Saturday, August 19, 2017

Politicians give special favors to Campaign Donors.

California Gubernatorial Candidate Steered Low-Income Housing Funds To Campaign Contributors

California Treasurer John Chiang's conflicts of interest are not the first in the program's long and sordid history.

Lawndale Project Housing (South Side)hEnDeRsOn, kY/Wikimedia CommonsThe federal government's Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program is supposedly "the most important resource for creating affordable housing in the United States today." But since its creation in 1986, the $8 billion program has been plagued by scandals and other problems.
The latest involves California treasurer and 2018 gubernatorial candidate John Chiang, who has helped funnel millions in LIHTC tax credits to developers who have given him some $100,000 in campaign donations.
The Sacramento Bee reports that Chiang, through his role on various committees charged with dispensing LIHTC money, was able to steer $60 million in federal tax credits to the developer Pacific West Communities, which has since donated $37,000 to his various campaign committees.

Another developer, Domus, has gotten Chiang's signoff on tax credits for three separate projects since 2013. The company has donated $40,000 to Chiang over the same period.
The problem, say LIHTC's critics, is that there is little accountability for how the program's credits get handed out.
"Really, there is no federal oversight of the process," says Daniel Diaz-Garcia of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which has now published three reports on LIHTC.
In theory, the Internal Revenue Service provides oversight for LIHTC. But the agency isn't very well-suited to oversee such a complex program. "The IRS is a tax collection agency," says Diaz-Garcia. "It's not involved in housing policy. It's not involved in administering programs on the part of the federal government."
Each year, the IRS gives each state a pool of LIHTC dollars. (The amount each state gets is based on its population.) The states then—through what are known as Housing Finance Authorities, or HFAs—award these tax credits to developers of affordable housing projects. Those companies then sell the tax credits to investors in their developments.
Throughout the program's 30-year history, according to those GAO reports, the IRS has audited only seven of the now 58 HFAs.
In California, the tax credits are awarded by the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (CTCAC). As treasurer, Chiang is one of three voting members of CTCAC, which gives him enormous influence over where the state's $94.9 million in federal LIHTC money goes.
Potential conflicts of interest—or in Chiang's case, actual conflicts of interest—in awarding the tax credits highlight the need for internal safeguards and regular reviews of the program. But thanks to the IRS's "minimal" oversight, the GAO has found that the agency "cannot determine the extent of noncompliance and other issues at HFAs."
This is not the only high-profile scandal related to the program. In Florida, developers fraudulently inflated construction costs in order to squeeze some $34 million out of 14 separate LIHTC-funded projects. The head of Florida's HFA—who was supposed to be monitoring these projects for this kind of fraud—resigned in 2016 after an audit found he had spent $50,000 on a single steak and lobster dinner for those same affordable housing lenders he was supposed to be monitoring.
Another problem with LIHTC is its system of "boosts." Not only can developers reclaim up to 70 percent of a project's initial costs through tax credits, but states can also give out a "boost" of extra tax credits should a developer demonstrate this is necessary to make their project financially viable. A 2016 GAO report found that states often failed to determine those additional credits' financial necessity before doling them out.
Virginia awarded boosts to all LIHTC projects that received certain green building certifications, including in one case a developer who didn't even ask for the bonus credits. Arizona just gives the boosts to all LIHTC projects, no questions asked.
All this has led to a situation where LIHTC recipients are spending more money on a decreasing number of projects. A recent investigation by NPR and Frontline found that 70,220 units were constructed with LIHTC funds in 1998 at the cost of $4.1 billion in tax credits. In 2014, LIHTC handed out $6.8 billion to build just 58,735 units.
California's data show a similar trend at the state level, with the tax credit allocations per unit (including state tax credits) rising from $195,764 in 2010 to $219,946 in 2016.
These mounting costs and diminishing returns are a natural consequence of the program's complex design, says Vanessa Brown Calder, an urban policy analyst with the Cato Institute.
"You lose a lot of value along the way from the IRS to the developer to the tenant," Calder tells ReasonAcademic research has found that only about 35 percent of the value of the credits provided to developers shows up as rent savings for tenants.
Calder says the only real way to increase affordable housing is to reform the state and local zoning regulations that drive up the costs of home construction (and, as a result, raise rents). "All these federal subsidies coming in are just band-aid solutions," she comments. "They're just kind of like the federal government chasing its tail."
At $8 billion a year, LIHTC is a pretty expensive band-aid.

