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WHY THIS PROG BLOG, WITH THE HUGE INFORMATION GLUT STRANGLING THE INTERNET, CHALLENGING THE VERY NOTION OF INFINITY?READ this page and don't forget the ESSAYS segment on page 2. Your comments, criticisms, and other reactions are always welcome. Please email me. I will be happy to post them and respond and let that be chain-reactive. P.S.: Donations are always welcome. I've just put up a new page on my brilliant career as a classicist--it's at the bottom of this page, far right. Here's a link to it also. And remember, whatever you decide to do with your life, from king of the world to king of the road (or queen, in either case, or prince or princess, or etc., the best way to learn humanities is from humanity, just as the best way to learn science is from scientists! See now also my new feature "POEM WHEN POSSIBLE": I am consolidating my opus and will share poems when I can. The latest set is two Boston poems, one sweet, one sour, one summer, the other winter. After the world ends, I'll still be posting, assuming that Western civilization still reigned, or at least existed when the world ended. There's just too much to say, too many contradictions. Most of the time, I'll write, we passed by homeless people, trying to ignore them, even though one of them created the very basis of just about everything we know and love--a dead white man, a homeless one, ironically named Homer.
"Here is the masterpiece on every way that the scoundrel class shred and savage our right to vote."--Greg Palast
Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols: How the People Lost and Won, 2000-2008, by Election Integrity (EI) activist Marta Steele, is a history of the Election Integrity movement from 2000 to 2008, highlighting the corrupt practices of that decade, and how the people rallied to control and ultimately overcome them, at least in Election 2008. What happened thereafter will become another book.
The culprits were highly corruptible and low-quality machines and the machinery that allowed them to proliferate, defying the will of the people in favor of conservative values unconcerned with the exigent issues that drew the people to the polls. Voters turned out in record numbers in 2008. Thirty percent of those who usually sit out elections (a total of about 100 million) showed up.
For their will not to have prevailed would have represented the biggest travesty in our nation's history; and yet a week before Election Day both John McCain and Karl Rove were predicting a Republican victory.
Then Rove changed his mind on the eve of Election Day, predicting that Obama would win. But this occurred after the huge battle, at so many levels, ultimately boiled down to a deposition in Columbus, Ohio, on November 3, 2008, of a Rove IT operative. Once Judge Solomon Oliver found holes in the deposition, the people's will exploded and the people's choice went to Washington.
Perhaps the day before Election 2008 did not become the major holiday it should have because the machinery of election corruption is up and running again and the people are still fighting. But in Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols
the dramatic victory achieved was a successful revolution and in the long run may be remembered for that.
The ultimate success will not be a sigh of relief and a cheer for a brief period of time, but the permanent death of anti-American activities.
Our vote is our sacred right, nothing we need to acquire with a government-issued photo i.d. It is the bottom line of democracy. Without it, there is no democracy, which is not an abstract noun but continuous work. All this our founding fathers knew and passed down to us, a tough legacy and challenge but well worth our necessary efforts.
The culprits were highly corruptible and low-quality machines and the machinery that allowed them to proliferate, defying the will of the people in favor of conservative values unconcerned with the exigent issues that drew the people to the polls. Voters turned out in record numbers in 2008. Thirty percent of those who usually sit out elections (a total of about 100 million) showed up. For their will not to have prevailed would have represented the biggest travesty in our nation's history; and yet a week before Election Day both John McCain and Karl Rove were predicting a Republican victory.
Then Rove changed his mind on the eve of Election Day, predicting that Obama would win. But this occurred after the huge battle, at so many levels, ultimately boiled down to a deposition in Columbus, Ohio, on November 3, 2008, of a Rove IT operative. Once Judge Solomon Oliver found holes in the deposition, the people's will exploded and the people's choice went to Washington.
Perhaps the day before Election 2008 did not become the major holiday it should have because the machinery of election corruption is up and running again and the people are still fighting. But in Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols the dramatic victory achieved was a successful revolution and in the long run may be remembered for that.
The ultimate success will not be a sigh of relief and a cheer for a brief period of time, but the permanent death of anti-American activities.
Our vote is our sacred right, nothing we need to acquire with a government-issued photo i.d. It is the bottom line of democracy. Without it, there is no democracy, which is not an abstract noun but continuous work. All this our founding fathers knew and passed down to us, a tough legacy and challenge but well worth our necessary efforts.
Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols has just been published (September 20, 2012) and is on sale here for $20 for the first time to the public. (All sales are final. All information gathered will only be used for the purchase and nothing will be kept on file or used in any other way.)
7 June 2015: Congressman John Lewis Signs His New Book "March," vol. 2, at Politics and Prose June 7, 2015
The last surviving icon out of the "Big Six" civil rights activists, Congressman John Lewis, at 75, has years ahead of him to dream of and work toward the society he and his epic comrades, including Martin Luther King Jr., dedicated their lives to.
"We are better off but not there yet," he told a large audience today at a book signing at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC. We must serve as a model for the rest of the world. Consider that a library in Troy, Alabama, refused to lend him a book as a child but he returned there to sign books in 1998.
Today's book, though, published in January of this year, is volume 2 of his autobiographical graphic novel March. He plans four volumes to tell, in comics and comprehensible words, including many interjections, his story vividly and poignantly: of the Civil Rights movement from its inception after the 1954 lawsuit Brown v Board of Education into the present. Here, he said, looking around at the many young people who attended, the "struggle to redeem the soul of America" is at a standstill.
The 50-mile march to commemorate the massacre of civil rights activists at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, was a recent reminder of this. Yes, the first African American president, Barack Obama, was there with him, both "teared up." Had there been no "bridge," he might not be standing there today. But [I add] things seem to have become worse since Obama's election. How could that be?
Well, say the conservatives, here's Obama in office. Who needs the Voting Rights Act anymore? and so on.
The Congressman looked at the youngsters in the audience, including some preschoolers, and said that they represented the most tolerant generation ever. The politics of the nineteen sixties are similar to the politics of now. But what do they know about the Civil Rights movement? The five words Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. seem to be all. He expressed hope that his books will reach young people and inspire them to become better informed. They must read everything they can, to achieve this, he later added.
Lewis told his own story briefly and entertainingly. As a farm boy growing up in rural Alabama in poverty, he decided early on to become a preacher, practicing to an audience of the chickens he tended to--a better audience, he added, then many of the new additions to this year's Congress. He heard about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King when he was 15 years old, a freshman in high school. Though Brown had been signed and sealed for nearly a decade, in 1961 Greyhound buses were still segregated. That was the year of the famous Freedom Ride. The first incident during the ride occurred in Charlotte, North Carolina, when a black man was arrested for seeking a shoe shine in a whites-only waiting room. He was arrested.
In another incident, he and some comrades were beaten up by Klansmen, one of whom came to him in 1971 with his son to apologize. He and Lewis hugged each other, weeping. But still among us are others like a racist who gauged out the eyes of an activist, Aydin later added.
The strictures that kept the nonviolent movement going were never be bitter nor hostile; keep your eyes on the prize. Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. had also advised the activists to keep everything they wrote and said clear and simple.
Lewis's staff assistant and co-author of the March series, Andrew Aydin told the audience that another comic book edited by MLK had inspired children into the first stage of the Civil Rights movement. A reporter from a conservative newspaper told Aydin that after his nine-year-old son read the first volume of March, which he had given him, the son became a civil rights marcher, in his own living room.
Aydin later added most poignantly that he wished that the massacres and harsh treatment that had to occur to integrate this country had never happened.
But both speakers quickly opened up the room to questions and answers, with younger members of the audience heard first. One asked if he ever lost faith--the answer, of course, was no, because "we're one people, one family. We have to look after each other and care for each other."
Lewis recalled that he had been with Robert F. Kennedy Sr. the day that MLK was shot; and then had been with him in Los Angeles, when RFK was shot. They had held a long conversation right before RFK's last speech.
Another child asked why he had decided to run for Congress. Lewis said that he advanced from a voting registration activist to city council in Atlanta, where he won 69 percent of the vote. From there he advanced to his present position, which he has held since 1987. His district is composed of the northern three quarters of Atlanta.
Another asked what he would change about the movement if he could change one thing. Conduct more nonviolence workshops, Lewis answered, and spend more time with MLK, but he "thought he'd be around longer.
A gay man asked for advice about the LGBT movement. Lewis told him to never give up--to "persist and insist."
He said that God had let him survive the Edmund Pettus Bridge massacre so he could tell the story.
When did Lewis first vote? In Nashville, Tennessee as a student. He said that it made him feel free, just like the first time he went to jail. In both instances he was making a contribution.
He has been jailed five times since he was first elected to Congress, Lewis added.
Few African Americans attended, but the line seeking book signings was long. I waited for at least twenty minutes, shoved to the back by the frenzy even though I'd been sitting in the front row.
Will this frenzy go farther than an elite independent bookstore? One can only hope so.
23 May 2015: Rebuild our Crumbling Infrastructure--Guest blogged by Lillian K. Light, California environmentalist and activist
The United States was ranked 25th on overall infrastructure quality in a survey of international business leaders published as part of the World Economic Forum's 2012-2013 Global Competitiveness Report, behind France, Germany, Canada, Portugal, and Barbados, among many other countries. In the 2002 Report our country ranked fifth. From its peak in 1959 through 2014, public spending on transportation and water infrastructure declined by a fifth as a share of gross domestic product, to 2.4% from 3.0%, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office study.
Some of our Infrastructure shortfall dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century. American rail peaked in 1916 at 254,000 miles, and maintained its dominance in freight haulage and passenger transport through World War II. It then suffered a precipitous decline, largely done in by cars and trucks. European countries rebuilding after the war concentrated their efforts on rail lines, often with US aid through the Marshall Plan. Now they have a modern system that accommodates high speed trains that are a joy to travel in. I have had some great trips on those trains, and I strongly support Governor Brown's attempt to build a high speed rail line from LA to San Francisco.
Our legislators have given their support to the interstate highway system that they see as a bonus to oil companies and carmakers. The terrible Amtrak crash outside Philadelphia that killed eight and injured 200 did not move our lawmakers to shore up America's crumbling infrastructure. The very day after the crash, House republicans voted along party lines to cut Amtrak's funding by nearly one-fifth. In response to the 2008 Union Pacific/Metrolink crash that killed 25 people, congress voted to mandate that rail systems nationwide implement "positive train control," a communications and control technology that might have averted the crash. Congress also opposed a Democratic proposal to add funds for the train control technology. Meanwhile the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation voted to defer the mandate for five years rather than meet the yearend 2015 date.
Infrastructure spending includes several categories: highways, bridges, investing in schools and colleges, conserving water, and transportation. However you define infrastructure, we are not spending a fraction of what is needed on any of it. But when this neglect results in horrific deaths and injuries, we need to take action! Please contact Senator Dianne Feinstein and urge her to oppose a five year delay on the mandate to implement the safety technology. Remind her that increasing funding for Amtrak and other rail lines willl save lives and will remedy some of the fatal defects in our national scaffolding.
Senator Diane Feinstein
10 May 2015: HOW?
The well-known legacy activist Victoria Collier, a veteran election-integrity movement leader, asked this question last night at a leadership conference held at the University of DC Law School by Progressive Democrats of America, now also People Demanding Action.
Collier wanted to know where the movement should go if we haven't yet succeeded in convincing the people, all the people, that without the vote there can be no democracy, that their vote counts. Even the MSM made a Hollywood film back in 2008, Swing Vote. Unfortunately, it was a comedy. People went away laughing.
"Without the vote, we are toast," she said. But voting is outsourced and privatized--all major vendors are conservative Republicans certifying their products, with their proprietary sourceware, through independent test authorities whom they know and trust . . . to certify faulty and easily hacked machinery.
"The back room has become the black box," said Collier. Her father and uncle, James M. and Kenneth F.,"the Collier brothers" who wrote their story of battling back room-primitive computer corruption, Votescam, would swiftly recognize black-box tactics, the corrupted and corruptible software that works so hard to force the GOP agenda on this dying beloved country.
And that's just the beginning. There are so many ways to purge voter roles of the"underclasses," including people of color, victims of poverty, youth, disabled people, and felons who have served their terms and want to rejoin mainstream society, voting as well as paying taxes, which they are always obliged to. These are enough of the people who vote Democratic swept under the rug to assure GOP sweeps.
So if we're struggling so to increase the number of qualified voters who can vote, where are the Democrats, the people's party? Where is their very necessary support? Are they spineless? Yes. Do they not want to rock the vote? Yes. Are they always ten years behind the Progressives in discovering things wrong and sweeping them under carpets while groveling for Super PAC funding to carry forth their extremely diluted platforms? Ask President Obama, who vehemently supports TPP.
Part of our job is to publicize widely the huge difference between voter fraud (proved again and again to be nonexistent though rumored to be rampant by extremist wingnuts) and election fraud, the ubiquitous cancer sweeping the country's cardinal and ordinal values into oblivion. Once upon a time there was a Constitution, until George W. Bush called it a piece of paper and SCOTUS took it from there. Once upon a time there was a Declaration of Independence, until someone read down a few paragraphs and found our Native peoples referred to as savages. Well, that hatred has borne fruit.
Once upon a time there were foresightful founding fathers who realized the dangers their doctrines could lead to in the wrong hands.
They left voting and elections to the individual states largely. So it's at slightly above the grassroots level, i.e., the state legislatures, who may listen to us, said Collier. We still vote them into office. They still promise to care about us. Some have no choice, voted in by large Democratic majorities.
Catch them before they have to cheat to rise.
We must count our paper ballots by hand right where the people cast them. We must junk the junky electronic machinery purchased hysterically to avoid Florida 2000, a ghost that not only haunts the present even now, but has infected it with other forms of corruption. We must allow the hand count blocked in Miami-Dade County by Republican stooges to proceed, with legible ballots this time.
We must involve youth in civic affairs, convince them that they matter--their votes and civil service, to the future of democracy. We can pay them to man precincts on election days, as a start. We can teach them light--to divorce money from politics and let ballots, not bucks, elect our leaders.
We must reach out to the small patches of blue within scarlet states and make sure they are represented rather than melded into Republican districts to find representation on ballots but nothing beyond that.
Many ideas were traded by the smallest breakout group at the conference. Did you know that the presidential election in Georgia was more catastrophic in 2000 than what happened in Florida? Ditto for New Mexico? Small numbers of electoral votes do add up, as must support for the goals of election integrity: to keep democracy alive.
Let us hope that more people show up in two weeks at a panel discussion on EI to be held at UDC's law school, fifth floor, Wednesday, May 20 from 6:30 until 10. Some experts will explain the issues to more of us--lots more, I hope. Come hear computer scientist Steve Freeman, who can clearly translate the perils of digital voting to all of us; insightful election supervisor Virginia Martin of Columbia County, New York, where red and blue politicians work together to maintain the gold standard, hand-counted paper ballots, as their tried-and-true method of voting; and author/activist Jonathan Simon, who will be signing his new book, Code Red: Computerized Election Theft, and will discuss the crippling effects of election corruption and how we can fight back.
Be there or be square, as activist Mark Crispin Miller, prolific EI academic and author, likes to say. Be there and care. There's lots at stake.
Marta Steele's forthcoming book, "Ballots or Bills: The Future of Democracy," will be published next year preceding Election 2016, by CICj Books, Columbus, Ohio.
15 April 2015: Cherry Blossom Time in DC
Afflicted by 2 deaths of people close to me this year, one less than a month ago, the other last June, I dragged myself over to the cherry blossoms at the reflecting pond today in DC in search of solace.
But on the way over, I checked my email and discovered that another dear friend had just died of cancer--what an epidemic in my life. I hadn't been close to her for years, but we were close in high school.
But I stayed on the Metro and plodded over to the trees. I have never seen them half as lovely as today, beneath overcast skies, which might have enhanced the sight, but it wasn't just the colors; it was the shape of the trees, the richness of the blossoms on the branches, the weeping branches hanging over the water as I haven't seen them before, the carpet of petals I walked over.
The crowds had come and gone last weekend but missed the best, I think--the explosion of my emotions, the projection of my battle with deaths, the defiance of my dreams that bring back the lost ones in tangible flesh--those souls are somewhere else than sleeping. My dialogues with them, which include arguments, have never stopped, never will.
So far climate change hasn't visited death on blossoming trees here at least. So far death hasn't interfered with my reactions to beauty. If it does, I will have migrated somewhere else--off to be with those people I miss so much.
That's why I write--the pen is mightier than death. So, as we all know, is love.
In loving memory of Rose Light Nussbaum, Danny Schechter, Jane Borgerhoff, and Marci Stewart (1950-1972)
22 March 2015: Danny Schechter (6/27/42-3/19/15): A Eulogistic Dissection
I have read countless tributes to Danny Schechter these last few days--you might say that the Dissector has been dissected as much as eulogized by his plethora of friends and associates also sharing countless anecdotes (I love the ones about Kissinger and that photo with John and Yoko), and yet there is more: beyond his enlightened upbringing, his early passion for journalism and human rights; his assistance in organizing the 1964 March on Washington where MLK delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech; his activism at Cornell; his work with Congressman John Conyers in Detroit--I'm running out of breath and he's still in his twenties--his job at WBCN as News Dissector that reached the ears of Chomsky, who acknowledged him as a teacher, the birth of his beloved Sarah and his pride in her accomplishments; his Emmy-award-winning decade with Sixty Minutes ; his lifelong involvement in helping to lift the Apartheid in South Africa, and he was rewarded with its fruition; his work producing South Africa Now and other tv productions in the early nineties that reached so many and should have reached countless others; his reviving his News Dissector persona online and work with Globalvision, his countless blogs, books, and films and books that went with films, his enormous collections of the work of others in various media . . and I'm sure I've missed a lot--don't forget how he traveled the world to accomplish his contributions to other conflicted areas like Bosnia and as close to home as Occupy and to attend conferences, speak, and participate in panels: journalist, activist, organizer, speaker, prolific author and blogger, filmmaker, director, tv producer, radio News Dissector, poet, teacher, mentor, humorist, lover of music . . .--but there's this:
He wanted more. He was never satisfied, never rested on his laurels even after he became ill and shelved all of his publications in proud display. He dreamed of returning to South Africa when he recovered. He dreamed of recovering even as he knew he wouldn't, danced in the throes of chemo, and reveled in his friendships, having more time for them at the end when he could no longer work.
And there is more. He would drop his work when needed by friends. I was lucky to have known him for a bit less than fifteen years. He was a friend in need--quirky, temperamental, exasperating, and full of love. I sent him a Christmas card one year depicting Atlas, whom I believe that he dwarfed. His mind was the world.
A dear friend of his who was at his bedside the day before he died told me that when she identified herself to him and reached him through the morphine, he squeezed her hand with his characteristic strength.
He's just not dead. There was too much of him. Too much. That was probably it--more of him in one superhuman lifetime than in several lifetimes of others. Too much? Just a century compressed that let him down too soon. Life should have cut him off in an instant. He shouldn't have had to suffer, to watch the curtains close as slowly as he did, and how he yanked them open until the very end, which I won't accept.
His anger and the love that inflamed it will live forever. That's what happens when you do too much and are too much and plan never to stop. You don't.
18 March 2015: Before America Can Survive, "Europe" Must Die
Before we come down too hard on the occupying territory of Israel, we Americans should look in the mirror.
We are occupiers of the worst description without even a religious justification for having ravished not only the indigenous former inhabitants of America but a huge portion of the land they had occupied for thousands of years. Israel's sliver of land, occupied or not, is a crumb by comparison, as are the atrocities committed by both sides of this heart-wrenching impasse in the Middle East. Without going into details nor jusifying the inexcusable predations committed in the fifteenth century and following--why celebrate instead of mourn on Columbus Day, some are asking these days--I want to say that most nations rest on foundations of violence, with Liberia being the only exception, from what I have read.
I see the influx of "illegal" immigration into the United States by hordes of Hispanic/Indigenous hybrids as a form of taking back lands that were once theirs--certainly Texas and California for starters. Whatever their lineage, their life styles where they came from far more resemble those of the indigenous peoples of America, destitute in the vast majority, destitute enough for them to give up everything in order to seek a better life for themselves and a better future for their children. Descriptions of the rank poverty they are risking their lives to escape are devastating.
By 2050 it is predicted that Hispanics in this country will outnumber whites--more Hispanic babies are already being born daily in this country than whites.
In the long run, I believe that the trend of "people of color" more and more asserting their rights against stiff opposition heralds a massive sea change. It's been said before by a Native American: "Europe must die" before America can live. "Europe" means most of us, those living the American Dream and aspiring toward it--whatever their skin color or ethnic origins may be.
In short, I believe that America will once again become a land of indigenous peoples. We call Hispanic imigrants "Hispanic" and mostly "illegal" and "alien."
It won't happen tomorrow: the Koch brothers and their friends are discovering oil and uranium on the miserable reservations we still allow Native Americans to inhabit and they are drilling into an fracking land sacred to them, but the latter is nothing new and hey, we left them lands we considered worthless . . . until now. Where next will they be forced to go? Inner cities? Some of them, if not all, are built on land once considered sacred.
I don't mean to get preachy. I'm a European through and through. My daughter's great-grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee, but her husband was a Civil War veteran.
I just predict that some day, if "Europeans" don't destroy the beloved Earth altogether, civilization will have evolved. To predict a Nirvana will be saying too much. But the dominators will be People of Color and let us hope that their values are un-"European" enough and less hypocritical to formulate a far superior civilization that ours, the Terminators'. I predict that sheer numbers will be the force that brings this about rather than violence. But what an example we've set for them. Indigenous people welcomed European invaders with friendship. Let them usher us out or assimilate us in the same way.
And as far as the Middle Eastern impasse between Israel and Palestine is concerned, Arab representation in the Knesset is increasing. Where this will lead I can't predict with confidence. I can only hope that Netanyahu's abandonment of the Two State solution will become yesterday's news and can only pray for peace. If you ask me about which side I am "pro" or "anti," call me "pro peace." Peace is, after all, the answer.
14 March 2015: Oppose the TPP and Oppose Fast Track
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a massive international trade pact being negotiated in secret by the governments of a dozen countries, including ours, in collusion with transnational corporations. The full contents of the TPP are unknown because it has been negotiated with unprecedented secrecy. However, leaked drafts have indicated that it will make it easier for corporations to shift jobs throughout the world to wherever labor is the most exploited and regulations are the weakest. One investor rights provision would allow "foreign" investors to sue a nation if their laws interfere with trade. This secret trade deal would create a 21st century where transnational corporations are more powerful than governments. What is likely to happen if it is approved: more American jobs would be offshored, we would be flooded with unsafe imported food, fracking would be expanded, medicine prices would increase, Wall Street reforms would be rolled back, and internet freedom would be curtailed. Free trade agreements have been proven flawed; in addition to accelerating the downward trends in jobs and environmental protection, they also increase the U.S. trade deficit.
The first stage in the plan to pass the TPP is a big push by President Obama and the Republican-led Congress to pass Fast Track trade authority. This would allow the president to sign a trade deal before Congress has an opportunity to approve it. Fast Track prevents the democratic process which includes the checks and balances of public hearings, expert testimony, and amendments. There would be limited debate, no meaningful hearings, no public input, and no amendments to the deal. I believe that this secrecy is wrong and forcing agreements through Congress using the anti-democratic Fast Track is wrong. If a law cannot stand the light of day, it should not become law.
The current text of the TPP is only available to the trade representatives and the 600 corporate advisors who are involved in writing it. Members of Congress must apply to see the text and when they are granted access they are sworn to secrecy and can view it in a private room but cannot bring staff with them or take notes or photos of the text. In the past, when trade agreements were under negotiation, they were discussed in the mass media and the text of the agreements was public. Now that many people have found that trade agreements have negative consequences, transparency has ended. Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote to the candidate for US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, asking for public transparency of the text. That request has not been granted.
Please contact Senator Dianne Feinstein and urge her to publicly announce opposition to Fast Track Trade Authority and secret trade deals like the TPP. It is the job of Congress to fully vet trade deals and ensure that they work for everyone, not just giant corporations.
Senator Dianne Feinstein
5 March 2015: Computerized Vote Counting: The Hole in United States' Political Bucket
Last month, I attended the Ninth Annual Voting And Elections Summit in Washington, hosted by Fair Vote, The Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, US Vote Foundation, and Overseas Vote Foundation, each a progressive organization dedicated to the betterment of elections in the United States. The summit was indeed a gathering of very bright, motivated, devoted, and patriotic individuals and organizations, whose efforts I deeply appreciate.
It was undercut, however, by a tragic, widely shared blindspot regarding the core vulnerability of the American vote counting process, both in theory and in concrete political bottom-line fact. That process, in the computerized voting era, has become and remains unobservable, offering an open invitation to targeted manipulation sweeping in its cumulative effect.
Many inadequacies of our electoral politics were addressed at the summit and many excellent ideas and reforms proposed. But my takeaway, as has often been the case at such well-intended gatherings, was that for all our attempts to redress the visible flaws of our imperfect voting system - from gerrymandering to Big Money to voter suppression to the Electoral College - if at the end of the day radically partisan and secretive outfits that provide the hardware and software that run our privatized system are counting the votes in the darkness of cyberspace, all those other reforms and initiatives will turn out to be unavailing in their effect. We have given Karl Rove, or any operative who views the bottom line and every means of "improving" it with gleeful cynicism, no reason not to keep right on smiling.
We can talk about the progress of democracy, talk about hope, pat each other encouragingly on the back. But the hard reality is that, courtesy of forensically red-flagged down-ballot routs like in 2010 and 2014 coupled with not-much-less-suspect damage control in the "blue" years of 2006, 2008, and 2012 - we now have, across the US, governmental representation more Republican than at any time since the Hoover presidency. And "Republican" itself has come to stand for something far more extreme than Hoover (or Nixon, or possibly even Reagan himself) could have imagined. Indeed, were Hoover or Nixon on the scene today, each would be unelectabl-y "liberal."
Does that remotely square with a fair reading of the current political sentiments of the American electorate? Does it square with a Congressional Approval Rating that plummeted to single digits in 2011 - once the Tea Party-driven new-GOP that took control of the US House in 2010 had begun to pursue its agenda - and has remained there ever since? Does it square with a parade of progressive ballot propositions (pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-public healthcare, pro-minimum wage increase, etc.) that passed in 2014 by landslide margins even in red and purple states, while the right-wing candidates who made opposition to these very initiatives the centerpiece of their campaigns were nevertheless somehow elected? Does it square with exit polls? Does it square with pre-election polls? Does it square with post-election polls? And finally, does it square with a claim that the hard and dedicated work of electoral reformers such as those gathered for the Ninth Annual Voting and Elections Summit has borne any real fruit?
Unfortunately the answer to each of these questions is No. The current political representation of the American public, the bottom-line result of America's unobservable counted elections, is more grotesquely out of sync with every other measure of the public will than it has been at any time since the achievement of general adult suffrage. It is easy enough to follow the media in refusing to connect the dots: a ridiculously vulnerable vote counting system; operatives with a just-win, ends-justify-the-means ethic, plenty of motivation, and access to the programming pipeline; a host of glaring forensic red flags; and the bizarre distortion and transformation of American politics we are now witnessing. Even for those who suspect a grave and growing malignancy, it is somehow comforting to see it as a function of strictly overt processes - gerrymandering and the like - politics as usual.
