Showing posts with label Republican War on the Republic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Republican War on the Republic. Show all posts

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Betsy Devos Will Destroy Public Education, The Bedrock Of Our Republic


“Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.”  Carl Sagan


























Betsy Devos is actually being considered for Education in the Trump cabinet. Oh hell no

Let's consider the words of one of the founding fathers:

"I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." Thomas Jefferson (letter to George Wythe, August 13, 1786).

Thomas Jefferson's lifelong belief in the importance of public education as the bedrock of a free Republic was shared by many of the founding fathers.  A major reason why most of humanity has lived in virtual enslavement for most of history is that the common people have been historically excluded from the education that was strictly reserved for the wealthy and priestly classes. As students of the Enlightenment, the framers of the Constitution of the United States of America understood from reading history - and through personal experience and observation - that the elusive key to greater liberty and equality for humankind has always been education.


Knowledge is power and education is the great equalizer. The founders knew that public education - the dissemination of the power of knowledge throughout a population of equals - was vital to a free and productive society. They believed that an educated citizenry was one of the foundational "common causes" behind which all citizens ought to throw their full support for the betterment of humankind and for the good of the new nation. 

They also knew that this public education - which would become the backbone of a more just and free society, the first of its kind in human history - must be protected from ideological influences and agendas. They had witnessed firsthand the oppression and tyranny that results when religious ideology is imposed upon a people, and they tried - via the establishment clause in the Constitution - to strike a balance between protection of an individual's religious liberty and the protection of the general population from any religious group which might seek to impose its religious ideology on the entire people. 


 "...kings, priests and nobles..."
"Kings, priests and nobles" -  and their modern-day equivalent: megachurch leaders, pastors and conservative religious hierarchies - have always known this and thus feared and hated the idea of an educated public. Elites do not want social equality. More social equality is seen by powerful elites as a zero sum game: more power and wealth for the general population means less power and wealth for them, which is why education has historically been the ruthlessly guarded privilege of those elites.  Throughout history, in many parts of the world, they made sure that it was actually illegal to educate the common people. 

Wealthy, religious elites - whose wealth is sucked out of the people over whom they have religious power - fear an educated population the most and, when public education is legally mandated (as in the USA), they will do their utmost to undermine and impoverish it. They know that an educated populace will inevitably lead to the disruption of their traditional power structures. They recognise that they cannot exploit the people if the people are educated. Educated people have access to the knowledge once exclusively owned by religious elites, and can separate facts from fiction. Educated people develop confidence, independence and aspirations. Educated people fight back against exploitation.  

A rare, true church sign slogan.
"Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to ; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty." Thomas Jefferson, 3rd US President (letter to James Madison, 4th US President, December 20, 1787).

Jefferson's insight no doubt informed religious conservatives in their strategy to undermine the Republic and reduce the United States to an authoritarian theocracy. They recognized that it really was education, primarily, which enabled millions of people to rise above the poverty and disenfranchisement which has been the fate of "common people" everywhere for all of human history. And it was education of the people which was helping millions of Americans enjoy a better standard of living - earned through their own well-educated efforts - which had been impossible when they were an uneducated peasantry whose life circumstances and well-being were entirely at the mercy of a culture which allowed all power and wealth to be concentrated into the hands of a very few, usually religious, elite groups.


...which is exactly what conservatives fear most!
It was this fact -  that free public education gives power to the people instead of to religious elites - which put the American school system at the top of the religious conservatives' hit list. Filtering information through their own self-interested Biblical lens, and keeping the vast majority of people fearful, ignorant and acquiescent because of the threat of eternal divine punishment had long been the primary means of concentrating power into the hands of the priestly classes, but public education -by giving the people access to the knowledge that once was the secret posession of the clergy, and the critical thinking skills with which to assess the claims and threats of religion - undermined the theological house of cards upon which church authority rests, breaking its stranglehold over the public psyche. 

Millions of educated people who are capable of understanding the ideologies and questioning the actions of powerful groups in their midst become far more difficult to control and exploit. Millions of educated people, who have been taught history and critical thinking skills, are able to recognise when the doctrine of a religious elite is immoral, self-interested power-mongering.  Therefore, it became the first priority of the religious right movement to undermine and discredit public education while simultaneously spearheading a parallel assortment of pseudo-educational systems with which to replace it.  The Christian homeschooling movement is not, and never was, a grassroots phenomenon. Likewise, the private Christian school and college campuses mushrooming up all over the country are a targeted investment in this strategy.

As they insinuated themselves into school boards across the country - running as fiscal conservatives to get elected only to turn around and concentrate on their religious agenda once in power - religious conservatives began a determined campaign to inject religious mythology into public school classrooms, inventing fake "controversies" over established scientific theories which conflicted with Christian beliefs, and often succeeding in forcing grossly misleading "information" into school curriculums. The ongoing effort of Christian conservatives to force the teaching of Biblical creationism in science classrooms, falsely presenting religious belief as a scientific theory to school children is a chilling example of this. 