Marinwood CSD objects to planning its future.

The Marinwood CSD has steadfastly objected to the assembly of citizens for the discussion of the future of Marinwood and design review.  Marinwood is the subject of intensive urban development.  Prior Supervisor Susan Adams quietly submitted Marinwood for a Priority Development Area and to take up to 80% of all low income subsidized housing for unincorporated Marin.  The previous three boards have quashed all public discussion of these plans despite the radical transformation of the community that development will bring.  It is indeed curious why a citizen's committee would be so threatening.  I believe that it is seen as dangerous to the established CSD power structure.  Why shouldn't the community have discussions about its future?   The CSD beileves its only role is to spend money and disavows civic involvement in important affairs that will affect our taxes, schools, roads and even our local government

Friday, August 18, 2017

Small Town Employee Embezzles $53 Million Dollars (A warning about sloppy business practices )

Editor's Note: When an employee of a small Illinois town (pop 15,000) found out that their long time trusted employee stole $53 million dollars over 20 years, everyone was shocked.  I am actually NOT SURPRISED given what I know of the business practices of small towns like the Marinwood CSD.   Thousands of dollars of cash goes through its coffers with little oversight. Given that neither our staff or the CSD board has any interest in the "details" of business operations, Marinwood CSD is RIPE for similar financial fraud.  

Recently, Leah Kleinman Green refused to discuss the issue because "events are not supposed to make money".

Who is watching our business interests for the Marinwood CSD?

Rita Crundwell and the Dixon Embezzlement

THE $53 MILLION BAMBOOZLE: How the trusted comptroller of a small Illinois town became the biggest municipal embezzler in U.S. history, according to the feds—and no one noticed



UPDATE (11.14.12):Rita Crundwell pleaded guilty to fraud on November 14 in federal court in Rockford.

It was time. The three men, in standard-issue FBI suits and ties, arrived at Dixon City Hall just after nine on the morning of Tuesday, April 17.They chatted breezily with Jim Burke, the mild-mannered, silver-haired mayor, who smiled and nodded from behind a cluttered desk in his office on the second floor. But for the badges tucked into the men’s wallets and the guns holstered on their belts, the gathering might have looked like a few insurance salesmen debating weekend tee times.
Related Content
Photos: Rita Crundwell and the Dixon embezzlement

As the small talk petered out, however, a chill settled over the room. Burke looked up at the men. “Are we ready?” he asked.

The lead agent, Patrick Garry, nodded. “Yes. Let’s bring her in.”

Burke reached for the phone and punched in the number for the comptroller. “Rita, would you mind stepping into my office for a minute?”

“Sure,” Rita Crundwell answered brightly.

For five long months—ever since Dixon’s city clerk, Kathe Swanson, had stumbled upon a curious bank statement from an even more curious bank account—Burke had been helping the feds unravel an embezzlement scheme so vast and so brazen it seemed almost inconceivable. Tens of millions of dollars had been siphoned from the tiny rural city’s operating budget. The money was being dumped into a mysterious account and allegedly spent on everything but city business: jewelry, fancy clothes, a custom motor coach, boats, property in Florida, luxury cars, hundreds of the finest horses this side of Amarillo. And that was only what the feds had found in their cursory first look at the city’s cooked books.

Most stunning of all was the identity of the person suspected of masterminding the scheme: Rita Crundwell, a woman whose parents were the kind of humble, hardworking community pillars upon which Dixon’s reputation was built, a woman who had been the town’s comptroller for more than three decades, as trusted and efficient as a church tithe collector.

It was Burke who had taken the dubious bank statement to the FBI office in Rockford back in October 2011. Agents instructed him to hold his tongue while they investigated. As the months passed, he woke often in the night. Was this really happening?

The mayor’s thoughts turned to Crundwell’s hobby. Everyone in town knew that Crundwell, 59, who is divorced and has no children, owned and showed horses. The local paper reported on various championships she won, honors that bestowed a measure of pride on the city.

