Archive for October, 2008

Last evening the writer of Intelligent by Design phoned and, in the course of a very long conversation, pointed out that fear is a common element on both sides of the political divide this election. I argued that my fears of voter suppression, and potential vote count irregularities were rational fears while I believed the fears of Sen. Obama as “other” were irrational as well as unwarranted.  But IBD reminded me that the other side may well view their fears as rational and mine as irrational.  Hmmmmm. 

I hadn’t thought about it like that. So, back I went to the drawing board in my mind. Darn, I wish I hadn’t given away the great book I used to have about non-violent conflict resolution!.  But the take-away idea was one very similar to one of Steve Covey’s 7 Habits — “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  Wise words.

Then this morning, as I was doing my usual morning blog survey, I happened across a link to a new-to-me blog called Opinion Streams.  For those of you who may still be trying to reach conservative Christian friends, this post may help.   Given the video that has surfaced on You Tube and elsewhere of some of McCain and Palin’s supporters, I was dispairing of how we might knit our nation back together.  After seeing the comments to his post, most of which were sympathetic, and the blogger’s patient and rational responses to those which were not, I am feeling a bit more hopeful.  He is but one more in an entire series of thinking conservatives who are supporting Barack Obama.

I’ve written of the coming struggle for control of the Republican Party.  The Democrats have gone through similar periods when the coalition has faltered and re-formed itself.  Political parties, while decried by the founders, have been a part of American politics from the beginning, and individual ones have come and gone or morphed or evolved as conditions warranted. Often that happens when one wing of a party is feeling strong enough (or vocal enough) to assert itself beyond its numbers.  Most often those internecine battles occur after the mood of the country changes and the majority party becomes the minority one.

Whether or not the Republican Party succumbs to control by the one or two issue social conservatives, there are still thinking people among conservative Christians and conservatives at large, and I should have remembered people like Jim Wallis.  While Wallis is an evangelical Christian, his political views on most issues do not coincide with what we, or at least I tend to think of as conservative Christians.  IBD’s post on the problematic nature of labels is worth reading and considering.

Whether we use conservative or progressive theological or even use secular vocabulary to describe our values, we all have values.  And we vote our values.  Some of us value one or two positions above all while others of us look across the range of our values and decide which candidate best represents our vision of what this country could and should be. 

And as I thought both about the fear and hatred coming from some of the McCain-Palin supporters, I wondered if perhaps what they needed was for someone to listen to them.  Not sure I’m ready to tackle that assignment with the more rabid of that contingent, mostly because I fear I’d have a hard time listening to the entire tirade until the person finally ran out of anger, but it would be an interesting experiment.  Is that what Jesus meant by “resist not evil?” If someone actively listens to the emotions spill out rather than trying to talk them down, might a rational calm conversation on the might be possible in the end?


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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the Republicans lately, prompted in part by the tone their campaign has taken.  It seems that all they have is fear.  What the heck are they so afraid of?

Well, let’s see.  They’re afraid of rolling back the tax rate on the top 5% of Americans to where it was in 2000.  They’re afraid of a tax cut for the other 95%.  They’re afraid of new options in health insurance that would still preserve existing coverage for people who like the current system.  They’re afraid of adding options for those who can’t afford coverage, can’t get coverage due to a pre-existing condition or aren’t in an employment-related system.  They’re afraid of talking to people and countries they don’t agree with. They’re afraid of people who look or think or believe differently than they do.  They’re afraid of people with darker skins coming to this country illegally to better themselves by doing the jobs most Americans refuse to do.  They’re also afraid of loosening immigration requirements so they can come here legally. They’re afraid of trusting women to make good decisions about their reproductive lives.  They’re afraid of their children or themselves reading books like Harry Potter or Huck Finn.  They’re afraid that allowing everyone to marry the person they love will somehow threaten their own marriages.  It must be horrible to have to live with such fear.  A bogey-man around every corner, just waiting to get them.  It reminds me of my children when they were afraid to go to sleep without a nightlight.

