to coast over their failure to anticipate them and build accordingly. Expensive litigation after the fact is no substitute for prevention, but it is unrealistic to expect condominium and homeowner associations to undertake costly anticipatory measures. They have neither the expertise nor the resources to do so. In most cases, they don’t even know where to begin.

Many other communities have been built near places prone to wildfires, which have taken on new ferocity in drought conditions fueled by global warming. The costs of safeguarding neighborhoods against these fires are daunting for owners and associations, and prevention is almost entirely out of their hands. In 2003, wildfires destroyed 331 homes in Scripps Ranch, an upscale San Diego-area neighborhood where developer-created HOA requirements for wooden “shake” shingle roofs accelerated the destruction. The San Diego City Council banned these roofs in new construction, including for people who wanted to rebuild their homes. Yet they faced intense resistance from Scripps Ranch owners over proposed building code changes intended to protect their homes against future wildfires, because implementing those changes would have been expensive. Owners in a fire-prone area might be understandably angry if their association required them to pay for new roofs, elaborate sprinkler systems, doors and windows with heat-resistant double-glazed material, and special fire-retardant house paint. If local governments encounter pushback when they require such measures, it seems unlikely that condo and homeowners’ associations would adopt them voluntarily.

In effect, condo and HOA developments are a huge experiment in privatization of local government functions, and sometimes the offloading of government responsibilities goes too far. We can expect a condo or HOA board to handle garbage collection, get the leaves and snow removed from private streets, and broadly live up to its responsibilities to residents. But when private communities took off in the 1960s, we didn’t even know what climate change was. We cannot realistically expect condo boards to prevent damage from sea level rise, more-frequent severe storms, extreme heat and drought, and other major changes in the environment — especially not in buildings that weren’t built to withstand such conditions. If the proliferation of condos and HOAs is to continue in the time of climate change, federal, state and local governments must play a more supportive, directive and protective role. Otherwise, millions of owners and their volunteer community leaders will be swamped by forces beyond their control.

Image without a caption
By Evan McKenzie
Evan McKenzie teaches in the political science department and the law school at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of two books about condominium and homeowner associations.

Letters to the Editor July 5, 2021 at 5:04 p.m. EDT
Opinion: Condo boards: The worst kind of governance

Smoke pours from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South building after it partially collapsed in Surfside, Fla. (Zack Wittman/for The Washington Post)

It behooves every condominium board member across the land to read the July 1 front-page article “Squabbles over repairs had roiled Fla. condo association” and then, after a silent “There but for the grace of God go I,” ask, “What can I learn from this terrible tragedy?”

Condominium association boards probably have the distinction of being the least efficient kind of governance model one can find, their members having to navigate between the Scylla of a volunteer board whose members have only an address in common and a diversity that abstractly resembles the bar scene in Star Wars, and the Charybdis of some managing agents whose definition of proactive is to walk the property once in a while; lawyers who think their clients are the boards and not the associations; the occasional naive renegade who thinks all budgets can be cut; and the inevitable minority of vocal owners who think the board is there to serve their every need while other things get left undone. Is it any wonder the Champlain Towers South board quit en masse?

As I said while presiding over my association’s annual meeting several weeks ago, the ultimate responsibility for the governance of associations is not the board but the association itself. The biggest challenge boards have is to make that happen. If someone buys into a condominium thinking that it is like an apartment or hotel, they, too, might very well one day have a rude awakening. God forbid that it is anything near what happened last month in Florida.

Ed Mulrenin, Washington

COMMENTS ON: Letters to the Editor — July 5, 2021 at 5:04 p.m. EDT
Opinion: Condo boards: The worst kind of governance

First Comment
People like to think that the failure to properly maintain buildings and make necessary safety repairs is only the province of condominiums where many home owners share responsibilities and it is hard to get everyone to agree on a decision. However, the same mindset is often present in owners of single family homes. Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are not replaced. Roof tiles are not replaced until their is a major leak. Damages to foundations from earthquakes, hurricanes or just ground subsidence are repaired until a architect investigates the structure before drawing up plans for an addition or major remodeling. Then the home owner becomes angry when they are told that they need to put tens of thousands of dollars into structural upgrades and will not have as much as they hoped for the cosmetic work. People can be very short sighted and they are often disinclined to believe experts when they tell them something that they do not want to hear.