Who needs public school when all you'll ever need to
know can be found in the Bible?
In addition to these determined efforts to force schools to teach a generation of American children lies and mythology as "historical facts" and "scientific theory" (which may potentially handicap them for life), conservative school board members in key districts have also moved to prevent children from learning vital critical thinking skills. The reason why the religious right wants to reduce or eliminate higher order thinking skills in the general population is obvious - as mentioned above, properly educated people are equipped to see through the religious right's agenda - but the unintended consequence may very possibly be a population rendered incapable of meeting the demands of a competitive global race for technological and scientific innovation due to huge gaps in their education.

Consider this plank in the Texas Republican party platform:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. (from a position statement in the 2012 Texas Republican Party Platform).

The Texas Republican Party is openly calling for a ban on the teaching of vital critical thinking skills. They are not shy about saying this - it is right there in their published platform statement - and, thanks to the current climate of rising authoritarian anti-intellectualism, they are not shy about saying why they want to deprive Texas students (and ultimately all students) of the right to a full education, including the development of the ability to think for themselves. 
...and only This...

They intend to change Texas law so that religious belief will replace scientifically verifiable knowledge. They intend to enshrine into law that children cannot learn anything in school which will conflict with Christian teachings. The reference to "behavior modification" is a dog whistle thrown in to arouse right wing paranoia. HOTS have nothing to do with "behavior modification"; that sentence makes no sense whatsoever to anybody who actually understands educational theory, but pseudo-intellectual sounding claptrap is the stock in trade of Christian conservatives justifying their rejection of any secular initiative. Likewise, the jarringly inappropriate reference to "parental authority" and "fixed beliefs" makes no sense, unless the crux of the position is that schools will be prohibited from teaching pupils anything at all other than what parents and churches have already told them is all they need to know. That would make public schools unnecessary and redundant. 

Which is exactly the point.

Preventing a generation of children from receiving a proper education is precisely the goal of the religious right. For those children that they have already siphoned off into fundamentalist Christian homeschooling and private Christian schools, the pseudo-education has already been well underway for more than a generation. It is the public schools which still vex them. Limping along, greatly hampered by the constant attacks, the draining of resources through determined conservative legislative attacks on the value and sincerity of public education and teachers, and the bleeding dry of funding and student enrollments via school voucher campaigns redirecting public funds into religious schools, the public school system has been under constant, vicious attack for over three decades. Unless the American people wake up and put a stop to it, the religious right may succeed in completely dismantling public education, leaving students to the deliberate miseducation of religious schooling, thus plunging the country back into a new kind of dark age, with both intellectual and social liberty lost.


...before it's too late!
"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. this is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." Thomas Jefferson (letter to William C. Jarvis, September 28, 1820).

Ironically, although President Jefferson's considered opinion that a free society depended upon a publicly-educated population was the insight upon which the religious right based its attack upon America, as soon as they had achieved their goal of majority influence over school boards and state legislatures, they acted to try to erase Thomas Jefferson and other progressive thinkers from the text books which American children will study, replacing them with conservative idols and religious ideology. 

Nearly destroying the public education system in the United States was never simply a mildly-regretted, unintended consequence of the conservative Christian campaign to "take back over" America.  Preventing people from having access to a free and intellectually rigorous education was always their goal.  Millions of publicly-educated people are the only safeguard standing between a free, democratic Republic and an authoritarian, theocratic oligarchy. The self-annointed "moral majority" understood this back in the late 1960's when they launched their campaign to undermine the foundations of American society and transform it into a theocracy with themselves (naturally) in control. The first and most critical stage of that campaign strategy was to destroy public education - the greatest threat to their power - and in that quest they have had alarming success. 

Recommended reading (No seriously, I'm begging you: read these things!): 

A thoughtful, in-depth and very readable article on the conservative Christian strategy to rewrite history, erase progressive contributions and undermine the entire foundation of American society: How Christian Were the Founders? Russell Shorto, New York Times Magazine, February 11, 2010

Why public education must be preserved, Valerie Strauss, Washington Post.

Texas textbook standards revision story here.

PBS, School: The Story of American Public Education.

Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr.  The moral imperative for education policy.

Dr. P Z Myers, A well informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will.

Patrick Murfin's brief history of public education here.

Columbus Dispatch story

Louisiana private (religious) schools voucher story here.


"...improve the law for educating the common people...the people alone can protect us against...tyranny..."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Buffet Rule Redux - Wait, Isn't That The Reagan Rule?


















Warren Buffet rocks. I'm just going to come right out and say that. In the spring, the New York Times' Dealbook editor, Andrew Ross Sorkin, reported that when a shareholder complained to Buffet that his 84 year-old father refused to invest in Berkshire because of Buffet's publicly stated position on taxes:

"Mr. Buffett replied with a zinger: “Sounds like your father should buy stock in Fox.”"

This week, Mr. Buffet's Op Ed piece in the New York Times expands on the topic of rational tax policy. In a few short paragraphs, he recaps the history of how the much higher tax rates of the past paved the way for economic expansion and a prosperous, growing middle class. As those tax rates were gradually reduced, financial inequality in American society began to grow again. With ever more drastic cuts to the tax rates on the wealthiest Americans since the Reagan administration, the gulf between rich and poor has rapidly widened, while manufacturing and other middle class jobs have dried up resulting in a steadily shrinking middle class.

