Monday, November 29, 2010

Facts About Voter Fraud and Ineligible Voting: A Report

As a follow-up to my voter ID post, I wanted to point out that this report has been issued by the Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota and the Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance/Association of Universalist Women.

Here's a story on it from MPR that summarizes the findings.

I'll be reading the 44-page report as soon as I can.

(MUUSJA website here.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Story for Ann

I wrote this story years ago... it could be twenty by now. Six years ago today, my aunt Ann died unexpectedly, and this is one of my best memories of her. And one of my best memories ever. I wish she were here today. She'd get a kick out of my little family.

My aunt Ann was coming out to visit. She had always been my favorite aunt. Her imagination was vivid, and she really knew how to play, even though she was fifteen years older than I. As if summer wasn’t already enough of a pre-school overload for me, there would now be an overabundance of girl things to do. This was going to be an extra special treat.

Summer for me was a wild romp through the mountains of south-western Montana. Almost every year contained those six weeks of passionate playtime, surrounded by endless cow pastures and college students who thought I was a cute kid. It was also six weeks without T.V., but I never noticed. The reason for this unadulterated and often unsupervised experiment in childhood was that my dad taught at a field station in the Tobacco Root mountains, and the family came along. I really didn’t know what he did exactly. I just knew that he was a teacher, the students called him the Limestone Cowboy, he tromped around outside all day, and sometimes graded papers. Us kids could, in turn, sell rocks we found on the hill behind the lab, and peddle Kool-Aid to the students after a hard day in the field.

The nearest town was listed as having 32 people, but these citizens didn’t actually live in the town proper. They were ranchers who were scattered about the out-laying areas and up into the mountains themselves. The town was called Cardwell, and the post office, general store, and gas station were conveniently close - in the same building. Maxine the postmaster sat on her stool behind the counter, and gave my brother the stamp collector illegal postmarks from the town.

I usually passed my time running around in those endless cow pastures, out behind our trailers, negotiating sage brush and cow pies, or playing with my extensive collection of Barbie dolls. My brother went around making the sort of trouble that boys make, such as pushing little sisters into creeks and general teasing and badgering. Mom spent her time doing crafts and relaxing. She also had the fun job of keeping Jim and I from severely hurting each other. Ann’s visit was a very exciting addition to an already pleasant routine.

I loved Ann. I was five years old, and she seemed to be perfect. She drew pictures that really looked like what they were supposed to be, loved horses and pretty things, and liked to do my hair with colorful yarn ribbons. She would pick flowers with me, and admire my Barbies. She was almost a better kid than I was.

The morning she was supposed to get in, we drove the one and one half hours to Bozeman, and picked her up at the two-terminal airport. One and a half hours is an eternity in the life of an antsy five year old, and I’m sure that my excitement and anticipation contributed to making me one of the most charming little chatterboxes around. I would imagine that I annoyed my parents with all sorts of trivia, perhaps adding in a song or two as I gazed out the window at the scenery speeding by, wondering if we would ever get there.

The plane landed, Ann walked into the airport, and everyone had their chance to say “hi.” The whole ride home consisted of boring grown-up questions such as “How was your flight?,” and “How is college?” By the time another agonizing ninety minute ride was over, and we were back at the camp.

I wanted Ann to dive immediately into playland. But it wasn’t to be. She had to rest Maybe she was an adult after all; they sleep all the time.

The next morning, I woke earlier as usual, as kids often do when they are overly excited about something. It was better than Christmas. Well, almost better than Christmas. I went out into the small living room as quietly as possible, because that was where Ann was sleeping, and made as much noise as possible. I ate the cookies that dad always left for me, dragged the chairs over the cheap linoleum floor, and banged the cabinet doors. Ann, to my horror, woke up. Mom woke up also, and I found out that Dad was actually in camp grading. Wonderful. Everyone would be home to show me a good time. All I had to do was sit back, be cute, and let them do their best to make me happy.

The day was mine. My father arrived and he, Ann, my brother and I planned to trek all the way across the river to Rattlesnake Butte. A hike! Off we went, I in my embroidered Toughskins, striped knit shirt, and blue children’s hiking boots, was ready to go. We left the trailer and headed down the newly-tarred dirt road, over the South Boulder River, and back up the other side to the mountain, a distance of about a quarter of a mile. Rattlesnake Butte was really not a mountain, it was only a small foothill of a foothill in the Tobacco Roots, covered with brush and outcrops of jagged rock. It was tiny.