Second Comment
The right wing repubs want to turn America into an authoritarian Theocracy.
What will happen then.? Their storm troopers will be taking you to some evil building, where they eat babies.

Posted in Fun | Comments Off on WaPo: Climate change could cost condo boards billions. They aren’t ready for it.

From the Outlook Section of the Sunday Washington Post

Building 5 residents —

I think we’re lucky at Severn House to have a talented and hard-working Condo Board, but many other associations in the Annapolis area are not so lucky. And we need to keep in mind that older developments require larger investments in major maintenance and renovation projects.

From the July 4th, Washington Post — < https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/surfside-condo-climate-change-cost/2021/07/01/b6699a98-da76-11eb-9bbb-37c30dcf9363_story.html >

OutlookPerspective

Climate change could cost condo boards billions. They aren’t ready for it.

The Surfside, Fla., building collapse is just one example of a bigger looming problem

Investigators are trying to figure out why Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., collapsed. Climate change could leave other condo buildings around the country facing expensive repairs and upgrades to avoid disasters. (Octavio Jones/For The Washington Post)

The collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Fla., is a terrible tragedy. Besides the stories of the victims and their grieving loved ones, early attention has focused on the causes of the collapse, such as how the building was constructed, the effects of saltwater on reinforced concrete and whether the condominium association was properly maintaining the high-rise.

Those are important matters, but the disaster exemplifies a bigger problem, one that will still loom once we have answers about what went wrong in Surfside: The untrained, unpaid and unsupervised volunteer directors of the nation’s more than 350,000 condo and homeowners’ associations, armed with limited financial resources, are expected to deal with the unprecedented infrastructure challenges that climate change poses to their communities. And there is no reason to believe that they are up to that task.

More than 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in property administered by condominium and homeowners’ associations, nonprofits run by volunteers elected by the owners. These directors and officers are responsible for an estimated $7 trillion worth of private property and infrastructure, including high-rise buildings, private streets, parks, pools, sewer and water systems, lakes, garages, and many other building systems and amenities

As condos and HOAs blossomed across the country in the last 50 years, little or no thought was given to the eventual effects of climate change, in terms of location or construction quality. The common-interest housing sector emerged in the 1960s as a way to put more people on less land, increasing developer profits and local property tax revenue. The model spread rapidly, and condos and HOAs are now the default options for new construction in many states, not just across the Sun Belt where they originated but in older metro areas as well.

Many locations are problematic from the outset. Developers often build in places that appeal to buyers but pose environmental challenges — such as on reclaimed wetlands or beaches next to rising seas, as in Surfside. Other developers place subdivisions at the top of artificial slopes that turn into mudslides in hundred-year storms, which now occur more often than they used to. Terrible disasters have struck neighborhoods built in areas that are prone to drought-induced wildfires. Local governments may approve these location decisions because they are great for sales and the property tax base, but they drop environmental issues right in the laps of condo and HOA boards.

Condo and homeowners’ associations were never designed or empowered to handle such conditions. These associations are essentially on their own, with virtually no support from any level of government. Although most of them operate well most of the time, paying for routine maintenance and repair has always been a challenge, long before climate change made things worse. For years, industry insiders have pointed out that although directors and officers are responsible for maintaining the property, most unit owners are notoriously unwilling to see their housing costs go up now to sock away funds for repairs in the future. Why, they ask, should they pay today so someone else can have a new roof long after they’ve moved out? Yet that is precisely what they are expected to do. Somehow, dozens, hundreds or even thousands of owners are supposed to overcome their self-interest and collective-action problems and commit to maintaining their private infrastructure in perpetuity.