How do you tell the heavy-hitters at the summit that they are spitting at the wrong spot, or at the very least missing a critical one (with only our national, and indeed global, future riding on it)? We who aspire to electoral integrity would be far too bright to keep trying to fill a bucket without checking it for a hole, so why aren't we bright enough to apply that same logic to a voting system that has a fatal flaw, a hole in its bucket that keeps showing up on our forensic radar?
Why is it "unthinkable" to so many of us that that glaring flaw is being exploited? Why, in the age of scandal - of Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, fake anthrax, massive data hacks and identity thefts, secret surveillance programs, Little League ringers! - do we continue collectively to act as if our elections, the highest stakes game of all, are essentially immune, worthy only of partial and, it must be said, desultory scrutiny and protection? Why isn't observable vote counting the very first priority of all who seek to rescue our democracy from the quicksand into which it has wandered?
An observable count is a voting right and, until we collectively recognize it as such and concertedly act to secure it, our sovereignty will continue tragically to disappear through the hole in the bottom of America's political bucket.
22 February 2015: The 21st Century: What's in Store for Maryland Voters and the U.S., IV? Will Voters' Privacy and Security Descend into History Altogether?
It's the 21st century, stupid, which means that U.S. military and overseas voters may now receive their electoral ballots online rather than through the mail, print them out, fill them in, and mail them back in plenty of time to be received and counted on or before Election Day. Before the passage of the Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment (MOVE) Act in 2010, the amount of time from beginning to end of overseas voting could be weeks or even months, depending on where the ballot was mailed to and from. Soldiers fighting on front lines in Afghanistan or wherever else couldn't always get to these ballots soon enough and many came in too late to be counted. Blessings to the Internet.
But Maryland's State Administrator of Elections, Linda Lamone, decided to extend the option of online ballot delivery to all Maryland voters. Those who eschew the polls could, just like military and overseas voters, download their blank ballots from the Internet. But ballots printed by a voter cannot be counted by the optical scanners used to count other absentee ballots. They have to first be hand-transcribed onto blank ballots that can be read by the scanners. This can create a lot of work for election officials at a time when they are already very busy.
So in 2011, the Maryland State Board of Elections (SBE) got a grant of several hundred thousand dollars from the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), a division of the Department of Defense that oversees military and overseas voting. Part of the money was designated to develop a new Online Ballet Marking (OBM) tool unique to the Old Line State that would automate the hand-copying of the ballots. It involves an Internet interface: voters would use the newly developed online ballot marking (OBM) system to fill in their choices online. Each choice the voter makes is transmitted to a server and stored there temporarily while the voter marks the ballot. When the voter is finished voting, their selections are encoded into a QR barcode that appears in a corner of the downloaded ballot. The voter prints the filled-in ballot and mails it to the local board of elections.
Fill it in online? Are they kidding? A hobby-hacker, or worse yet, purposeful political corrupter's dream!
When they receive the ballot, election officials feed the barcode into an on-demand printer, which generates a fully filled out, scannable ballot, to be treated like a traditional absentee ballot thereafter. It would no longer be necessary for human beings to copy these mailed-in ballots by hand onto scannable forms--a process that required five minutes per form, it was claimed.
Five minutes per ballot would therefore be saved, is the claim. More 21 st -century technology, more technology to build into the voting process. What's that? Fewer human beings? Why, the very mention of the words "Internet voting" wreaks havoc with sensible souls--EI people and then some, but not everyone. As mentioned above, some people want to move the entire voting process onto the Internet. But not the experts, the computer scientists, who favor the use of paper ballots instead.
But before OBM progresses any farther than to military and overseas populations, a "minor" problem has generated controversy in Maryland that has traveled from municipal settings all the way to federal court. The problem is that the OBM system is not federally certified--that is, no standards have yet been set for this type of Internet-based system so it has not been tested and approved for use--sort of like permitting a new medication onto the market without preliminary FDA clinical trials. The General Assembly has already approved the use of OBM for ALL MD voters once it is certified.
The federal government body that oversees certification, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), deals with entire voting systems rather than isolated parts of them, so they must look at all of the hardware, software, firmware, processes and procedures to determine whether a voting system can be used safely. In our scenario, for example, a vulnerability in the software of the barcode scanner could allow a virus to slip into the system undetected through a hacked barcode and infect the vote-tabulating software. While compliance with EAC standards is officially voluntary, Maryland law requires it for a voting system to be used in the state. [author's note: at a recent summit conference in DC, an expert predicted that military and overseas voters would be voting 100 percent online in ten years, while the rest of us will wait several lifetimes.]
In 2012 a bill was introduced into Maryland's General Assembly (MGA) that would have waived all of Maryland's voting system certification requirements for the OBM system. The bill did not pass but prompted a query from a legislator to the Office of then Attorney General Douglas Gansler about whether this type of system would require certification. The Office opined that it did not because it wasn't a voting system (misunderstanding the EAC's definition of a voting system), but that electronic ballot delivery and marking could not be offered to any Maryland voters other than those covered by the federal MOVE Act unless the General Assembly (Maryland's state senate and house) specifically authorized it.
In 2013 a new bill, the Voter Empowerment Act, was introduced by Gov. Martin O'Malley under the sponsorship of the leaders of the General Assembly. It expanded early voting by days, locations, and hours of operation. Same-day registration would be permitted during early voting days only, beginning in 2016. BUT the third component once again attempted to legalize OBM and waive certification requirements for it. Activists converged to suggest amendments: that OBM must be specified as incapable of recording, storing, or transmitting voted ballots over the internet and that every OBM ballot "recreated" via barcode must be hand-checked against the mailed-in version, with the latter serving as the official record of voter intent in the event of discrepancies. That makes sense, as does the readmission of more human beings into a process that does concern us a lot more than mindless machinery.
Finally, OBM had to be accessible , which they so far were not.
The amendments were admitted into the legislation.
The law passed.
Moreover, the SBE was required to run accessibility studies, which it assigned to the University of Baltimore (UB). Working with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the specialist at UB found problems--several of them critical--and suggested improvements. The worst problems remained unresolved.
In January 2014, the SBE began consideration of certifying OBM. Among the regulations, the system had to be secure, protect the privacy of the ballot, and be accessible . At public meetings, the SBE heard from computer security experts and a cyber security law expert, along with members of the public, with the EI grassroots always a strong presence among them.
The SBE offered an online public demonstration of the system. Several members of another advocacy organization, the American Council of the Blind Maryland (ACBM), attempted to use the system and couldn't. The SBE made further changes and once again displayed the system to the public. It remained inaccessible to the ACBM testers even after the changes. A major problem was that they could not verify that their paper ballots were marked as they intended -- exactly the same problem they already have with traditional absentee ballots.
SBE staff were anxious to use OBM in the upcoming June primary, where members of both parties often run unopposed because, among other reasons, Maryland is such a gerrymandered state. Most winning candidates were virtually assured of a November victory.
But in April 2014, the last SBE meeting that could determine whether OBM could be used in the primary, there was no vote when it became clear that certification did not have the support of a super-majority of Board members. There are five political appointees on the SBE: three representing the governor's party and two from the minority party. All Board actions require a super-majority of four of the five votes. But three members simply didn't feel ready to certify it. Use of OBM in June was tabled.
End of story? Far from it . In May 2014, the NFB filed suit in federal court claiming that Maryland was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to make absentee voting accessible. To file a claim under this Act, plaintiffs must show that they are being denied access to a public benefit when a reasonable accommodation exists that would make it accessible to them. NFB filed an injunction to force use of the OMB in the primaries, which would be held on June 24.
A one-day hearing was held early in June. The SBE argued that according to the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), absentee voting does not have to be accessible. Judge Richard D. Bennett denied the injunction but wanted the issue resolved before the November election and thus scheduled what is referred to as a "rocket docket" to rush the decision through before September.
The judge declared that the "why" was missing from their argument. Why did the SBE not certify it? Why was no vote taken? Was the SBE derelict in its duty or were its concerns legitimate? Judge Bennett wanted to hear from experts on the security of the system.
ACBM and three of its members joined together with two election integrity organizations, Verified Voting and SAVE our Votes, to intervene in the suit with pro bono representation from the DC law firm of O'Melveny & Myers. The group sought to block the use of MD's online ballot-marking system, claiming that it is not secure, private, nor accessible to blind voters. The judge allowed them to participate in the trial but did not alter the schedule or formally rule on the intervention, labeling them "putative intervenors." During the trial it became clear that none of the plaintiffs who were seeking to force the use of the online ballot-marking system had ever tried to use it themselves so they had no first-hand knowledge of how accessible it would be to them.
After a 3-day bench trial in August 2014, the judge ruled that the state of Maryland was violating the plaintiff's right to absentee voting and forbade the state from continuing to do so. But he acknowledged that legitimate concerns about Maryland's OBM system had surfaced in the trial and therefore it should be made available for the November 2014 election only to special-needs voters and for that election only.
The judge denied the claims of the "putative intervenors'" but allowed for their testimony to remain in the court record, a giant step for the grassroots.
The SBE filed a motion in September 2014 to appeal the decision. Its appellate brief, filed late in January 2015, argues that forcing the state to use an uncertified voting system is not a reasonable accommodation but rather represents a fundamental change in Maryland's voting program. SBE contends that it has not certified the OBM system because of concerns with its security and privacy and the judge should not brush aside these critical considerations.
The appeal is still underway . The momentous upshot, of which the Old Line State is quite aware, is that this decision will have repercussions throughout the nation . Compare the impact of the Crawford v Marion County Election Board decision in 2008 that the voter ID requirement is constitutional. There was a veritable deluge of that requirement countrywide after Election 2010, by whatever means employed, swept in a large Republican majority in the House, increased its presence in the Senate, and exponentially multiplied its state-level representation.
The same contagion will spread use of OBM nationwide . Courts will be busy with it, at every level, I imagine. The privacy and security of ballots marked over the Internet is the cardinal issue.
For this reason, should we keep mum on this news so that it doesn't catch on? Or, whatever we do, will the case ascend to the Supreme Court?
It is so easy to go from OBM to 100 percent Internet voting. A lead-pipe cinch. It's already on the table.
21 February 2015: Danny Schechter, "When South Africa Called, We Answered": (Ruminations from Heartfelt and Increasingly Expert Involvement)
In my own way, I fought for the country's freedom, too, as a media-maker and troublemaker. . . . what an adventure it has been."
If words could slay apartheid, it would have been buried years ago.
One girl . . . told us she heard that 'apartheid was a dance.'
When South Africa Called, We Answered (Cosimo Books, 2014)), is about Danny Schechter's role in transforming Africa ("a small part, of a great human story and world-class force"); the role of so many others; Mandela's indispensable place in all of this; and about the power of media when resorted to effectively---as a source of truth and call to action, reaching out to all corners of the world and in this specific case, succeeding.
To separate the dancer from the dance (pace W B. Yeats and here, far more than Apartheid)--Danny Schechter from South Africa's amazing history between the sixties and today--is not the point, though South Africa is inseparable from Schechter's identity and music is a key medium in Schechter's contribution to the epochal struggle.
"For years in Boston radio, I saw how music could spread the news, how rock 'n' roll was often a more powerful educator than the printed or spoken word." Schechter decided correctly that superstars could attract mainstream news coverage and hence public attention to epochal events transpiring in South Africa.
"[W]e raised more than a million dollars for anti-apartheid projects." "Sun City" [a recorded anthology that came out in 1985] had as much or more impact in getting people to understand apartheid as the plethora of news stories and TV reports about it. Pop stars [including Bruce Springsteen] did what politicians wouldn't and journalists couldn't: they spoke out bravely and clearly. They took a stand."
Sun City "also inspired [GlobalVision's] 'South Africa Now' TV series. So my journalistic interests provoked an independent musical project that in turn inspired me to create a news show. " Through "South Africa Now," Schechter first met Nelson Mandela, an association that lasted until the end of the Nobel laureate's life, through Schechter's direction of seven documentary films about him and his work.
In South Africa's struggle away from Apartheid, Schechter's many contributions spread words among those who weren't receiving them otherwise. The author incorporates himself into the narrative to the extent he was involved, nurturing readers with the wealth of the insider's insights, "dissections," many-faceted and all-embracing, multi-dimensional. He views South Africa as a scholar (though he denies this), journalist, filmmaker, television producer, videographer, photographer, and much more.
Schechter's latest book never stops thinking; each sentence embraces a bird's-eye view of the five Ws. I tried to underline important statements but ended up with way too much--nearly the whole thing. For that reason, you will find a plethora of direct quotations below. If this is not his opus magnum, it could be.
To understand the miraculous transformation that embraced South Africa near the time of other cataclysms in Berlin and the former Soviet Union is to read these pages, revisit Schechter's life during the tempestuous years in which he was first a principal in the civil rights movement in the United States (he helped organize the 1964 March on Washington) shortly before he absorbed South Africa's plight and turned his skills there, never leaving either place--in addition to many others.
He is ubiquitous. He is already at work on his next book, which will be released by Seven Stories Press.
Schechter's personal history involves an in-depth understanding of his home, his adopted home (South Africa), and through them the world. There is little that escapes his eagle eyes:
"I wrote countless reports, essays, blogs and commentaries. I had morphed as an American into a self-identified South African, often knowing more about what was going on in a country 10,000 miles away than I knew about my own, sometimes even knowing more than many South Africans."
The structure of "When South Africa Called, We Answered" is chronological, consisting of writings specifically for this book as well as from his unpublished personal journal and for various publications, including "Africa Report, "MORE," "Z Magazine," "Truthout," and others, and extending from how Schechter was drawn into the anti-Apartheid movement to its history, fruition, and aftermath.
Simple? Schechter finished an A to Z biography of Nelson Mandela ("Mandiba A to Z" [Seven Stories Press, 2013]), the radius of the liberation, just weeks before the 2013 death of this epochal hero. That, too, subsumes some of the history described herein. Mandela may also occupy the heart of Schechter's narrative of this latest book, but during much of the chronology of it Mandela is imprisoned, a chrysalis in a cocoon, while the dance slowly acquires motion, violence one medium that simply didn't work.
The publication of "When South Africa Called, We Answered" purposely coincides with the twentieth anniversary of the successful revolution and the fiftieth anniversary of the author's activist, multimedia involvement in it.
A compact chronology of this involvement in freeing South Africa occurs in the first chapter, in the form of repeated questions: did they decide to deny him a visa in 1990 because: of the TV program? When he helped produce the "Sun City" recorded anthology in 1985? Or the plethora of anti-apartheid articles that appeared before then or his first participation in an anti-apartheid sit-in in 1964. . . . The questions continue, and then some answers: the strong influences that absorbed him more and more into the issues: Ruth First, the journalist/activist whom he met at the London School of Economics (LSE); the New Left activist Pallo Jordan who would join the cabinet of a post-liberation president, and another LSE colleague, Ronnie Kasrils, who would become a minister under Thabo Mbeki, Mandela's successor as president of the new South Africa.
Another close associate of Schechter was the ANC (African National Congress, the country's oldest liberation movement) leader Joe Slovo, to whom, along with his wife, the martyred Ruth First, the book is dedicated; both were colleagues of Nelson Mandela. Slovo "negotiate[d] the deal that made democratic elections possible. He was Minister of Housing in Nelson Mandela's government and consistently ranked #2, right behind Mandela, as the person black South Africans respected most."
First and Slovo "inspired me to get involved with South Africa and I did so for the next thirty years as a researcher, writer, TV producer and filmmaker."
Insufficient and shallow media treatment of events in South Africa was another force that drew Schechter to fill in so much for his readers and audiences. Among the problems was that the CIA had journalists on its payroll, misinforming through proprietary companies and phony news agencies. The South African government even imitated GlobalVision's "South Africa Now" to divert viewers from the true reports, but the imposter production, "Global News," didn't last long.
And the American civil rights movement was offered up as analogous, even though our fight was over extending the protections of a constitution to all citizens. "'South Africa Now' [which aired for 156 weeks] sought to provide an insiders view of a struggle for majority rule and economic transformation, not just for civil rights under a structurally inequitable system." South Africa had no constitution. Racism was legal, enshrined in its laws. "The economic underpinnings of apartheid were hardly considered and the liberation movements were rarely publicized by the media."
Apartheid had modeled itself on the early 1950s inquisitional tactics of the "witch hunter" Sen. Joseph McCarthy, to preserve its diamond-studded symbiosis with the West. One of the catalysts of its laws had been exploitation of black labor.
Our own civil rights struggle continues. "Jesse Jackson explained how the histories of the ANC and the civil rights struggle in our country were intertwined, how the South African ANC was formed in the same year as our own NAACP, how the two movements turned to nonviolent bus boycotts and defiance campaigns at about the same time, and how ideas between these two black communities cross-pollinated across the oceans over the years. It was instructive, and precisely the type of contextual information that was missing in most media accounts." [underlining mine]
Schechter's media manifesto is simple:
We declare before our country and the world that the giant media combines who put profit before the public interest do not speak for us. We proclaim this democratic media charter and pledge ourselves to work tirelessly until its goals have been achieved. We urge all Americans of good will, and people throughout the world who want to participate in a new democratic information order to join with us.
What a gaping difference there was between reports by journalists who knew and what the mainstream press offered the public--relatively little for many years.
"Blacks in Africa had become a black hole in the American press."
Having first learned about this troubled tip of the Dark Continent from "Life magazine's photo spread about apartheid in the late 1950's with its striking images of the winds of change, the bus boycotts and passive resistance campaigns that foreshadowed similar events in our country" along with irresistible music like "Wimoweh"; having first visited there in 1967 as an innocuous, inconspicuous Mercury dispatched by the ANC at LSE to deliver some messages and mail and to circulate fliers to the Apartheid victims, Schechter tells us that "[it]t was hard to say 'no' even though I was scared shitless at the idea of actually doing it!"
His life was changed forever by that trip, which "would involve me in that struggle for the next 40 years, would lead me to write countless articles, make six films with Nelson Mandela and then another on the making and meaning of 'Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom' [the epic movie made in 2012-13] and produce 156 weeks of a TV news series called South Africa Now."
Upon his return, Schechter resolved to get the news out to everyone, not just "those in the know," such a vast minority. First, he helped found a research group (the African Research Group [ARG]. Its purpose was to "popularize African issues. We wanted to encourage, if not inspire, political action." In an unpublished working paper prepared for a January 1969 conference of radical researchers, Schechter argued that the truth about what was going on in South Africa could have "political implications and action consequences."
Schechter emphasized the large time stretch, several decades, that the battle against Apartheid had been going on, not just since the Soweto uprising and the murder of Steve Biko. And then, as a USA-stabbing aside: "the apartheid system was actually modeled after America's system of Indian reservations."
But then, he continued his still-ongoing mission through the various media mentioned above, his true calling. For example, through his five years producing for ABC's "20/20," "I came to see that independent production could be more fun and fulfilling, without the editorial restraints, layers of control and pretensions of the corporate news world."
Hence the Emmy award-winning documentary TV series "South Africa Now," which lasted three years on PBS stations throughout the country as well islands of the Caribbean, Japan, and South Africa, and shared with the public all that it needed to know--oceans of knowledge, analysis, and multimedia messaging, that were found nowhere else but in the "beloved country" itself and surrounding areas. "Gaps, omissions, distortions, and dis-information" emanating from the MSM were also covered.
Two other vitally important events ignored by the media? 1) that "Mandela himself initiated the negotiations that resulted in his own release, and that he did so from behind bars"; and 2) how he ended up in prison in the first place-- the CIA tipped off the South African police as to his whereabouts.
Further, the mainstream was ignoring crucial problems related to HIV/AIDS and education. Such gaping omissions might have reflected the low priority the South African government assigned to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
"We have presented apartheid as more than a system of legalized racial domination, viewing it as a framework of economic exploitation and ethnic division and manipulation. We covered apartheid as a labor system, a tool for preserving racial privilege through the exploitation of labor as well as dealing with questions of race. . . .[Mandela] emphasized that class, not color, is a crucial factor in the struggle, and that economic power is as important as political power."
In South Africa and overseas, endorsements flowed in "from Allister Sparks to Bill Moyers, Gwen Lister to Anthony Lewis, Les Payne to Peter Magubane."
Others, including former viewers--black South Africans as well as fellow journalists--said that "South Africa Now" had contributed to the coming of democracy in that country.
"Now, that's a feeling that makes media work worthwhile -- a sense that your work matters and has had an impact."
But what about democracy in our country? muses the author.
Note the dovetailing with another reference to our own diseased society: "Some black stations said [that Sun City] was 'too white' while many white stations considered it 'too black.' (How's that for a comment on our own apartheid?)"
A few media [sometimes] got it right, he allows in one of the chapters: the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Christian Science Monitor.
Media omissions could be divided into [several] categories that could strengthen the accusation that much of the mainstream coverage was distorting crucial facts. The categories were "The Reporting on Apartheid, . . . The American Economic and Political Role, . . . Reporting Black South Africa, . . . The Liberation Movements, . . . and Improving Press Coverage."
"Mandela became a media substitute for the struggle even as his hopes of 'a better life for all' ran up against trench warfare by the real economic powers here and in the world."
Another emphasis is on those others who labored for years against Apartheid, who worked beside Mandela, who himself adamantly asserts that he couldn't have done it by himself.
"No doubt Mandela's media celebrity and the TV coverage had helped advance the struggle. Many other pressures, external and internal, [underlining mine] ultimately brought down the walls of apartheid--it was a uniquely globalized struggle at the dawn of the era of globalization. Eventually, it was a process of popular struggle and nonviolent pressure, not violent revolution that turned the tide in South Africa.
The extent of human sacrifice by a rainbow of races embraced death [10,000, Schechter specifies], maiming, lifelong involvement, unquenchable activism, moment-to-moment labor, and more.
"More than that, it was the determination of millions that made a difference, with songs to lift our hearts."
The "unachievable dream" happened in 1994: the lifting of Apartheid peacefully. History happened. South Africa became the rainbow nation, a world "miracle."
And so the peaceful transformation, a miracle considering the bloodshed that preceded it, was the work of Mandela and others. Mandela may occupy the heart of even this narrative, but it takes more than a heart to operate our bodies.
"The activists who invited me into their movement back in the 1960s believed they could liberate their country, and fought with dogged determination through all the dark times when change seemed so unlikely.
"They also believed in me, a person who cared from a far-away land, and a culture that was not their own."
The rainbow metamorphosis was so much more than rebellions against Apartheid: Schechter stresses at many points that "South Africa's fight was a national liberation battle, a fight for the rights of all people in that country to live, vote, and have a say in their destiny. It was an anti-colonial struggle on one hand, but also a human rights fight."
And that ultimately it was a battle to free us all, worldwide--GlobalVision's perspective: that South Africans fought for all of us.
Schechter denies any political affiliations, but his own mentors, "Ruth and Joe, became people I wanted to emulate with my own emerging synthesis of activism and attitude. Unlike them, I didn't have a home in a movement or party or an organization. I guess I was more the "Lone Ranger" They inspired me to get involved with South Africa and I did so for the next thirty years. . . ."
But Schechter had been brought up in an activist family. "[T]he whiff of socialism and a family history in the labor movement shaped my values."
But, on the heals of the revolution, the ideal government did not blossom:
Now Schechter quotes the bad news [from another source:] "The gap between the rich and the poor inside South Africa has broadened, not narrowed."
In 1999, there was a gap "between the total income of the 13 percent of the population who are white and the 87 percent of the country's 41 million people who are not."
"[S]peculators in Europe . . . drove down the price of gold in hopes of making a quick profit, leading to massive unemployment in the mining industry. One hundred and fifty thousand workers were affected.
"[Eleven] years after Nelson Mandela walked free, corruption has become the issue du jour in South Africa. Even president Jacob Zuma, who narrowly slithered out of a corruption trial before his election, is blasting corruption in the ranks of the African National Congress, which came to power as the morally superior alternative to an apartheid regime that shamelessly used the wealth it controlled to benefit Afrikaners and deprive the black majority of services."
Maybe expectations were too high, Schechter writes sadly. Things could not change in such a short time. But "compared to other conflicts tearing African states apart, South Africa looks very advanced." There is no chaos. Compare also our own United States, "where promises are unfulfilled, treasure squandered and war overseas makes South Africa seems positively nirvana-ish."
"[South Africa was] expected by the world to self-destruct in the bloodiest civil war along racial lines." Not only was this avoided, but also, "we created among ourselves one of the most exemplary and progressive non racial and non-sexist democratic orders in the contemporary world."
"[T]he real Long Walk [reference coined by Mandela] is hardly over as poverty and exploitation grows and festers, not only here but worldwide."
The journalist in Schechter becomes the journalist in us all, asking the five Ws he and his comrades uniquely confront. He fears that he is "one of the few American journalists who still cares about developments in South Africa. For most of the media, it's been there, done that. It's yesterday's news."
The mainstream was attracted back only when Nelson Mandela became gravely ill. That was their interest, not . . . "the country or its situation, [underlining mine]."
The alternative media need to bring Mandela back to life and keep him alive in a way that maintains world interest in his beloved country. What I found [was] an echo of the questions I keep asking myself and struggling to answer right here, even though the journalist in me tells me there are no answers, only more questions."
Globalization can create as well as destruct. Let the alternative media exploit the good in this towering force transforming us all, for the good of us all. The alternative media throughout the world can accomplish this. The sixth of the five Ws is "How, Danny Schechter, how?"
21 February 2015: Jonathan Simon, Code Red: Computerized Election Theft and the New American Century, post-E2014 edition
--[T]his is a book for those who cannot quite believe this is the real America they're seeing.--the author
Proceeding from a Q&A format to some more complex (but accessible) statistics toward the end, Jonathan Simon has sounded an alert of the highest measure, "code red"--remember that post-9/11 scare tactic that in this case is valid?
Simon has donated a handbook for the uninitiated but interested, as well as for Election Integrity (whoops, I mean EI) stalwarts in need of a reference tome--see his own pages i-ii for more.
A dedicated advocate of EI since 2006, he and colleagues started the magisterial webpage Election Defense Alliance, of which he is now executive director. Simon is not only a forensic statistician (he denies this modestly) but also well versed in a number of other fields--knowledge that enriches and clarifies his narrative: from chess to baseball, from computer science to polling to medicine and certainly recent history.
The language is totally straightforward and no-nonsense, entirely accessible as well as witty, reaching out to a broad audience.
"This is a book I wish I didn't have to write," he comments sadly (p. i). There is so much writing that falls into this category. If he'd rather be fishing, EI would suffer a huge loss, and we all learn that in the pages that follow.
How did we get into this latest mess, Code Red, from 2000 onward, the latest chapter in a saga of election corruption that begins in ancient Athens? Because of the mass-produced corruption of thousands of votes possible with the click of a remote or a virused memory card. Even carloads of paper ballots driven into rivers can't come close.