But very few in Dixon had the faintest idea of the operation Crundwell was running or of the magnitude of the double life she was leading. By day, she was a modest municipal worker with a high-school education; by night, she was a diamond-bedazzled high roller, the doyenne of a world that was a million miles in glamour and several million dollars in wealth from the cornfields and cattle farms of Illinois.

Week after week, Burke would pass Crundwell in the upstairs offices—a warren of cubicles with pile carpeting and cheap wood paneling—and pretend that nothing was wrong, trading “good mornings” with the woman he’d been told was robbing the city blind and smiling as she did. Week after week, Swanson, the city clerk who had flagged the telltale bank statement, swallowed her disgust as she watched the coworker she had once considered a friend breezing around the building.

Now the day of reckoning was at hand.

“Hi,” Crundwell chirped, sticking her head through the door.

“Morning,” Burke said. “Would you mind coming in?”

Garry wasted no time. “I’m with the FBI,” he said, displaying his badge. “We’d like to ask you some questions.”

From his desk, Burke studied Crundwell. If she has an ounce of shame, he thought, it will show on her face. When he saw her expression, the unwavering calm smile, he was stunned. “I was looking right at her,” Burke recalls. “And the look on her face never changed. Absolutely never changed.”  See Article

"Just read what I wrote!"

Citizen asks for a report on the Park and Recreation minutes and the general manager refuses the request. The citizen did not have reading glasses. Why did the general manager, Eric Dreikosen refuse?

Marinwood Fire Chief discusses post retirement options

Marinwood CSD Fire Chief Tom Roach urges the board to assemble a citizens commission of insiders to discuss his post retirement plans and restructuring of the fire department.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Marinwood CSD makes a $7000 "accounting mistake"

The yearly audit of Marinwood CSD revealed a significant error of $7000 and bad management practice from previous years.  The auditor was the same one employed by the district for at least ten years and one wonders why this wasn't identified earlier.   Eric Dreikosen, Marinwood CSD manager promises to "get to the bottom of it" and blames the error on switching accounting systems.  Has the cash management at the Marinwood CSD improved in 2017?  See related videos for the answer.

Why so many petty cash reimbursements for $300?

Citizen questions the petty cash reimbursements without detailed records. There are quite a few that get posted each month without explanation.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

How much was the Marinwood Brew Fest Gross Revenue?

Asking a simple question about the Marinwood Brewfest held on July 22, 2017 gets an evasive response.  While a similar brewfest held in Novato recently made $40,000, the brewfest in Marinwood made only "about $400" for an estimated 315 attendees despite the FREE BEER DONATIONS.   

Tickets for the event were $15. which entitled a small sample of beer.  More beer was available for additional cost.  Also, childcare was available for $10 for the five hour event.  At the very minimum the event brought in $4750 in gross revenue but it is likely to be double that amount through additional sales.  Many of the beer pourers were volunteers and so the cost of the event was quite low.   The tent rental was $1000 and the bands were paid an unknown sum by the CSD.    Notice how pointed questions were evaded by the staff and the board. Chief Roach interrupts  the public saying that "we don't know the costs". Leah Kleinman Green, Marinwood CSD director, claims that there is no need to know the  details of the event since EVENTS ARE NOT MEANT TO MAKE MONEY. 

Strange answers from a board who claims to look after the public interest and manage our CSD revenue.

This absolutely deserves further investigation by an unbiased higher authority.  Why isn't our General Manager, Eric Dreikosen asking the same questions?

Leah Kleinman Green reminds the public that SHE IS IN CHARGE and doesn't need to respond to public demands for accountability.

Marinwood Fire Departments $54,280 "Martha Stewart" kitchen makeover BOONDOGGLE

Chief Roach discusses a $54,280 kitchen makeover for the Marinwood Fire House.  In the spring of 2017, the fire chief discovered mold in the kitchen and thought it could be black mold.  Most mold found in wet areas is the common, non toxic type that easily cleans up with household bleach.  However, the Chief  called in a "Mold remediation expert" that for $6700 demolished the kitchen and applied "special mold" abatement chemical treatment  (household bleach and other chemicals).  A lab test did reveal that "dangerous mold" was present and the company provided "a certificate of remediation".  The firehouse kitchen was gutted.  This was convenient because coincidentally, the chief has wanted a new kitchen for several years.  The kitchen is a standard household size (10' x 10') kitchen with about  30 feet of counter space.  It was also quite convenient that the chief knew of a contractor who bid $24,999 for the kitchen remodel that included granite counter tops, custom lighting and top of the line luxury appliances. The bid was under the $25,000 threshold that would force it to a public bid process.   