Fear is a powerful and useful emotion.  It can protect us from danger, and that’s important to our survival — as individuals and as a species.  But because it is so powerful, it can be used by others to entice us to act against our own interests.  It is used by men to keep women in abusive relationships.  It is used by unscrupulous leaders to keep us from thinking for ourselves. 

I think the thing they fear the most is change.  Change can be unsettling, especially if it means having to examine long-held ideas and beliefs.  We see it in those butterflies we feel when we’re beginning a new job or a new school or moving to a new city.  We don’t know anyone there. Will we make friends?  Will we succeed? Will we be happy in our new situation?

But change is also an opportunity, if we choose to view it that way.  The economic melt-down we’re experiencing is likely to force a lot of us to make big changes in our lives.  We may have to change our ideas about consumption — not for ideological reasons but because we cannot afford to do otherwise.  We may be forced into conserving energy to save money.  We may be forced into staying home rather than going on vacation.  We may be forced to grow some of our own food, not because it allows us to eat healthier, fresher produce, but because it saves money.  We may decide to use the public library more often, and that just might expose us to new books and ideas.  We may even be forced into exchanging talents — bartering services we need but can’t afford to pay cash for.  We may have to learn to live within our means instead of buying now, paying later.  And that will force many of us into being creative with our leisure time — more walks, more evenings at home playing games or reading or watching movies. Perhaps we’ll even decide to read some of the many classic books or view some of the classic films. 

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a friend who lives in Amish country.  As we drove along the country roads, watching the men and boys work in the fields and seeing the laundry hung out to dry in the fresh air, I realized that while I wouldn’t want to give up all my creature comforts, the Amish were onto something.  They had something that the rest of us had willingly given up in our rush to achieve material things. They had a sense of community that was largely lacking in suburban America.

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 jwa, from Nebraska posted this comment on the Mudflats blog earlier today.  I was so impressed with the thoughts and sentiments that I asked his permission to repost it here.  Fortunately, he agreed, and I’m delighted to be able to spread this bit of wealth around. 

My wife and I just returned from early voting in Nebraska. While there is no chance that our votes will actually contribute to an electoral college victory for Obama/Biden, I am deeply moved to be able to say that I cast my vote for one of the most decent, intelligent, thoughtful and inspirational candidates I have seen in my lifetime.

In the past I would have described myself as a moderate, right-of-center conservative. I vote conscientiously but have never been politically active other than to mildly inform myself of the election year issues. I would typically vote Republican but without much enthusiasm.

My political awakening has come gradually over the past 8 years with an increasing dismay over the failed presidency of GWB. I vividly remember GWB briefly mentioning a philosophy of ‘compassionate conservatism’ in his first run for the White House. My optimism quickly turned to cynicism as I realized he had no idea what that meant, little compassion for those who disagree with him and no desire to actually implement such an idea. I am opposed to the lies that distracted us from the Afghan war and got us into Iraq and I was disgusted by the “Swift Boating” of John Kerry in 2004.

I have also become increasingly disenchanted with the GOP. I think much of what is wrong with the Republican Party is that the fundamentalists have hijacked the heart and soul of the party with a hate-based appeal to voters’ base instincts. The promotion of a narrow agenda based on guns, gays and abortion reflects little if anything of my priorities for this country. In addition, the ways in which they seek to promote their causes alienates people of good faith. They wrap themselves in flag and cross, demonize the opposition, distort their views, commit lies of omission and commission, and show an unwillingness to recognize the good in others while ignoring their own weaknesses. These tactics prevent the development of meaningful dialog and hinder work on realistic, bipartisan solutions to problems. If those are the “base” values of the Republican Party, I don’t want any part of it.

