November 15, 2020

1. Films

A. Freedom Summer is a PBS documentary about the Civil Rights Movement — more specifically, about the attempt, in the summer of 1964, to register blacks to vote in Mississippi, and to educate blacks at “Freedom Schools.” About 1,000 college students, many of them white, came to Mississippi to assist. Three members of the project — James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner — were killed by white Mississippians who were opposed to the project. I recommend the film, which is two hours long. A longer, more comprehensive film about the Civil Rights Movement is Eyes on the Prize.

B. The Choice 2020: Trump vs. Biden is a PBS/Frontline documentary. It’s a good summary of the lives of the two candidates.

C. City of God (2002) is a Brazilian movie about a gang war in a ghetto, a brutal movie about a brutal world. I can’t recommend it, but I can’t deny it has a ring of truth. It’s based on real events; it’s based on a novel by a writer who was raised in the ghetto.

D. Black Orpheus (1959) is a re-telling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in Rio during Carnival. I recommend it, it has beautiful scenes of landscape, dance, etc. But I can’t call it a great movie, it doesn’t draw you in, it doesn’t persuade you that its world is real; the characters are rather flat.

E. Mr. Holmes (2015) depicts a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes tending his beehives, and reflecting on his last case. I thought it was mediocre, but I liked the end. Critics at RottenTomatoes gave it a score of 88%, which I think is too high. The public gave it 70% — that’s more like it.

2. Election Fraud

Imagine you were in charge of the Biden campaign in Philadelphia. You divide the city into 1,000 sections, you engage 1,000 campaign workers, and you assign one section to each worker. You tell each worker to try to get everyone in his section registered to vote, get every registered voter a mail-in ballot, and make sure that all ballots are filled out and returned. Of course, you skip over neighborhoods and individuals that you think are pro-Trump.

This approach is more effective than asking people to go to the polls on Election Day. If you ask people to go to the polls, and offer to drive them, you might get a 60% turnout. But if you get everyone a mail-in ballot, and return it for them, you could get a 95% turnout. You’ve brought the voting booth to them, instead of asking them to go to the voting booth. This may be how Biden won the election. The pandemic was a gift to the Democrats, partly because it led to widespread mail-in voting. In the future, expect Republicans to try to limit mail-in voting, and Democrats to try to make it widespread.

Why does mail-in voting help the Democrats? Why can’t Republicans harvest ballots just as Democrats do? Republican voters are more dispersed, so a campaign worker can’t reach as many in a given amount of time. Months before the election, Trump knew that mail-in voting spelled his doom, but he couldn’t stop it. Mail-in voting is the greatest turnout tool ever devised. Mail-in voting is surely one cause of the record turnout in 2020.

The Trump team is now looking for fraudulent votes, but I don’t think they’ll find many. As a WallStreetJournal writer put it,

The beauty of ballot harvesting is that it is nearly impossible to prove fraud.... How many voters were pushed or cajoled, or even paid — or had a ballot filled and returned for them without their knowledge? ....Mail-in voting is the “single worst form of election possible” because “it moves the entire election beyond the oversight of election officials.”

One of the cornerstones of democracy is the secret ballot, but mail-in ballots may not be secret, a campaign worker may be looking over the shoulder of the voter. In 2005, a bi-partisan commission on elections, chaired by Jimmy Carter and James Baker, concluded that “Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.” In Bridgeport, Connecticut, fraudulent mail-in ballots were common, and in 2024, the mayoral race was done over because there was fraud the first time; according to the New York Times, “Voters say that campaigns in Connecticut’s largest city routinely rely on absentee ballots — collected illegally — to win elections.”

In 2020, did Democrats have any motive to commit fraud? They had the strongest possible motive: they believed that a Trump victory would be a disaster for themselves, for the country, and for the planet. A few liberals openly spoke of rigging the election; Thomas Friedman told CNN, “I hope everybody moves to Georgia, you know, in the next month or two, registers to vote and votes for these two Democratic senators.”

In the last issue, I said that Biden’s lead in the popular vote is similar to Hillary Clinton’s in 2016. It now appears that, while Hillary’s was 2.1% in 2016, Biden’s is 4.4% in 2020. Trump deserves credit for energizing his base. The problem is, he energized his opponent’s base, too.

While Biden’s popular-vote margin was quite large, it can be argued that his electoral-vote margin was narrower than Trump’s in 2016. As Michael Barone wrote, “Joe Biden carried the three states (Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin) that raised him above 270 electoral votes by only 43,637 votes at last count, much less than the 77,736 by which Trump carried the three states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin) that raised him above 270 in 2016.”

Web Wit
“I’ve noticed that everyone who owns a boat seems to be a Trump supporter.”
“That’s because there’s currently no government program that gives boats away. You have to work for a boat.”

Some Blacks and Hispanics are moving to the Republican party, perhaps because they’ve risen into the middle class, the entrepreneurial class, and they don’t want their tax dollars given to the less industrious. But if they rise above the middle class, if they become teachers or doctors, then they’ll probably vote Democratic. Those who scramble to make a living often vote Republican, while those with a steady paycheck often vote Democratic, especially if their paycheck comes from the government.

3. Benford’s Law

I’ve complained that some lawyers inflate their bills. How can fraud be detected? Perhaps by using Benford’s Law, which is often used to find fraud in elections and in government programs.

Benford’s Law looks at numbers, especially the first digit in a series of numbers. If a lawyer’s bills often start with 4 (for example, $4,968.72), that should raise suspicion. The lawyer is trying to maximize his take, without going over $5,000. Another lawyer might use a different system, but it should be possible to show that the numbers follow a pattern; the bills aren’t honest, they don’t reflect hours/work, they’re crafted to maximize the take.

If someone audited 10,000 lawyers’ bills, I think they’d find that there are more bills between $4,000 and $5,000 than between $3,000 and $4,000. And there are more bills between $4,500 and $5,000 than between $4,000 and $4,500.

I’m sure an audit would find widespread fraud in lawyers’ bills, but after an audit was done, lawyers would study Benford’s Law, and they’d learn how to deceive the auditor, their bills wouldn’t follow an obvious pattern. The same is true with election fraud; if mail-in ballots were filled out by campaign workers, their method would need to be adjusted if it became known to auditors. For example, if campaign workers circled Biden, and left the rest of the ballot blank, auditors might start to look for that, so the campaign workers might need to use a different method in the next election.

© L. James Hammond 2020
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