And So It Begins …

I said in a recent post that the U.S. government needs to be getting off their collective asses and making sure that mail-in voting is available to every voter in every state.  I questioned what, if anything, was being done toward that goal.  Well guess what?  You won’t be surprised to know that the Idiot-in-Chief has spoken out against this very thing!

“Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to statewide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it.  Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”

BULLSHIT.

The reason it ‘doesn’t work out well for republicans’ is that the only reason they win at the polls is because minority and poor voters are kept away from the polls by such disenfranchising measures as early poll closings, closing of polls in poor and minority neighborhoods, restrictive voter ID laws and other tricks of the trade.  If every eligible voter is allowed to cast a vote on November 3rd, Trump will go down in flames, as he should.

Listen to what he said at his Tuesday circus act …

“Mail ballots, they cheat, people cheat. Mail ballots are very dangerous thing for this country because they’re cheaters. They go and collect them. They’re fraudulent in many cases. The mail ballots are corrupt, in my opinion. You get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room signing ballots all over the place.”

If this jackass is allowed to have his way, we are doomed.  Another four years of Donald Trump will relegate this nation to being called a “once democratic-republic turned autocracy”.  If you don’t vote in November, my guess is that you will never get the chance to vote again.

Let’s take a look at some facts, instead of listening to an un-educated moron, shall we?

Multiple studies over the years have confirmed that there is no widespread voter fraud in this country. Additionally, Democratic and Republican state officials routinely oversee elections where millions of people vote-by-mail without systematic problems.  An expansive study in 2017 from the Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal-leaning think tank, found that the rate of voter fraud in the United States was somewhere between 0.00004% and 0.0009%.votingVoting-by-mail has become increasingly popular in US federal elections, and nearly a quarter of all voters cast mail ballots in 2016, according to the Election Assistance Commission. This year, the solid Republican state of Utah will conduct all-mail elections, which undercuts Trump’s claims.

In fact, the most recent example of absentee ballot fraud involved republican operatives in North Carolina who rigged an election for the House of Representatives in 2018.  And … Trump cast an absentee ballot last month in the Florida Republican primary, per local reports. Asked about this contradiction, Trump said it was okay “because I’m allowed to” vote by mail.  Say WHAT???  So, if he’s allowed to, why not the rest of us???

In Wisconsin yesterday, thousands of voters were not able to vote because of republican game-playing.  Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers had tried to postpone the states primaries and a large number of local elections, as most other states have done, but the state legislature, then the state Supreme Court, and finally the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the action.  Worse yet, mail-in ballots were not sent to voters in time, and the U.S. Supreme Court blocked an action that would have allowed voters who had not yet received their mail-in ballots extra time.  Only 5 polling places were open instead of the usual 180, and the people who did risk their lives to do their civic duty waited for hours in long lines. Milwaukee-votingJustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned that their ruling …

“… will result in massive disenfranchisement. Either they will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety, or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own.”

How many people in Wisconsin were kept from voting by republicans afraid of losing an election?  Thousands at least. Is this what we want to see happen on a national scale in November?  It may well be what the republicans want, but it damn sure is not what the majority of people in this nation desire.  It is not what the Founding Fathers intended in 1787 when they wrote that document called the U.S. Constitution, which has largely been shredded, trampled and burned over the last three years.

Folks, there are just under 7 months, exactly 209 days left until we are to go to the polls to elect a new president.  We must elect a new president, for the current one belongs on the ash heap in the annals of history.  And yet … if our elected representatives don’t get off their collective patooties and ensure that every eligible voter in every state has the ability to cast a vote by mail … we are doomed.  Time for phone calls, emails, letters to the editor in your local paper.  I know, you’re tired of it all and so am I, but this is too important to ignore.  The futures of your children and grandchildren depend on this.

Voting is a privilege that not everybody in the world has.  Appreciate it, please, don’t throw it away.vote-2

Discord & Dissension – Part IV (c) – Voting & Voters

In Friday’s post, we looked at the reasons people give for not voting, and in Saturday’s post, we looked at the demographics … who isn’t voting, and why.  When we put those two together, we see why some people aren’t voting, for the system is designed to make it difficult for them.  In this, the final post of the week on voters not voting, we will look at some ways to effect change.  There are actually two distinct groups of non-voters:  those who are at least partly disenfranchised, for whom the system has made voting a difficult task, and those who are either too lazy or apathetic to stir themselves to vote.  The solutions are different for each of these groups, so we need to look at them separately.  But first, a disclaimer.  There is no panacea, no simple, single solution that will all of a sudden solve the problem of nearly half the eligible voters failing to vote.  We must find a multitude of small steps that all contribute toward bringing us closer to the goal.

Registration

The first step in the process of voting is to register.  At present, the onus for registering lies solely with the voter. Every state’s registration rules are a bit different.  In 37 states, one can register online, but in the other 13, registration must be done in person.  For many, this means taking time off work, and possibly difficulties finding transportation.  Online registration is a great idea, but it needs to be made well-known to all, for many are not aware that it is possible, or how to begin the process.There are ways to remind people:  workplaces and churches could place posters reminding people to register and listing places, such as DMV as well as the website.  Schools could send home flyers reminding parents to register.  And to be really proactive, districts could mail registration forms to all homes in the district.  Another, even better idea is automatic registration, such as is used in countries like Canada and Germany where voter turnout rates are in the 90 percentile range.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “Eleven states and the District of Columbia have already approved automatic voter registration, and 19 states have introduced automatic registration proposals in 2018. In addition, the New Jersey Legislature passed automatic voter registration on April 12th, and the bill is awaiting Governor Phil Murphy’s signature.”

Registration may well be half the battle and some combination of the above ideas would likely have a significant impact on voter turnout.