Someone's sitting in the shade today 
because someone planted a tree a long time ago.  
Warren Buffett
Between 1951 and 1954, when the capital gains rate was 25 percent and marginal rates on dividends reached 91 percent in extreme cases, I sold securities and did pretty well. In the years from 1956 to 1969, the top marginal rate fell modestly, but was still a lofty 70 percent — and the tax rate on capital gains inched up to 27.5 percent. I was managing funds for investors then. Never did anyone mention taxes as a reason to forgo an investment opportunity that I offered.

Under those burdensome rates, moreover, both employment and the gross domestic product (a measure of the nation’s economic output) increased at a rapid clip. The middle class and the rich alike gained ground.


So let’s forget about the rich and ultrarich going on strike and stuffing their ample funds under their mattresses if — gasp — capital gains rates and ordinary income rates are increased. The ultrarich, including me, will forever pursue investment opportunities. 

Warren E. Buffet, A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy, New York Times, November 25, 2012.

Warren Buffet has earned popular respect for more than just his quick wit and feisty defense of his principles. Although he is one of the richest and most successful businessmen in the world, Buffet broke ranks with most of the super rich when he said that he did not think that rich people like himself should be paying less in taxes than the middle class. That pronouncement probably cost him a few friends (though probably not business followers) in the rarefied world of the super wealthy.      

Debbie Bosanek
The reality is that the current micro-fraction of superrich Americans have accumulated a rapidly growing portion of the wealth pie due to their ability to influence legislation to favor their own interests. Warren Buffet seems to have reached a point in his life where personal ambition and business pragmatism no longer justify turning a blind eye to or remaning silent about immoral wealth inequity and increasing plutocratic control of government and the economy.

The Oracle of Omaha went on the record saying that he is uncomfortable about the fact that his secretary - earning considerably less than $100,000 per year - pays a higher tax rate than the Berkshire Hathaway legend himself pays. That was the anecdote cited by President Obama when he put forward his suggestion for a more fair and balanced tax structure - featuring a minimum 30% tax rate on high incomes - aptly named the Buffet Rule.

On April 16, the Buffet Rule was killed by the Senate, thanks to determined Republican obstructionism.  Later that same week, the Republicans planned to vote on a bill handing out yet another 20% deduction on business income. That bill was passed by the Republican-controlled House on April 19. It has not yet been passed by the Senate. While braying about class warfare - by which they mean envy of the productive rich by the shiftless, lazy not-rich -  the Republicans managed once again to champion tax advantages for the wealthiest Americans, while heaping more of the tax burden onto the middle class and the poor.

via Charles H. Smith
How ironic it is that while the incredibly wealthy Warren Buffet speaks out in defense of the 99.9%, Republicans in Congress appear to live in an alternate universe where the extremely wealthy never use roads or shipping infrastructure to move their goods across the country and around the world. They appear to have missed completely the fact that workers - many who have endured wage freezes or at best wage increases which have barely kept up with the cost of living: inflated health care costs, rents and mortgages, college tuitions and gas prices - enable the production of goods and services which provide the enormous profits that line the pockets of the wealthiest Americans. (Yes, Paul Ryan, there are makers and takers: the workers - too few of them unionized - make the goods and services while the plutocrat elites take the profits).

Republicans appear to have been asleep while banks, mortgage companies and brokerage houses played fast and loose with the economy, enriching the tiniest sliver of the population while the other 95% or more fell farther and farther behind in the income gap. When the housing and stock market bubbles burst, most of this same extremely wealthy and privileged few escaped prosecution - and escaped serious financial damage - and were soon recouping their losses from the crash by buying up stocks in more companies at extremely discounted post-crash prices. Meanwhile, the middle class and the poor ate the cost of the crash - losing jobs, losing homes, losing livelihoods - and still kept paying taxes, on income, on goods and on services.

Yes, Paul Ryan, there are makers and takers: the workers - too few of them unionized - make the goods and services while the plutocrat elites take the profits.

It's also interesting that Warren Buffet isn't the first person to depart from the received "wisdom" of his overwhelmingly conservative peer group. Theodore Roosevelt, the father of the progressive Republican movement, had to break away from the Republican party as his goals for social justice became increasingly at odds with the plutocratic ambitions of party hardliners. Similarly, though he courted the support and votes of conservative hardliners, Ronald Reagan - the demi-god of the right wing - expressed views which today would see him kicked unceremoniously to the curb by the party "base". 




Via Upworthy

Last fall, Think Progress published a great article comparing the class warrior presidents - Reagan and Obama - with supporting video. As the White House and Congress continue negotiations to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" at the end of the year, it is interesting to consider that the current party of No has its roots in progressive social justice, ideals that were apparently shared by their idol, Ronald Reagan, even as his ambition led him to an unholy alliance with the right wing fringes of his party thus enshrining himself as the father of the current economic nightmare.

Once more, history offers compelling evidence of just how fanatical and extreme the conservative movement has become in this country. Jay Bookman, Atlantic Journal-Constitution, October 3, 2011.

Some days, the irony meter spins way up on bust.

via Mother Jones, It's the Inequality, Stupid
























Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Closing Arguments For Election Day - VOTE!