In fact, it seems to me almost a definition of fundamentalism (political, religious or any other kind) that one must steadfastly believe that your opinions are infallibly correct, compromise is a sign of weakness and that anyone who disagrees with you is either evil or stupid and should be destroyed by any means available. Adopting an intolerant, winner-take-all mentality imposes a tyranny of the majority that is antithetical to the pluralistic Constitutional principles upon which this country was founded.

With this background, I ‘discovered’ Barack Obama. I read his books, heard him speak at a small town hall meeting in Iowa last spring (got to shake his hand!!). I have come to passionately believe that in spite of his relative lack of experience, he is the right man to lead this country out of the moral wilderness we have been lost in and restore to this country a sense of decency and pride in what America is supposed to stand for. That may not be the “My country right or wrong,” flag waving kind of patriotism the GOP wants to shove down our throats. I am a patriotic American, and I love my country, but I have not been proud of the US for the last 8 years. I see in Barack Obama’s candidacy the promise to restore this country to something we can truly be proud of.

I know this is far too long for a blog post, but I have been so thankful to the Mudflats community for providing a sense of home and refuge from the hateful lies and distortions I am surrounded by in my real life.

I realize my Red-State vote won’t really count for much but for those of you in the real battleground states, you have a chance to cast an historic ballot that will truly make a difference.


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As is my habit, I’ve been reading the newspapers — both my local one and the LA Times — as well as various columns and articles that catch my attention from online sources, including both national and local papers and news aggregators.  Several items caught my eye this morning.

This from the Washington Post, where David Frum opines that it’s time for the GOP to stare reality in the face and put its money into some of the down-ticket races.  Clearly, those outside the campaign itself are seeing an Electoral College landslideas even Montana and North Dakota are tied, with Indiana now showing Obama in the lead. Frum worries about the possibility of the Democrats holding a 60 seat Senate majority and what that bodes.

While I do agree on the need and benefit of a system of checks and balances, I don’t share his apocalyptic vision.  First, as John Dean describes in his book Broken Government, Democrats have an appreciation for good governance.  It is Dean’s view that the Republican party of late has been focused on winning, whether it be elections or specific votes. This is perhaps best illustrated by Karl Rove’s philosophy of 50% plus 1 vote.  Governance requires compromise and negotiation, not a “my way or the highway” mentality.  Additionally, and perhaps even more important is the leadership style Barack Obama has demonstrated. Susan Rice, one of his chief foreign policy advisers explained why his campaign has been essentially leak-proof over the past two years.  She indicated that all are given an opportunity to air their views. If the decision is contrary to your own position, the fact that your ideas have been heard and considered makes it easier to accept and minimizes the “need” to go public in order to be heard.

Much has been made recently of how a McCain and an Obama administration would differ, particularly Sarah Palin’s near hysteria that an Obama presidency would turn the United States into a communist country.  I suppose the irony of that claim is lost on her when one considers that by partially nationalizing the US banking system, a Republican administration has made a significant step towards what can only be described as a socialist solution.  While Palin’s fear-mongering in the extreme might appeal to older voters, those who retain a Cold War mentality, it is virtually meaningless to younger voters and to those looking to a “futurist” president.  The methods of the two campaigns could not be more stark in their contrasts — hope vs. fear, the future vs. the past, change vs. more of the same.  To that end I recommend two articles found on the Real Clear Politics site that contrast an Obama administration to a McCain one.  Past behavior is said to be the best predictor of future behavior.  That, and a demonstrated presidential temperament are the major reasons for many of Obama’s endorsements.

Even the Anchorage Daily News has endorsed Barack Obama for President.  Make no mistake, the largest paper in Alaska, home of Gov. Sarah Palin, GOP candidate for Vice President, has endorsed her opponent. Their reasons are sound, but for one who has been following the campaign intently since her selection, one paragraph jumped out at me.