Climate change made Arizona’s heat wave worse. And it won’t be the last one.

Now the maintenance and repair responsibilities that condo boards struggle with every day, with varying degrees of success, are being amplified by the effects of global climate change. It is increasingly clear that owner resources and volunteer expertise are inadequate to meet the challenge of maintaining buildings, preventing and mitigating climate-related damage, and restoring property that is severely harmed or even destroyed.

The Surfside disaster is an instructive example of an association faced with environmental challenges beyond its means. The 12-story condo tower with 136 units was built 40 years ago on reclaimed beachfront wetlands, where the proximity of a rising ocean, saltwater and gradual land subsidence have been constant threats to structural integrity. A few years ago, engineers told the condo board that they had an expensive problem on their hands with deteriorating reinforced concrete. After much internal back-and-forth, the board recently assessed a total repair cost on the owners of $15 million. That averages out to more than $110,000 per unit for this midsize association, an eye-popping figure for any homeowner and one that would undoubtedly put many into foreclosure for failure to pay. Repairs were set to begin soon; residents were initially supposed to decide whether to pay their share of the assessment at once or in monthly installments by this past Thursday.

Some are claiming that the collapse could have been avoided if better maintenance had been done earlier. Maybe. But there are thousands of beachfront condos on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts. We cannot expect all of them to be maintained consistently to industry standards with sea level rise, storm surge, land subsidence and a host of other coastal climate issues in mind. We know there will always be some that risk skipping maintenance, thinking the worst won’t happen there.

Sea level rise is not the only climate-related problem that places owners in harm’s way and that local governments and developers never anticipated. It is clear by now that climate change produces heavy rainfall, including hurricanes and so-called 100-year storms, that can cause major flooding, landslides and other stormwater-related disasters. Condo and homeowners’ associations have been severely affected by such events, and developers have been sued from coast to coast over their failure to anticipate them and build accordingly. Expensive litigation after the fact is no substitute for prevention, but it is unrealistic to expect condominium and homeowner associations to undertake costly anticipatory measures. They have neither the expertise nor the resources to do so. In most cases, they don’t even know where to begin.

Many other communities have been built near places prone to wildfires, which have taken on new ferocity in drought conditions fueled by global warming. The costs of safeguarding neighborhoods against these fires are daunting for owners and associations, and prevention is almost entirely out of their hands. In 2003, wildfires destroyed 331 homes in Scripps Ranch, an upscale San Diego-area neighborhood where developer-created HOA requirements for wooden “shake” shingle roofs accelerated the destruction. The San Diego City Council banned these roofs in new construction, including for people who wanted to rebuild their homes. Yet they faced intense resistance from Scripps Ranch owners over proposed building code changes intended to protect their homes against future wildfires, because implementing those changes would have been expensive. Owners in a fire-prone area might be understandably angry if their association required them to pay for new roofs, elaborate sprinkler systems, doors and windows with heat-resistant double-glazed material, and special fire-retardant house paint. If local governments encounter pushback when they require such measures, it seems unlikely that condo and homeowners’ associations would adopt them voluntarily.

In effect, condo and HOA developments are a huge experiment in privatization of local government functions, and sometimes the offloading of government responsibilities goes too far. We can expect a condo or HOA board to handle garbage collection, get the leaves and snow removed from private streets, and broadly live up to its responsibilities to residents. But when private communities took off in the 1960s, we didn’t even know what climate change was. We cannot realistically expect condo boards to prevent damage from sea level rise, more-frequent severe storms, extreme heat and drought, and other major changes in the environment — especially not in buildings that weren’t built to withstand such conditions. If the proliferation of condos and HOAs is to continue in the time of climate change, federal, state and local governments must play a more supportive, directive and protective role. Otherwise, millions of owners and their volunteer community leaders will be swamped by forces beyond their control.

Image without a caption

By Evan McKenzie

Evan McKenzie teaches in the political science department and the law school at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of two books about condominium and homeowner associations.