Be strong. Be safe. Be an American.


























Well, Election Day is finally here. The lines may be long. The pressure may be on you to walk away from the polling place. Please do not take the easier road today. Your country needs you. Get out and vote. Tell your family and friends to vote. The country is at a serious crossroads right now - do you want to turn back the clock 50 or more years economically, socially and politically? Or do you want to keep moving forward?

There have been worrying reports for weeks about ramped up efforts to suppress the vote, especially in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, Wisconsin and Nevada.  Please stay strong, people! Do not let voter intimidation rob you of your constitutional rights. Do not let secret, well-funded groups succeed in suppressing the vote to steal this election. The United States is a free Republic and it will stay that way because everyday American heroes will insist upon it.

Know your rights and be prepared. There may be long lines, irritable people, problems with voting machines and "observers" who may challenge your right to be there. Do not accept the word of a stranger on a polling place line; do not let an "observer" convince you that you should not vote today! These operatives have been well-trained to scare voters away from the polls. Do not let them do this to you. Do not let them do this to America.

Resources for voters:

Our Vote:  "Election Protection is working 365 days to advance and defend your right to vote, but you also need to be fully equipped with information and resources to help you cast a ballot on Election Day."

Know your rights!  State-specific voter checklists Use the checklist as a resource for information about your right to vote and what you need to do before heading to the polls on Election Day.

VotoLatino, Get the facts on latino voter suppression, and information about voting.

Student Voting Guide, Brennan Center for Justice: Comprehensive voting guide with interactive map for one-click access to voter information.

Fair Elections Legal Network Guide

SmartVoter; Unbiased Election Information, League of Women Voters.

If you have a few minutes before you go to the polls - or even while waiting in a long line (print to read!), please read the passionate and heartfelt essay linked below. Millions of young people in America have been recruited to serve the interests of a nihilistic and profoundly anti-American ideology through early religious indoctrination and college radicalization . Fighting your way out of that maze of conflicting moral problems is extremely difficult - the strategists behind it deliberately made it that way - but young Americans are stronger and smarter than that.

Read. Think. Remember our history. Vote.

Dear Young Conservative, D C Pierson, November 4, 2012

I am ashamed because I accepted into my heart and head a system of thought I now believe to be, to borrow a term from my old friend Ayn Rand, anti-life: that government should only exist to make it easy for businesses to do business, the idea that it is our civic duty to have no civic duty. I no longer believe that the way to make things better for everyone is to let people with money do whatever they want, whenever they want. I feel I’ve earned the crap out of this belief, given that I used to believe precisely the opposite, and I’ve taken a long journey to the side I stand on now.

And I urge you, before you dismiss me as a long-haired Hollywood goofball liberal, to read on, and to listen to me in every bit the earnest that I am writing to you.  Please don’t pull the dismissive ripcord in your mind, the one labeled “You’re just saying that because you’re biased, etc…” that all of us use every day to reject the idea that someone who disagrees with us may have a point. This ripcord is cynicism, plain and simple, and it mars political discourse and if we continue to pull it every time someone starts to say something that doesn’t jibe with what we already think, life on this planet will soon be quite literally impossible.

I completely understand the appeal of being an intelligent young conservative. When you’ve spent your entire academic career in gifted-and-talented programs, constantly being made an exception of, there’s something really appealing in imagining the grown-up world as a perfect arena of achievement where the talented and strong triumph, because they’re better than everybody else and they work harder, and everybody else watches from the sidelines or works the concessions stand, or worse. 

In Ayn Rand’s books, I found really romantic fables of people persecuted for being smart and capable and hard-working. All government should do, or should be able to do, I believed, is free the smart and capable and hard-working among us to do what we want and need to do, and everything will take care of itself.

And I still don’t believe the smart and capable and hard-working should have a whole lot of roadblocks to doing what they want and need to do, as long as they’re not infringing on the rights and the health of others. 

What I’ve learned in my brief time in the real world is, there aren’t a whole lot of impediments to smart, capable, hard-working people doing what it is they want and need to do. Not governmental ones, anyway. But the threat of Big Government inhibiting these high achievers from raising all our boats with their tide of good ideas and prosperity is often used to make life very, very hard for lots of other people, including, yes, a lot of the smart, the capable, and the hard-working. Harder than it needs to be, given our relative affluence as a society.

Here’s the thing:

The world doesn’t need help being harder... please click to read the whole amazing essay.

Mitt's 10 Most Destructive Policies, Robert Reich, Salon, November 5, 2012.

In Romney's world, money is king.
And he who has the most money,
is entitled to be king.
By now, in these last remaining days before the election of 2012, we have learned enough about the beliefs of the Republican presidential candidate to see them as a worldview all its own – a kind of creed that explains Mitt Romney. Those who say he has no principles are selling him short.

Despite its contradictions and ellipses, Romneyism has an internal coherence. It is different from conservatism, because it does not intend to conserve or protect any particular institutions or values. It is also distinct from  Republicanism, in that it is not rooted in traditional small-town American values, nationalism, or states’ rights.

The ten guiding principles of Romneyism are...click to continue.




