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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.)
1 May 2016: Bernie Sanders Holds Press Conference in DC to Commemorate First Anniversary of His Entry into Candidate Competition
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (D-VT) today held a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Only members of the press were admitted on this Sunday, when the club is usually closed.
Strong, angry, spirited, unflinching, the Vermont senator celebrated the one-year anniversary of his entry into the race for nomination as Democratic presidential nominee. He had announced his bid for the nomination in the District.
Within this year, he said, he took on the entire mainstream Democratic establishment and won 17 primaries/caucuses in every part of the country--a total of nine million votes, which some polls interpret as leading Hillary Clinton (HRC).
Within this year Sanders has raised $174 million, a record for this point in the primary cycle--without the aid of Super PACs or any device other than direct contributions from we the people averaging $27 apiece; in the last month alone donations exceeded $25 million.
"We can run without big money," he told reporters, who represented numerous mainstream vehicles as well as Al Jazeera, the Justice Integrity Project, and of course Oped News. The Press Club ballroom was filled to exact capacity.
Another accomplishment within the last year, said Sanders, is 1.1 million people having attended his rallies, the majority consisting of voters aged 45 years and under, which he called "the future of the Democratic Party and of this country."
The Vermont senator specified issues that "are on all minds," including the unbalanced economy; the criminal justice system; the question of a carbon tax; the crisis of polluted water distributed to the people of Flint, Michigan among other locations; fracking; elimination of tuition charges from all state-level colleges and universities; and raising corporate taxes.
Shifting to the subject of Democratic delegates to the party convention, he specified the total as 4,766, 4,447 of whom are pledged to HRC or him; there are also 719 super-delegates. The 2383 total needed for nomination is out of HRC's reach by the end of the formal primary season, June 11. As of today, HRC has 1645 pledged delegates to his 1318.
Before the primary season ends, voters in 10 states have yet to weigh in, along with the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam. He will need to win 710, or 65 percent of the 1083 remaining delegates. Sanders expressed optimism about winning in California and, over all, his goals are "tough but not impossible."
"We will fight," he said.
Among the 719 super-delegates, HRC has amassed 520 while his total is only 7 percent in this category (ca. 50). In states where his victories were substantial if not landslides, he said, he should have won far more super-delegates. In Washington state, for example, where he won 73 percent of the votes, he won zero super-delegates while HRC won 10 (with seven more still undecided). These superdelegates' behavior is undemocratic--"they should honor the will of the people."
In Minnesota he won three super-delegates, compared to HRC's 11, even though he trounced her by 46 pledged delegates to her 31.
Sanders then listed differences between his views and HRC's: on trade policy, Wall Street priorities, the minimum wage, carbon tax, and multinational corporations paying their fair share of taxes. But both Democrats agree that a victory by Trump or any of his GOP rivals would be "a disaster."
Many of HRC's super-delegates. who committed themselves to her before he entered the race. should reconsider, he said. All of them should consider who will actually win the November race. "The evidence is clear that I would win," he said. "Every national and state poll" gives him a larger margin over Trump than HRC would win.
Moreover, evidence from swing states indicates that he would defeat Trump by "larger margins" than HRC would.
When many, many people come out to vote, Democrats win, he reminded us. The reverse is also true. The GOP triumphs when fewer people vote. In 2014, for example, 63 percent of the population stayed home from the polls and the GOP therefore won the open offices by a substantial margin.
He pointed to the "energy and excitement" that came to life among young populations when he entered the race, which could generate sorely needed wins in Congress and among state governorships.
Super-delegates must reconsider, he concluded. We need their support.
Responding to questions that followed, Sanders promised again to do everything he could to get a Democrat into the White House in November.
As to his legacy? He wants to be remembered as a "very good president of the United States."
Another crucial subject was the independents shut off from closed primaries, as occurred in New York. He would have beaten HRC in open primaries in most of the relevant states, he said. Independents do come out to vote in large numbers and their own numbers are growing. This disadvantage he'd fight to change, he said. [Among the 16 remaining primaries, only four are open and two are mixed.]
He also promised to work hard against Trump.
Seventeen primaries won as of May 1--"I'm proud of it," he concluded. Then Senator Sanders ended the conference, headed for a flight to Indiana.
22 April 2016: Congressional Briefing, April 21, 2016:
"It is democracy time!" were words that led into this historic congressional briefing, "How Voter Suppression Efforts Are Threatening Our Democracy." Sponsors were the National Election Defense Coalition and Transformative Justice Coalition. The moderator of the distinguished panel and members of the Congressional Black Caucus was Barbara Arnwine, former Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and presently co-sponsor of the Transformative Justice Coalition. What does the dismal handling of the primaries and caucuses held so far bode for the U.S. Congress?
Arnwine listed members of the Caucus who were present: Reps. John Conyers (former Chair of the House Judiciary Committee), Sheila Jackson Lee, Terry Sewell, Marc Veasey, Maxine Waters, Elijah Cummings, Hank Johnson, and others. 2016 marks the fifth year of intensive voter suppression. Long lines have marred proceedings in so many of the primaries and caucuses. Too many provisional ballots have been filled out because voter names have been mistakenly or purposely removed from lists.
New York should not be high on your list of places to vote. There is no early voting, and registration for primaries, specifying partisan affiliations, this year was required in September proceeding last November. For some reason partisan affiliations were somehow often flipped and independents were not allowed to vote in this closed primary anyway. Brooklyn represented the nadir location: 125,000 names had been removed, 65,000 names added. Some gullible people were even told to vote on their iPhones.
Arnwine exhorted Congress to act; people must debate and repeal voter suppression; democracy must become more inclusive. Victims were "people who wanted to vote," she reiterated three times, herself the author of the Map of Shame, which depicts voter repression legislation state by state. (http://www.aflcio.org/Multimedia/Infographics/Map-of-Shame-Vote-Suppression-Legislation-by-State).
The scheduled moderator, Roland S. Martin, award-winning TV1News!Now anchor, was unable to stay after proudly announcing that Mississippi's state flag, which contains an image of the Confederate flag, was pulled down today. He introduced the first speaker, the distinguished head of the North Carolina NAACP, Rev. William Barber, founder of Moral Mondays, "protests [in North Carolina spanning] many wide ranging issues under the blanket claim of unfair treatment, discrimination, and adverse effects of government legislation on the citizens [there]."
"This is a season where the doves were crying," said Barber. "Voting Rights attacks are blasphemy!" The right to vote was obtained through blood and self-sacrifice. The Voting Rights Act was expanded five times before being gutted in 2013 by the Supreme Court in the Shelby County v Holder decision--a "constitutional and moral travesty." As a result, the worst attacks on voting rights have occurred since the nineteenth century. The South was freed to pass all the suppressive legislation and measures it wanted to: Texas jumped in the next day, with North Carolina passing the "worst, meanest" legislation soon after. 1.3 million qualified citizens could be kept from voting in November. One state university was cut in half by redistricting, so that the power of student votes, usually liberal, was diluted. Meanwhile Texas, which excels in other areas benefiting we the people, now ranks last in the country in the area of voting rights, Rep. Veasey later added. 25 percent of African Americans there were likely not to have the required voter ID and would be forced to vote provisionally. A bipartisan panel of judges proved that these impediments evidenced purposeful discrimination.
"If you have the South, you have the nation," said Barber.
James Crow, Esquire, is back on the scene, in lawyer's attire. Forty North Carolina cities had been subject to Section 5 preclearance and had required it many times. Election 2016 will be the first unprotected general election since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. All progress made since then was eradicated "in one fell swoop." Unconstitutional legislation is being passed by unconstitutional legislatures.
In North Carolina, same-day registration was eliminated, the early voting period was shortened, voting the straight party ticket was no longer permitted, as was registration by high school students preparing to vote. Fifty thousand pages documented all of the new repression.
And legislators in the Tar Heel State acknowledged happily that retrogression was now legal.
"The South must rise again but in a new way," said Barber. Moral Mondays must now encompass all seven days of the week.
He quoted FDR: "The ultimate rulers of the United States are . . . the people of this country."
The Bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act, along with the Voters' Rights Advancement Act and others, has been written, aimed at states that discriminate, obviously many Southern states but also others, given recent primary events in Wisconsin, and most lately three counties in New York City that had been previously subject to preclearance, as was Arizona, another locus of primary disasters.
Although Congress was in recess a few hours before the briefing was held, those members of the Congressional Black Caucus who attended were praised for resisting the temptation to jump on the next plane homeward.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee praised Chairman Conyers, who "walked the walk and talked the talk."
The city of Houston, buried under a flood while pouring rain continues, has not yet been declared a disaster area. This must happen soon. Consider that all of these victims have lost all of the IDs necessary to permit them to vote, another participant added later.
The Voting Rights Act represents the principle One Person, One Vote rather than expanding opportunities for African Americans to vote, said Lee. She quoted Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg that polio, though not seen, reeks tremendous harm. Opponents are suing President Obama; Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, still functional, is expensive to enforce since the burden of proof rests with the Department of Justice rather than defendants.
"We are in jail when we don't have voting rights."
Texas justified its changes on the basis of depleted funding--1.3 million were kept from voting, that is, .7 to 2.4 percent according to the New York Times statistician Nate Silver.
Ari Berman, columnist on voting rights for The Nation since 2011 and now recent author of the acclaimed history of voting rights Give Us the Ballot listed outrageous details and anecdotal information about voter suppression, including Holocaust survivors unable to vote because their birth certificates had been burned. Section 5 is our polio vaccine and armor against suppression, protecting and providing for veterans and other victimized groups: blacks, Latinos, other underprivileged populations, seniors, college students, felons, and handicapped populations, among others, he said. Seventeen new states, among them swing states, will have new regulations obstructing their voting experience in November, which could impact 16 million citizens. Among the twenty-one presidential debates held so far, no mention was made of the voting rights crisis. Opponents like Chief Justice John Roberts have labored for years to repeal the Voting Rights Act, he said, since the tenure of President Reagan. While Sen. Strom Thurmond headed the Judiciary Committee, President Ronald Reagan signed a continuation of the Voting Rights Act, he recalled. Added support for this "crown jewel" came from Sens. Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole.
Chairman John Conyers expressed his agreement with all that had been said and traced his own entry into Congress to inspiration he drew from Martin Luther King in the sixties. He had been a practicing attorney but then he aimed for the House Judiciary Committee, where he later became Chair and then Ranking Member--he was on that committee when the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.
Section 5 must be revised, repaired, and bulletproofed against the Supreme Court, he said. Anyone wearing the pin "Register to Vote" risked their lives. We must fix Section 5, making voter registration easier, protecting early voting, using mail-in ballots, bringing back same-day registration. . . . Voter fraud is not the problem, but the low participation this myth has engendered will definitely cut into voter participation in November.
House Speaker Paul Ryan pledged his support to Conyers, Rep. Terri Sewell added later.
Rep. Maxine Waters emphasized the importance of the millennial generation to the future of voting rights--through use of social media they can get everyone out to vote, she said. At every college graduation, each student should be handed a voter registration card along with his/her diploma. This generation must work hard to keep Donald Trump or Ted Cruz out of the White House.
"Get mad and say you're stopping them. Bring guns!!!"
"We're on fire!" exclaimed Arnwine.
Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama hails from Selma, she told a rapt audience. "We stand on the shoulders of so many," she said. She named the hashtags #restorethevote and #vote as important sources. She praised Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) for asserting in a New York Times op en that if he had a choice between winning by means of voter suppression and stepping down, he'd step down [this ally does believe in voter fraud and opposes ACORN and its offspring, btw].
In 2012, because of voter ID restrictions, 250,000 were disenfranchised in Alabama where, in the interest of "budget cuts," department of motor vehicle locations in heavily African American communities were virtually eliminated or else open at inconvenient hours perhaps once a month.
She encouraged us to join the Twitter storm this coming Tuesday, April 26, between 2 and 3 pm.
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) raised the issue of outdated election systems technology. We're still voting on machinery that was state of the art in 2002, he said. The "old stuff" [namely HCPB, hand-counted paper ballots] is more reliable. Why are pre-election polls so inaccurate compared with actual totals announced when voting is completed? he wondered. Accurate recounts are impossible.
Another act is crucial: the 2016 VOTE Act (Verifying the Optimal Tools for Elections). What is needed now is appropriation by states of funding to buy new voting equipment and to train polling officials to be sure that systems work reliably, according to best practices and procedures.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said that under Gov. Martin O'Malley his state had been working on a subway line for 10 years, because 60 percent of the people there lack cars. The newly elected Republican governor Lawrence Hogan Jr. shut down the project, eliminating 9,000 jobs and the potential businesses that could have grown up around the new subway station locations. The state lost a $2 billion federal grant as a result. "We must do disruptive things," said the Congressman. "Why stand in line to vote?" "Why vote on a ballot that will be thrown out?" . . . . .
I wish I had the space and time to quote and describe all of the insightful words spoken by such distinguished representatives of the Election Integrity community.
Professor Bob Fitrakis, also attorney, PhD, and activist based in Columbus, Ohio, informed us that former President Jimmy Carter told a reporter from the German version of Time magazine, Der Spiegel, that the United States has no functional democracy. Among the 47 Democratic nations in the world, this country ranks 47th in terms of accuracy and integrity of elections. "Why not 47?" ask members of the GOP. I must recall that in my 2012 book Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols there is mention that one GOP secretary of state showed no concern when back in the early 2000s her state ranked lowest in the nation in terms of quality and effectiveness of elections.
Fitrakis pointed out the alarming reality of the huge disparateness among election systems, including methods of voter roll purging. For example, between 2004 and 2008 1.2 million voters were purged in Ohio because they hadn't voted in two previous, successive federal elections. In four GOP-dominant counties, 118 percent of the populace were registered since purging hadn't occurred, a figure that was reduced in 2012. The 2 million purged votes racked up under the tenure of Secretary of State Jon Husted (2010-) has set a record.
Fitrakis recalled the flipping of the winning vote total in Ohio from Kerry to Bush in 2004 by means of a complicated man-in-the-middle system that restructured the vote count by means of a GOP server located in Chattanooga, Tennessee--Kerry had been up by 3 percent and then suddenly fell behind Bush by 2.5 percent, figures belied by an exit poll that counted Kerry as winner. And the same system flipped votes from Kerry to Bush in other battleground states that year.
But perhaps most outrageously, he stated, Florida and Ohio aren't really swing states. The huge amounts of corruption bring vote totals far closer than they really are--a nightmare for the future, if not recent past, of what's left of our democracy.
Then there is crosschecking among computerized state voter databases: if one man named Michael Jackson is a felon, off go all other Michael Jacksons from the voter rolls of crosschecking states. Partisanship among election system vendors adds to the brick wall of repression. Fitrakis's forthcoming book, written with Harvey Wasserman, The "Strip and Flip" Election of 2016: Voter Suppression, Electronic Vote Rigging and Other Jim Crow Tactics, details the corruption we can look forward to in November and what needs to be done to achieve that oasis, clean elections. Among many other bullet points, Fitrakis specified the need for a Constitutional guarantee that all qualified citizens have the right to vote; restoration of voting rights to all felons and ex-felons; and banning of all paperless voting machinery, DREs, still being used in this country. About 25 percent of systems still in use are DREs.
"Nothing changes without controversy," said Fitrakis, quoting Confucius. "We have to occupy government offices."
This atrocity must be rectified by Congress! asserted Alejandra Gomez of the Latino rights group Living United for Change in Arizona. 180,000 provisional ballots were tossed. Youth, so essential to the future of Election Integrity, will wonder, Will my vote count? and Why attempt to vote at all?
She specified the reduction of polling locations from 200 to 60 for the Arizona primaries, attributing the resulting chaos to this "money-saving" decision and the substitution of "voting centers" for precincts, meant to reduce confusion over where to vote, officials said. But the chaos and long lines stretched over blocks, made parking impossible, and created traffic jams that led to polls staying open past midnight until the last in line cast her vote--but not the last person who had attempted to vote and had either given up or been prevented from joining the lines.
Arizona is no longer a "safe space." Latinos are "hunted, jailed, detained, deported.' Her group has completed 10,000s of registrations and plans to completed 90,000 before November 2016.
Professor Lindsay Nielson of the University of California at San Diego spoke about a report she co-authored that was the most rigorous study of voter ID laws to date. She said that as of 2016, 33 states require some form of voter ID, which will involve 59 percent of the voting population. Strict ID laws are the most repressive, though they have no effect on white voters. But 11 states--that is, 28 percent of the voting population, will have this category of ID requirement. With strict ID laws, in general elections, Hispanic votes fall by five points, as do Asian American votes; those of multi-racial voters fall by seven points. The full report, available online, is titled "Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Voters."
The most recent vote flip occurred during the New York primary, noted Barbara Arnwine as she wrapped up the lengthy and well-attended congressional briefing. According to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, Ben Carson was first listed as ahead of Ted Cruz and then suddenly the two candidates were flipped so that Cruz came out ahead. Maddow had no explanation for this phenomenon reported days after the primary.
This is just the beginning," concluded Arnwine. "We must raise questions and close everything down until the issue is solved."
12 April 2016: Democracy Spring: Rally behind Police Lines in front of Capitol: Day 2
Yesterday hundreds of U.S. citizens who had come from all parts of the country peacefully, nonviolently sat on the steps of Our Nation's Capitol building to protest against the invasion of our democracy by plutocracy, a potentially lethal ailment. But they're fighting.
Yesterday, 400 of them were arrested, handcuffed, bussed to police stations, forced to wait for hours in a long line (sound familiar?), fined $50 each, and then let go.
"Another world is possible/We are unstoppable," was the first chant I heard today (I couldn't be there yesterday because my bones break when police grab me--no kidding). The sun was shining, a gentle breeze was blowing, the trees were in full bloom, and the circa 100 people were mellow and smiling as I infiltrated their space. But first I broke police lines to take some photos before being told by mellow, smiling police to join the crowds.
"Money out/Voters in!" was another chant.
Each day of Democracy Spring will have a different theme. Yesterday was about politics. Today was dedicated to "elders," "our teachers." There were several in attendance, some holding folding chairs. One of them led us in singing Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," but the "youngsters''' interest was quickly diverted. The median age was around 30.