Then Chief Roach learned of prevailing wage law that requires the CSD to hire only DIR contractors.  The new bids came in for $80k to $100k plus but only for a utilitarian kitchen.   These bids even made the chief blush.  The kitchen makeover was not anticipated in the 2017 budget.   The chief hired an architect to design the kitchen ($5000?) and finally got a bid from John Pope Construction for $54,280 not including appliances.  The chief likes this bid in part because the contractor's sons are firefighters.  
Martha Stewart will be proud of the stylish makeover
of the Marinwood FD kitchen.

All of the CSD board members were ready to approve the expenditure at this meeting.  Unfortunately, they have to follow the law and Ron Marinoff suggested that they do it at a "special meeting" where few would notice or attend.  The chief did not publish the bid as required by Brown Act but gave a photocopy at the meeting.

Having done several kitchen remodels in the past of similar sized kitchens,  I know that even in today's business climate, a simple makeover which essentially means only new cabinets and appliances could be achieved for well under $20k.    A community member even offered a $25k DONATION for the kitchen but this was refused.  Instead, Chief Roach appears to be contracting with the highest bidder available,  refusing to use simple commercial grade stainless steel cabinetry and appliances.  

This is at best a HUGE WASTE of your tax dollars.  At worst, it reeks of favoritism, inside dealing and possible corruption.  All of the Marinwood CSD board members appear to be complicit.  Neither our new general manager, Eric Dreikosen or any of the board members (excepting Izabela Perry) is objecting to the ridiculous expenditure.   

I believe the kitchen could be outfitted easily for less than $15k with new install ready cabinets and appliances.  The  money wasted on this "Martha Stewart" Kitchen" project could be spent on playground equipment,  programs,  landscaping and our pension fund.

When the Marinwood CSD tells you that we need to raise taxes, point to this boondoogle and tell them "NO".

Bid from John Pope construction distributed at the meeting but never publicly published as required by law.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Family Home in 322 square feet ? IKEA has a solution

Urbanists try to sell us on living in small spaces.  Here is a home for a family of four in 322 square feet designed by Ikea. 

I have a love-hate affair with IKEA.  I love their innovation and modern, accessible design.  I hate the disposable consumerism and cheap chipboard furniture with no soul.  Plan Bay Area aspires to transform the suburbs into small apartment living in high density complexes through a combination of government funding,  upzoning and a ban on new single family home development.  

Is this the American Dream you aspire to?  Probably not if you are among the 85% of Americans that prefer privacy, space and nature afforded in suburban, single family living. 

Are liberal elites using cities to create a feudal society?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Brendan O'Neill on hateful, illiberal ideologues

The Left’s Supporting Role in American Hate Theater

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty

The Left’s Supporting Role in American Hate Theater

White supremacists from the KKK to the alt-right hold rallies solely to troll liberals—and they're succeeding. It's time for a new resistance strategy.

August 7, 2017

On the second Saturday in July, more than 1,000 people showed up in a small Southern city to shout down the Ku Klux Klan. That very same afternoon, up North, left-wing counter-protesters chased a band of alt-right Proud Boys out of a public park where they’d tried to rally. It’s been like that throughout this Summer of Hate, fifty years removed from the so-called Summer of Love. Wherever they’ve tried to assemble, both old and new-school white supremacists have found themselves routinely outnumbered, outshouted, out-organized, and out-brawled by the left.

It’s been a long time—almost half a century, in fact—since liberal America has been in a proper street-fighting mood. Peaceful nonviolence and “engaging in dialogue” are approximately as relevant in 2017 as LSD and Jefferson Airplane. And in many ways that’s a glorious thing. Liberal passivity—tolerating intolerance, reasoning with insanity—has unquestionably played a role in the rise of Donald Trump and the new, increasingly dangerous form of white supremacy that he’s inspired. It’s thrilling to meet force with force when the assholes come to town. Hell, it’s thrilling just to read the headlines. “KKK rally in Charlottesville met with throng of protesters” has an undeniably gleeful ring to it, especially when you’re reading it in USA Today.