Gov. Palin has shown the country why she has been so successful in her young political career. Passionate, charismatic and indefatigable, she draws huge crowds and sows excitement in her wake. She has made it clear she’s a force to be reckoned with, and you can be sure politicians and political professionals across the country have taken note. Her future, in Alaska and on the national stage, seems certain to be played out in the limelight.

It wil be interesting to watch how the GOP deals with what many of their senior people are admitting is likely to be a resounding defeat.  McCain campaign personnel and senior GOP members have begun to speak of a coming GOP “civil war”as the party tries to re-make itself.  Certainly there is plenty of blame to go around.  The Republican brand has been greatly tarnished by the presidency of George W. Bush, and the country clearly longs to turn the page.  McCain was always viewed with skepticism by the GOP base, and in selecting Gov. Palin to try to shore up their support, he abandoned the moderates and the independents who ultimately decide elections.  The John McCain of 2000 might well have been a successful opponent in 2008, but in pandering to the GOP base, he and Gov. Palin have exposed its basest qualities.

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The future of the GOP?

The blame game is beginning with 12 days left in the campaign.  Politico, today, reports that the McCain campaign has formed a “circular firing squad.”  Increasingly, moderate Republicans are endorsing Obama.  As an Obama supporter, I’m delighted that they’ve thrown in with us. 

Ultmately, thought, their support represents something far more important.  Over the past few weeks, as the GOP campaign has turned increasingly ugly,  we’ve seen video of what can only be called bigotry and racism, with a large measure of just plain ignorance thrown in.  Colin Powell spoke eloquently of that side of the GOP in his endorsement of Obama. Scott McClellan’s endorsement echoed the need for the country to retreat from the sort of politics we’ve seen over the past number of years.

To be fair, the turn towards the dark side didn’t begin with George W. Bush and Karl Rove.  It actually began with Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.”  A retired journalist living in Texas has written about it in his blog Left Eye on the Media.  Jack’s blog is one of a number of voices taking the media to task for failing to live up to its duty in a democratic society, and a recent post traces the history of the current devolution of the GOP.

As hopeful as I am at the prospect of an Obama presidency, I’m equally hopeful that we may be seeing the destruction of the Republican Party.  Not that I want to see a one party system.  I definitely do not.  But the current incarnation of the GOP is a far cry from the party of its founder Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln would not recognize it and would be horrified at what it has become.  Can the moderates and the conservative intellectuals retake control?  That’s hard to say.  If not, I hope that they will continue to leave in droves and form a new party.  What would remain would be a no-nothing party composed of elements that would have much in common with the Islamic fundamentalists they so fear and hate.

A democratic system needs a loyal opposition that serves to restrain the party in power.  We are witnessing the effects of a deregulated economic system.  I neither need nor want to see our political system equally unregulated.

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Well, the updated endorsement list is out at Editor and Publisher.  And the numbers are pretty impressive.  Sen. Barack Obama has garnered endorsements from 112 newspapers with combined circulation of nearly 13.8 million to McCain’s 39 papers representing 3.7 million readers.  What’s even more impressive is the number of Obama endorsements from papers that went for Bush last time.  This on the heels of Gen. Colin Powell’s ringing and eloquent endorsement of Sen. Obama.  What made Powell’ statement all the more important was the reasons for his support.  While E&P’s list is not all inclusive, here it is with links where available.  If you find working links to anything on this list that I couldn’t, please put it into a comment so I can update the list.  Just reading some of the endorsements is worth the time.

First, the 112 papers endorsing Barack Obama.  Those who endorsed Bush last time are in bold.

