Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Suppress Voter Turnout - Rig Districts - Kill Democracy

It is reliably estimated that after all the district lines are established for the Congressional elections of 2012 there will be 20 of 435 districts that will be truly competitive in the election.  Obviously there will be more contested but only some twenty may actually be drawn fairly enough to result in a real contest.  In the past ten years, 78% of the House of Representatives seats did not see a change in the party of the persons elected.

Reapportionment is only one way that the political establishment, now owned by the money establishment, controls who can enter government.    Ever since Gov. Elbridge Gerry (later Vice President of the US) vetoed a Massachusetts apportionment bill with a district that on a map looked like a salamander giving rise to the cartoon that called it a Gerrymander, the House district lines have been subject to chicanery.  The state legislatures have used race and politics to gerrymander Congressional districts.  Using the one man - one vote injunction of the Supreme Court the political establishment has, created districts using the real criteria of 1) protecting the incumbents and 2) protecting the incumbent party, defending them as needed to meet population parameters.  Because the Supreme Court has ruled that political based apportionment is not a basis for a Court to reject a state’s plan, and with the added fact that the African American vote and registration is overwhelmingly of one party, it has been easy to reapportion districts along political and racial lines contending that only the former is being used

Since the Supreme Court ruled that the one man - one vote concept must be applied to state legislatures the prior use of local boundaries when mapping state districts has been replaced by purely political criteria.  In some states popular outcry has caused the political establishment to implement “non partisan” reapportionment.  Pennsylvania claims to have that, although a party able to control both houses will control the 5 member reapportionment commission. There is as a matter of act almost no truly non partisan redistricting at either the Congressional or state legislative level.

If you make the election outcome evident even before the campaign you reduce interest, you reduce willingness to run against an incumbent and you reduce the turnout.  The radical right wing Tea Party Republicans, to ensure their continuing control, are working tirelessly in the states they dominate to guarantee that rigged electoral districts can’t be punctured.  They are doing so by passing laws to discourage voting and reduce the turnout among low income, minority and young voters - three demographics that currently vote Democrat.  Photo ID, restrictions on Early Voting, reduction in the number of polling places, restricting the use of provisional ballots -- all these are process changes designed to further rig the outcome of the elections in favor of the right wing controlled Republican party.

Old fashioned voter suppression still goes on.  Voters are challenged outside and inside the polling place in the hope they will go home.  Last minute polling place locations are made to confuse the infrequent voters.  And voters are told they will be more likely to be called to jury duty or have their backgrounds and records checked.

Once the districts are rigged and the size of the electorate reduced with turnout suppressed than inordinate amounts of money are spent, now allowed uncontrollably by the most outrageous Supreme Court decision of this century (Citizens United), to get out the establishments controlled vote.

One of the reasons that the Tea Party movement and now the Occupy/99% movement has scared establishment figures is that they represented people who were somewhat outside the existing activist groups.  So the right wing Republicans using their access to funds co-opted the Tea Party movement by creating the Tea Party Express (Dick Armey sponsored operation) and aided the Tea Party folks in taking over the Republican Party. The only question about the Occupy/99% movement is whether the protesters will use the Democratic party ( many of the Occupiers have voted Democrat; if anything they are more populist than the Democratic party establishment) to engage in electoral politics.

So what is the future of Democracy in America, the birthplace of the idea that a modern and a large country can be ruled by its own people?   Will the tactics that allow an establishment to control the democratic processes effectively kill democracy?  Or, will the people, as they did in the 1840's, the 1890's and the 1960's rise up and demand more and true reforms of democracy?

Many countries have faced serious threats to their democracies in their history.  France a number of times has had to reinvent its republic.  Russia and China had brief periods of democracy before being taken over by Communists. Some would argue that the Russian return to democracy is already being short circuited. And of course everyone knows what happened to the German experiment in democracy known as the Weimar Republic and what followed it. 

Wither America?  We face a fork in the road. Down one road lies the control of an oligarchy or plutocracy, the submission of 99% to 1% and perhaps ultimately the violence of revolution and civil war not based on political issues but on class differences.  Down the other road, that most often taken by this country, lies a body politic wherein compromise and agreement are not dirty words but a way of governing; where the influence of money in politics is controlled rather than it doing the controlling; where the people make the decisions and the majority rules, with respect for the political and personal rights of the minority and the recognition by both that  on any one given issue they may be in the position of the other.

American democracy has worked -- it can work again - But only if we Trust the People.

22 Nov. 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Exercising FIRST Amendment Rights

The millionaire Mayor of New York City (who thrice has purchased that position by spending inordinate amounts on his campaign and spending his personal funds to get the charter changed so he could run for a third term) ordered the New York City police in full riot gear to remove the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street area and destroy their makeshift abodes and tents.  Then he secured a court order “allowing” the protestors to demonstrate during daylight hours but not gather or sit/sleep in the park at night. In Oakland, California, the Mayor ordered police to disperse the protestors and they used strong physical force to do so.

For 222 years Americans have had a constitution that included a Bill of Rights.  Rights that were preserved for the people by restricting the power of governments.  The First Amendment of that Bill of Rights guarantees a freedom of speech and a right of association for the purpose of petitioning the government for redress of grievance.  Our country’s history shows times when peaceful demonstration has caused the government to change course and to redress grievances.  During the Great Depression the Veterans of WWI marched on Washington to demand their promised war service bonus.  They stayed and occupied Anaconda Park - built shelters and raised tents.  President Hoover sent General MacArthur, and his aide Dwight Eisenhower, with the Army to clear out the residents of this “Hooverville”.  They did and burned the shanties. But some veterans stayed and the new President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, sent his wife to talk to them.  He tried to redress their grievances.

During the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960's it was when protestors sat in at lunch counters and when marchers were attacked by police with hoses and dogs that America rose up and redressed their grievances.  Our political moral guideline the Declaration of Independence goes so far as to declare that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends [i.e. ensuring the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness] it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it”. 

The Supreme Court has recently declared that the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment apply to corporate entities; and, now rich businessmen can use their corporate funds, often taxpayer subsidized and in my opinion the property of the shareholders, to influence elections and secure the friendship and support of elected and appointed officials.  Yet now the Mayor of NYC, along with Oakland, CA and others would have us believe that amendment does not guarantee the right of less wealthy people to gather in a park and pitch some tents and demonstrate.

In 1773 a group of citizens angered at being subjected to a tax by a legislative body to which they had no representation gathered and painted themselves to look like their image of native Americans and seize the to be taxed goods on the ships docked in Boston Harbor.  They threw the tea into the bay so it could not be unloaded and the tax applied.  Nineteen years later the new country born out of a democratic revolution enacted its’ Bill of Rights.  Some would focus on the second amendment which guaranteed those Tea Party rebels the right to bear arms.  But it is the First Amendment that has been the basis of our nation’s governance.  The freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, the freedom of association, the right to petition the government these are the basic guarantees that so many men and women died for in the wars of defense and liberation fought over the centuries.

The American people have a right to exercise their free speech in any way that does not endanger other people.  They have a right to express their frustration with their government and when doing so peacefully should never be restricted.  We do not need government sponsored thugs to attack protestors as they did in the early days in Egypt’s Tahrir Square and we don’t use military force to disperse protestors as the Chinese did in Tiananmen Square.

In America we celebrate diversity and we support the right to dissent.  As Lincoln so nobly put it this “government of the People, by the People and for the People shall not perish from the earth”. 

16 Nov. 2011 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

What if they call an Election and No One Votes?

This coming Tuesday, November 8, is an election day in almost all the states (I think one or two may not have an annual election cycle).  In a few states, Kentucky and Mississippi, Governors are elected and in a few others there are also state legislative elections (NJ and VA).  In Pennsylvania there are statewide judicial elections and in Ohio and some states there are statewide referendums on the ballot. (Ohio voters will pass judgment on the right wing Republican effort to curtail public employees’ collective bargaining rights; and Mississippi voters will act on a “personhood” amendment which is a backdoor way to repeal Roe v Wade.)

In most states this election cycle is local - in Pennsylvania county and municipal officials are elected.  Not all municipal officials; only about half because the other half are elected in the odd year after the Presidential election thus creating a four year cycle of elections and primaries.  Eight elections in four years evidently weary the American electorate.  The media both print and video pays little attention to local elections.  The PA media pays more attention to the allegations against Herman Cain than to the state candidates.  And the citizens pay even less attention than the media.

Americans have fought wars to establish their right to vote  and govern themselves but  those  wars  were  235  and 150 years ago; they no longer resonate with people as more than history.  In the nations of Africa and Asia, where independence from colonial rulers occurred in the last fifty years, we witness incredible percentages of people voting whenever they are allowed to whether in national elections or local elections. There seems to be a correlation between  voting and the proximity to when you weren’t allowed to vote. 

Elections have consequences.  The 2010 national and state elections ushered in a right wing crew of elected officials determined to impose their conservative moral values on everyone and undo decades of progressive legislation.  In addition in many states there have been legislative attempts to retain right wing power by suppressing the vote and reducing the size of the electorate; making registration more difficult, abolishing early voting and using nonexistent voter fraud to justify photo id laws that will reduce the likelihood that poor people, students and elderly folks will vote. 

There was for many years a bipartisan belief that voting was a good thing and that the more people took an interest and voted the stronger the democracy would be.  Al Smith, a conservative Democrat coined the phrase “the only cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy”.  Now election laws and reapportionment of legislative districts (in the name of equality of representation) are being manipulated to reduce democratic participation.  It is not enough that our system of government is being sold to the highest bidders, and that Congress is becoming a millionaires club, but to ensure that the oligarchy continues to rein their minions seek to hamper and harass those who would vote for change.

In Pennsylvania’s Delaware County, where I reside, each of the forty-nine municipalities is electing their local legislative officials: boroughs have council members and townships have commissioners (except for two townships that have council members).  Over half those positions are uncontested with only one party presenting candidates.   The local school districts are also involved in the Nov. 8 election again with over half the seats uncontested also due to a PA law that allows candidates for school director to run and win both primaries thus effectively being unopposed in the general election.  The county commissioner races, in my county called County Council, are contested by the two parties but almost all the counties are really one party strongholds (some Democratic and some Republican) and the contests are really just the minority party “showing the flag” (in most counties there is a guaranteed minority party winner).  Little wonder that few people pay attention and vote since studies show that even at the national level where our turnout is among the lowest of industrialized democratic nations the levels increase when the election is between two parties or two candidates of clearly differing positions on issues.

I live in the borough of Folcroft where the Republican council has passed a local income tax and put the borough taxpayers 3/4 of a million dollars in debt.   Will that be enough to get more than 1/3 of the voters to even come to the polls?  My school district, Southeast Delco, has seen program cutbacks, property tax increases and some poor performance by some schools.  Will that be enough to get voters to the polls? 

Elections have consequences.  Failure to pay attention to local campaigns and candidates and staying home on election day puts the result in the hands of a small minority of people - often those most influenced by political party organizations and/or special interest groups.  Everyone pays taxes and lives under municipal ordinances not just those who vote.

Exercising rights is also how we retain rights.  If more and more citizens forgo the right to vote they may find someday that they have lost that right under mountains of laws and procedures that make voting near impossible. Maybe someday only the 1% that own the country will be voting and the 99% will not only be economically disenfranchised but electorally as well.

5 Nov. 2011