The Disenfranchised

This group consists of people who are typically lower income or minorities, for whom just getting through the day and feeding their family is hard.  State regulations have made the process of voting harder for these people by closing polling stations in their neighborhoods, shortening the hours of polling stations, and requiring a driver’s license or other state-issued identification that they may not have.  The solution is simple, right?  But with the repeal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, there is no longer a requirement for federal oversight, and the states are largely free to do whatever they want, within certain boundaries.  Section 5 needs desperately to be reinstated, but that will not likely happen soon, if ever.  Meanwhile?

With a republican majority in Congress, it is unlikely that legislation to help make voting easier for the disenfranchised would fly, for those it would benefit are more likely to vote democrat.  One partial solution is what happened in Pennsylvania recently, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state’s district map must be re-drawn in order to be more fair.  The ruling was unsuccessfully challenged by republican lawmakers, and the map has been redrawn.  While gerrymandered maps are not technically a barrier to voting, in the sense that they may cause polling stations to be farther from a person’s home or workplace and thus require greater travel time, the reality is that they can be a barrier.  I would like to see the Supreme Courts in every state follow the lead of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

One thing that many of us can do is actually help people get to their polling places.  There are many volunteers who spend the entire election day driving elderly people and others without transportation to and from the polling stations.  A reader of this blog left me this comment when I first published this post in April 2018:

“I have a listing of homeowners and rental units in the town in which I live..and together with other “ladies” from the Resist Movement in OK, go door to door and hand out voter registration papers..we will offer to assist in filling them out, and we then offer a ride to the polling places on voting days. You’d be amazed how many do not vote because they thought they “weren’t allowed to vote” after having misdemeanor convictions!”

I just wanted to hug this lady!!!  She is doing something to make the world a better place, and to her, my thumbs are all up!

Other measures that have proven helpful in getting voters to the polls include:

  • Early voting, which allows any qualified voter to cast a ballot during a specified period prior to the actual election day.
  • Absentee voting, whereby voters may request an absentee ballot and return it either by mail or in person, with or without an excuse. Presently, 27 states and the District of Columbia allow absentee voting without needing an excuse, 20 others require an excuse.
  • All-mail voting, where a ballot is automatically mailed to every eligible voter (no request or application is necessary). Three states, Oregon, Washington and Colorado currently use all-mail voting.  Funny story about this … I periodically make comments to my girls about projects I am working on, usually unsolicited and out of the blue.  As I was working on this one, I asked the girls if they were aware that 3 states actually had all-mail voting.  Daughter Chris’ jaw dropped to the ground, thinking I meant “all-male” voting!

early voting map

Voter Apathy

Those who are simply either too lazy, don’t care, don’t like the candidates, or believe that it is a lost cause, may be the most challenging to get to the polls.  To do so will require a plethora of different things, starting with voter education, and involving large amounts of motivating and inspiring techniques.  Unfortunately, these constitute the largest group, some 65% of all the non-voters.  This translates into roughly 58.2 million people!

While I personally believed … still believe … that Hillary Clinton would have been a good president, I admit that she came with some baggage, and was not a particularly ‘lovable’ candidate, did not run an inspired campaign.  Thus, in 2016, it is understandable that many did not like either candidate.  But how to convince these people that it is better to vote for the lesser of two evils than to simply shrug their shoulders and stay at home watching television?

I think the starting point must be in education.  According to Donald Green, a political scientist at Columbia University in New York City, it is up to parents and teachers to stress just how important it is.  Common sense, yes?

I don’t know the answers, but somehow we must find ways to convince these 58.2 million people that their vote counts, that they make a difference, but not sitting home on their patooties.  Talk to friends who say they don’t care.  Join a volunteer group that is going door-to-door talking to people.  Sport a t-shirt with your favourite candidate (I still wear my Obama t-shirt!!!), put a bumper sticker on your car.  Help people to better understand the issues, the candidates.

A recent quote I saw in the New York Times seems apropos:

To many African-American voters in Alabama, Cecil said, “Donald Trump is the living embodiment of the idea that voting doesn’t matter.” Trump is profoundly unfit to be a president — a congenital liar and racist who lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes. And yet president he is.

This is, I think, one of the biggest hurdles, and while I disagree with the thought process, I understand it.

Conclusion

Given our current system, we will not likely achieve 90% turnout, but I think we can damn well do better than 56%, especially given that those who voted in 2016 were a majority of wealthy, white people, leaving behind a large portion of the citizens, equally important citizens, of this nation.  Because of the results, we have all but lost our voice in our government.  Sure, you can write and call your members of Congress, but I haven’t had a personalized response yet, and I’m never even sure if they hear, but I’m sure they don’t care.  Until November 3rd, and then they will care.  We must send a message, but in order to do so, we all need to speak.  Let’s help make sure more people vote this year.  Let’s all do a few things within our own circle of friends, family & neighbors:

  • Make sure they are registered. If they aren’t offer to help with filling out forms, taking them to register if they cannot do so online.
  • Help them understand the issues and what each candidate stands for.
  • Keep talking about how very important it is that everyone get out and vote, without necessarily pushing a specific candidate.
  • Volunteer to drive people to the polling stations on November 3rd.

It is up to We The People, for we cannot rely on the government to work toward increasing voter turnout.  We need some new blood … let’s make it happen, folks!

This concludes this week’s segment in three parts of Discord & Dissension.  Jeff has been on vacation the last two weeks, but he is back home now and working diligently on Part V of our project that will be published on Friday … so stay tuned!  Your comments and suggestions are always welcome!