—————————————————
Bruce Potter
764 Fairview Avenue
Annapolis, MD 21403

Bruce’s iPhone: 443/454-9044
” Blog: PottersWeal.com
See also: Kincey.org

E-mail: <bpotter@irf.org>
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Posted in Fun | Comments Off on From the Outlook Section of the Sunday Washington Post

The Washington Post Officials worked secretly to clear Bob Baffert’s Justify amid 2018 Triple Crow n run, records show

Posted in Fun | Comments Off on The Washington Post Officials worked secretly to clear Bob Baffert’s Justify amid 2018 Triple Crow n run, records show

ISISA Today’s WorldView: A warning sign from the world’s most vaccinated country

Dear Huei-Min et al.

Thanks for sharing those and, yes, we were saddened to see the outbreak in Taiwan and hope that you get it back under control. We have had a recent outbreak again in Fiji stemming from poor quarantine management and security in relation to repatriated Fiji citizens from India. Had a four-day lockdown, 4 new cases yesterday, but were allowed out for part of today. Gain, hope we get through this.

Sincerely

Randy

Dr. Randolph R. Thaman
Emeritus Professor of Pacific Islands Biogeography
The University of the South Pacific
Suva, Fiji
thaman_r@usp.ac.fj

Posted in Fun | Comments Off on ISISA Today’s WorldView: A warning sign from the world’s most vaccinated country

ISISA Today’s WorldView: A warning sign from the world’s most vaccinated country

Thank you for sharing, Godfrey and Bruce.

I also share the case of Taiwan:

Taiwan is now under “the first wave” of community outbreak after the weekend of Mother’s Day (May 8-9) .

I happened has a webinar on April 29 that talked about how small islands in Taiwan keep no confirmed case but blooming tourism (with some figures), however it has been rapidly changed in Taiwan in the past weeks. More than 100 increased cases in Taipei and New Taipei city since May 15, while offshore islands fortunately still keep zero case so far. All offshore islands have announced restrictions of tourist from main island Taiwan two days ago. The attached is a brief update numbers, if you are interested.

For your information: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/05/17/asia/taiwan-covid-outbreak-intl-hnk/index.html

Today: https://focustaiwan.tw/society/202105190001

Hope it could be contained soon (I hope and believe so)

Best wishes to all,

Huei-Min

****

Huei-Min Tsai, Ph.D.

Professor, Graduate Institute of Environmental Education

National Taiwan Normal University

Taipei, Taiwan

Email: hmtsai

Phone: +886-2-77496565 Fax: +886-2-29325570

From: ISISA@groups.io [mailto:ISISA@groups.io] On Behalf Of Godfrey Baldacchino
Sent: Tuesday, May 18, 2021 2:20 PM
To: ISISA@groups.io
Cc: Iain Orr; PottersWeal.com; Chile8
Subject: Re: [ISISA] Today’s WorldView: A warning sign from the world’s most vaccinated country

Thank you for sharing Bruce.

Malta also has a very high rate of vaccination; meanwhile, reported daily infection rates have gone down into the single digits. (A far cry from the record 510 cases of Covid-19 recorded in 24 hours on March 10.)

Tourism is picking up and restaurants will be able to serve dinner soon; though bars remain closed so far; and no mass gatherings are permitted.

Godfrey

On Mon, 17 May 2021 at 21:26, Bruce Potter <bpotter> wrote:

This effect (runaway COVID-19 infections) has also been seen in the tabulations of coronavirus infections among many global islands in addition to the Seychelles, that Iain Orr has been tabulating every few days since March 21, 2020, and which Godfrey Baldacchinno has been posting and updating on the ISISA.ORG website.