Sunday, November 4, 2012

Voter Suppression Kicks Into Overdrive



Voter intimidation methods that were dusted off in 2008 have been buffed to a blinding sheen in 2012 by groups connected to the Republican party or by actual elected Republicans.

The FBI is Investigating Florida Voter Intimidation, Emily Deruy, abc news, October 25, 2012.

The New York Times notes that the Republican Party came under fire after suspicious voter-registration applications were submitted in ten Florida counties by a company run by Nathan Sproul, a Republican who has been dogged by allegations of voter fraud.
Florida law enforcement officials have been investigating multiple claims that registrations used false addresses or dead people's names.
As the Times reports, Sproul's companies have collected more than $17.6 million from Republican committees, candidates and the Super PAC "American Crossroads." And the Republican Party paid Sproul about $3 million this year to work in five states before severing ties with him following allegations of voter-registration fraud.
Sproul did not respond to a request for comment.

How GOP Voter Supression Could Win Florida for Romney, Tova Andrea Wang, Salon, October 25, 2012.

Florida Republicans launched their plan to make voting harder in 2011 when they effectively shut down community-based voter registration drives, responsible for registering hundreds of thousands of new voters every year. The Legislature and governor pushed through a law imposing onerous requirements and procedures on organizations seeking to conduct voter registration drives and steep fines for noncompliance. Nefarious outfits such as the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote were forced to completely shut down their registration activities.  At the same time, a teacher who brought registration forms into class for her seniors turning 18 was charged with violating the law.

What made the change in the voter registration law so particularly suspicious is that community groups focus most often on youth and minority and low-income communities, whose opportunities to register are more limited. In 2008, for example, while only 6.3 percent of white Floridians registered to vote through registration drives,  12.1 percent of Latinos and 12.7 percent of African-Americans did.
A judge recently put a halt to the new requirements, ruling them “burdensome” and “harsh and impractical,” not to mention unconstitutional. But the damage has been done – mostly to Democratic voters. The number of Democrats in the state who were registered to vote increased by only 11,365 voters from July 1, 2011, to August 1, 2012. In 2004, nearly 159,000 new Democrats were registered in that period. In 2008, the number was nearly 260,000. Remember: 537 votes.


True the Vote has said it is mobilizing one million poll watchers to go to voting places across the country. The problem, critics said, is that those watchers are mostly white and many of the polling places they target serve mostly black or minority voters.
In 2010, people in Texas complained that poll watchers who were affiliated with True the Vote were being overly aggressive and intimidating. According to Douglas Ray, the senior assistant county attorney for Harris County, Texas, the county where Engelbrecht lives, there were several complaints of True the Vote volunteers being disruptive to voters.
Ray said he went to the True the Vote offices and saw push pins on a map that he interpreted as the group's intention to target specific minority areas. This year, he said, his office has already received complaint calls about True the Vote volunteers at early voting locations.
The county attorney's office directed "Nightline" to an early voting location in Houston where there were Caucasian poll watchers in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, where citizens have already begun to complain.
Despite all the controversy the group has kicked up, study after study -- by the U.S. Department of Justice, investigative journalists and a bipartisan commission -- has found voter fraud to be virtually non-existent.

Bullies At the Ballot Box:Protecting the Freedom to Vote Against Wrongful Challenges and IntimidationLiz Kennedy, Tova Wang, Anthony Kammer, Stephen Spaulding, Jenny Flanagan,September 10, 2012.

Now active in 30 states, True the Vote has made it clear that it intends to ratchet up its activities in 2012.13 The group is coordinating efforts throughout the country to purge the voter rolls, issue citizen challenges to registrations based on its own criteria and recruit poll watchers for Election Day. At its annual 2012 conference, leadership of the group announced that it “anticipates training 1 million poll watchers around the country for this year’s election.”14 In itself the training of poll watchers might not be worrisome, but the inflammatory language used to inspire this group of volunteer activists makes it so.
For instance, True the Vote’s founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, has said “we see again with this administration . . . it’s just stunning the assault on our elections that we’re watching gain steam with every passing day, so we found ourselves to be unwittingly on the front lines of an issue that I think will be the inflection point for this election.”15 A reporter attending True the Vote’s Colorado State Summit described how one speaker told the crowd that “they should enjoy bullying liberals because they were doing God’s work. ‘Your opposition are cartoon characters. They are. They are fun to beat up. They are fun to humiliate,’ he intoned. ‘You are on the side of the angels. And these people are just frauds, charlatans and liars.’”

Eleventh Hour Voter Suppression Could Swing Ohio, Ari Berman, The Nation, November 4, 2012.

“Our secretary of state has created a situation, here in Ohio, where he will invalidate thousands and thousands of people’s votes,” Brian Rothenberg, executive director of ProgessOhio, said during a press conference at the board of elections in Cuyahoga County yesterday in downtown Cleveland. Added State Senator Nina Turner: “‘SoS’ used to stand for ‘secretary of state.’ But under the leadership of Jon Husted, ‘SoS’ stands for ‘secretary of suppression.’ ”

GOP's push to suppress vote threatens the democracy, Ilyse Hogue, CNN, November 4, 2012.

