Saturday, January 31, 2009

Election Law

It is ironic.

The right wing political movement espouses a non-intrusive central government, recommending that we allow most things to be decided locally - in short that local knowledge is often best.

It is ironic because during argument before the US Supreme court in 2000 (Bush v. Gore) - the argument the Democrats felt the Republicans had to make was that somehow not uniformly counting ballots between states or even counties was harmful to Bush more than Gore - an argument that of course wouldn't be successful. So, instead they argued that citizen X in county X, was disenfranchised because his/her vote wasn't counted, while, under the same rules, citizen Y in county Y - was counted.

The CONSERVATIVE Supreme Court 'bought' this argument - and Big Brother never had a bigger day.

The SCOTUS knew what it had wrought, and in it's ruling included that the Bush v. Gore decision was ONLY applicable to that ruling. However now, here in Minnesota, that ruling is being used to justify doing something which ought to offend the right to its core - it is being used to say that the decisions of local election officials (TWICE) were wrong, even when in some cases that second review only determined a ballot to be ineligible because of the objection of one side or the other (between Coleman and Franken) - as reported during the current Coleman election contest trial by local election judges. Further, the Coleman side has contended that the judges not only got it wrong twice, including those ballots the where campaigns were allowed to overrule the officials and discard votes - but that the count and recount review of ballots got it so manifestly wrong that they simply cannot be trusted.

Let's deal with the first part - in Bush v. Gore, the fundamental problem I have with the decision is this. Republicans across the south (and Dixiecrats too), have created unequal voting processes - they have for decades put shoddy, unreliable machines in too few numbers in poor precincts. In Florida, they attempted to sidestep rules in order to include military absentee ballots which were undated, but didn't want undated other ballots included (neither should have been in my opinion). What's worse though is that Katherine Harris, with Jeb Bush's tacit approval, threw 14,000 voters off the roles (illegally or so it is reported by a separate investigation AND by the company who did the work - they advised Harris such conduct was probably illegal - following the 2000 election that investigated concluded exactly thus - it was not legal or proper for Harris to have done this) What Harris did was dump 14,0000 (approx) mostly poor and mostly black voters - because their names were 'kinda' similar to that of felons - again despite being warned about the very very high likelihood that many thousands of voters would be disenfranchised. In short, they setup a highly unequal system - argue that local decisions matter - and then used the fact that human judgement - on ANY rule set - will vary, to argue that an unequal system is unconstitutional. After 2000, however, they then (in the FL legislature) opposed meaningful reforms which would have leveled the playing field in Florida to ensure adequate and even capability machines were provided across the state in proportion to the voting population of the counties.

The biggest offense (to me) is the essential suggestion that local officials could not rule uniformly 'enough' to be trusted. This process has been the norm and case throughout this country's LONG history of free and fair elections. It's the height of hypocrisy that the right - which champions local wisdom normally, will say perfect uniformity is required whenever it's convenient or serves their purposes. If they had suggested that the SAME local official in a county or recount process decided the exact same looking ballots differently, I'd have to agree the process was flawed, but that's not the case. What happened in Florida was that one person's judgement of what a 'hanging or dimpled' chad meant - vis a vis the rule of 'clear voter intent' was different that some other judges. That, in and of itself, is NOT wrong, not at all. You cannot possibly legislate enough, create enough rules, to create perfect and uniform decisions when those decisions are made by human beings with discerning minds. The allowance of those officials to judge locally was tossed out by Justices and politicians who otherwise argued vehemently FOR local authority, the wisdom of the common man, and especially for UN UNIFORM voting practices.