It was surrounded by the beginnings of the actual mountain range, which made it look even smaller. The only thing which made it remarkable and lent it its exotic movie-western name was that one of the teacher’s dogs was bitten by a rattlesnake on top of it.

But I was five. Almost everything was bigger than me. A whole hill was huge. And the distance traveled was practically an odyssey, complete with obstacles meant to trip up the unsuspecting wanderer. A system of metal bars two inches wide and four inches apart familiar to anyone in the west blocked our passage to the promised land of adventure: a cattle guard. My father’s Super 8 movie camera caught, in visual proof, my brother actually being nice to me. We were attempting to cross this cattle guard when I hesitated. A better name for these contraptions would be “childrenguards.” Jim went ahead and showed me how easy it was, and returned to take my hand to guide me over the treacherous thing. Once I was safely on the other side, he went across and back just one more time to prove to me that he needed no help. Rattlesnake Butte now loomed over us. We went through the gate into the empty cow pasture over to the slope and began our hike.

It was all easy at first. We went slowly, Ann and I picking flowers as we went, Dad following with the camera, and Jim, once again, running ahead to show us how easy it all was. Then Dad dropped a bombshell. He had to go back to the camp to grade more papers. I suddenly had the choice to stay and go on with Ann and Jim, or to go back with my Dad. It might seem like this would have been an easy choice to make, but I loved my daddy, and if he was leaving, I felt I should, too. After standing on the hill with my dad below me and Ann above me, looking back and forth at both of them, and jumping up and down while shaking my hands, I decided to stay and continue the trip.

We reached the top of Rattlesnake Butte and began to explore. I had been up there many times before, but Ann made it seem like a completely different place. The small pine trees, large rocks, and sagebrush became a hideout for the good guys.

We were being chased by a group of nasty robbers. They were after us because we knew too much. We had witnessed their last heist, and were determined to turn them in. We perched ourselves behind some rocks near the edge of the hill, and looked down upon the dirt road. We were worried-it seemed like we couldn’t be missed, and these guys were ruthless. They would show no mercy, so what if we were kids.

A lone car appeared. It came around the corner on our left, around the hill, a cloud of dust following it. They were driving fast. Was it the robbers? I felt my heart speed up, and a lump grew in my throat. The car passed without incident. Ann held her breath through it all, trying to be brave. I couldn’t handle it. I could never handle fear. I had to go to the bathroom. I retired to the bushes for a short amount of time while Jim and Ann held down the fort. As I returned, another car approached. I was advised to duck, which I did. The car went by. Ann was sure it was the bad guys, she remembered the car. It passed out of sight up the valley.

“Listen,” she said, “They didn’t see us.” She was whispering, even though the only thing there was to hear in this wilderness was a bird, maybe a cow. Her ponytails were almost quivering with fear, “It will be a while before they realize that we aren’t up there. The road ends five miles up. If we make a run for it now, we should be able to make it home before they come back.” Admiration almost poured out of my eyes. She was fearless. She was pretty. She was smart. She didn’t condescend. Ann knew everything. We took one last peek at the road, looked at each other for reassurance - Jim informing us that there was really nothing to worry about, , and made a break for it. We tore down the side of the hill, through a herd of wandering cattle who didn’t even realize what peril we were in, and took off down the road.

We didn’t stop until we reaches our trailer.

“I think we made it,” Ann said, “Let’s eat lunch.”

We went inside. The robbers never found us. Ann was so smart, and she had her priorities straight. Food before fear.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Earmarks built my...

earmark: a provision in Congressional legislation that allocates a specified amount of money for a specific project, program, or organization.

National Writing Project, Reading is Fundamental Program, Center for Civic Education Programs, MN National Guard Counter-Drug Support program, Central Corridor Light Rail Program, Camp Riley Combined Arms Collective Training Facility, Upper Mississippi River System Program, National Rural Water Association, Northstar Commuter Rail Line, breast cancer research program, Lewis and Clark Rural Water System, Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, Ultra Light Utility Vehicles for the National Guard, MN National Guard Reintegration Program, Highway 14 construction projects, Hastings Bridge over the Mississippi, Aircraft deicing apron, Wind energy, waste water treatment, City of St. Paul to provide tutoring, mentoring and other educational programs and resources for after-school programs, Minnesota Humanities Center, St. Paul, MN for teacher professional development, which may include honoraria, Sheriffs Youth Programs of Minnesota to expand SYP's program for at-risk youth, Metropolitan State University, St Paul, MN, to expand nursing education, Olmsted County Community Services, to implement and sustain a performance based child protection system preventing child abuse and neglect, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, Credit Counseling Capacity Building, St. Paul, MN, fire trucks in Eagan, Children's Hospitals & Clinics, for equipment, City of St. Paul to replace the warning siren system that is used to warn the public about tornadoes, terrorism, and hazardous material emergencies...