Discord & Dissension – Part IV (b) – Voting & Voters

Only 67% of all eligible voters are even registered to vote.  That is only two out of every three adults.  In yesterday’s post, we looked at the reasons people gave for not voting, some of which were ludicrous, such as “forgot”, “weather”, and “too busy”.  But there are some legitimate reasons that people do not vote.  To understand these, I think it is important to look at some of the demographics of the non-voters.

Race

Among white voters, 73.5% of eligible voters did actually vote in 2016.  But minorities were much less likely to vote, with only 69.7% of African-Americans, 59.4% of Latinos, and the lowest group being Asians at 55.3%.

Age

Not surprisingly, the percentage of eligible voters who vote increases with age:

Age 18 to 24       58.5%

Age 25 to 34       66.4%

Age 35 to 44       69.9%

Age 45 to 54       73.5%

Age 55 to 64       76.6%

Age 65 to 74       78.1%

Age 75 or older 76.6%

But, after the February 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting,  the percentage of young voters voting took a significant leap in the 2018 mid-term elections.

Education

There is absolutely nothing surprising in this set of statistics:

Less than high school graduate  50.5%

High school graduate      64.1%

Some college     75.3%

Bachelor’s degree            81.2%

Advanced degree            85.8%

Income

Again, no real surprises here:

Less than $20,000           63.7%

$20,000 to $29,999          67.1%

$30,000 to $39,999          71.1%

$40,000 to $49,999          72.6%

$50,000 to $74,999          78.2%

$75,000 to $99,999          81.9%

$100,000 and over          79.6%

While this one isn’t surprising, it is disturbing, for the very people who most need fairness from our government are the least likely to vote to make a difference.

Taken together, when we look at the demographics, look at who is and who isn’t voting, is it any wonder that we currently have a government that is “Of the wealthy white people, By the wealthy white people, and For the wealthy white people”?  They are the ones who vote!

All of the above statistics are understandable when put into context.  There are a number of things that have led to the disenfranchisement of lower income and minority voters.  Consider gerrymandering, redistricting states so that most minorities are grouped into as few as districts as possible so as to be given a much weaker voice than their white counterparts.  I have shared this graphic before, but it is still the clearest, most understandable explanation of how gerrymandering can change the outcome of an election:And then there are the various efforts by many states to make it more difficult for lower income and minorities to vote, such as shortening the hours that polls are open, and closing polling places in poorer or predominantly minority areas. Twenty states do not allow a person convicted of a felony to vote while serving a sentence or while on probation.  Two states, Florida and Virginia, permanently disallow convicted felons voting privileges.

In some cases, voter I.D. may be difficult to obtain.  Consider these cases:

A 96-year-old woman in Tennessee was denied a voter-ID card despite presenting four forms of identification, including her birth certificate. A World War II veteran was turned away in Ohio because his Department of Veterans Affairs photo ID didn’t include his address. Andrea Anthony, a 37-year-old black woman from Wisconsin who had voted in every major election since she was 18, couldn’t vote in 2016 because she had lost her driver’s license a few days before. – New York Times, 10 March 2018

In 1965, Congress passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed into law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, perhaps the single most important piece of legislation to come from the Civil Rights movement.  It eliminated certain barriers to voting, such as literacy testing and other requirements that denied many blacks the right to vote.  Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act precluded certain states and districts that had a history of disenfranchising blacks, from implementing any change affecting voting without receiving pre-approval from the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court for D.C.  But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 5 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.  Chief Justice John Roberts said, essentially, that times had changed and the Court believed racial discrimination was no longer the problem it was in the 1960s.  Almost immediately on the heels of this ruling, Texas announced new voter identification laws and redistricting maps.  Other states in the South followed suit.

Referring back to yesterday’s post, we looked at some of the reasons people gave for not voting.  When we look at the 6% who said they did not vote due to ‘registration problems’, or the 2.7% who claimed ‘inconvenient polling place’, or the 2.6% who said they had ‘transportation problems’, perhaps we can understand those reasons.  Consider the single mom who is not allowed to take time off work, so she goes to vote after work. The polling station in her neighborhood closed last year, so she now has to take a bus to her new polling place 45 minutes away from where she works.  Meanwhile, her children are home alone with nobody to cook their supper, or supervise them.  What would you do?

It is obvious that there are some people who do not vote with good reason.  We need to find solutions to the barriers for minorities and others who are truly disenfranchised.  We also need to find ways to inspire and motivate those who make excuses not to vote, to convince them that their vote is crucial.  And we need to make voting more accessible to all.  In Part III, we will take a look at some things that may contribute to increasing the numbers of people who vote.  There is no single panacea, but I believe there are a number of things that can be done at the federal and state levels, as well as by people like me and you, people who care about our country.  Stay tuned …

2nd Amendment Run Amok

You’ve most likely heard about the big gun rally planned at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond on Monday, but perhaps you don’t know all the who, why, and what-for of it.

Why?

You mean, apart from the fact that a handful of gun nuts care more about their right to own an arsenal than they care about their own children?  Well, pull up a chair, my friends.  After the 2018 elections when both chambers of the Virginia legislature flipped from a republican majority to a democratic one, one of the priorities was to pass some meaningful gun legislation.  Now, it wasn’t as if they were banning assault weapons, or taking away people’s guns.  The proposed legislation has only three parts:

Two things should be noted … First, 80% of the people in this country support gun regulations such as these, and Second, these are only common-sense measures … nothing that requires gun owners to give up their currently-owned guns, nothing that stops people from buying guns … simple, common-sense measures that might actually save a few lives.

But …

A group calling themselves ‘Virginia Citizen’s Defense League’, a misnomer if ever I’ve heard one, has taken umbrage.  And thus, they are planning a rally at the State Capitol that has attracted the riff-raff and gun-toting scum in and outside of the state.  The rally has drawn the attention of militia groups from as far away as Nevada and Oklahoma, including those tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.