In Minnesota now, Bush v. Gore - and its ludicrous 'equal protection' stance are being used to try to effectively toss out the local decisions, including, and this may be the best part, offering up in court ballots that local officials may have accepted but the contestant - COLEMAN - had tossed out by his recount team. Meaning, we're trying to determine fairness based upon ballots NOT wrongly rejected by local officials, but instead by highly partisan operatives - so, just like in Bush v. Gore, the court made one standard for the recount, which apparently now is figuring out lead to problems. Rather than understanding and agreeing EACH county (where the recount was conducted) doubtless acted differently, but still uniformly within its own process - thus neither candidate was likely affected disparately, instead the court is saying "because it was imperfect, we have to decide how broadly we'll recount AGAIN." Of course remember that NO candidate is likely to be more affected than the other to any meaningful extent, as the standard - as long as it's applied evenly within the county or recount center, will remove roughly equal numbers of votes, unless one side wants to try to argue that their side is more 'dumb' than the other about how to vote - I will laugh out loud if someone makes that point. Instead, what's argued is that if the vote would have been accepted in Sherbourne County - by a subjective opinion of an Election Judge, but is rejected by a subjective decision by a different judge in Ramsey, well, then that decision, in one way or another, is flawed. Apparently, in order to be fair, there must be PERFECT AGREEMENT between judges (hundreds of them) making subjective decisions on objectively even acceptance rules - the kinds of decisions which are made hundreds of thousands of times across the country. Put it another way, if the Court agrees, this will require perfect uniformity in any manual decision process (or so it would seem) on EVERY national election - or at least on any that are close. If not, go to court, and have the government intervene for you to require perfect uniformity. Big Brother, thy name is neo-con group think.

Of course, this is nonsense to require - for if you do, if you buy this equal protection poppycock invented by an irresponsible and HIGHLY partisan SCOTUS in 2000 - doing exactly what they said you should NOT do in their first decision re: Bush v. Gore(meaning engage in retractive rules making) - you basically say NO FURTHER LOCAL COUNT WILL EVER BE VALID, EVER. Each time any counting of absentee or other human involved counting occurs, the loser will be perfectly within their rights to challenge based on equal protection. In fact, all past elections which were close enough to allow manually counted votes to matter - ARE ALREADY IN QUESTION - we will, should we go down this road, indict to a small degree, the election process in this country which outside of the Jim Crow/Tammany Hall eras, has been a model of electoral fairness. And we will do it without ever fixing the flaws in mechanical voting processes of disparate services and access. In short, we'll fix what isn't broken, demean our faith in people, and leave unfixed that which should be fixed. Welcome to the duplicity of 'local governance' as mouthed by the ultra-right.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I have never

been prouder of my country or of my fellow countrymen than I am today.

I stand here, humbled by the greatness of our democratic experiment, humbled by the wisdom of its founders, and grateful for the fortune of my birth into it.

I stand here with tears in my eyes, watching a wonderful, articulate, brilliant man take the oath of Office of the President of the United States.

I know some find this faith, this exultant joy, to be mysterious. They feel our faith is both unfounded, and grounded in a lack of fact or wisdom.

I counter that it is they who profoundly underestimate the pride, patriotism, and resolve of those who backed Barack Obama. In truth, our joy stems from the fact that for eight years we were excluded, for eight years our wisdom was discarded, our intellect ignored, our opinion dismissed and even more often demeaned. They do not understand the pent-up frustrations at watching the compassion of a nation go squandered, moved upward, and shipped off. They do not understand the pent-up frustrations of watching our national reputation and integrity get traded away for an ephemeral peace more true in words than in fact.

So today, our frustration is released, our hopes renewed, our faith endures and we feel has been rewarded that what we know to be great about America, its decency, its common purpose and willingness to meet a common need, has been restored again, refreshed again. We are more wise than our critics ever understood, and as facts bore out, that this nation does best when we do not set out dividing lines, looking to the welfare of a few, but rather when we stand up for the rights of all. Today the inauguration of Barack Obama is less about the man, than the restoration of decency and honesty and most of all common ground among us. I invite his critics to grasp and accept we are not naive', but instead fair minded and impatient for this country to carve out the path again it started down 222 years ago.

Friday, January 16, 2009

To sleep, perchance to rewrite history

I'm no one's bard (not news) - I'm also no one's poet.