Tuscaloosa (AL) News
Arkansas Times

The Argus (Fremont, CA)
Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, CA)
Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA)
Daily Review (Hayward, CA)
The Fresno Bee
La Opinion (Los Angeles)
Long Beach Press Telegram
Los Angeles Daily News
Los Angeles Times

Marin Independent-Journal
The Modesto Bee
The Monterey County Herald
Oakland Tribune
Pasadena Star News
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
The (Stockton, CA) Record
The Sacramento Bee
San Bernardino Sun
San Francisco Chronicle
San Jose Mercury
San Mateo County Times
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Tri-Valley Herald
Boulder (CO) Camera
Cortez Journal
The Denver Post
The Durango Herald
Gunnison Country Times
Ouray County Plaindealer
New Haven (CT) Register
The Washington (DC) Post

Daytona Beach (FL) News Journal
Miami Herald
Naples Daily-News
Orlando Sentinel
Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Atlanta (GA) Journal-Constitution
Honolulu (HI) Star-Bulletin
Idaho Statesman
Chicago Tribune (IL) — 1st ever Democratic endorsement
Chicago Sun-Times
Daily Herald (Arlington)
Rockford Register Star
Southwest News-Herald
Fort Wayne (IN) Journal Gazette
Palladium-Item (Richmond)
The Hawk Eye (Burlington, IA)
Mason City Globe Gazette
The Storm Lake Times NOTE: endorsement title is “McCain on Ethanol”
Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader
Bangor (ME) Daily News
Brunswick Times-Record
The Boston (MA) Globe

The Standard-Times (New Bedford)
Detroit (MI) Free Press
The Muskegon Chronicle

Columnia (MO) Daily Tribune
Kansas City Star
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Las Vegas (NV) Sun
Concord (NH) Monitor

Nashua Telegraph
Asbury Park Press (Neptune, NJ)
Las Cruces Sun-News (NM)
Santa Fe New Mexican
Buffalo (NY) News
Daily News
el Diario
Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times
Durham Herald-Sun
Greenville Daily Reflector
News & Observer
Wilmington Star-News
Akron (OH) Beacon-Journal
The (Toledo) Blade
Dayton Daily News
The (Canton) Repository
Times-Reporter (New Philadelphia)
Springfield News-Sun
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Mail Tribune (Medford)
The Oregonian (Portland)
Statesman-Journal (Salem)
Yamhill Valley News-Register (McMinnville)
The Daily Item (Sunbury, PA)
The Express-Times (Easton)
Philadephia Inquirer
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Chattanooga Times (KY)
The Commercial Appeal (Memphis)
The (Nashville) Tennessean
Austin American-Statesman (TX)
The Eagle (Bryan-College Station)
Houston Chronicle
The Lufkin Daily News
The Salt Lake Tribune (UT)
Burlington (VT) Free Press
Falls Church (VA) News-Press
The Columbian (WA)
The Olympian
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
The Seattle Times
Tri-City Herald
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
Yakima Herald-Republic
The Charleston (WV) Gazette
Huntington Herald-Dispatch
The Capital Times (Madison, WI)
Wisconsin State Journal (Madison)

Now, the 39 papers that have endorsed McCain, with those who endorsed Kerry last time in bold.

Bakersfield Californian
Napa Valley Register
Riverside Press-Enterprise
The San Francisco Examiner
San Diego Union-Tribune
Mountain Valley News (Cedaredge, CO)
The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction)
The Pueblo Chieftain
Daily Times-Call (Longmont)
The Washington DC Examiner
Bradenton (FL) Herald
Tampa Tribune

The Baltimore Examiner (MD)
Boston (MA) Herald
The (Lowell) Sun
The (New Ulm, MN) Journal
Foster’s Daily Democrat (NH)
Union Leader (Manchester)
Roswell (NM) Daily Record
Las Vegas (NV) Review-Journal
New York Post
Columbus (OH) Dispatch
The (Findlay) Courier
Bend (OR) Bulletin
The Jackson (TN) Sun
The Leaf-Chronicle
Amarillo (TX) Globe-News
Beaumont Enterprise
Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Dallas Morning News

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
San Antonio Express-News
Times Record News
(Wichita Falls)
Wharton Journal-Spectator
Daily Press (Newport News, VA)
The Winchester Star
(Spokane, WA) Spokesman-Review
Wheeling (WV) News-Register

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Ok, let’s talk about the ways to manipulate the vote and see which ones are real issues and which are scare tactics.  There’s been a lot of discussion lately about voter fraud, but like a lot of things, there are different kinds of voter fraud.  Some are a real danger; others aren’t. I’m listing them from least harmful to most.