Then there's the renaissance of Jim Crow brought to you by Karl Rove & co.: the abominations of gerrymandering, money pumping to the tune of the high millions into campaigns courtesy of SCOTUS and others; blatant red-shifting of votes in any number of ingenious ways, all computerized; the voter ID requirement, "deceptive messaging," selective scrubbing of voter rolls, caging and other forms of voter intimidation, targeted misinformation such as "Vote Wednesday" robocalls and leafleting in strategically selected neighborhood, etc., etc. (see pages 73-74--I'm quoting quasi-literally).
The "red shift," a popular term coined by the author, may be the most powerful gut-punch of them all, shifting blue votes into a dumpster no one can dive into. The red shift happens when, despite pre-election polls and raw data from exit polls swinging blue, there is, as in 2006, 2010, and 2014--all mid-term elections--a swerve toward a sweep by the losers: in every sense losers, including the vote count, of course.
How is this atrocity accomplished? By sinuous rerouting of the vote count from the secretary of state's (SoS) office on election night down South to the GOP server headquarters, where they are laundered as needed to provide red wins at the last minute and then routed back up to Kenneth Blackwell, SoS in Ohio in 2004 and his icky ilk--presto! Kerry's last-minute loss to Bush II and other stymying further uses of this and other comparable skullduggery. Rove's late IT guru, Mike Connell, architect of the last-minute red shifts, arguably offed by the fuhrer himself when Connell's private plane crashed after his initial testimony hinting at a landfill of follow-up, was wiped from the scene when he was about to spill all as a loyal Bush operative since 2000 but also a devout Christian with a huge guilt complex.
The above is referred to as "man-in-the middle" prestidigitation. It has been written about by many and contextualized most effectively in Simon's narrative.
My review so far is just a teaser of so much more vital information you will find in the body of this invaluable narrative. The back matter is also a priceless review of the author's previous writings on prior elections. We are provided with an illustration of raw exit poll data, which Simon was wise enough to pounce on right after Election 2004 before it was quickly disappeared in favor of warped distortions of the real total to match it up with the fudged, laundered totals.
This "stuff" lost power when October surprises--read massive GOP blunders--so skewed the vote count away from the reds that they were powerless at the last minute, even with all their bells and whistles, depending on polling totals that preceded their oh-so-welcomed debacles. For example, in 2012, at the last minute Romney called 47 percent of us bloodsuckers on the respectable hard-working public--hunh? We support them.
In 2008, various scandals hit the scene ("Foley, Haggard, Sherwood, et al"), but I argue that anyone short of falling off the planet on the right did not want Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from making even more of a mess out of things than we're already in. If the presidency is hazardous to one's health, so are the wrong presidents, who have graced the oval office so disastrously again and again.
The Likely Voter Cutoff Model (LCVM), which is explained in the narrative and then discussed in depth in the back matter, describes a Gallup invention ten years ago, a kind of polling that discriminates against the "usual suspects"--minorities, transients, former felons, seniors, poor people--by eliminating those most likely to vote Democratic and hence least likely to vote: to wit, it underpredicts the Democratic vote and overpredicts how many of the GOP will show up, thus distorting the picture enough to catch up with the "red-shifted votecounts": polling and exit polling samples are also weighted by partisanship or Party ID.
Find out more about this and so much more. Code Red is priceless, an education for all of us.
All I can add is a modest request for an index in the next edition (the book is dynamic and updated regularly to the benefit of all--hint, hint, Jonathan, keep at it).
My volume is inscribed, "Well, kid, at least we can't say we didn't try."
So let's keep at it. Jonathan doesn't like to be told to keep up the good work, but he's doing it. When so many of the people are kept strapped by supporting the aggressive greed of the "haves," those few survivors of the middle class, the rest of us, have to do their work for them. John Adams, Tom Jefferson, and other founders who wrote that democracy is hard work didn't know the half of it.
5 November 2014: Election 2014: Disaster Diary
I came across a statistic that really scares me and may explain why the Republicans won so big in yesterday's midterm election: A close-to-equal number of Democrats and Republicans think that an electoral sweep by the other party is dangerous to this country. Both figures arre less than 30 percent. I am within that percentage, having read also that the number one priority of the Republican agenda under our newly elected Speaker of the House, Mr. McConnell, is bombarding ISIS. Number one priority. I forget what number two was, but it wasn't gutting Obamacare. Hear, hear. That's on the agenda, though. I think that number two may have been to get the Keystone XL Pipeline approved. Oh, slashing Obamacare is right up there as number four and number three is to let NSA "keep on snoopin'".
Why go on about disasters waiting to happen come 2015? Instead we should do the 21st-century equivalent of building bomb shelters. What would that be? Leaving the country?
I have to add that as long as the GOP has so politicized SCOTUS, it's our turn--to gently goad Justice Ginsberg into stepping down quickly, before January, so that the Senate will ratify another liberal before it becomes Republican-heavy. I adore Ginsberg and her values and principles and decisions. But just as Sandra Day O'Connor said she wouldn't step down unless a Republican was elected in 2000, so my favorite justice should do what she can to maintain the 5-4 illness in SCOTUS to prevent it from becoming a hopelessly diseased 6-3.
I don't mean to offend her--such suggestions before have met with hostile indignation.
Let's sweep away the best thing that ever happened to liberalism ourselves, before the Republicans deal us a far harsher blow. "Keep 5 to 4 as never before!" is a possible chant. Please come up with better ones.
And I'm at least as much a Western European-style socialist/Green Party idealogue as I am a Democrat. One foot in, the other out.
25 October 2014: "Fatally Flawed: When big money is involved, do our votes really count?"
"I've been an activist all my life . . . but I've never done anything more important than what I've done now" (John Brakey) "Every data point assured that the election was rigged" (Bill Risner) "This is a third-world standard of justice" (Jim March)
J. T. Waldron's 2009 documentary Fatally Flawed: The Problems Are Inside, The Solutions Are Outside is (I can't say it better) "not only a character driven cinema verite but a moving journey of triumph and heartache in the face of monolithic government opposition." Ultimately, the Democrats succeeded in gaining the release of all of the election 2006 databases--the largest release of such files in U.S. history up until that time. But unfortunately this is hardly the end of the story.
Set in Pima County, Arizona, it begins innocuously enough with a situation posited for a primary election referendum: In Tucson, Grant Road, a six-lane highway, narrows down to a four-lane highway, causing a bottleneck. The six-lane width needs to continue beyond this point to improve traffic flow, from Swann Road to Oracle Road. This process will involve gutting homes and businesses. At least one nearby neighborhood association is understandably worried. There is no thought about their plight as the project moves forward; it's "Get them out of the way and then we'll make it better," says one local resident.
Why encourage urban sprawl, which is already such a problem? say other opponents; more traffic will encourage more development.
Urban sprawl is mentioned because this expansion is but one of fifty-one projects planned for the county, dependent on voters' willingness to contribute. At an anticipated cost of $164 million, it is the largest one. Altogether, all units of the project will cost $2.1 billion. If Internet information is correct, this first segment of the project , lasting from 2007 to 2011, ended up costing $7 million (www.grantroad.info/pdf/project-phases-map_042414.pdf).
In a May 16, 2006, primary, voters decided by a healthy margin that they would pay the $.05 sales tax to enable the highway expansion. Or so it seemed. In the past they had a record of rejecting RTA (Regional Transit Authority) initiatives for the area. What's being attempted now is a "regional approach" encompassing projects at the periphery of the county.
The Republicans, pro-business and development, were ecstatic at the election results. The Democrats smelled a rat.
On their behalf, John Brakey, co-founder of AUDIT-AZ (Americans United for Democracy, Integrity, and Transparency in Elections, Arizona [and a co-producer of the film along with Alissa Johnson]), and Jim March, a board member of Blackbox Voting, asked the Pima County Elections Division to see the database files from the county election computer, a public record, and were refused by the county board of supervisors. Democrats on that board refused to become involved in any way. They permitted the county administrator, the chuckling Chuck Huckelberry, to make all of the decisions
What happens thereafter is scenes from one session of the resulting lawsuit to others as controversy heats up and circumvention and double talk build up; in friendly activist venues information is shared. What is remarkable is the collusion among the various levels of government all the way up to and through Arizona's attorney general. Finally, the appellate court rules in favor of the plaintiffs: "[T]he courts have jurisdiction to protect against rigged elections." That took a year and a half, but more roadblocks are on the horizon as the Democrats go to collect their disk drive and are led on another wild-goose chase, exposing yet more corruption on the part of those already labeled as "suspects," the county board of supervisors specifically and other related officials above them.
A crime has been committed. A million hard-earned dollars have been spent. Arizona's attorney general, Terry Goddard, listens to Democratic attorney and AUDIT-AZ activist Bill Risner with a straight face if not a grinding smile as the unflappable attorney, who never once blows his cool in the face of the consistent skullduggery, patiently explains to him what he is obliged to do as attorney general as Goddard double talks back at him.
National expert Michael Shamos is consulted; he advocates for a recount of the paper ballots. This advice is taken after more shuffling around of papers and taxpayer money. The ballots are transported to the neighboring Maricopa County, location of the state capital, Phoenix. Pima County Republicans have joined the Democrats in their quest for accurate counting of votes.
A witnessed recount is permitted, excluding the outspoken digital expert Jim March and passionate activist John Brakey. But no testing of the authenticity of the ballots was performed, nor have the ballots been sorted by precinct to assure that the votes of those closest to the scene of the county road-expanding project reflect the expected results.
Is prospective relief granted? I don't think so. From the Internet it is clear that numerous municipal infrastructure projects are in the works. The ultimate solution, for there is one, turns to Humboldt County, California, home of the Humboldt Transparency Project and Mitch Trachtenberg's "Ballot Browser," an open-source vote-counting program.
Using high-speed graphic scanners, the county captures images of all ballots and places them online and on DVDs for the public to witness firsthand.
Along the way is filming of interviews, including a shot of demonstrators with signs opposing the RTA project, including "Grand Road, not Grant's Tomb." Brakey specifies this ongoing trial as the most important project of his long activist career. Episodes close with decisive results typed out on screen. The film is seen through the eyes of Bill Risner, who works on behalf of the plaintiffs, the Pima County Democrats (minus those among the supervisors; see above).
Camera work is telling. When two members of the board of supervisors believe that they have succeeded, at a meeting break, their thumbs-up, wicked grins, and fists of victory are lens fodder.
The ultimate witness in the film, the cameras, focus at length on the county computer technician, Bryan Crane, who, a whistleblower said, confided to him that he "had 'fixed' the RTA election under direction from his bosses." The GEMS tabulator was easily tamperable, as were the Diebold (then Global) optical scanners, purchased in 1996 and hybridized with the punch-card system previously in use. Testifying near the beginning of the film, Crane is visibly nervous and uncomfortable, not even attempting to conceal it. He rubs sweat off of his palms onto the witness stand desk. He cracks his knuckles. His pauses before each answer are lengthy.
But at the eleventh hour, Crane tries to retract his admission to no avail. Meanwhile, he is proved by several witnessed to have taken home CD backups of the data files in case of a fire--and files are infinitely tamperable in the privacy of homes. Well, his home is more at risk, given that the county safe is fireproof. Moreover, he is found to have been printing up unaudited summary reports for his boss periodically during election day, when it is legal to print one up solely after the polls are closed. The audit log does not identify who did the printing.
In an interview, Risner states that he looked at the RTA audit log: on May 11, he saw that "thirty-three seconds after the computer operator opened the election he backed up and erased the data four hours and counting beforehand and when I asked him why he did that, he could not offer an explanation. That was extremely a big piece of evidence for me."
Brakey relates in an email that "Pima County Elections us[e] a 'crop scanner' to program the memory card before voting so that it would print the results they wanted as opposed to the actual votes. The purpose of the Black [B]ox report was to warn county election departments of this potential mechanism of fraud, now famously referred to as the 'Hursti hack.' The report came out July 4, 2005. By August 3, 2005, Pima County had purchased the same device.
Criminals get their best ideas from the media.
For further information about this ongoing train wreck, see fatallyflawedelections.blogspot.com, "Fatally Flawed: The State of Elections in the U.S."
Partial funding for "Fatally Flawed" was supplied by the Election Defense Alliance.
15 October 2014: Response to a New York Times Op Ed on the Middle East
Re the chronic illness of the Palestine-Israel impasse and Netanyahu's extremism that so jeopardizes the possibility of peace, I still hope for a 2-state solution. Don't ask me how. Netanyahu has become a self-appointed savior of the Jews, I read not too long ago, a most scary association that will probably fuel more anti-Semitism.
So when people ask me if I'm "pro" this or that, I answer that I'm "pro-peace" in the Middle East.
All this is to say--we should remember that the "greatest democracy in history" exists on occupied territory. If Seattle nixed Columbus Day, let us remember our own behavior toward the Native Americans.
In this context, we can view "illegal" immigration from Mexico and Central America as other groups of Native Americans reclaiming a land that belongs more to them than to us, the Occupiers.
12 October 2014: God Would Have Had a Chuckle
Today would have been Rose Light Nussbaum Scott's 92nd birthday. My thoughts go everywhere but for now light on the death scene, so 21st century. The nurse listened for a heartbeat and found none. Mom was a DNR--do not resuscitate. My thoughts scrambled and then I realized that prayers were in order. I found the "Lord bless thee and keep thee . . ." on my smartphone; then, scrambling again, my shaking fingers found the 23rd Psalm. Then we said Kaddish--from memory, I think. Then I hugged my older brother and begged him "Please let's not fight." Then, after we left the room, reminded by the hospice nurse that "she's no longer here," we found two old ladies sitting at a table, who asked, "Flying the coop so soon?" Gallows humor the others ignored. I smiled and gave each a flower from the bouquet I had in my arms. They cackled with pleasure--my mom's spirit joking around with us. I had left her red roses in her arms in lieu of the huge crucifix the Vincentians wanted to place there. She loved red roses.
New York Times and Voting/Elections: Why Is Some News Unfit to Print?
Every once in a while I treat myself to a good read of the New York Times, as opposed to a scan or quick read of articles that jump out at me. Many of these, unsurprisingly, concern election integrity, since I am on their list to automatically receive relevant articles.
Today Gail Collins published a somewhat tongue-in-cheek op ed "Rules to Vote By," criticizing the plagiarism of policy solutions offered by various candidates for the 2014 elections. I wrote a reply that defended the borrowing of ideas from others as long as the originators were given credit, but what if the idea came from Singapore instead of Thomas Jefferson?
Inevitable controversy, usually the lifeblood of democracy, some believe, but lately I think most of us will agree that it's a bit stretched when Congress receives a popularity rating lower than that for cockroaches (9 percent, the last I heard, for Congress, that is). "deathblood of democracy" it seems, these days.
Then, because I believe that comments on articles are sometimes even better or more interesting than the articles themselves, though I have even less time to peruse them, I opted for the New York Times's favorite comment on Collins's op ed, most articulately written. It stated that those to blame are not the plagiarizers but those who never read about them--the "men on the street" who [I am paraphrasing] don't know the difference between Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell but vote anyway.
Theirs is the blame, she wrote. Blame the people.
So I swallowed hard to talk back to a Grey Lady fave but did. I wrote that she was correct in implicitly emphasizing the importance of an informed electorate, but instead of blaming the uninformed--she even bluntly faulted them--she needed to dig deeper and ask "why" once she thinks to have pinpointed "whom."
And what of the plus-or-minus 100 million or so who don't vote at all? I told her about the Election Integrity's emphasis on the
importance of educating the people via many forms of outreach. You don't just blame and stop there to applause from Times editors as well as even some readers. One said that she should be on the editorial board herself. )-:
That had been the only editors' pick. Suddenly several more popped up. I was glad, because usually the editors choose better.
Disclaimer: The Times has provided the [educated] public with important information on election and voting issues and I often quote from the Grey Lady herself in my writing.
Just as a quick segue, the "plagiarizer" whom Collins cited is the Georgia candidate for the U.S. Senate David Perdue, who "plagiarized" a proposed economic policy from Lee Kuan Yew, the ex-prime minister of Singapore. Perdue's staff should have rewritten it, the usual procedure, wrote Collins. "It's sort of weird when you adopt precepts from a guy who used to have citizens beaten with canes for vandalism."
Now David Perdue is the first cousin of former Georgia [Republican] Governor George Ervin "Sonny" Perdue III, who in Election 2002 triumphed against his opponent Roy Barnes even though Barnes had been ahead in the polls by 11 percentage points. Overnight, Perdue forged ahead by sixteen points, winning the election by 51 percent and thus becoming the first Republican governor of Georgia since the Reconstruction.
Collins didn't add that information, nor write about David Perdue's opponent, the incumbent Saxby Chambliss, who originally got into office in that same 2002 election in Georgia by defeating the popular incumbent U.S. Representative Max Cleland, an Iraq war veteran who lost three limbs while fighting for his country's foreign policy of the time. Cleland's pre-election poll totals exceeded Chambliss's by 5 points, but then, courtesy of another good-old "overnight surprise," Chambliss somehow surged ahead to a 53 percent upset.
Recall that Georgia was one of the first states to adopt Direct Recording Election (DRE) machinery prior to the passage of HAVA in late 2002. DRE totals cannot be audited or recounted, both actions that might have affected the results as long as tampering was not involved. But the suspicion is that it was. DREs are also completely tamperable, notoriously so.
Now Chambliss since then was elected U.S. Senator from Georgia, so people cared even less, or were even less informed than they should have been. Where was the press? That's how I got into the Election Integrity movement in the first place--by attending a rally protesting press's lack of attention to election corruption scandals--Florida 2000 at that point.
The scoop on our current Secretary of Defense, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel goes back even farther and is also rooted in election corruption, alas. I may be one of the few people in this country who guessed why Hagel did so badly during his Senate confirmation hearings--called by the Guardian "an embarrassment for all concerned."
Did the mainstream press wonder why he had done so badly?
This is my theory: He didn't want it.
I surmised the reason: he had a skeleton in his closet. He was a former chairman of and shareholder in the Nebraska election machine manufacturer Electronic Systems and Software (ES&S), largest of its kind, at the time, in the U.S. He claimed to have stepped down from this position to run successfully for the Senate [R-NE] in 1996 and then won again in 2002, beating a popular former governor of the Cornhusker State by the largest margin in the state's history--including a huge number of votes he amassed from all-black precincts.
Most votes in Nebraska were counted by ES&S machinery, by the way.
In 2003 pioneer election integrity activist Bev Harris and others complained to the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee about Hagel's questionable victories given his former close affiliation with the king (at the time) of election machinery manufacturers.
The chairman took the rap and stepped down. Hagel did not run for reelection in 2008 and resumed his private life. I don't know if he resumed his ES&S affiliation. So with this scandal on the records of the Senate Ethics Committee (I hope), no wonder he did not seem too happy to join President Obama's cabinet in 2013.
So I thought. And since then, this country has gone to war on numerous fronts. What power. I have this much to say for Hagel. He was neither the first nor the last politician to have assumed such important offices under such questionable circumstances. Another was the war president Lyndon Baines Johnson (nicknamed "Landslide Lyndon" when he first won a seat in the House in 1946, I believe, because of the slender margin of victory that put him in office), who escalated the Vietnam war to such tragic consequences and ultimate defeat. But he also gave this country Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act.
And so, to lend circularity to this article, let's go back and remember how I got onto this long tangent--longer than the article I sat down to write.
It was Gail Collins's mention of U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, simply in passing, as the incumbent Senator against whom David Perdue, her focus, is running in Georgia. Collins doesn't delve into Chambliss's rise from obscurity to become a U.S. Senator. Then, speaking of promotions from questionable elections to positions of crucial power in the U.S. government, I climbed up to President Obama's cabinet to find a situation infinitely more execrable than plagiarizing a workable economic policy from a leader whose deeds in other realms were called execrable [not a direct quote] by the Times.
Let's say "emulate" instead of "plagiarize," since the credit was belatedly restored to its source. But how many of those who will vote for U.S. Senator in Georgia this November read the New York Times anyway? Collins is more interested in politicians' gaffes than in spreading the word about Perdue's plagiarism or discussing other, more serious wrongdoings. Sen. Chambliss will probably win again, he of the meteoric rise out of DRE malfunction or tampering.
If we all have skeletons in our closet--and President Obama's is his current Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, a patroness way back when, according to Greg Palast--I must say that some skeletons are scarier than others.
That highly educated Times editors' favorite commenter today who blamed our problems on the uneducated was pretty scary, but perhaps ignorant of the Powell memo that planned to dumb enough of us down so that, so that, uh . . . .
An early Happy Halloween to you all. What a den of monsters have risen to the top of our society, far fewer than the innocent ones who will trick or treat at the end of this month. There are those who dress as monsters once a year and others wearing three-piece suits for whom every day is Halloween's inverse, trick and treat, and would that this bad paradox stopped here, at the level of writing rather than reality.
There--I've done it, over the heads of Chambliss and Hegel to the top .5 percent.
Image above by NapInterrupted, https://www.flickr.com/people/96603394@N00/
22 September 2012: OMB Director Shaun Donovan Discusses the Costs of Climate Inaction: Center for American Progress, 18 September 2014
The new meme for saving the world from climate change, now that Al Gore's 2008 challenge to prevent it is moot, is not the nonpartisan erewhon of "work like hell to re-source energy," but rather "resilience."
We must fight back against the reality of climate change. This has to happen to save not so much the world as our presence on it. We must promote resilience to climate change on the ground, above it, and below it.
In both his first public speech since his swearing in as Director of the White House Management and Budget office (OMB) last July, and his first public speech on environmentalism, Shaun Donovan emphasized the need for resilience.
We must prepare ourselves for the destructiveness of climate change. Huge damage is already apparent in the rising temperatures--thirteen out of the fourteen of the warmest years in history have occurred since 2000--increased fierceness of storms and incidents of wildfires, the melting of the solar icecap, the years-long drought in California--in 2012 the worst drought in fifty years occurred there--and flooding.
More resilient infrastructure is needed than our outdated, sometimes-collapsing vestiges.Subsidized housing for the poor must be rebuilt to withstand "natural" disasters. For the first time in history, more than half of the world's population live in cities, and somehow they occupy the structures closest to water, for most major cities are built close to the sea, and are thereby the most vulnerable--forget about waterfront condominiums.
In New Orleans Hurricane Katrina wrought the most damage on indigent neighborhoods, coincidentally on the lowest ground of this below-sea-level city. The rich were far less affected in their double-gallery homes and villas on higher ground.
Director Donovan has already budgeted billions on behalf of public housing and other exigencies as the former Secretary of Housing and Development (HUD). As head of the Hurricane Sandy task force, working across all of the cabinet and other government agencies concerned with the environment, which he said, comprises all of them, he witnessed the devastation firsthand, laboring to rebuild lives--160 were killed--and the structures that housed them. The cost of federal government intervention was $60 billion. The project is ongoing. The scope is incredible. And it will happen again.
But why should a dollar data-crunching office like OMB be so concerned with climate change? Well, said Donovan, their purview exceeds spreadsheets, having encompassed the Affordable Care Act as well as every government agency--the bucks stop at OMB for cost-benefit analyses of every single regulation, a gargantuan, quintessentially complicated workload. Underinvestment is not an option. Federal funding is crucial.
Donovan recalled Roy Ash, the first director of the OMB in 1970, who was instrumental in the establishment of EPA also in 1970 to protect human health and the environment, a Nixon appointee helping to implement RMN's brainchild. (Ironically, it was Earth Day, born April 22, 1970, that was the last straw for corporate attorney [and subsequent SCOTUS appointee two months later] Louis Powell, whose 1971 manifesto instigated the gradual corporate takeover of the economy and with it our democracy. This insidious process culminated in the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and its McCutcheon and Hobby Lobby offspring, mangling the First Amendment as much as the corporate takeover has wreaked havoc on the environment.)
(And so these disparate courses were both set by the Nixon administration, and the latter are winning. Don't they care about their children?)
(Poor darlings.) Despite President Obama's authoritative perspective and commitment in retaining scores of the world's best scientists, the one percent counter that climate change is part of a natural cycle of heating and cooling.. There is nothing we can do about it. But climate denial will cost far more--billions and billions--than resilience, and those who subscribe to climate denial should be relegated to the "Flat Earth Society," the director said. Funding the government toward resilience is crucial to the future of life on this planet. OMB is now nonpartisan. Donovan's policies have found support from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Treasury Secretaries George Schultz, Hank Paulson, and Robert Rubin. Many U.S. corporations are also supportive.
After the director's speech, the former governor of Ohio and presently Counselor to the Center for American Progress and President of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Ted Strickland, raised some compelling points. For example, the CAP event was scheduled purposefully the week before the UN Climate Summit tomorrow, September 23. We need to provide resiliency tools all around the world.
Donovan answered that President Obama, who will represent his country at the event, believes that the level of our ambition must increase--our enormous challenge is to lead the world in efforts toward resilience, to reduce the damage wrought by climate change.
Fortifying the most vulnerable communities against the next major hurricane will ultimately save millions if not billions, the director replied to Strickland's question about how to protect them most effectively. In both fiscal and human costs.
The primary responsibility is at the state and local levels--the federal government supports them.
We're the best in the world at immediate response but not so good at long-term preparations, continued Donovan. Many corporations are investing in real resilience, which must involve both citizens and private investment.
The cost of solar energy has gone down by 60 percent; 43 percent of power generation is through wind energy and 73 percent of these resources are based in the United States.
We must exceed current needs in efforts to fortify ourselves against climate change. Levies must be built one foot higher than deemed necessary. Agency interaction is important--various resiliency projects can be accomplished cooperatively. The best data indicate that smart resilience will save 400 percent of today's disaster intervention measures.
We must rebuild our wetlands. We must rebuild nature before it destroys us instead.
(Paragraphs set within parentheses represent my own associations with Director Donovan's content. They do not represent his own views. He praised the proliferation of the use of natural gas as an excellent clean energy source, for example.)
18 September 2012: "Pay 2 Play": A New Documentary by John Wellington Ennis on Our Society of, by, and for the One Percent
John Wellington Ennis and Holly Mosher are to be highly commended for another masterpiece that well complements "Ennis's "Free for All" (OEN review at http://www.opednews.com/articles/Free-for-All-a-feature-do-by-Marta-Steele-080816-82.html. Another name familiar to me among the Election Integrity (EI) documentary archives, which I found among the credits, was Richard Rey Pérez, co-producer of the 2002 tour de force "Unprecedented," http://www.unprecedented.org.
While "Free for All" deals with election corruption--the voter I.D. noose among them, "Pay 2 Play" takes on the hugely empowering Big Brother, the mangling of one hundred years of campaign finance controls that culminated in the McCain-Feingold Act (the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002). Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, the devastating Supreme Court decision of 2010, undid all of that work. We have Chief Justice John Roberts to thank for expanding a case involving a small right-wing "home video producer," Citizens United, into a national (and by easy extension international) explosion of the quota of political campaign contributions from corporations and labor unions.
Ask the Koch brothers how happy they were. They'd been at it with their ALEC (American Legislation Exchange Council) lobby, that benevolent 501 c-3, since the early 1970s. Their favorite child of the time was the Powell Manifesto, suggesting the injection of secret, gargantuan funds to boost that loser (at the time) GOP, into a gargantuan plutocracy (another possible name for the moniker "Pay to Play"), elevating its source, corporate lawyer Louis Powell, into the Supreme Court, courtesy of that anti-Christ Richard Nixon.