Others vowing to attend include individuals associated with the Light Foot Militia, some of whom were banned from Charlottesville after the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, which ended in the death of a counterprotester. Richard B. Spencer, a prominent white nationalist who is among 24 defendants in a lawsuit over the rally in Charlottesville, also said he might attend.

So far, Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam has declared a ‘state of emergency’ and banned guns from the capitol building and grounds, and the FBI has arrested three neo-Nazis linked to the ‘Base’, a group that aims to create a white ethnostate.  Chatter picked up on Facebook and in chat rooms by the FBI indicates that various extremist organizations are calling Monday’s rally the “boogaloo.” In the lexicon of white supremacists, that is an event that will accelerate the race war they have anticipated for decades.

These people, folks, do NOT represent the population of the United States.  They are an extreme minority, and yet …

“They are fanning the flames for this event.  They want chaos.”

The three bills will almost certainly pass the legislature, and Governor Northam has already promised to sign them into law, and yet these gun-loving people (and I use the term ‘people’ loosely here) are determined to bring chaos into the capitol.  If I had to guess, I would guess there will be violence and there will be injuries, if not deaths.

Let me quote for you the text, word for word, of that 2nd Amendment they so love …

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Twenty-seven words.  Nowhere does it say that every household should have the right to own a gun.  Nowhere does it say that people have the right to own high-powered, automatic weapons that can mow down hundreds within minutes.  Nowhere does it say that people have a right to keep an arsenal in their garages.  The framers’ language was vague, but their intent was not.  Their intent was not for John Doe to have the right to carry a gun into the grocery store and start shooting, nor for a family in the suburbs to keep a loaded pistol in their home.  People have so broadly interpreted this that any law that has the word “firearm” in it automatically riles the gun-lovers.  If I were given the task of making revisions to update the Constitution, the 2nd Amendment and the electoral college would be on the chopping block.

Now, to add insult to injury, the fool that sits in the Oval Office felt a need to ring in on the subject.  Now, as president, he might have used his office to call for calm, to call for the rally to be canceled, or to urge people to keep the protest peaceful, right?  But noooooo … he tweeted …

“Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia. That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away. Republicans will win Virginia in 2020. Thank you Dems!”

This from the so-called “president” of a nation of 330 million people.  Keep your eye on Virginia tomorrow, my friends, because this may well be a harbinger of things to come.

The Monsters Under My Bed

Some nights, of late, there are monsters under my bed, just like when I was a child.  Some nights, the nightmares are vivid and I wake up thinking that I am screaming, but not a peep is coming out of my dry throat.  Given the things I write about, the things we all live with day-to-day, I suppose it’s no wonder.


Who knew a tweet …

Could cause such a stir?  Here’s how it started …

U.S. Representative Paul Gosar from Arizona, a republican, posted this tweet

rouhani-obama-tweet-2.jpgThe image purports to show President Barack Obama shaking hands with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran.

Trouble is, other than the obvious, that a) the photo was photoshopped – Obama never met Rouhani in person, and b) Rouhani is still in power, still the president of Iran.  The purpose?  Well, as best as anyone can figure, Mr. Gosar was, as many republicans have been scrambling to do over the past several days, attempting to find some justification or purpose for Trump ordering the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s second-highest ranking government official. The name of the game is “blame Obama”.

But Mr. Gosar’s response, when it was pointed out that this was obviously a fake picture, is what I find interesting.  His response was basically of the “yeah, so what?” sort …Gosar-tweetI guess that makes me a dimwit, eh?

Y’know, folks, Trump & Co, the Republican Party as a whole, have an unnatural hatred of President Obama and seemingly everything he stood for, but it has gone many steps too far.  Obama was a hundred times the man Trump is, and a thousand times better president than Trump.  It’s time for the republicans in power to start doing their jobs and stop finding ways to prove how much they hated having an African-American president, for that is what it really all boils down to.

Mr. Gosar has flown onto my radar a time or two before.  For one, he is a member of the ignoble House Freedom Caucus – a misnomer if ever there was one.  And for another, as a recipient of donations from the NRA.  He has engaged in conspiracy theories ala Alex Jones about such things as the fatal Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, and has also supported Iowa Representative Steve King, who was removed from his congressional committees for his blatantly racist public remarks.  He has accused both the FBI and the Department of Justice of treason and has referred to Native Americans as “wards of the federal government”.  He claims that the 2nd Amendment is the single most important amendment set forth by the Bill of Rights, even more important than the 1st Amendment, freedom of speech, press & religion.  He has signed the Koch Brothers pledge promising to vote against any legislation to combat global warming.  In September 2018, prior to the 2018 elections, six of Gosar’s nine siblings actively supported his democratic opponent, David Brill, saying their brother had become an extremist.  And the list goes on … this is the face of our republicans in Congress today, my friends.  This is the sort of garbage that has been lured out from under the rocks in the past decade.  Thirty years ago, such a sample of pond scum would not have gotten even 1% of the vote.

Arizona … do not send this dolt back to Washington in November!  You dishonour the name of your favourite son, the late, great John McCain when you send your trash to Congress!


Tie his hands … please!!!

The House of Representatives is expected to vote today on a resolution to force the president to halt any military action against Iran unless Congress authorizes it.  Nothing quite like closing the barn door after the cow’s already out, eh?

The measure would require that Trump cease all action against Iran unless Congress votes in advance to approve it, effectively tying his hands in the escalation of tensions between Trump and Iran.  We all see the handwriting on the wall, yes?  The House, with a democratic majority, will approve it and send it to the Senate where either it will languish along with a few hundred other House-passed bills, or rapidly be voted down.  There is a ray of hope, albeit a slim ray, because yesterday, two Republicans signaled they were inclined to support it.  Just need two more … any takers?  Doubtful, as most congressional republicans are still praising Trump for assassinating Iran’s highest ranking general.