Voter registration fraud— largely a bogus issue.  Some organizations pay people to get other people registered.  If you’re paying people by the completed form, is it all that surprising that some forms are obviously phony?  Some states require the registering organization to submit ALL forms, regardless of whether some are obviously fake.  Then the county registrar verifies them.  ACORN saw that some of the forms were bad, alerted the county officials, and followed the law in submitting them anyway.  It’s up to the registrar’s office to sift through and dump the ones that can’t be verified. Would any responsible poll worker let Mickey Mouse cast a ballot without asking for additional proof of identify? Not likely. Fraudulent registrations don’t equate to fraudulent votes. But it’s a good scare tactic.

Voter fraud — involves such things as a real person registering to vote or voting in a precinct other than where they live or voting multiple times.  Fewer than 50 instances were found nationally in the 2004 election.  So, when viewed in the context of an election with 100,000,000 voters or more, it, too, becomes more an example of fear-mongering than of a potential risk to the integrity of our elections. Ideally, there would be zero examples, but let’s keep things in perspective.

Voter suppression — covers a wide range of tactics designed to keep eligible voters from voting. It ranges from things done before election day, like voter caging, Jim Crow laws, ex-felon disenfranchisement, partisan election administration, inequal  and other similar techniques, including phone blocking, sending letters advising voters incorrectly that they could be denied the vote if they owed back child support or had outstanding traffic tickets, or even if they were immigrants (without regard to the fact that many citizens are immigrants). Election day tactics include distribution of election day resources such as machines or poll workers or having uniformed officers, wearing side arms present at polling stations in minority areas. More information here.  Unfortunately, over the past several election cycles, the Republican party has used  these tactics and others to suppress the vote among groups that traditionally vote Democratic or live in reliably Democratic precincts.  Rep. John Conyers documented the suppression activities in Ohio following the 2004 election.  (His report used to be available online, but now can be purchased through Amazon and other bookstores.) And Monica Goodling testified, perhaps unwittingly, to the practice of voter caging being used.  The Michigan GOP sought lists of foreclosed properties to challenge voters this time around, even though there can be months between foreclosure and eviction, during which time the people are very much living in the home and eligible to vote in the particular precinct.

Unfortunately, voter turn-out in the United States is typically lower than in other democracies.  But actively discouraging or preventing eligible voters from exercising their Constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote is shameful and should be prevented and soundly condemned, regardless of which party is at fault.  Successful voter suppression efforts can alter the outcome of elections, and that is completely unacceptable.

Vote count fraud— this one is very real.  Joseph Stalin is reputed to have said, “It’s not who votes that counts.  It’s who counts the votes that counts.”  After the problems in Florida in 2000, many states turned to electronic voting machines.  The problem is that some of these machines do not provide the voter (or the vote counters) with a paper record so that the electronic count can be verified against a paper record.  Some voters using electronic voting machines have also reported that the machines do not register votes correctly on the screen. And 2006 left many people questioning whether some sort of malfunction, malicious or otherwise, accounted for a 16,000 undervote in a Congressional race in Florida, particularly since the undervote seemed to be both a historical and statistical anomaly and was centered in a normally Democratic area of the district. 

Unfortunately, the manufacturer’s claim of proprietary software and questions about the adequacy of software testing does little to reassure voters of the integrity of the system.  Ed Felten and his team at Princeton has tested some of the suspect models and has found them shockingly easy to hack. See also here

Similarly, evidence has turned up that thousands of provisional ballots are routinely not counted. Are we approaching a point where we can no longer trust the validity of our electoral system?  Do we need to use international monitors such as are used in countries known for voter fraud?

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