And so the infection festered and spread slowly, stealthily into the system, with the creation of think tanks and PACS, inflated pharmaceutical corporations, and expansion of lobbies, that quasi fourth arm of the government, which more and more writes law after law which their flunkies pass, profiting donors hugely. Thus the metastasis slowly and stealthily spread as the Koch brothers, third wealthiest entity in the United States with their combined fortune of $100 million, worked with their kindred spirits.
This is only some of the background supplied by Ennis in "Pay to Play," which features interviews of magisterial authorities on the corporate blimp taking over our elections among other vital forces chewing away at democracy: climate change, other environmental abuses, mediocre educational systems, attacks on entitlements and other so-far more successful funding cutbacks aimed against the majority. "Poor" is a four-letter word for the blimp.
Among Ennis's galaxy of interviewees are Professor Noam Chomsky, professor and activist Mark Crispin Miller, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, author and writer Chris Hedges, The Nation authority John Nichols, attorney and professor Bob Fitrakis, Common Cause attorney Cliff Arnebeck, news anchor and activist Amy Goodman, progressive journalist Jason Leopold, blogger and news commentators Brad Friedman and Thom Hartmann, activist Van Jones, and--surprise!--Senator John McCain and the felon former super power lobbyist Jack Abramoff, one of the few caught in the Act and jailed (can he vote now?). What a catch!
Abramoff it is who, early in the film, defines "Pay 2 Play." You have to have big bucks to enter the political fray and have your way, period. Fifty percent of the U.S. Congress are millionaires. Those who take payoffs will soon be. It is miraculous if a candidate gets to Congress without lobbyist funding. Several ethical challengers who attempt to beat this system have their impact on the people but can't get beyond primary victories. One of them, the first Iraq war veteran to run for Congress, Paul Hackett in 2005, coined the term "chickenhawk" to describe George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, among other war-monging draft dodgers. Ohio, the king of the swing states, is the focus of the compelling exemplars who ran for Congress with the mistaken notion that honesty and ethics can triumph.
Eight-six percent (1012 of 1216) of congressional candidates in 2012 were funded to the hilt by the Koch brothers, it is later added.
Society is no longer divided down congressional aisles as left and right wing. Rather, it's insiders, the one percent, versus outsiders, the rest of us.
Van Jones adds the perspective that each vote these days represents a dollar. Which is stronger? Most Americans don't vote. We're at the bottom of the list in terms of this bottom line of democracy. In Germany, more than 90 percent of the people come out to vote. In Australia and Brazil, among other countries, voting is compulsory, like jury duty or (I might add), paying taxes. There we 99 percenters have the lead. Those whose millions slither into politics are taking the rest of their fortunes overseas.
The talking points in this film are bladed lasers. Would that they could climb up the metaphor into reality. Taken together, with the stunning leitmotifs I will discuss below, they leave you gasping for the oxygen of ethics. And we get it, as you will read below. First the monster, then the Belerophon.
The infamous Paul Weyrich, religious wingnut figurehead of the "New Right" [Reich?], appears several times on videos in the context of his famous 1980 speech that proclaimed the one percent doctrine (the "Rosetta Stone" of the right wing): the fewer people who vote, the better it is for the insiders.
Chomsky socks progressive Democrats with the truth as he sees it (beguiling too): that we have a duopoly in this country: both major political parties, both far to the right of the people in many ways. This duopoly can be named the Business Party, he later adds. It divides us into corporations versus the public. Even our moderate President Barack Obama laments that corporations are the force behind our elections.
How can those who overspend on campaigns be entrusted with our country's financial affairs? A solid gold, jewel-studded Monopoly game graces the lobby of one building on Wall Street.
An even more wrenching dichotomy was born with Citizens United: the equations of money with free speech and corporations with people. How is it possible that all individuals (well, whoever wants to) within a corporation can vote along with their big fish, the company itself? Money does talk, but democracy's ballots are supposed to speak out. I can't help but inject the working title of my next book, "Ballots versus Bills: The Future of Democracy." I hold out hope. I hope that I'll still have reason to by the time the book is done.
A stirring leitmotif punches our gut and cancers our minds from childhood: the game "Monopoly." Who hasn't played it? Here come the children, who have played the American dream game but won't grow up into it because of the porcellian savages. The film begins with stunning shots of Ennis's baby girl. Don't the wingnuts love their children?
What world awaits her? Defeated Ohio congressional candidate Hackett weeps about his six-year-old daughter's questions about headlined corruption. Will she be allowed to play the junked challenger "Anti-Monopoly"? Or live it? Ralph Anspach, creator of "Anti-Monopoly," was sued by Parker Brothers, current manufacturers of "the game," and in the course of the trial emerged the blockbuster news that these Brothers had actually co-opted Monopoly out of the public domain from its true source, Lizzie J. Magie, creator of "Landlord's Game" in 1903, undoubtedly influenced by the predecessor predators who comprised the Gilded Age. It was then that the notion of corporate personhood snuck under the carpet to hibernate and estivate until its time. Magie had meant for the game to show that monopoly among the few was a burden.
Anspach got the word out but lost the lawsuit.
So the kids' game teaches us outrageous lies that have come true, violating the Sherman Antitrust Act among other legal milestones of the last century. Square by square, card by card, as exhibited in the film, it teaches our children to bankrupt their opponents through financial greed. Its icon, the man in the three-piece suit with the white whiskers, is another leitmotif painted onto buildings and sidewalks by street artists, one master named Alec Monopoly. How else to reach thousands of people than through whose streets? our streets. Street art is vandalism, punished when the artists, who work late in the dark, are caught. Billboards belong to the steamy side, sights the kids shouldn't see but do. The "get out of jail free" card points to the corporate crime that slips into the cracks (most of the time, Jack and Scooter!) in return for Kings Dollars. Such felons who vote if they need to, welcome at the polls, the perfect demographic--rich, white, and educated--show up most often. Theirs is the leisure time while the masses work several jobs just to subsist, thus kept from voting.
Tom Noe, source of Ohio's Coingate, offers an outstanding exception to the demographic, having dropped out of college after two years to pursue his real passion and income shower, numismatics. He was sentenced to eighteen years in the slammer for taking millions from the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation to fill the gap left by stolen coins worth millions, which belonged to the Buckeye State. How well qualified he was for a rare job involving his expertise. What a pity.
"You can't write a story better than reality," notes Ennis, who himself weaves in and out of the action.
Our triumphs over the Kochs & co.? In 2011, the news leaked that the Koch brothers were holding a secret convention at the Las Palmas Desert Resort in Nevada. A crowd of progressives followed them there to demonstrate outside. There is a shot of David Koch looking seasick as he watched.
Occupy's outing of high-profile corporations' membership in ALEC, a supporter of Stand Your Ground laws and voter ID, among many other nauseating causes, shrunk its roster that had included Coca Cola, Pepsico, Wendy's, Mars, Kraft, McDonald's, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
On May Day 2012, a traditional workers' holiday, Ennis assembled a group of Los Angeles street artists to create a huge Monopoly board that was spread across Broadway and Sixth Avenue in New York City. Of course the board contained the progressives' answer to the traditional squares. A party followed. Police didn't interfere--at one massive antiwar rally I had attended in Gotham the police ended up confined beyond their own barriers--I believe the one in February 2003 that attracted hundreds of thousands; the count varied but I told my daughter, crushed against the wall of a building on a side street, to go back to her dorm and I'd represent her.
And so the leitmotifs of art and activism converge with more riveting photos of Ennis's adorable child but the sweet jubilation is tempered by mention of further Supreme decisions: one that allows unfettered political donations of, by, and for a few people (McCutcheon v FEC) and the other the Hobby Lobby case (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.) that allows employers with religious scruples to withhold insurance payments from employee medical consultations that involve abortion or even birth control.
So all's not okay in the corral, but a list of demands heartens us to keep at it and never stop: Vote; Public Financing of campaigns; Full Disclosure of campaign donation sources; End Gerrymandering; Free Airtime; Constitutional Amendments; create an American Anti-Corruption Act; 28th Amendment National Roadshow; and Stamp Money Out of Politics.
For more--because there is so much more than what I've covered--visit pay2play.nationbuilder.com.
16 March 2014: New York Times (3/15/14) Blind to Ohio's Electoral Tribulations
Further to my diary yesterday, ("New York Times Blind to Ohio's Electoral Tribulations"), I realized a response was needed, a letter to the editor at least. There were many ways to go about it. This is what I came up with ever several discarded attempts, aware of how few words were possible and how much there was to say:
"Actual history contradicts your assertion that "Ohio lawmakers know full well that there is no history of electoral fraud in the state and no pattern of abuse by any voters or groups." Why did Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) join Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) on January 6, 2005, to challenge the Ohio electoral delegation's assignment of its votes to Bush? Because of countless instances of corruption at every level of government from municipal to presidential in the Buckeye State in 2004. Consider Cybergate, tip of the iceberg, the event that flooded votes from Kerry's column to Bush's at the eleventh hour on Election Day. President Bush and his aide Karl Rove were seen in Columbus meeting with Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell that same day. As goes Ohio, so presidential elections have gone throughout U.S. history, not one of them without corruption. Ohio was called the Florida of 2004. History is rife with the evidence."
That said, I will keep an eye open for other reactions to yesterday's editorial and will be very surprised if there are none.
More than that, just out of curiosity, I checked what records I had in my book Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Polls . . . of the New York Times's reactions to the goings-on in Ohio around 2004. There were many, all attributing the problems to administration rather than corruption. It was an eye opener, because I do quote the Times often in my book. It seems as if the Times was relying on the "geek" principle cited by Yale scholar Heather Gerken: "Hamlin's Razor says never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."
As I wrote, I'll keep my eyes open for more.
16 February 2014: There Is Life on Mars
My mind is the farthest thing from scientific--so when my thoughts turn to scientific realities, how else can I refer to it than metascience? Surely not metaphysics, which I consider way above my potential.
Enough with self-effacement. I read an oped by Edward Frenkel, an academic, in today's New York Times suggesting that "the universe is a simulation" created by mathematical formulae: "the possibility of the Platonic nature of mathematical ideas remains -- and may hold the key to understanding our own reality."
As a humanities person, I know this much: we humans are endowed with very few sense perceptions and there are many more that we've never conceived of.
Much exists in these dimensions that we can't pick up: like thriving "civilizations" on these planets we perceive as "dead." The miracle is that we are allowed to persist in our so-limited state. Perhaps these communities conceive of us as "dead"--hopelessly nonexistent and steering ourselves into a more dead state than we are now.
So we send out telescopes and Latin messages to the farthest reaches of what we perceive as reality in search of life when it's right next door, so to speak. Even on the moon.
It will take much evolution, if the human species persists in the face of natural and cultural decay, before we acquire the additional sense perceptions to see what we are blind to now.
Does it take a humanities person to perceive this? I'm sure that scientists will have a lot of refutations to offer.
12 February 2014: The Olympics: Disgraceful Negligence
I've been watching the Olympics at prime time when I can and last night the half-pipe snowboarding event wrenched me like fingernails scratching a blackboard.
The Russians for some reason had been unable to correctly shape the structure of the half-pipe and couldn't get the surface appropriately iced. They had tried everything including rock salt. What athletes confronted was a bump in the center (which quickly became slushy from the successive performances) that severely interfered with their momentum if not tripping them altogether.
The Americans were favored to medal but all tanked and a Chinese contender was able to ace the course without a hitch.
I can't help but think that an American venue of excellence received less attention than others at Sochi. Putin has attended figure-skating events where Russians clearly excel. NBC rapturously discussed their Bolshoi-oriented training.
NBC's coverage of the half-pipe fiasco was objective. They merely supplied the usual descriptions as one American after the next tripped up--Shaun White, predicted to triumph, tripped over the bump.
7 February 2014: Winter Olympics!
Last night, before the opening procession of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, fear was not apparent. One protest was suggested but not corroborated: on the bottom of a snowboard was an advertisement for the Pussy Riot, the group imprisoned and squelched by Comrad Putin recently.
No mention of terrorism. I marveled at the incredible displays of athleticism: the artistry, the physical perfection of the participants and their amazing so exquisitely and painfully hewn abilities.
Humans have been competitive since we acquired the ability to "own" territory. Territoriality is a form of competition, as is the battle over the chosen mate. Eras later came more evolved forms of warfare.
Then we got religion and athletic games emerged as tributes to the gods and were featured at funerals. Perfection had to be the goal (hence Platonic forms?).
The Olympian games first entered history in ancient Greece. Our modern approximation, highly elaborated and constantly embracing new events, originated in Greece, where else, in 1896. I visited that marble stadium in Athens where these games first took place. The amphitheater at Epidaurus was far more impressive. Lots older, of course.
Male figure skaters tumbled and spun. Snow boarders flew and whirled, slicing back into the snow through the air so cleanly, gliding downhill in ecstasy, halting their speed in a crunch of challenged physics. One snow boarder fell so hard a knee injury might prevent her return to the hills forever.
Talking heads at microphones showed off their knowledge, sighed with nostalgia reviewing these improved versions of their turn in front of lenses, the dissection of eyes, the music they loved and trusted to victory.
Oddly enough I thought for a minute of meeting a New York Times bestselling author doing odd jobs to scrape together pennies.
Those are the risks, the interstices, life flying into platforms just so, risking death or penury if they miss.
That's just the preview of life on ice and snow for the next several days. Laughter, tears, heights, and depths will all stand naked before us couch potatoes. Would we trade places with this carnival of sparkling vicissitudes? When the brutally injured young snow boarder was moved into an ambulance bound to a stretcher, she sadly beseeched her parents, "Will I still be an Olympian?"
Life slices snow with skis, my dear, and whirls us in the air begging for quintuple lutzes. Who will do that first? Einstein's theory is being transcended. What next? Snowboard labyrinths are new, the spirit timeless.
We're all Olympians.
7 February 2014: Groundhogs' Day Revisited a Week Later
Today is Groundhog's Day, the dead of the winter. It's uphill from here, second halves always more navigable, especially in the case of length of day, which increases our dose of sunlight and hence, via our pituitary endowment, improves moods.
The fact that, according to "Psychology Today," most suicides are committed in the spring, "probably" because " the rebirth that marks springtime accentuates feelings of hopelessness in those already suffering with it. In contrast, around Christmas time most people with suicidal thoughts are offered some degree of protection by the proximity of their relatives and, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, the prospect of 'things getting better from here'."
Things getting better from here? That's the mentality I described above.
But when things get best, out go some lights--around Easter, the time Jesus arose from the dead?
I'd project that those who commit suicide are way beyond religion.
I'd need a statistic on that. Here is some research: according to the "American Journal of Psychiatry" in 2004, suicide is more likely among those who are unaffiliated religiously. According to Adherents.com in 2004, in an article based on the above source, the countries with the lowest suicide rates are deeply religious.
How much harm does it do as opposed to good? Consider a world without religion. All things are possible.
Groundhog's Day has pagan roots. Even though other "major" holidays have pagan roots also, February 2 does not mark a major holiday. But if hell is ice and heaven fiery, to extrapolate from a poem I once wrote, then "mankind," "born to suffer," as Job once lamented, stays alive more during winter months than spring months. In other words, we are as gluttonous for punishment as Adam and Eve were way back then.
In the very, very dead of winter, a creature emerges out of death (read: hibernation) to sniff around and then run back to safety.
When we have need for neither heat nor cold, read: spring and autumn, especially spring, then the suicide rate escalates. Read: a totally irrational supposition.
It is perfectly natural to meditate on suicide at this nadir of the year.
But what follows brings a kind of warmth we all crave any time of the year, the most important holiday of them all (I've written two blogs on this), one with Christian roots that is celebrated by all who love: St. Valentine's Day. We all emerge from caves to celebrate love--those who love, anyway. Those without love have every reason to end it all, methinks.
Groundhog's Day has nothing to do with love--I attempt to adhere to my supposed theme. But consider that we look to an animal for a most important prediction. And we are just beginning to discover how smart those supposedly lower species are--beyond superstitions.
Oh, we have so much to learn. Far more can be considered with regard to other events than suicide before we can draw conclusions about our seasons and life/death.
On February 2, in the depth of winter, the groundhog chooses life.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hodnett
Palast Investigates II: "Vultures and Vote Rustlers"
Second in the series "Palast Investigates" and seventh DVD chronicling various aspects of the truth we must drink ourselves away from or vomit up or escape to old Disney media. . . "Vultures and Vote Rustlers" is out on the market to assail us again with life beyond our routines: Will Greg Palast's truths set us free? Is that work too hard?
Diving headfirst into volcanoes again and again, Palast offers what mainstream media withhold: facts rather than coiffeured mannequins crooning canned infotainment. Who wants to know the truth?
Here it is: The rich one percent torture us ninety-niners not with what they have, which is ours, but what we don't have, which is theirs unethically. Like vultures, they will kill us for it, and do so every day.
All reports originated as assignments for BBC Television, "Channel 4 DIspatches," and "Democracy Now!"
In one episode Palast stakes out at the suburban estate of "Goldfinger" Michael Francis Sheehan, king of the vulture capitalists, those who prey on impoverished developing countries by confiscating their debts for nickels and dimes and then charging the victims millions. In this scene Palast catches up with Goldfinger to ask him why he is squeezing the poor nation of Zambia for $40 million. Since the magnate is in litigation, he says, he cannot offer any answers.
Another segment spins the horrific tale of an unknown predecessor to the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed eleven people and ruined 600 miles of Gulf coastline in 2010. The cause was poor design--the rig's drilling cement could not withstand the force of a blowout. Oil workers who later suffered imprisonment or disappearance told Palast of a similar event in Azerbaijan where the same design had allowed a similar disaster in 2009 in the Caspian Sea's oil fields. 140 workers had to flee to lifeboats to survive.
"BP concealed the information that could have saved the lives of the eleven men in the Gulf," recounts Palast. He later reveals evidence from Wikileaks that important officials knew of the Azerbaijani disaster--the country's president knew, as did BP's partners, Chevron and Exxon. Why was nothing done? "Because BP runs the country" was the answer.
BP had armed a takeover of the government, along with the British intelligence force MI6 and the CIA, according to a double operative who worked for both BP and MI6.
On the Gulf Coast, as of the filming, 500 yards have been cleaned by laborers and another 600 miles remain; then the process must be repeated.
Also featured is the saga of the "end-game memo," a code word that appears in the title line of a classified memo written to Larry Summers by his "flunky," Tim Geithner--on the occasion of the 1997 deregulation of the U.S. banking system. A secret meeting was arranged between those two icons along with the CEOs of the five biggest banks in this country, "a conspiracy nut's wet dream."
J. P. Morgan was creating $88 trillion in derivatives, which had to go somewhere. The solution was to force 155 nations to "accept these toxic assets," to deregulate their markets via the World Trade Organization, which had received "such a warm welcome" in Seattle ten years ago.
A group of financial speculators known as Hamsa, named for the "the evil eye in an open hand," is another focus. A group of wealthy countries, including Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States, were about to pay off the crippled developing country Liberia's national debt, as part of the debt forgiveness policy advocated by Nobel Peace Laureate Nelson Mandel, when Hamsa swooped down upon them and carried it off, now suddenly worth $28 million.
Someone had discovered an old file from the 1980s containing Liberia's debt documents and sold them to these vultures, who compounded them for astronomical profit from Liberians, 80 percent of whom who earn on average $1 a day. Another Nobel Peace laureate, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, wonders how they can live with themselves. "Have a conscience and give this country a break," she says.
And the feast goes on. Ohio's early voting Sundays are cut down from four to one, with hours also cut to four, by the benevolent Secretary of State John Husted. Scenes from a rocking African American church service in Toledo, Ohio, precede the one remaining "Souls to the Polls Day," when blacks are bussed to the polls after church services. Some of these hardworking people must encompass two to three jobs a day during the week. Signs tempt these voters to wait for Election Day, which many of them usually don't; meanwhile they are issued not paper ballots but applications for absentee ballots, a category Palast hates because of the many that are rejected--here the figure is given as one to three million--"like playing bingo with your vote." These ballots can be eliminated if even unnecessary blank spaces are not filled in. "A systematic attempt to eliminate the hard core base of the Democratic Party, and they're getting away with it . . . the new Jim Crow," according to elections attorney and professor Bob Fitrakis.
On a large blackboard in the waiting room where the thousand voters are herded are the words "early voting = "absentee voting." Not the truth.
Out of a total of eleven chapters, the first anticipates Palast's next DVD, of his latest bestseller "Billionaires and Ballot Busters," on election corruption and the marionetteers maneuvering it, all of whom happen to belong to the beloved one percent. The preview begins by anticipating Sarah Palin's inauguration as president in 2017.
The end chapter lists credits. Another empowering leitmotif throughout the chapters is lessons in how to be an investigative reporter, narrated as asides as Palast wends his animated way throughout. As careers go, few wide-eyed college grads would be tempted to join Palast. Who wants to jump into volcanoes?
But some aspire toward those many skillsets, too much education, and excessive droves of brain, versatility, and sang froid, very froid. The protagonist kills hideous monsters, chasing them through impossible terrains littered with the remains of their victims. Palast never loses his dry-as-dust humor, arguably the most essential qualification of them all.
A skillful interview of Palast, last in the series of "Extras" added after the chapters, is conducted by a journalism school dropout. The two snap swearwords back and forth, the most colorful language on the disk. Other Extras include further interviews of Palast, a discussion of his previous bestseller "Vultures' Picnic," and some video versions of chapters from it.
A most worthwhile hour will be spent viewing this latest compendium of Palast's many brushes with death and daily death threats.
Watch him, at the very end, reciting his most stunning achievements, first among them his revelations about the bulldozing of gold miners in Tanzania, now Zaire, carried out by the Bush-family-connected company Barrick Gold Mining--now the largest company of its kind in the world. The gory details were published in his first (2002) bestseller "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy."
Years and many revelations later, another title for this newest DVD might be "The Worst Democracy Money Has Bought," granted now even more globalized.
REVIEW: Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela
"[W]hen he was released from prison, people said "Well now you're free.
As one of the world's living icons who has recovered from his latest brush with death, and on the heals of the release of the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the beloved Nelson Mandela has received another stunning tribute--the twenty-six astonishing reflections in the biographical abcdarium Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela.
With a forward by the newly released film's producer, Anant Singh, this latest written tribute to the Nobel laureate comes from a firsthand witness of the lifting of the Apartheid, Danny Schechter, whose favorite country in the world is South Africa. This renowned media critic, prolific author, filmmaker, television producer, and radio interviewer knows both Nelson Mandela and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu personally, among many other heroes of this epochal revolution--from the late Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer to Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela as president of South Africa. Schechter has spent activist time in South Africa since 1967, from the Apartheid era through its liberation to the present.
Schechter has written and directed six documentary films on this country, as well as Globalvision's television series South Africa Now for public television that ran for three years, while banned in South Africa. He has read a slew of other biographies of Mandela and quotes freely from them as well.
The only American documentary filmmaker to be allowed into Mandiba's team since his release, Schechter weaves "I" easily in and out of the otherwise third-person narrative--this is a primary, secondary, and picaresque source rife with accounts of Mandela from "Athlete" to "Zuid Africa."
Trying to bookmark significant passages in Mandiba A to Z, was a project that ended up too "fringed" to help, so that the following summary can't begin to encompass vital information. There's no substitute for reading this book from cover to cover. Not only Mandela (Mandiba is his tribal name) but vitally important issues he and his people confronted come to the fore. The history of South Africa at that explosive time, with important details that explain so much so succinctly, is another A to Z Schechter generously interweaves with a book that reads like a film montage. . . from A to Z, totally absorbing and undemanding, involving all of us in an era that saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the glasnost that broke up the Soviet Union and hence the Cold War, and finally the fulfillment of an impossible dream with all of its triumphs and pitfalls. Might I call this a culmination, the ultimate cry for peace and transcendence of the war-torn twentieth century?
The final South African leader Apartheid president, with whom Mandela had established rapport, F. W. de Klerk, told Schechter:
"Fundamental changes were taking place. . . . In the end, I could not have put together the package . . . if the Berlin Wall did not come down. . . . Suddenly the threat of Communist expansionism in South Africa lost the sting in its tail."
No biography or analysis offers a complete picture. Each is colored by its source. Coming from Schechter, ,i>Madiba A to Z can also be called a dissection or, more of a stretch, a montage of multiple associations, memories, impressions, histories. Chronology comes as an afterthought after the alphabetical section, for those who need it. It may also be read first, in anticipation of a huge expansion from the deeds to the actor, a "high-energy snack food" consisting of "essentially short essays" from the most to the least personal, from "Bully" or "Forgiveness" to the "Negotiator" reaching beyond himself toward compromise. Section titles range from simple adjectives to nouns to phrases and it may be significant that the final title is a phrase that reaches from "Zuid-Afrika to .za." From the Dutch territory to the twenty-first century Internet domain, "and beyond."
".za": back to A, which is for "Athlete," and Schechter defines its significance for Madiba, who said that "sport has the power to change the world." In the prison cell the size of a double bed where he was confined for so many years, Mandela stayed healthy by running in place and doing push-ups and stomach crunches. Boxing was the passion of this peaceful soul who resorted to violence as a solution only when all else had failed.
". . . But his talks were met with silence,
The letter N stands for "Negotiator," a skill that went far toward freeing Mandela from what had been a lifelong sentence to Robben Island. He became indispensable as his homeland erupted into violence when the people's requests went unheeded. This most excellent of all the entries (in my opinion) recounts crucial history.
ANC fellows, who believed that no problem lacked a solution, became a "nation of negotiators" when the Apartheid government had had its fill of unstoppable violence from the huge minority they could not quell. The "negotiated revolution," was led by the formerly "fierce" and "Socratic" law student whom twenty-seven and a half years of prison had refined into this man of so many names and qualities (another passage lists the many names he answered to, pp. 203-4). One of the few photographs in the book, of Mandela giving "his first speech as a freed man in Cape Town, February 11, 1990," is placed within these center pages of the text.
In the heart of the book, then, occurs the key to the country's peace and well being: Negotiating, domestic diplomacy. Only the "Zuid-Afrika to .za" chapter occupies more pages. When all else failed, those on the other side of the bars had to reach in for salvation. In this context, see also "Diplomat."
R stands for "Recognition," which Mandela, one of "the most recognized names and faces in the world," desires only in the form of "the changed circumstances of people, in improved lives, in freedom and the ability of people everywhere to enjoy the freedom they have gained." But U is for "Unknown"--"the more that is known about Nelson Mandela, the harder it is to identify the real person behind the different roles and personas," there are so many.
Many are the essays that obviously encompass parts of Madiba's life story, including "Youth," "Jailed, "Love and Loss," "Militant," and "Onward." Others involve some of the character traits that defined the man ("Forgiveness") and what he was up against ("Kafkaesque"). Twenty-six essays comprise a succinct and at the same time momentous dossier, compressed even more in the back matter as "Chronology" and "Postscript for "Learners.'" There is also a list of recommended readings. In the Postscript ("learners" is the word South Africans use for "students"), among the "Six Lessons from Nelson Mandela" and further to the essay "Diplomat," occurs lesson number four, that one must understand one's enemy in the process of attempting to defeat them: "[Mandela] had to learn to speak Afrikaans, and win over people who feared him."