"Thank you!" was now a repeated chant extended to the elders.
"Does this remind you of Occupy?" I asked one participant. "What's next? Will you continue through Election Day?"
My answer was as hopeful as youth and the eternally young (boomers like me): The movement should expand in numbers and locations.
"Money out/voters in!" rang out another chant. There were more varieties of chant than signs--artwork wasn't the point this time around. Message was.
I noticed a man in a spiffy tailored suit among the jeans-clad crowd and had to go over to question him. "What's a suit doing here?" He was with two others, representing the group "The Most Influential Man in America," dedicated to routing "unlimited corporate spending in American politics." I was reminded of the parodic group Billionaires for Bush, who attended anti-Iraq war Apach in tuxedos holding champagne glasses.
I spoke with a North Carolinian who had migrated from Arizona, a former (recovering?) government employee. He'd had no trouble voting as a middle-class white, he noted sardonically. He had known AUDIT-AZ (election integrity) activist John Roberts Brakey in the Grand Canyon State. In North Carolina, companies were leaving because of the draconian legislation taking over, not just in the realm of stringent voter requirements that leave out the "usual suspects," those unable to produce picture IDS like driver's licenses or passports. Who among the underprivileged classes has either one?
Two senior women I spoke with, from Wilmington, Delaware, delawaregetmoneyout.com, said that their activist interests spanned the realm of progressive issues, including GMOs, the environment, "quality of life for people," "all causes."
Their state had attempted to add a constitutional amendment requiring the end of the Citizens United poison that is daily, gradually, sadistically increasing its chokehold. 70 percent of Americans want to get rid of Citizens United, they said. "Nothing will change until we get money out of politics!"
I met an Apache named Rain from western Texas, "Apache land." He said he didn't want to be identified as a Native American, just an Apache.
Another former defense contractor for Northrop Grummond and Lockheed told me he had "lived his life asleep" until joining 99 Rise and marching from Los Angeles to San Francisco. He was one of the Democracy Spring marchers, identified by green bracelets, who had started out in Philadelphia and marched to DC, though he had joined up in Baltimore. "Amazing people!" he said of his group. Then he added that he was unemployed and would probably never get a job again after this participation.
Another person had been among the Supreme Court 7 who had attended the hearing of the infamous 2013 McCutcheon v FEC case that had increased Citizen United's largesse to the top one percent so that individuals could donate even more to candidates than previously. He was still on probation for having stood up in the balcony and expressed his objections to more money pouring into politics, for all of one minute. Wow, what a feeling to pierce the silence of that sacrosanct place, he told me. A specialty police force was in charge. He and other outspoken colleagues were seized by an arm twisted behind them and hauled down to the "bowels" of the august building that hovered behind the rally today.
They were interrogated and then taken to jail, to sleep with specialty cockroaches on what he described as a metal tray (!) and then released then next afternoon. U.S. v Bronstein is the name of the ongoing case. This man was again arrested yesterday but not penalized further for his participation.
The more famous group was the Supreme Court 7, who had exhibited similar behavior while Citizens United was being argued. No wonder there is a special brand of police for SCOTUS.
&nb Isp;The chants were interrupted by another megaphoned voice proclaiming his love for Jesus, who he reminded us is coming back.
Another person complained about the lack of mainstream media coverage. I managed to spot both CBS and ABC taking some footage and sound bytes. There was also a pair from a Netherlands TV station. When I asked them if they were here just for this event, they said no, they were traveling all over the U.S. to make a ten-part series on different aspects of this country. Dutch humor? I was told that Swedish reporters had also done some coverage.
Said another woman, "I believe that we will win."
I was gratified by mention of the need for clean voting, a cause I have work on for years. A few signs proclaimed this.
I wanted to stay all day. Everything was so beautiful and friendly and I had been transported into . . . what democracy looks like.
A good answer to the refrain "Tell me what democracy looks like!" Too bad there were police barriers and a crowd of them next to the Capitol to "protect" it, as if that, and not the people, were in need of protection, and a lot more.
"Money out of politics"/"Democracy will be the fix!"
That's my contribution. Words, UnLtd. is my megaphone.
16 March 2016: Drumpf, Cruz, and Sanders: Politics-As-Usual or Better or Worse?
We all know that Donald Trump has received more coverage than any other primary/caucus candidate. I found out the real reason this morning: he brings in more money to the media. The public is buying more Rice Krispies when he's on than when Bernie Sanders is on, for instance.
Could another reason be that he's so rich, one of the below-1- percent? Perish the thought! You don't mean to say that Sanders is correct that politicians are being purchased? Even Trump? That money is power? Even Trump won't be able to self-finance in a presidential campaign. What comes next? Coals to Newcastle that could be so much better spent. Who's the most vocal about it? The truth?
I'm not composing a campaign pitch for Bernie. The truth is sometimes the hardest thing to face--do we really want it? It's the toughest challenge. Why not go with the guy with the glitzy Florida palace? Why not go with his promises--will he carry them out once in power as the greatest power in the world?
Trump spoke to Mitch McConnell yesterday. Wow. McConnell told him, according to a wry MSNBC report, to dispense with violence during his rallies. Don't encourage it and say you'd do it yourself. Punches in the face etc. That's something--Trump getting a powerful right wing force to advocate against violence. It's a start in the right direction.
Where will it lead? Will Trump listen to the Congress if he is elected? He has an irreverent precedent in--shhh--G.W. Bush calling the Constitution a piece of paper. Trump may rip up the original, given the chance, and engineer a revolution that may even drop the jaw of . . . Ted Cruz, another revolutionary. No one likes the IRS, but as a "job creator," Cruz will be destroying the livelihoods of thousands of IRS employees with secure insurance and pension plans. Ouch. What will he do with them? As of 2007, this employee force numbered 92,033.
What scares me the most is that, as awful as he is, we can trust that Cruz will attempt to keep his campaign promises while we don't know what Trump will be up to.
And the one guy being squashed by politics-as-usual is telling the truth, the sole statesman among these candidates. He will certainly do his best, if elected or even if not elected, to honor his campaign promises. Amazing that he got as far as he did. His campaign promises entail the toughest challenge of them all--democracy, a very, very hard job for all of us. All of us would have to roll up our sleeves to do this job, rule by the people, all of us.
No wonder his wins are powered by a generation with the energy to do this work, which would inspire all of us. Their energy might accomplish a minimum wage of $15 per hour, freeing others now working double shifts at Walmart and McDonald's to pitch in, not that $15 per hour is necessarily a living wage. It's just a huge improvement over what's going on now and will hopefully not be accompanied by an inflation.
Bernie wants to put us all to work. He has one of the lowest net worths of anyone in Congress, despite a generous salary from the government as U.S. Senator. And yet he can't be bought.
Maybe this is a pitch for Sanders after all and maybe I'm preaching to the choir.
But on March 15, the Ides, my personal life went well and I waited for the warning to take shape and it did: worse than politics-as-usual with all of those Trump wins and Sanders losses.
Yesterday I purchased a designer Bernie shirt I will wear with pride no matter what happens next.
25 February 2016: Is Campaign Lying Now Legal in Ohio? Is It Illegal Anywhere?
For 42 years in Ohio it has been illegal for political campaigns and independent political organizations to lie, according to a 1974 state law, which the Wall Street journal called "a post-Watergate law aimed at cleaning up the political process" or, more specifically, prohibiting "a false statement concerning the voting record of a candidate or public official or distributing information about an opponent that is known to be false or with reckless disregard for the truth," according to The Columbus Dispatch.
But is it unconstitutional to limit free speech?
In 2014, SCOTUS ruled that a case could be tried in the Buckeye State to challenge the 1974 state law, and today The Columbus Dispatch reports that the the lawsuit was successful, after an initial U.S. Circuit Court trial in 2014 and an appeal to the same court in 2016.
In these judges' unanimous decision, it's o.k. to lie in political campaigns. It's "political speech."
But the defendants said that it was too early to issue a definitive statement on the controversy.
"It's a big, big day for speech," said one of the attorneys who fought for the plaintiffs.
It's unlikely that the case will be accepted by SCOTUS in a further appeal. The Dispatch's Jack Torry interpreted the Court's 2014 decision as supporting the plaintiffs.
The two plaintiffs in 2014 and 2016 were the Susan B. Anthony List and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST).The Susan B. Anthony List, according to Wikipedia, is a "non-profit organization that seeks to reduce and ultimately end abortion." COAST, per the same source, "actively opposes tax levies in southwestern Ohio."
The suit originated in 2010, after passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), when the Susan B. Anthony List had wanted to pay for a billboard advertisement accusing then-U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus, D-Cincinnati, "of supporting the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions after he had voted in support of the federal law," according to Tory. Driehaus filed a complaint against the conservative organizations, that they were violating the 1974 law. The billboard owner refused to post the accusation. It was, in fact, never posted. Driehaus dropped the case after being defeated in his 2010 bid for re-election. But the two conservative organizations continued the suit, supported by, among others, the ACLU, which is committed to defending First Amendment rights even in a situation where it opposed the politics of the Susan B. Anthony List.
11 February 2016: REVIEW: Stacey Hunter Hecht and David Schultz, Swing States: Why Only Ten Matter"
"There is really no national presidential election; it takes place in 50 states plus the District of Columbia."--Hecht and Schultz
This riveting, excellently edited collection of essays on ten swing states and two others, "pre-swing" and "post-swing," is well preceded by two richly explanatory introductions and a conclusion that lend clear perspectives to the whole. The balance of the book focuses on what the volume editors consider the ten swing states that these days decide presidential elections. The other states, plus the District of Columbia, eagerly watch the race and at the same time concentrate down ballot on others who can support their favorite candidate at both the campaign and subsequent, crucial level[s]. So their incentive to vote is still strong.
One shouldn't tell these others to stay home this November. Even those in the taxed but under-represented District of Columbia. Professor Schultz also notes that a visit from one candidate on behalf of a down-ballot co-partisan may actually do more harm than good. 
Definitions are of course crucial and are clarified soon after the first paragraphs. What is a swing state? It is one that changes partisan affiliation often in presidential elections; it is one whose own elections are close; it is also called a battleground (also called "competitive") state, where candidates campaign the most frequently, and a bellwether state when its decisions are identical with the country's ultimate presidential choices. Ohio and Nevada have assumed this status most recently, each one accurately voting for the winning candidate the most often in recent history, and each has selected the "wrong" candidate only once during that time. In addition, no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio, therefore the ultimate bellwether state.
The introduction contains a history of the use of the term "swing state," which first appeared in the New York Times and spread from there in the 2000s. It also focuses on the new expression "purple state," a product of the proliferation of the distinction between "red" and "blue" states, also in the 2000s. Purple is a mixture of these two: Iowa, for example, contains Democrats and Independents in its urban eastern side and Republicans in its rural west. Party affiliations divide evenly into thirds: Republican, Democratic, and Independent. Through nonpartisan redistricting and ease of changing partisan affiliations depending on the candidates, Iowa has evolved from a red state to a purple state. As the first state in the union to caucus, it is crucial and focal and candidates flock to it early and often, as they do to New Hampshire, where the first primaries are held soon after Iowa's caucuses. The Granite State also evolved to purple from red, but for different reasons! All of the press attracted by these "first state" statuses mobilizes voters. In New Hampshire, demographics have shifted as aging boomers and yuppies have moved in but commute to Massachusetts. These populations trend Democratic, away from the state's traditional red status, and fully 40 percent of voters declare themselves to be Independents.
But there have always been competitive states, as Rob Richie and his research institute Fairvote have observed. Why now is the term so ubiquitous and definitive? One answer is that there is a "decline in the real number of states that are competitive where either one of the major party candidates has a real chance of winning." No more whistle-stop train trips throughout the country with hat-tips to all Americans. It should be cheaper to campaign in fewer states, but expenditures have massively burgeoned, due in part to the Citizens United decision, due in part to the increasing polarization between the parties. Ballots or bills? That's a name I have assigned to this throbbing tension. Ballots are how Democrats largely fight, while the Republicans rely on their massive bank accounts, more globalized, at the same time doing all they can to reduce the number of Democratic voters.
The real decider, of course, the bottom line that defines swinging, is electoral votes, not popular votes, though the editors allow for the possibility of swinging in the latter scenario. Only four times in history, three times in the nineteenth century and once in the twenty-first, has the presidency gone to the winner of electoral votes whose opponent has won the popular vote. Many believe that John Kerry won Ohio's electoral votes in 2004 but was cheated out of them through various behind-the scene digital as well as above-ground devices, which would bring the total to five.
But the volume editors conclude, after quoting numerous definitions, that "the concept swing state is not precisely defined" (but another political scientist uses the terms "critical states" or "close states" and still another uses the term "tight state." Then there is the term "marginal" and the description "state where the presidential election in a state is won by 5 percent of votes or fewer." The editors then focus on swing voters and another rich conversation follows--their numbers in this country are increasing and "it is the swing voter who controls the balance of power in elections." There are probably as many terms for swing voters as there are for swing states, with the same subtle variations as discussed above. "Undecided," "nonpartisan," "another party," and "unaffiliated" are just a few.
Ultimately, "[a] swing state is more than a state that is competitive or a battleground state." It is a state whose presidential election results are hard to predict and one with "a proven track record of actually having flipped back and forth in terms of going for a Democrat or a Republican candidate in recent presidential elections." Four criteria follow for which states were chosen as swing states in this study: briefly, "competitive," "bellwether," "flips (due to "unstable partisan conditions")," and "battleground" features. They were measured for the period 1988-2012, a time period when their number shrank to around 10 and stayed at that number. They constitute 115 electoral votes, or 42.5 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency. During a president's first term, they are somewhat likely to be the recipients of political favors, write the editors.
These ten states are Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Iowa. Missouri used to be one and Indiana may become one, and so discussions of these two are also included to illustrate how a state joins the swing category or exits from it.
Chapter 1, Scott L. McLean's "Purple Battlegrounds," discusses the overall issues further. The opposite of a swing state is a landslide, or "uncompetitive" state. Where the winning margin exceeds 10 percent, we have a "blowout state." Election 2012 was a "blowout win," but not a landslide--four states were awarded to the winner by less than five percentage points: Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina, the smallest numbers in modern history. Other recent elections with similar but larger numbers were landslides.
Such history, besides being fascinating, is eye-opening. The history of the Electoral College is included, briefly; Tocqueville is quoted--campaign seasons are like storms, "confined to the most competitive states," paraphrases McLean, while calm reigns throughout the rest of the country. More history follows. Riveting. Campaign strategies don't necessarily center around swing states. Remember, the number of a state's electoral votes also matters, making Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes, a battleground state even though its electoral votes have gone to the Democratic presidential candidate since 1992. Recall the priceless anecdote about the Republican state house speaker who rejoiced when he thought voter ID would be required in the Quaker State in 2012. Then, surely, Romney would win the state, he proclaimed. The law was thrown out.
Witness the long lines of people waiting to vote in the New Hampshire primaries this year, not to mention the huge lines of traffic. Swing states attract more voters because they receive the huge majority of attention from the "major party" campaigns while the other states are ignored. That amounted to 39 states plus the District of Columbia in 2012, what are referred to sometimes as "spectator states" also. Swing states tend to be evenly divided between the red and blue parties. FairVote's definition of a swing state is one where "the presidential vote totals are between 47% and 53% of the candidate's national percentage of the vote," according to McLean. The number of swing states is declining. The number of Independent voters is rising but the campaigns would be addressing the future rather than the present by focusing efforts on them where they reside in uncompetitive (there's another term!) states. Independents in swing states are another story. There are larger numbers of independent voters in swing states than in others. In New Hampshire's 2016 primary, many voters remained undecided up to the moment they voted. I met a man in DC swinging between Sanders and Trump. No Kasich. No Clinton.
What would happen if the Electoral College were eliminated in favor of the popular vote? McLean warns readers to be careful what they wish for. Campaigns would focus on regions, like central Florida's I-4 (see below), rather than the whole country. Every vote would still not count equally. The buck rather than the ballot would still be the dark cloud preying on democracy. "They would begin to focus the most [on] densely populated areas, or on regions where they find high percentages of hardcore partisans as well as persuadable independents that can be mobilized on election day."
Among the other chapters, each swing state is turned inside-out to determine the causes of this descriptor--they are sometimes comparable, as listed above, and shifting demographics figure into many profiles, but each contains unique features. In addition to focusing on "swing" factors and origins, each chapter discusses the state's political history and other important traits and how all of these subjects will affect the outcome of Election 2016. There are endnotes, recommended readings, as well as ample bibliographies.
Chapters are rich with tables and graphs. The first table lists "Number of Competitive Presidential States per Election: 1960-2012." Another studies elections since World War I decided by less than five percentage points. The last in the book records Hoosiers' attitudes toward a list of issues. They are surprisingly left-leaning for a state that doesn't swing. But the volume editors predict that it will, on the basis of this gauge as well as others. The first graph compares the Democratic presidential nominee's share of the vote nationwide and in Missouri, 1960-2012. Missouri is "the one that got away," write authors Kenneth Warren and Rafael Jacob, the one that was a swing state and bellwether until 2008 and may, predict the editors, resume this status, so typical is it of the country as a whole in terms of "its urban and rural mix, its Catholic/Protestant and white/black ratios, its size and population, and its location in the middle of America's heartland (quote from the authors)."
The volume authors and editors are all esteemed political scientists from a wide array of colleges and universities.
Mentioned above as indispensable to a Republican presidential victory, the bellwether state Ohio was called "the battleground of battlegrounds" by vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan in 2012. It is true that in the last fourteen elections, the Buckeye State swung between presidential parties seven times. But authors Henriet Hendriks and Bas van Doorn argue that it is better described as a bellwether state than as a "consistent battleground," its results having mirrored the national popular vote in every election since 1964. This country swings. Ohio has been in recent times at the top of every presidential candidate's priorities, but outcomes have not been as close as they are now. Going forward, since 2000 anyway, these candidates will ignore Ohio at their peril.
