Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “democracy”

Voter ID Laws: A ‘Solution’ to the ‘Problem’ of Democracy

Voter ID Laws: A ‘Solution’ to the ‘Problem’ of Democracy.

Voter ID Laws: A ‘Solution’ to the ‘Problem’ of Democracy

(Guest post by John Byrne Barry)

Last week, a federal judge in Wichita gave the green light to laws in Kansas and Arizona that will require proof of citizenship to vote in state and local elections, a move likely to spread to other states controlled by Republicans.

This is another example of a “solution” to a non-existent problem—there is little evidence of in-person voter fraud or non-citizens voting.

The “problem” that the Republicans want to “solve” is democracy—the constitutional right of every citizen to vote. These voter ID rules will make it harder for the poor, minorities, and students—citizens more likely to vote for Democrats—to register and vote. That’s exactly their intention.

Defenders of these rules say it’s no big deal—“Americans uncomplainingly present identification for getting on airplanes and numerous other things,” (New York Times 3.20.14) What they don’t say is that the poorest of our citizens never fly. And many do not have picture IDs. Or access to their birth certificates.

I’m no expert on voter suppression, but I did a learn a great deal about it researching for my recent novel, Bones in the Wash: Politics is Tough. Family is Tougher, which is set during the 2008 presidential campaign in New Mexico. Here’s a passage from the book.

Image“You look at the news and what people talk about and you get the impression that the nitty-gritty of politics is the people running, their characters, their positions on the issues, and of course, that’s partly true. But underneath that is this whole business of setting rules, like who can vote and when, and the Republican are evil genius and meta on that front. I hate it that I actually admire what they did even as I despise it. If they can manipulate the rules so it’s harder for the poor and young and old and disabled to vote, then they have an advantage no matter how weak their candidate is.”

That’s a fictional person speaking, not a real one. Sierra León, one of the novel’s protagonists. Here’s more from her:

“When we call them on it, they say, oh, it’s partisan attacks. That’s what’s so infuriating about politics. There’s no impartial referee, like at debate club in high school, some thoughtful observer who says, well, you may have received more votes here, but you broke the rules, so we’re going to have to subtract points. The right does whatever it wants, rules be damned. Well, that isn’t quite true. They do try to change the rules, but when they can’t, they break them.”

I made the characters up, and the story, but not voter suppression. That is, unfortunately, real and growing. Here’s the Center for American Progress:

The right to vote is under attack all across our country. Conservative legislators are introducing and passing legislation that creates new barriers for those registering to vote, shortens the early voting period, imposes new requirements for already-registered voters, and rigs the Electoral College in select states. Conservatives fabricate reasons to enact these laws—voter fraud is exceedingly rare—in their efforts to disenfranchise as many potential voters among certain groups, such as college students, low-income voters, and minorities, as possible. Rather than modernizing our democracy to ensure that all citizens have access to the ballot box, these laws hinder voting rights in a manner not seen since the era of Jim Crow laws enacted in the South to disenfranchise blacks after Reconstruction in the late 1800s.

The rapid growth of these Voter ID laws and bills is no accident. The American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, funded by the Koch brothers, WalMart, and their ilk, have written a model bill and have been shopping it around, especially to those Republican-controlled states.

The gist of the bills is simple enough—people need picture IDs in order to vote. Now for your average middle-class person who travels, who has a drivers license and credit cards, this may not seem like much of a hurdle. But according to the Brennan Center for Justice, upwards of 20 millions Americans have no picture ID. And it’s no surprise those people are disproportionately poor, old, young, and minority. Fortunately, most states do not require photo IDs.

It’s not that voter fraud has never happens, but it’s extremely rare. Most cases turn out to be clerical errors. The Bush administration searched high and low to find cases to prosecute and came up with fewer than 100 charged defendants in three years.