We are privileged to have, paired, Madiba A to Z with Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (which I saw at a sneak preview on Wednesday and very highly recommend) at a time when this last surviving twentieth-century protagonist still shares space with this world (I group Mandiba with Einstein, Gandhi, and MLK).
Beyond that there are three more words: "Thank you, Danny."
10 November 2013: Review: Andrew Kreig, "Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney, and Their Masters"
"We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."--Karl Rove
If you want to understand who Andrew Kreig is and what he does, you'd better have lots of time on your hands, because he cannot be summed up in a few words and his opus is at least cross-disciplinary.
Profession? Add an -s to that: investigative reporter, attorney, author, business strategist, nonprofit executive, et cetera (lecturer, speaker, academic researcher, radio broadcaster). At home on Capitol Hill and hence reality in all of its dimensions, he is headquartered most lately at the Justice Integrity Project--can there be such a thing in this day and age? Unlike so many hypocritical euphemisms floating around in our culture, the DC-based nonpartisan legal reform group fulfills its promise, investigating and exposing power structures the mainstream media cozy up to and flatter. Most lately you'll find on their front page, www.justice-integrity.org, a column by former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, objecting to the imprisonment and torture of Legal Schnauzer reporter/blogger Roger Shuler for publicizing bad news about the son of an ex-governor of Alabama.
What is the bad news? Just an illicit affair? Kreig's subject matter shows how such events rarely occur outside of a context, and that context is the subject and theme of his electrifying new book Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney, and Their Masters (Washington, DC: Eagle View). Its 345 pages include twenty-two chapters, an Appendix of reform resources, an ample bibliography, and hundreds of notes rife with sources and URLs, so completely up-to-date that Kreig's preface is dated September 10, 2013, the first book about President Obama's lame-duck second term.
Progressives will find coverage and uncoverage of issues of deepest concern: besides the full history and latest update on Siegelman's continued imprisonment, there is hitherto-unknown and must-read documentation about Obama, Romney, and a genetic chart of interconnected politicians and operatives that all converge at the axis of "How is that possible?"
Didn't the Abu Ghraib torture occur under extraordinary circumstances that would have driven any compassionate human being to vulgar excesses? What of the abuse of Shuler? The sabotaging of the Boston Marathon by the CIA? The revelation that Romney's religion forbade full participation by African Americans until 1978?
The first chapter ends with a teaser that will keep readers riveted throughout the remaining, mostly unillustrated pages: Should the Romney-Ryan ticket have triumphed? How can such a projection even occur to such a progressive activist (who does reject specific political labeling)?
Well, retrospectives on the Obama administration up to today show that the president's puppet strings are wielded by a covey of elite sponsors, so that the following policies assume a logical context: "undermining New Deal safety nets, retaining relatively low taxes and major tax breaks for the super-wealthy, and otherwise accepting . . . austerity for the general public."
At the top of the genetic chart, above all of the obscenely corrupt, filthy-wealthy, power-sucking, incestuous hierarchy is a huge platinum beacon that guides all of our actions in today's culture, willy-nilly: the dollar sign, star of our Christmas tree.
We all stand on the shoulders of giant . . . bank accounts.
The book is divided into four sections. The first deep-structures Obama and the Bushes after a brief foray into nothingness (Herman Cain) in the opening chapter that unexpectedly yields the book's leitmotif--the hapless pizza mogul was a puppet of the Koch brothers, poorly groomed to step into any elevator shoes--the first of many puppets to dance onto Kreig's stage, though one of the hastiest retreats of them all. Romney and then Romney-Ryan step in to finish the chapter. Most enigmatic principal within this preliminary text is Romney's religion, which upstages all else.
The second section explores "Romney Henchmen . . ." Karl Rove, David Petraeus, Michael Leavitt, and others. The third delves more deeply into Romney-Ryan, and the fourth raps up by returning to Obama-Biden and where they and we readers go from . . . right here and now.
Read this book as soon as you can. It's all about you.
Did you know that JFK's average at Harvard was C? Bush's entire resume would be lucky to be graded at that level, as open as it was to the public, but Obama's transcripts and associated documentation have never been released to the public and no one knows why. At Harvard Law it must have been stellar if he became head of the prestigious Law Review, but who knows?
The author introduces his own remarkable mother into the narrative of the first section, in the context of Krieg's research at the National Archives into one of her CIA connections. One of the first women to enlist into the U.S. Marines during World War II, she also authored murder mysteries and articles on crime, medicine, and even drug abuse by teenagers, a novel topic at the time. Her book Green Medicine: The Search for the Plants That Heal discusses LSD and folk remedies. Her Black Market Medicine deals with the dangers involved with mafia distribution of counterfeited prescription drugs.
In 1967 she was a star witness in one of the first congressional hearings ever to focus on the mafia. But as a result of her deep knowledge of medical topics, she visited "Red" China in 1972, ahead of President Richard Nixon, whose official elevation of the Bamboo Curtain has had such a stunning impact on subsequent history. Krieg's mother briefed the CIA on her visit. Mrs. Kreig's brief forays into the narrative are a tribute from a proud son to a truly remarkable and revolutionary role model.
Other CIA liaisons follow in the narrative--relevant to Barack Obama, whose first employer after his graduation from Columbia University was a CIA front company. Moreover, according to other Archival records, ten years earlier, young Obama undertook a CIA-related trip to Pakistan from Indonesia, where he was living with his mother and step-father at the time. US citizenship issues kicked in.
Disallusioned? I'm fascinated. I lived in Warsaw, Poland, for two months as a child and am now searching for my own puppet strings. I'm sure that I rubbed elbows with the CIA, but did they rub elbows with a terrifically skinny, buck-teethed eleven year old with overly thick glasses? I could go on, but who cares?
The CIA even played a role in bringing together Obama's biological parents in Hawaii--Ann Dunham's father's alleged career as a furniture salesman was also a CIA cover, according to investigative journalist Wayne Madsen. The associations fan out from there.
But more is missing from the Obama and family records than transcripts.
Want to find out how Barack met Michelle--as a legal mentor? Questions surrounding Barack's tenure-track position at the University of Chicago--no relevant publications, de rigeueur there, have ben found. Read on.
Three subsequent chapters summarize the roles, both overt and covert, played by the Bush dynasty. Herein was find not only an overt CIA connection--G.H.W.'s appointment to head the CIA by Gerald Ford, but a possible covert connection with the JFK assassination: someone who resembled "Poppy" was seen standing close to the infamous Dallas book repository shortly before the shooting, an allegation denied with a vehement alibi by the family.
Be that as it may. By the time you finish this book, nothing will surprise you. Here is the "puppet-string prototype": "secret agendas, elite institutions, greed, and corruption behind the veneer of normal civic life and public service" (p. 87).
We next read of "America's Machiavelli" (he's been called worse than that, including "Turd Blossom") Karl Rove and his role in the notorious firing of the nine Republican prosecutors in 2006, which led to the forced retirement of both Rove and Antonio Gonzales, among a scandalous number of others. We read of the tragic descent of the hero-for-our-time David Petraeus, of Romney's transition (which never happened) director Mike Leavitt, a fellow Mormon, both of whom wished to "replicate [their religion] throughout the government," a situation Kreig describes would entail "male supremacy, racism, secrecy, dominance of church over state," and more.
Then there was Election 2012, saved from descent into a Romney "selection" by heroic Ohio attorneys who caught Columbus officials in the act of another network of deceit patching voting machines for "experimental" purposes in the setting of a presidential election. Who experiments with voting machines in a presidential election rather than a school gymnasium? Only those Rove-runners who think they can get away with it.
They were caught, again by Bob Fitrakis and Cliff Arnebeck at the eleventh hour in another court hearing that convinced the judge that no good was afoot--a tour de force pulled off again by the Ohio heroes who had seen such a ruse succeed in 2004 and quelled it in 2008 but not rested on their laurels, which didn't interest the press anyway. Election integrity is "not sexy enough" after all, in the eyes of the scandal-starved media and the expert academics more interested in grant money to ignore certain realities while dwelling on devoutly centrist issues like which state's machinery will bring it to the top of the list. No one looks twice at ugly voting machines, though going through the motions less and less cynically thanks to such activists who risk so much and influence so much in return for slow results and anonymity.
"EI" does interest Kreig, though, and it is hoped that through his words THE word may reach more--that more than landslides are denied within the present system. History is changed for the better through human sacrifice. Democracy in action.
The final section, on the 2012 challengers, "killing us softly" Ryan and "prophet of profit" Romney, answers the initial question why even those most liberal among us should question our allegiance to the lesser of evils. It seems that . . .
Fill in the blank. You'll be surprised. Mr. Kreig will sell more books that way and the words will go farther afield.
The section on Reform Resources directs us all how to cut the puppet strings and return to life, like Pinocchio, and full awareness of how self-propulsion in positive directions will benefit all of us and not just a flagrant few who know less about governing and more about self-destruction. They are human nature on steroids. Andrew Kreig will detox society with his solutions.
Put down this review and read the book. And then get to work. That's what democracy is about--remember? Hard work, not cruises to excess by the one percent or envy of them by us ninety-niners.
24 October 2013: Two Repining Justices but No Justice? But the People Spoke!
U.S. Court of Appeals Justice for the Seventh Circuit Richard A. Posner, whose recent regrets over his 2008 decision to uphold the voter ID law in Indiana have made mainstream news, is the second high-level judge this year to make such an admission, now aware of its long-term impact as he wasn't before.
Posner's regret was expressed in a single sentence in his new book, Reflections on Judging (Harvard University Press, 2013): "I plead guilty to having written the majority opinion (affirmed by the Supreme Court) upholding Indiana's requirement that prospective voters prove their identity with a photo ID--a law now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention."
He blamed this decision on insufficient evidence supplied by the prosecution. In an interview, he later clarified that the prosecution did not give "strong indications that requiring additional voter identification would actually disfranchise people entitled to vote."
The prosecutor himself was given a chance to respond. He argued that even if his testimony was said to be inadequate, enough information by other witnesses was certainly critical in proving that voter ID disenfranchises minorities unable to obtain it due to various discriminatory roadblocks, that by and large involve populations most likely to vote Democratic en masse.
On April 30, 2013, I dissected retired SCOTUS Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's regret over an even more far-reaching decision she made--her decisive vote that put George W. Bush into office as president in 2009. Had she voted with the liberal end of SCOTUS, Al Gore would have been president instead. (He later expressed support for both of Bush's wars, as well as his father's invasion of Kuwait, but that's another story.)
This decision by a former politician (Arizona state senator) has been said to be politically motivated: at a party her husband said that she had misgivings about retiring if a Democrat won the election. In the same interview cited above, she said that she regretted having retired at all, in light of the arch conservatism of her replacement, Justice Samuel L. Alito.
Posner's decision at the time was upheld in SCOTUS by no one less than the usually liberal Justice John Paul Stevens. Other states took the decision as justification for initiating voter ID--even though not one documented case of voter fraud--the basis and justification for voter ID--had been discovered in the Hoosier State. Today voter ID is the law in thirty-three states, including bright-blue Rhode Island. Texas and North Carolina are fighting the DoJ to uphold their recent, stringent legislation (which encompasses other restrictions and cutbacks) to join this cadre. Swing state Pennsylvania is vacillating but will not require ID in its upcoming election.
O'Connor regretted her decision because it renamed SCOTUS, for many of us, after the Motown rock stars the Supremes. In other words, the Court's image plunged in the eyes of the public, probably not as far down as that of Congress these days (5% express confidence; cockroaches have been said to be more popular), but downward--a recent Gallup poll reported that 34 percent of the U.S. population expressed high degrees of confidence in it, and inevitably it's downhill from there.
However subsequent history judges these justices' crucial admissions, one thing is clear: the people have continuously spoken out against voter ID and its groundless proliferation for years. This group is not even confined to Democrats. Why did court arguments have to determine outcomes?
1 October 2013: Around Capitol Hill the Day It Closed: Photo Essay
Worth a thousand swearwords!
2 October 2013: The Capitol Beat: Two Hundred Some Cups of Tea and Still Brewing
On this exquisitely perfect autumn day, first day of the government shutdown, I headed to Capitol Hill for a rally in support of Obamacare. Instead I came upon one against FDA approval of opioids, with various people telling tragic stories about the consequences of addiction to them. "FED UP!" said their purple and white tee shirts. Representative Jean Schakowsky (D-IL) was their high-profile presence--in case I wondered about the political persuasion of the participants.
I left the scene, saddened by one story after the next, and explored the comparatively empty area. There were a few government employees milling around, and the expected reduced accessibility of their workplace buildings, with even important-looking suits walking away from locked doors, wondering how to enter the buildings. One inconspicuous basement entrance was open in the Russell Senate building.
I photographed a homeless person, a tour group, and the deserted area around the capitol building, an armed guard the sole presence on the wide, sprawling stairways. I photographed the SCOTUS building and the Washington Monument imprisoned behind scaffolding similarly--the latter still in progress from the earthquake that hit two years ago. A spire of the National Cathedral is also still scaffolded.
I've saved the worst for last. On the lawn in front of the capitol, press was evident, CNN and the local DC Channel 8, for starters. I went up to a CNN photographer to find out what was going on but he was whisked away in midsentence to film an interview. A glamorous group clustered in front of me: glamorous platinum blond newscaster and a few ogling suits. I was comfortably seated within hearing distance, anxious for content, but they decided to relocate because the sun was too bright, no offense to the straw-hatted, sunglass-wearing cameo attempting to be inconspicuous.
Then I began to hear loud chants from isolated individuals on the periphery: one was a twenty-year-old man complaining that he wanted to go to college but couldn't afford it. Then I realized that the older man I had practically collided with as I approached the scene was Sen. Harry Reid, looking feverishly distraught. I met his eyes with sympathy, wondering if he was Harry Reid, but he seemed to have too much hair on his head, blowing in the wind.
I was assured it was Harry by what followed. A huge clump of suits ascended onto the lawn where a lectern had been positioned. Oh, my God, who were they? Rand Paul? Ted Cruz? I joined a crowd that had swiftly assembled in front of the clump. The Tea Party!
One after another, they complained self-righteously about Obama and Reid's refusal to sit down and talk when they were doing just that with each other and, moreover, continuing to consider other vitally important issues. Without pay, I was later reassured. Reid's name was disparaged again and again for refusing to give way to these enlightened and reasonable icons of democracy.
Why, they had the perfect solution. The twenty year old continued to rotate around the clump of us with his audible chant. Other kindred spirits kept saying, "Wake up! Wake up! Do your job!The people hate you! Do what you were hired to do!" One woman from the sidelines called out that Obama had been reelected after the ACA was passed. They were going against the will of the people.
Oh, but there were answers. They were going to cut up Obamacare and address it item by item. Do allocate to veteran medical care, for instance. The lines are far too long. I muttered something about their popularity level, at 10 percent, being lower than that of cockroaches (which was confirmed by a newscast a few days ago--no joke). The people surrounding me oozed contempt . . . at me.
Oh, how they spun. The audience was largely silent beyond the few vocal objections clearly heard and largely ignored, except for one suit who affirmed that they had the right to express themselves.
But get this, there was no applause and no supportive cheering. Press conferences are press conferences, I guess, but this was a hybrid group.
Then a few members of the press, all standing in the front row, did chime in with questions, few if any challenging and all challenges spun around effortlessly. Soon after, the suits dispersed and I joined one small clump surrounding Louisiana Rep. John Fleming. What were the two tony young reporters asking him? I swear that they were saying nothing. I do believe that at one point he reassured them that he had the support of his constituents. One of the reporters, a platinum blond, gushed how famous they were and how great it was to meet them before she walked off clumsily.
I was poker-faced, eager to hear something, anything that made sense. I to conjure up a question that might have been answered sincerely. "Are you idiots?" No, that wouldn't have done it. I looked around at the suits in despair.
Then I walked off without looking back.
28 September 2013: Film Review: Inequality for All,
"[T]his is the same Robert Reich who along with his crony and fellow international banker waterboy Bill Clinton set up the modern era of Reign by Central Banks which first the Bushes and next Obama have extended so grandly into the world's daily bloodletting in middle eastern drone wars. I know, I know, this review awaits moderation but you guys sitting like schoolchildren at the knees of this arch criminal Reich . . ."--comment from New York Times reader on the paper's preliminary, unenthused review (9/27/13)
This film comes across as an upbeat version of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, upbeat because one of former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich's personae in the film is the energetic and sanguine Berkeley professor addressing a rapt, filled-to-overflowing audience of students who claims to be an optimist about the future. We must return to the heyday of the American middle class that lasted from post-World War II to the mid-seventies, he responds when asked for a cure for our infested economy.
Another persona is Reich himself benignly and reassuringly addressing viewers. Then there are a few "suspension bridge" graphs (of the economy and distribution of wealth in 1928 and 2007) and other witty illustrations and animation.
In college I took econ 101 to dispense with a distribution requirement and only began to realize its importance as well as enigmas, after becoming a progressive and running into so many experts. As a result of this and ingestion of so many excellent prog websites, OEN not the least among them, I learned very little from the film and recommend it heartily to those in need of it, wherever they are--the Tea Party in particular.
One of the main points is that the four hundred richest people (the "job creators"), who hold as much wealth as the entire poorer half of the rest of the U.S. population, would fare far better if the middle class wasn't tanking so badly, we whose spending comprises h70 percent of the economy. [Remember how well Dick Cheney fared during the Clinton administration as head of Halliburton.] The looming threat of baby boomers aging into social security collectors (we've earned it!) is also foreseen as a burden the economy will have to struggle with.
There is the token presence of a few one percenters, Seattle-based venture capitalist Nick Hanauer in particular, whose view is that "the most pro-business thing you can do is to help middle-class people thrive." His federal income tax is only 11 percent of his seven-figure salary, which he thinks is unfair.
The American dream has become exactly that, a ghost of the past--the fifties through the seventies when the middle class thrived in all of its dimensions. We have the highest degree of income inequality of all wealthy nations in the world--"so there, Ivory Coast and Yemen," or some words to that effect, injects a cameo of Jon Stewart, referring to countries that immediately follow America's dismal position on a relevant list. Forty-two percent of Americans born into poverty will never make it out, as opposed to 30 percent of Britons and 25 percent of Danes.
Reich criticizes his former boss Bill Clinton's revoking of the Glass-Steagel act and deregulation of derivatives, as seeds of the great recession nurtured by the two Bush II administrations that followed. If the world economy doesn't tank as a result of our [justifiably] benighted Congress's decision to allow defaulting on the national debt, the feudalistic greed of the "top four hundred," attempting to devour the country like hot lava, will rock the foundations of democracy. I do believe this has been said before with a great deal more emotionality.
As I wrote above, most of the film is old news out of the mouth of an amiable icon revered by many. Productivity has never been higher in this country, he emotes, and yet workers' salaries, adjusted for inflation, are lower than they were thirty years ago. The cameo of a haggard, struggling member of the victim class, most lately suffering from a blunt cut into her pathetic wages by her corporate bosses, is most effective, as are brief glimpses of Occupy and Tea Party rallies, implicitly paralleled for having arisen out of the same shameless eruption of the basest extremes of human nature.
"Except for styles in facial hair, it can be hard to tell the groups apart," writes film critic Kenneth Turan, whose take on the film in the Los Angeles Times is far more positive than the Gray Lady's.
Most poignant is the persona of humorous self-effacement. The four-foot-ten Reich suffered from bullying as a child--he has always been shorter than the rest of us. Ingenious then as now, he sought protectors among older students. One of them turned out to be Michael Schwerner, one of three martyrs of the civil rights movement murdered while registering black voters.
As an adult, says Reich, he is fighting back against the bullying one percent. The regret the Times reviewer notes, that the protagonist didn't accomplish more as Clinton's labor secretary, escaped me. I admit that I dozed off and on throughout the film, "Econ post-mid-seventies" or something like that. As an undergraduate, I never slept during my economics classes. But the best one all term was held in the evening when my nice professor came to dine on our soggy overbaked dormitory food. When we sat around afterward chatting, the field briefly came alive for me.
(Above illustration, "Money Crisis," by One Way Stock)
11 September 2013: "Attack on America"
It's been twelve years since 9/11 occurred, cutting away at the naive trust that was a baseline of our system and replacing it with fear, including Islamophobia. I've gotten used to airport ordeals, new forms of hatred, conspiracy theories and greedily grabbed for that life preserver, hope, offered to us by Barack Obama during campaign 2008.
Is it any coincidence that 9/11 occurred soon after G. W. Bush took office? What darkness he had already cast over society. How glumly the twenty-first century commenced once the president born in Hope, Arkansas stepped down, warning of the threat posed by Al Qaeda and recommending that it be prioritized instead of thrown to the bottom of the barrel, as it was by the ascending administration. Al Qaeda became an issue for the new administration at the beginning of September 2001, around the time that the visiting Mexican president Vicente Fox was treated to a nocturnal fireworks display that woke up disgruntled residents of Georgetown, among others. Scarcely a week later the whole world was paralyzed by 9/11.
"Attack on America," the first reference to that holocaust, wasn't catchy enough for the press, so 9/11, a reference to the numbers we dial for emergency, took over and stuck. "Attack" referenced what had happened. 9/11 warned of its results as the Earth sank and we all struggled for balance.
I joined the conspiracy theorists. There were just too many coincidences coalescing on that hideous day.
Most authorities agree that since 1998 members of the Carlyle Group and other hawks wanted to invade Iraq and, at the least, seized upon 9/11 as a window of opportunity for their goal.
But first came the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. Two years later, founded on a transparent heap of lies, the Iraq invasion followed. The Iraq war was ended with the country still in shambles and the president promises that all troops will be removed from Afghanistan, locus of this country's longest war in history, by next year.
And so, with the Syria crisis looming, I couldn't help but reflect on my theory that our economy depends on war and another one was needed to keep our weapons industry afloat. Then Vladimir Putin, of all people, rescued our Nobel Peace prize laureate with a solution that I hope will stick: remove all chemical WMD from Syria, pretext for the next war that may not happen.
So what happens next? What will we fear next? Where's the red line? Right here. We are so educationally challenged compared to other developed countries. Beggars of every description line our streets while the money goes overseas to fight useless wars.
We can keep our huge military as teeth if need be, and continue to research new ways to destroy the world, and still have billions left over to be spent at home for a change if we abstain from war. All that funding devoured by NSA could be put to far better use. All that wealth spent on multiple residences in fashionable resorts could instead go far to improve things for everybody, something that the one percent can't get through their damaged brains. The countries that fare the best in this world boast thriving middle classes and often free higher education. They tax and spend. *****
After 9/11 we feared going to events that involved crowded space. I still feel 9/11's shadow each time I board public transportation or a plane. Extremist threats target sites abroad, but I inhabit one of 9/11's two targets, Washington, DC. We also learned from 9/11 that no one anywhere is safe. The happiest people, according to a recent study, inhabit Scandinavia and Switzerland--how can they be so happy, the Scands, when they are forced to spend at least half of each year in the dark, freezing to death? Because they've avoided war?
Switzerland, consistently neutral, is really safe as the terrorists' piggy bank, people say. I was just there and experienced the joy of safety and exquisite otherworldliness.
Despite hijackings, we felt that safe, I recall, before 9/11. It was a joyous, cloudless day. Lower Manhattan was its usual milling jumble of middle-class routines bathed in early-morning, cloudless sunlight.
I remember that black smoke being sucked into that azure sky that wouldn't cloud. I remember being phoned by my daughter, a sophomore at Columbia, asking what she should do. Her boyfriend stood atop a building somewhere between West 30th and 40th Streets watching the holocaust, people choosing death by falling scores of stories to violent collisions with cement, over burning alive.
Who really stood to gain from 9/11? Al Qaeda? Bin Laden? The Carlyle Group that included one of bin Laden's relatives?
We all lost. This has yet to dawn on the one percent. 9/11 was an attack on the American middle class that worked. It took a while. But parasites die once their hosts have been devoured.
"Once Christians become really Christian, they'll realize that we're all Jews," I thought to myself the other day. What happens after that? I have no idea. But, despite that defiant obelisk that rises above the ruins of 9/11, and despite the successful discovery of bin Laden after a prolonged search that cost countless lives and livelihoods, we have lots to learn about it. To me 9/11 remains an enigma.
Photo by Elvert Barnes
22 August 2013: Coalition in DC Fracks Fracking Today
When the sun shines down on Washington, DC, in summer from an even partly cloudy sky, you can feel the energy being wasted on sunburn when it can be cheaply and cleanly diverted to saving the planet. Instead, our president has opted to prioritize natural gas development, a.k.a. fracking, despite tangible and widespread evidence of the lethal harm it reeks on human lives and natural landscapes.
And so, as Mr. Obama tours "shale country" (upstate New York and a stop in PA) today, August 22, and tomorrow, to sell his plan to ease college debt burdens on students whose lives are being ruined by education instead of enriched and elevated, though we cheer the effort, we wonder why he chose such fractured or soon-to-be fragmented venues.
The answer is that the cost of higher education has grown exponentially in the Empire State in the last few years. The president even plans a side trip to neighboring Pennsylvania--already fracked and oozing scars. The city of Pittsburgh has forcefully announced its opposition to this method of extracting natural gas from its terrain.
What a mixed bag. Fodder for the progs combined with acid in the face of this land of ours. Our students' futures are certainly important, but so is the planet they will inhabit in the years to come. Educate them, Mr. President, so that they can resort to the right energy sources and frack the whole idea of fracking.
If that's what you want deep down inside, it's certainly a sinuous way to go, with the EPA backing down on its opposition to fracking recently.
A small group of activists led by Progressives for Democratic Action (PDA) and Moveon, both represented by the organizer of the rally and march, Mike Hersh, protested fracking today at Lafayette Park in Washington, DC, which borders the back of the White House. Mr. Obama's chosen venues today provided a perfect backdrop.
Not only did we chant against fracking and listen to the highly articulate and well-informed words of Hersh and colleagues David Braun of Americans against Fracking, Drew Hudson of Environmental Action, Jason Kowalksi of 350.org, and several others; we materialized our demands with 650,000 supportive comments uploaded to CDs we delivered to the Department of the Interior, which was the endpoint of the fifteen-minute march from Lafayette Square. These demands were symbolized by "banking boxes" carried by most of the marchers--hundreds of boxes would have been required had we conveyed them in hard copy--we carried empty boxes and were told to look as weary as we should have because the burdens being imposed on the people and their planet would weigh down a squadron of jumbo jets at least.
Once we got to the steps of the DOI and handed over the CDs to DOI representatives designated to meet us, a few protesters diligently dismantled the boxes for easy and environmentally efficient disposal. After the informal ceremony, actress Daryl Hannah, who led the march, thanked us for our efforts even as representatives of the coalition of protestors thanked her for interrupting her glitzy schedule to fly here. Excuse my skepticism. Celebrities add glitz to causes, and the impact should not be belittled. The harder they work, the more we all benefit.
From Hannah to the voiceless who will suffer the most from fracking, get the word out. Continue to beseech our President to add teeth to his commitment to the environment rather than allowing the one percent to chew us to bits.