Bruce

Begin forwarded message:

From: The Washington Post <email>

Subject: Today’s WorldView: A warning sign from the world’s most vaccinated country

Date: May 10, 2021 at 12:00:06 AM EDT

To: bpotter

The Washington Post
Today's WorldView
Adam Taylor By Adam Taylor
with Claire Parker
f64e26ef3b53afcd222ecc49f65aa958-envelope_byline-40-32-70-8.png Email

A warning sign from the world’s most vaccinated country

Shoppers wearing masks are seen in Victoria, Seychelles on April 2. (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)

Shoppers wearing masks are seen in Victoria, Seychelles on April 2. (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)

As the Seychelles began to offer free coronavirus vaccinations early this year, President Wavel Ramkalawan told reporters that the country was planning to reach herd immunity within weeks.

It was an ambitious target for a small, geographically isolated island nation in the Indian Ocean. But with its economy heavily reliant on tourism, the country called in favors to attain a vaccine supply from regional allies, including India and the United Arab Emirates.

The effort initially seemed to be a success. The Seychelles stands as the most vaccinated nation on Earth, with more than 60 percent of its population fully vaccinated, more than other vaccine giants such as Israel and Britain, and almost twice the United States’ rate of vaccination. But that success was undermined last week as the Seychelles found itself with the world’s largest number of new coronavirus cases per capita and was forced to reinstate some restrictions.

imp?s=220945&li=todayworld&m=93426bbcac10f9a828619f1c469f2f5e&p=6098aeb79d2fdae3024a3ac5
imp?s=220948&li=todayworld&m=93426bbcac10f9a828619f1c469f2f5e&p=6098aeb79d2fdae3024a3ac5 imp?s=627513&li=todayworld&m=93426bbcac10f9a828619f1c469f2f5e&p=6098aeb79d2fdae3024a3ac5

Though the number of new cases is relatively low — peaking at an average of just under 150 new cases a day — they are a big deal in a country with a population of less than 100,000. On a per capita basis, the Seychelles outbreak is worse than India’s raging surge. In a small country, even a small number of cases can be overwhelming. “A spike in cases places an enormous burden on an already strained public health system,” said Malshini Senaratne, director of Eco-Sol, an environmental consultancy firm in the Seychelles.

With the country’s main treatment center for covid-19 patients nearing capacity and doctors and nurses among the sick, the Seychelles announced the return of coronavirus restrictions, school closures and limited opening hours for shops and restaurants. “These are an upward trend,” said Public Health Commissioner Jude Gedeon at a media briefing last week. “We do not know how long it will last, but this will depend on what measures are taken and how the new measures are respected.”

President of Seychelles Wavel Ramkalawan receives a dose of the Chinese covid-19 vaccine produced by Sinopharm at the Seychelles Hospital in Victoria in January. (Photo by Rassin Vannier/AFP via Getty Images)

President of Seychelles Wavel Ramkalawan receives a dose of the Chinese covid-19 vaccine produced by Sinopharm at the Seychelles Hospital in Victoria in January. (Photo by Rassin Vannier/AFP via Getty Images)

The Seychelles situation is being watched all over the world. “It is providing a critical case to consider the effectiveness of some vaccines and what range we have to reach to meet herd immunity,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Huang noted that other nations that had vaccinated large proportions of their populations, including Israel and Britain, had seen significant drops in new daily cases. Sherin Francis, chief executive of the Seychelles tourism board, said that while much of the population was vaccinated, there were pockets that were not.

imp?s=220950&li=todayworld&m=93426bbcac10f9a828619f1c469f2f5e&p=6098aeb79d2fdae3024a3ac5
imp?s=220953&li=todayworld&m=93426bbcac10f9a828619f1c469f2f5e&p=6098aeb79d2fdae3024a3ac5 imp?s=627512&li=todayworld&m=93426bbcac10f9a828619f1c469f2f5e&p=6098aeb79d2fdae3024a3ac5

Government data released lastweek found that of 1,068 active cases, around 65 percent involved residents who were either completely unvaccinated or had received only one dose. Francis emphasized that even people who have been vaccinated can get infected. “Vaccines are very effective at preventing serious illness and death; they are less good at preventing infection,” Francis said.