In her statement yesterday, Nancy Pelosi said …

“Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward. Our concerns were not addressed by the president’s insufficient War Powers Act notification and by the administration’s briefing today.”

The divide in Congress is representative of the divide in this nation … and it is a lethal divide.  Make no mistake … that old saying, “United we stand, Divided we fall” is apt.  We certainly cannot continue as we are … that much is clear.  There is a disconnect among the people of this nation, and it extends well beyond political parties.  Donald Trump and his minions are using that disconnect to widen the gap, to make this nation so dysfunctional that it is an easy prey.  Frankly, I am sick to the death of the “us vs them” mentality. Trump-fate

Thought-Provoking Words

Until just a couple of weeks ago, I had not, that I can recall, heard of Umair Haque.  Then, our friend David sent me a piece by him that I found to be thoughtful and thought-provoking, so I did a bit of research on the man.  Umair is a London-based consultant, and author of at least three books1.  I read several articles by him, in addition to the one David sent, until Medium, where he publishes, told me I had reached my limit of free articles.  While I do not necessarily agree with all he says … after much pondering, I mostly agree.  I have highlighted in red the parts that really made me sit up and take note.  Please read the following and give it some thought.  I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.


Umair-Haque

Umair Haque

Here’s a tiny observation. Forgive me. You might not like it.

I’ve seen many countries collapse. Pakistan. Afghanistan. The Soviet Union. Turkey. Iran. Sri Lanka. Egypt. Some, first-hand. Some from afar, through the eyes of friends and colleagues.

But I’ve never seen a country collapse as fast, as severely, and as hard as America is.

America’s collapsing at an unprecedented rate. Light-speed. Terminal velocity. Turbo-charged implosion. I don’t think a country has collapsed as fast as America — maybe not in all of history. Especially not a rich and powerful one. Rome took centuries. The Soviet Union’s took decades, and it’s still rolling on. Maybe only small countries which had never really built strong institutions, barely-democracies, have I seen crash this fast, hard, and badly — but that’s the point. American collapse is something unique in modern history.

Of course, that’s a subjective judgment — we don’t have an objective speedometer for the collapse of societies. But that is what this essay will be about. To show you, a little bit, what leads me to the idea that America’s crashing and burning at light speed. I want to take a moment to share what I see, by pinning down precisely what I mean by collapse.

First, of course, there is political collapse. From democracy to autocracy, kleptocracy, and authoritarianism. America’s political institutions simply don’t function anymore. It’s [sic] democracy doesn’t represent the 70% of people who want functioning healthcare, gun control, education, safety nets — but only the 25–30% of immovable extremists who apparently want to live in the Handmaid’s Tale meets 1984 by way of Mein Kampf. Its rule of law has devolved to mass trials and mass disappearances and mothers being separated from their kids at the border. It’s critical systems of governance are so broken that 5000 people died from negligence after…a storm.

The American polity doesn’t resemble the French or German one — in fact, it looks very much like the Pakistani polity, the Saudi, or maybe the Soviet polity. It is completely and utterly dysfunctional, to a degree that is unimaginable among its rich peers. And all that took perhaps a decade or two.

Then there is cultural collapse — from a culture of thought, reason, and accomplishment, to one of superstition, violence, and extremism . Kids shoot one another in schools regularly. People die for a lack of basic medicines like insulin — and the average American appears not to know that insulin doesn’t cost $1000 a month, but pennies, even in the world’s poorest countries. Why is that? It is because the are misinformed and kept ignorant by a media that feeds them a diet of Ancient Aliens and Paranormal Files. Hence, what should be a functioning culture is now rife with dark age style superstition.

Vaccinate my kids? No way! Never mind that humanity only eradicated smallpox in 1977. But vaccination is the least of America’s descent into superstition: then there is conspiracy theory, “truth” movements, a kind of hypocritical religious fundamentalism that’s quite happy to let kids shoot each other, bigotry, supremacism. And among the professional classes who look down on that, there is a culture of overwork and abuse and greed and cruelty — followed by lowest-common-denominator consumerism as a salve for the wounds of its emptiness. All these things rising are a function of a culture that fails to educate, inform, connect, or bond people together anymore.

A culture’s role is to help people makes sense of the world, as Marcel Mauss once argued — but American culture appears only to drive people into a kind of madness, either a frenzy of violence, a paralytic resignation, or a blind rage of fear and ignorance now. How fast did that happen? Well, it didn’t seem to do that so much even a decade ago, did it?

Then there is social collapse — from a modern society of broad-based prosperity, to something more like a dystopian caste society, where each stratum bitterly resents the next, and tries to pull it down, no one lifting anyone else up. The structure of American society is not that of a healthy society any longer. A once prosperous middle class has imploded into a new poor — while a tiny number of rich grew ultra rich. American society now resembles something more like Latin America in its darker times, Egypt, or Pakistan, perhaps. But even that understates the issue, because in America, trust imploded. People don’t trust institutions. They don’t trust society. They don’t trust their neighbours. Social bonds have completely imploded — predatory capitalism’s dream of a disintegrated society of atomized human commodities has finally come true.

As a result, of social bonds imploding, norms and rules no longer appear to work at all in America. Kids shooting each other? Ah, that’s terrible — but what can you do? Shrug. Every day brings a fresh scandal — this TV star is a supremacist, that celebrity is a bigot, that politician is a wife-beater ,and so on. How far have norms of decency shattered? There is an open pedophile and rapist running for public office.2 I don’t think that has happened anywhere in the modern world, ever, so far as I know. Not even in Pakistan, Iran, or Rwanda. And it would have been unimaginable even in the America of the 2000s.