4 August 2013: Sunday Sermon on Vanquishing Religious Hypocrisy to Save the World: How to Transcend It
And who among you say that the Tea Party are hypocrites for attending church every Sunday and discriminating against the poor by voting against every measure, at every level of government, that benefits them?
All four Gospels quote Jesus' words that "the poor we will always have among us," in answer to his apostles' condemnation of his acceptance of anointment with expensive perfumes. The anointment is preparation for his burial, answers Jesus, and the poor they will always have among them while he will not always be there.
For all of his predictions of blessings for the poor in the afterlife, and misery for the rich, who have less chance of reaching heaven than a camel to be threaded through a needle's eye, Jesus' prophecy is borne out by the Tea Party and vultures capitalists' discrimination against the poor, bleeding them to the level of the poor women in the New Testament who gives her last pennies to the poor.
Well, they'll happily help themselves to those pennies. I don't know whether such magnanimity toward the rich will be rewarded, though Jesus says that their suffering in poverty will be.
The poor we will always have with us and will always be discriminated against, despite Jesus' predictions. Granted, some of the vultures are Jewish, but so are most of those warned by the Son of God to be more compassionate.
One specific arena in which conservatives make sure that we'll always have poor people among us is voting rights, a huge issue since the late June, 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court striking down section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), which badly cripples section 5. Together they assure that regions most likely to discriminate against the poor will be answerable to the Justice Department (DoJ) each time they attempt to implement discriminatory measures.
Discrimination against the poor of every description has thus been assured: indigent senior citizens, Native Americans, African Americans, and college students likely to vote liberal, at least some of them indigent, especially with the college loan debts that cripple their futures so heavily. Unless section 3 can be put to good use--the difficult "opting in" provision that will be far more troublesome to enforce because it requires proof of intentional discrimination, which culprits can rationalize to their hearts' content.
And proposed legislation is attempting to double the interest rates of these college loans.
Something is very rotten when the proportion of SCOTUS ideologies do not reflect those of the country they purport to represent at the judicial level. I'm not talking violations of the Constitution, which is being treated like toilet paper these days. I'm talking hypocrisy at a higher level. Since the conservatives are also violating the precepts of Jesus, a mortal sin, shouldn't they be (a) barred from attending church or (b) forced to obey the precepts of the Son of God they profess to worship and follow?
If they are mingling church and state so freely, we can certainly justify such measures.
The next question is whether vulture capitalists attend church. I know that at least some of them do. Tea Party members presumably do, as do a large proportion of others who are antichoice.
What good is religion otherwise? As a vehicle for vulture capitalists to thank God for the bounty they enjoy while others line the streets shaking paper cups filled with nickels and dimes?
There is condoned segregation in religious houses of worship also.
But adherence to biblical precepts invites other unsolvable issues, even when we attempt to update principles to the twenty-first century, this polluted era ushered in by a shotgun presidential election.
It can be argued that this stolen election, which straddles both years claimed to herald the twenty-first century, was the agent of the most heinous policies in history, resulting in the most global-level death and ruin ever within the brief span of ten years? And then some?
This postulate assumes that an accurate election might have saved countless lives and livelihoods, which is reasonable. Certainly the environment would have been better off, but that's another issue.
I'm rambling, taking up far too much space to claim that discrimination against underprivileged populations is wrong according to every standard we know except rationalizations--Mrs. Paul Singer offered to explain to her neighbors in her high-end section in Brooklyn exactly what it is that her husband does, apropos of demonstrators lining the posh concrete outside her house, incited by Greg Palast's reports, Palast a Tom Paine treated like the insightful soothsayer Cassandra, whom no one heeded.
And I narrowed the principle of ubiquitous, wrongheadededness down to the level of electoral discrimination. And then I cited election 2000 as a catalyst of the most bloodshed and tragedy ever accomplished within the space of a decade, and if I'm wrong, I'll say instead that it served as an ominous kickstart to a century that will involve huge struggles to right the many wrongs ushered in by the stolen election.
Then I bring in the raped values of Western religions, realizing that the most apt invocation of Jesus' name is in such settings as "Jesus Christ, I don't believe what's happening to this country and the world it purports to lead!".
Jesus knew why we'd have the poor among us always and treat them like used toilet paper. He might as well have given up on the spot and told his Dad to try again some other way to reward sinners with a kingdom of heaven.
Has religion accomplished more evil than good? I've convinced myself today that it has. I used to consider it a 50-50 agent of some good, some evil.
But as Arctic glaciers melt, the foundations of civilization are also sinking to the level of no return. We've carried hypocrisy too far and soon it will be the sole survivor, the victor.
I fight for human rights for all, not just the underprivileged populations. The rich will lose their rights, too, when their children's underground bunkers cave in to huge flooding.
They know not what they do. We must go beyond religion for solutions to overthrow that statue, hypocrisy.
I ask too much, and I'll never stop.
31 July 2013: Obama Goes Progressive: Renaissance or Red Herring?
"The progressives are always ten years ahead of the rest of the Dems"--those that remain Dems," I told Danny Schechter in an interview last year about my book.
In the wake of Edward Snowden's shocking revelations about NSA surveillance over data and metadata, our president has suddenly remembered his huge ex-(?) constituency of Progs who were more than horrified, more than paralyzed by his reaction in this case and Bradley Manning's.
But in the wake of the hair-raising excision of Section 4 and, by extension, a good part of Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) by SCOTUS late last month, the Progs are again in shock that both AG Eric Holder and Mr. Obama are facing down the amputators and vowing to fight back against the proliferation of racist legislation throughout red states--North Carolina and Texas most egregiously and compulsively--the latest water let loose from the dike.
In case SCOTUS and Mr. Roberts in particular had any doubts at all that since the passage of the VRA so much progress has been accomplished by the former Confederate states (+2), let them witness the explosive and metastasizing retrogression back to Jim Crow. What are they thinking now?
Mr. Obama promises to put together legislation to counteract the infamous Shelby County v Holder decision, but tell me how on Earth it will get past the Tea Party, which will no doubt boil it. The battle will rather be one-on-one with each outrageous attempt to revive molecules of Jim Crow. Court systems throughout the South will overflow with lawsuits that may--get this--graduate back to SCOTUS. Then what?
Executive orders? Is there one to undo the Shelby decision? They can't be hiccoughed with each Jim Crow retrogression.
We're headed toward the midterm elections in 2014. How many voters will be turned away? How quickly will a new civil war rear its ugly head--SCOTUS v POTUS?
And will all of this become a red herring while Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are flayed backstage?
With globalization, if not throughout history, a few martyrs have stood up to preserve civilization rather than its opposite, which masquerades as national defense. As nationalistic borders dissolve, with the attendant advantages as well as disadvantages, we are becoming citizens of the world and must fight to maintain the principles of international law, which protect human rights.
We profess if not strive to meander toward God and/or the Good even as the Earth and its values seem to rush toward the inverse: power and greed blind our rulers to the needs of the vast majority. Vast. Like infinity versus zero.
A small piece of what has, deo gratias, become a battle toward human rights at all levels, is emerging in the wake of its diametric opposite, torture of others attempting to globalize these same values.
Once again the Progressives stand for conservative values: stand up for hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) and human rights at every level from two martyrs to the entire third world.
You see, creationism and the anti-choice movement are passé in another sense. With a reasonably good educational system, one outgrows them once having learned how to think. Education is no good, reasoned Powell and then Nixon, contagiously. Look what happened with the proliferation of human rights activism and realization in the sixties.
Reprehensible. Drop out, take off your glasses, and stop thinking and idealizing. Stretch religious principles to our needs.
Earth, gape. Well, it is following that right-wing fantasy.
As I said, it all boils down to human rights. Consistency is paramount. What's right for our electoral system, human rights, must apply to other areas so recently violated, and to all other events and settings.
Shall Mr. Obama win us back before then? It's an important handful of seed he's throwing. Let the wind blow it wherever it needs to be sown.
20 July 2013: DINNER WITH HELEN THOMAS
It must have been two years ago that I had the privilege of dining with Helen Thomas, courtesy of a mutual friend who came along with us and talked nonstop the entire time, worried that I might broach the subject of the Middle East crisis.
If I had, I would have let her know that when people ask me which side I favor, I always answer "peace."
But again, maybe if I were as close a friend to her as was my friend, I would have spoken nonstop also. There is so much to say. We both listened, entranced. I might have wanted to hear more from her, but my friend's conversation was, as always, riveting--what I can relate to, anyway; this friend's knowledge and insightfulness know no bounds.
We did clear the air first, after I had found a parking place in the crowded neighborhood of Adams Morgan on a Friday night--that horrendous senior moment that forced her to resign from journalism. She claimed her right to free speech. Are journalists supposed to be objective? Is there such a thing as pure objectivity?
Her apology had been most eloquent, a wish for peace in the Middle East acceptable to and accommodating of both sides. I never knew that she had Syrian (Lebanese these days) roots, until my friend told me. Funny, she didn't look Syrian, I thought, but when I looked at her closely, I did see Middle Eastern features. Any relation to the Lebanese Danny Thomas? I didn't ask her.
She had been attended by a health care professional while we sat and chatted in the lobby of her building. She seemed relieved when I stood up from my seat that was hidden from her line of vision and sat down next to my friend. I felt so insignificant.
But when her driver took us to her favorite restaurant, the lady with the stethoscope retired to Helen's condo. The cuisine was Palestinian. Everyone in the restaurant knew her and exuded esteem and affection. On our brief trip from the condo to her car, people greeted her with deep respect.
I asked her to recommend an entrée and she directed me toward the boned chicken. It was delicious. I did tell her that but I don't remember saying much else.
My friend's subject matter skirted the Middle East, as I recall. There was such respect between them. She listened with such esteem.
I am so grateful for this encounter. She knew I was a local and had this to say when we parted: "Let me know if there's any fun around, Marta." I should have asked her what she meant. She was already so disabled that I couldn't picture her at the rallies I attended. I considered her before going to them as well as the panel discussions at the Center for American Progress that I attend from time to time. She might have transformed such a stimulating event into a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many.
And so I never contacted her, beyond emailing her to thank her for such a wonderful encounter and delicious meal.
I forgot to remind her, and she wouldn't have remembered anyway, that years ago I had somehow come upon her email address and contacted her to ask what she thought would be the outcome of some Rove-related scandal--I forget which one.
She responded! "Wait and see," was her patient and indulgent message back. I treasured it. Little did I know that one day I'd be dining with her.
This pioneering, gutsy, front-role journalist persisted at work into her eighties, with her incisive questions so cherished and at the same time so dreaded by the president or his press secretary. She paved so many ways for women journalists to follow.
I am deeply grateful for the encounter and mourn her passing, at the same time marveling that she survived as long as she did, given her tenuous condition that evening when we met.
Who goes through life without many self-revealing slips of the tongue? Who am I to forgive or not forgive her? I forgave her for many reasons, one of them that far more forgiveness will be necessary for peace in the Middle East to progress beyond Secretary of State John Kerry's rendezvous with Israeli and Palestinian leaders next week in Washington.
Some will say that the enmity extends back to early biblical times. Others will recall the days of peaceful coexistence between Jews and Muslims. Peace is always possible, but forgiveness plays a strong role often.
Who on this day will not forgive Helen Thomas for a senior moment in her eighties when she contributed so much to her field and to feminism with such gusto and joy? Who will not revere her and mourn her passing?
18 July 2013: Reply to New York Times "Opinionator" blog, wondering about comparisons between classical and other genres of music, specifically the Beatles vs. Mozart
Just for the record:Paul McCartney wrote a piece of classical music that was performed in York City a few years ago; and the Beatle song "Because," sung in a cappella, has been compared to medieval compositions.
The review I read about the Beatles went on to highlight other skills of the Fab Four.
As much as I love classical music these days, I have never picked up a cd and embraced it the way, as an eight grader, I picked up my radio and hugged it passionately when a Beatle song came on that melted me to slop.
I love any music, except for rap, played by the highest-quality musicians. Ironic that, given that the spontaneous poetry that medium draws on hearkens back to the spontaneous generation of Homeric verses in some ways, and I was a Homerist as a graduate student.
Fetuses have no taste in music that I know of, but the rhythmic heartbeat we hear while gestating is said to explain our love of percussion at the base of so much music of every description.
I have a slight heart murmur--does my daughter love syncopation as a result? Does salsa music have syncopation? If so, my heartbeat may be the reason.
Music is the heartbeat, which knows no nationalities or ethnicities, of our world--every inch of it.
4 July 2013: An Irreverent Redaction
It's been 237 years since Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. So many people look back and lament, imagining what the founding fathers might construe of this compost heap that is our present tense. But I think they might gloat, the United Kingdom become our willing poodle as our military forces occupy most of this poor old world.
It took us a while, and in that process we learned that power is a prostitute, drooling over its Himalayas of lucre. One cannot exist without the other. Somehow British power was so tasteful by comparison. The British thought they were educating their subjects, disdainful though they were, while we corrupt ours at best.
If power was married to money, the couple now lives in sin. Eve Marie Saint and Peter O'Toole have given way to Lady Gaga and P. Diddy.
So we're far from independent, far from those wild horses still allowed to gallop over the plains. I've said before that "all men are created equal" was to be read literally, with women, slaves, Native Americans (the real citizens), and unpropertied men of whatever color barred from the polls, which were corrupt. The Indians were "those savages" after all.
Who pursued happiness back then? Locke's perception that life and liberty were associated rather with property was far more accurate. Is happiness the warm gun all the colonists had to own back then? Happiness was and is, you guessed it, Himalayas of lucre. I had a schoolmate who literally grinned all of the time as a trust-fund baby. I bit my nails as the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants, gifted as I was by comparison. Nothing is uglier than bitten-down nails stained with the grime of singing for your life.
What's happiness, Tom Jefferson, one of the few happy people who's graced civilization with the erudition he had time to pursue? And when, Tom Paine, my favorite founder, have times not tried men's souls--you left out us women and ethnics though you probably encompassed men without property, as a precocious democrat. The twentieth century and its parodic follower, "nowadays," have certainly tried many souls.
Governments are "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"? Maybe in socialist Europe, where they have some inkling of that notion, that the people deserve some aspirin and chicken soup in return for their taxes.
"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it"? Well, the lower two or three classes don't have the money or leisure to do that. There was and is a Tea Party, one mocking Native Americans and the other hating them and aiding "the enemy." Who's HE these days, Mr. President?
More foresightful are the words that follow: ". . . all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." How long will government's evils be sufferable, what with unemployment compensation now a memory and the unemployed considered lazy and shiftless? Double their percentages to get the truth, Nate Silver. Without Headstart and WIC, where goes our future? ("He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people"): Not enough Exeter and Andover preppies to encompass it, not even with the token inner-city kids they take in.
And who says that Harvard grads must run what's left of this country? What a mess. Give Slippery Rock a chance to teach us something. Abe Lincoln's formal education " consisted approximately of a year's worth of classes from several itinerant teachers," according to Wikipedia. Most of it was self-taught. How many of our Harvard grad leaders were on scholarship? Wisdom, not happiness, is needed these days. What would honest Abe say were he to return "nowadays"? "A zombie's mirage"? "Give me the grave any day"?
King George III (Jeb Bush eschews this title) " has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. . . . He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance . . ." Did you read that insurance from employers was postponed by Obamacare as too complex to implement sooner? Surely you read about George II calling the Constitution a piece of paper? It was and is written on linen rags, Stupid, not trees.
"He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people." Who's invading the rights of people these days, if not soaking teabags?
" . . . the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within"? Not!! How's come? Too much teargas and too many tears? When we rally, it's the police they send to meet us, kids's daddies, not anyone in a position to do more than defend their own persons.
" . . . refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands?"
Shall I continue? The best is yet to come--where Mr. Jefferson (he lacked a PhD) calls the Indians savages. And what of Wikileaks?
"In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."
Shall I continue? Read this document we celebrate today yourselves, and laugh or cry, depending on how drunk you are, and drown your emotions in fireworks, whose source is gunpowder set off by the government. Pretty, isn't it? Remember the fireworks set off by the George W. Bushes after a dinner of buffalo steaks when President Vicente Fox was visiting . . . a week before 9/11?
Hence, loathed conspiracy theorists, you savages!
" . . . that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown?" Not!! They're our best friends, though they didn't need to help redirect Evo Morales's plane to Vienna yesterday. " . . . and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved . . ."
I'm getting sick of all of these ellipsis points. " . . . with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
All I can say is "hunh?" Hence, dear God. "Nor in this house of death abide."
OK, OK, fireworks, as defined above, are still appropriate for this day. Sometimes they remind me of varicose veins. And what are ellipsis points? According to Wikipedia again, they " usually indicate an intentional omission . . . , are not necessary for comprehension . . . , [And] can also be used to indicate an unfinished thought or, at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence. . . ."
Enjoy July 4 anyway. Don't let me ruin it with premeditated inductive logic, and dream of independence [from tyranny] at every level short of anarchy.
What of our Declaration, Mr. Gandhi (he didn't have a PhD either)? "It's a nice idea, . . . [most of it]."
25 June 2013: VRA Section 4 Struck Down: What Happens Next?
The decision Election Integrity activists have awaited for months was published this morning by the New York Times, revealing that SCOTUS has outrageously betrayed the people again. But where Citizens United ruled against the 99 percent, the Shelby County v Holder decision is blatantly racist, ruling against the 12 percent of this country that is African American.
Was Jim Crow reborn this morning? No. Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act specified [generically] which states required preclearance from the Department of Justice before enacting any changes to election practices at every municipal as well as state level. That is the part of the VRA struck down, not Section 5, which requires preclearance. It may as well have been struck down, though. Without the specifications in Section 4, it is toothless.
Crow never died. VRA fought back, but leading EI activists have pointed out outrageous instances of electoral racism repeatedly--in Election 2000 in Florida and 2004 in Ohio (of which preclearance is not even required), for example. Florida is one of sixteen states, nine of them Southern, which up until today, partly or fully, were subject to preclearance. Ohio is not but should be (more on this below).
Moreover, relevant to Election 2012, courts referred to the VRA to justify block- ing voter identification requirements and cutbacks on early voting, both of which--you guessed it--work against the poorest segments of the 99 percent.
A New York Times blog published on February 20, 2013 reminded that "Congress has repeatedly extended the [Section 5] requirement: for 5 years in 1970, 7 years in 1975, and 25 years in 1982. Congress renewed the act in 2006 [by a huge margin] after holding extensive hearings on the persistence of racial discrimination at the polls, again extending the preclearance requirement for 25 years."
SCOTUS supported the congressional mandate in 2009, but made the public aware that the issue would be revisited.
Most telling is a letter to the editor of the Times from a resident of Shelby County, Alabama [the plaintiff that won this morning in SCOTUS], testifying to the persistence of Jim Crow despite the opposition's view that the election of a black president in 2008 killed Crow, as did a new poll revealing that the number of African Americans voting has increased. A section of this LTE follows:
"Born and raised in Alabama, I can assure you that Alabama is a poster child for why voters still need the protections from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which Shelby county is now trying to gut for the whole nation.
"There have been countless examples of politicians in Alabama trying to take away or diminish the right to vote for African-Americans.
"In 2008, my city, Calera, Ala., tried to eliminate the only black councilman's district. The lines were redrawn so that the number of African-American voters was cut by more than half. Thanks to Section 5, the discriminatory plan was tossed out."
Further according to the blog cited above, "in 1965 Congress based the VRA on two Reconstruction-era Constitutional amendments that protect fundamental rights of citizenship: equal protection (the 14th) and the right to vote (the 15th).
"Both amendments explicitly give Congress the power to enforce their guarantees 'by appropriate legislation,' and both had the central purpose of giving Congress enforcement power to keep the states in line. That would seem an adequate answer to the Texas and Alabama complain[t] that Section 5 tramples on the sovereignty and dignity of the states, while other covered states, Mississippi and North Carolina, have joined a brief by New York's solicitor general, Barbara D. Underwood (several New York counties are covered, including Manhattan and Brooklyn!), asserting that Section 5 has provided 'significant and measurable benefits' in helping covered jurisdictions 'move toward their goal of eliminating racial discrimination and inequities in voting' and continues to do so."
So I threw in my own two cents to the Times, in a comment attached to the tragic news it publicized this morning:
"The correct step Congress should now undertake is to study racist-trending patterns throughout the country and redesignate states that require preclearance. Ohio, among other states, should require preclearance, along with the other states designated already, including the Southern ones.
"I wouldn't mind if all states in the union were required to preclear any election-related changes they make.
"Too much federalism? Should Kennedy and Johnson not have intervened in the sixties? Perhaps a HAVA should have been written, but not the one we have now. Elections among the states by 2002 were in shambles and required federal intervention.
Quixotic, perhaps, as the blog affirmed: "[T]he chance that Congress would overcome sectional and partisan tensions in order to produce a new formula is even smaller than the prospect of Congress raising judicial salaries."
The public thinks little of Congress for a good reason. Where are the DoJ and President Obama when we need them? An executive order might work to curb Jim Crow again.
Mr. President, as you said in your 2012 acceptance speech in reference to the too-long lines of underprivileged voters, "We've got to do something about that."
27 May 2013: ???What Shall We Do for Memorial Day???
Back in third grade, when we kids used to sing songs without thinking much about the words, we were taught one song called "What Shall We Do for Memorial Day?" It ends, "God bless our heroic dead."
I just sang along. Would God hearken to us and bless those fallen patriots? Just American ones? The song suggests red, white, and blue flowers, so evidently so. We always pronounced "an iris, too" as "irish stew," which could, but didn't imply that other patriots, whether enemy or ally, probably deserved similar homage.
What shall we do for Memorial Day to make a difference, whether or not the dead consciously receive our homage? Eliminate the source of hideous PTSD and the hideous deaths that cause it? Well, of course.
So we should honor Memorial Day by seeking peace.
But people have been doing this since time immemorial, though one wonders about the really ancient chronicles of war--those condoned by God in the Old Testament and even older ones--made-up chronicles of ancient kings' outstanding victories on battlefields. Those who stayed home were chicken. Wait a minute. Both Odysseus and Achilles tried to avoid conscription into the Trojan War, one by cross-dressing, I believe. But once there, you had to partake of blood and guts either by killing or falling, and each was described by Homer in rapturous detail.
But each victim's past and lineage were also described with rustic, nostalgic detail, invoking the tears that adorned the leafy trees of their homelands and the grief of families left behind, for example. So clearly the Poet had mixed feelings and I call the "Iliad" the greatest antiwar poet of all time, not because he championed peace or heroic values per se, but because he portrayed all sides of the issue in lurid detail, triumph and tragedy simultaneously. "Why follow Agamemnon, king of another place, to avenge his brother's domestic problems?" asked more than one hero. "Why miss the joy of watching my son come of age and why not be there to teach him what's right [heroic values?]?
So the question remains how to wage eternal peace. The Messiah may or may not come, and now would be a perfect venue for his arrival, as would any that involved war. There are amazing, isolated stories where peace prevailed, but they stand out in history. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." Not always. Tom Paine inveighed against the Quakers for their pacifism during the American Revolution.
I must be so predictable, ending so many of my articles with "How?" and so I won't this time, leaving the impossible answers to my readers.
This Memorial Day, I will answer my own question the way my twelfth-grade history teacher answered my question, Down South no less, about how to eliminate racism.
"Marta," she said, "one night there has to be a rain over all the Earth, and when we wake up, we'll all be gray."
Good answer, Miss Prim. Truly a wonderful teacher. But can this answer apply to peace? It can reign, when it does, but can it rain over us?
Try again. This is important. Though many would disagree, I believe, the best way to honor our heroic dead is to eliminate the equation between heroism and blood&guts.
We're all God's children, blessed Jesus, as the Bible elsewhere tells us. 1 John, for instance, has " Dear friends, now we are children of God . . ."
If this is becoming tiresome, you may stop reading here, because my conclusion probably won't satisfy you all, because even on OEN it's impossible to preach to such a diverse choir.
Peace starts within us all. But peace meaning not only the absence of war but the absence of war as a permanent solution. I've suggested before that evolution to a higher level is an answer. Human nature is fifty-fifty, and that's that.
But I must offer a solution for today, not a questionable tomorrow. Isaiah suggests farming as a solution. "Beat our swords into plowshares" etc. The blood of our fallen military will nurture organic (one hopes) nutrition for all. It's not a matter of feeding just the poor, obviously. We must be fed with new values.
During the American Revolution, many soldiers in militias had to go home seasonally to attend to their farms, so there's another antithesis.
Put down those weapons and farm. Use those weapons to farm, and dispose of those that are inappropriate to farming. Beat them, the last violent act to perform before peace.
Here the spirit of Kurt Vonnegut might nod cynically, R.I.P. The answer is one word, one of the really oldest professions in history. Forage (violent) away from home and farm (peaceful) at home. We must all become vegans. And then take it from there if it is decisively proven that plant life is sentient. Has this been proven? The Jains allow themselves even less to eat, but some vegetables are acceptable.
And so farming is my solution.We must all drop everything and travel throughout the world with seeds of peace until the whole world farms and perhaps hunger will no longer exist. Is hunger, in one form or another, the root of violent solutions?
No, I won't end with a question.
26 May 2013: Scatter My Ashes on Bergdorf Goodman's?
One brief clip in this fluffy, boring film I saw today, just out of masochism for however materialistic I am, implies that my ashes would be swept up more quickly than you can say "pig" and disposed of in Bergdorf Goodman's tony garbage receptacles.
In that clip, the boss leaves a message for an employee that there's a dead fly on one of the window seats, which is disposed of by the employee's underling more quickly than you can say any four-letter word.
Bergdorf's was actually purchased by the Neiman Marcus group some time ago and is considered their crown jewel. I wondered to myself whether I could afford the very cheapest item in the store, whatever that was--an ostrich feather perhaps?
The history of the store is so boring I couldn't concentrate, except that I think they said that the block-long building used to be the Vanderbilt palace. A photo of their young son bringing some friends home to play after school is offered, accompanied by totally banal commentary--something like "Wow, can you imagine being one of those friends?"
To give you an idea about those $6,000 red glittery spikes, my friend the jewelry designer, who exhibits at Bloomingdale's, is told to jack up the price(s) she wants three times, and she'll get it if she makes any sales and invoices for them. Bloomie's gets the dough first. Therefore, those spikes actually cost at least $2,000, so don't be so aghast the next time you find them at TJ's for that price and are horrified. Shall we think fair trade? Not for the source of the shoes, a middleman. You can be sure that if they were made in China, no more than one penny will get back to the real source.
Where are those glitzy spikes actually manufactured? Who cares? Somebody gets ripped off hugely. Us. Didn't you read about Apple keeping its money in Ireland to avoid paying taxes to the homeland? You need pay no taxes on your billions as long as you keep them out of the country. Does that make any sense? Another behemoth avoided paying a cent in taxes back in 2010. Who pays those taxes? Us.
Because the government has to keep going somehow. So some states guarantee that the poorest of the poor will not benefit from ACA by refusing to add to the funding they allocate to Medicaid. Looks like nothing will be left to trickle down. Instead of "bottom-up," it's "vomit-up" whatever we've got. Dig deeper into those pockets with holes in them.
Back to the film, that documentary about the top one percent paying $50,000 for a Bergdorf's pillbox. I mean real pillbox, not the hat they sold to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, which she was wearing--from Bergdorf's--the day JFK was shot.