To name just a few things, in the state of Minnesota, in the past three years. Every state has them; every state gets them; they are sponsored by republicans and democrats, and they are often how we pay for things as a government and a people. Are there bad earmarks? Probably. Just like how the majority of people are good, with a few bad ones. Stuff that's bad stands out. Good stuff doesn't. Good stuff just is, and we rely on it. It does not make news when a bridge doesn't fall down, every day, all over the country.

Mostly, earmarks are only bad when the other guy gets them or when they don't make sense to us, on the surface. That fruit fly research sounded ridiculous, until we found out that it could lead to new understanding in the root of autism spectrum disorders.

This seems like another non-issue, like voter fraud. It certainly is not going to make or break the budget or the deficit. After all, earmarks don't change the amount of money spent or appropriated, they direct it to certain projects, institutions, or organizations. But like every other non-issue, it will get people whipped up into a frenzy, even as they cut themselves off at the ankles.

Famously, the republicans in the Minnesota Congressional Delegation undertook a moratorium on earmarks last year, leaving the democrats to request funds for the republican districts, as was the case when Congresswoman McCollum submitted requests for Congressman John Kline's district. Did you know that, 2nd District?

This is what people don't get: earmarks do things. They build things. They put people to work. They retrain people. They help soldiers re-enter society. They support our teachers, our firemen and women, our police. When a representative declines an earmark or does not request one, in the name of political grandstanding, that individual is doing no harm to him or herself, but does harm constituents. The brilliant thing in the rhetoric is that the constituents don't even have to know.

Now, Congresswoman Bachmann wants to redefine earmarks to not include transportation projects, so she can ask for funding for her district, and not be asking for earmarks.

I see.

Now that you have the ball, the goalposts are over there.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Charity 3.0

Long before Target Corporation donated money to an outside group supporting Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, I often found myself pondering their charitable giving programs, like the money they give to schools. I thought, "Well, wouldn't it be nice if they didn't have to do that, perhaps by advocating for better public policy that would benefit schools over the long term?" This random thought came into higher relief when the "Minnesota Forward" news broke, and I severed my ties to the retail chain.

People kept saying things like, "But they do so many good things," and I kept coming back to, "Sure, but they are supporting political candidates who, in my mind, are not crafting policy that could make substantive, long term, positive impact on public problems. So, they must be doing it only for the tax breaks and good public relations, and are possibly perpetuating the necessity for their charitable intervention, for the foreseeable future, as schools come to rely on this sort of intervention to make ends meet.

I want substantive change.

This keeps coming up. Recently, I read an article in which the world's richest man said that the only thing that will help people is employment. Charity begets charity. And while I don't agree with many of his sentiments (the World's Richest Man can say just about anything because, well, he has a crap load of money to back him up), it's an interesting proposition. This was brought into further relief when a colleague forwarded me this video:

First as Charity, Then as Farce

Aside from being a really nifty piece of work from a creative and technological standpoint, Slavoj Zizek raises some interesting issues about charity, bringing in a critique of "cultural capitalism," in which "doing good" becomes a part of the transaction. In this model of capitalism, "through the consumerist act, you buy your redemption from being only a consumerist," he says.

It's what I do all the time. I have to buy stuff to live, so I might as well buy stuff and make myself feel good at the same time. But if  "the proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that [insert social ill here] will be impossible," how do we do that? Can we do both? Where do companies like Target fit into that mix? Does capitalism necessitate and perpetuate charity, and is it possible to use to tools of capitalism to change social ills, or is capitalism antithetical to positive social change?

Friday, November 5, 2010


I served as an election judge again this past Tuesday for the general election. It was only my second time doing so, the first being at the primary in August. I enjoy being involved in our political process, and this seemed like a logical extension of that. It's a long day (14 and a half hours, at the least), but it goes by surprisingly fast, even when turn-out in your precinct is only 22%, as it was for the primary (this was unfortunately rather high, in reality). I knitted six washcloths that day.

On November 2, I did not expect to get that much knitting done (only four much smaller dishcloths) because turn-out would be higher. Indeed, we had 59% in our precinct, which is also, unfortunately, considered high.

We were warned by our head judge that there may be issues with voters wearing "ID Me" buttons or insisting that we check their ID. Just a few days before the election, the Supreme Court had denied a case brought by "Tea Partiers", in which they wanted the right to wear these materials. It was deemed to be covered by the "no campaign or political materials in the polling place" law, and we were to ask people to cover any such items. This includes sample ballots from specific parties and tee shirts that say "Wellstone!", even though he was clearly not running for election.