This election year is the culmination of years of Republican efforts to foment confusion and fear to keep certain Americans from voting. That is a subplot of this election, but one that will have massive consequences. In close and bitterly fought elections, there's far more at stake than who occupies the White House: Americans' belief in the integrity of our democracy hangs in the balance.
These efforts are pernicious, pervasive and professionalized. In a recent New Yorker article, Jane Mayer profiled Hans von Spakowsky, a legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has been hyping the myth of voter impersonation fraud since 1998, despite mountains of evidence refuting his claim. (The Brennan Center for Justice has concluded that many more people are struck by lightning than commit in-person voter fraud.) Rep. John Lewis -- a civil rights hero who bled to get all Americans the right to vote -- describes von Spakowsky as waking up every morning thinking "What can I do today to make it more difficult for people to vote?"
Spakowsky is a close adviser to True the Vote, a Houston-based organization funded by wealthy conservative donors that has led challenges against the registration of minority voters across the country.

Voter Intimidation Fears Renewed As Election Nears, Jack Feeley and Kristofer Rios, abc news, October 19, 2012.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law has monitored the progress of state bills that could limit or restrict citizens from voting and found a sharp increase in the last two years. In some instances, the Brennan Center partnered with civil-rights groups to challenge these laws. Many of the state bills that were passed have since been blocked by court injunctions or overturned, because states have failed to prove that the laws would not have a discriminatory effect on voters.
But restrictive laws are not the only hurdle some voters have to get over. Several conservative grassroots organizations like True the Vote, a Tea Party group, used voter fraud concerns as a reason to challenge students' and minorities' voting rights throughout the country. For example, in June, True the Vote volunteers harassed students during Wisconsin's recall election by citing concerns that students were violating a state photo ID bill that was already blocked by two judges.
In recent months True the Vote has also challenged thousands of voting registrations, and held rallies across the country to train and recruit so-called poll watchers.

It is not just imperative that Americans "get out the vote" this year, but it is now necessary to ensure that citizens' legal right to vote is protected from a campaign to disenfranchise even longtime voters with no reason to think their voter registration would be problematic. Seniors, disabled citizens who do not and cannot have a driver's license, and millions of poor working Americans - for whom acquiring the notarized documentation, filling out the legal paperwork, paying fees and taking time away from their jobs to file for government IDs present insurmountable hurdles - all face potential disenfranchisement in the upcoming election.

Republicans continue to argue disingenuously that they are protecting voter rights by placing more and more roadblocks in the way of the poor, the elderly and the disabled because, they claim, they are protecting us all from potential voter fraud. Repeated studies and investigations into voter fraud have proven that it isexceedingly rare, and that the threat that potential voter fraud poses to the electoral process is minimal. Conversely, the potential for harm to the democratic process resulting from voter suppression practices is very high. In third world countries, American observers stand by to ensure that evidence of voter intimidation and suppression can be recorded and publicized. Who is watching out for the same thing in the USA?

This is a democratic Republic and it is the right and the duty of citizens to protect our own rights and freedoms. Knowledge is power, but action is even more powerful. Let's start paying attention, spreading the word, and mobilizing our fellow citizens to hold our government representatives accountable when they overstep the bounds and try to impede our right to vote.

ACLU on voter suppression:
"During the 2011 legislative sessions, states across the country passed measures to make it harder for Americans – particularly African-Americans, the elderly, students and people with disabilities – to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. Over thirty states considered laws that would require voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID, and would be required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely."

Rolling Stone   Ari Berman's excellent article on Florida's purge of voter rolls to suppress Democratic vote:
"Imagine this: a Republican governor in a crucial battleground state instructs his secretary of state to purge the voting rolls of hundreds of thousands of allegedly ineligible voters. The move disenfranchises thousands of legally registered voters, who happen to be overwhelmingly black and Hispanic Democrats. The number of voters prevented from casting a ballot exceeds the margin of victory in the razor-thin election, which ends up determining the next President of the United States.
If this scenario sounds familiar, that’s because it happened in Florida in 2000. And twelve years later, just months before another presidential election, history is repeating itself."

CBS  Lucy Madison reports of mass mailings and robo-calls falsely telling voters that they should not or could not vote in the June 5 Wisconsin recall election.
"(CBS News) As voters head to the polls Tuesday to decide the fate of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, reports out of the state suggest that robocalls are being placed informing voters, falsely, they don't have to vote if they signed the recall petition.
There have also been reports of mailings going out to voters telling them they can't vote unless they did so in 2010, and of people going door-to-door telling voters they don't have to go to the polls if they signed the recall petition, both of which are also untrue."

Raw Story offers a disturbing national roundup of stories from numerous states whose Republican governments are pulling out all the stops to disenfranchise voters. One excerpt (from LAWeekly):
"In a brazen attempt to steal this fall's election, Florida's Republican lawmakers have outlawed voting on Sunday, an African-American tradition. Indeed, across the United States, from Montana to Maine and Texas to Tennessee, 41 states have recently passed or introduced laws to restrict voter registration and early voting, and generally limit suffrage.
It's the greatest show of racially fueled political chicanery since turn-of-the-century laws banned scores of African-Americans from casting ballots. More than 5 million voters — largely nonwhite — could be kept from the polls, according to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice:
'State governments across the country enacted an array of new laws that could make it significantly harder for as many as 5 million eligible Americans to vote. Some states require voters to show government-issued photo identification, often of a type that as many as one in ten voters do not have. Other states have cut back on early voting, a hugely popular innovation used by millions of Americans. Still others made it much more difficult for citizens to register to vote, a prerequisite for voting'. "

Don't be caught off guard by voter suppression tactics. Go online and be sure that your voter registration is secure and that you will not be disenfranchised this November.  Here are some handy links to information and resources:

FAQs About Voting, Smart Voter (League of Women Voters).