Except in its number of Hispanics, demographics in Ohio are close to those nationwide (shown in a table)--"incredibly diverse," a microcosm of the country as a whole, with five distinct regions that include major urban centers, midsized cities, as well as rural, suburban, and exurban communities. Elements of its economy range from manufacturing to high tech, large-scale commercial farming, and white-collar industries. From another perspective, the gap between the number of Republicans and Democrats is 0.4 percent more blues than reds, the closest to zero in the country.
Does superstition enter in--the Republican factor, win Ohio or die? Compared with two other large swing states, Florida and Pennsylvania, it has only 18 electoral votes, but receives presidential candidate visits more reliably. And in the final week before Election 2012, the four candidates haunted the Buckeye State 21 times while only once visiting Florida. A table shows the full picture between 1988 and 2012, where among these three major states Ohio has the highest mean number of visits, 25.3, nearly five higher than Florida and a whopping 12 points higher than Pennsylvania.
And the authors see this trend continuing unabated into the near future.
Florida is the most notorious swing state because of the Election 2000 debacle that focused the nation and the world on the allegedly infinitesimal difference between candidate scores that determined the fate of the world. Many factors figure into its swing status, including its hospitable climate and low taxes that lure many including retirees from both liberal and conservative backgrounds. There are also the conservative Cubans and the liberal Jews in southern Florida, who are becoming less liberal as the years pass, though who knows what is to come for them if the elected POTUS in 2016 opposes their entitlements? There are 21 military bases, generally conservative in their voting habits, a growing Hispanic segment and a larger-than-average proportion of African Americans, both heavily liberal. The most swinging part of the state lies along the I-4 corridor in the center of Florida, said to determine the state's electoral votes and attract presidential campaigns from both parties--41 percent of the population there are Republicans.
Moderate, Floridian voters who are registered as unaffiliated are the fastest-growing group in the state, adding further to its swing status, which author Sean D. Foreman predicts is certain to remain consistent in the years to come.
The growth in Evangelical influence in Missouri helped swing it to the right. The increasing Hispanic population in New Mexico, already the largest in the country, combines with its status as one of the poorest states in the union to form a strong Democratic bloc that the author predicts will paint the state consistently blue in the future. This Hispanic growth mirrors that throughout this country in miniature. Smaller Hispanic contingents in Colorado and Nevada, other swing states featured among the chapters, also advantage Democratic candidates.
"A longstanding clash of political cultures" explains Wisconsin's swing-state status, where 40 percent of voters are moderate.
On and on. The book is a gold mine for politics enthusiasts as well as scholars and professionals; American history buffs, conscientious citizens, and any intelligent reader looking for a good book. It may make or break decisions or affiliations. It is an invaluable archive of the five Ws we can look to for predictions or look back on once 2016 results are in.
It's fascinating, each page rife with "did-you-knows."
It's magnetic. You can't put it down.
Deepest gratitude to the volume editors for putting this together at such an important time.
21 January 2016: Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The 19.3 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge supports millions of birds that migrate to all 50 states as well as a wide range of other wildlife. When Congress designated most of the original refuge as wilderness in 1980, it left out the coastal plain. This is a 1.5 million acre region between the Arctic Ocean and the Brooks Range of mountains. Although the coastal plain is the refuge's biological heart and a crucial nesting ground, the threat of oil and gas drilling has hung over the area since then. Congress has introduced several bills that would open up the coastal plain to drilling, which would eliminate crucial habitat and would risk a devastating oil spill.
In January 2015, President Obama called on Congress to protect the Arctic Refuge, a truly special place, and the Alaska Native Communities that depend on it. Bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate that would designate the coastal plain as wilderness, and which would protect the birds and other wildlife from the damage caused by oil drilling, road construction, and other industrial operations.
This area supports more than 150 species of birds, and is home to polar bears, brown bears, musk oxen, wolves, and nearly 200,000 caribou during the calving season. The latter travel 1,500 miles to give birth on these grounds.
Please urge Senator Feinstein to co-sponsor S2341 to provide permanent protection for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Tell her that drilling would eliminate and degrade habitat, risk a devastating oil spill, and contribute to climate change. This would cause further harm to the fragile tundra.Senator Diane Feinstein
331 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510
A former chemistry teacher, Lillian Light served as president of the Palos Verdes/South Bay (California) Audubon Society from 1991 to 1994. She then became conservation chair and writes a column in their newsletter every other month. In early September of 2001 (just before 9/11), together with friends, she started the Environmental Priorities Network, which has run an Earth Day conference the last two Aprils.
21 January 2016: Myth Busting: Voter IDs Have Been Part of the U.S. Landscape since 1970!
Coming upon the above information, that voter IDs as part of the suffrage experience have been around since 1970, was a surprise. I am including below a draft from chapter 1 of my forthcoming book, Ballots or Bill$: The Future of Democracy? Or, Why Does Evil Genius Always Win?
Continental Europe, the UK[i], and other democratic countries throughout the world must look askance at the United States where certain states to this day do not require ID at the polls. Most of these countries' governments issue national IDs used for various purposes including voting.[ii],[iii]
But this form of the idea did not spread to the United States. The voter ID requirement here, first only requested, and then, when required, allowing many different non-photo or photo forms, evolved from there to a very different purpose--to eliminate Democratic voters, who comprise the expanding majority of qualified voters.[iv] The huge majority of those favoring this device are Republicans; witness the first two states to require the strictest form of photo ID, the red states Georgia and Indiana.[v] According to Lorraine Minnite, except in two states, Louisiana and Washington state, the stringent requirement was "enacted only when Republicans achieved unified control over state government."[vi] Devices toward keeping Democrats from voting are numerous and varied but, for the time frame this book covers, voter ID tops them all in terms of the challenge it poses to U.S. democracy and its institutions and governing documents.[vii]
To sum up a sinuous saga in a few words, justification for voter ID rests on the premise that it prevents voter fraud--a specific form of it anyway, in-person impersonation of one voter by another. Study after study has proved that this event is virtually nonexistent.[viii] You are more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit this category of voter fraud, according to research by the Brennan Center for Justice.[ix]
Beginning in 1950 [underlining mine] with South Carolina, five states initiated the necessity for identification at the polls, with or without a photograph. In most cases those lacking ID were allowed to vote if they signed an affidavit swearing that they were who they claimed to be, which had to be confirmed by other voters who knew them. Hawaii, decidedly a blue state, followed South Carolina in 1970, the first state said to have required a photo ID[x]; Texas followed in 1971; then, ironically, progressive Ruben Askew's Florida in 1977; Alaska in 1980; and New Hampshire in 1988. By 2000, fourteen states comprised this group--including Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, and North Dakota--only four of which requested photo-based identification and all of which again permitted voters lacking IDs to sign an affidavit swearing that they were who they claimed to be, which in some states had also to include confirmation by other voters who knew them.[xi],[xii],[xiii]
Late in 2002, with the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), an attempt to provide more uniform and up-to-date voting standards throughout the country, the vote-by-mail (VBM) ID requirement, for first-time voters, was codified for the first time as not requiring but accepting a valid, current photo ID or instead, far more accessible documents such as a "utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter."[xiv] Without these documents, the voter must proceed with a provisional ballot.[xv]
HAVA's influence was apparent in 2004, when Arizona attempted a dual voter ID requirement.[xvi] Potential voters were to present proof of citizenship to register and then a photo ID to receive a ballot at the polls. Proposition 200, as the relevant regulation, voted in by the public, was called, did not become an issue until the next federal election, in 2006, when actual implementation caused problems. Opponents to the measure claimed that it violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in that it had the potential to discriminate against ethnic groups.
A month before Election Day 2006, the two requirements were suspended by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, but then, after another two weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated them.[xvii] Litigation continued through 2013, when a Supreme Court decision of 7-2 eliminated the registration requirement of proof of citizenship in federal elections, finding it incompatible with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Where a federal election is concerned, federal law trumps state law.[xviii] But, as of 2014, litigation favoring the proof of citizenship requirement continues for state and municipality-based elections in Kansas and Arizona, because of the influx of immigrants from Mexico and through Mexico from farther south.
The first governmen-issued photo ID requirement in Indiana became law in 2005, taking its cue from a recommendation issued by the Carter-Baker [nonpartisan] Commission in 2005.[xix],[xx] This more stringent requirement had appeared earlier that year in Georgia.[xxi] The Indiana requirement was challenged all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008, which returned the verdict that the voter ID requirement is constitutional.[xxii] Both states' relevant laws were activated and became operative.[xxiii]
As discussed in Chapter 2, two justices, one at the district court level and the other a SCOTUS Justice, had second thoughts about their decisions in favor of the measure.[xxiv] Even after the April 28, 2008, Supreme Court decision, the voter ID law was once again challenged that same year by the League of Women Voters on June 20, and discord persists to this day.[xxv]. . .
All told, between the passage of HAVA in 2002 and the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the number of states requiring voter ID shot up to 24. Besides Indiana, Georgia, and Arizona's attempt, others joining this group were Alabama[xxx], Colorado, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Washington state. Three other states among the first group "tightened" their requirements: Florida, Georgia, and Missouri.[xxxi] Lorraine Minnite writes that HAVA's seemingly buried and minimal ID requirement for first-time voters by mail was specified as not meant to limit lower-level governmental units from establishing additional, stricter administrative and technological provisions as officials saw fit,[xxxii] and that they did--their first target voter ID before they turned to limitations on early voting, same-day registration and, with these, other forms of partisan, self-serving finagling that will be highlighted below.[xxxiii]
But according to the Brennan Center, "between 2006 and 2011 no state passed a photo ID [underlining mine] law."[xxxiv] Between 2002 and 2009, in some states other categories of voter ID did not become law because it was blocked by state legislatures. Most notoriously, perhaps, in Wisconsin then state legislator Scott Walker (governor since 2010) first made this a project in 2002. It was vetoed three times between then and 2005 by the governor, Jim Doyle, a Democrat. The similar law in Kansas was vetoed in 2008 by its Democratic governor, Kathleen Sebelius. Other states with similar scenarios were Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Rhode Island.
But between the January 2010 SCOTUS rulings on Citizens United v FEC and SpeechNow.org v FEC (see above, Chapter 2, on these) and the strong ideological influence wielded by the Tea Party, as well as dissatisfaction with the Affordable Care Act, the economy, and other lower-profile accomplishments of the Obama administration, Election 2010 handed the House of Representatives over to the Republicans, who also gained several seats in the Senate (see Chapter 2 above and Chapter 5 below). The GOP also made sizeable gains among state legislatures--domination over twelve new states, for a total of 26 states to Democrats' 17, with five legislatures split--and governors--12 new Republicans now occupied the capital mansions so that the GOP was in full command over 21 states, compared to the Democrats' 11.[xxxv]
It was therefore no coincidence that in 2011 a large swath of states either passed for the first time or tightened already-extant voter ID legislation. In 2011, at least 34 state legislatures considered the photo voter ID requirement. . . .
[i] Including, as cited at http://www.bradblog.com/?p=10838, Germany, UK, Spain, Belgium, France, Greece, and Italy. "Most European countries . . . hold their elections on Sunday," according to R. Michael Alvarez and others writing for the Caltech-MIT Voting Project ("Voter Opinions about Election Reform: Do They Support Making Voting More Convenient?" VTP Working Paper #98, July 14, 2010, page 7 and reference there). Other democracies have their election days spread over weekends, not the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Minnesota, uniquely in this country, "guarantees citizen time off from their jobs to vote without penalties or reductions in their pay, personal leave or vacation time," Eric Black, "Why Is Turnout So Low in U.S. Elections? We Make It More Difficult to Vote than Other Democracies," MinnPost, October 1, 2014, http://www.minnpost.com/eric-black-ink/2014/10/why-turnout-so-low-us-elections-we-make-it-more-difficult-vote-other-democrac (unfortunately, this URL doesn't work, but googling the author and title will access this excellent article. It is important to note that the various democratic governments throughout the world that issue free voter IDs are not necessarily federal; often governments of smaller municipalities handle this. In some countries other than ours, voting is compulsory and voters are fined for not showing up. Four of these countries, Italy, Belgium, Greece, and Australia, boast a large voter turnout; three other countries have compulsory turnouts. Canada and eleven other democracies allow felons to vote from prison, as do Maine and Vermont (which, by the way, have the largest percentage of white voters in the country, Christopher Uggen and Sarah Shannon, "State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 2010," July 2012, http://sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/fd_State_Level_Estimates_of_Felon_Disen_2010.pdf). Voting for felons who have paid their debt to society is riddled with complications in this country and four states forbid it altogether. All of the above information is cited and quoted from Eric Black, "Why Is Turnout So Low in U.S. Elections?" Information above that deals with compulsory voting and what follows is taken from a study of 31 democracies, in S. L. Taylor, M. S. Shugart, A. Lijphart, and B. Grofman, A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014). See also T. W., "Where Is It Compulsory to Vote?" The Economist, September 19, 2013, http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/09/economist-explains-10.
10 January 2016: REVIEW: Edward Foley, Ballot Battles: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States
"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism."--George Washington, in 1796 farewell address to the US
AT THE END OF HIS TWO TERMS as first president of the United States, in his 1796 farewell speech, George Washington warned against factionalism and partisanship. These words have resonated throughout U.S. history since then, first relevant, at the "major" level, to an election that had already occurred in 1781, while the Articles of Confederation still ruled the day. This problem, which occurred where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were subsequently completed, Pennsylvania, was not a close vote count, but military intervention--the Revolution was still in progress. Soldiers were compelled to vote and ballot privacy was violated. The main takeaway feature was that the participants were conscious that they were being witnessed by other individuals and governments and setting a precedent for the future, but Foley calls the most important feature of this precedent "unsettled indeterminacy" of the law on how to settle such disputes, a matter that didn't receive the attention needed to yield answers to controversies about presidential elections and state-level ballot counting, among other relevant categories. That problem persists into the present, as Foley points out at the end of the book. The state supreme court was consulted by the "radicals," and the decision of the two justices (who happened also to be "radicals") who agreed to rule on it was that "error alone is not enough; it must be consequential" to justify nullifying an election. The opinion prevailed despite opposition, but the precedent of using a state-level court is ultimately dismissed by the author in favor of federal courts. In New Jersey's election of legislators seven years later, the issue was that no deadline for counties' handing in ballots had been set, and Essex County purposely postponed handing in its share, hoping that voters would favor the candidates it wanted and not its counterpart the other side of the state favored. There was no precedent from Britain for settling this dispute either. Fortunately, scheduling is one aspect of election days that has since then been addressed, although complications linger and provoke.
Clad in wool in a Philadelphia August toward the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the founding fathers were burning out, at just the point when the issue of political parties, elections, and voting occupied the agenda. It faded into the torpor of late summer and, though James Madison tried to fill in this huge void before he died in 1836, ten years earlier having found faulty structural features and proposing new ones that were not adopted. He and the "founding generation" "bequeathed to the nation a political system, not to revere, but to improve." There are no provisions for what to do in the event of close election totals--a huge problem protracted for two hundred years until things came to a head in the notorious Election 2000, resolved into the Bush v Gore monstrosity that haunts recent history relentlessly while leaving the question unanswered. Professor Edward Foley, author of the superb Ballot Ballots: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2016), offers a solution, exemplified successfully in the past and ethically: arbitration by tribunals; for example, a 3-person tribunal to be set up by Congress or the Supreme Court, consisting of one representative from each party and an unbiased third appointee to break ties equitably. The committee might also consist of three unbiased members and two partisans of opposite persuasion. The Founders simply did not anticipate the consistent bipartisanship that would dominate the governments and politics of the nation that they built.
Favorable examples of this solution are provided most notably by Minnesota in disputed elections in 1962 and, more famously for our times, the Coleman versus Franken U.S. Senate election in 2008, drawn out by eight months but in the process providing one of the most exemplary and fair processes in the history of election disputes over vote tallies so close that at least one recount was mandated. The ultimate decision, accepted by the recalcitrant Coleman, urged to concede at the end of January as losing candidate by 225 votes, was issued by a "special purpose" tribunal--"one that was intentionally and transparently structured to be balanced and neutral toward both sides"--once Franken's margin of victory had increased to 312 votes after months of further appeals processes and further vote counting.
In the course of his ascent toward his conclusion, Foley finds positive things to say about our electoral system: that material violence and civil unrest have been absent since the 1899 assassination of a successful candidate for the position of governor in Kentucky: "[T]he idea of a fair count has been a constant component of how to conduct elections."
"Because ballot-counting disputes in high-stakes elections are the ultimate test of a democracy's capacity to identify accurately the electorate's choice [italics mine], the story of how our nation has handled these tests teaches us about the strength of our mechanisms for self-government. Insofar as the story is one of increasing capacity to meet these tests successfully, the lesson helps us comprehend the nation's evolving maturation as a democracy . [italics mine] We deepen our understanding of America's democracy as an ongoing work-in-progress. . . . [T]he overall motion has been toward greater achievement of vote-counting fairness, not less. . . . [E]ven further progress toward fulfillment of the ideal is possible."
The epitomal Bush v Gore Supreme Court decision in 2000 (that "massive electoral earthquake") reflected, inter alia, a gradual buildup of Supreme Court decisions dating back 100 years to Taylor v Beckham in 1899, which "excluded federal courts from involvement in states' ballot-counting procedures." " Bush v. Gore is the culmination of a jurisprudential transformation that took a full century to complete" and, even though the wrong president was awarded the victory, features of this non-precedent-setting decision have wielded important influence on subsequent court decisions. A unanimous agreement within Bush v Gore drew on the one-person-one vote principle that had emerged in the Civil Rights era of the 1960s with the Reynolds v Sims decision." [T]he equal protection jurisprudence that emanates from Bush v. Gore will most likely improve the accuracy and fairness of ballot-counting in the states. . . ." "This new guarantee" [of federal courts' involvement in assuring the fairness of elections] "promises to be as significant a development in the law applicable to vote-counting disputes as any in the nation's entire history." Moreover, "courts are better at handling these cases than legislatures," and federal courts are far better suited to intervene fairly and impartially in such crises than state courts or state legislatures, even when motivated by partisan interests, as the author acknowledges was the case in the 2000 decision. State legislatures and supreme courts are mostly elected and therefore more subject to partisan pressures than federal courts, which are filled by appointment instead, though certainly composed of the bipartisan divide: if not Democratic than liberal; if not Republican then conservative.