Then there is the anecdote about Yoko Ono telling Bergdorf's fur department to send someone over on Christmas Eve because John Lennon wants to buy her some furs. That's puzzling even for Snobs UnLtd., but they manage and, after waiting two hours for John to come home, surprise, forty pieces are purchased for the happy couple and their friends and relatives. Bergdorf's is happy, too, so Merry Christmas, even considering the huge overhead of paying staff to hang out there (overtime?).
Then, the day Elizabeth Taylor stops in for some furs, she asks if they have any mink earmuffs. When they say yes despondently, she orders four hundred pairs, perhaps for each day she was married to Richard Burton before he dropped dead from so many one-night stands. Sorry. Very bad joke based on something he said once. She actually was buying Christmas gifts too.
Actually, I believe that the couple was together longer than four hundred nights but am too lazy and bored to Google for this information.
There is lengthy footage on Bergdorf's windows, those tableaux vivants that coat their mannequins with Swarovski crystals, inter alia, small units of them in droves. The cost of one of those windows, which are changed several times during the year, would feed several developing countries for God knows how long--these statistics were not provided in the film.
You need window designers, who charge a lot since they are crême-de-la crême, and props, which are purchased from only the highest-end emporiums (emporia?), not from the Internet. And what they do creatively with those props is wallet-boggling.
Our favorite designers, most of whom I never heard of, are interviewed amid their "lines." If, like Isaac Mizrahi, you condescend to work with someplace like Target, forget it. My favorites, Ralph Lauren and Jones New York, are not even mentioned. So much for my taste in clothing and my budget; I only buy on sale. One designer made it to Bergdorf's shelves by flaunting Saks's interest in her wares. Presto! Bingo! The Valhalla's doors open.
Remember that the next time you contemplate selling there. And multiply the amount you want by God-knows-how-much. I don't. The film doesn't say.
I justified my one trip into that place once when I was in Manhattan, as a museum of alienation if not art because, you see, designers are not sadists or misogynists and those anorexic models are not masochists but easels.
So when I walked in--the cosmetic departments always greets you first in places like this--curious sales staff smiled when I told them I was just visiting one of Manhattan's museums. I went upstairs to the salon of a designer I'd never heard of and found some pink denim hooded jackets in one corner. The price point was more than $900. This was about twenty years ago, so imagine what they'd charge now. I asked if I might try one on, clarifying that I couldn't purchase it, and the sales associate smiled and said yes. It fit oh, so perfectly and looked great. But, to tell you the truth, I didn't need a piece of pink outerwear so wasn't even tempted to call my Mom and receive a resounding no, next to be told to wait for our ship to come in. Believe me, it won't.
I think you need to be a billionaire to shop there and actually buy something.
And if my ship does come in, no one will know. Last thing I'd do is hang out at high-end places.
Though there is an anecdote about a bag lady who went to the fur department--they did let her into the store--and showed deep interest in an ermine coat spotlighted on a mannequin. The sales staff told her it was a bit on the pricey side. So she lingered there for a few minutes and then began to pull bills out of one of her bags--thousands of them--and bought the coat.
"You can't tell a book by its cover" is the creative commentary offered.
I've read that you should be extremely choosy about which panhandlers you donate to, in Manhattan in particular. A New York Times article tracked any number of Manhattan panhandlers commuting via the Long Island Railroad to mansions, if not palaces, where they are not staff.
Funny, why does everyone in the film have large eyes? I wonder if the bag lady did.
23 May 2013: Friedan Turns Fifty: Some Very Unfinished Business
Dearest Betty, Gloria, Hillary, Madeleine, and even Elizabeth Warren:
I went to a panel celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Betty's The Feminine Mystique. You know, the book that launched a zillion desperate white housewives out of suburbia (the poorer classes of women were already working at menial jobs) into the workplace because they wanted jobs. A domestic professional (housewife?!) herself, Betty had other fish to fry when she skewered women's magazines, for which she was writing at the time, and consumerism in general.
And women visited psychiatrists far more often than men back in those days, I remember reading.
It came out more recently that Friedan was in an abusive marriage when she wrote the book. Beyond that, in the 1997 edition, she turned to the masculine persuasion and realized what confined closets they inhabited: work and exhaustion and little else. This needed to change, too, despite advances already made that had obliged some higher-educated dads to pitch in and get to know their kids and so on. It frees up the joy of parenting for men, too, and they deserve it--all levels of society and not just the tippy-tops.
The panel, which filled the small auditorium to standing-room capacity, was held by DC's Center for American Progress and starred two icons, Gail Collins, the well-known New York Times op-ed columnist, and Anna Quindlen, the popular and prolific writer of both fiction and nonfiction. Both have published numerous books and both had much to say about "where we are now," us girls (oops).
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 showed us how and before we knew it, record numbers of desperate housewives were happily (?) working and two-thirds of families included women wage earners.
Today, the United States is behind the rest of the world in women's involvement in both the workplace and society at large, the only developed nation that does not grant family leave. Our agenda for the twenty-first century is paid leave and other forms of improved treatment of women.
Anna Quindlen recalled the frown on her mother's face as she watched her reading The Feminine Mystique with deep absorption. Collins also looked back, to the period after World War II, when "anything was possible" for both sexes. Her mother regretted not having lived Collins's life.
Today women are living a "synthesis," said Quindlen. Collins praised the millennial generation as "ahead of us" (but under what circumstances did we live, FCOL?); this "kickass group" is asking more questions about the work-life balance and therefore "won't make the same mistakes that we did." They are the true synthesis people.
Though today's women lawyers don't face the sexism that confronted Sandra Day O'Connor when she graduated from law school and sought employment, there are still far more women associates than partners in firms.
And where do we go from here?
Said Collins, early childhood education is most relevant to upward mobility for all.
And what is today's "point of rage"? Said Quindlen, inequality sparks rage; she quoted an associate who expressed this notion as "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
Collins located the rage in the more than $1 trillion students owe for college loans, hoodwinked by the promise that they could easily pay them off after graduation, but today stuck in jobs they can't relate to, paying installments on these loans and accrued interest for life.
We also need to do something about the enemies military women face outside of active combat, their male colleagues.
After that, the subject turned to women's colleges and how they empowered women far more than did coeducational settings. It is no coincidence, for example, that both Friedan and Steinem are Smith College graduates.
It was no coincidence, either, that I walked out of the room in a clump of Seven Sisters types. I hadn't dress stylishly for the occasion, so had to proclaim my Wellesley College affiliation before I got any attention--that's where our next president, maybe, went to college, not to mention Madeleine Albright.
I was disappointed. During the Q&A period, I raised my hand tentatively, wanting the distinguished guests to address other issues, including the fate of whistleblowers like me who have dared to complain about sexual harassment in the workplace and have been jettisoned therefrom more than once and today no one wants to hire me. I'm too old anyway, though fit and hyperactive as someone half my age. They, too, are out of work in large numbers, though.
Computer scientist Clint Curtis got fired for reporting election-related political finagling back in the early 2000s and ended up working as a clerk for a Dollar Store (today he practices law). Bradley Manning spoke out and is being hanged for it, even as he moves into the court martial phase next week.
The best supervisor I ever had asked me if I was crazy when I complained to her that the new department head was stalking me outside of the workplace. I asked her how she would feel in a similar situation. She admitted she'd be upset, but I forgot to ask her what she'd do about it, I was so upset.
That issue in itself, a subset of whistle blowing, is moot, as is whistle blowing, which simply attempts to apply the principles we worship in church on Sunday to the other six days of the week.
Nor have I exhausted the list of issues confronting women's rights and the human rights that they entail.
Ladies, my offense rests. Get back to work.
Yours with only the deepest reverence and esteem,
PS: Sorry about the low-quality photos. I could have downloaded better ones from the Internet, but the facial expressions were priceless.(c)
19 May 2013: All This Mangling of a Once-Beloved Historical Event: Why the Tea Party?
I wanted to write an op-ed attributing the rise of the Tea Party to the "the skills-based gap [. . .] because they [the Democrats] don't want to tell the working classes that they're losing ground because they didn't study hard enough."
In other words, I wanted to say that the progressive [not in the political sense] declining emphasis on higher education was an outgrowth of the Powell Manifesto, which spawned a slew of conservative think tanks to counteract the creeping socialism brought on by the overeducated late-sixties college students trying to activate the values they were learning in school.
"The poor we will always have with us," the far right might have responded, Romney's 47 percent--you know, those people who need help because all of the wealth was being sucked into the top one percent. I keep saying that destruction of the lower classes isn't the answer, because the host will eventually die out--no secretaries or janitors. And then what will happen to those CEOs helpless without them, the ones who take invisible "business trips" on their yachts for weeks at a time, unmissed?
One day without the 99 percent cleaning up and pushing papers around will do more damage than the bursting of the real estate bubble. Or maybe a week without them anyway.
But we can't afford to take time off from work. Too few unions survive to carry us through such unpaid furloughs, which could result in lockouts because the unemployment rate is so high--much higher than Obama's toothy stats inform us.
I wanted to say that as early as 1984, twelve years after the Powell Manifesto was slipped to the right/right people, a report came out, "A Nation at Risk," decrying the deterioration of our educational systems that were graduating students unqualified to take on the responsibilities for which they were supposedly qualified. I taught some of them back then. Some were good, but others plagiarized. Others didn't want to have to put together a sentence, saying that they'd leave it to their secretaries. But my late father said that in the eighties he had to rewrite and correct letters written by his secretary on his behalf. As an immigrant who came here in his twenties, he spoke better English than the rest of his American-born family combined.
I wanted to say that because students were so burdened by debt from heavy loans they have to take out to put themselves through our institutions of higher learning, they can't even afford to take the jobs they studied toward, even if they're qualified for them. So there's a massive surge toward Wall Street jobs, and science suffers as that small segment of New York City geography sucks physicists away from the creative research that so much more concerns our future than financial greed.
I wanted to say that the decline in values is associated with the decline in the quality of our public educational system--producing the Sarah Palins and Michelle Bachmanns of this country, who don't know U.S. history from a hole in the ground. The latter announced that the American Revolution began in New Hampshire and that there was no slavery during the era that followed.
I wanted to blame the decline in the quality of public school educators on the decline in the quality of public education and that both were producing boobs like Palin and Bachmann. An informed citizenry is necessary to keep democracy alive, said founding father John Adams, who might have added that slavery was indeed in motion in his day. George Washington was far less kind to his slaves than was Thomas Jefferson, who had a long-term romance with one of his, resulting in generations of black and mulatto Jeffersons. The Washington legacy is probably similar, though his only ["illegitimate"] descendants I have met were whiter than white, blond hair scarcely darker than their fair skin.
In other words, I wanted to blame this whole mess on the Powell Manifesto, which indirectly, at least subtly anyway, downgraded the quality of education so that only the upper classes, educated privately, would be qualified to own the country, as many ignorant conservatives if not Tea Party people blatantly betrayed ignorance undetected by semiliterate audiences.
The "man on the street," interviewed impromptu, doesn't know that Columbus discovered America, let alone the damage done to the indigenous peoples upon his arrival.
All this I wanted to say until I read that the majority of the Tea Party, excluding the African Americans beginning to take on their values--move over, Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain--are white males, well educated, and affluent.
Turns out that the "tea party" movement sweeping the nation is disproportionately composed of individuals who have higher-than-average incomes. It's also disproportionately composed of men. And disproportionately composed of white people. . . . "but not necessarily older or just from the South."
According to a Bloomberg poll, "[f]orty percent are age 55 and over, compared with 32 percent of all poll respondents; just 22 percent are under the age of 35, 79 percent are white, and 61 percent are men. Many are also Christian fundamentalists, with 44 percent identifying themselves as 'born-again' compared with 33 percent of all respondents."
Keep in mind, all the above stats were taken in 2010.
Statistics are powerful but sometimes we don't do the math. What we can also glean from the above is that 60 percent of the Tea Party are under age 55; 21 percent are people of color, and 39 percent are women.
Some earlier stats collected by a University of Toronto professor (reported with caution, though, since samples were small) reveal that "there's a relationship between the amount of education one has and the strength of their religious beliefs. Getting an education tends to drive you away from the most fundamentalist religions. That's probably why there's a smaller percentage of college educated fundamentalists (27%) compared to moderates (39%) and liberals (51%)."
Then there are fundamentalists who earned bachelor degrees from "Bible colleges," which are more likely to teach creationism than are mainstream schools and universities.
According to the Bloomberg poll, again, more than 44 percent of the Tea Party are "born-agains" or other categories of fundamentalist Christian.
CNN, Bloomberg, the University of Toronto professor? Two out of three, at least, are mainstream sources. I don't know enough about statistics to modernize these stats on the basis of mathematical probabilities, nor was I able to access more up-to-date figures.
There are many more conclusions possible from the above figures. I choose to draw the conclusion I wanted to draw: that a substantial percentage, maybe as high as 50 percent of Tea Party members, are not as steeped in the Enlightenment culture that is still the theoretical basis of our democracy as are others of us, classified by the University of Toronto professor as moderates or liberals.
Add the above considerations to all of the election corruption that interfered with an accurate vote count in 2010 (the most corrupt election in U.S. history up until then) and acquire at least an idea why the Tea Party gained so many seats in Congress and are running the show even though a million more votes were gleaned by non-Tea Party candidates who somehow were not seated in offices they would have won had it not been for redistricting that clumps inner-city minorities into fewer and fewer electoral units, paving the road for more GOP victories, and the beat goes on, with the Electoral College another target.
The ruling "winner take all" will acquire a new denotation. The GOP will take all through ingenuity. Whither the informed public? Many minds will indeed be filled with misinformation.
Whither higher-level thinking? Get this: McDonald's or Exeter/Harvard, no oxymoron in this topsy-turvy, progressively (not in the political sense) less rational twenty-first century.
Prove me wrong. I will be vastly relieved.
After all, according to today's New York Times "Opinionator," Conservatives believe that the cause of the "skills-based gap" is "educational failure." Liberals agree. The gap "offers an opportunity to criticize our government-run system of public education and especially . . . [you don't want to read the rest]."
These same conservatives also support withdrawing federal funding from sources of higher education that persist in raising tuition.
Remember, the New York Times is studying conservatives without mentioning fundamentalists or Tea Party people at all. The conservatives include George F. Will and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., who might think twice when reading that "[s]ince 1979 the income gap between people with college or graduate degrees and people whose education ended in high school has grown." So there seems to be some hope, though the rest of the Times blog advocates the revival of unions as a fundamental step toward righting (in the nonpolitical sense) the economy, with which these same conservatives would likely take issue. But conservatives are coming out against "educational failure." Is it too late? According to a 2010 Gallup poll, "Conservative Republicans outnumber moderate/liberal Republicans in the general population by about a 2-to-1 margin; among Tea Party supporters, the ratio is well more than 3 to 1." The "Opinionator" seems to define conservative as moderate/liberal or at least moderate. But who knows? The definition should have been clearer.
Nonetheless, as I've written before, my faith in the post-boomer generations persists. They must channel all of their brilliance and creativity away from Wall Street to the sciences. Because science holds answers that will save the world--the environment, that is.
I conclude with a one-word question: "How?"
30 April 2013: Justice O'Connor "summons up remembrance of things past"
Well, dear ex-Justice, it took you only thirteen years to "summon up" regrets about the Supreme Court's decision to take on Bush v Gore that put Mr. Bush in office on 12/12/2000. Do recall that it was you who said you could not retire unless a Republican won the Election, and so you retired and all hell broke loose?
Are you sure you suffered no such regrets sooner?
Are you really that glad that three woman progressives now use the ladies' room in that august neoclassical building in front of which we have demonstrated so often?
Admit it, you'd prefer copartisan females in those spots.
How else has your political perspective changed?
--Shakespeare, Sonnet 30
There's even more to regret than that. You guys chose the correct Constitutional amendment to address but mangled the wrong part of it. Have I said this before? Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg herself said that your interpretation, that the equal protection clause had been applicable, that that unprecedented, non-precedent-setting decision, would nullify all past U.S. elections in history. (I thought of that a year before she said that, but who would listen to me, especially back then?)
But let's take a look-see at what follows in that amendment right after the "equal protection" clause:
But when the right to vote at any election . . . is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, . . . or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State. . . .
Even if we count only male citizens who were deprived of the vote in Florida--most of those [all?] on the fake felon lists were men who actually did not commit any crime--94,000 U.S. citizens in this scenario alone, per the latest figures I find were deprived of the vote, and punishment at this level was more than justifiable. So that more than felony was involved. And the "the basis of representation" clause--might it apply to the number of electors, so that Florida's total number of electors would have been reduced?
Then what might have happened?
Gosh darn, Bush won by only five electoral votes, where Florida had twenty-five electoral votes to contribute. How many might have been subtracted?
Here is yet another among the countless ways that the Constitution was violated relevant to the G.W. Bush administration, even before Governor Bush took office.
Violation of the Constitution (just a "piece of paper"?) is punishable by (fill in the blank).
Given that the revelation of the fake felons lists was published more than a week before your infamous 12/12 decision, so that the Sunshine state, in allowing a subtraction of so many votes from its poll lists, has violated the Fourteenth Amendment substantively (I mean, other states have used arbitrary lists and it became law that an SoS can arbitrarily reject voter registrations) . . . , well something else is rotten in the state of Florida. Not only so many votes uncounted, but a far more valid application of the Fourteenth Amendment did not even invade the discourse, did it?
But here's one thing that did: that the Constitution and its amendments nowhere grant the right to vote to citizens of the United States. This was used by the Conservative Five repeatedly. Former U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. tried to do something about this omission in our sacred document. Various attorneys have argued that this provision is nonetheless implicit. Oh, well.
What me, criticize a Supreme Court decision?
But something is happening here
(Note how I begin with a Shakespeare quote and end up with one from Bob Dylan--neither of them was/is an attorney.)
13 April 2013: "The Horror, the Horror"
"All the attention, so far, has gone to the Social Security change.
Obama has been offering this deal to Republican leaders for ages. . . .
they [the GOP] walked out expressing amazement
that he was open to such a thing"
--Gail Collins, New York Times, 13 April 2013
I thought I was hallucinating when it was announced that our president had put our social security earnings on the table, the "chained cpi," in his budget discussions with the GOP. Was he taking his clue from the bank account skimming in Cyprus? No, perhaps they took their clue from him, chronologically. Our president also skimmed 10 percent off of his salary, as a gesture. Perhaps those saved funds can be added back to our social security stash?
He did snicker with McCain, I believe, that neither was on welfare during their first debate, didn't he? He certainly snickered with someone who had written a book with a huge up-front and New York Times-bestseller status for weeks. Dreams from his father?
For the GOP to walk out in amazement that our president, as Collins reported, so betrayed his constituency may make history. It's as if our president walked out on them for taking social security off the table, which they just might have done. Or walked out on them for raising taxes on the rich of their own free will. Did they just walk out when the dinner was over, or abandon their entrees, Ms. Collins?
Oh, wow, will shockers never cease? And since when are our new extremists so holier than our president?
Next point: social security is an insurance policy we've paid for all of our working lives. It's not the charity the GOP treats it as. It doesn't come out of their oversized wallets. They collect it too. It's been proposed that all those billionaires refuse it. If so, the rest of us ragtag rabble would not have to worry or storm Washington en masse. And that would be a huge crowd, believe me, and not just doddering seniors.
But another suggestion by Ms. Collins is a bit off: "I'd trade a dramatic new commitment to funding quality early childhood education for a change in the way cost-of-living increases are computed for Social Security, as long as the oldest and neediest of the recipients are protected."
What's the cut-off age, Ms. Collins? The expanding cadre of centenarians--now so increased that they no longer earn a small square on front pages?
Our promising kiddies will someday get old, too. Statistics suggest they won't live as long as this burden on society we are, and education is hideously, frightfully neglected and way past "at risk," but why take money from us beautifully educated elders, banned from the workplace not only because we have this extra income but because we may be talking over the heads of our posterity, not to mention suffering from other forms of ageism?
Young people are prettier, let's face it, especially when they can write a grammatical sentence. And, let's face it again, soon maybe posterity won't know how to, or even know that they don't.
Let's lift some sanctions off of food sent to North Koreans--they're already half a head shorter, on average, than their cousins south of the barbed-wire border.
And let's lift some other sanctions from our own youth, who cannot afford higher education anymore--will our president put Pell grants onto the bargaining table next? Let's throw out some of those nukes sprawling over thousands of acres somewhere in the Midwest and plant food there, if it won't be radioactive. Let's cut the defense budget even more.
Now that we're living longer, let the government, instead of lowering our soc sec securities, start a hire-a-senior program, so that we won't be such a drain on society. Seems like, when we're forced back to work because of drained portfolios and pensions, we're more often sweeping floors than sitting in offices with windows. I'd take one without windows.
Have I digressed? Wish I were a loud-mouthed sharpie, or more assertive, so that I could do more than write. Here I am, in front of the 21-1/2-inch screen, writing "You go, guys, and I'll write it up."
Better than nothing, anyway.
Because, you see, the "chained cpi" won't stop there any more than Hitler did, once let loose by Chamberlain's appeasement.
1 April 2013: Culture Vulture's Picnic!: Thoughts on two cultural events I attended in DC last week: Beethoven's only violin concerto and Shakespeare's "Coriolanus."
Two cultural events I attended last week blew my mind: First, Arabella Steinbacher's amazing rendition of Beethoven's violin concerto, such a warhorse I was almost ashamed to go.
But I could not hold myself away and marveled at the first performance I've attended of a violin concerto with TWO cadenzas, each one magnificently rendered.
To me playing the violin in a concerto role is such an athletic fete. I also believe that the violin is the most difficult instrument. On the left side you both hold up the instrument by the neck and play the most complicated sets of notes; on the right side you must bow and holding the darned instrument up used to make my arms ache.
The most beautiful notes emerge when your physics are perfect--are they ever, Maestro Heifetz? And, adds Robert Mann, consecutively no two notes can be played the same way. Each must vary, have its own personality.
Then on Sunday I went to a performance of Shakespeare's "Coriolanus."
I expected to sleep through it, but eyes were wide open the whole time, even through the lengthy first half, a two-hour "ordeal." Of course I preferred the second half, the denouement.
Eyes were wide open because of the magnificent performance of the protagonist, played by Patrick Page.
The play opens militarily enough, with the general's young son proudly imitating his dad, and there is the boast that he does better militarily than in school. The young fascist is reported to have MAMMOCKed a butterfly in a mock battle--this word for slaughter here makes its first appearance in the English language. The description is hideous in its details, ominous of the general's own mass slaughter by his supposed allies, the Volscii, at the end of the play.
Most awesome is the peace treaty Coriolanus brokers with the Volscii, long-time foes of the Romans. Now this occurs after the protagonist, whose given name, fittingly enough, is Martius, plucked right from the name of the war god Mars--the scion is also named Martius--has been exiled and finds the Volscii, allies with them, and organizes a vendetta, a takeover of Rome.
Humbled Romans visit the court of the Volscii to beg their general not to attack. But the entreaties of women ultimately soften his heart: his timid wife,his domineering stage door mama (Volumnia, played by Diane D'Aquila), and sister. So the women become instruments of peace.
Then Coriolanus brokers a peace treaty with the Volscii but, humiliated in this instance (peace is just not "Romanesque" maquismo here) as well as in the past by Romans, the leader of the Volscii comes to Rome, incites his soldiers against Martius-turned-Paxius (my name for the Peaceful One), and they pounce upon him and MAMMOCK him.
So the war vultures win out and the blessed peacemaker's corpse adorns the ground, truly motionless--how do they do that?
Reminds me of an ancient cult film "El Topo," in which a Zorro-type womanizer ends up as a saint, Siddhartha-like. So parallels abound.
And so I had a double culture-vulture feast last week. Washington, DC, might not be the country's cultural capital, but it's good and I wish everyone such delectable performances, whatever your favorite medium happens to be.
1 April 2013: Democratic Doomsday? The Slippery Slope of GOP Election Deceit
Back to the future, 2016, our system is already trying on presidential candidates. I happened to have been in DC's Building Museum for lunch last week in time to witness the lavish white linen-covered tables set up for a something that turned out to be the notorious GOP fundraiser that netted $14.4 million for the RNCC.
Naturally, the sponsor was a Republican--Paul Ryan, I believe--I say "naturally" because, with their two-year terms, House reps are too busy fundraising to accomplish much else and I do sympathize, though not with Paul Ryan and his fellows.
And money runs the show, and what can we do about it? asked Green Party activists Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman today on PRN.fm, Progressive Radio, on Harvey's show "Solartopia."
And what can we do about the near certainty of a 5-4 conservative SCOTUS decision to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Instead of eliminating it, opined Fitrakis, the provision should be extended to all states of the union, not just the Old South plus some heavily urban districts in New York state and a few others, ironically enough.
More ironic it is, though, that Ohio is not among those states requiring such by Supreme preapproval by the Justice Department (DoJ), given all of the blatant skullduggery there that deprived Kerry of the majority that had elected him to the White House in 2004. Had this requirement been in place in the Buckeye State, the hugely corrupt, two-hatted Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell (two-hatted because he was also co-chair of the Committee to Re-elect Bush in 2004) would have been kept from relocating electoral precincts without informing voters where their votes would be legitimately counted.
Blackwell did not bother to update his webpage before Election Day, so that mass confusion reigned, because of course, this level of "re-precincting" singled out underprivileged neighborhoods. Seventy to ninety thousand votes were lost by this device alone, among so many others committed by the self-hating Blackwell and his cronies.
Will they bring back whites-only primaries, too? wondered Fitrakis. Wasserman said that the practice is already alive and well in Indiana.
Another huge elephant in the room was the insidious attempts in Pennsylvania to alter the winner-take-all Electoral College votes to splitting state votes between presidential candidates according to the partisan affiliation of each congressional district, a practice already active in Nebraska and Maine.
Because my previous home state's congressional districts are so gerrymandered (Bob compared the shape of one gerrymandered district in Ohio to the cartoon character Jughead with his hat on; another one in Texas is shaped like a stringbean, and so on), even though it has a Democratic majority there are more GOP districts than Democratic ones. The legislature is also dominated by smaller elephants and the governor is a conservative Republican.
Go figure. The subject quickly turned to the similar situation in Fitrakis and Wasserman's home state Ohio, another Democratic-leaning state dominated by the grasping GOP because the other party is so quick to compromise and move toward the center. That state is contemplating the same sort of exponential gerrymandering of the Electoral votes--the Buckeye State has sixteen congressional districts which, according to partisan distribution, should be divided evenly between the two reigning parties instead of the absurdity of Republican domination in twelve of the districts. The majority party's four districts are concentrated in the heavily African American urban districts of Cleveland-Toledo, Columbus, and Cincinatti.
Without the winner-take-all system, Romney would have taken Ohio in 2012, ushered into office by sparsely populated rural districts.
Count the populations so squished together even more than their living situations are? What's in a majority anymore? The blue state of Wisconsin is also considering this change from the winner-take-all system which, admittedly, focuses campaign attention heavily on the swing states, but the alternative mottles the true blue color of the majority even more. Blue states are the target, and thirty state governorships are held by Republicans. Do the arithmetic. As long as voters vote according to the partisanship of their registration, 292 Republican electoral votes are "in the bag" before the elections begin.