I say these things because in humility do we find the honesty and compassion so often lacking in the behavior of those whom we would otherwise despise. I say that because it is the lack of self-awareness, lack of humility, lack of grace which so often I (and I believe others) find so off-putting from those who can easily criticize, but rarely acknowledge their own failures. Instead, excuses are offered, instead the failures of their detractors are offered as justifications for their own conduct and their own failures.

This week (yesterday to be precise) George Bush gave (yet another) farewell speech. In it, he described how history may judge him better than we do so today. He described how he simply listened to his convictions, and kept us 'safe' from terrorism, how he was the unhandsome hero, who bore the price and lashes of his detractors willingly while staving off calamity. He admitted to a few 'mistakes' but generally didn't name them, nor did he claim ownership of what might have lead to them - meaning he didn't acknowledge any fact of behavior or weakness, merely that 'something' went wrong.

Such is the pattern of those like this man (Bush), this masquerade of a Presidency. I found this conference to be disquieting at best, nauseating at worst.

This President violated law after law, not openly in the pride of the cross-bearer, but clandestinely. He positioned political operators to sully and demean his detractors, not welcome their barbs and slings with due confidence and humility. He engaged in a war not of necessity, but instead contrived to force upon us a war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives needlessly, to erect a hoped-for democracy that may well fail in the end. He did not write an epitaph of Wilsonian vision, but a legacy of debt, deceit, and contempt.

His supporters liken him to Lincoln, but in truth, he and his supporters were and are as far from Lincoln as they are from Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter, Ghandi, and Yitzhak Rabin. Lincoln accepted the reality that both the North and South created and abided slavery, and that both were due blame. He (Lincoln) counseled compassion, grace, forgiveness and cooperation in rebuilding the south, rather than retribution, tough talk, and scornful contempt for the south as so many of GWB's supporters bespeak of Muslims and Arabs. He was the antithesis of the neocon movement, humble, accepting of his own shortcomings, forgiving, and always seeking a better, more decent way. President Bush presided over 8 years of extraordinary divisiveness where contempt for one's political opposition grew to a fever pitch, where the opponent was demonized in a revival of McCarthy-esque commentary about "America Haters" and asinine calls for investigations of "Anti-American sentiments."

So, as President Bush says farewell, I bid him on his way. I hope his life is peaceful, but I also hope someday, someone will help him understand the folly of his contemptuous attitude, help him to understand that unwavering conviction to principles that 'anything goes' to accomplish financial tyranny, or American corporate imperialism, including the constant and wilful deception of the American people, was hardly heroic, and certainly anything but Lincoln-esque.

As Shakespeare puts it - (the true bard)

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make

I hope this President grasps someday in his life or his eternal slumber that his challenge was not to trade liberty and long-term stability for 'security', but rather the ensure liberty by setting a shining example - that is the lesson Lincoln lived - and he did not.

A crying shame

Today the StarTribune announced it is filing for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11.

While there are many detractors, most of them neo-cons who don't appreciate any story covered from any angle that isn't their own chosen spin, and while there are reasons to criticize any paper which is so politically correct it won't even print the name of the Cleveland baseball team (The Indians) - the fact is that papers and the press services supporting them, represent truly the final bastion of in-depth coverage. The simple tactile pleasure of sitting down with a paper and a cup of coffee is unmistakable and undeniable. The ability to retain the paper, or an article, and post its wisdom, its headline, to capture that moment in time, is unique.

Papers are dying in the United States - in part due to competition with on-line resources, certainly due to competition with television news, but more in part due to the shortening attention span of the public regarding news in general. They've also suffered somewhat of an 'identity crisis' due to the relentless, ultra-biased criticism of the monied right, and tried (vainly) to reinvent themselves as 'centrist' something those who will never see anything other than the ultra-right as centrist. I believe they moved away from their target market - toward a dumbed down - USAToday version of themselves, and so lost both their niche, and their identity.

While they may be white elephants - I believe that in the end, when all of the locals are gone, we will miss them terribly. We will think that it is a crying shame that they have passed, like the telegraph, into the ether of history.