Foley's narrative advances from one example to another of electoral irregularities, and the varieties that occurred, let alone that could occur, are many: even in the earliest days, solutions varied from violence to inspiring heights of statesmanship. Throughout nearly all the events bipartisanship, something else not anticipated in the Constitution, played a starring role: X versus Y.
But the 1791 House of Representatives showdown in Delaware between two Revolutionary war heroes, the incumbent James Jackson and Anthony Wayne, boiled down to blatant ballot box stuffing by the Wayne contingent. Partisanship may have been an important factor, but so might principles, mulls Foley. Jackson was pre-Jeffersonian, or anti-Federalist, and Wayne was a proto-Federalist. In this first House election involving election fraud, Jackson made a passionate speech about the principles men had lived and died for: "If elections are pure and free, the People are free, but if the elections are corrupt--I beg pardon of the House--but this honourable House must be corrupt likewise." Jackson persuaded the House to unseat Wayne.
However, the House vote that followed ended up in a tie that the Speaker had to break, which he did, voting against Jackson. Wayne ended up serving for a year before a special election disputing his residency status unseated him, replacing him with John Milledge, another war hero, who also served a year. Jackson did not run in 1792 and Milledge ended up back in the House from 1795 to 1799 and proceeded toward a brilliant political career.
Military coercion polluted the 1793 House election in Virginia, as it had in Pennsylvania 12 years earlier. But such coercion was common in the South at the time, called "nothing but a nursery of superlative mischief," unlike the situation in the North, governed by republican principles. The 1793 election was no big deal, according to southern politicians, dwarfed by an incident in which a magistrate had dragged an opposition candidate out of a church and raised a riot.
But pistol shots in the New York gubernatorial election in 1792 (see below) belie the southern assessment of northerners' political behavior. A mayoral election in New York City in 1834 was marred by rioting. Stakes were high, as in New York in 1792, because the mayor for the first time would be elected by popular vote instead of appointed. An assassination attempt blighted another electoral crisis (gubernatorial) in Pennsylvania's "Buckshot War" in 1838, where, Foley writes, the partisan corruption of the Whig secretary of state, Thomas Burrowes, exceeded the skullduggery of Katherine Harris that so marred the integrity of Election 2000 in Florida. During the fierce and prolonged dispute over the notorious Election 1876, an angry debate in the House over Vermont's submission of two separate sets of ballots for the Electoral College was called "probably the stormiest ever witnessed in any House of Representatives." Revolvers were brandished and one of the "obstructionists" (those protracting the debate in order to have Inauguration Day postponed or whatever could be done) literally physically hurled himself at the Speaker to try to get him to adopt his side's position. In 1899, what Foley calls "the ugliest of elections," the victorious Democratic candidate for governor was assassinated by disgruntled Republicans believing that they had been defrauded.
Successive generations through such events learned that "they could not turn to the Founders to discover the proper principles upon which to resolve disputed elections." Recourse to British sources, like Madison's to William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Law of England, was attempted. The issues described above involved further legal complexities I have no room to include. Problems with certification had already cropped up this early, predecessors of the sloppy storage of paper ballots that marred results of the 2008 New Hampshire primary, to give just one example, as captured in Bev Harris's award-winning documentary Hacking Democracy .
Foley progresses to the level of elections of chief executives, focusing on particularly important gubernatorial elections in New York (1792) and Massachusetts (1806), where governors had the power to veto legislation, unlike in other states, and thus the author uses these examples to conclude that the Founders had provided no guidelines for disputes at this level, let alone higher up to presidential elections, as occurred in 1876, 1960, and 2000, along with some "near misses" in 1884 and 1912. In these areas [as well as at the congressional level], "the sheer novelty of the experiment the Founders were undertaking" was an important impediment. Partisan divisiveness, X versus Y in a warlike scenario, posed a challenge anticipated by one of the Founders, Madison (see below) late in his life, to no avail. The Federalist Papers (1787-88) explained that the Founders had expected "the constitutional separation of powers to keep political factions fluid and disorganized, preventing them from coalescing into two regularly oppositional parties"--naivete?
And so election corruption born of partisan clashes is nothing new. Do particular ends--Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act--justify "landslide Lyndon's" corrupt election to the Senate in 1948? Foley mentions that skullduggery was also part and parcel of the opposition's tactics. Was Nixon's decision not to contest JFK's victory in 1960 based on Hamilton's suggestion to John Jay, Founder, co-author of the Federalist Papers , and SCOTUS Chief Justice who stepped down to run for governor, not to contest corruption in New York in 1792 but rather wait until the next gubernatorial election for success, advice that Jay took? Foley replies in the affirmative. The juxtaposed 1806 gubernatorial election in Massachusetts took the opposite route, with informed citizenry demanding electoral integrity then rather than next time, led by Madison's advice.
As mentioned above, Foley takes us back to the origins of bipartisanship, which predate the Constitution. Does he encompass every instance of election corruption ever committed in this country? Should he? Can anyone? Should anyone? Priceless, vitally significant events are analyzed to a fault. In most of the instances cited, paper ballots were involved. He is careful to distinguish problems associated with the casting of ballots from those related to their counting. He champions technological alternatives to the myriad problems he documents where paper ballots are used, although a huge swathe of the highest-level computer scientists and experts predict that effective technology is decades away from its ability to bring about fair elections.
1876 was the year that marked the most disastrous presidential election in U.S. history--rescued by the statesmanship of a few (he compares Al Gore's withdrawal from dispute in Election 2000, though I take this as a betrayal of the majority who elected him) from the disastrous Constitutional crisis that would have resulted from two separate inaugurations. It involved more than back-room bargaining to remove federal troops from the South, thus ending Reconstruction and allowing the onset of Jim Crow. Foley deems it worse than Election 2000 because of the protracted amount of time taken to name the victor, two days before Inauguration Day on March 4. There is the additional feature of the South's threat to resort to military action if Tilden wasn't awarded the victory. Tilden's vacillation is cited as another source of this potential train wreck. Once again, proof was blatant that despite insights from the past and the multitude of disputes, there was still no solution to problematic elections. Foley blames the ambiguity of the Twelfth Amendment, which to this day still plagues the electorate.
A further parallel with Election 2000 was Florida's status as key state in the controversy: "Perhaps a coincidence, perhaps not. Florida has historically been a state with a political culture that lends itself to deficiencies in the operation of the voting process and intense disputation." Racism in 2000 as blockading an equitable vote count is a further parallel--freedmen were deprived of their vote in 1876. Foley does not dismiss the possibility of the Sunshine State once again becoming the radius of future electoral conflict. As in 2000, its electoral votes, along with those of along with Louisiana and South Carolina, were key to a Republican victory. Florida was the first state Republican talons grabbed, simply on the basis of alphabetical order.
Indeed, as in 2000 but before the GOP had become the conservative party in the usual divide, Republicans corrupted the process in order to win the day. They felt deprived of a huge number of voters who would have handed them the victory. Once again, did the ends justify the means? Cheating to adhere to the Fifteenth Amendment? Credit for preventing the Democratic filibuster engineered to delay the electoral vote count and thus steer the decision to the House goes to the Democratic Speaker of the House, Samuel Randall, who fought against his copartisans' obstructionist efforts and prevailed once the back-room compromise to end Reconstruction was introduced, in a timely fashion also strategized by the Speaker, to circumvent further obstruction once and for all (which continued, but ineffectively, especially after Tilden conceded via telegram) and avoid another civil war. Foley emphasizes the importance of Randall's impartial, transcendent, and statesmanly leadership, which he says has received pathetically little recognition.
Beyond that, the author surmises that the existence of an impartial arbitration board would have awarded victory to the Republicans on the basis of the Fifteenth Amendment without the compromise that vitiated Reconstruction. History might have been altered without the red carpet rolled out for Jim Crow. History might have been vastly different since 2000 had the Supreme Court not have been dominated by conservatives but rather rendered impartial.
There is so much more: the anecdote that begins the book about the importance of a single vote and, inter alia, coverage of elections during the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era as well as the 1960s and 2000. The closing chapter details crucially close elections since 2000--2004 in Ohio, North Carolina, and Washington state as well as the Minnesota 2008 U.S. Senate race between Al Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman. Had either of the latter two involved a Presidential vote, asks Foley, would they have been able to resolve their protracted disputes within the time frame allotted by Congress? The Conclusion recaps and contextualizes vitally important elections detailed in the narrative and points the way forward toward impartial arbitration of electoral disputes and other necessary reforms. An Appendix offers data tables on elections that carried over beyond Election Day: gubernatorial elections since 1876; Senate elections since passage of the Seventeenth Amendment, and all categories of statewide elections held since 2000.
There are copious and vitally important endnotes, historically significant illustrations including portraits of important actors throughout the time period covered by Foley, and political cartoons lampooning the nearly catastrophic Hayes-Tilden impasse, among other subjects.
Beyond that, this excellent book is affordable and well worth the purchase price. Far from a "scholarly tome," it educates the public in a way crucial to the future of election integrity. Disagreement with a few details is inevitable for Progressives and some EI advocates, but continuity of democracy concerns all political persuasions, as will become evident sooner rather than later--I hope before the next civil war.
24 December 2015: Merry Christmas
I am not going to dampen the Holiday spirit by listing all the evils plaguing society here and around the world. Around the world.
Where is it "safe"?
Among the South Pacific Islands that are sinking because of global warming, surrounded by an ocean that is becoming more and more polluted each day?
Is the world more dangerous than it's ever been?
I think that it's always been dangerous. The media choose which dangers to emphasize, of course, but I'd say the biggest dangers plaguing society are the environmental holocaust as well as the lack of gun control in the United States. The statistics are hair-raising--how many gun murders occur here as opposed to terrorist murders around the globe?
And there is the immigration crisis and sanctions being initiated against Russia. Merry Christmas.
So I went onto Google to find out why we say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Christmas," an extremely accessible subject: "Happy" is used among the British and "Merry" here, replete with connotations of getting plastered during the holidays. That's why, according to my Google source, Queen Elizabeth II uses "Happy Christmas" routinely.
Getting plastered over the holidays is a great solution to the fear meme being perpetrated by the Republican presidential campaign. Indeed, there is much to fear and lament over.
There is still love. That's what Christmas is all about. Love and hope and generosity--the birth of a child who will take all of our sins upon his slender shoulders, a Messiah, the Messiah--but why couldn't He transcend human nature as Son of God?
Others have answers. I have questions. He is reborn each year, despite everything pulling toward death and destruction.
Yesterday I found out that in Afghanistan the people are driven to burn their own garbage to heat their homes and are becoming diseased from the pollution this forces them to inhale. ISIS recruits the men forcefully for a salary of $300 a month. This was a report from a member of the U.S. military who just returned from there.
The issues preoccupying me are not as simple as hope vs. fear or even hope coexisting with fear. I can no more analyze everything swirling around in my mind than I can hope for solutions, though there are some, probably beyond us.
Is "probably" the crux of my impasse?
War is taking over.
Peace is offering answers: disarm ISIS by seizing all of their assets, a labyrinth that may become clear and maybe we don't want to know about.
Some people blame the CIA for ISIS.
The solution to this swill pile? The kind of love we need is just not up for grabs.
So I'll get selfish and get plastered, for a few occasions anyway.
Pray, try to maintain my hope that the next generation will supply feasible solutions, and live my life, one day at a time.
Of course, I know of people who ignore the MSM, let alone other news sources that are more accurate. Escapists, maybe the happiest people among us all.
I can't join them.
Just do what I can, living from one day to the next, loving to the best of my ability, and . . .
I said I wasn't going to dampen the Christmas spirit. Did I?
5 December 2015: A few notes on the film "Suffragette"
A quick few notes on this colorful, vibrant portrait of a human rights struggle in the costume of the valiant battle waged in London for women's suffrage. First of all, turn-of-the-century (19th-20th) women did work for a living--in hardly liberating roles, however. The heroine, Maud Watts (played by Carey Mulligan) works in a sweatshop under unspeakable conditions. Standing in Parliament to speak in a most-unaccustomed role before MP David Lloyd George, because the chosen speaker is too beaten up and bruised--I think it would have been excellent for her to remain the speaker in that condition--she points out to his liberal excellency that her life expectancy isn't long even though at age 24 she's received two promotions. (average life expectancy for women in England in 1900 was 48--45 for men, but subtract from that figure for women who worked in sweatshops).
When appearing before Lloyd George doesn't work, a few ladies aim higher, to King Edward VII when the annual derby is held. Disguised several notches higher than their economic echelon, two ladies attend with large banners they want to wave before the king, but lose this chance and one of them takes the step that usually brings results--martyrdom. She throws herself on the racetrack in the path of a galloping steed, the climax of the film.
Thousands of people line both sides of the street for the funeral. The suffragettes have made it to prime time, though it takes a while for them to gain the vote.
Maud's husband Sonny disowns her when she commits herself to the crusade and by law he has custody and gives up their son for adoption. Other forms of more overt sexism are apparent, but one can't help but compare the British police, who discipline without guns, wounding without coming close to killing, with ours in the US of A these days--the suffragettes are shown to be more violent than the bobbies actually, planting explosives in mailboxes and throwing rocks at store windows, but it is made clear that factions develop between this form of guerrilla warfare as opposed to nonviolence pursuit of the vote. Maud is a guerrilla but the ultimate violence is her colleague's exquisite martyrdom at the racetrack.
Meryl Streep is a stunning cameo as the movement's leader Emmeline Pankhurst, who would certainly have stolen the show had she been given more footage. That's probably why she appears fleetingly only once or twice, her British accent flawless, her charisma reaching out from the screen as does nothing else in the film. It's clear that the Academy is sick of her running away with all the Oscars--and there's none so far for a cameo.
One New York Times reviewer writes that "Suffragette" doesn't have the grandeur and force of "Selma," "but it is also stirring and cleareyed -- the best kind of history lesson."
As I said, "Suffragette" is about every human rights movement. Compared with voting rights, one current impasse, however, the difference is that 99 percent of this country stand to lose their right to vote: men, women, minorities, youth, felons, and many more.
Has anyone died this time? Back in the sixties, certainly, but in the latest round of abuses, beginning in 2000 and blossoming day by day now, one wonders whether anyone's violent death would make a difference. The gun rights lobby certainly doesn't care about the massive carnage their weapon of choice is wielding these days.
What's dying is democracy.
Where is the arc of justice bending this time around? MLK became discouraged toward the end of his life.
But voting rights movements have been the theme of two major films this year--a positive development that, I believe, won't help this latest round of suffrage rights advocacy at all.
3 December 2015: Evenwel v Abbott: SCOTUS's Most Momentous Decision-in-Progress (2015-16)
Democracy is fraught with loopholes. Let me try to try to count the ways. One place to look is at all of the roadblocks erected by conservatives to prevent majorities from having their way in our democracy--a case in point is voting. Yes, there can be tyranny in majorities but in this case the minority has become hugely tyrannical. Some think that they dream of a neo-feudal system in which 99 percent of the population, we the people, become serfs.
I will list some of the most recent roadblocks to prevent the numerical majority of this country, the underclasses, including the middle class, from carrying the vote as they should. First there is voter ID, which has existed since the late twentieth century but became a monster beginning at the end of the first decade of the New Millennium. Along with the tsunami of financial investment in electoral outcomes released by the Citizens United decision in 2010 and its offspring, it is the monstrosity that has diverted many an election away from the vast majority to various allied minorities.
Then there is "redistricting," a euphemism for gerrymandering, which involves shaping legislative districts at both the federal and state levels in ways that mostly benefit conservatives. A popular example is the 2014 election that led to a Republican majority in the House of Representatives even though one million more votes were cast for Democrats.
Other roadblocks to fair voting include reducing the amounts of same-day registration allowed, early voting, third-party registration, barring ex-felons from voting, and much more--a quantity that continually increases, creeping toward Karl Rove's goal of wall-to-wall Republican domination by 2020. Despite setbacks--there are some--his dreams seem on their way. The Silver Boy is sailing on.
The latest incarnation of this un-American dream is a distortion of the one-person-one-vote principle judged Constitutional in the sixties by the Warren Court and still alive today though spinning around in the garbage grinder of gerrymandering.
One-person-one-vote is usually interpreted to mean that legislative districts at the state and federal levels are drawn on the basis of total population rather than those who actually vote or are qualified to do so. The latter interpretation will be debated by the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) this year (beginning in a few days actually) and decided late in June 2016. Evenwel v Abbott is considered by SCOTUS to be its most momentous and far-reaching case this year because of the huge impact it will have on the already-disempowered Latino communities in Texas and, by extension, Latinos and other minorities who together comprise large numerical majorities in many other states.
The Lone Star State enjoys one of the most stringent voter ID laws in the country, right up there with North Carolina and Alabama, among other states, most of them southern, freed up by SCOTUS in 2013 to pass any electoral legislation they want to now that section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was gutted in 2013 by the decision Shelby County v FEC. Thank you, Alabama, once again, seat of much opposition to minority civil rights beginning, uh, a long time ago, having entered the union early in the nineteenth century and seceded from the Union less than a month after South Carolina initiated the process late in 1860.
And thank you, Sue Evenwel and cronies, for your attempt to reduce even further the power of the people by counting only those who can or do vote as units of the population that determine electoral districts rather than their families, those in the process of acquiring citizenship, felons, and others--the "usual suspects."
The most discriminated-against category of them all is new to the burgeoning package of victims of radical conservatism: children, especially Latino children, who may provide the largest incentive for voters' decisions, especially in districts where people have lots of children, districts who therefore should be deciding the direction of our future. Less densely populated districts will be awarded even more power than gerrymandering has already given them and guess what area of the spectrum this minority comprises? Conservatism in varying degrees, from moderate to radical.