What the right has succeeded in doing, however, is repeating these voter fraud accusations enough, through Fox News and the like, that a large number of people think it’s real. Enough so that ACORN, an organization that advocated for poor people and registered voters, got run out of business in 2010. But, according to a PPP poll two years later, after the 2012 election, 49 percent of Republicans said ACORN stole the election for President Obama. (Forty-nine percent of Republicans think thing that doesn’t exist stole election for Obama)

Voter suppression takes a variety of forms:

  • Voter registration restrictions: In Florida, a new law added complicated filing mandates for groups like the League of Women Voters to operate voter registrations drives—they have to submit completed forms within 48 hours or face hefty fines.

  • Reduced early voting: Despite its infamous long lines on Election Day, Ohio cut its early voting from 35 days to 11, including banning voting on the Sunday preceding the election, when black churches have historically rallied their congregations to the voting booths.

  • Residency restrictions: In Maine, the Secretary of State challenged the registrations of college students from out of state.

These voter suppression attempts are happening in concert with the arguably more nefarious campaign to portray government as bad, explicitly implying that that it doesn’t matter what you do or who you vote for. Unfortunately, there is some truth to that, but it’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hey, the government is broken, it can’t do anything. Oh, and pay no attention to the men behind the curtain who are hacking at the government with picks and axes.

(My intention in Bones in the Wash was to highlight the increasingly common attempts by the Republicans to make it harder for people to vote, but it’s less a political tract than a family novel, full of crazy parents, insensitive boyfriends, demanding girlfriends. A murder investigation, too.)

Read more about voter suppression here. Read the first three chapters of Bones in the Wash here.

Your Letter Counts!

This post has been inspired by some great news I received about someone imprisoned by his oppressive government. I can’t wait to share the news, but have been asked to wait.

Often you feel powerless when a government arrests a person seeking freedom, democracy, education for women (or even the right to drive). It might be a tribe or people denied clean water or medicine, or any one of a thousand values that we take for granted every day.

We throw up our arms and give in. We get burnt out and buried in the stress of our own lives. But what if we each took 20 minutes a week or a month and wrote a letter to a political prisoner. Would it work?

imgres

When I was a teenager, I lost my political virginity campaigning to free Nelson Mandela and Anatoly Sharansky. I wrote letters, asked people to sign petitions, and went to demonstrations. Neither of these great men are free because of an English teenager’s attempts, but maybe I was a snowflake in the avalanche.

Bu Dongwei thinks so. He believes it worked for him. If nothing else take 2mins 21sec and listen to his story.

And Morgan Freeman agrees.

Amnesty International offers a list of prisoners and there are other organizations like PEN who advocate for writers who are jailed for standing up for freedom of speech in their own countries.

So how about it? Let’s all commit to just one letter a week/month. Put it in your calendar and let’s make a start.  

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More athttp://www.alonshalev.com and onTwitter (@elfwriter).

Against Gun Control?

My colleagues and I at Left Coast Voices have written time after time about gun control in the last couple of years. These are often the most-viewed posts and those that elicit more comments. The comments are often cynical, sarcastic or occasionally abusive.

Whatever your emotions, feelings, beliefs, gun control refuses to leave the stage of public debate. Perhaps if there were not so many massacres or the almost daily murders then the debate and interest might wane. 

Little CrossesBut it isn’t. 

So this is a short post urging those who are against gun control to voice their arguments. It is also an opportunity for NRA members who believe that there should be gun control to stand up.

No comment, written respectively, will be edited or doctored. If you want to write more than a few paragraphs (400-600 words, I will post your article as a guest post.

Our democracy is built upon a foundation of debate and the exchange of ideas. True debate involves people with differing opinion. Many of us on the left are building stereotypes of those who oppose gun control, demonizing people into images and caricatures that delegitimize and deny any validation to their views.

imgres-2More so, it fails to understand their fears and beliefs. Without such understanding, we can never begin a dialogue that will allow for genuine national debate and a change in policy.

A gun in the wrong hands threatens our safety and the safety of our children. The refusal to debate and listen to the other point-of-view is a threat to our democracy and the very fabric of our society.