I did not see any buttons that said "ID Me," but I did have some rather forceful or snide individuals, muttering comments or stating outright nonsense regarding voter identification. I was only on the roster table for a few hours, so I am not sure what other judges may have heard, but I had three notable people offer their opinions. One woman was rather incensed, having "just found out today that Minnesota does not require ID to vote."

"I mean, that's ridiculous."

"It's the law, " I replied.

"Well, it's a stupid law," she said.

Another muttered, when I said that it was the law, "No wonder this state is so screwed up."

The final major comment was from a gentleman who proffered his ID in my face. When I said that we do not require ID, he said he knew, but wanted me to check his ID. I said it was the law that Minnesota does not require ID to vote, and I asked his last name. He remained silent and held the ID in my face. Once I had given him his ballot receipt, he said "It's the government's law that you have to have ID on you at all times. It's the law."

I closed my lips together firmly to keep from answering. He moved on.

Now, I have to say, "Really?" Where does he live, and where is he getting this information, and moreover, why does he believe it?

Voter fraud is a current specter striking fear into the hearts of white people across America. As this issue does divide mostly along partisan lines, with republicans favoring more Voter ID requirements and Democrats being against them, I have to ask the question, "Why?"

Is voter fraud a big problem? If so, would identification laws solve it? What's the big deal about requiring ID? You need ID for a lot of things, and voting is pretty important, so requiring ID to do so seems innocuous. Why does it divide along party lines? Who benefits and who loses? Why do some people assume that everyone else is lying, even when they themselves never would? Why didn't these people get upset in 2000 or 2004 when there were massive voting irregularities? Do they believe that liberals are stealing elections through voter fraud, and ID laws will fix that? Do they think that Minnesota is the only state that does not require ID?

In reality, 24 states do not require ID, and the other 26 have varying degrees of requirements. (National Conference of State Legislatures) Furthermore, from what I could gather, voter fraud of the type that would be caught by requiring ID is so rare as to be statistically uncountable, leading Project Vote to say:

"Voter identification requirements, while increasingly popular in state legislatures around the country, are a solution without a problem."

So, if voter fraud via voter impersonation is not a real problem (Again, the kind that would be caught by requiring Voter ID), then what is this really all about?

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as much as 12% of the eligible voting population does not have a government-issued photo ID. The majority of these people are seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, students, and women. It seems to me that Voter ID hoopla is meant to instill fear in a certain sector of the population, that certain other sectors of the population are voting illegally, so that ID laws can be passed, making it harder for those certain other sectors of the voting population to vote.

If we are truly concerned about fairness in elections, then we need well-funded, well-trained election oversight departments and officials, who can track down irregularities when they occur. We need to pursue cases of voter intimidation, which, unlike voter impersonation, actually do happen. We need to make information about voting and voting rights as well as election and polling information easily available to the voters.

The "Voter ID" issue is a low-hanging fear-fruit. It "sounds good" when you hear it, and people will shrug, thinking it's no big deal. That's often because they have not thought any deeper about the issue, such as barriers to obtaining government-issued ID, how those barriers affect different groups of people, and who it is that these laws would keep from voting.

It only "sounds good" when you don't have to think about it, and it doesn't affect you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Good job, America

Citizens United (for Undisclosed Donors) has helped to make sure that we have no idea who is behind the funding of  42% of outside dollars, and this was the most expensive midterm election in American history.

It's nice to know that in these trying times of 9.6% unemployment and general economic hardship, America can still scrape together 4 billion dollars to elect new officials.

Every big election season, it bugs me. I get those nice, ideal, frolicking-in-the-meadows visions of what other things that kind of money could do, and think things like, "We can spend 4 billion dollars buying an election, and that doesn't seem to bother us, while people are out of work, can't feed their families, and are losing their homes?" In fairness, of course, 4 billion dollars would not buy much on a national scale for large groups of people... but still... I see that number, and I think, "The money is out there... we have a big distribution problem..."

Real, substantive (there's that word again) campaign reform needs to happen to level the playing field for all, and give us a break from the noise, which is becoming unceasing, and is certainly not making the American voter any smarter or nuanced, but the likelihood that we will see that anytime soon has dwindled to pretty much nothing.

Congratulations, Minnesota 8th CD!

And a very warm thank you from the rest of the state.