The ultimate power of this country resides at lower, local levels--the people there and, in our scenario, those in charge of elections, some of them innocent instruments of manipulation by others. I do not mean to impugn an entire category of public servants, both volunteer and on payrolls.
Because of many, many roadblocks, poor people tend to vote in far lower numbers than do rich people, who tend to be more educated and have more time to vote. I have enumerated only some roadblocks above. There are many others, including the conviction, nurtured by adversarial elements, that their vote doesn't count. Psychology has played a large role in human warfare for eons.
There is so much discrimination in this country, in the realm of elections among many other areas, but those who fight for Election Integrity say that since democracy rests on the people's right to vote (in fair elections is the implication), it is the cornerstone of democracy, as have many dating back to the birth of this country. The debates are long and furious and many books have been written, but not enough, and the people in whose hands this country's future should rest are a long way from being reached effectively.
I am amazed at the genius of a small minority of the population that is so successfully blocking the will of the vast majority to have their say in how this country is run. Their methods are brilliant, ingenious, and dynamically morphing, to the extent that I want to refer to this brilliance in the title of my book-in-progress whose working title is "Ballots or Bills: The Future of Democracy."
More than a decade ago, I wrote a blog on the burgeoning list of reasons why the US was fighting in Iraq according to the powers that be, nominally led by President George W. Bush. I counted twenty-three (see www.wordsunltd.com/blog_71.htm if you want to). But those layers of disingenuous rationalization pale by comparison with the burgeoning brick wall being constructed unit by unit to recreate serfdom in the twenty-first century.
This latest attempted brick, a decision in favor of the plaintiffs in Evenwel v Abbott, constructing state-level electoral districts on the basis of those qualified to vote, will be huge. To think that it is nominally in opposition to Texas is frightening. To think that the case will be decided by a group dominated by conservative activists, SCOTUS, is also frightening. Because SCOTUS is so politicized, some of its decisions lean to the left as a nod in the direction of the vast majority of this country's population. Will Evenwel be one of them?
Most frighteningly of all, it may not. In a masochistic way, I look forward to the brilliant logic of the ultimate decision next June, whichever side wins. The disingenuity leading this country to neo-feudalism is amazing. The left, just as smart, so squelched, is being squashed.
As experts have said, a decision in favor of Ms. Evenwel and her co-plaintiffs would lead to national redistribution, a huge imposition on the people that would be monstrously costly in every way. The litigation would shake this country like a monstrous earthquake. The costs would drain us all, especially the behemoth American underclass.
But since the SCOTUS decision won't be delivered until the middle of next year, it can't go into effect for Election 2016 and beyond that the 2020 US census.
That's a consolation of sorts.
Think of all that can happen between now and 2020.
Let's get to work.
26 November 2015: Happy International Indigenous People's Day
That fourth Thursday of November looms, a day when Americans sit down at the dinner table together, thank God for the bounty before them if it is there, and dig in.
Most of us, including some Native Americans (here's a much better Thanksgiving blog), celebrate a bountiful harvest, sort of. It's on the table. Turkey, the centerpiece. Sweet potatoes. Stuffing. Cranberry sauce. Casseroles. Pumpkin pie. Mince pie. Those are the basics. Fill in your veggies and feel free to substitute.
Lately, often, your kids don't have to fly in from every corner of the country with their kids. They already live with you, employed or seeking employment or working at Walmart/McDonald's.
Thoughts are afloat about renaming Columbus Day and theming it around all the untold masses massacred in order to Europeanize this great continent and adjacent Caribbean islands. Et cetera. They went West and found gold--the Europeans, that is.
I suggest something similar for Thanksgiving. In this small, small world we now live in, globalized, let's establish a global holiday, International Indigenous People's Day. Has anyone thought of this already? If so, hat-tip to them.
We will celebrate all of the people uprooted, marginalized, enslaved, trodden on, pushed aside, or treated well in all corners of the world. People encroached upon by white people: The First Nation. Native Americans. Aborigines. Inuits. Maori. Sami. And all of the others.
Instead of singing Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," we can sing "This Land Is Their Land. . . . and we took it from them and we enslaved them and we betrayed them; but all around us, there are voices singing, 'This land was theirs and now it's ours.'" "But the one percenters, oh they took it from us, so now we're Injuns and the Injuns are us . . . " You know the drill.
I can't get teary or sentimental hearing even the Boss sing the original. Whose destiny was manifest that inspired our folksong hero? Guthrie is no villain--don't get me wrong.
And God Bless America for the bounteous life I'm living, privacy deprived but somewhat secure. I can still write articles like this. How many poor, suffering people I can't afford to help wouldn't trade places with me in a New York second?
International Indigenous People's Day. Harvest time is still a good time to schedule it. The Secretary-General of the UN could proclaim it every year and all peoples would be welcome to join in--Palestinians, Iranians, North Koreans. Everybody. Even the one-percent internationals who are good friends with our billionaires, globalized.
Now it's time to fill in the blanks, of which there are many. How shall we celebrate? With a moment of worldwide silence? A day of peace without any weapons wielded--the best we can approximate that, anyway? With food festivals consisting of what Indigenous Peoples eat on special occasions, when they can afford to?
Shall we all wear black or choose an international color or design a new flag?
International Indigenous People's Day will not encompass all suffering. That could become another international holiday. All Saints' Day with extended significance?
Has "turkey" come to mean "jerk" because it's Thanksgiving food and the holiday really needs editing, face it? Probably not.
Instead of our pardoning one turkey, all turkeys should pardon us. Bad joke.
I know people sitting around the Thanksgiving table will pray for peace and security this year before eating turkey--what's become of it--peace and security, that is.
But on this one day of the year, as long as we're around, as long as we've become so vulnerable ourselves to happenstance, even more than usual, so vulnerable to being in the wrong place at the wrong time or weeping for others caught in this trap,
let's realize that the Islamic State is aiming to pry us up from our festive lifestyle, so that more than ever before we all face the fate our forebears visited on others.
Just thank God for food on the table and loved ones and liked ones and pray that somehow we'll jump through this flaming hoop, to live to celebrate International Indigenous People's Day next year rather than becoming those we must celebrate and extol en masse, too late.
19 November 2015: Promoting the Safety of our Food Supply
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are made by forcing genes from one species such as bacteria, viruses, animals, or humans, into the DNA of a food crop or animal in order to introduce a new trait. Research and development on genetically engineered products are largely done by the private sector because companies, like Monsanto, bully their way onto farmers' fields, university research labs, government policies, and consumers' dinner plates through their massive size and aggressive tactics.
That is why very little scientific research has been done into the long-term health and the environmental implications of GMOs. The biotech industry is using its clout to broadcast the myth that there is scientific consensus favoring GMOs when, in fact, no such consensus exists. There are millions of people calling for testing the safety of and requiring the labelling of GMO foods. They point out that 60 other countries require labelling or other limitations on genetically engineered products, including all of Europe, Australia, Japan, and China.
Several private studies have found kidney and liver damage, higher incidence of tumors, and premature death rates in animals given GMO feed. On July 18, I received an email about research conducted by Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai that was published in the peer-reviewed journal, "Agricultural Sciences." Her team found that the process of genetic engineering creates significant cellular disruption in GMO plants, particularly soybeans that contain Monsanto;s Roundup Ready gene which makes them able to survive massive doses of weed killers. Those soybeans had an alarming rise in the accumulation of formaldehyde (a class 1 carcinogen), and a significant depletion of glutathione, which is needed to maintain a healthy immune system. There are no long-term studies proving that GMOs are safe.
Genetically engineered products have led to significant increases in the use of agricultural chemicals. Industrial farming and its arsenal of powerful pesticides are increasingly dominating American agriculture. The chemical herbicide glyphosate, (Monsanto's Roundup) is causing a massive die-off of Monarch butterflies, while neonic insecticides are wiping out huge numbers of bees. Some areas of our country have reported the over-winter collapse of 50% of bee colonies. This loss of our major pollinators is putting the future of our food supply in jeopardy. An important action to take is to call on President Obama to direct his EPA to ban the use of neonics, an urgently needed step already taken by the European Union.
To protect our food supply as well as our environment, we need to have real testing standards developed by scientists. It is also critically important for people to have basic information about the food that they buy. Vermont passed legislation requiring genetically engineered foods to be labeled. The biotech industry is pushing legislation that would deny states the right to pass GMO labeling laws. Around July 11 the House Agriculture Committee passed a bill that would do just that and would make it illegal to even regulate GMOs in their states. It is important that we do everything we can to see that this bill not be allowed to pass. Contact President Obama to veto any legislation that causes this serious danger to our food supply.
A public forum on "Promoting the Safety of our Food Supply" took place on October 24, 2015, [sorry for my late reporting; perhaps you can contact Lillian to receve a more detailed report on the proceedings--ed.] at the Pacific Unitarian Church, sponsored by the Environmental Priorities Network. Lillian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310-545-1384. Please communicate your concerns on this subject, to our President:
President Barack Obama
15 November 2015: Attack on Paris: More Tragedy, More Tears, More Reminders
On 9/11, citizens of an enemy country, Iran, stood in their streets in the dark holding candles of compassion.
In Paris, a huge American flag was laid down like a red carpet leading to the Eiffel Tower, soldiers standing at attention on both sides.
On Friday the 13th of November--is this symbolic of Christ's Last Supper, a Passover seder, thus a symbol of Judaeo-Christian culture--Paris was attacked by ISIS. Four corners of the beautiful city that embodies the best of Western culture were bombed, the blood of human happiness and enjoyment smeared on its sidewalks.
We all became Parisians.
Once again, the melody of Western culture has been mocked for celebrating life despite the carnage surrounding it.
What shall we be doing? We were taking a brief vacation from fear, from the vast human suffering surrounding us, even as we open our doors to some of its victims while others drown.
If we are all Parisians, we should remember, too, that we all are Syrians, clinging to the joy that is the heritage of the Free World while we look toward a murky gray future if ISIS has its way.
The chains of fear are tightening around us. Air traffic to business or pleasure sites will be even more difficult as more checks and delays hold us up from work and play. A new normal set in after 9/11. On Friday November 13th, a newer one replaced it. Each smile will be accompanied by dread. Bombs could drop and explode any minute. Do the danse macabre with life. Eat, drink, be merry, and suffer with those already victimized by a dreaded future ISIS wishes on all of us.
Who will win? Suffering by the innocent seems to encompass all victories in war. But where it is the ultimate weapon, our challenge is to vanquish it, as it has always been. And the soldiers who fight our battles are innocent carnage also.
Peace is the answer. Human nature our ultimate foe. Human nature unbalanced to the side of the Ultimate Evil--the Antichrist? It is the New Millennium. Will humankind survive even its first century?
Will humankind survive itself in the next hundred years? What ISIS is doing on the battlefield that the world has become, we are doing to ourselves, our own environment, our own ecosystem.
One answer is comparatively easy to fix. Combat climate change. The other seems impossible, challenging science even more. We imprison murderers, one at a time. To sentence ISIS to life in prison--or the capital punishment they are visiting on us--or to bless them with the joys and evils, 50-50, of Western culture, eludes us. Why?
William Butler Years wrote that Jesus Christ will return as the Anti-Christ.
ISIS has declared war on everyone and everything. We are too stupid to understand how to wage peace. Too hooked on war as the answer.
And who gave birth to ISIS? Stupidity. Who will vanquish ISIS? Intelligence?
We have to discover that and activate it. Not enough people will realize that.
Will prayer help? Perhaps that's all we can do. If we can't bring about the promised land, we'll have to pray for the revival of its promise.
Whose prayers will be answered?
4 November 2015: Informal Congressional Hearing on Today's U.S.A. and Russia: Is Cold War II Ahead?
A landmark congressional "informal" hearing convened today by House Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee and former Chair, John Conyers, confronted head-on the crisis in U.S.--Russia Relations. Open to the public and attended by Judiciary Committee members Reps. Barbara Lee, Charles Rangel, and Jerrome Nadler, among others, the hearing spanned issues from Ukraine to Syria and asked, "Is Congress Overlooking Its Causes and Potential Solutions?"
The highly distinguished panel included, among others, former U.S. Ambassador to the USSR Jack Matlock, Princeton University and NYU Professor emeritus Stephen F. Cohen, Duke University Professor emerita Ellen Mickewicz, and former CEO of Procter and Gamble and Chair of the Walt Disney Company John Pepper. Former U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate Bill Bradley was unable to attend. All of the panelists comprise the Founding Board of the American Committee for East--West Accord, whose concern is the possibility of a new Cold War and how to improve the worsening relations between the U.S. and Russia. The mission of this "newly refounded" organization is to provoke discussion on an issue that is largely absent from the conversation on Capitol Hill.
Duties of the Judiciary Committee are widespread, was a half-hearted way of asking why this crucial question had not been taken up by other more "relevant" bodies like the House Committee on Foreign Relations or Homeland Security. I figured that some sort of history was being made today. Might GOP leadership in Congress have something to do with this negligence? Do some politicians want a Cold War II, which would easily be worse than the first one? It would be located on the border between Russia and Ukraine. Why leave such matters in the hands of politicians at all? joked Chairman Conyers at one point.
The crux of the issue is that the U.S. and Russia share a lethal threat, ISIS. It would seem elementary to assume that they should be cooperating in eliminating it, rather than participating in it separately, risking violent consequences from military interactions. Other existential exigencies like climate change and terrorism in general should be addressed cooperatively by these two world powers.
Members of the panel as well as Chairman Conyers, all "on Medicare," referred back to the dreaded air-raid drills of the fifties, a metonymy for the horrors of the Cold War, those "decades of fear," as Conyers phrased it. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? Vital funding was diverted from domestic use to waging war or arming ourselves in that direction. According to Putin himself, the myth that he wants to recreate the Russian empire is false, even though most ethnic Russians now live outside of the Federation. The Cold War fear of Russia's desire for a worldwide proletariat society is ancient history.
NATO activities/negotiations begun in the early nineties, excluding Russia, and the invasion of Serbia a decade later, without congressional authorization, provoked Russia even as its forays into Georgia and Ukraine and most lately into Syria have ignited U.S. tension. Both powers violated international law, with the U.S. taking the lead. The policy of open communication instead of provocation was the initial outcome of U.S.--Russia communications once the USSR became history. We negotiated the end of the Cold War in 1991. We must return there.
There is no real national security without Russia's cooperation. The horrendous possibility of nuclear materials or toxic chemicals falling into the hands of terrorists is an additional threat. There must be a U.S.--Russia alliance. Russia wants to negotiate. We also need help from China. We have enough real enemies.
What happened to the rules of nuclear restraint we had in the seventies? Instead there is demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "neo-imperialist aggressor." History will view him differently. Are there not two sides of every story, as our mothers used to ask us? What happened to another vital principle, compromise, meeting the Other halfway? It's not too late to try again.
The narrative surrounding the dissolution of the USSR was that the U.S. had "beaten" Russia. The truth is that its collapse occurred internally.
Proctor and Gamble is still doing business with Russia, said John Pepper, and Russia is open to investment. Everyday Russian people share our concerns. Added Professor Mickewicz, half the people don't vote, cynical about what this act in their country can accomplish. TV is all lies; they look to foreign media, uninterested in empire or the Soviet era. Neither is Ukraine of interest to Russians, including those who are highly educated. Half the Russians think that their country should negotiate with the U.S.
The last question of the day was from Chairman Conyers: Where are our allies in this context? Europe is very divided, as well as extremely distracted by the hundreds of thousands of refugees coming in from Syria as well as Iraq and Afghanistan. The EU tends to see two layers of Europe, said Mickewicz--the "old Europe" and the newer countries broken off from the USSR. Said Cohen, Angela Merkel has led Europe up until this crisis, now challenged by her own co-partisans as well as France and Hungary. Dramatic changes are afoot as she attempts to deal with the refugee crisis.
Germany is tilting toward Russia now even as it was a strong ally of the U.S. The Social Democrats, the other strong party in Germany, are more oriented toward the East. Russia may ally itself with China and Germany in a few years.
Chairman Conyers thanked all of the participants for this two-hours-long "concentrated view of a very complex subject."
31 October 2015: Happy Halloween! I Yield to Poetry Discovered from Nearly 20 Years Ago,
In an abrupt shift from the here-and-now, I bow to the timeless. I'm passing through a psychic phase evident in visitations from the beyond of loved ones who recently passed away. I know you'll think I'm crazy, but I discovered a set of poems seeming to anticipate this epiphany, while cleaning out my desk. I found an old backpack underneath containing some poetry I wrote nearly twenty years ago, most of it from late autumn. I'll be back to the tension of the political present in my future posts, I'm sure, but here it is, my present present:
13 October 2015: The Great Democratic Debut Debate, 10/13/15
Having watched the entire debate and some of the follow-up, I tried to comment on a relevant NY Times op-ed and they deleted my first attempt in midstream--quite frustrating. So I began again, expressing my gut reactions and they didn't print them, quite unusual.
First of all, I wasn't impressed by Hillary's stellar, steroidal performance. In comparison with Bernie, she was well rested and had had lots of time to rehearse while he is playing the dual role of senator and campaigner.
I'll never forget how awful Hill looked while working as SoS--haggard, exhausted, ultimately ill and ending her tenure with the Benghazi tragedy. There is the story of how she nodded off at at least one important conference.
And it's even more stressful to be POTUS.
Now take Bernie, caught in one senior moment when he was so fixated on the comment of another that he was startled when called upon and had to recover his wits. His gun attitude was publicized to the world along with wise and independent decision making and voting.
Both of these so-far campaign super-stars were taken apart for their goods and bads.
The other three didn't receive much time and were pretty much dismissed by the CNN team leading the proceedings. Favoritism was evident--power of the polls.
However, the camera work on Bernie revealed a tired old man. I'd have been exhausted if not dead from the ordeal and the position of POTUS is a disease that visibly ages even those youngsters who go sprinting and bounding into the White House. Witness Jimmy Carter and now Barack Obama of the graying hair, which he said was natural for someone his age.
Being POTUS is like being in a live 2.5 hour worldwide broadcast to millions of people--being put on the spot every day, 24/7.