Let’s makes a start. Who will be first?

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Crossing The Line

I realize that this post is not going to sit well with the audience of Left Coast Voices, and Roger, who already pointed towards the fact that big business is probably salivating at the prospect of making big bucks from another war, presents a scary scenario of those most motivated to crank up the war machine.

I get it and I am pretty sure he is right. But I am not sure that is reason enough to prevent intervention to not step in and stop the Syrian dictatorship from using chemical weapons again on anyone.

In the 1990’s I walked around with a gas mask in Tel Aviv, sealed up a room, participated in the drills, and sat in a shelter wondering if my family and friends were alright – if the missiles landing around us were regular scud missiles or tipped with chemicals.

images

As a soldier, I trained with gas mask and in gas released scenarios. I will never forget the labored breathing and the sweat that gathered on the gas mask making it so difficult to see. I remember the sarcastic jokes – no wonder Darth Vader turned to the dark side!

I am not even sure I believe in the – It’s an internal matter, we shouldn’t get involved – excuse. Countries are very artificial entities, especially those carved out by colonialist interests. But people are human beings, whether Syrians, Afghans, Africans or Tibetans. The only thing that seems to differentiate is who sits in a country with oil.

With regard to Syria, I’m not even convinced that the line was not crossed long before the chemical attack.

But I’m also astounded at the United Nations. How we find ourselves in a situation whereby the world movement refuses to do anything but shake its head and wag a finger is beyond me. If the world expects America to police the world, a frightening prospect, why are we pumping money into the United Nations? If the US were to pull out, would the United Nations even exist?

imgres-2

Brett D. Schaefer, the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom claims that “the U.S. is currently assessed 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget and more than 27 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget” – source. If chemical warfare is a red line that has been crossed why is the US not giving 22% of a UN coalition?

Finally, the fact that President Obama felt he needed more than one man (namely himself) to makes the decision whether the US would strike Syria should not be construed as weakness … rather it is DEMOCRACY. I’m not sure how many 2nd-term presidents would take such a step. I doubt many and I support the President and his decision.

I care less for countries and more for the people who live in them. No one should have to live through a war, whether internal or not. If we truly treasure our freedom, we must understand that we are never free while others are not.

At what point in a war has a country (or faction) crossed the line? Probably when the first bullet is fired. What is clear: once you have fired chemical weapons, you are way past the line and must be stopped.

—————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Can I Order some Democracy, Please? – Tom Rossi

Once in a while, we hear, in the news, about a strange, mysterious concept  known as “gerrymandering.” This is the practice whereby politicians make changes to the geographical shapes of political districts in order to give themselves and/or their political party more power. It’s done on an opportunistic basis by whichever party has power in a certain state at the moment and has no shame whatsoever.

However, in recent years the Republican Party has definitely taken the lead. The Dems are certainly not innocent, but they’ve taken a back seat to the recent flood of Republican gerrymandering.

How might it be possible to make more districts elect Republicans even if a majority of voters are Democrats? Here’s how:

First, identify geographic areas where Dems and Reps are concentrated. In other words, find areas that are not divided somewhat evenly, but where voting for one party is clearly dominant. Usually, this is as simple as separating the rich areas from the middle-class and poor neighborhoods. Then, draw new district borders, no matter how convoluted, around the desired areas, and voila’, you have cemented your power for the foreseeable future.

The Great State of Simplificatia

The Great State of Simplificatia

In the deliberately oversimplified diagram above (which is both a schematic and a fake map), you can see how gerrymandering works. The larger blue area (or population) votes Democrat, and the red area votes Republican. But if the Republicans set the districts, they can form one district that contains most of the Democrats, while the other two districts have a Republican majority. This means that, from this imaginary state with three congressional districts and a Democratic majority, one of the representatives that will be sent to Congress will be a Democrat, while two will be Republicans.