USA Gov. page on voting information, including a link to voter registration deadlines by state and easy-to-navigate information links to answers for frequently asked questions about voting, registration, voting from overseas, working on elections and trouble-shooting.

USA Gov Resources for voters

Brennan Center of Justice Election 2012, information for voters and resources for assistance with barriers to your right to vote.

It is time to recognise  the danger of ideologically-driven "news" and talk radio; people listen to the lies, the fear-mongering and the demonization of "others" and they believe it.  The Republican base believes that they are under attack by dark forces from the "other side". Not just an other side with whom they do not agree, but literally an evil, foreign OTHER side bent on destroying "their" beloved America. Throw in a Bible-based "great commission" to bring the whole country to Christianity by any means, and we see that lying and intimidation to serve that "higher purpose" is easy for true believers to do.

Will Americans allow their religious and political ideology to destroy democracy?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Oh, Sandy! Why You Make Mitt Look Foolish?

























The line is:
 “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans (13 second pause)
And to heal the planet (3 second pause)
My promise is to help you and your family.”

Watch it carefully because the delivery is a meticulously choreographed mime. Romney breaks his gaze from the audience, and does a little eyes to heaven, lip biting act that is all about communicating clearly to the audience that this is not a podium style rhetorical pause ( such as “think not what your country can do for you…….) but a Jack Benny stand up comedy pause. The body language suggests that he is like a long suffering but resigned parent holding in his real views about the President’s ‘stupidity’.  Watch it and see what I mean. 
George Marshall, Climate Change Denial, August 31, 2012. (see video below)


The news from the northeast this morning is both uplifting and sobering. The people of New York and New Jersey have surged into recovery mode with energy and determination. Superstorm Sandy hit the northeast harder than any other storm in memory, and yet this morning public transportation services have all reopened (the fare is free for the next couple of days!): bus service is 80% back on the streets, limited subway service has begun again and the Amtrak train service is also up and running, albeit with limitations in the hardest hit areas. If it isn't under water or hasn't suffered severe flood or storm damage, the people of the northeast are putting it back to work! That is the spirit of American resilience. It is also - crucially - the effect of a well-prepared and well-funded public infrastructure. My hat is off to the people who were affected by Sandy all through the eastern half of the country.

I wrote earlier this month about the danger of the willful blindness - some would call it criminal negligence - of those unholy allies: corporate special interests and the religious right. Scientists, environmentalists and thousands of ordinary citizens have recognized for decades that human lives on this planet are in peril and that we must take action to reverse the damage before it is too late. But powerful lobbies of energy corporations - backed up by religious hardliners with an eschatological agenda - embarked on a systematic campaign of climate change denial. In a self-serving exercise which may go down in history as the worst ever crime against humanity, they succeeded in suppressing the scientific data, creating an utterly false "controversy" and undermining the scientific community's effort to warn the world.

And we have been allowing it to happen.

Mitt Romney's sarcastic jab at the President about sea level rise - not to mention his party's enthusiastic laughter - points to a kind of insanity which has infected American society like a relentless and deadly virus. The tragedy of it all is that we knew better. We know better. We had the science and we had the engineering know-how to slow down the greenhouse effect which has accelerated the earth's natural warming cycle so precipitously. We have (or at least we did have) the ability to slow global climate change - maybe just long enough to develop coping strategies for the new age of melted polar ice and increasingly violent storms, droughts and deluges - but we have allowed plutocrats to call the shots, using religious fanaticism to sway enough voters to defeat greenhouse gas mitigation initiatives.

The United States has always had a dangerous vulnerability in that the vast swathe of good, sensible moderate Americans have always had a fatal blind spot: uncritical respect for religious belief. We have always given religion too much credit as a force for "good" in society, even when it is blatantly perpetrating evil.  Perhaps to protect our own cherished religious identity, we have been too willing to ascribe extreme and harmful religious beliefs to fringe groups out there somewhere who are not "real Christians" like ourselves or anyone we actually know.

What we keep forgetting is that effective religious leadership and indoctrination can transform millions of followers into foot soldiers for evil. We forget that authoritarian movements in the 20th century appealed to religious belief to justify their vicious regimes, yet the ordinary people - believers all - had little sense that it was they who had allowed evil to happen. Religious belief suspends moral judgement. It opens the door for scriptural justification of immoral behavior - everything from lying to mass murder can be justified by the Bible - and lets in opportunists who intend to cash in on that fact.