Then there is economic collapse — from modernity’s rising living standards to a new kind of poverty. America has pioneered a new kind of impoverishment — precarity, living at the knife’s edge, in constant anxiety and panic and trauma. The average person has less than $500 in emergency savings. His or her income has been stagnant for decades — and even that economic “number” vastly understates the issue, because while their parents had jobs with benefits, pensions, retirements, protections, they have none of those things. Meanwhile, the price of the basics of life — healthcare, education, finance, food, housing — has exploded, skyrocketed, gone supernova.

How much? So much so that just the hospital bill for having a child costs half of median income. Who can afford to live a decent life in a society like that? Not even in Pakistan, Iran, or Afghanistan does having a child cost so much. Not even in severely broken countries do relatively well off people face so constantly the plight of living every day right at the razor’s edge — there, they have, at least, informal safety nets, family support systems, communities to shield them, and public goods to protect them. But Americans have none of these — because predatory capitalism has reduced them to prey.

For all these reasons, the average American has no optimism left in the future. He doesn’t believe that his children will live a better life. He is right, sadly. And that is because America is now collapsing at terminal velocity — faster than any society in history, as far as I can tell.

And I think that while Americans have a sense things are breaking down around them, they don’t really understand — because they aren’t often told — that a) this is the real thing, genuine collapse b) it is happening not slower or better than elsewhere, but in fact far faster, worse and harder, and c) because it is happening so fast, there is added to the constant stress of predatory capitalism, the heart-stopping turmoil of all these kinds of collapse, political, cultural, social, and economic.

Terminal velocity. So what happens when a society hits the ground? Usually, like anything, it shatters, breaks, and explodes.

Umair
June 2018

Text dividers

1 The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business (2011); Betterness: Economics for Humans (2011); Why Are Europeans (So Much) Happier Than Americans? (2019)

2 The pedophile and rapist running for office was Nathan Larson, who in 2018 was running for election to Congress from the 10th congressional district of Virginia, an election he lost by a landslide.  Larson served 14 months in prison for the felony of threatening President George W. Bush’s life.

You Can Do WHAT Online???

A couple of weeks ago, November 20th to be exact, I received an email from a group called Concealed Online.  The email read …

“It was penned like this in December 1791…’A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’

Today, almost 228 years later, The World Has Changed… I am writing to urge you to GET YOUR CONCEALED CARRY PERMIT!

This week we celebrate our nations birthday… 243 years old (using the average human lifespan that’s just over 3 lifespans ago).

In that short period of time we have fought in 5 major wars, elected 45 presidents, and have passedover 20,000 laws…

Unfortunately, many of those laws have moved us further and further from freedom all in the name of order and protection. The truth is protection starts at home and our forefathers knew it… they knew this day of BIG GOVERNMENT would sneak up on us all…

This is why I encourage you fellow patriots exercise your right to bear arms HERE AND NOW!

I just wanted to encourage you that you should Get Your Concealed Carry Permit while it is still legal and easy… California Democrats has already made it nearly impossible to get one there and the Liberals are slowly advancing their agenda in Congress.

This site helps people get their CCW Permit through online certification… They are truly patriots, they are available by phone as well if you just want more information.

There may not be an option for you to legally carry next year. Tomorrow may be too late. Get your permit while its still legal to do so.”

And then they provided a link where I could “Start the online process”.  It wasn’t the first such email I had received, but it was the first one I decided to take note of … for I was curious … is it really so simple for a person to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon as simply logging onto a website?  And so, I did a bit of digging.

When I followed the link, their website begins with an introduction that said all I had to do to obtain a Virginia (note that I don’t live in Virginia, but Virginia has a reciprocal agreement with 28 other states) concealed carry license was to watch a short video, answer 12 multiple choice questions, fill out an application, send them $65 and PRESTO!  I could go around with a gun stuck in my waistband, pocket, or maybe even a holster under my shirt.  Wow, huh?

No, I didn’t watch the video or take the 12-question test, for the simple reason that I don’t want to be on these people’s radar.  I don’t know how they got my email address, but I have no intention of giving them a reason to keep bothering me with such emails.  But, I did do some digging and found that in last year’s election cycle, this organization spent mega bucks … some $2 million … advertising on Facebook.

Its ads warned about the “blue wave.” “MOB RULE IS COMING!” read one series of ads before the midterm elections.  And after: “IT’S ALMOST OVER! The Gun Control Dems are IN.”ConcealedCarryAd-01Concealed Online launched in 2016, three years after Virginia started allowing people to take online courses to qualify for concealed carry permits. Those permits are recognized in states across the country, and even nonresidents of Virginia are eligible. The company’s owner saw a business opportunity in that. So, he developed an online training course, where people can watch a video on gun safety, take a test, and instantly download a certificate of competency with a handgun for a fee. You can take the test as many times as you need, making it nearly impossible to fail.

A writer for WIRED, Issie Lapowsky, says she took the test and intentionally answered a few questions wrong, and still passed – though she had not even watched the ‘safety’ video!

The Better Business Bureau gives Concealed Online an F rating, in part because it has received 25 complaints—primarily from people who paid for the certificate only to find out that Virginia’s permits aren’t recognized in their state.  The company’s owner says Concealed Online sells certificates to people living in states like California and Colorado, which don’t accept Virginia permits, because they can use them when they travel to states that do.

Think about that one, folks.  John Doe can decide to go on a shooting spree and get permission to carry a concealed gun in 28 states within a matter of minutes, and for only $65.  Is it any wonder that the U.S. has the highest rate of deaths by gun in the world?  Is it any wonder that as of November 19th, there have been 45 school shootings in the U.S.?  Is it any wonder that as of October 31st there had been 370 mass shootings, killing 441 people and injuring another 1,466?  And is it any wonder that as of today, December 8th, there have been 36,734 gun deaths in the U.S. this year – 14,162 murder/homicides, and 22,572 suicides.  And those so-called “prolife” people worry about abortion???

