BANANA REPUBLIC

Posted in Rants on April 8th, 2011 by Ed

In my final years in Chicago I worked in an office in Greektown, roughly at Halsted and Jackson. A number of businesses in the area were notable for not having…well, customers. Or certainly not enough of them to stay in business. It was quite obvious even to the most naive observer that a number of storefronts in the neighborhood were fronts for Chicago's rather active Greek organized crime groups.

One day a coworker and I decided to relax after a long day by retiring to a nearby bar to watch the Bulls. We entered this ostensible drinking establishment and noted that there were A) no customers and, more unusually, B) no bartender. There was a dusty TV tuned not to local sports but to some baffling Greek soap opera. After a few minutes a gentleman emerged from a back room to inform us that they were unable to serve drinks because they had not received a delivery that day. It was the most ridiculous excuse I have ever heard before or since – and remember, I teach 18 year olds for a living. What do you mean, I asked, gesturing toward the clearly stocked bar. He drolly repeated "No drinks. No delivery today." in a tone that unmistakably indicated that he did not give a shit whether or not I believed him.

He locked the door behind us when we left.

This is why organized crime is so often described as "brazen" among journalists. They operate in the open and under the flimsiest of excuses because they know that everyone knows what they're doing but they simply do not care because what are you gonna do about it, huh? When your organization is so large and so powerful that you can insulate yourselves from the consequences of illegal behavior, why bother to hide it? Which is exactly the attitude we have seen and continue to see from the Scott Walker-era Wisconsin GOP.

In what would ordinarily be a shocking development, on Thursday the Clerk of overwhelmingly Republican Waukesha County (in suburban Milwaukee) fortuitously "discovered" 7500 votes for the Republican candidate in the hotly-contested State Supreme Court election, which had been a virtual tie beforehand. Amazingly, the number of newly discovered votes is just high enough to avoid a mandatory statewide recount.

The Clerk in question, one Kathy Nickolaus, received statewide and national attention last fall for making the unique and unusual decision to keep all of the county's election results not on county servers but on her personal PC and only on her PC. From a contemporaneous news story:

Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus' decision to go it alone in how she collects and maintains election results has some county officials raising a red flag about the integrity of the system.

Nickolaus said she decided to take the election data collection and storage system off the county's computer network – and keep it on stand-alone personal computers accessible only in her office – for security reasons.

"What it gave me was good security of the elections from start to finish, without the ability of someone unauthorized to be involved," she said.

Nonetheless, Director of Administration Norman A. Cummings said because Nickolaus has kept them out of the loop, the county's information technology specialists have not been able to verify Nickolaus' claim that the system is secure from failure.

"How does anybody else in the county know, except for her verbal word, that there are backups, and that the software she has out there is performing as it should?" he said. "There's no way I can assure that the election system is going to be fine for the next presidential election."

And Nickolaus seemed to have the cockiness of a well protected mafioso down pat:

Several committee members said they were uncomfortable with Nickolaus' refusal to adopt the recommendations (ed: to make changes to the system, including assigning a unique logon and password for each employee).

During one part of the discussion, Dwyer erupted in exasperation at Nickolaus' facial expressions.

"There really is nothing funny about this, Kathy," he said, raising his voice. "Don't sit there and grin when I'm explaining what this is about.

"Don't sit there and say I will take it into consideration," he said, asking her pointedly whether she would change the passwords.

"I have not made my decision," she answered. After supervisors continued to press the issue, Nickolaus indicated she would create three different passwords.

"This isn't that big of a deal. It isn't worth an argument," she said. "This is ridiculous."

Nickolaus also said she would make her own assessment of when to back up computer programming for election ballots – and store the more frequent backup in another building, as the auditor recommended.

And this is the tale of how Wisconsin suddenly became Nigeria in terms of electoral transparency and credibility. When third world dictators rig elections they don't really try to hide it. They know that you know what they did. The thing is, they don't care – because they also know that there's nothing you can do about it. Thus Wisconsinites will sit back and watch while their state judiciary, Republican-dominated legislature, and Republican-controlled Executive branch assure the good citizens that there's nothing to see here. Everything's on the up-and-up. Her story checks out. Honest.

Nobody will believe such blatant nonsense but it won't matter. Once the a group of criminals get enough cops and judges on the payroll they lose their fear of operating in broad daylight.