In The United States thirty years ago, those opportunists were energy corporations and other special interests who stood to gain from climate change denial and Christian Dominionists who, with corporate financial backing,  hoped to gain power enough to completely control the United States and eventually the world. Corporations had money for climate change denial campaigns, but needed popular support to get business-friendly congressmen elected. Christian Evangelicals had the potential to rally millions of voters and a religious zeal for Christian Dominionism which saw opportunity in corporate financial backing for their proselytizing effort. In the early days of the global environmental movement, energy plutocrats joined forces with ambitious Christian evangelicals under the Republican party banner to further their separate goals through political power.

More than a generation has passed since that unholy alliance was forged by the Reagan Republicans. That political victory ushered in a new era of corporate deregulation and religious infiltration into the public sphere. While huge corporations enjoyed historic tax cuts and corporate welfare, draining the public coffers on one side, Christianists' power grew through schools, colleges and the homeschooling movement (rejuvenated and expanded in the Reagan era). The reality-denying, Bible-based belief system was disseminated throughout the culture eventually moving into the mainstream as the religious influences on education, media and the public perception of reality became ubiquitous and seemingly unstoppable.

We let down our guard against the dark underside of religious belief. We stood by smiling tolerantly as religion quietly and stealthily renewed its campaign to take over western society. On some level, most of us know that religion has ferociously demanded to rule the world for most of human history, yet, how quickly we 'forget' when challenging Christian Dominionism might threaten our own cozy Christian identities!  How easily we believe that "American Exceptionalism" means that destructively radical religion cannot happen here.

We did not protest as religion attacked science in schools and in society, even as the theories and scientific discoveries - truthful reality upon which nearly all of modern medicine and technology are built - were being treated as mere rival "beliefs" to the supernatural Bible-based mythology of the religious.  We did not point to the hypocrisy and irrationality of religious extremists both using modern medical research and claiming that the science upon which it rests is false. We allowed false religious mythology to be injected into public education as science, misleading a generation of schoolchildren and undermining our ability to compete in the world of technological and scientific progress while we pretended that Christian fundamentalism was a fringe movement and a benign one at that. Thanks to the gutting of public education and the rise of "Christian" schools, nearly half of all Americans no longer accept the theory of evolution, deny global climate change is happening and believe that the world will come to an end during their lifetimes.

These people will vote Republican, the party which is owned by the energy corporations in whose interest it remains to limit environmental protection laws and to deny that human-assisted global climate change poses a real threat to human life on this planet. They think they can buy their way to safety. What is your plan?

We allowed this to happen. But we can stop it from continuing.

Vote on November 6!

"He didn’t simply dismiss global warming, or reject policies intended to address or mitigate against sea level rise, which is closely tied to global warming. Politicians do those things all the time. It’s ill-informed and irresponsible. But Romney took this a step further: he used the very idea of controlling sea level rise as a mere rhetorical device, a laugh line to mock Barack Obama‘s grandiosity. And he milked it for a few long seconds as the crowd at the Republican National Convention laughed...
 This is becoming a severe social and political problem because so many people around the world, and millions of them in the United States (including Romney’s Boston headquarters) are located along coastlines. Approximately 10% of the world’s population lives at elevations of 10 meters or less above sea level, the Science paper notes, and many of these places suffer from subsidence, erosion, and other problems that hasten their exposure and possible demise.
 The biggest risk here is from storms, which can suddenly pump up sea levels by many meters, with little warning. People like living near coastlines, and, in the U.S. and other parts of the developed world, coastal development has surged in recent years. But most assumptions for development and flood protection assume a certain stability that no longer exists. Denying this (as some state and local governments are doing) is crazy: sooner or later, the people living in these places, and the businesses they built there, will pay the price.
 So Romney’s notion that helping families and protecting communities against sea level rise are somehow diametrically opposed is silly. He knows better."
The polar ice cap is melting and sea levels are rising...
 President Obama has pledged to do something about it.
Mitt Romney pretends he has a direct line to God, and
condescendingly cracks jokes for his base who think they
will be able to buy their way to safety while the rest of the
world can go to hell.
Romney's Rising Oceans Joke, John McQuaid, Forbes, August 31, 2012.

It is also a step change in the way that politicians talk publicly about climate change.  So this is no longer a debate about the science, or  the policy response (as it was under Bush)- it is now a debate about competing versions of reality and fantasy. The line about slowing the rise of the oceans is skillfully chosen as it frames climate change as both a natural cycle and an inevitability. The mocking pause clearly signals that attempts to stop it are therefore a self aggrandising  folly. Here in Britain the resonance would be with King Cnut (Canute) who ordered the tide to stop coming in. I suspect in America is more likely to be with Moses. It is a quote that appears on some Christian Conservative sites as evidence that Obama claims to be the Messiah.
Romney Channels Beck, George Marshall, Climate Change Denial, August 31, 2012.

If you’ve followed the U.S. news and weather in the past 24 hours you have no doubt run across a journalist or blogger explaining why it’s difficult to say that climate change could be causing big storms like Sandy. Well, no doubt here: it is.
Did Climate Change Cause Hurricane Sandy? Mark Fischetti, Scientific American, October 30, 2012.

Is Global Warming Happening Faster Than Expected?  John Carey, Scientific American, October 29, 2012. (excerpt from an earlier article).