So far, the number of deaths in the Seychelles attributed to the virus is relatively low — 28 out of more than 6,000 cases, as of last week. Most of those infected have only mild symptoms, Tourism and Foreign Affairs Minister Sylvestre Radegonde told the Seychelles News Agency over the weekend.But the surge in new cases may also confirm that the vaccines being used in the country have comparatively low effectiveness.

Roughly 60 percent of the doses administered in Seychelles are vaccines made by the Chinese company Sinopharm that were donated to the Seychelles by the United Arab Emirates. The remaining doses are of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and produced by the Serum Institute of India.

In many ways, Seychelles government negotiations for vaccine supplies were savvy and speedy. But the country has ended up using two vaccines that appear to be less effective against symptomatic covid-19. The World Health Organization recently estimated the efficacy of the Sinopharm vaccine at just over 78 percent for adults under 60, with little data on its success with older patients. The UAE has asked some who received the Sinopharm vaccine to return for third doses, citing low immune responses, though officials said only a “very small number” need to do so.

Meanwhile, U.S. trials of AstraZeneca have found that the vaccine is 79 percent effective overall. Both vaccines are considerably lower in effectiveness than the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, which use mRNA technology and have reported effectiveness rates of around 95 percent.

Jennifer Huang Bouey, an epidemiologist who works with the Rand Corp., estimated that given what was known about the Seychelles’ vaccine rollout and the vaccines used, less than 49 percent of the population could be assumed to have immunity conferred by vaccines. “It is still far below the community-level protection requirement,” she said.

“It’s not surprising that they are not seeing a significant decline in cases,” CFR’s Huang said. “But what is surprising to me is that they’ve seen a significant increase in cases since late April.”

Footprints dot the sand on the beach on Mahe island, Seychelles in March 2019. (AP Photo/David Keyton)

Footprints dot the sand on the beach on Mahe island, Seychelles in March 2019. (AP Photo/David Keyton)

That rise in cases arrived after something else: the return of tourists to the Seychelles. But so far, the evidence linking the two is unclear.

After almost a year of strict border controls, the Seychelles announced early this year that it was opening back up to tourists beginning March 25. The government said there would be no quarantine requirements and that visitors would not need to be vaccinated, though they would need to show negative PCR tests taken less than 72 hours before travel. It was an important move for the Seychelles, which relies on tourism for about a quarter of its economy. Economic output declined by 13.5 percent in 2020, largely because of steep drops in tourism revenue, according to the World Bank.

While the number of new daily coronavirus cases has more than doubled since tourism restrictions were removed, only 10 percent of positive cases are among visitors to the island, according to Francis. Even so, the rise in new cases threatens to upend the country’s reopening to tourism. In one recent dispute, vaccinated Israeli travelers publicly complained of “false positive” coronavirus tests that disrupted their stay. The Seychelles Tourism Board refuted that claim on Friday.

“While applying restrictions, care has been taken to ensure that the visitor experience is not affected and that our visitors are still able to enjoy an uninterrupted holiday in Seychelles,” said Francis, adding that the country was able to guarantee PCR tests with results within 24 hours.

Huang Bouey said that while vaccines can help prevent deaths, there was increasing agreement among medical professionals that they alone could not stop new cases or outbreaks. “Quarantine, mask-wearing and crowd-avoiding should be part of the public health strategy,” she said.

Senaratne said it was possible that the Seychelles’ ongoing outbreak could drive away tourists and that the government was undertaking a “delicate balancing act between health and wealth management.”

“Covid-19 has starkly outlined the vulnerabilities of an island nation that remains highly dependent on tourism,” she said, adding that the country would need to diversify its economy. “While we hope the spread of the virus will be curbed in the short term, we cannot help but look uneasily towards the future.”

—————————————————
Bruce Potter
764C Fairview Avenue
Severn House Condominium
Annapolis, MD 21403

Bruce’s iPhone: 443/454-9044
" Blog: PottersWeal.com
See also: Kincey.org

E-mail: <bpotter>
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Covid-19 & Islands (Tsai)-19 May 2021 Taiwan (1).pdf

Posted in Fun | Comments Off on ISISA Today’s WorldView: A warning sign from the world’s most vaccinated country

ISISA Today’s WorldView: A warning sign from the world’s most vaccinated country

Thank you for sharing Bruce.

Malta also has a very high rate of vaccination; meanwhile, reported daily infection rates have gone down into the single digits. (A far cry from the record 510 cases of Covid-19 recorded in 24 hours on March 10.)

Tourism is picking up and restaurants will be able to serve dinner soon; though bars remain closed so far; and no mass gatherings are permitted.

Godfrey

On Mon, 17 May 2021 at 21:26, Bruce Potter <bpotter> wrote:

This effect (runaway COVID-19 infections) has also been seen in the tabulations of coronavirus infections among many global islands in addition to the Seychelles, that Iain Orr has been tabulating every few days since March 21, 2020, and which Godfrey Baldacchinno has been posting and updating on the ISISA.ORG website.

Bruce

Begin forwarded message:

From: The Washington Post <email>

Subject: Today’s WorldView: A warning sign from the world’s most vaccinated country

Date: May 10, 2021 at 12:00:06 AM EDT

To: bpotter

The Washington Post
Today's WorldView
Adam Taylor By Adam Taylor
with Claire Parker
f64e26ef3b53afcd222ecc49f65aa958-envelope_byline-40-32-70-8.png Email

A warning sign from the world’s most vaccinated country

Shoppers wearing masks are seen in Victoria, Seychelles on April 2. (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)Shoppers wearing masks are seen in Victoria, Seychelles on April 2. (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)

As the Seychelles began to offer free coronavirus vaccinations early this year, President Wavel Ramkalawan told reporters that the country was planning to reach herd immunity within weeks.

It was an ambitious target for a small, geographically isolated island nation in the Indian Ocean. But with its economy heavily reliant on tourism, the country called in favors to attain a vaccine supply from regional allies, including India and the United Arab Emirates.

The effort initially seemed to be a success. The Seychelles stands as the most vaccinated nation on Earth, with more than 60 percent of its population fully vaccinated, more than other vaccine giants such as Israel and Britain, and almost twice the United States’ rate of vaccination. But that success was undermined last week as the Seychelles found itself with the world’s largest number of new coronavirus cases per capita and was forced to reinstate some restrictions.

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Though the number of new cases is relatively low — peaking at an average of just under 150 new cases a day — they are a big deal in a country with a population of less than 100,000. On a per capita basis, the Seychelles outbreak is worse than India’s raging surge. In a small country, even a small number of cases can be overwhelming. “A spike in cases places an enormous burden on an already strained public health system,” said Malshini Senaratne, director of Eco-Sol, an environmental consultancy firm in the Seychelles.

With the country’s main treatment center for covid-19 patients nearing capacity and doctors and nurses among the sick, the Seychelles announced the return of coronavirus restrictions, school closures and limited opening hours for shops and restaurants. “These are an upward trend,” said Public Health Commissioner Jude Gedeon at a media briefing last week. “We do not know how long it will last, but this will depend on what measures are taken and how the new measures are respected.”

President of Seychelles Wavel Ramkalawan receives a dose of the Chinese covid-19 vaccine produced by Sinopharm at the Seychelles Hospital in Victoria in January. (Photo by Rassin Vannier/AFP via Getty Images)President of Seychelles Wavel Ramkalawan receives a dose of the Chinese covid-19 vaccine produced by Sinopharm at the Seychelles Hospital in Victoria in January. (Photo by Rassin Vannier/AFP via Getty Images)

The Seychelles situation is being watched all over the world. “It is providing a critical case to consider the effectiveness of some vaccines and what range we have to reach to meet herd immunity,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Huang noted that other nations that had vaccinated large proportions of their populations, including Israel and Britain, had seen significant drops in new daily cases. Sherin Francis, chief executive of the Seychelles tourism board, said that while much of the population was vaccinated, there were pockets that were not.