Due to various factors, people more often elect Republicans at the local level. This has to do with people’s (incorrect) perceptions about job creation, for one thing, but also the fact that many Democrats tend only to come out and vote in the “big” elections, for President of the United States, for example.

As a result, Republicans often end up in key positions of power from which they can control periodic redistricting. Of course, this phenomenon can and has taken place the other way ’round, but this is the dominant trend lately.

And it can be incredibly ugly on a real map:

md03

A single district in Maryland

What’s really politically beautiful (in reality, ugly) about this is that it provides the opportunity to whine about Democrats’ “making their seats safe,” even while, as I demonstrated in the diagram above, what’s really happening is the snatching of a seat by the Republicans.

For a much more detailed analysis of this problem, please read Sam Wang’s brilliant pieces: “Gerrymanders, Part 1: Busting the both-sides-do-it myth“, and “Part 2: How many voters were disenfranchised?” One conclusion that Wang reaches (with some good math and statistics) is that ten times as many Democrats have been disenfranchised as Republicans.

If it weren’t for this, Democrats would very likely hold the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. That would mean that talk of austerity measures would die, as would talk of privatizing Social Security.

It would also mean that something might be done to prepare for climate change (that is already upon us) and maybe some steps would even be taken to minimize the amount and pace of climate change.

And get this… If Democrats really controlled the government, there would be less spending.

As Sam Wang suggests, gerrymandering disenfranchises voters. That means a hole in our democracy, and that’s unacceptable, whichever party benefits. With so much talk of “bringing democracy” to Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, and other countries, many are now saying, “Let’s bring democracy to the United States first.

Video: Stephen Colbert: Win, Lose, or Redraw

-Tom Rossi

___________________________________________________________________________

Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

___________________________________________________________________________

When Does A Whistleblower Cross The Line?

I’m feeling rather confused about whistle blowing. The premise of The Accidental Activist was the abuse by large multinational corporations of individuals and their rights. My politics are generally left-wing – I’m sure you haven’t noticed from this blog – and I feel I should be siding with those who purport for freedom from surveillance, but when it comes to national security, my politics shift…sometimes dramatically.

The question for me with regards to the actions of both Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon revolves around three questions:

1.  Was US national security breached?

2.  Were men and women risking their lives for our protection compromised?

3.  Will our ability to utilize various systems of intelligence be closed to us because those willing to help us cannot trust our government agencies to control the information and sources?

imgres-1If any of the above leads to the death of one innocent individual, much less the failure to prevent a terrorist attack, then the actions of Manning and Snowdon are inexcusable. It is, I believe, not clear whether Snowdon crossed this line.

The definition of whistleblower is a person who tells the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities (misconduct) occurring in a government department or private company or organization. 

The image portrays a hero/ine who is willing to stand up when they see an injustice, knowing that they might face repercussions from that oft-powerful business or organization. In fact, the US Government put laws in place to protect whistleblowers, as early as 1863 to expose suppliers who were fraudulent during the Civil War. The Act even goes so far as to offer incentives such as a percentage of any money recovered or damages won in court. The act also protects them from wrongful dismissal. 

whistleblower-cliffIt all sounds great until we get to issues of national security. I suspect we will never know the extent of many of these secrets or the implications. I read that, after Mannings’ leaks, an entire ring of Afghan informers and their families were taken out of Afghanistan for their own safety. Beyond the upheaval of those families, US forces were left more exposed to potential and life-threatening ambushes. How desperate must someone be to step in as an informer under those circumstances?

I have no doubt that our intelligence agencies do a lot of bad stuff to protect our freedom. I am sure they bend the rules and sometimes cross the lines. But the reality is that it is a rough world out there and when you enter the realm of religious or political extremism, and face up against people willing to kill thousands of people in an indiscriminate fashion, then you have to decide what values you prioritize, and I put the lives of freedom-loving people first.