I liked a lot of what I heard and was proud to be left rather than right of center and proud that a Jewish socialist had gotten so far. He's my favorite. But I don't think he can win. Power of the word "socialist" with its USSR associations, though North Korea's full name is the Democratic Republic of Korea, isn't it?
But beyond that, I think that both he and Hillary are too damned old to run.
Both have buckled under pressures less intense than the POTUS job, as I said above.
I think Democrats and alienated Republicans will have to select among the other three or others who emerge. No matter how much I favor Bernie and sympathize with Hillary's lifelong aim to be the first woman POTUS.
I know that SCOTUS justices have worked much farther into their old age than Hillary or Bernie would if elected to two terms. And the Pope is by definition aged and bent over with wisdom and holiness, stereotypically, anyway.
Experience is extremely valuable. But physical stamina is necessary. Issues are issues and I'll vote for the farthest left Democratic candidate with a chance to win.
Good luck to the lucky winner. S/he must be able to stand up to the 24/7 stress.
Good luck to all of us 99 percenters who stand to gain so much with the right person at the helm.
17 September 2015: Brennan Center for Justice Panel, Press Club, 9/17: "America's Voting Technology Crisis"
When states and localities experience fiscal pressures, elections tend toward the lower end of the scale of priorities, behind education, public safety, and health care, to name just a few resource competitors.--Presidential Commission on Election Administration
When President Obama delivered his second inaugural address in 2012, he actually touched on the subject of the excruciatingly long lines that form at polling places on election days. He did not relate them to the de facto discrimination against underprivileged populations voting in the inner cities. Neither did the Presidential Commission on Election Administration formed by executive order the following year. The order did recommend best practices for populations who have disabilities or limited English-language skills and for overseas civilians and military personnel. The term "discrimination" occurs but once in the entire resulting document, "The American Voting Experience: Report and Recommendations" in a euphemistic context concluding that districts with similar problems can work together. The problem of "long lines" that generated this excellent report is dealt with very scientifically--according to "queuing theory" inter alia!
Neither was this intolerable issue discussed in depth by the distinguished panel at the Brennan Center's stimulating event, America's Voting Technology Crisis, held at the National Press Club on September 17. A September 15 report published by Center, with the same title, was the immediate stimulus for the event. The distinguished panelists included NPR correspondent and elections specialist Pam Fessler; Edgardo Cortes, Commissioner of Elections, Virginia Department of Elections; Neal Kelley (via Skype), Registrar of Voters, Orange County, California [why not L.A. County, rife with urban underprivileged people, the country's largest voting district? But Orange is the fifth largest and one of the most affluent]; and Doug Lewis, recently retired, long-time executive director of The Election Center, an umbrella organization that educates, trains, and brings together election officials from throughout the country.
The main theme of the event was the attrition of this generation of election systems, purchased in a panicked stampede mostly after the 2002 passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which mandated replacement of the out-of-date systems that were blamed for the havoc in Florida most notably during and right after Election 2000. So into the dumpsters or sanitary landfills went punch-card systems (remember the hanging chads) and lever machines, both of which had endured for generations, and along came electronic systems to replace them.
The electronic systems were hugely problematic from the start, when they malfunctioned even before the passage of HAVA in guess where, Florida. The 2002 primaries there exploded into havoc with the introduction of brand-new direct recording electronic systems (DREs).
There are huge problems at every stage of the process of electronic voting, not just the attempted booting up, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.
But back to our current plight, after at most 15 years using electronic systems. That hugely tamperable, easily dysfunctional machinery is on its last legs throughout the country, as was clear from the day they were purchased at a price tag of $3 bn + at the federal level only, with states kicking in the rest, a huge amount of money. The panel predicted that new systems can be purchased to the tune of $1 bn. Few counties or municipalities or states, let only the federal government can cough up that fortune. Some can, but the poorest areas, inner cities of Ohio, for example, can't.
Who wants more electronics anyway? Haven't we learned the hard way that they don't tally our votes accurately, even when optical scanners are used, since it is so troublesome to hand-count the paper ballots they use, with electronic audits the norm even where paper is there, if not sunk into the bottom of lakes or otherwise disposed of secretly.
Besides, paper ballots cost money to generate--one estimate was $100,000 for one county. And Mr. Lewis said hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB), the Gold Standard of voting according to some grassroots activists and eminent computer scientists, are appropriate in back-woods areas like Vermont and New Hampshire but not big--city-sized units like Los Angeles. [Think of all of that paper and trusting the people according to carefully designed and totally transparent methods--what democracy looks like and is sorely needed to keep democracy alive.] EAC Commissioner Matt Masterson later noted that his young children won't know what to do with paper ballots when they come of age since they won't be taught cursive writing in their schools to develop signatures.
Many vendors used by trusting municipal units have shut down, so what is there to do about replacement parts, which is one way areas are choosing to keep the sluggish locomotive going [We think it can! We think it can!]. They are, well in advance of Election 2016, scrambling to replace machinery parts whether or not they are outdated and dysfunctional. More power to them.
I should thoroughly read contracts between election system vendors and their patrons, we the people via our elections officials. Because I have read plenty about how expensive warranties are. And I have read that maintenance promised by vendors is not always diligent. Where are they when we need them? That question didn't come up during or after the panel discussion.
A fascinating point mentioned by Neil Kelley was that 5,000 voters surveyed prioritized accuracy and reliability for election systems over privacy and ease of use.
A point all the panelists agreed on was that nothing is ever done about problems until they reach a crisis level. The damage is usually done first. So we have to commend the panelists for their foresight. They already know that 43 states will be using equipment more than 14 years old and 14 states will be using even older systems. I thought that optical scanners were supposed to last for 20 years--that's what my grassroots group advocated as part of our arguments to replace DREs with them back in the mid-first decade of the 2000s. Were we wrong? We had done our homework.
Neil Kelley informed us that certified systems still rely on Windows 2000 operating systems, which were outdated by 2010. Pam Fessler noted that in Virginia, a suggestion to purchase all new equipment was rejected. Edgardo Cortes said that as a rule less-privileged communities in Virginia have bad experiences with voting systems, while those that are more affluent have far fewer complaints. [Is that democracy in action, since a recent study profiling the typical voter in this country found that she is white, affluent, and well educated?] The same point had been made in the Brennan Center's report. Ms. Fessler later said that problems in underprivileged areas could reach crisis levels. Mr. Norden responded that in Ohio, Virginia, and other overburdened states we don't have enough information; lots more work is needed.
Ms. Fessler said that one solution is the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) helping out local jurisdictions to figure out specific problems and report them to elections officials. This they are doing, according to a blog published at EAC's website the day after the panel event, "Commissioner Masterson on Aging Voting Technology."
Two EAC commissioners were in the audience, vice-chair Tom Hicks along with Matt Masterson, quite defensive and at the same time conciliatory. The three commissioners, appointed last December, have been working like greased lightning to do work that piled up since 2010, when all incumbent commissioners had stepped down, unreplaced for four years due to political kerfuffle--the commissioners are appointed by Congress. Four years.
Another problem is that election officials are so heavily dependent on the vendors for technical support, since the maintenance and repairs require a specialized level of knowledge the officials haven't acquired. We need to be independent. Election officials must come to think like IT professionals, said Mr. Masterson. He is sure that this crisis can be dealt with since people are aware of it now and working to fix it. EAC is soliciting input from the public.
Ms. Fessler asked Mr. Cortes to weigh in. He expressed relief that the EAC is up and running again and is looking forward to using new systems with open-source and off-the-shelf (OTS) components. Mr. Norden later added that L.A. County has spent many years developing their own system--open source so that they won't have to rely on vendors and designed to reach out to many categories of voter.
At this point members of the audience contributed their reactions. The first asked why we can't use HCPB if they are used so successfully in any number of European countries [some of whom tried and then ditched DRE systems]. Mr. Norden's reply was that better technology will make paper voting easier; systems had improved since those of this generation. Mr. Lewis pointed out that paper voting is much easier to use in European countries. [I wondered why--but the panel had pointed out how decentralized our voting systems map is; European countries' systems are uniform, dictated from top to bottom at the federal level.]
Mr. Lewis was less optimistic about system changes. He said that politicians won't want to change machinery that elected them. The people want what's new and better, but the age-old politics of election technology changes slowly. We won't see change any time soon.
Another member of the audience said that he had developed an open-source voting system that has already interested New Hampshire. He said it would debut on September 28. I asked him to send me information on it when he does release it. He said he would.
Mr. Kelley mentioned that he is working with advocacy groups in Orange County to deal with changing demographics; Mr. Cortes said that he has a very good relationship with activist groups and appreciates their work reaching out to and educating voters and helping them to register and obtain voter IDs. [This latter issue wasn't even mentioned during the event, perhaps because there might have been disagreement among the panelists.]
On the theme of activism, Mr. Lewis noted that 77 percent of U.S. voters are concentrated in 25 to 30 percent of counties. Urban centers are where the problems are. The more we can do to work together, the better. In resource-starved situations, tradeoffs are the solution. Election officials need help.
Photo above, taken at the Press Club, shows two of the panelists: (from left) Edgardo Cortes and Doug Lewis
"Awards? I don't go down that path. I try to do good for folks--to be as open as fair as I can and to help folks around the world--that's my mission."--Joseph Kiniry
It is difficult to describe world-class electronic-voting expert Joe Kiniry and his accomplishments in 25 words or less. In his own words, he is "Research Lead, Rigorous Software Engineering, Verifiable Elections, High-assurance Cryptography, and Audits-for-Good ["principle investigator"] at the Portland, Oregon firm Valois, Inc., which "specializes in the research and development of new technologies that solve the most difficult problems in computer science." Kiniry has held permanent positions at four universities in Denmark, Ireland, and The Netherlands over more than a decade before he joined Valois eighteen months ago with a stunning CV that recorded his many years of experience in the "design, development, support, and auditing of supervised and internet/remote electronic voting systems."
My main question to Dr. Kiniry was about Internet voting and its future here and throughout the world. He said that the concept has been around for 30 years--30 years since the first papers and theses were published--"everybody was looking for a way to leverage the Internet." "That's when SCYTL was incorporated as a source of 'secure electronic voting, election management and election modernization solutions' and some smaller players started up" and research on it spread once the Internet proliferated with firms like AOL. There is growing interest in its use and deployment. It is already spreading from Canada to Kenya, from Alaska to Australia. In this country IV IS GROWING SLOWLY, in "fits and starts, at the municipality level" in the hands of SCYTL and Dominion (a Canada-based company, the second-largest vendor of election systems in this country, exceeded only by Electronic Solutions and Software [ES&S]).
In the United States, IV is done despite disastrous results in test runs by IV experts. Recall the capsizing in 2010 of the IV experiment in Washington, DC, by Professor Alex Halderman and some of his grad students. In 24 hours they had completely penetrated the system, proving how completely vulnerable it was to hacking. They even found evidence of foreign countries' attempts to "invent" the correct password, which was easy and common, something like "admin."
Halderman and his students left a signature on their work: the University of Michigan's fight song.
In Alaska, Kiniry said, electors use "a flawed product from SCYTL." According to an April 6, 2015 article in the Washington Post, in which Kiniry was interviewed, "Voters [in Alaska] can choose to download and fill out a PDF ballot form and e-mail it back to the election official. This method has also been used in emergency situations such as after Hurricane Sandy in New York. In a test, though, the researchers hacked into a home wireless router and changed a voter's selection before the voter's e-mail reached the official, leaving virtually no trace of their attack. The hack showed the vulnerability of current systems, but whether it would work on a scale large enough to influence an election is up for debate."
A 2011 IV-related experimentation program was conducted by the Department of Defense (DoD), which refused to release results until this year. It was "a dismal failure, "according to the U.S. Vote Foundation.
Today IV is built, tested, and deployed in 15-20 countries, despite dire warnings from deep experts in every aspect of electronic voting (e-voting). We must recall that similar warnings preceded the viral proliferation of electronic voting systems, both direct-recording (sans paper trail) and optical scanning (which includes a paper trail that is not often consulted; some states have outlawed resorting to the paper trails at all) prior to the passage of the Help America Vote Act late in 2002.
Among the serious problems posed by IV, in addition to its infinite vulnerability to hacking at every level are that, according to Kiniry:
A.Testing is so expensive and full of problems that users "can" the system;
Serious problems occur in the implementation; IV is deployed and users encounter the same set of problems; they use it and then "can" it.
C. Estonia ignored the problems and continues to use it--this third instance is the rarest case and that's a good thing, even though computer scientist Professor Alex Halderman visited the country recently and found serious security flaws in the system. (IV systems were first used in the early 2000s also in Switzerland, but most recently the country eliminated it in 9 cantons because of security flaws discovered)
"More IV projects have been canceled than continue to exist," said Kiniry. "No one will listen to the experts, top computer scientists in the area and listen to others just down the road. It's remarkable." Nonetheless, other U.S. states aspire toward them--including Maryland, or at least some top-ranking officials there. More publicly, in Colorado, SoS Wayne Williams just instituted vote-by-mail (VBM), joining Oregon and Washington and part of California). But he wants to "advance" to IV, having requested suggested systems from the public. He is confrontational, claiming that we're trying to stifle UOCAVA and military and overseas voters, said Kiniry. Williams says that mailed-in paper ballots can be tampered with.
No IV system can exist today without being subverted according to academic and industrial/engineering perspectives--we know how to get there but we don't know the path to take. Working with a group of world-class experts. Kiniry led the technical team and writing of a report at Galois, "The Future of Voting," published in July of this year, a project of the U.S. Vote Foundation, a "specification and feasibility study." The focus is on "E2E-VIV," End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting, a concept that has existed for decades, Kiniry said. "However, most of the required computer science and engineering techniques were impractical or impossible before recent advances. Designing and building an E2E-VIV system in the face of enormous security threats remains a significant challenge," according to the report, which was published in two versions, one for the general public and one for experts. Further sections consist of expert statements on EI and a usability study.
"End-to-end verifiability, security, usability, and transparency are only four of many important requirements of E2E-VIV," according to the report. It must also be able to fend off inevitable attacks with malware of every description. VERIFIABILITY means that the voter can find out for certain that his/her vote was counted as case. SECURITY means that the complex machinery cannot be hacked into and that voters' choices will be private, undetectable by others. USABILITY means "user-friendly," ideally resembling systems we're used to using or else easy to learn--that is, if we go the smart-phone or PC route or even I-vote at public terminals. TRANSPARENCY means that the software operating the system can be monitored at every step; that people can witness all of the processes and/or access them online.
"Many challenges remain in building a usable, reliable, and secure E2E-VIVsystem.They must be overcome before we use Internet voting for public elections. Research and development efforts toward overcoming those challenges should continue," this state-of-the-art report notes.
"It is currently unclear whether it is possible to construct an E2E-VIV system that fulfills the set of requirements contained in this report. Solving the remaining challenges, however, would have enormous impact on the world."
Americans living overseas and military there all want to vote online since the alternatives have been so arduous and unreliable, often so delayed that votes don't arrive in time to be counted, dependent on overseas mail, systems which are in many cases unreliable. As an expat professor in Europe, Kiniry chose to vote online but in the process sacrifice his privacy, signing a disclaimer, in order to be as sure as he could that his vote would be counted.
Others also want the ease and convenience of Internet voting. The cost of an IV system will be many millions of dollars per year not only to build it but to obtain the license--"just a 4 times a year service for a couple of million dollars for a medium-sized district," Kiniry said. The guarantee is similar to those in the rest of the industry, nor is there a penalty for IV software that turns out not to work.
The path toward effective, transparent, secure IV is "incredibly difficult." We know HOW to go there but need to find the path, which will require 5 years with 10 PhDs working together to build a system. "Once that path is constructed still many difficulties remain," said Kiniry. "It would take years before we could build a system some would trust. I'm not doing it. No one has the resources to do it. A small number of people know this." SCYTL might be able to with their large amount of systems at their disposal, but not as vigorously as their publicity states it. Now the typical large IV firm employs a staff of 100-200. These include Smartmatic, SCYTL, ES&S, and Hart Intercivic.
Smartmatic, an international company whose information technology according to some is owned by Venezuela, where it was first assembled, partnered with Cybernetica, the vendor in Estonia, to work on a next-generation IV product. One is needed in Estonia, where Professor Halderman visited to test the IV machinery and found its security deficient. IV is still in use there--with Switzerland, it was a pioneer in initiating the systems, though only parts of the population use it. In Switzerland it had to be withdrawn from several cantons because of security issues also.
An all-around expert in every aspect of computer voting, from cryptology to programming and much more, Dr. Kiniry has also been an activist for all of his adult life.
How did he first become interested? Like many of us, because of the Florida 2000 debacle--he grew up in Florida but at the time was a grad student at Caltech. When he was 17, he was dedicated to the cause of equal rights of "non-straights" and atheists. He was active in the Boy Scouts until the organization "behaved badly"--then he resigned his ascent toward Eagle Scout status, while trying to make scouting "get better." Today he works toward free election software with the Free Software Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among others. "Religion, sexuality, and privacy" are his causes, he said.
As an academic in the Netherlands, which has had DREs since the mid-80s, Kiniry and colleagues successfully and easily examined them and hacked into them, finding that the machines were not appropriate for elections. The experts testified this before parliament, also specifying the preconditions for adopting new forms of electronic voting. In 2004, these systems were "junked." Dr. Kiniry also worked with others toward the same goal successfully in Ireland. He said that the younger generation of parliamentarians in The Netherlands and Ireland have short memories and want to bring back e-voting in place of the paper and pencil they switched over to.(!)
There is no e-voting in Denmark, where he has also taught at the university level. In 2011 the government promised it, but again, with others, Kiniry fought against it, again testifying before Parliament among other venues, so the government halted any plans in that direction.
He is an Independent partisan and thinks both blue and red are equally responsible for the state of this union. "All parties equally bad in terms of their desire for power," he said. "I keep fighting for good elections for our government too."
He praises Galois, "a very sharing company," for its outreach to the public by translating its services and bottom line into language we can comprehend. Galois is currently working on 25 projects concurrently.
The company is "nonhierarchical," "a flat organization in which the CEO has no more power than the interns," said Kiniry. Any employee, from intern to CEO, can attend any meeting and any employee can veto a decision. All activities are transparent, even salaries. Kiniry refuses to work on a project with even a "sniff of weapons."
Dr. Kiniry has formed a spin-out, Verifiable Elections, still housed with Galois. He is the CEO, and the bottom line is working toward the public good. Their work is the diametric opposite of other vendors'. Verifiable Elections will produce no IV. It reaches out to activists as a firm all about verified voting, open-source (that is, the software can be "used, changed, and shared" without cost), free to use. Kiniry's new brainchild has been peer-reviewed, and all products are also done at Galois, but Verifiable Elections uses different tools and techniques--the most important systems that can be built today. Guarantees are for forever. Like Galois, the company "speaks to the public," publishing one- or two-sheets to explain findings in lay language on things the people need to know. He believes vote-by-mail (VBM) is an optimal system "even though it's called low-performing and the most vulnerable at the hackability level, . . . the easiest system with which to manipulate a vote"--"that's the social aspect," Kiniry says. Numbers of voters have dramatically increased because circumstances are thus improved. It can still be improved to add verifiability, a project that Verifiable Elections has taken on. "IN 10-15 years, half the country will be using VBM." It works best for "low-dispersed" populations like the Pacific Northwest.
But the best system is machine-assisted paper voting like an optical scanner, which is more appropriate for locales with denser populations. Kiniry's opinion is that ballot-marking devices (BMDs, currently reserved for voters with disabilities, which produce a paper ballot rather than an invisible, unverifiable "cyber-vote") "are great things--more efficient and more verifiable [than optical scanners we now use, which he called junk]. BMDs should be used by all, not only ESL voters and those with disabilities."
Of course, for the optimal system there must be machine-assisted tabulation, and the whole system must be complemented with risk-limiting audits, a system that can audit 100 votes in a sample so accurate that it works--the statistics are spot-on; Kiniry calls risk-limiting audits "the lynchpin to make it all work."
Kiniry's favorite system in this country is STAR-Vote, "an excellent system that should be used throughout the country" that is located in Travis County, Texas. Austin and the University of Texas are located in this county, so it is the "non-Texas in Texas," in the sense that the notorious issues like too-stringent voter ID and bigoted redistricting are being championed in other areas of the Lone Star State.
In lay language, a 2014 article by the Texas Tribune describes STAR-Vote: "The new machines would have voters use off-the-shelf electronic equipment like tablets, but also provide them with receipts and printed ballots to allow for easier auditing." The development and implementation process should be ready for use by the 2018 gubernatorial race."
Dr. Kiniry speaks well of the Election Integrity movement in this country. We are a movement of moderate growth, a lively community begun by Verified Voting and receiving some media coverage, but "a drop in the bucket compared to the smallest of lobbying organizations" (small voting machine manufacturers, for example). We are all volunteers. If "some rich soul" were to donate $10-20 million, we could build a nonpartisan think tank like the Heritage Foundation and then things could get moving--our impact would be far greater.
To wrap up an interview, I always ask this: What haven't I asked you that I should have? "My mother always asks me 'Do you like computer voting?'" was his answer. "I say that elections are 'delicate creatures,' not 'one-size-fits-all.' IV is a delicate realm. If voters would give up on the secrecy requirement, IV would become simpler to implement."
"There are infinite challenges to getting it [IV] right, . . ." he concluded. "It's an incredibly hard problem we don't know how to solve: incorporating the first real principles of privacy and integrity."
To Dr. Kiniry, a world-acclaimed expert in the many fields relevant to election systems, "There is no real need for Internet Voting."
26 August 2015: REVIEW INTERSPERSED WITH INTERVIEW--David Schultz, Election Law and Democratic Theory
Election law is a brand-new field, inaugurated in the mid-1990s by Professor Dan Lowenstein, an expert in the field to whom Election Law and Democratic Theory (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014) is dedicated. The author David Schultz's concern in this book is to ground this new field in democratic theory, which he finds a crucial next step to clarify the multiple inconsistencies apparent in Supreme Court decisions across decades. The field of election law so far is limited to lawyers and law professors, but election law is "the jurisprudence that puts democracy into action," "the connective tissue . . . linking the values and theory to the institutions. Election laws are the rules of the game that tell us how the game of democracy is played." Democratic theory "ask[s] what it means to be a democracy . . . about what the fundamental values of an American democracy are, . . . to guide interpretation of the Constitution."
"How often [Supreme Court decisions address or implicate democratic values yet fail to articulate a theory."
The most quoted authority in the book is Robert Dahl, whom the author calls "the best democratic theorist of our time."
Just as democratic theory is a subject relevant to so many fields and pursuits, so it should be a reference point for election law. Without it, the author finds instead that SCOTUS "'decisions seem less principled, more case specific, and simply jumbled.'" What there should be is a hierarchy of interrelated subject matter, a "nesting" arrangement, with a metaphoric three "bowls": the smallest is election law, the Constitution is in the middle, and containing both of them is the largest of all, the foundation, democratic theory.
David Schultz himself is a professor of political science and election law at Hamline University and the University of Minnesota, well qualified to expand academic horizons and bring us all along. It's all about American democracy after all, clearly and accessibly written.
His stunning bio reveals an "author of 28 books and 100+ articles on various aspects of American politics, election law, and the media and politics, . . . regularly interviewed and quoted in the local, national, and international media on these subjects including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, the Economist, and National Public Radio."
In his own words: I am an oddball type of academic. I have taught several others of political science, public administration, criminal justice, economics and economic development, and business classes. More of a generalist in a world of specialization. I have also worked in government and actually worked on more than 50 political campaigns in the past. More than simply an armchair type of person.
Schultz also speaks highly of the presidential candidate most of us at OEN revere, Senator Bernie Sanders. He adds that What is interesting is that Sanders growth in support is far better over the last month than Trump but the later gets all the media. Clinton is vulnerable, Bush is a horrible candidate. I think Bernie may surprise. Trump has staying power with a weak field. If it is Trump versus Clinton it will be closer than we think.
The quintessence, the ultimate proof, writes Schultz, of a crying need for democratic theory to ground the field of election law, is the outcome of the notorious Bush v Gore "one time only" decision with the massive power to select the next president.
"If ever a statement revealed ad hocism and a failure to ground a decision in a broader theory about democracy, it was surely this one."
I asked the author how the situation would have been resolved were election law more grounded in democratic theory. Here is his answer (from an August 23, 2015 email):
1. Recall that Bush v Gore is actually two rounds of cases. The first was a Florida Supreme Court decision that was unanimous during the protest stage. The Supreme Court vacated that decision and asked for clarification by the Florida Supreme Court regarding the state law basis for the decision. Had the Florida Supreme Court acted promptly then the second case might never have reached the Supreme Court and it would have been handled simply as a matter of state constitutional law.
"So Supreme Court Justices are not political theorists, what do you expect? . . . They are lawyers and judges, not philosopher kings and queens . . . election law is incoherent and rudderless" for lack of theory as a base. They rule "on a case-to-case basis . . . and perhaps the reasons why there are confused or so rudderless is their approach to the topic."
Values are implicit within election law disputes . . . often clashing. That's a problem that seems beyond solution given the huge ideological schism afflicting society since . . . the Powell Manifesto? The Reagan administration? The consequences of Bush v Gore? The shutting down of the government twice in the preceding twenty years with a threat to do this again in the near future over Planned Parenthood activities?
Specific Supreme Court decisions and discussions about them weave through the narrative as examples in each chapter: (1) Theory: The Missing Piece in Election Law . . . ; (2) Democratic Theory and American Politics; (3) Voting Rights; (4) Minority Rights and the Failure of Direct Democracy; (5) Representation and Reapportionment; (6), Political Parties, and (7) Money, Politics, and Campaign Financing.
The Introduction and Conclusion concentrate on democratic theory. The Acknowledgments section begins not with thank-you's but a quote from Alfred North Whitehead that all of philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. I'd go so far as to say that all of Western civilization is--the absurdist Samuel Beckett thought that these roots were drying up after such long wear and tear, but Schultz writes of their revival and applicability to new areas--a new field.
American history in general appears in the book in the right places to illuminate perspectives through precedents. Among the crucial markers in the development of democracy in this country was the creation of political parties just after the Constitution was completed, so that there is not one word in the document about them. Throughout the book aspects of the First and Fourteenth Amendments are invoked again and again as attempted explanations or justifications of issues and questions.
Think of the definition of Federalism versus the Democratic-Republicans in the so- controversial battle between Jefferson and Burr in 1800. How the founders feared factionalism but how important political parties are as a basis for democracy, which is said to control them, of which dissent is the lifeblood.
It was Washington who, in his farewell speech warned of factionalism, which flowered into political parties.
Given the climate before the American Revolution, with its government expressed by the Articles of Confederation, fear of factionalism was justifiable. Such warnings would certainly be justifiable too, today. The Tea Party is a faction. Later Schultz adds that today's melee of political confrontations would horrify the founders.
After Election 1800, the author writes that the next milestone in the history of democracy's evolution was Jacksonian democracy as more and more people had acquired the right to vote and elitism had given way to the root meaning of what purports to be our government: "rule by the people." The age of Progressivism followed as another milestone, ushering in "the politics-administration dichotomy, neutral competence, and initiative, referendum, and recall, either a re-invention of democracy" or an effort to stem corruption caused by special interests (so what else is new?). There was FDR's brief Camelot of governing of, by, and for the People one hundred years after Lincoln theorized it and gave it legs long enough to spawn the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, undone soon after by the Jim Crow era. And yet there are many who say that what really cured the economic woes of the great depression was World War II. With the ascent of FDR, by the way, the Democratic Party became the party of the people while the focus of the GOP was "pro-business" and "anti-government." But left-wing and right-wing extremism as we know them today were not evident.
Adding its concepts to Madisonian democracy, with its emphasis on checks and balances and the public good, with its federalism and fear of factions, with its fear of the tyranny of the majority and insistence on the separation of powers, along came pluralism in the mid-twentieth century, with its "Tocquevillian" emphasis on the importance of voluntary groups, the importance of "group competition and the inevitable bargaining it entails, to solve the problem of how to sustain a liberal democracy"--through Tocqueville's balance between discord and consensus? One of his brilliant insights (from his analysis Democracy in America (1835, 1840), written as a result of his visit to the United States in the 1831, is that voluntary association, not the individual, is the savior of democracy--political parties? Further, democracy would not be possible without group associations--"buffers between the government and the people . . . to protect individual rights." [the last quote is another's]. Through the eyes of a foreigner come astounding insights crucial to democratic thinking.
But acknowledgment of the importance of groups in running the country inevitably demands a role for corporations and labor unions. At the same time, a crucial point is that politics is these days wedded to economics most destructively. Big money is running the system in alliance with both parties [Republicans more than Democrats]. Politics must remain separate from economics, just as religion is ideally divorced from politics: "To assert this is not to argue that the political system is divorced from the economy or from a sociology, but instead to contend that the values that determine how economic transactions are made are different from those which should affect the political process." "'The Framers would have been appalled by the impact of modern fundraising practices on the ability of elected officials to perform their public responsibilities.'"
Back to the marriage between the economy and the government, a precedent is centuries old: when George Washington first ran for political office, he gave out too much free rum for the taste of many, inaugurating a long tradition of bribery and with that the quid-pro-quo system that makes sense to some extent but leads to huge corruption and the warped logic behind Don Siegelman's long-term unjustifiable imprisonment.
Throughout Election Law and Democratic Theory, the author is a meticulous guide--in true professorial manner. It's impossible to get lost, quite easy to become riveted. The book includes illuminating discussions of Madisonian democracy and its successor, pluralism. It makes frequent reference to Supreme Court decisions, providing relevant milestones they relate to and important quotations from them. Allusion to and expansion upon milestones in American history remind, educate, and illuminate our perspectives on where we are now in our history and why, all through the lens of democratic theory and what should be its offshoot, election law.
Discussions shock with erudition--how well thought out the author is, how deeply he has explored the many attempts at defining democracy. Questions are answered, when they can be and, when they can't be, the author is honest and assigns them to future research: the field of election law is young and the enormous contribution he has initiated is nascent.
Democracy is, most basically, since very ancient Greece, "rule by the people"--demos (people) and kratos (rule) What this has come to mean to scholars who form a long tradition of interpretive analysis is most informative even as it leads us in many directions: "some sort of equality"; "individual moral autonomy"; "self-rule"; sovereignty of the people; "personal autonomy or liberty of some fashion is required"; "equality and equal voice and the personal liberty to act on that voice"; "effective participation," which can mean "the importance of education as critical to self-government"; and thus "self-interest rightly understood"; "no one is the final imprimatur of truth"; "the people get to decide what will be decided" [not just some of them but all?]; "power belongs to the people."
After reminding readers that the Constitution nowhere grants the right to vote to the demos, the author calls voter ID laws "part of the second great wave of disenfranchisement in the United States," the first, of course, being the racist, severe limitations extant during the Jim Crow era, which lasted nearly 100 years and has arguably rematerialized in twenty-first-century clothing since 2008, when voter ID was deemed Constitutional by the Supreme Court in the case Crawford v Marion County (Indiana). Given that representation was a bone of contention that helped set off the American Revolution in that colonists objected to the "virtual representation" afforded them in Parliament by British MPs, the author wonders why voting was not at the forefront of the framers' thoughts, who instead left this prerogative to the states and to Congress. A uniform, federally regulated system would have made a huge difference in subsequent voting history, but that is another story. In his email of August 23, quoted above, the author himself speaks out in favor of uniformity.
In Election Law and Democratic Theory is the startling observation that most of the language concerning voting in the Bill of Rights is negative, like five of the Ten Commandments: rights shall not be denied on account of x, y, or z, is the phrasing more or less. The voting rate here is much lower than in many of the other democratic countries; but the Supreme Court has affirmed that there is a right to vote in this country: "voting is a highly protected privilege."
In a chapter devoted to voting rights, the author sees two traditions: one that "affirms and expands" the franchise, while a countervailing one shrinks it. One can be a citizen of this country and still be barred from voting, even though adult--felons, minors close to age 18, women (until less than 100 years ago), those who are mentally impaired beyond the ability to make rational decisions, for example, and those who are otherwise crippled by society (more on this below).
Ironically enough, during the Jim Crow era, the Supreme Court officially issued an opinion that the right to "choose" . . . [here qualifications appear] "is a right established and guaranteed by the Constitution" (United States v Classic, 1941). Subsequent Court decisions ruled the one person, one vote "for the purposes of reapportionment" principle (Reynolds v Sims, 1964), also affirming that the Constitution "protects the right to vote in federal elections"--"voting is a fundamental right because preservative of all rights."
The author meticulously enumerates all Court decisions that specify the right to vote--two cases compare it with the right to procreation--and there are many, but other decisions create confusion. For instance, "states have the right to regulate their own elections" and "not all regulations need to be subject to strict scrutiny simply because they impose some burdens on voters"! (Burdick v Takushi, 1992)--the issue was Hawaii's ban on write-in voting.
Detailed legalities figure in, which are fascinating to this EI affiliate, but the upshot struck a significant blow to the voting rights of underprivileged minorities--there was no clear standard to apply in evaluating whether a restriction on a voter right was "reasonable" or "severe" (Burdick again).
Ironically, today's profile of the typical voter, an educated, white property-owner (more often female than male, though), is not so far removed from the prototype of the late-eighteenth-century American voter: white, male, over 21, propertied, well educated, of moderate rather than extremist political tendencies.
A further excruciating point is that neither absentee voting, whether with or without the excuse requirement, and early voting are not Constitutional rights; they are privileges, as articulated in the SCOTUS trial Coleman v Franken in 2009. The southern White Primaries into the 1940s excluded people of color from participation, though they were the politically decisive occasions in such a one-party region. States that hold caucuses instead of primaries should allow and publicize absentee voting as a right, since so many are prevented from voting because of work or other obligations or disabilities. Disenfranchisement occurs also in most states for felons even when they have served their prison terms. Schultz's reaction is that if they retain other Constitutional rights, including due process and freedom of religion, why should they lose the most fundamental of them all, voting, unless they have committed voter fraud? Moreover, to this author and many others, Internet voting (IV) is just around the corner, despite dire objections from many hugely qualified experts with concrete, documented proof of its shortcomings. Think about it: the same thing happened with e-voting, but its constitutionality was never questioned. Its infinite fallibilities were concretely proven any number of times. But IV companies exist and are doing business already; Switzerland and Estonia were the pioneers; IV is spreading in the former; in the latter IV is done by some of the citizens, despite experts having visited the latter country and discovered severe security flaws in its system.
The issue of voter ID once again is brought up, with many categories of fraud enumerated, only one among them having catalyzed the voter ID requirement, the possibility, rarer than being struck by lightening (according to the Brennan Center for Justice) of one voter impersonating another at the polls on Election Day or in the processes of in-person absentee voting or early voting, sometimes overlapping categories.
A broad mythology exists about voter fraud being rampant when it has repeatedly been studied and proven otherwise (at the federal level, according to the Department of Justice, 0.000003 percent of voters). The author delves into this proliferating non-issue that has disenfranchised so many and concludes, "[H]ow do we prove the existence of something that we cannot detect?" The evidence offered is totally unscientific, anecdotal, "unsubstantiated and of the lowest quality." Most supporters of it are Republicans. In the radioactive state of Florida, two election officials admitted that they were motivated to initiate the ID regulation in order to prevent Democrats from voting (the author cites the Palm Beach Post, November 25, 2012).
Studies of the outcome of imposition of the voter ID requirement reveal that, for example, according to political scientists, "[A]s the costs of voting increase, so registration and turnout decrease," taking their toll on groups such as poor people, those lacking government-issued IDs, and people of color."
The proliferating requirement of voter ID, among other repressive measures, forms part of what experts refer to as the "revival of Jim Crow" in twenty-first-century garb, but wait: the assumption is that most voting occurs in person. See above for the counter-trend of Internet voting (IV). Three states--Oregon, Washington, and Colorado vote by mail as do parts of California. Writes Schultz, "[T]echnology and changing social structures are forcing a rethinking of what the American democracy should be." Early and absentee voting, along with anticipated developments like IV, guarantee that Election Day will be a very different sort of event in the future--quaint, attracting luddites and traditionalists and, inevitably, those who can't afford to join the Age of Technology because of various societal stigmas and handicaps. There is hardly a guarantee that things in the realm of voting and elections will improve. The issues will relocate to other forms of corruption and injustice. The Golden Age is hardly upon us, though our conceptions of it are constantly in battle. One legacy of the Progressive era (the period between the advent of Jim Crow and World War I) was new features of direct democracy--ballot initiatives, referendums, and recalls but, the author quickly qualifies, before we become too exultant, they have largely been taken over by big money and the rest of us suffer as a result. Direct democracy had its demise back in the days when the people's town meetings, forums for live disputes among citizenry, outgrew their village-sized spaces and turned into cities, counties, and municipalities that required representation--I call this the evolution from democracy to republicanism, with no bad reflection on those conscientious representatives who during their furloughs hold such meetings among as many constituent groups as possible. US Rep. Gabby Giffords (formerly D-AZ) was nearly killed during one of them. The author does list successful instances of ballot initiatives and referenda--people making laws for themselves, restoring representative democracy: medical marijuana if not more, physician-initiated suicide, and other political reform initiatives including gay rights. Power to the people! But referendums, for example, usually occupy such small spaces on the ballot and use language inaccessible to many semi-literate and non-native English speakers--read: usually among the underprivileged classes--that even if they do work on behalf of such minorities, so what for several reasons. More outreach would be needed than is available.
But larger than specifics, these innovations gave rise to majoritarianism. The lower classes lose out as the prototypical white property owner prevailed. Oops. "[M]inority rights are often targets of initiatives and referenda." Between 1898 and 1978, only 33 percent of ballot measures were supported by the voters. Civil rights protection fell by the wayside according to a study conducted between 1960 and 1998. One in six such measures prevailed. "Majorities voted to repeal, limit, or prevent any minority gains in . . . civil rights over eighty percent of the time."
In the realm of minority politics, Progressivism generally failed, writes Schultz. "As Justice Jackson so eloquently stated, certain rights should not be decided at the ballot box and going forward, initiative and referendum should exclude votes on any propositions that deal with minority rights."
On the subject of reapportionment, which often translates into gerrymandering despite or in line with the crucial SCOTUS "one person, one vote" ruling (United States v Classic, 1941), the author is critical of the legality of partisan gerrymandering, which, he writes, should be unconstitutional. It has been ruled justiciable but beyond that the Supreme Court can't decide effectively or conclusively. The issue is still muddled and in need of strict regulation--"The current election law representation jurisprudence is flawed or incomplete, necessitating a significant rethinking." A Texas politician in a recent scenario [including his state's Republican majority, which is numerically shrinking] jokingly admitted to political motivation for reapportionment, careful to distinguish it from racial prejudice--how much overlap there is between the two!
[Most recently, I read on August 23, 2015 that the Maryland, Virginia, and Florida state legislatures were so deadlocked in reapportionment disputes that they handed over the decisions to the courts to decide--ed. Then on August 24, 2015, I read that the issue is still gridlocking the Virginia legislature. At least the issue is on rather than under the table.]
Gerrymandering, as we all know, is nearly as old as the United States. These days, writes the author, "serious party competition has almost disappeared." There are fewer and fewer competitive races. One method of gerrymandering, "cracking," means to scatter minorities throughout several districts so as to avoid their carrying the vote in any one of them. "Packing" is the opposite, cramming minorities into as few districts as possible so that, where they constitute majorities, their vote will prevail in fewer districts than those in cracked or [dare I say it? ] Republican-dominated districts. There are exceptions. Maryland has been gerrymandered by Democrats. According to Christopher Ingraham, writing for the Washington Post in May 2014, "the Democrats are under-represented by about 18 seats in the House, relative to their vote share in the 2012 election. The way Republicans pulled that off was to draw some really, really funky-looking Congressional districts." And "Contrary to one popular misconception about the practice, the point of gerrymandering isn't to draw yourself a collection of overwhelmingly safe seats. Rather, it's to give your opponents a small number of safe seats, while drawing yourself a larger number of seats that are not quite as safe, but that you can expect to win comfortably."
Problems with political parties feed into these issues. As mentioned above, the authority on the relevant issues is laws passed subsequently to the Constitution as well as SCOTUS decisions (and reference to the First and Fourteenth Amendments). The rise of parties was disadvantageous as well as productive, as argued above. There is no coherent theory about parties even within the broad realm of democratic theory, which the author does point out is not the font of every answer: " . . . there is perhaps no definitive, coherent theory of American democracy in the same way that there is no definitive version of what democracy is." Another excellent question then asked: what is to be done? What should be [parties'] role within theory and practice? The author enumerates their enormous value within the system, and ultimately, "If stability is one goal of democracy, then maintenance of competitive structures is important."
Another problem, as yet unsolved, relates to the role of parties versus that of other interest groups participating in democracy, from gargantuan to small NGOs. "The lines between governmental and non-governmental entities is become more blurred also," as is the line needed between accountability to the government and autonomy. A further issue is the blurred distinction between parties as private entities versus parties as active participants in who gets to run the state and smaller government units. Despite SCOTUS debate over the issue, "judicial confusion" is still evident. Exclusivity is involved: when can parties discriminate as private actors and when are they relevant participants in government at the state and local levels and therefore when are they subject to government regulation, specifying, for example, "when the government can regulate to protect a right to vote." Numerous Supreme Court decisions enter the discussion, but again "case law is not clear." Three cases aver that "internal party affairs generally need to be left free from government regulation." Democratic theory condones this perspective: "parties generally need to be free to operate." SCOTUS decisions aver that a clear line is needed between external and internal party affairs, but ultimately "the Court seems confused in its treatment of parties."
So is democratic theory in defining exactly what a political party is, the author notes. The either/or of parties as public or private entities may be the wrong way to attempt to define parties. Neither democratic theory nor election law has kept up with this transferal of some people's affiliations away from parties to other entities.
The floundering question "What is money?--the foundation of the plutocracy our government has become?" has been troubling me, to say the least, since I explored the ramifications of the Citizens United decision and its predecessor (1975) Buckley v Valeo which, writes Schultz, doesn't go quite as far as to specify that money is speech. Citizens United does and to add salt to injury, further decisions since early 2010 only solidify this principle. The author states briefly that money is actually property. An earlier version of the Declaration of Independence specified it as one of our fundamental rights, but it was later edited to "pursuit of happiness." Yes, money can bring forms of happiness. As my sardonic father used to say, "I'd rather be rich and miserable than poor and miserable."
Money is property. "Money" talks is a theme the author reiterates--nonstop these days, with not enough trickling down to the people (given our present voodoo economics) who pay all of the taxes. Rich people talk and are listened to as they grease palms. Through this sort-of-syllogism we're right back into plutocracy, that monster humanity has objected to and attempted to battle when brave enough. Property is just the beginning.
"In essence, their [the Supreme Court's] First Amendment enshrines capitalism."
Should I give you a hint about how the book ends? the author emailed to me on August 10. The butler does it!
Of course, democratic political theory is another process in flux, rather than definitive, encompassing not just what American democracy has been; it is normative--how our evolving values and institutions should operate; it should be empirical, encompassing the findings of political science; and of course it involves jurisprudence in a transcendent mixture that the author is only beginning to explore and apply. This book is an introduction to a project to change thinking fundamentally, inevitably influencing laws and judicial decision making. There is need for an update to embrace what democracy has become since pluralism emerged in the mid-twentieth century, so that the field of election law as well as a new definition of American democracy are in the works, a crucial point in thinking and practice. "Democracy and election law are poised for another great transformation."
I have not scratched the surface of the insightfulness of this book and what it has taught me. This review is too long. An expert would have summed up the vitally important points in far fewer words. I could have underlined every word in the book and still not written the review this book deserves.
In a word, read this book. I cannot recommend it too highly and thank the author for the further insights he supplied as I wrote this review--this interview portion is set in italics.
*****To conclude on another note, I also asked the author whether he approves of electing judges at every level of the judiciary in this country. He agreed with me that appointment of them is preferable--I had said that despite the very definition of our governing system as democratic, appointment would more closely approach the possibility of nonpartisan objectivity that should be a hallmark of the judiciary system but often isn't. Professor Schultz answered: First, judicial selection makes a difference. Research suggests that elected judges are less likely to support individual rights than those appointed. While I think all selection systems are flawed, I personally think some type of appointed system is the best.
---------- Editor's note: Election Law and Democratic Theory was published in 2014 and much that is relevant to the author's narrative forms the subject matter of more recent developments--these I have occasionally alluded to, to illustrate his points as their crucial relevance expands into yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Professor Schultz is, as well, a two-time Fulbright scholar who has taught extensively in Europe . . . and the 2013 Leslie A. Whittington national award winner for excellence in
9 August 2015: Going Greene or, the God-Sent Donald Trump
When Donald Trump's first threat, first words during the first Republican presidential candidate debate on August 6, were that he might detach himself from the GOP and run as an Independent if he doesn't win in the primaries, Hillary smiled. Maybe that bright illusive dream of hers would finally come true, with Trump as her fairy godfather. Something has to be done about that classified email sent via her personal server, though. Who will rescue her from that? Donald Trump again?
Should all of us Progs vote for him in the primaries? But then the real winner of the August 6 debate will lose out, Bernie Sanders, unless Hillary drowns in her emails. Then one of the others would prevail, those that have not yet punctured the needs of the MSM.
So The D could open the door to Hillary if we vote for him in the primaries or Bernie if we vote for Bernie in the primaries. You know how I feel about Bernie, despite Hillary being a member of the purple class that comprised our big sisters when we came to Wellesley as freshwomen. She is our star graduate. I'd smile to see her go farther, but be far happier if Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Stiglitz, and Paul Krugman were able to help straighten out things at the federal level. Would a Clinton-Sanders ticket win? You know who I want as POTUS. How do you say vice president as an acronym? VeeP is so clownish. VPOTUS? VOTUS?
Or maybe The D was there to make all of the other clowns look good. In that area he mostly succeeded. Mike Huckabee even spoke in support of our entitlements. He'd also like to kill Planned Parenthood. Who needs it? Women? The better half of the human race?
The Donald Game seems to be creeping out from under the rug as the latest GOP genius-prank, only worse. One precedent was Alvin Greene's victory in the 2010 Democratic senatorial primaries in South Carolina against the state's favorite GOP guy, Jim DeMint. Greene was, by most standards of success, a loser in every sense, an unknown who had served in the army but not left in a blaze of glory, penniless, having run no campaign. The DeMint explanation was U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn's (D-SC). The GOP wanted DeMint to win. Some prominent progressives (Brad Friedman, Victoria Collier, and Ben Ptashnik) found that Greene's far more qualified opponent, former circuit court judge and four-term state legislator Vic Rawl, defeated by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin, had won wherever paper ballots were used. Where the unrecountable ES&S touchscreens were used, in the huge majority of districts, Greene prevailed.
Now we can put together these Progressive explanations. The instrument by which Greene won the primary was the ES&S system, manned through familiar dark tunnels by its cronies the GOP to put their man in office.
Now it's happened again in Mississippi, five years later, in another primary, this time gubernatorial. Am I correct that this resurrection of skullduggery didn't reappear until now, after 2010? Clowns versus crowns? The Magnolia State also uses touchscreen machinery, in the large majority of its districts, with printers attached that reproduce highly suspect ballot results--those spat upon them by the DREs. These miraculous devices also mustered an easy victory for an unknown Democratic primary candidate running against far more qualified opponents who had spent far more than Robert Gray did--nothing. At least he was employed, as a truckdriver, but the address he gave turned out "apparently" to be an abandoned house. He won by 51 percent. He was, of course, opposed by two women. And women's rights are not much of a priority among Republicans these days.
The Mississippi news was reported by the Guardian. I didn't find it anywhere but the Guardian, but AP, the National Journal, and Mississippi's more local Clarion Ledger are mentioned as also carrying this afterthought that means next to nothing to most of us. "What, there are Democrats in Mississippi?" joked one response in the Guardian.
Means next to nothing? Why, the majority of Americans favor voter ID, ridiculously. All they need is some education and outreach, as Minnesotan Progressive activists proved.
All that I'm proving, I guess, is that it takes all sorts of shenanigans not only to run clowns against reactionaries but also clowns successfully against good candidates. By supporting Donald Trump as a Republican in the primaries, we Progressives will at least be ensuring the survival of our entitlements, and not via Mike Huckabee. By supporting Bernie Sanders in the primaries, we will be voting our hearts and minds--a blessed event, but where will it lead? We're really painted into a corner. Remember John Kerry's surprise victory in Iowa in 2004 and what happened thereafter?
I still don't understand how members of Congress can want to put their parents out on the street by taking away our entitlements, because many of them come from very humble backgrounds. Well, given that 50 percent of them are millionaires, 50 percent of such parents will be taken care of, I'm sure, but the rest of us oldsters--what are we to do but storm Washington en masse? In wheelchairs, using walkers or canes or crutches?
Candidates who spend no money or effort on their campaigns have rights, too. It they don't, then neither do the rest of us. But why do some pols have to use underhanded ingenuity, exploiting them rather than serving them, if what others have to offer serves all of us, even The Donald (remember how Cheney thrived during Bill Clinton's administration)? Is it as American as apple pie? Rotten pie, if so.
I don't know, but there they went again and what else can we look forward to, hearts pounding in our throats, hands shaking? Stay tuned, as always, for more surprises. But don't look in the headlines. It sometimes takes ten years for the MSM to catch on. Go online and stay there.
In loving memory of Samuel Nussbaum, a Holocaust survivor, my grandfather, who died on this day in 1960, never having found out who won in November, Kennedy or Nixon. Did he care? He loved FDR.
4 July 2015: Will America Die Before It Becomes Itself?
Today I have Langston Hughes's most famous poem on my mind--the brilliant insight that America isn't America. Our country suggests a perfect democracy it may never become. Today we celebrate a document that execrates Native Americans as savages just below the Lockean eloquence we drool over, intimations of which I read actually in words written by an African American quoted by Howard Zinn, before the Declaration was written, with such eloquence and such learning.
Here is what I wrote in a review for Opednews.com of Zinn's magisterial comprehensive history: "That Tom Jefferson took the theme of the dignity of humanity from the unsuccessful plea written by the self-educated African American Benjamin Banneker, that he put aside his racial prejudice. You'll find other foreshadowings of immortal oratory in their [his] humble words."
So we all know that America was first an oligarchy of the rich and famous--although New Jersey, my home state, allowed women to vote from the 1790s onward for some years--then it decided in agreement with Ben Franklin that owning a donkey shouldn't determine one's right to vote. But the idea of us thrills so many still and lo and behold, along comes Bernie Sanders to promise us America. And his polling results are closing up a huge gap with Hillary Clinton's lead.
In my heart I know I'm Green and already pray for a Sanders victory. In my heart I know that Secretary Clinton is right (-wing) and moreover not in good enough health to assume the presidency, although the upside is that we'd have two presidents, both middle of the road, she at least very lately having taken on ideals that the Election Integrity movement espoused at least ten years ago if not more. I told Danny Schechter in an interview that the Progs are always ten years ahead of the rank-and-file Democrats.
And I honor, extol, and hallow the memory of Danny Schechter today, who might have said that Bernie Sanders IS the July 4, the America we've always pined after. Today I declare myself strongly in favor of him, despite Secretary Clinton's lead in the polls. Next year at this time I pray for a reversal of these numbers. I pray that in Election 2016, just as in 2008, we won't be forced to vote for the lesser of two evils.
So the preceding paragraph seems to meld Bernie into Danny, or the reverse, with some amount of pronominal ambiguity. They are both heroes of the highest order. I don't know Senator Sanders personally but did know Danny and did study heroic prototypes as a classicist in another life. To be a hero, must one be arrogant, hugely aggressive, sometimes totally irrational and with that crazy? Of course. Danny was those and so much more, motivated by a profound, enduring love of people suffering at every level and committed to changing it.
And he did, as we affirmed at his recent, beautiful memorial service at Judson Memorial Church in New York on his birthday, June 27. I didn't even think to bring a reporter's pad to that event, only worrying about bringing the same cloth handkerchief to that event as the one I inherited from my mom and used to weep for her--she died a year ago June 8.
I brought along raw emotions, watching one aspect of Danny after another speak beautiful words about him at the podium. We began by singing a national anthem, South Africa's, a land he loved and worked tirelessly to rescue from Apartheid. I can't quote a sentence--only words like "love," "passion," "heroism," "insanely nonstop labors on behalf of the persecuted hordes" (the latter is a paraphrase but the intent is sincere).
In his Preface to my Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols, Danny called me obsessive about Election Integrity, "a woman possessed," and I call him now something far greater, a human rights hero, an impossibly inaccessible formula of traits required to change the world.
As I said, I don't know Bernie Sanders but I do see in him a world changer, a hero, the revolution we've been praying for, Occupying democracy with more and more success.
God bless the wonderful life of Danny Schechter and keep us from ever forgetting him, and bless this country with a Bernie Sanders future.
July 4 this year has turned me inside-out. So be it. We must all translate our love for what America should be and must become in order to survive, into action--all of us. I've said unto exhaustion that democracy is hard work. I'm old and these days do little more than write as my contribution, but did lots more in the past--never enough, efforts dwarfed by Danny's.
We must create an America in which all can work hard toward a literal rather than just nominal democracy. I don't know what Danny would say about this July 4 but would have read it avidly. Bernie Sanders promises us America. Danny Schechter worked impossibly and obsessively hard to turn the world into what Langston Hughes taught us is America.
So let's start in America. Lead us, Danny and Bernie, toward the impossible task of founding America, of declaring independence against everything holding the world back from it. Let's celebrate a true July 4 this year and commit ourselves to work savagely 24/7 to translate the idea planted in 1776 into reality.
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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