But there’s a downside, and a dark side, to the way we’re fighting back. By confronting both the various breeds of white supremacists with fury and violence, we’re giving them better media attention and recruitment tools than the worst of the worst could ever hope to muster for themselves.

Charlottesville is a case in point. A largely liberal university town in central Virginia, it has mounted the single most impressive show of resistance in the country. Apitched battle over removing Confederate monuments and renaming Robert E. Lee Park had been raging for years before the city council voted in February to finally rid the city of the statues and rename the park. But even when the dispute was seemingly settled, it wasn’t; the haters wouldn’t let it die. Several dozen white nationalists led by self-promoting, Hitler-saluting dandy Richard Spencer and The Daily Caller’s resident fascist contributor, Jason Kessler, organized a torch-lit procession to the park in May, while the city was holding a multicultural festival nearby—a perfect opportunity for trolling IRL.

The white supremacists gave Pat Buchanesque speeches about the death of Western civilization, and paid symbolic homage to both their Klan forefathers (with the torches) and to Hitler and Fearless Leader Trump, chanting “blood and soil!” and “Russia is our friend.” Kessler tore down a protest sign from the Lee statue and got arrested for disorderly conduct, while the rest of the crew celebrated their triumph. “After the event and a long day of winning, we went back and threw an Alt-Right house party and celebrated our victory,” wrote Wayne Peek at “We sang songs, laughed and most of all just enjoyed the mental high you feel after an incredible win.”

A tiny and largely defunct rural North Carolina chapter of the KKK, the Loyal White Knights, decided to get in on the fun and announced their own “save the statue” hoedown in Charlottesville on July 8. When the day came for these outside agitators to show their faces (and/or hoods), the ragtag band of bearded, wild-eyed white dudes numbered 40 or 50. By and large, this was the usual pathetic bunch of lowlifes from the hollow—whoever was drunk or pissed-off enough that day to put on a costume and come along for the ride and try to spook some liberal snowflakes. (Favorite sign, wielded by one of more official-looking ZZ Top doppelgängers in the crew: “Jews Are Satans Children / Talmud Is a Child Molesters Biblel!” [sic]).

This wasn’t a show of organized menace; it was a public display of the Klan’s profound irrelevance. Even with the spike in racist hate crimes and organized white supremacy we’ve seen in the Trump era, there’s been no KKK resurgence to speak of. A recent report by the Anti-Defamation League found a grand total of 42 Klan groups currently active in 33 states, most claiming fewer than 25 members. Even that small remnant is disorganized, squabbling and fractious; as one Klansmen lamentedonline, “there is more Imperial Wizards on Facebook then there is at Hogwart’s Academy.”

Only one thing gives the Klan a dollop of relevance and currency: The liberal and left-wing freakout every time they drop an ungrammatical leaflet in people’s yards in the dead of night, and especially whenever they announce a rally. A KKK rally is catnip for the left, and white supremacists—including the better organized, more menacing younger denizens of white nationalism who masquerade as the “alt-right”—know it. You only have to slap Klan or Nazi imagery on a poster announcing an event, or announce it on Facebook, and you’ve immediately sent every liberal and left-winger within shouting distance (which now means the global internet) into a world-class tizzy. They’ll organize to shut down the march, and tie up city council meetings for weeks with demands to revoke the First Amendment privileges of the worst of the worst. They’ll hotly debate the “best” way to respond, or not. Some—most­—will naturally want to overwhelm the haters with shame and numbers. Others will want to peacefully counter-organize multicultural festivals and teaching moments. They’ll have the best intentions in the world. And they’ll all be expending a lot of organizing energy, not to mention emotional currency, on very little indeed.

And so the good people of Charlottesville, along with a fair number of masked anti-fascists and anarchists from god knows where, took to the streets on July 8. They drowned out the Klansmen with their own taunts and threats, tried to block them from driving away after the rally, and turned their ire toward the cops for “protecting” the Klan. The Charlottesville Police Department made matters worse, ordering the protesters to disperse in short order, then tear-gassing them in the ensuing chaos. Twenty-three protesters landed in jail. As Slate’s Jamelle Bouie notedin his eyewitness account, “if anyone was in danger, it was the Klan members, not the protesters.”

Counter-organizing against the Klan is a sucker’s game. Name any Klan rally in the last few decades, anywhere in the United States, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a single one that was not grossly overhyped by local (and thus national) media, turned into a community spectacle that leaves the left feuding with each other and battling police over cops’ “peace-keeping” tactics. And the faded remnants of that sad spent force of American Hate go away feeling strangely powerful and relevant, chuckling with delight at how easily the “socialists” can be duped.

We’re getting played. And the alt-right, which has all the momentum and currency that the Klan sorely lacks, understands this well. Every day, they’re scripting new episodes of American Hate Theater, and the left is dutifully playing its supporting role.

If we were only talking about the KKK here, there’d be nothing else to say: Before you organize against a Klan rally, follow the unheeded advice of Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, who warned residents before the Klan rally in July to not “take the bait—to deny the KKK the confrontation and celebrity they desire.” But when it comes to the new white nationalists, it’s not quite so clear-cut. Despite the hype, the “alt-right” is another small band of squabbling ideologues and thugs, led by wannabes like Spencer and National Socialist Leader Matthew Heimbach, with the same sociopathic tendencies and runaway egos that crippled the old hate groups from within. But they’re also young—and young men in packs are the most dangerous people in America, both in terms of regular crime and hate crimes. And their ranks, unlike the Klan’s, are growing; they’ve been able to muster 200 of their fellow-travelers for public spectacles, and they’re planning to amass in Charlottesville again on Saturday for a “Unite the Right Free Speech Rally” they’ve been advertising for months.

The new white nationalists are not just putting misspelled leaflets on people’s doors in the middle of the night, as the Klan still does, or organizing rallies on the town square. The alt-lite Proud Boys, the brainchild of Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, is for instance a sort of white-male-supremacist fraternity for overgrown nutjobs who like to doll up in fascist preppy drag and get their kicks infiltrating Black Lives Matter and other social-justice protests, taunting people and starting fights (it’s reputedly an initiation rite to “kick the crap out of an antifa,” or anti-fascist). They’re not alone: National Socialists, Oath Keepers, the whole alphabet soup of testosterone-crazed haters are (within their own considerable limits) better organized and more genuinely threatening than the Kluxers could hope to be. They don’t want to scare and intimidate city folk once in a while, and then crawl back in their hidey-holes. They want to troll and provoke the left non-stop, and they do. They want to recruit alienated young white guys to the cause, and they do. And they’ve learned valuable lessons from the old Klan in how to exaggerate their potency.

One of those lessons came to fruition on the same Saturday in July that KKK counter-protesters took leave of their senses in Charlottesville. In New Haven, Connecticut, the Proud Boys (and other groups, supposedly) had put out word that they’d have a “recruitment” event on the New Haven Green, smack in the middle of town, featuring a speech by Augustus Invictus, another self-glorifying (and goat-blood-drinking) “leader” who publishes The Revolutionary Conservative. They had no permit to protest; if a rally had transpired, it would have been a matter of minutes to call the cops and shut it down.

Instead, social-justice activists spread the word and turned out some 150 counter-protesters to meet a grand total of six Proud Boys who showed up—their speaker never did. (Stuck in traffic, Invictus claimed; it’s brutal in New Haven on a Saturday afternoon!) It became another classic episode of American Hate Theater, captured as always on smartphones by both sides, and by local media. “This is some of the most unproductive shit I’ve ever seen in my life,” one black protester (who says his brother was recently shot by police) tells a white activist:

To put it mildly, the counter-protesters of the nonexistent protest do not come off well in any video of the event. The few Proud Boys who showed up in their Fred Perry shirts and MAGA hats (wondering where the rally was, no doubt) were bombed with paint balloons, threatened, harassed, and in one case kicked around pretty good. The “counter-protesters” were the aggressors—they’d been primed for a fight, for a threat that wouldn’t materialize, and some of them proceeded as though there was one. The police overreacted too—it’s part of the established script—and showed their own stupidity about the state of twenty-first-century hate, blaming the organizers for claiming the Proud Boys were violent white supremacists (which they unquestionably are). “We told them there was no KKK,” said New Haven’s clueless police chief, adding that the Proud Boys were “no white supremacist group” but rather “a white nationalist group”—and thus not a menace to take seriously, apparently.