For several months I boarded public buses in Israel knowing that there were daily attempts to blow up these buses. I did it, not because I was a hero, but because I had no choice.

images-4I treasure freedom and democracy and I believe that all who choose to live in such a society have the right to do so, without fear. If the price is that someone occasionally taps my communications because I have a foreign name, I can live with it.

Note to NSA: 80% of the websites I go into refer to Arsenal – they are my soccer team back in the UK and have no connections to munitions. When I comment that we need someone who can shoot straight, I mean with an inflated round piece of leather. I hope I have saved you considerable time with this revelation.

A final question to Edward Snowdon: If you leaked all this information in the name of democracy and freedom, because you feared America was becoming a surveillance state, why did you flee to a Chinese colony, where security cameras abound and people regularly checked for what they read, surf and write?

If you have any free time while in China, perhaps you could speak out to help free Shi Tao – he was, I guess, also a whistleblower 

—————————————————————————————————–

Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

America: July 4th For All

I realize that I, like many of my fellow social commentators, spend a lot of time highlighting what is wrong in this country. This is important and even patriotic because it feeds from a desire to create a better and more just society. Today, however, should not be such a day. Allow me to share a post I wrote for a previous July 4th and in the afterglow of the historic Supreme Court human rights decision just a week ago.

I am sitting in my local coffee shop and two men have just walked in together. They are deep in conversation and I see that one insists on paying for both coffees while the other protests and then gratefully accepts. I sense they exchange this ritual regularly.  One man is black and the other is white. This shouldn’t stand out to me living in the People’s Republic of Berkeley, but it does.

These two men, though they walk straight and fluidly, are both old. They must be in their late 70’s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in their 80’s. They grew up in a different time, another age, when this scene would have drawn everyone’s attention in the coffee shop. Now, I suspect, it is just me.

These two men lived through segregation, the civil rights movement, and the general drive by mainstream American to create a non-racist, civil society. I know there are extremists out there, and I am aware that black people still face institutional racism, but when spotlighted, there is a strong consensus that such behavior is unacceptable.

I am writing this post a couple of days before the 4th of July. I am still not a citizen of the US, but I feel a part of this society because I believe in what it stands for: freedom and democracy for all. I know our country is not perfect, but we are moving forward. I know that not everyone is on board, or swimming in the same direction, but I believe there is a determined majority who embrace these principles. Jewish proverbs teach us that “It is not for us to finish the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.”

My blog often criticizes members of our society, organizations and politicians. But today, July 4th, while we fire up the barbecue and chill the bud (really, the only reason I haven’t applied for citizenship is I am expected to drink my beer cold!), lets focus on what we share in common.

I’ll leave you with Janis Ian who spells it out in black and white.  Happy 4th everyone.

—————————————————————————————————–

Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

Turkey – What is Happening?

Been tweeting with a student, he asked me to remove his name and twitter name out of fear of reprisals, in Ankara all weekend. I don’t know what is happening there and the silence in the media from Turkey and here is deafening.   But this clip that my friend took is heartbreaking. 

A democracy is first and foremost a place where people can protest and where a free media operates. We all need Turkey to win its struggle to remain a democracy. Actions like this simply won’t help.

Dated as Sunday, June 02.

Dated as Sunday, June 02, 2013.

In a world where the media is not free, I am glad for twitter and the opportunity to follow brave people like my friend.

Anyone with more on what is happening in Ankara – please post in the comments.

images-1

Dated as Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

—————————————————————————————————–

Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

 

Satire Is Part Of Freedom

“Without Bassem Youssef and the journalists who took to Tahrir Square in protest, President Morsi would not be in a position to repress them.”

Jon Stewart – Morsi

I’m not sure that I can add anything to what Jon Stewart said in the above  clip – when he gets serious, it is very powerful (even if still funny). Freedom and democracy is a double-edged sword. Taking power, even through a legitimate vote, doesn’t make you a democratic state. Democracy is a marathon not a sprint.

Do the right thing, President Morsi. Egypt and Islam are strong enough to deal with satire. Are you?

—————————————————————————————————–

Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Post Navigation

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: