Archive for June 2013

The Right to Vote and Restoring our Democracy

As Congressman John Lewis, one of my personal heroes, said last week, “Today, the Supreme Court stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” It was ill conceived and blatant judicial activism on the part of the conservative justices. While it identifies our problem with conservatives going forward and the hypocrisy of most of what they say and do about loving freedom and democracy, it is now done so we need to look at it and fix it.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote, “After exhaustive evidence-gathering and deliberative process, Congress reauthorized the VRA, including the coverage provision, with overwhelming bipartisan support. In my judgment, the Court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’s decision.” Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice wrote: “The Supreme Court’s decision is at odds with recent history. The Voting Rights Act was vital in 2012, not just 1965. For nearly five decades, it has been the nation’s most effective tool to eradicate racial discrimination in voting. And it is still critical today.”

I would argue that today, racial discrimination is an effect, not the root problem. The root problem is disenfranchising voters who might vote against Republicans. The fact that these could be black, brown, yellow, poor, or old is simply a subset of Democratic voters, hence race is one measure. Why do I single out Republicans? So how would Democrats disenfranchise fat white people? No, this is very much a Republican issue and quite frankly, they have every reason to pursue it since fixing it will just be another nail in their coffin as their ideology only appeals to a dwindling demographic.

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More on that Secrets Thing

I guess because I had a Top Secret Clearance and had access to Top Secret, Secret, and Confidential, not to mention For Official Use Only information, I am not easily swayed that the information gathered needed those classifications or were any more accurate than stuff you read in the newspaper. But that is anecdotal, although it now appears fairly accurate. In a NYT piece, Do You Wanna Know a Secret, there is some data to support my perceptions:

The crux of the debate is whether the value of secret information justifies the sacrifice of personal privacy. If secret information yields valuable intelligence that can be used to protect Americans, the reasoning goes, then it is worth sacrificing privacy for security.

But there is a major problem with evaluating information labeled “secret”: people tend to inflate the value of “secret” information simply because it is secret.

In a recent series of studies that we will present in a forthcoming issue of the journal Political Psychology, we have shown that people apply what we call a “secrecy heuristic” — a rule of thumb, in other words — when evaluating the quality of information related to national security. People rate otherwise identical pieces of information as more accurate, reliable and of higher quality when they are labeled secret rather than public. And people tend to think that national security decisions are wiser and better-reasoned when based on the same information labeled secret rather than public.

But they have to be protected at all costs, right?

WTF Friday

Oh, let’s see:

  • We had a major speech, and if this time he walks his talk, some real action on global warming, with probably tons of lawsuits from conservatives who are still in denial and would rather sacrifice their kids future that cut jobs in the coal industry for better jobs in alternate energy
  • The Senate passed a draconian immigration bill that in any other time would look just plain stupid. We will have an armed border where the net immigration into this country is negative and more stupid fence when all we need is a real immigration status employment system, an extremely long path to citizenship, and garnishing all their contributions to Social Security prior to bill passage. Oh, and a choice for John Boehner whether he wants to save the Republican Party as a national party or stay speaker of the house
  • We have Supreme Court cases in Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act that have set our country back 50 years. Oh and there was another one that kind of ended rational land planning
  • We have had major admissions by the federal government on their level of spying, but the real focus is on where in the world is Edward Snowden
  • And there is an unparalleled attack in state’s legislature on women’s right to choose and be equal citizens

And what do we get on TV? Endless coverage of the George Zimmerman trial and you be the judge. This is highly ironic considering that most people in this country make up their minds early and don’t let facts or testimony sway their opinion anyway. Is this a great country or what?

A Bill O’Riley Moment on MSNBC

I was out lifting weights this morning before the heat of the day (I have an unconditioned garage weight/excercise room) and I usually watch Now with Alex Wagner because it is thoughtful and focuses on the issues, not the politics. Joy Reid was sitting in for Alex and Melissa Harris-Perry was a guest. Now I have great respect for these two women and I was so surprised when they had their Bill O’Riley moment, disrespecting a guest and refusing to hear his argument.

The discussion was about Edward Snowden which already tells you something about how misguided this discussion was. They were focused on the man instead of his disclosures and what they mean to this country. The guest who was grossly disrespected was from Wikileaks. Melissa Harris-Perry asked a question which was really a diatribe on her feelings about Edward Snowden. It went on for almost two minutes before she asked a question, which the guest quietly endured.

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Who Said It Best Today: Roger Cohen

In an op-ed in the NYT, Roger Cohen gave us this about what Edward Snowden has brought us:

In short, a long-overdue debate about what the U.S. government does and does not do in the name of post-9/11 security — the standards applied in the F.I.S.A. court, the safeguards and oversight surrounding it and the Prism program, the protection of civil liberties against the devouring appetites of intelligence agencies armed with new data-crunching technology — would not have occurred, at least not now.

All this was needed because, since it was attacked in an unimaginable way, the United States has gone through a Great Disorientation. Institutions at the core of the checks and balances that frame American democracy and civil liberties failed. Congress gave a blank check to the president to wage war wherever and whenever he pleased. The press scarcely questioned the march to a war in Iraq begun under false pretenses. Guantánamo made a mockery of due process. The United States, in Obama’s own words, compromised its “basic values” as the president gained “unbound powers.” Snowden’s phrase, “turnkey tyranny,” was over the top but still troubling.