It's out in the open. I've read about it in the New York Times.
How could this blatant gerrymandering have been accomplished right beneath our feet, placing 232 Republicans in the House even though Democratic candidates collected more than one million more votes? (Wasserman named this miasma the "rotten boro system.")
Well, in Ohio, the supreme court is also hugely dominated by the GOP. It seems that it was bought out by the US Chamber of Commerce, which, in turn was fined $1,000 but not charged for its legal representation when it was caught in the act. How blind is justice sometimes?
And it seems that the state apportionment board, which is in charge of gerrymandering--I mean districting in the state--is hugely dominated by the court.
At this point both Fitrakis and Wasserman denied any direct loyalty to the compromising (and compromised) Democrats, both loyal Green partisans. Their goal, which they work toward so continuously and fiercely, is "justice and stability."
Toward this end, they have published five books on the electoral dynamics in Ohio and throughout this country, just since 2004.
Their sixth book, on "Corporate Money and the Theft of the Election Process," is due out soon, focused on election 2012 and specifically how President Obama's publicized victory was actually a "landslide denied." The electronic vote total contradicted exit polls, for example. In Ohio also, I thought I heard (the conversation was so rapid because of time limits on such huge content) that former CIA employees, among other undesirables, were involved in electoral data collection.
But given all of this type of pollution, seeping over our system the way that oil leaks are ruining land and landscapes throughout the country, might all of the attempted publicity, getting the word out, discourage people from voting? Wasserman said that the solution is to dump ALL electronic voting equipment, as Ireland has, for example, and to follow the majority of countries in the world by voting with paper ballots, all processes completely transparent, all counting done in public.
It is so ridiculous that private, for-profit corporations provide the systems and in many cases run the elections as well. Cyber-attacks are so rampant. What good is a system that can be compromised by a drive-by remote, one push of a button or touch of a mini-screen? Algorithms can predict results ahead of time.
So that's the start. No more DREs or scantrons (I've used the term "optical scanners" for years--this term is new to me).
Beyond that, a four-day period for voting is also needed. So many people simply can't get to the polls because of their work schedules. The origin of Tuesday as Election Day was for the convenience of workers, actually--for farmers bringing in their harvested produce for sale on market day in November. This land of yours and ours was once agrarian. Long time passing.
College students should be in charge of the voting process, said both Wasserman and Fitrakis, academics themselves.
Public financing of elections should replace the Citizens' United one-percent-take-all system.
Then there is the unfortunate possibility of SCOTUS Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg stepping down. Obama's chosen successor will be blocked by the Republicans' beloved filibustering device, as yet unchanged despite some half-hearted Democratic efforts. Something like that. The successful SCOTUS nominee will have to gain sixty-one votes in the Senate. Another hurdle to look forward to and pray about.
The subject of my new home "state," Washington, DC, next came up, which Fitrakis and Wasserman called a "black state"--at least 50 percent of the population here is black and the population exceeds that of two states, Wyoming and Vermont. Nonetheless, our license plates lament this system of "taxation without representation," that is, except when George W. Bush took these fighting words off of his presidential limousine. He did not have it repainted. Think positive.
As we all must, in the face of all of these corrupt obstacles dying this country red, this dying country. All we need, Bob and Harvey, now that we have the what, is the "how."
8 March 2013: Werner Herzog's HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN TAIGA: Details of the Good Life in a Frozen Shangri La
Would you believe that there are areas in the world seemingly untouched as of yet by global warming, and unconcerned about the prospect?
This portrait of a miniature civilization is structured around an interview of a Siberian (of Russian extraction and Russian-speaking) trapper, Gennady Soloviev, and some of his contemporaries, as well as a cameo of the village's underclass, the Ket people, an indigenous group dying out. Their last moribund dowager will take with her the hereditary technique of making doll-fetishes sacred to her people. Her house even catches fire, so that the dolls burn, but ultimately and slyly she reveals one that somehow survived. (As of 1979, 670 people spoke their language, an "isolate" remaining from a former group called Yenesie-Ostyak. In this film, the Ket comprise a pitiful clump, I believe all male, chopping wood and throwing it onto the back of a dump truck for pitifully low wages).
But these Asian-looking people are presented only in passing.
Herzog's focus is the 24/7 subsistence-dominated lifestyle of the totally isolated Russians of the central Siberian village of Bakhtia, all three hundred of them accessible by boat in the summer and helicopters year round, who find contentment in building every element in their lifestyle from scratch--animal traps, canoes, trappers' hovels that shelter them in the -50 degrees Fahrenheit, lengthy winters. Might they have learned these skills from the Ket? One of them is shown constructing a canoe for the "newcomers." Gennady tells the producers that he's been in the Siberian Taiga since 1970.
Free time is rare; true to the Russian tradition, the people celebrate [a secular brand of] Christmas on what we call Epiphany, the "last day of Christmas," January 6. The children drape themselves in glitter and move with music in a hand-built community room, the only public facility presented. There are no post offices, convenience stores, restaurants, or churches. There is no government except for a campaigner singing off a boat in the summer to solicit votes--of entertainment value to the children, whose parents have better things to do.
There are no taxes.
The trappers come home to celebrate the New Year--reunions with family are poignant--and leave after Christmas.
No dogsleds though. The one modern convenience is snowmobiles; the faithful dogs run alongside voyages as lengthy as 75 miles without stopping. I did notice some electric lighting in the hall of the Christmas celebration, which the filmmaker did not emphasize.
Winter is spent trapping--mainly small furry creatures like the ermine, found frozen and bent in half, whose value, Gennady laments in one of his few allusions to life outside of Bakhtia, has decreased due to excessive, astronomical inflation. Winter is generous to the Bakhtians, with copious supplies of fish, especially large pike, immediately accessible beneath the thick ice of the Yenisei River. Summer is the time for hoarding and preparing winter provisions, which consist mainly of fish and some wild fowl; no gardens are evident. Nor are swimsuits. The people wear some sort of outwear even under sunny skies that last 20 hours a day.
The English-speaking narrator's voice is plaintiff and condescending--nothing unusual for this film genre. These people probably recapitulate life during the Ice Age (yes, there were humans who weathered this grim era--did they know it was grim?), he says.
As we take in the joy of a subsistence-dominated lifestyle, I wonder if the producers were more interested in the indigenous, displaced Ket, victims of this microscopic imperialism. I was. The material above about the Ket is taken from a language list I edited for Oxford University Press more than a decade ago. Among these lists that comprise the 6800 languages of the world, some of them have died out since then. There would be dialects or tongues spoken by one survivor, or five, or ten, or one hundred.
But how did I get to this digression?
Because, though reviewers call this a beautiful portrait of the simple life amid scenery to die for, the Ket steal the show.
I like to believe that Herzog and colleagues portrayed them just long enough to break our hearts. Methods and primitive technologies date back centuries and sometimes, the producers note, millennia. The technologies, though mostly wooden--a metal trap I recall from the fifties is modern in this context--came from somewhere, from people used to inhabiting this land.
Welcome to the thriving purity of life in Bakhtia. Welcome to the good life. As indigenous people have immigrated north from Mexico to reclaim America, their native land, so the displacement of others hits home the hardest, another white man's burden easily, guiltlessly, and proudly displayed to the West by Russian immigrants. It's the American way?
27 February 2013: Supreme Court Rally to Protect Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act
Hundreds of demonstrators showed up early this morning in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building to participate in a rally protesting the likely Supreme Court decision to overturn Section 5 of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
Sponsored by around sixty-two civil rights organizations, including NAACP, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law, SEIU, the League of Women Voters, and Rainbow Push, the all-day event began with a congressional press conference from 8:30 to 9 that included Reps. Maxine Waters and John Lewis, who were among those who attended the hearing.
(Section 5 provides for accountability to courts or the Department of Justice among states found in 1965 to be most guilty of minority voter suppression-- Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia, along with parts of Arizona, Hawaii, and Idaho. [initially; a state or smaller municipality may "bail out" by proving that the discrimination charged no longer exists--New Hampshire, among others, successfully opted out]).
The majority of participants were African Americans, along with Latinos, Asian Americans, LGBTQs, and whites. Many had traveled from as far away as the deep South, including Mississippi and Alabama, said by one speaker to be the two states that had delivered the fewest votes for Obama in 2012 [fewest, with such large black populations?].
The rally itself, hosted by Joe Madison of Sirius XM Radio, lasted from 9 well into the early afternoon; a post-argument call with NAACP LDF, ACLU, and the Lawyers' Committee; followed by a bus trip to Richmond by the Freedom Riders for Voting Rights, who had come all the way from Selma, Alabama, part of Shelby County, the now-infamous plaintiff in the case argued today, Shelby County v Holder.
A "post-argument analysis blog with legal experts and Alliance for Justice" will be held at 5:30 this afternoon at http://afijjusticewatch.blogspot.com/search/label/VRAanalysis.
After three hours of speeches (more on these below), activists, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III, who had attended the hearing, emerged with their reports: the "ladies" (Sotomayor, Ginsberg, and Kagan) fought like hell, while one of the plaintiff attorneys argued that Shelby County should not be subject to Section 5 of the VRA because other municipalities have records "just as bad or worse," Sharpton told the spirited crowd. [an already-quoted argument was that Section 5 was no longer needed because of Obama's two consecutive victories; other speakers referred to this monumental event as a stepping stone in a long process rather than achievement of the dream itself, in a climate that remains hugely discriminatory]
Sharpton continued that Sotomayor, Ginsberg, and Kagan questioned why no statewide officials in the Heart of Dixie state were black, when the argument was presented that the state had indeed elected blacks to political positions.
Justice Scalia offered his brainstorm, calling Section 5 "racial entitlement."
But even worse, continued Sharpton, he "loses his soul" when he sees Clarence ("er, Justice Thomas," he quickly added).
Sharpton offered no conclusive predictions, saying that he didn't know where the Court would go: 5-4 either way. Justice Kennedy is known to be somewhat undecided.
And if Section 5 is struck down, he continued, "we'll go back to the streets," the way we first got the VRA. Our forebears suffered and died--we won't lose that.
He reminded his audience of Election 2012: some states reduced the number of early voting days; voter ID laws proliferated; the Sunday Souls to the Polls drive to get church-going blacks to the polls after services was eliminated in several states (litigation in Ohio saved this event at the last minute).
"Join us in fighting James Crow II, Esquire," Sharpton quipped, referring to the more subtle forms of insidious racism now blocking election integrity. We'll beat you just as our forbears did. "The power of the people will not be denied!"
MLK III, who had joined Sharpton on the small platform, called this morning's hearing "a serious time in the history of our nation" [said by League of Women Voters president Elizabeth McNamara to be "the most important case to reach the Supreme Court in decades"]. We must find renewed strength in this the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, even as April will mark the forty-fifth anniversary of his father's death in Memphis.
"I lost a father but the nation gained a movement," he said.
If the right people were in Congress, we wouldn't be having this rally, King continued. Even if the Court says Section 5 will stand, we still have work [emphasis mine--MNS]. Racism invalidates the process [of democracy].
King advised the hundred standing before him to "march more, tweet more," use Facebook, and even reach out to the "business folk" on LinkedIn.
Inclusion is important! he concluded.
Cruelly ironic it was that on this same day, February 27, a statue of Rosa Parks was being unveiled in the rotunda of the Capitol building.
Memorable words were spoken by so many of the huge roster of speakers, each given just a few minutes over a three-hour time span. Section 5 has transformed the United States from exclusive to inclusive, said Elizabeth McNamara. The problems exposed by the 2012 election should reinforce the need for Section 5.
Rep. Hank Thompson (D-GA) took the segregation-integration process farther back than the nineteenth century to the 1607 settlement of Jamestown; black indentured servants who worked on the ship that brought the settlers here were subsequently subjugated to slavery--becoming counted as three-fifths of a person by the time the Constitution was ratified in 1789.
SCLC president Charles Steele said that if we allow Section 5 to be eliminated from the VRA, "the world will fail." He spoke of his travels around the world; of how former USSR General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev assumed that Obama's consecutive victories indicated that racism was no longer a problem here. Said Steele, "Hell no, we've just begun."
Reinforcing words were spoken by Melanie Campbell, CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to those everywhere."
"It's everyone's issue!" echoed Kendra Brown, national chair of the National Black Law Students' Association.
Steele called Obama "the downpayment on a dream"; we still have to march; "I'm ready to go to jail!"
Repeal of Section 5 "will set us back by centuries," said New York Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke.
La Raza president Janet Murguia reminded the audience of the august words that adorn the front of the SCOTUS building, just above the columns: EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW (reminiscent of one of the Constitutional amendments, the Fourteenth. which provides for equal protection, in the context of elections, among other venues).
Popular comedian Dick Gregory said that "we're not pimps--pimps think that they are in control!" and later added a strong suggestion for how to get back at the one percent for their racism: "We'll boycott Christmas!"
Testimonies to the effectiveness of Section 5 in curbing blatant discrimination were frequent [more enumerated after I left by a roster of lawyers who subsequently addressed the many who remained]. Last-minute precinct-site changes were overruled, for example. First-time Representative Marc Vesey (D-TX) said that Section 5 is essential to his state, where the Latino population is rapidly expanding, but where "hundreds of thousands of minorities" were kept from voting in 2012.
The Lone Star State's voter ID law, the "harshest" in the nation, was overruled by the provisions of Section 5, according to another speaker.
Among the chants taken up by the crowd were "Let my people vote!" "No vote, no hope!" "Section 5 must stay alive!" "Section 5 must survive and thrive!" and "We're just as strong and can stand just as long!"
Shelby County v Holder will be decided early this summer (2013).
17 January 2013: "Forward on Climate" Rally and March
The largest citizen march against climate change, more than 35,000 people, was held in Washington, DC, this afternoon. One-hundred fifty busloads and 168 partner organizations contributed to the event, held to protest against the hottest year in U.S. history and the largest hurricane, among other natural disasters suffered in 2012 here and throughout the world--"the worst ever," according to Bill McKibben, president and founder of 350.org. Carbon standards must be specified for polluting industries by the EPA, for the sake of the future of the planet and of all of us, even the "one percent."
NRDC trustee and president of Rebuild the Dream Van Jones referred to the dire situation as "the biggest game humanity has ever played." Wind power and solar energy were specified to be energy sources above the ground, far preferable to those beneath it.
The main focus was the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, being built to convey tar sands from western Canada to New Orleans and ultimately to other ports throughout this country, at a huge environmental cost. "Tar sands are the dirtiest fuel in the history of the planet," said Van Jones, polluting the air twice as much as does conventional petrol. The refining process is far more complex and the quality of the fuel inferior.
Steel tunnels, already built by investors, are so poorly constructed that tar sands leak through cracks into the earth and aquifers, and thus to drinking water and natural water formations, with hideous consequences for residents of the affected terrain. The purpose of the tunnels is to convey the toxic substance for import once it is refined into diesel and other products here, profiting a minute percentage of the population--say the one percent, at the risk of the rest of the inhabitants of both the United States and western Canada.
President Obama can outlaw further construction and implementation of the project by executive order, since he could not get legislation passed in Congress, given the partisan divided in the House of Representatives, which is burdened by a Republican majority that often votes as an extremely right-wing bloc.
One speaker after another implored the president, echoed by chants and cheers from the huge audience, to honor the commitment he made in his State of the Union speech this year. ("For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.") The project was referred to as "the most fateful battle in U.S. history" and "the most important job humans have been entrusted with."
"If you don't fight for what you want, you'll regret what you end up with," warned another speaker.
A surprising participant in the event was an investor, Tom Steyer, who is also founder of the Center for the Next Generation. Steyer informed his surprised listeners that the pipeline is not a good investment, not "business as usual"; we simply can't afford forty more years of carbon energy.
"We must dare to say no and invent a cleaner, cheaper energy future," he concluded.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), representing the federal government but critical of its policies, said that his colleagues must wake up to reality and stop calling climate change a hoax. We must help the president to work toward these crucial environmental goals.
"We were made for this moment," he said. We must be able to say to our posterity, "Yes, we did!" A chant of "Yes, we can!" followed from the huge audience.
Spokeswomen for Canada's First Nation, welcome additions to the event, said that thirty-five tribes across their country are working together in opposition to the pipeline construction. When asked, one of them told me that actually they were communicating with Native Americans and also indigenous people throughout the Americas. People of the First Nation, though pressured, have refused to assimilate into mainstream Canadian society. The national government refers to these outspoken rebels as enemies of the country and extremists.
Colorado's Navahos, Hispanics, blacks, and whites were all specified as "relatives." Even the grass and trees are relatives. Disaster doesn't discriminate--we all bleed the same color. Mother Nature could destroy us with the shake of one shoulder; instead she nurtures us, but there are signs aplenty that we are destroying her.
"Is the economy more important than land and water?" they asked.
This rally is the beginning of a change. A four-month-old infant was identified as the youngest present today. "Will she be here in fifty years?" asked one speaker. And will the environment be tolerable? Will President Obama get rid of the three hundred coal mines throughout the country that are so violating its ecology? Will he choose to be on the winning side of history?
An old chant out of my early days as an activist was heard: "The whole world is watching." I've heard it time and again since then, but not recently.
Some of the world is way ahead of us. I heard one journalist tell another that Germany is 80 percent energy independent. If the whole world were watching, would it make a difference? We are accomplishing something rare: educating "developing" areas about the horrendous devastation wrought by hydrocarbon pollution by our destruction invasion of their pristine domains, be they the Peruvian Amazon; Prince William Sound, Alaska; Greenland, a new treasure trove revealed by melting glaciers, or any number of other age-old wildernesses now being ravaged.
Sixty-five percent of the American population supports the goals of Forward on Climate. Though the sponsoring organizations were referred to as "most of the progressives," it struck me as odd that Jill Stein, presidential candidate last year representing the Green Party, was not allowed to speak, though she did attend.
"Left of center, but not by much," I mused about the event as a whole. We all know what's right, especially the Green Party. Steering left, the project endorsed today, involves a sense of direction. An iconic participant in the march that followed the event, from the Washington Monument to the White House, was a paper, [presumably] life-sized replica of a piece of the Keystone XL pipeline. But a colossal rendition of the Statue of Liberty that loomed high above the heads of those carrying it was painted green.
12 February 2013: This Year's SOTU: We Must All Defend Our Freedom
President Obama's State of the Union (SOTU) address this year was lengthy and filled with Democratic priorities. TV's Politico commentators were unimpressed.
I was happy about the suggestion to raise the minimum wage, the promise to exit Afghanistan, the embrace of women's rights and gay rights, environmental concerns, alternative energy sources, preschool for all, the high school-junior college overlap, and more. But the two issues that most concerned me appeared as crescendos at the end: voting and gun control--especially voting--and they were poetically intertwined: All of those innocent victims of gun violence gone amok deserved a vote. I took this to mean a vote in Congress against gun violence. I hope that's what the president meant.
Expanding on the new thematic of long lines and chaos at the polls, which "we need to fix," Obama this evening specified voting as "our most fundamental right as citizens." As the military is here to defend us, so it is up to us to defend our right to vote. Onward, Christian soldiers! We've been marching to that tune for a while now, this must recent breed of suffragists, we who arose after election 2000 in shock and horror to protest and fix the hideous problems.
But you see, as always, as I told an interviewer not too long ago, there's often a ten-year gap between what Progressives militate for and when the liberals [viz., Democrats] catch on. Even smart ones like Barack Obama, who said this evening that he wants to make our government "smarter" rather than "bigger."
Brad Friedman has just published a caveat to the president's ringing promise to appoint a blue-ribbon, bipartisan commission to fix things. Looking back to about ten years ago, he recalls the [October 2002] birth of the Help America Vote Act, HAVA, influenced to some extent by another blue-ribbon commission composed of former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, formed by President George W. Bush, and then the Carter-Baker commission appointed September 2005, which also contained some good ideas and some bad ones, like the requirement of voter ID. Anything would do back then to these gentle reformers--a utility bill, for instance.
Friedman also recalls a House hearing held ironically less than a week after the spontaneous birth of a poor excuse for an activist organization online, the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR). The [March 21, 2005] timing was exquisite: the hearing concerned what went wrong with election 2004 in Ohio. It was led by Congressman Bob Ney (R-OH), co-sponsor, along with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), of HAVA.
Because ACVR's Mark "Thor" Hearne was one of the chief spokesmen for the issues, naturally the conclusion was that too much voter fraud was committed and hence voter ID was needed across the country to fix this thorny situation.
Had any of hundreds of real, as opposed to ad hoc, grassroots activist groups been heard, the focus would rather have been on the long lines and the violation of human rights in places like Ohio, where the electoral votes were thus stolen and the wrong candidate kept in office.
Funny how Ney's March 21, 2005 hearing grew out of a report commissioned by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) on what went wrong in Ohio 2004. The COnyers report listed atrocities attached to every aspect of the voting process in the Buckeye State. No blue ribbons were awarded.
In other words, EI activists and all others concerned, don't applaud too much or hold hands and jump around in glee too soon, warns Brad wisely. The people deserve the blue ribbon far more than the members of the commission so named. People who lost loved ones to assault weapons in the wrong hands. I will not add that another sort of anaphora--who really deserves to be shot--was not even implied in Obama's speech, though Boehner, McConnell, Cantor, and their ilk looked like personified razor blades without even trying. If I were in front of the TV simply to amuse myself, totally and otherwise cynical, I might have watched the squirming Boehner, opening and shutting his mouth, looking in turn nauseous and sullen--the latter when some word or two from the president was less revolting than most of them. I won't swear to it, but I think he stood up once or maybe twice to applaud during the speech. Once, for sure. He liked the idea of free trade with Western Europe. He liked the idea of diverting troops from Afghanistan to Mali, too.
But it all sounded so good--the SOTU, that is. Even before reading the Tweet from Mr. Friedman, I didn't jump for joy, though, but rather breathed a sigh of relief and made a note to myself to expect more news on this now-somewhat-popularized issue and to watch carefully for it.
We do "need to fix that," Mr. President. Please no more HAVAs.
12 February 2013: Paper, Plastic, or Both: Must "Integrity" Mean "Consistent"?
I am all for the decision to clean up a system that has wrought havoc on the voting rights of millions--millions of minorities who vote against Republicans and have last names even a few good Republicans don't know what to do with: the exotic first names that are trending among African Americans, the poetic surnames of Latinos and then, oddly enough, the John Jones-type names that belong to so many and as a result create confusion.
And then there is corruption, the dishonest mistakes.
All of these issues create havoc at the polls, including endless lines that serve to eliminate even more voters with perfectly comprehensible names (like Marta Steele? Not!!).
Just as mechanical, and then electronic solutions were invented to combat the epidemic of ballot box stuffing in the late nineteenth century and onward, so now the inefficiency of our system of voter registration is blamed on the reams and reams of paper lists at the polls so rife with errors. Now, if this could all be computerized . . . Presto! Efficiency. Nor more long lines. Just point and click and move the line.
Alas (frequent cry of exasperation and grief in ancient Greek tragedy). Would that it were so simple. Plastic covering paper, that is.
Do we need to sit around and spend billions more before we realize that e-reg is as permeable to hacking as is e-voting?
Or is it possible that e-reg and a voting system converted from plastic to paper (hand-counted paper ballots [HCPB]) can coexist in harmonious efficiency? Must everything be consistent? All or nothing? Plastic or paper?
That's one for Socrates. The e-experts will undoubtedly squash me into the corner of two converging walls over it. They know so much more than I do about electronics (I'm thinking specifically of the latest findings of NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, supported this morning by a New York Times editorial). I'm not being facetious. Remember: the subject is e-reg. . . .
Because some EI advocates adamantly advocate for voting with HCPB, meticulously monitored at every stage by we-the-people, in droves, efficient droves so that no one's view is blocked. That's my position, until e-voting systems advance to a point where they are 100 percent uncorruptible. In my dreams and posterity's routines, it is hoped.
So, ideally, at this point in "our" thinking, e-reg is the ideal, along with HCPB used for early voting and absentee voting and voting at the polls, and we-the-people at every stage of those processes.
Consistency? Have studies shown that states that use all-of-one-kind of voting systems fare better than the patchworks that dominate our country's map? Ratings of the "consistent" states are inconsistent, as are those of the patchworks, according to a recent study by the Pew Center on the States (see my OEN article of 2/18/13).
So scratch consistency at this point in time. And scratch Internet voting (which I'd like to name I-voting, but IV may win out, if it doesn't confuse health-care providers too much). The thought of it. Experimental tries in California have bombed.
Like most of us, especially some EI people, I am looking forward to the president's SOTU this evening and hoping to hear more than passing mention of getting rid of long lines.
Then I'm wondering how in the world we'll replace our current voting practices with universal HCPB. They are used successfully, and sometimes even cleanly, in many other countries. That's the next hoop-on-fire. Success is to keep the paper intact.
Published since April 1999, Words, UnLtd. is a labor of love. Editor and contributor Marta Steele has won numerous awards for her editing, writing, and scholarship. She is published at Opednews.com, Newsdissector.org/blog, Gregpalast.com, and Alternet.org, among other sites. She also communicates her thoughts often to the New York Times in its various reader forums; three of her letters to the editor have been published. Her work first appeared online on Votermarch.org in the summer of 2001, a month before 9/11. Additional reprint credits include the London Observer, Unprecedented.org, and the Princeton Peace Network in the News links.
40th anniversary, "I Have a Dream" speech, Washington 8/23/03
A Yardley Duck
"To think we fancy we eliminated slavery 140 years ago. We merely substituted an analogous phenomenon, employment-at-will. Justice will truly be blind until that heinous indictment on society is reversed. It is just as reprehensible to deprive people of work and livelihood forcibly as to force them to work against their will."
--Words, UnLtd. cover page October 1999
"Is there anything so miraculous in the universe as human consciousness? The more scientists study, the less probable it seems that there is anything else out there in the vastness of space besides complete, impersonal phenomena: seething masses of light and energy, nothing that thinks."
"To strive, to seek, to find, but not to yield," is how Tennyson's "Ulysses" chooses to spend his last years, disappointed, after all, at attaining everything he longed for and then quickly becoming bored in his premature retirement. The stillness he strove for those twenty years (see the November 1999 issue of Words) necessitates perpetual motion, it seems. What we really strive after is by definition unattainable because of our human limitations. Perhaps all our striving somehow realizes this even as we never stop. And that is the romance, the tragedy, and the infinite grandeur of the human condition. Be careful what we pray for, indeed. Because in the end we do not and cannot really understand it in its fullest sense."
"Traveling is the concentrate of life. We become so preoccupied with preserving moments, impressions, and views. Each night after the frenzied activities that preceded and never encompass enough, I take out my notebook and scribble down every detail I can and every image that occurs. I scribble for myself in the future, as writer and rememberer, devouring the present tense that is so illusive always."
"To sketch our ideal leader would be a challenge.
What superhumanity this role requires and how few of us
can measure up. He must partake of human nature and
yet transcend it, for human nature is basically at fault
for all the issues she must face: human nature,
above all other things, which are, after all, conquerable.
The only thing we will never really master is ourselves."
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