Oh, and by the way … you can also buy a gun online.buy-guns-online

crying

Give Us Back Our Elections …

One of my pet peeves is the 2010 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (FEC), in which the Court ruled that the free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for political communications by corporations, including nonprofit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.  In a nutshell, it opened the door to unlimited donations by wealthy corporations, such lobbying groups as the NRA, and others to basically buy our politicians.  This is why we have a Congress that is unwilling to enact gun regulations, despite the fact that some 80% of the people in this country are in favour of such things as enhanced background checks and a ban on assault weapons.  This is why our very lives are placed at risk by the rolling back of environmental regulations that are so crucial to preserving life on earth.  And this is why there is an ever-widening income gap between the billionaires and the rest of us who live payday to payday.  And this is why ours is no longer a government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’, but rather of, by, and for only the wealthy and powerful people.

I have featured Robert Reich on this blog a few times before.  He is an economist, professor, author, and political commentator. He served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. He was Secretary of Labor from 1993 to 1997. He was a member of President Barack Obama’s economic transition advisory board.  He, better than most, understand the inner workings of our government.  Sans partisanship, he explains why we simply must overturn Citizens United, must get the big money out of politics, and return our elections to We the People.  Please take three minutes to watch …

Filosofa’s Mini Rants

Because I cannot afford a new computer at the moment, I shan’t write about today’s impeachment proceedings except to say that should Jim Jordan and I ever run into each other in person, his head is likely to look like a rotten turnip once I am done bashing it!  Since it is not prudent for me to write about the proceedings today, I figured a few snarky snippets or mini rants might alleviate some of the pressure in my head.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell posted the following on Twitter last evening …

“Critical legislation is currently frozen in place. Casualties of Democrats’ apparent inability to make headway on anything besides fighting with the White House.”

Seriously, Mitchie???  How many bills have been passed by the House that are sitting somewhere in your office because you refuse to even bring them to the Senate floor for a vote???  This was the most hypocritical statement I have ever heard!  The House is doing its job at the moment, investigating the criminal activities of the person sitting in the Oval Office.  You’ll get your chance to try, and hopefully convict him soon.  Meanwhile, why not earn your fat paycheck by passing some of the legislation that has been sent to you by the House?McConnellYou could start with … For The People Act to secure America’s elections, expand voting rights, and get money out of politics.  It was passed by the House and sent to the Senate 250 days ago!  The election is in less than 12 months, and your fat patootie is still sitting on the bill to ensure the integrity of the election.  Do Your JOB, Mitchell!


Gonna need a new computer after all if I keep beating the lettering off the keys …


U.S. representative Devin Nunes from California is an idiot.  There has never been any doubt.  I’m seriously considering reprising my Idiot of the Week feature for people like Jim Jordan, Mitch McConnell, and Devin Nunes! The man once co-sponsored an act to discourage frivolous lawsuits, but yet he himself seems to be ‘sue-crazy’.  In just the past two years, he has sued …

  • A stone fruit farmer in Dinuba, and two other people, for conspiring to damage his 2018 reelection by asking that Nunes not be allowed to call himself a “farmer” on the ballot.
  • The research firm Fusion GPS and a Democratic group called Campaign for Accountability for attempting to interfere with his “investigation” (quote marks are mine) into ties between President Trump and Russia when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
  • Twitter and a couple of parody accounts, including @DevinCow, who has called Nunes “a treasonous cowpoke.” He is asking for $250 million to assuage his hurt feelings.
  • McClatchy, parent company of Nunes’ hometown paper, the Fresno Bee, for writing that he had a financial interest in a winery sued by an employee who was asked to work on a charity cruise where men behaved very, very badly.
  • And, most recently, Esquire magazine and the journalist Ryan Lizza, who Nunes claims have defamed him to the tune of $75 million in writing about the Nunes family dairy farm, which is not in California, but in Iowa.

nunesSheesh … is he trying to compete with Donald Trump for the Guinness World Record of most lawsuits?

I could actually write an entire post about Nunes, but he’s not worth that much of my time or energy, so I will confine myself to his latest antics.  Now, Nunes is a conspiracy theorist … almost as much of one as Alex Jones!  Back in 2018, he came up with some long-winded theory that the FBI was conspiring against Trump.  As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes participated in yesterday’s impeachment hearings … the ones I’m not writing about tonight.

Nunes began with an opening statement which included a misleading claim that Democrats on the committee had tried to “obtain nude pictures of Trump from Russian pranksters who pretended to be Ukrainian officials.”  Then he went on to allege that the Ukraine whistleblower who reported Trump’s call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was “acknowledged to have a bias against President Trump” and falsely claimed that the whistleblower’s “attorney touted a ‘coup’ against the president.”

Nunes also falsely claimed that Trump’s July 25 phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was to express “concerns about foreign corruption,” even though Trump did not mention “corruption” once on the call. Nunes also falsely claimed that the “officials’ alarm at the president’s actions was typically based on second-hand, third-hand and even fourth-hand rumors and innuendo,” even though multiple witnesses testified about first-hand interactions with Trump and with others.

Here’s another one whose head should be made to look like a rotten turnip!


Oh, and now that you’ve gone and mentioned Trump …


The president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, arrived at the White House today for a visit with Donald.  Don and Recep have a close relationship, there are ties that bind them.  Back in 2015, after Trump threw his hat in the ring, he did an interview with then-Breitbart host Steve Bannon.  When asked about how he would deal with Turkey if he were to become president …

“I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s called Trump Towers — two towers, instead of one. … And I’ve gotten to know Turkey very well. They’re amazing people. They’re incredible people. They have a strong leader.”