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Respect

Words mean something. How you choose them carefully and what you say is critically important. I sometimes think I would like to teach a class in critical thinking where I do nothing but show TV ads and political commercials and point out what they really did say and what they didn’t, not what they implied. I spent a great deal of my professional life parsing construction contracts. It taught me how just a little change in language could change the whole meaning of a sentence and how easily words can be misconstrued. The great orators pick their words carefully and some of us still marvel today at those who can present great ideas clearly and simply.

But this morning as I rode down to get the paper, I heard John Boehner say this about the DOMA ruling on NPR, “I disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA, I believe in traditional marriage. I understand that others have deeply held opinions about this, and I respect their opinion.”

This is just a lie. A little analysis is in order. He said he disagreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA so in effect he is saying he would like to see a law that does not recognize gay marriage. Then he says he believes in traditional marriage (between a man and a woman). Okay, so do I, but I don’t want to deny other forms for other people who are different than I. Then he says he understands that others may have deeply held convictions different from his and he respects that. How does he respect that? By trying to deny their right to marry and be equal citizens? How is that respect?

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The Problem with News

In my blog today of who said it best from Jeff Cohen, came this descriptor about David Gregory:

Another mainstream media star is NBC’s David Gregory (seen literally dancing with White House source Karl Rove in 2007). Since he interviewed Greenwald on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” there’s been scrutiny of Gregory’s factually-misleading question: “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you be charged with a crime?” And of Greenwald’s response: “I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies.”

But I’m just as bothered by Gregory’s retort — “Well, the question of who’s a journalist may be up to a debate with regards to what you’re doing” — and the ensuing discussion in mainstream outlets questioning Greenwald’s bona fides as a journalist.

I always thought David Gregory was an extremely poor choice to replace Tim Russert on Meet the Press.  David is the pretty boy with access to all the right people, meaning he does not embarrass them with the really tough questions.  He asks all the questions conventional wisdom demands, and only asks thoughtful penetrating ones if they have already been asked and are becoming part of the conventional wisdom.  He is the epitome of what is wrong with Beltway media and why we have a public so poorly informed.

My first brush with David Gregory was in an interview he gave, I think to Bill Moyers, on selling the Iraq war to the people.  His stance was that the press performed fine.  It showed me he can reinterpret the facts any way he wants to put himself in a good light, which is what our government does, and what we really need is more Glenn Greenwalds to point flashlights on inconvenient truths.  David Gregory is a sad excuse for real journalism and what passes these days for informed reporting.

Treyvon Martin

I have no idea why this is news or we are getting 24/7 of the trial. George Zimmerman is the epitome of what happens when you think the answer to everything is to be packing. In fact I can’t figure out why there is a trial. Treyvon Martin was unarmed walking home. George Zimmerman got out of his car against police advice and challenged Mr. Martin. What happened after that is irrelevant because Mr. Zimmerman initiated the confrontation and he did not need to.

Had George stayed in his car, the young Mr. Martin would be living out his life today. George Zimmerman should be held accountable for his actions and the death of this young man. Trying to blame someone who is confronted about his right to walk in his own neighborhood shows how far off the rails this society has become. I would have told Zimmerman to go fuck himself. So why again are we even having this trial?

Who Said It Best Today: Jeff Cohen on the Snowden Affair

In a piece for the Huffington Post, Mr. Cohen said the following:

The Edward Snowden leaks have revealed a U.S. corporate media system at war with independent journalism. Many of the same outlets — especially TV news — that missed the Wall Street meltdown and cheer-led the Iraq invasion have come to resemble state-controlled media outlets in their near-total identification with the government as it pursues the now 30-year-old whistleblower.

While an independent journalism system would be dissecting the impacts of NSA surveillance on privacy rights, and separating fact from fiction, U.S. news networks have obsessed on questions like: How much damage has Snowden caused? How can he be brought to justice?

Unfazed by polls showing that half of the American rabble — I mean, public — believe Snowden did a good thing by leaking documentation of NSA spying, TV news panels have usually excluded anyone who speaks for these millions of Americans. Although TV hosts and most panelists are not government officials, some have a penchant for speaking of the government with the pronoun “We.”

Joining Forces for Freedom

I can’t help it: Voting rights, women’s rights, gay rights, they are all the same issue and if the seemingly disparate groups would combine forces it would be a formidable force for change. It would be so satisfying to throw this back in the face of the Tea Party who wanted to “restore the Constitution” with a movement that really does want to protect the rights of all of us.

Instead of forcing the views of a few on the rest of us (out law gay marriage or a choice; outlaw abortions and women’s equality or a choice; disenfranchise minority groups or establish national standards for maximum access to the polls). Do you see the difference here? One side wants to maximize choice and freedom and the other wants to limit your choices according to their religious and ideological beliefs and they think they are restoring our Constitution. They are a pack of jackals who hate real democracy and freedom unless it only allows us to choose what they decide we need to choose.