By voting out Congressman Jim Oberstar, you have tossed out 36 years of leadership, pretty much marking an end to Minnesota's vast national influence in transportation issues, while making sure that funding for major infrastructure projects is greatly reduced.

This is one of those examples where one can say, "Well, you get the government you deserve up there," but this has implications for the entire state as well as the region. So, they get their government, and I get it, too.

It kind of goes for the whole state, with the new republican-led legislature. Everyone who voted for it will get what they deserve, but so will I. If you work for a public or quasi-public institution, as both the wage-earners in my family do, your job will be hanging in the balance. This is not alarmist, it's a real possibility. And if we lose our jobs, it's not like the private sector is poised to take us on with its booming job market. (And don't tell me that a new, republican legislature is going to create a booming job market.)

So maybe we take on jobs that don't quite pay the bills. In any case, our child would have to come out of day care, which could affect their enrollment to such an extent that they have to let people go, who are then also on the job market.

I won't be stocking up on water, tinned food, and ammunition in the next few months, but I will be cutting back on expenses and paying down our recent home improvements as quickly as I can, just in case.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vote, America.

"...because he won't raise my taxes..."

It's time to Vote, America. And you may be hearing a lot of people making the above statement, as in, "I am voting for [fill in the blank] because he/she won't raise my taxes."

This has never occurred to me as I make my choices at the polling place. I don't get all worked up about my taxes or about my having to pay taxes (though I may get worked up about fairness). In my mind, they are the price we pay for living in a civilized society, with a stable government, a cared-for population, and a working, solid infrastructure. Now, we may not always be getting what we pay for, and we can't all have our way. We don't get to send in our tax forms with a check box, stating that we want our share of the federal pot to pay for schools, health care, public transit, and aid to families. Nope, us bleeding hearts get to pay for wars and pricey government contracts to Halliburton, plus tax breaks for wealthier citizens and corporations as well as our little pet projects.

So what do I vote for, and why do I vote as I do?

First and foremost, I am looking for a person who is reasonable and rational, and who seems to have the capacity for thoughtful consideration of not only solutions, but of the problems and their causes. This is not always easy to discern in our heated political climate of overblown rhetoric, grandstanding, and fear-mongering, but I can look for certain things, such as whether or not a candidate "believes in" anthropogenic global warming and/or evolution. If he or she does not, I am going to hold all their opinions suspect. If he or she is not behaving in a fact-based manner about these issues, then he or she is either ignorant of or anti- science or is pandering to a segment of the population that is fundamentalist and denialist. How can I trust that person's ideas on how to tackle public problems, if they lack the cognitive sophistication to understand scientific evidence at its most basic? Are they intelligent enough to tackle complicated economic issues?

In Minnesota, our departing governor (who is coming for the GOP nomination in 2012; indeed, we rarely see him here. If you find him, you can keep him.), refused to "raise taxes" even as the economy tanked. He denied a tool in the public policy box, unable or unwilling to recognize that we needed revenue, using accounting shifts and cuts to human services to "balance" the budget, and we are now facing a 5.8 billion dollar deficit. His refusal to raise taxes resulted in some higher fees as well as higher property taxes and various referenda and assessments levied by counties and cities to raise necessary revenue.

It is ridiculous to remove a tool from your policy toolbox. No family, sitting around the kitchen table, would say, "Well, we won't look for ways to increase our revenue. We can only look for ways to reduce our expenses."

If you are running for governor in this state, and you are saying that you will not only not raise taxes, but will lower them in some instances, and you will balance the budget, then you are, quite frankly, either lying or you are deluded. The idea here is that you keep the revenue the same (or you even cut it somewhat), and all the difference is made up in cuts to government. Then businesses and rich people will create jobs and buy more stuff. It makes some average voters scream and cheer, but the reality is that cutting government is cutting people. Cutting jobs, cutting income, cutting into purchasing power of not only individuals but government itself, which pays many private industries through contracts ranging from construction to professional development to consulting.

Everything is connected, and someone always has to pay. Cut over here, and you will lose over there.

And people who lose their jobs often wind up on public assistance of some sort, be it unemployment or Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Because what often happens is that the people who can least afford to lose their jobs are the people who are cut first, straight from the bottom. With fewer resources to begin with and less of a voice in the public sphere, they disappear into statistics, but they show up in the budget.

It is not reasonable or rational to look at any problem and put away some of your tools without even considering them and their relevance to the job at hand. What I am looking for is evidence of thoughtful consideration and the ability to apply that consideration to a variety of problems, using a variety of tools. I am looking for someone who can recognize facts, process them, and disseminate them to the general public without obfuscation.

Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, that person does not usually get elected in America.