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Government data released lastweek found that of 1,068 active cases, around 65 percent involved residents who were either completely unvaccinated or had received only one dose. Francis emphasized that even people who have been vaccinated can get infected. “Vaccines are very effective at preventing serious illness and death; they are less good at preventing infection,” Francis said.

So far, the number of deaths in the Seychelles attributed to the virus is relatively low — 28 out of more than 6,000 cases, as of last week. Most of those infected have only mild symptoms, Tourism and Foreign Affairs Minister Sylvestre Radegonde told the Seychelles News Agency over the weekend.But the surge in new cases may also confirm that the vaccines being used in the country have comparatively low effectiveness.

Roughly 60 percent of the doses administered in Seychelles are vaccines made by the Chinese company Sinopharm that were donated to the Seychelles by the United Arab Emirates. The remaining doses are of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and produced by the Serum Institute of India.

In many ways, Seychelles government negotiations for vaccine supplies were savvy and speedy. But the country has ended up using two vaccines that appear to be less effective against symptomatic covid-19. The World Health Organization recently estimated the efficacy of the Sinopharm vaccine at just over 78 percent for adults under 60, with little data on its success with older patients. The UAE has asked some who received the Sinopharm vaccine to return for third doses, citing low immune responses, though officials said only a “very small number” need to do so.

Meanwhile, U.S. trials of AstraZeneca have found that the vaccine is 79 percent effective overall. Both vaccines are considerably lower in effectiveness than the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, which use mRNA technology and have reported effectiveness rates of around 95 percent.

Jennifer Huang Bouey, an epidemiologist who works with the Rand Corp., estimated that given what was known about the Seychelles’ vaccine rollout and the vaccines used, less than 49 percent of the population could be assumed to have immunity conferred by vaccines. “It is still far below the community-level protection requirement,” she said.

“It’s not surprising that they are not seeing a significant decline in cases,” CFR’s Huang said. “But what is surprising to me is that they’ve seen a significant increase in cases since late April.”

Footprints dot the sand on the beach on Mahe island, Seychelles in March 2019. (AP Photo/David Keyton)Footprints dot the sand on the beach on Mahe island, Seychelles in March 2019. (AP Photo/David Keyton)

That rise in cases arrived after something else: the return of tourists to the Seychelles. But so far, the evidence linking the two is unclear.

After almost a year of strict border controls, the Seychelles announced early this year that it was opening back up to tourists beginning March 25. The government said there would be no quarantine requirements and that visitors would not need to be vaccinated, though they would need to show negative PCR tests taken less than 72 hours before travel. It was an important move for the Seychelles, which relies on tourism for about a quarter of its economy. Economic output declined by 13.5 percent in 2020, largely because of steep drops in tourism revenue, according to the World Bank.

While the number of new daily coronavirus cases has more than doubled since tourism restrictions were removed, only 10 percent of positive cases are among visitors to the island, according to Francis. Even so, the rise in new cases threatens to upend the country’s reopening to tourism. In one recent dispute, vaccinated Israeli travelers publicly complained of “false positive” coronavirus tests that disrupted their stay. The Seychelles Tourism Board refuted that claim on Friday.

“While applying restrictions, care has been taken to ensure that the visitor experience is not affected and that our visitors are still able to enjoy an uninterrupted holiday in Seychelles,” said Francis, adding that the country was able to guarantee PCR tests with results within 24 hours.

Huang Bouey said that while vaccines can help prevent deaths, there was increasing agreement among medical professionals that they alone could not stop new cases or outbreaks. “Quarantine, mask-wearing and crowd-avoiding should be part of the public health strategy,” she said.

Senaratne said it was possible that the Seychelles’ ongoing outbreak could drive away tourists and that the government was undertaking a “delicate balancing act between health and wealth management.”

“Covid-19 has starkly outlined the vulnerabilities of an island nation that remains highly dependent on tourism,” she said, adding that the country would need to diversify its economy. “While we hope the spread of the virus will be curbed in the short term, we cannot help but look uneasily towards the future.”

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Bruce Potter
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