If the new white nationalists didn’t know it before, now they do: You don’t even haveto organize and turn your people out to garner golden publicity and bolster recruitment efforts. Just say you’re showing up, and watch the fireworks.

The impetus to “smash” the haters is hard to deny, and in many ways impossible to argue with. But we’re losing the same street battles that we’re winning. And worse, we’re fighting the wrong fight: Instead of counter-trolling the haters online, in the arena where they’re actually winning converts, the left is organizing to out-taunt, out-number, and physically overwhelm them whenever they come up for daylight. And we’re inadvertently feeding directly into the new white nationalists’ own propaganda.

Spencer and his cohorts claim they’re not haters or aggressors, but rather the last defenders of a dying Western civilization. You’d have to be a gullible moron—or an alienated young white male—to fall for that logic, but America has been known to produce its fair share of gullible morons and alienated young white males.

It’s time for a new tactic. Let the alt-right declare a race war that nobody shows up for. They’re already vastly out-numbered. Surely they can also be outsmarted.

Bob Moser is the New Republic’s editor-at-large.

In China, Beware: A Camera May Be Watching You

In China, Beware: A Camera May Be Watching You

The use of security cameras such as these, looking out over Tiananmen Square in Beijing, is on the rise in China. Critics say the government is using them to discourage dissidents.Ed Jones /AFP/Getty Images

The first of two reports

China is becoming a surveillance state. In recent years, the government has installed more than 20 million cameras across a country where a decade ago there weren't many.

Today, in Chinese cities, cameras are everywhere: on highways, in public parks, on balconies, in elevators, in taxis, even in the stands at sporting events.

Officials say the cameras help combat crime and maintain "social stability" — a euphemism for shutting up critics.

In fact, the government routinely uses cameras to monitor and intimidate dissidents. Human rights activists worry that more surveillance will erode the freedom of ordinary people and undermine what little ability they have to question their rulers.

Life Under Surveillance

Li Tiantian knows firsthand how the state can use video images against people it doesn't like. Li, 46, is an outspoken human rights lawyer in Shanghai.

Police watch Li so closely, it's best to visit her after dark and use a grove of trees behind her apartment building as cover. Once inside, she'll tell you to turn off your cellphone and put it in another room.

"People with technological know-how all said the cops can use cellphones to monitor people, track your location, even use cellphones as a listening device," Li explains, as dumplings she has prepared bubble in a pot. "People have reached a consensus that when we chat together, we put cellphones away."

Enlarge this image

Li Tiantian, a human rights lawyer, is under heavy surveillance by Chinese authorities. She says police tried to get her boyfriend to break up with her by showing him photos of other men she had been involved with.Frank Langfitt/NPR

Sound paranoid?

It isn't.

Chinese state security agents have privately confirmed they can turn cellphones into listening devices. Li says they also eavesdrop on her conversations to track her movements and arrest her.

"One morning, when I was going to a court hearing, I called a gypsy cab," says Li. "Police found out through the telephone that the car was coming to my compound. Then they waited there to catch me."

Li takes most of this in stride, but what really angered her was when agents invaded her private life. In 2011, they showed her boyfriend photos of other men she'd been involved with.

They also tried to show him surveillance camera video of Li entering hotels with the men at various times, but the boyfriend refused to watch.

Li criticizes China's government, talking freely with journalists and other people on China's increasingly freewheeling Internet. She says Shanghai authorities are trying to force her to leave the city and return to her home in far western China.

"What they can do is to destroy my life," says Li, who wears her hair in a mop top and serves dinner while wearing a down coat to ward off the chill in her sparsely furnished apartment. "So, they asked my boyfriend to break up with me."

He hasn't yet, but he's feeling the heat. The government has already stripped Li of her lawyer's license.

When I asked to interview her boyfriend on tape, he refused, fearing he could lose his job, too, and the couple would become destitute. Li and her boyfriend argued, revealing the very real strains of a life under police surveillance and political pressure. Li says this is the true face of the Communist Party: a regime that will resort to any means to crush its critics.