Yep, straight from the horse’s mouth … a “little conflict of interest”.  But wait, it gets even better.  Two of Erdoğan’s sons-in-law play a role here.  One is Turkey’s Minister of Finance, and deals directly with Trump and Trump’s own son-in-law, Jared Kushner (you remember, the one who lied on his security clearance forms and was, therefore, not given the highest level security clearance?).  The other son-in-law is actually a Trump business partner and advisor.

After a phone conversation between Trump and Erdoğan last month, Trump pulled our troops out of Syria, leaving Erdoğan to invade the Kurdish-held lands and devastate our allies, the Kurds.  And yet, Trump praised Erdoğan …

“We’ve been friends for a long time, almost from day-one. We understand each others’ country. We understand where we are coming from. They’re highly respected in their country and in the region.”

Understands???  Trump understands NOTHING!  Another dictator that Trump praises and claims a kinship with, while he feeds our allies to the sharks.


Well, I thought this little rant might help me calm down, get rid of some of the angst residing within my head, but it has only made it worse.  Perhaps a little snack …

Disenfranchising Young Voters …

The percentage of college students who cast votes in 2018 was more than double that of 2014, the last mid-term election prior to 2018.  Why?  Two major reasons:  school shootings and the environment.  The February 2018 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was a turning point for young people around the nation.  They were tired of seeing their friends die needlessly because of reckless, largely unregulated gun laws, or rather lack of laws.  A few activists from Parkland took the lead and motivated many more.

And then came a young girl in Sweden, Greta Thunberg, and she gained a voice that would be heard ‘round the world, and what she said with that voice was that we, the adults around the globe, have done a lousy job taking care of our planet, and that we have jeopardized hers and other young people’s futures and … she wasn’t going to take it lying down!  And her voice carried, touching the hearts and minds of young people in every nation, including the U.S.

Because of these two things, young people today are far more invested in the political process, far more aware of what is being done, who will do things to improve the situation, and they are, most importantly, voting in numbers never seen before among their age group.  My hat is off to all those who are using their voice and their vote to do what we oldsters should have been doing for decades now.  But …

Not everybody is pleased by this new wave of political enthusiasm among the youth of the country. Young people, concerned about the proliferation of guns and the destruction of the environment, are typically more likely to vote for a democratic candidate, which has thrown the Republican Party into a tailspin and led them to find new ways to disenfranchise the young voters.

The Texas Legislature has outlawed polling places that do not stay open for the entire 12-day early-voting period.  Many college campuses set up temporary early-voting sites for the convenience of the students.  However, they have neither the funding nor the need to keep those sites open for the entire 12 days, and therefore will not be allowed to have them this year.  Many students who live in campus housing do not have their own transportation and may well find it difficult to get to the polls in order to vote.  In Texas, this will affect nine of the eleven campuses of Austin Community College, as well as six campus polling places at colleges in Fort Worth, two in Brownsville, on the Mexico border, and other polling places at schools statewide.

It isn’t only Texas … Republican politicians around the country are throwing up roadblocks between students and voting booths.  In New Hampshire, a Republican-backed law took effect this fall requiring newly registered voters who drive to establish “domicile” in the state by securing New Hampshire driver’s licenses and auto registrations, which can cost hundreds of dollars annually.  Six in 10 New Hampshire college students come from outside the state, a rate among the nation’s highest. As early as 2011, the state’s Republican House speaker at the time, William O’Brien, promised to clamp down on unrestricted voting by students, calling them “kids voting liberal, voting their feelings, with no life experience.”  Say WHAT???

Florida’s State Legislature reinstated a 2014 law that the Courts struck down at the time, outlawing early voting sites at state universities, with an additional caveat that all early voting sites must offer “sufficient non-permitted parking” – something that is in short supply at most universities.

North Carolina Republicans enacted a voter ID law last year that recognized student identification cards as valid — but its requirements proved so cumbersome that major state universities were unable to comply. A later revision relaxed the rules, but much confusion remains, and fewer than half the state’s 180-plus accredited schools have sought to certify their IDs for voting.

Wisconsin Republicans also have imposed tough restrictions on using student IDs for voting purposes. The state requires poll workers to check signatures only on student IDs, although some schools issuing modern IDs that serve as debit cards and dorm room keys have removed signatures, which they consider a security risk.  The law also requires that IDs used for voting expire within two years, while most college ID cards have four-year expiration dates. And even students with acceptable IDs must show proof of enrollment before being allowed to vote.

Tennessee does not recognize student ID cards as valid for voting, and legislators have removed out-of-state driver’s licenses from the list of valid identifications.  Tennessee ranks 50th in voter turnout among the states and the District of Columbia. Only Texas’ turnout is worse.

In almost all of these cases, the excuse given for the tougher restrictions is that they are trying to cut down on voter fraud, but that argument lacks teeth, since widescale voter fraud has been proven to be virtually non-existent.  It is simple common sense that making voting convenient improves turnout.  When polling places are closed, hours restricted, photo IDs required, turnout will suffer.  What a message we are sending to our youth when we make it so hard for them to vote that many will throw their hands up in frustration and become lifelong non-voters!

One final thought.  The states where the barriers are rising fastest are in political battlegrounds and places like Texas where one-party control is eroding.  My thought is that if the Republicans have, as they claim to, the best ideas, the best platforms … then why do they need to cheat in order to win?

The young people in this country today are our hope for the future, for a future with clean air, potable water, arable land for growing food, and fewer guns in the hands of the wrong people.  If we discourage them today, what is the message we are sending?  Think about it.