"Many people have been deceived by the government," she says. "They think this government is OK and it wouldn't do such dirty, disgusting and shameless things. I feel they are all like poisonous snakes. I fear them and hate them."

Cameras Everywhere

In 2005, China began building a nationwide surveillance system. Officials dubbed it "Skynet," with no apparent sense of irony. "Skynet" is also the name of the computer system in the Terminator films that attacks mankind.

The greatest fear is the state uses its surveillance and technology to curtail the modest freedoms that Chinese enjoy today.

Nicholas Bequelin, researcher for Human Rights Watch

The government placed cameras along streets, on public buses and outside the homes of dissidents. After uprisings in the western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, the authorities also installed cameras in mosques and temples.

In recent years, the southwestern city of Chongqing set a goal to install a half-million cameras. Police there boasted that during Chinese New Year in 2010, their surveillance apparatus identified 4,000 undesirables who had entered town. According to SWeekly, a Chinese magazine, the police confronted most of them within six hours and forced them to leave.

Human rights activists say the implications of so much surveillance in the hands of an authoritarian regime operating without the rule of law are scary.

"The greatest fear is the state uses its surveillance and technology to curtail the modest freedoms that Chinese enjoy today," says Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Bequelin says the Communist Party's ultimate goal is highly accurate, facial-recognition technology that would allow the government to visually track critics in real time.

"That would be a game changer," he says, one that could "prevent the emergence of any challenge to the party in the short and long term."

China already uses facial recognition in places like immigration checkpoints.

Bo Zhang, who follows China's surveillance camera market for IMS Research, says facial recognition is much less effective on the street, where lighting varies.

"Frankly, the technology is not as good as described in the movies," he says. "It's not that easy to find people in crowds."

And, Zhang says, the government still has to knit together the country's disparate surveillance networks into one, all-seeing eye.

As elsewhere, surveillance has many positive uses in China. Shanghai police say video cameras helped them catch more than 6,000 suspects in 2010, but they declined to discuss those successes with NPR.

Last year, police in Chongqing used a series of cameras to identify a serial killer, analyze his habits, track his movements and ultimately kill him.

Some Feel Safer, Many Feel Dread

The volume of surveillance cameras on a Chinese city street can be overwhelming at times. On a stretch of road half a block from NPR's Shanghai bureau, I counted 11 cameras within a 100-foot radius.

Despite the density, many ordinary Chinese are unfazed. Liao Guosheng, who sells shoes and hats from a three-wheel bike, says the cameras deter shoplifters.

"Before, when I parked my tricycle in neighborhoods, thieves always stole things," says Liao. "Now, they rarely steal. I feel a sense of safety."

Other people, though, feel a sense of dread.

Last year, Beijing's China University of Politics and Law installed cameras in classrooms. Officials said it was to prevent cheating, but professors didn't believe them.

Liu Xin, who teaches administrative law, thinks the school plans to target teachers who might criticize China's current system in front of students.

"Because things are recorded, once they suspect certain teachers are problematic ... they can find the recordings and that means they've found evidence," Liu says.

She says cameras will intimidate instructors from speaking their minds and undermine learning. Liu thinks professors will just teach from textbooks to protect themselves.

"I think teachers will lose interest and students will lose interest as well," she says.

The Ministry of Education declined NPR's request for an interview and insisted that the cameras are just to deter cheating. Bo Zhang, the analyst, estimates there are now about 30 million cameras operating in China — or about one for every 43 citizens. He expects camera sales to grow 20 percent annually over the next five years.

In China, Surveillance Feeds Become Reality TV

In China, Surveillance Feeds Become Reality TV

Live surveillance feeds around the country are watched by citizens who are increasingly comfortable with big brother

Artist Xu Bing describes how he created the fictional film ‘Dragonfly Eyes’ by piecing together footage taken from ubiquitous surveillance cameras recording the daily lives of Chinese citizens. Photos: Xu Bing Studio

BEIJING—They may be blocked from watching YouTube, but China’s 751 million internet users can binge on real-time video streams of yoga studios, swimming lessons, alpaca ranches and thousands of other scenes captured by surveillance cameras.